Digital Ethnography

Why Good Classes Fail

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This is a quick little essay about why a teacher can employ all the “right methods” (pick your buzzword: student-centered, learning-centric, participatory, collaborative, problem-based, etc.) and embrace all the most rich, compelling, and engaging technologies, and still fail. This is an essay in the true sense of the word (which Gardner Campbell has recently reminded me is derived from the French infinitive essayer, “to try” or “to attempt”) … so this is just a try, an attempt, and in that sense also an invitation for you all to jump in and let me know your thoughts as well.

The problem of why good classes fail has become a bit of an obsession for me lately. I visit several colleges and universities every semester to talk to faculty about teaching and learning, and everywhere I go I try to sneak away for just a bit and slip into the back of an unsuspecting class just to see how things are going. This has allowed me to see a broad range of techniques and styles, and to see how students respond to them. What inspires this essay is that it is more often than not that I am disappointed by what I find. At worst, I see people feeling disengaged, disconnected, and alienated, and that’s just the professors. At best, I see rooms full of people dutifully playing the game of school, listening carefully, taking notes, etc. … which is okay as far as it goes, but I rarely see people getting lit up, inspired, excited, upset, or even a little uncomfortable (which would be a pretty good place to be for a breakthrough learning moment). The apparent levels of disinterest are astounding, especially in the face of rich content that has included everything from the capacity of ants to create eerily human-like civilizations to the promiscuous (though changing) sexual practices of teenage Trobriand Islanders. (“Really!?” I’m thinking as I sit in the back of the room, “You are not even a little bit interested in this?!” and I realize I could just as well be thinking this about the professor, who seems to be showing as little interest in the material as the students.)

To be clear, these are not all, or even mostly, straight “sage on the stage” lectures, and that’s what inspires this little essay. In fact, the few truly fantastic classes I have stumbled into were just as likely to be “sage on the stage” lectures as they were to be based on more participatory methods. And the disheartening reality has been that a really bad lecture doesn’t fail as badly as a really poorly executed participatory class. Many of these professors seem to do everything “right.” They ask their students questions, pause and let them discuss with their neighbors, show YouTube videos that relate to their own experience, and invite discussion. But disinterest and disengagement still reign. Why?

Part of the answer in some of the cases has already been implied; a disinterested professor has no chance of inspiring interest in their students. But that does not account for the more compelling failures, those that involve a clearly dedicated professor that is passionate about their material using participatory methods along with content that has been carefully crafted to be relevant and engaging for students.

So what’s wrong? In short, the common thread I see throughout all the failures is quite simply a lack of empathy. There is no authentic encounter with students, or what Martin Buber called “a genuine meeting.” When we use all the right methods, and we still fail, it is most likely because we are encountering our students as objects and not as the rich and complex individuals that they are. When we do not bring our authentic selves to the classroom and open up to an authentic encounter with our students and the topic at hand we fail, regardless of the methods we choose. “Methods” and “techniques” need to grow out of an authentic encounter with students and the material. Any focus on method and technique alone will be prone to failure. Our questions will fall flat, our lectures flatter, and break-out sections, group work and other participatory methods become just one more thing to do, seemingly without purpose or relevance.

I have become painfully aware that my own presentations are often taken as demonstrations of method and technique, and in this regard I find myself with a similar problem that psychologist Carl Rogers faced when he first started exploring the role of empathy in the therapeutic encounter. As a young therapist he discovered that simply listening to his clients and empathizing with them seemed to help them. He obtained some recording equipment and studied therapy interactions carefully. This process allowed him and his students to identify specific techniques that seemed to work. However, when these techniques were turned loose on the world and used by other therapists, these techniques became mere caricatures of what they were in the artful practice of Rogers himself. His complex empathic method became caricatured as a simple technique of “repeat the last words the client has said.” He was so dismayed by these results that he abandoned the study of empathy for some time before finally returning to it later.

