Today is Day 1 of THATCamp CHNM (aka THATCamp Prime). In Day 1 there have been a series of workshops and we’ll culminate with a live recording of Digital Campus. My workshop this morning, attended by 30 campers, was on “Pedagogies of Disruption.” The focus of the workshop was on thinking about the fundamental values of our discipline and how we might use more disruptive forms of pedagogy to get students to think carefully and critically about those values.
I began with a brief description of my course Lying About the Past that has generated so much interest/controversy over the past month and then asked each camper to first write down a few of the fundamental values of his/her discipline and then to think of a possible teaching/learning opportunity that would stand one of those values on its head.
Among my favorite examples was from a computer scientist who suggested asking students to write code that was as inefficient as possible, while still getting the job done — running counter to the standard value in CS of writing code that was as efficient as possible. Another suggestion was from someone in book history who suggested having students destroy an old book or two in class as a way of subverting the values of preservation of books that are at the core of her discipline.
One of the campers created a GoogleDoc during the presentation which you can consult to see more about some of what was discussed.
The point of the workshop was to argue that we have grown too complacent in our teaching approaches and that, from time to time, we need to shed our comfort and complacency to challenge ourselves to do things that are very difficult in the classroom. I would argue that it is during those moments of difficulty that students (who are used to being comfortable in their learning environments) are forced to confront very important lessons about the discipline they are studying.
That it makes us uncomfortable to teach history majors to lie, computer science majors to write inefficient code, or others to destroy books, is a good thing. That it makes our students uncomfortable is, I think, and even better thing. Because we’ll have the chance to talk about why we are uncomfortable together, and because the lessons we ask them to complete are at the heart of that uncomfortableness, the ensuing discussions will be much richer.
That has been my experience in Lying About the Past. In that class we grapple with some very thorny ethical issues — issues central to the discipline of history. And in doing so in the context of the assignment I’ve given them, rather than as an abstract learning exercise, we are all forced to make some hard choices. When students just hand in a paper, as opposed to putting something out there for all to read or use, there are many fewer moral or ethical choices. But in Lying About the Past they create lies and purvey them–an assignment that makes the moral and ethical choices very real.