Nothing works. There are two xerox machines available to me at night, but they're both kaput. One of them announces it's wrecked with a handwritten sign, the other simply refuses to spit anything out. And I've got class in five minutes. Make that three. Sure, if I'd prepared earlier I wouldn't have felt murderous, but who's not keeping these machines up anyway? Sheesh.
Punt, I tell myself. You can't do what you'd planned, so come up with something else. So I did. And it worked. It worked well, probably better than anything I had planned with the assignment the xerox machines wouldn't deliver.
So right in the middle of a amazing comeback, a last-minute success borne out of sheer frustration, I tell myself once again that an old dog just doesn't learn new tricks, at least not quickly. I was born and reared on the lecture, I was once good at the lecture, and I'll probably die a lecturer, even though the lecture itself is dead in the water. The fact of the matter is, college students today--at least mine--want to do it themselves. Don't talk at me, don't ask me to take notes, don't demonstrate that you're the one with the education and experience--all you've got to do is administrate, set up activities we'll do, and then sit back and sip that Diet Coke.
They are experiential learners. They learn best when they do it themselves, which makes sense. I still remember some papers I wrote in college--my own work--but most of the lectures are long gone (which doesn't mean the content has leaked away). I'd say it's a major difference between the college students I teach today and the ones I taught 30+ years ago: today, kids want to do it themselves.
Which is fine, to a point. In a wonderful interview on Mars Hill Audio's last issue, Prof. Mark Bauerlein talks about the insulated world of kids today, specifically how social networking and cellphone obsequiousness allow them to live in the total comfort of the confines of their worlds, as if youth culture were the only culture.
I sat in an auditorium full of kids last weekend for the award ceremonies of a 48-hour film festival. The place wasn't jammed, but it was full, far more kids there than anyone could get for almost any speaker or lecturer, even a celebrity. Creating a short film in 48 hours is nothing to sneeze at; the job requires steep investment from a team of competent and creative kids. But the reason the place was full of kids was that making a film in 48 hours was something they did.
All fine and dandy. I've got no complaints and nothing but admiration for the kids who actually pulled the whole thing off.
But I wonder sometimes what might be lost in collaborative learning and the proclivity students have for doing things on their own. I wonder if maybe curiosity has waned. There's nothing wrong with the kid who insists "let me do it," but there is when they are the very heart of the learning process. If the only thing that really makes sense is what they do, then what they do will be, at least to them, the only things that really make sense.
But then, why bite the hand that feeds you? What am I complaining about? I got by slick and easy the other night by letting them do all the work. Who needs xerox? Sit back with that diet coke.
The new trick the old dog has to learn is to let them do it.
Then hope for the best.
Which is all we could ever do.