So rather than focusing on emulating particular techniques and methods, we should be doing everything we can to embrace, inspire, and use our own empathy in order to better understand and relate to our students. It is only from this space that we can effectively generate and use the appropriate techniques and methods for any particular task. In this way, there is no “recipe,” “secret sauce,” or “silver bullet” for teaching effectively that can be used by anybody, anytime, anywhere. Instead, I’m proposing a “generative” method, one in which we “generate” the appropriate method that takes into consideration the broadest range of factors that we can manage to accommodate.

This is in no way a call to abandon method. Quite the contrary, it is a call to learn about as many methods and techniques as possible, and as many technologies as possible – not so you can load up your course with as many “good” ones as possible, but so that you can call forth those that might be good given the way your particular encounter with your students and work evolves.

I know there is nothing particularly new in this argument. The roots of nearly every buzzword-method I mentioned above have this “generative” idea at their heart, but too often we have forgotten that, and the method becomes a bit too methodical, the technique a bit too technical, and we lose that generative core that can continuously be re-generated through the richness of a true empathic encounter with our students.

Comments

  1. Sarah Hurlburt

    February 16, 2012

    Empathy seems like a tough way to crack this problem. I don’t disagree that it is important, necessary even, for a professor to practice empathy, but it nonetheless suggests a passive student. How about “empower”? My question supports your argument, insofar as I am also speaking in favor of the authentic encounter. Why did the students in those classes sit back and wait for the content? What messages can the professor send that challenge and empower students to take charge of their own learning?

    Sarah Hurlburt, Whitman College

  2. achilles3

    February 16, 2012

    I think you started to get to meat when you talked about making students uncomfortable. This is key. Kind of like working out/exercising/running. When I go to the gym for an hour I stress parts of my body. I work. They work. Things happen. Some uncomfortable.

    Teachers must stress their students. Make them DO something. Something difficult and stressful. And then document it on the spot.

    I am lucky that I have 15 students for 100 minutes. So here’s something I do:

    One thing I do a lot is called simply an Article Presentation.
    I brake the class into 4 groups and each group gets a different NYT Editorial.
    Each person has 50 minutes to prepare a 3:00 minute presentation. The presentation must be 80% info from the piece, 10% Explaining the NYT perspective and 10% their opinion.
    They can NOT use any notes, board space or visuals.

    During the second 50 minutes everyone gives his/her note-less 3:00 presentation. and I record EVERYONE, upload each one to YouTube (on private) and make them watch/critique it before the next class. Also I recognize the best one from each of the four groups.

    Makes them go “all in” so that they don’t look foolish in class or on the web.

    Works for me:-)

  3. Jung Choi (@jung_gt)

    February 16, 2012

    Empathy is tough to scale. In a large lecture hall, the prof can’t be everywhere at once. I roam during peer discussions and group activities. I can surely get a sense for how the majority are faring and how engaged they are, but I see small pockets and individual students disengaged and don’t know how to reach them. Too many students, not enough time.

  4. Sue Bartow

    February 16, 2012

    I spend great amounts of energy worrying about this problem and teaching as Michael describes in his fourth paragraph. Coming from a small, progressive school where I knew students and families well over a long period of time I struggle with the facelessness of even relatively small classes in the teacher education work I do now at the college level. Despite my expectations of relational pedagogy and consistent efforts at outreach, I am squelched by the architecture of college and the immensely restrictive expectations of students. Also a factor, perhaps, is that I bring a message of dismay and change to students seeking what they loved and were good at in school. Empathy, even in combination with sincere efforts at evocative classroom meetings, doesn’t seem to bridge the gap. I am working to identify the hidden pieces that hold us back.

  5. Kathleen

    February 16, 2012

    I began college for the first time in my mid-forties, thrilled at the opportunity to learn, but puzzled and irritated at the the refusal of most of my classmates to participate in class discussions or even to ask questions. It was a non-traditional school with an average age of twenty-seven. Many of us were the first in our families to attend college. Listening to the comments of my fellow students after class, and later as a writing tutor, I discovered pervasive attitudes of resentment at 1) having to take general ed courses at all, 2) having to pass a course in which the content challenged a student’s religious/cultural sensibilities–on this particular one, the range of offending topics in our location included but was not limited to Anthropology, Biology, Astronomy, Political Science, History, Literature, and Linguistics–and 3) an overall lack of interest in how we got here as a species or in our various societies. Most of my professors delivered the content clearly and coherently, although a few were not as adept at this as others. Students who viewed their classes as a means to an end often didn’t get as much out of them as those who saw knowledge of the world around them as an end in itself. Just sayin’.

