teaching charge

A large part of today has been under a cloud. Cold weather moves in literally, and the weight of a semester and undones make for a slow wade through the day. Additionally, we’ve resolved that we can’t make that trip to the sunny southern desert land this weekend, and the trail race I was looking forward to just can’t happen. It can’t be helped; it will be perfectly fine and even refreshing to stay home; and it’s still disappointing. And that was the basic track I was on through the beginning of the day.

And then I got to class. There was a purple balloon stuck to my head. I implored students to peel pieces of clear tape and stick them to one another. There may have been a dance. We realized that we had evidence for sub-microscopic spices of charge and that we had the power to name them; and we even had the revelation that “positive” and “negative” were especially good names simply because they added up to something that was non-charged. So for that hour there were no clouds, there was nothing missing, and there were no other tasks undone or waiting to be done. There were balloons and tape and people figuring out electricity and atoms. And they got it; and one of them, maybe next year, could be doing these same things with my nephew in an elementary school classroom.

Later I was auditioning to give a TEDx talk — a slightly bizarre concept in that I’ve never even really “auditioned” to teach classes. So I’d prepared a 5-minute presentation on how dangerous our innovations in education could be, and how the salvation of technology could, in fact, be our downfall. I went in prepared and confident to make that claim, still pleased with my low-tech experience and interactions with the balloons and tape and our future educators. Of course, I walked into a room where the evaluators of my audition were composed of our online instructional designer, a multimedia specialist, and a graduate student in instructional technology. But they smiled and even seemed to agree as I suggested that this medieval lecture was our first TED talk:


That Newspaper Rock was the original Khan Academy:


That we’ve long implemented “Smart Boards”:


That MOOCs were imagined 5 decades ago:


And that our “flipped classrooms” were first conceived when we started printing books on presses, giving students something to prepare before classes:


In essence, I was fighting against the movements to automatize instruction, to “deliver content,” suggesting that what we call “innovative” has been done for decades, if not for centuries. Through it all, there wasn’t a cloud to be found. I was playing with ideas, along with the other stuff. In that play there’s something that I can find within myself that I really enjoy, and in that enjoyment everything else — the grading, the meetings, the tasks, and even the clouds — go away. Maybe that’s the reason why I wanted to lambast other models of instruction. I can’t find my own sense of self within those other learning spaces. Maybe I’m afraid not so much of losing the other, more personal modes of education, as I am afraid of losing my self.


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