15 October 2012

Blog Action Day 2012: The Power of We

This year's Blog Action Day topic is "The Power of We." (Of course, it really should be 'the power of us', but let's not quibble!). The point is how groups of people can get things done around the world. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss how we can get the process of education to flourish in the world.
In order to make education a truly democratic and egalitarian process, I believe we need to lose the distinctions between those who have an education and those who need one. When we come together to make learning happen in my classes, I am as much a part of the learning that happens as my 'students'. The reason I teach is so that I can feed my thirst for learning, and it's not just learning about how the new generations of students approach problems that I am talking about: It's learning new ideas, new ways to interact, new strategies for negotiating the world around me.
John Cleese once remarked (I believe the video is available on YouTube), "I'm very old and will soon be dead. And I would like to die knowing as much as possible." My heart echoes these sentiments.
In my teaching, I long to pass this passion for learning on to my 'students'. By the time they get into my class, many are rather jaded regarding the education process: it seems like such a waste of input and output to them. They listen to lectures (many illustrate the process known as 'death by powerpoint' in extreme fashion!), they regurgitate facts or applications of principles on quizzes and exams, and then it's on to the next course where the process is repeated.
Because many of my students say their other professors have a negative view of such online general sources of information as Wikipedia, I encourage my students to write articles for Wikipedia. Maybe some of my students will challenge their other professors to join the task of improving the quality of Wikipedia beyond its already high standards.
Because many of my students experience an almost total disconnect between classes and the rest of their lives, I encourage my students to find things to change (inside and outside class). I admonish them of the great Gandhian challenge to "be the change [they] hope to see in the world" and to be audacious in the projects they choose to involve themselves in. I give them up to 20% of their credit in some courses for projects they themselves design to change their worlds.
Because many of my students struggle to pay for their food and lodging after they have paid tuition and fees and bought their books at the institution where I work, I use the news forum of the online learning systems that support our classes to post announcements of food banks and free food events available on campus. I also encourage them to sponsor ad-hoc food events (potlucks, etc.) of their own to offset the high prices of campus-produced foods from Aramark. I encourage them to share their $4/day (!) parking passes with others, so that those who are not served by local transit can get a break from this added fee for education. I also work to develop open education resources through Open Learning locally and the initiatives of OERu globally. I dream of a day when education to the very top levels is as readily available to all as public libraries in many parts of the world.
This post has become much longer than I had hoped, but I get very passionate when I think about the value of 'we' in the area of education. I would like to see everyone have full opportunities to learn as much and as long as they desire from wherever they live. If you have ideas relevant to this desire, I would appreciate your comments on this post. Please participate, comment, write, and talk up this years Blog Action Day topic, "The Power of We" to everyone you can.

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