  6. Cassandra V. Horii

    February 17, 2012

    Perhaps another angle that sets great teaching apart is the teacher’s desire to continue to improve–the dissatisfaction with the status quo of student learning as good enough.

    When a Teach for America researcher “called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: ‘They’d say, “You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.” When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.’ Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.” (A. Ripley, 2010, The Atlantic)

    “Mindset” (after Carol Dweck) could also be a helpful framework–having a core belief that evidence of students not learning optimally isn’t evidence of permanent and fixed failure as a teacher, but helpful information that contributes to one’s inherent potential to change and improve.

  7. Peter Seaman

    February 17, 2012

    Empathy is a good addition to instruction, but I’ll go out on a limb and venture to suggest that what’s missing from education generally is *relevance*. Ever watched a group being taught how to parachute out of an airplane? Or students about to fly a helicopter? Or young soldiers about to go on their first combat patrol? Or first-time riders in a motorcycle safety course? These students are interested and motivated in ways that instructors of traditional college and high-school classes would relish! The general problem with most classes is not that the instructors are boring or the instruction poorly designed; it’s that the learners are unmotivated b/c they don’t see the relevance of the content to their own lives. They are in the class b/c they are told they have to be, in order to meet some external requirement.

  8. Shobha Vadrevu

    February 19, 2012

    Some excellent points made in this essay, as well as in the comments that precede mine. I’m interested to know, though, how failure is judged here. An observer of a class sees only what can be performed. A student can be sitting perfectly still, looking unaffected and blase, but be ruminating on points that may explode into a performable reaction after the class. There may never even be such an explosion, which does not equate automatically with disaffection. While the point about the need for empathy is well presented, it could be seen as yet another performative element added to the list of teacher deliverables.

  9. Bill Hazelton

    February 19, 2012

    Empathy is difficult, in part because it needs to work both ways. As a professor, you need to identify with where students are, but also where they need to be. And students need to connect a bit with you, so you need to use things like stories and humor to make the connection. (I try to create professionals out of non-professionals, a tricky process!) If you can make the two-way connection, you can get some idea of relevance across, too.

    Education is about transforming people, and it takes at least two people, as it happens on the inside. The teacher is transformed a bit, too. You cannot help people transform themselves without empathy for them, now and for where they have to go.

    Part of the transformation is stuff they need to know, but that is usually the easy part. The hardest part is getting them to see the need to transform. Today, it’s even harder, as role models are getting scarcer, owing to how the world is changing. When we think about knowing stuff, we have to bridge between two totally different approaches, drifting apart, with progressively more people trapped on the ‘old’ island.

    Perhaps ‘acting the part’ is the way to go: act like you have transformed, and soon it will be easier to be transformed. Failure is part of that process, and perhaps it’s when the transformation doesn’t stick too well today. But we keep trying, and trying something different. But as we live in a stochastic and chaotic world, nothing is guaranteed!

  10. Pedro

    February 19, 2012

    I think a lot has to do with expectations and knowing the expectations of the students or pupils. I’m finishing my PhD on perceived authenticity in which I investigated which criteria pupils in compulsory education use to perceive a teacher as real or fake. I also did the same for non-formal learning environments.

    Off course there can be regional differences, but what I’ve learned from my respondents is that they don’t think much about the how in the classroom, that’s something that is the domain of the professionalism of the teacher. Their main expectation is that they learn, or have at least the impression they are learning something.

