Ready, set, reflect!

One of academia’s great traditions is the sabbatical, which provides an opportunity to reflect deeply on one’s work, question fundamental assumptions, change directions and even reinvent oneself. I have spent much of my life thinking of the U.S. education system as a meritocracy that, for all its flaws, is fundamentally a force for good, for educating the diverse population of our country. I have come to question that over the past several years as I have learned how our educational system also reinforces social and economic privilege instead of breaking them down. Over the next year I will engage with these questions to discern how I can make meaningful contributions to advance social justice through education and technology.

In what ways do higher education and technology act to advance social justice? In what ways do they reinforce injustice, inequity and unearned privilege?

As the name of this blog suggests, I am deeply interested in teaching. I came to this by a circuitous route, after 20 years in the software industry, but I find it tremendously satisfying, and fundamentally a hopeful, liberating activity. This year I hope to improve my own teaching by exploring more deeply what it means to teach.

What and who am I teaching? What is the act of teaching? Can I really teach someone?

I am more and more interested in helping my students develop not just a professional knowledge and skills, but more broadly to help them develop intellectually and personally. To do this, it is important for me to think intentionally about the values that my teaching is embedded in, and that I embed in my teaching. Formal teaching cannot be separated from the institutions in which it occurs. That presents dilemmas, challenges and opportunities. The tools of critical theory, and more specifically critical pedagogy, are helpful as I explore issues of praxis, agency and the problematic and promising role of the university.

How can I apply these tools to better understand the history, challenges and opportunities that we face?

One of the many educational debates addresses the perceived tension between a broad liberal education and a narrower, more career-preparatory focus. This is in part influenced by burgeoning costs and reduced state funding, but it also reflects fundamental assumptions about what and why we are teaching. The current focus on assessment seems to be intertwined with this, and I cannot tell if rigorous assessment is a boon or bane.

Is a focus on learning outcomes at odds with deep learning or does it enable us to focus more intentionally on helping our students develop essential skills, knowledge and attitudes? Does it enable better accountability or reinforce a minimalist view of education as primarily an instrument of job preparation?

As I begin my sabbatical year, I am excited to be thinking about my next steps – exploring and questioning the intersection of higher education, technology and social justice. To get started, I’ve been reading a bunch of books (yes, I have time to read books now), ranging from bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress to Michael Crow’s Designing the New American University, Michael Roth’s Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, and William Bowen’s Higher Education in the Digital Age. I’m participating in Hybrid Pedagogy‘s Flipped Class, where we are examining the pragmatics and philosophy of hybrid techniques. I’m also attending Project Zero’s Future of Learning Institute, where I’m particularly eager to dive into the topic of globalization and education. And I’m having lots of conversations – hopefully with you!

I’ll be using this space during the next year to share my half-baked ideas and questions (inspired by Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” strategy), with the expectation that they will develop through conversation and dialog. I expect to emerge with a better understanding of how I can make a positive contribution to advancing social justice through education and technology. I’m okay with uncertainty, imperfection, ambiguity and the occasional contradiction as long as I’m moving in generally the right direction. I look forward to the conversation.

Decide, do, reflect, repeat…

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6 thoughts on “Ready, set, reflect!

  1. Bill – looking forward to witnessing your continued development and to learning from your reflections. – Dave

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  2. Thank you for choosing such an important subject for your sabbatical reflections. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts as they grow and develop.

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  3. Bill, this year is going to bring a great conversation! You’re asking important questions; I hope that you consider LIS education and higher education more broadly as both discrete entities and parts of a single system. (And I would also note that we make assumptions not just about what and why we are teaching, but also *who* we are teaching.)

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    1. Becky – Absolutely “who” is an essential question – who we are teaching and who we are as teachers – what kind of space we open up for co-learning with our students. And the question of systems is apropos. I’m working on a new course that I’m tentatively calling “Studio in Human-centered Systems Design.” It addresses systems from the socio-technical perspective, i.e. how do the technical and other types of systems that we design work (or not work) within the larger organizational, cultural and societal contexts. I’ll post a description of that soon.

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  4. I’m also really excited/curious to see where this goes – I’m currently working on my M.Ed with a focus in Online Innovation and Design, so this is right up my alley! Good luck!

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