The final session of the day was on disruptive pedagogy. And although my name was in the program as the discussion starter, it’s not me! Heather Munro Prescott was the person to propose this session and so I’m just here because, obviously, it’s a subject I have a lot of interest in.
Heather began with a discussion of her public history graduate course and the challenges she faces teaching that course. Given those challenges, she asked why she was spending all this time organizing the course if students know something already when they walk in? She also discussed setting up a grad course as an “un-course” rather than the conventional course.
One person there raised the question of whether or not the idea of disruption is idiosyncratic to a particular institution’s student population? In other words, if you have a population that is creative or not, or rules followers or not. Another worried about student evaluations and how a loss of structure might effect that. It’s a good reminder to me that not everyone has the same tolerance for what we might call “teaching risk” that I, or Mark Sample, have. It’s also a good reminder that students need to know, clearly, what the expectations are in a course, regardless of how disruptive or deformative our pedagogy are.
Much of what people were circling around was coming up with assignments that challenge students’ expectations of what was going to happen in a class.
I raised the question of the tension between the tried and true and the disruptive. This question, I think, needs to be at the heart of any conversation about how much “breaking” is appropriate in our approach to teaching. Not everything should be broken just for the sake of breaking. But, as I have argued many times, I think a lot of the conventional approach to history teaching ought to be thrown out and started over from scratch (for a reasoned dissent, read the comments on this post).
There is definitely interest in this idea of disruption. Whether it will go somewhere as a project or not remains to be seen.