  11. Abby Wightman

    February 19, 2012

    A good article and comments. I tend to agree with Shobha Vadrevu, though — I think it problematic to assume that visible classroom performances always indicate engagement with course material. As someone who teaches at a small liberal arts college, where I know my students very well, I am constantly reminded of this. Some of my most engaged students are also those who may superficially appear to be disengaged in class (and of course, the reverse can be true as well). We need to recognize — and reward — many types of classroom behaviors. And as anthropologists, we should also be cognizant of the cultural and social pressures which may make the individual performance of typical markers of classroom engagement undesirable or inappropriate for some students. To me, this last bit is a crucial component of empathy.

  12. Michael Wesch

    February 19, 2012

    Shobha and Abby, I agree that engagement is not always apparent, and minds can often be exploding in total silence. But the evidence I’m referring to for disengagement is not as simple as students sitting quietly, nor is the disengagement only among the students. Instead, you see evidence that the professor is not really truly “there” even as they are talking or running the class. They don’t laugh when they should, or show any emotion for that matter. They don’t make even the most obvious connections between what they are saying and what might be happening in the room all around them … seemingly trapped by the schedule of delivering the content (if they are lecturing) or trying to stick to what they had planned and not allowing an authentic encounter to ensue. As Parker Palmer notes “Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching-and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” I think this is the real art of teaching. How can we bring our real selves into the classroom so that we can do what Parker Palmer says good teachers do, namely “weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.”

  13. John Pilkington

    February 19, 2012

    A very interesting essay and it makes me reflect on my own experiences. I went to boarding school in England and loved studying English Literature. Small classes, usually badly taught by todays´standards but there were few distractions, so I did a huge amount of reading and enjoyed taking it right through to University in London in the early 70´s. I then became a reasonably good teacher, if grades are a measure. However, I have just stepped out of teaching (at High school level) because of the way that the UK government’s target-driven agenda has killed all of my enthusiasm. The only thing that matters appears to be results, and I felt that I was being told to teach dumbed-down courses to raise the grades.

    In my first week of teaching English, in 1975, I passed the classroom where my Head of Department was teaching a poem (´Naming of Parts´ by WWII poet Henry Reed) to a class of 14 year old boys. He was at the front of the class, standing in the waste paper basket, holding a Lee Enfield rifle, reciting the poem, and showing them which parts were being named by the poet. Every boy was riveted on his performance!
    I have no idea why he was standing in the waste bin by the way.

    Total engagement on both sides!

  14. Kristin Russell

    February 23, 2012

    Prof. Wesch, I completely agree with empathy as key, for students, instructors and those in between.

    One of my mentors at Iowa has said that approaching everything with empathy, humility and humor – from the information and skill sets slated to be taught to the students and even the maintenance staff – breaks down barriers and affords entry-points and accessibility for all involved in the learning process. I greatly appreciate your emphasis of the authentic/real self as vital here, too.

    I think Maria Lugones, though speaking from/for feminist ontology and epistemology and of race and gender primarily, offers playfulness, “world”-traveling and a loving perception as ways to perceive others (http://tinyurl.com/marialugonesworldtraveling). I would (clumsily) analogize students as “outsiders” in her argument, from whose perspective instructors can learn and in turn invite along for the journey of “world”-traveling across information and ideas.

    Thank you for this essay and all the others.

  15. Lisa M Lane

    February 24, 2012

    Perhaps empathy, in this case, is the appearance that the professor cares about the students as individuals.

    I cannot do this in reality. I cannot care about each and every one of my 240 students each semester as individuals. I cannot get to know the needs, ambitions, hobbies, habits, and desires of each one. I can only appear to care about these. And in the past decade, this has become increasingly important to their engagement.

    It is the creation of an illusion within an artificial environment – it is Pedagogy Theatre. By pedagogy I do not mean just the “method” or “technique”, which you clearly state is not enough. I mean the attitude, the affective approach, the enthusiasm or appearance of caring. It is, unless one is naturally attuned to each and every person, an act.

    If such an act is visibly successful (which seems to be what’s being expressed here as a class not “failing”), then we have student engagement regardless of method. (Whether such engagement actually increases their learning, as measured by the professor using various standards, is open to question.)

