New Pedagogical Techniques with Classical Topics

I’m constantly conflicted in my pedagogical beliefs and methodologies, primarily because I believe so strongly in technological implementation into the classroom but also believe in a more classical form of education. These practices frequently class with each other: there’s nothing classical about implementing blogging and gaming into a classroom. Yet, on the other hand, as a means to rectify these issues, I find that the two can interact quite well to achieve great ends. Perhaps this is where English education needs to head.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I suppose I should begin with some of my proposed methods and ideas.

I find many tech-based composition/literary scholars are far too “liberal” with their studies for my liking. I don’t feel comfortable allowing my students to compose videos as a form of rhetorical analysis instead of writing an essay about it–and yes, I understand the fundamental flaws of that thinking due to rhetoric’s roots stemming (ha! See what I did there?) from oratory. On the other hand, I find classical rhetoric/literary scholars too conservative. It’s mind-boggling that some academics do not acknowledge the breadth of information available readily online, and many still do not “trust” ANY and ALL .com websites. Although most people don’t consider themselves strong conservatives or strong liberals in politics, I find that in academia–at least in composition and literature–people tend to fall into one category or another, whether they intend to or not. I, on the other hand, try to be a moderate.

So how do I do that? I believe in technology, I believe in gaming, but I also believe in using these things to enhance the subject matter at hand. It’s easy to let the technology and the “coolness” of it all to take over the classroom. Too easy. It’s also too easy to allow your hobbies to control the subject matter (e.g. let me structure a class around my favorite musicians–everyone likes music right? Well maybe not your or my music). Let’s say I’m a gamer (I am). I can implement gaming into my classroom without forcing the subject matter to be ABOUT gaming. Likewise, I don’t need to make my students who aren’t gamers feel like they’re forced to play video games like Second Life. One thing I proposed at a CCCC conference was structuring a class to function similarly to specializations in an MMORPG. In an MMORPG (let’s not worry about terminology and such for now), you choose a specialty and become an expert in a particular “field.” You may be the person who kills the “bad guys,” or you may be the person that helps your allies stay alive while they kill the bad guys. Your choice. We can allow similar specializations to our students without neglecting our subject matter?

How?

Let’s start with a Freshman-Year Composition (FYC) course. FYC is taught in many different ways at many different universities, but they have the same goal: create a class in which students learn the fundamentals of writing at the college level. Now let’s say you’re a hard-core classicist. You want to teach old-school paper writing like narrative, argumentative, persuasive, and research. You make your students read Aristotelian and Ciceronian rhetoric. You can still implement the game classroom structure. Allow students to pick a specialty that they are interested in, and have them build up that specialty until they become an “expert” in it. Then, have the students present their field and “teach” the other students. Have group-work comprised of different specialties and see how they work together. They can become narrative experts, persuasive experts, argumentative experts, research experts, etc. This is a really brief form of my CCCC presentation, but you can get the gist of how it works, I think.

Suggestions such as this create a more educationally balanced classroom. It teaches classical techniques (e.g. different forms of writing) with a modern twist. We don’t have to jump into the deep end of the pool if we’re not ready to with technology and the like–nor do we have to walk around in the shallow end if we’re ready to take on more. Integration of technology and new pedagogies doesn’t need to be “fashionable.” You don’t need to be pressured into having blogs in your classroom that have flash animations, but at the same time you don’t need to dig your heels into the ground and pout every time someone suggests a new technique. I’m just learning this balance between the two, and it’s certainly not easy. I only hope that others, too, will begin to question both extremes and try to find some sort of comfort in the middle.

Posted in Legacy.