Crazy Smart or Crazy Stupid?
I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing an on-line American Government text, so my students have a free textbook [insert obligatory rant against the textbook “market” here]. I may or may not have mentioned that I’m finding it a real grind, and am not very satisfied with my efforts so far. And lurking in the back of my head all along has been the understanding that all the information I want the students to have is already out there on the internet, but just not organized in a single location in a useful way, where useful means “textbooky or something like.”
So here’s my wild-ass idea: Why not just give students a set of questions for each class period and tell them to go find the answers on their own?
I’ve thought about just putting up a set of links to various sources, but for most things I want them to learn there’s no single source for, say, the presidency, that will cover it all; and assigning links to 6 different webpages to read about the presidency is likely to confuse them about just what information I’m expecting them to notice and remember. Textbooks at least have the value of collecting information in one place.
But reading a textbook chapter before the class where your instructor lectures on it seems slavishly unintellectual. It’s not really like having them read an essay critiquing globalization and having them discuss it in class. “Discussions” of the committee system in Congress are not edge-of-your-seat moments. But also, being told “find the information here” is less intellectual–less of a learning experience, than actually searching out information.
The textbook could still be put up on-line. It’s going to contain, in addition to facts, readings suitable for discussion. But rather than assigning “Chapter 9 for Thursday,” perhaps I should just assign “Question set 9 for Thursday.” Don’t even mention the chapter–it’s there if they want to use it, but if they find the information elsewhere, that’s ok. And maybe not all the questions are covered in the on-line text.
The single most notable problem in my American Government class is the number of students who seem to think that to pass they don’t need to read (so far as I can tell) or take notes, but just show up and stare into space, half-listening to me give them a set of boring facts. In a nutshell, they’re not taking any responsibility for learning, but expecting me to spoon-feed them something.
Maybe tasking them with the problems, instead of the answers, is what I ought to be doing?
[Image Credit: Peter Fonda’s American Flag Patch, from Wikimedia Commons]
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