    So I’m afraid I don’t agree about bringing in our “real selves”. What if those emotionless, boring lectures the prof is giving actually reflect that person’s real self? What if being distant is the real personality? What if not caring whether anyone gets it or not is totally authentic? My “real self” is not an empathetic teacher, but I can play one on TV.

  16. Karrie Peterson

    March 20, 2012

    I don’t properly know how to do this yet — I posted this comment on my blog (Penndora’s Box) and pointed people to your post, but it seems polite to share the same comment at the place with the original posting.

    More empathy in teaching and learning, yes! Empathy is on my radar, perhaps because I’m a librarian—a public service as well as a teaching occupation. I can be pretty frustrated by a lack of empathy when I’m a customer. A great professor in library school (“empathy is not sympathy!”) and Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind gave me a more intellectual appreciation of empathy.

    Empathy is not being a friend or being nice or knowing a whole lot about another person or even spending a lot of time focusing on another person. It’s a connection, it’s putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and adjusting your own behavior accordingly. For the length of any interaction, you are imaginatively and usefully open to the other person’s point of view. Empathy can save time—I’ve seem plenty of librarian interactions with students that take way too long getting off the ground because the librarian isn’t really understanding the student’s situation.

    Even in a big classroom you can demonstrate empathy with the students by the way you interact publicly with individual students or with the class as a whole. I once took a class that covered some command-line software applications for GIS—it was horribly complicated and non-intuitive because it incorporated more primitive legacy systems and data structures, but as students we didn’t know that. We were madly trying to grasp the necessary steps in one class session when the prof stepped back, looked at chalkboard, and said “What is up with all of that!” He got that we were having a hard time with the process because it seemed so crazy to us, we were only familiar with software apps that worked way more simply. That brief moment of acknowledgement and empathy made the whole class work better. I think my library school professor’s analysis would have been that affective issues and cognitive apprehension are intertwined.

    Empathy, in my opinion, is a form of social intelligence. It’s something you can get better at, if you think it’s important, by observation and reflection. Or you can improve your empathetic understanding by actually becoming more like the other person. I need to understand students, so I take a lot of classes. Consequently, I have the same visceral reactions as students do to the “power relationships” in the classroom. Students are smart enough to know when a professor is not serious about trying to improve the class experience. In a class where a lot of students might have plenty to say to the professor about how to improve the class, we just don’t. A course in which the class time is not being used well, I think, goes into a downward spiral – the students distance themselves because they are disappointed. With no hope of improving the situation, it becomes something to just get through.

    The answer is not solely more techniques, more tactics, more “cognitively oriented” pedagogies. Short of actually becoming students themselves, I think teachers can create structures in their class to diminish things about teacher and student roles that are not helping us. For example, learning communities or project studio type classes work because everyone needs the contributions of everyone else. It doesn’t mean that students know as much about the content domain. That’s obvious. It means we have to learn to communicate with each other differently, we have to work together transparently on the pedagogical and metacognitive levels. There should be open and useful discussion about this in a classroom, just as there has to be discussion among members of a project team about how things are going. Again, it can’t be “fake” with the teacher still presenting themselves as the expert at the front of the room, taking “input.” If you want students to take charge of their learning, you can’t also be controlling everything.

    This is an instructional design question that I think is being addressed beautifully by many practitioners (my early heroes in this area were Henry Jenkins, Don Marinelli, and Gardner Campbell, and more recently M. Wesch!). So many classes that disappointed me have amazingly well-crafted syllabi, wonderful readings I would never have discovered on my own, and were beautifully sequenced to grow my understanding. And then the class time itself felt like a waste – I sometimes wished the professor would just lecture! I think it takes teamwork to design good class time. Librarians, it might surprise you, often know a lot about what students don’t get because we see them in the “black box” time between when faculty give the assignment and the due date. We get them in their informal learning time, when they are struggling even to understand the assignment.

    You can tell from this post that I am not a fan of the anonymous semesterly “class evaluation.” This, to me, only reinforces the weird notion that you have to criticize secretly because otherwise something bad will happen! I think those kinds of evaluations are a form of high stakes assessment that can be gamed, can be ignored, and never teach us how to work together with mutual trust, how to collectively use reflection and criticism to solve problems and achieve improvements together.

    I don’t think that changing class and learning structures is easy or that there are obvious right answers. I once taught a project studio that got off on the wrong foot — I thought the students had some problematic behaviors and they clearly thought I was not helpful, in fact they treated me like a professor instead of a partner. I didn’t have the confidence that I could facilitate a good communication, a transparent discussion on our mutual pedagogical and metacognitive issues that would help resolve problems. It was risky. What if things didn’t go well? What would that mean for the students, for me as an instructor? So I did nothing and the course became something we were all just trying to get through. All our good intentions as teachers are not going to make change unless we can ensure that the basic framework is understood and supported by the people we are administratively accountable to. Courage, yes; martyrdom, no.

    Still, short of a revolution in higher education, I think there are many things we can do to help empathy flourish – I’ve suggested learning communities as structures that can help us change up our student/teacher roles, and also the idea of teachers becoming more like students, and I’m keenly interested in what else people are trying and doing.

  17. Cynic

    March 23, 2012

    Elsewhere in therapy, one learns not to blame oneself for the failings of others, e.g., one’s parents. If in fact the teachers are doing everything right, by Wesch’s own admission, perhaps the teachers are in fact °doing everything right.° So maybe the problem is the students. We read over and over that the values of students at most American colleges and universities are out of whack. One only has to think of the Penn State brouhaha for a stark reminder of this. Students are socialized into a know-nothing, anti-intellectual, neoliberal, pro-profit culture that sees only economic value as worth pursuing and the main point of college as watching March Madness on CBS. Maybe it’s not that professors are objectifying their students, but that students themselves don’t see themselves as ‘rich and complex individuals’ but rather create themselves as object-like, viz. basically consumers. ‘Here we are now, entertain us.’ Wesch’s arrogance in being able just to ‘feel’ the failed teaching of others by sitting in the back of the room on occasion is breathtaking.

  18. Joyce

    March 24, 2012

    Students are people who are encouraged to grow up NOW. Some of them show up at college, but have now idea what they are doing there, it’s just someplace to go. There are comfortable in college in many ways, since the are use to getting up in the morning and going to school. Once there, the just seem to disconnect. I suppose some of this is caused by a general disconnect of the people around them.

  19. Mary

    April 28, 2012

    I found this conversation very interesting; in fact I believe this kind of dialogue is a leverage point for improving education in general. I agree with Professor Wesch that empathy is a critical element of an active educational environment. In fact, if one cannot be empathetic with students, no offense, but one is in the wrong profession. Caring is the heart of teaching. This cannot be a surface level of caring or an egotistical version (I care that my students succeed because it looks bad if my kids do not do well). It has to be a level of caring that permeates the soul and extends to every student, regardless of the perceptions and assumptions we unknowingly make.

    Did you read the April 26th Wall Street Journal article, “Education Slowdown Threatens US” (Wessel & Banchero, 2012)? We must face the facts that our customers are changing – students in secondary schools and universities need more personal, more active and more engaging instructors. Teachers and professors must be willing to reach out to our students to help them learn (isn’t that what teachers are supposed to do — help kids learn?). We must cross those boundaries drawn to define our superiority, our need to control our subjects, our aloofness and our resistance to those who think or learn differently. So many high school and college teachers limit students’ education by holding fast to an age-old expectation that students must “learn to take responsibility for their own learning”. If we will not help students who are failing or falling behind because we want them to learn to step up and ask for help, aren’t we facilitating failure? Do we want students to drop out, to give up? Why not seek out students who are struggling and reach out to students who are not resilient? This is empathy — this is a personal and authentic concern for human beings. Can we truly say we know what is going on in each person’s life? Do we know what hurdles they have already cleared? It is the responsibility of the adults of society to “raise” the next generation. Unfortunately, we forget what it is like to be a child. Our educational woes in this country are evident. We must teach the whole student, and facilitate development of the social, emotional, behavioral, physical and cognitive students in our classrooms. The time is now. We must tell our students they belong in the classroom and their ideas and input are valued in our society. Before long, we will be gone. Our assumptions and our expectations will have formed the prevailing generation; this will be our legacy.

    Other voices resonated with me in this discussion about empowering students, considering relevance, transformative learning, the role of culture in social engagement, and the importance of humility and humor. Bravo to all of these deep thoughts! I was reminded of Daniel Pink’s Drive (2009) and the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery and purpose. This is what our students need! Think of the last time you were deeply engaged in learning — it does not have to be an academic pursuit. Perhaps you were learning a new computer program, learning about cancer, learning how to create a podcast, etc. What motivated you? Why did you want to succeed in this venture? In all of these engaging times, how much did the end result matter to you? Did you do this to get a good grade? Who set the criteria for success? Who cared whether you learned this well?

    I agree the style of teaching, the pedagogical approach or andragogy for those in higher education, is not a factor as much as the intent of the “teaching”. Do we teach to impart knowledge (assuming a hierarchical position) or do we teach to share experiences and to problem solve? Relevance was mentioned above. You can almost hear the rebuttal — sometimes we must learn things that are not immediately relevant. When was the last time you used the Pythagorean Theorem? Yet, I recall there was still a sense of mastery when I could use this formula successfully.

    Discussions like this are needed to shake up the teaching profession. It helps us to remember why we chose to teach. In my mind, we do not need to wait for others in society to realize or to appreciate the value of teachers; we should do this for our own integrity. Hold your head high; you are a teacher!

    Wessel & Banchero (2012, April 12). Education Slowdown Threatens US. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304177104577307580650834716.html

  20. Pablo Gustavo Rodriguez

    May 26, 2012

    I like the counterpoint between Wesch and Cynic. The truth may be found somewhere along these two positions.

  21. Edgar R. Meyer

    June 19, 2013

    I really enjoyed reading this essay. I am exploring this website (mediatedcultures.net/) as an assignment for one of my class in a master’s program for teaching, and when I came across the title of this essay, I simply had to read it. I too see so many teachers disengaged in my own setting, and I myself am guilty of letting my own exhaustion get in the way of reaching my students. Yet, I long more than anything to inspire them to succeed in live. I am from Mississippi, and I teach in a very rural community school of 260 students grades pre-K through twelfth in a region of the state called the Delta where blues music originated. 100 % of our students receive free lunch, and many come from homes with very limited resources. In fact, many of my students are disillusioned in terms of where they are going in life and in terms of what sort of aspirations they seek to have. In response, I have decided to try to implement an internship program that would expose my students to work-related experiences with which they would otherwise have no part. The problems that you noticed on campuses is happening in grade school as well, and there seems to be a vicious cycle in which students and teachers feel they have to battle each other in order to get there way in the classroom. I try empathizing with my students’ situations, and I still struggle finding ways to motivate them to learn. I want to help them rise above the obstacles of their poverty and to reach for the riches that education has to offer, but when I empathize with them, they always find a way to take advantage of my kindness. I suppose kids will be kids, but there has to be something that truly gets their attention. I just have yet to find it. Do you have any suggestions?

  22. Katie

    August 13, 2013

    Dear Prof Wesch,

    I work for Matador Network, an online magazine about travel culture, and came across this post;

    I wanted to talk to you about republishing this post on our site?

    Please let me know if you’re interested, And I’ll follow up with details.

    Kind regards

    Katie

  23. Lisa Rosa

    November 5, 2013

    Thank you for this post! Real communication, real interest in the student’s ideas and messages is the crux of the matter. Not only collecting them for the sake of a predefined collective outcome. I experienced this crucial wisdom in my own teaching along 20 years – with pupils, students and teachers in professional development. But if you communicate “authentically” in this way, all your teaching processes will becoming project processes with open outcomes. Therefore I find that teaching is a real adventure . So I don’t need bungee jumping or free climbing …

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Our work explores how humans use media, how media uses us, and how we can use new media to reveal our insights in new ways.

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