Perhaps because of my background in playwriting and theatre history, I have always seen pedagogical questions in social terms. Theatre, for me, has never been about entertainment or economics (despite American examples to the contrary), but rather about community and social change. Just as Miller's Death of a Salesman was written for a specific time and to illuminate a specific idea about tragedy and the common man, likewise any subsequent production of that same play must grapple with the ways in which it speaks to and for the time and place of its presentation. No performance exists in a vacuum; it is always informed by (and should therefore seek to inform) its social landscape, its sense of place, its geography of meaning. This idea was brought home to me recently while watching a local production of Othelloa shoestring affair done on a "community theatre" scale. Normally, I am willing to forgive a multitude of sins when attending theatre, for I appreciate the difficulties inherent in mounting any performance, but in this case I was disturbed by the decision (and today it must be seen as a decision) to cast a white actor in the title role without comment, without adjustment of the production, and without acknowledgement that such a choice was laden with meaning and significance. Only one aspect had been changed, the race of the title character, but that adjustment changed everything. It shifted the center of gravity, and created a new environment.
Neil Postman approached a different circumstance in much the same way, offering a useful metaphor for thinking about technology and its place in the classroom. He suggested that all technological change, whether it be the introduction of writing or the advent of computers, brings about massive and largely unknown consequences.
When he wrote this, Postman was concerned with the attitude, now less prevalent, that you could simply add technology to the classroom and expect the educational process to continue without significant adjustment - or rather with benefits alone, no negative consequences. We know now that the introduction of technology into the classroom does indeed bring about ecological change (both good and bad), but we are still grappling with what that change should be, and how it should be directed. In 2001 we have the benefit of hindsight; we know the dangers of environmental colonialism and how introduced species can run rough-shod over functional and sustainable ecosystems, often with disastrous results. I use Postman's metaphor to demonstrate how interdisciplinary approaches can be used to better understand both the challenges of and the responses to what I have come to call cyber-pedagogythe re-thinking of educational processes and products in light of the new technologies of cyberspace. Of particular interest to me has been the confluence of critical pedagogy, social geography, and theatre in response to new directions for teaching, learning and scholarship.
In 1994 I presented a paper titled "Teaching in the Electronic Classroom" at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) annual conference. Although this foray into the world of technology was relatively new to the organization, it provided an opportunity to share with my colleagues the changes that were occurring in classrooms throughout the country and the world. That first presentation was little more than a dog-and-pony show, but it led the following year to another more cautionary paper titled "Information, Knowledge and the Construction of Meaning in the Electronic Classroom" which dealt explicitly with what I saw as the dangers of technological boosterism. I believed then (and believe now) that while computers are a great boon to those interested in information gathering, and show great promise in support of instrumental knowledge development, they are not, nor are they likely to be, a silver bullet for meaning construction. Now that almost a decade has passed I am still cautious about the uses of technology in the classroom, especially in the arts and the humanities, but I am more confident about the possibilities for computers as agents of personal and social change. For I believe that the information technologies available on most of our campuses today provide an exciting opportunity for transformative education, a shifting of the focus from the teacher and the text to the student and the society, and the potential for real empowerment based on creativity and critique.
The idea of student empowerment is not new, and can be traced back to the work of John Dewey and beyond. It is a call for the valuing of student experience in education, a recognition that the work that happens in the classroom should be connected to the realities outside the classroom, not as a one-dimensional product of indoctrination but as a multi-directional process of meaning-making. As Henry Giroux (1994) points out
And, as a site of conflict and dialogue, education must be presented not as a pre-digested truth handed down from the professor to the student, but as a conflicted and conflicting process of re-creation and critical reflection produced within the heart and mind of the student. We know from numerous studies that when students own the work of the classroom they learn more completely and more coherently, thus it is only logical that we try to shift the center of gravity from teacher to learner. But we must also provide students with the opportunity to encounter and re-make their own world; it is vital that learners understand their own agency, and exercise their own abilities in pursuit of social change and civic improvement. As Shor & Freire (1987) explain, "the idea is to make critical reflection on society the fundamental activity. The idea is to avoid flying over the words in an heroic effort to reach the end of the reading list, flying over the society also in such a way as to avoid knowing how learning relates to reality" (86).
This relationship between learning and reality has been too-often neglected in the literature dealing with information technologies and the college classroom, but represents perhaps one of the most fruitful arenas for the merging of cyber-pedagogy and democratic practice. A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled "When Teaching Clicks: Online Technology Pushes Pedagogy to the Forefront" presented a number of ways in which emergent technologies were in fact bringing about innovative pedagogical responses, including engaging students in active learning, offering easy access to massive amounts of information, allowing students to review previously covered material, and providing preliminary experience in a safe setting. But in almost every case the focus was on pre-packaged and software-driven alternatives to lecturing; retaining the emphasis on teacher-directed instruction, albeit through mediated and more remote means. Even the section on connecting learning with real life, a stated benefit of digital technologies, presented the following examples: students at the University of Melbourne could take on the role of a world leader in a computer simulation of international politics; archeology majors can recreate an archeological dig using a workbook and a CD-ROM; Hofstra University Law School students use e-mail networks to facilitate pretrial litigation discussion under faculty leadership. While all of these examples certainly connect with and relate to real life circumstances, none of them provide for student direction and none of them have any real contact with that real world they purport to engage (Newman & Scurry 2001, B8 & B10). This is the problem with much cyber-oriented pedagogical change, and this is one area where emergent curriculum could offer a valuable alternative.
In the first Davies Memorial Lecture delivered for the Institute of Arts and Sciences on February 25, 1930, educator and philosopher John Dewey called for a renewed focus on the combined benefits of construction (by which he meant creativity in the broadest sense) and criticism (by which he meant the exercise of critical judgement). He saw in these two categories the pedagogical equivalent of the pioneer frontier sensibility; a way of turning our educational endeavors back to the individualism and independence of a more challenging and less pre-determined time. Now, as a scholar of the American West and its representation on stage, I know that much of what we now think of as frontier ideology is little more than myth, metaphor and manipulated meaning. But despite the initial premise, and the distance of almost four-score years, Dewey's observations and analysis provide useful insights into the how and why of social knowledge construction and informed public critique.
Dewey's "pioneer as character" in the "frontier as historical moment" was a significant starting point for two reasons: the pioneer represented the impulse to creation, and the insight of judgement. Pioneers were, for Dewey (1930), individuals constantly faced with the new and the challenging, "they did not live in a ready-made world but in a world they were themselves making" (5). Dewey put great value on the ability to build, and the realization of the need to evaluate that which has been built. To that end, he saw education as the modern-day equivalent of pioneering. But not education in a traditional sensenot education as what Paulo Freire, forty years later, would call the "banking" concept of education. Rather, Dewey (1930) proposed a kind of learning that was collateral, linked to experience and the cultivation of the desire for more learning.
For Dewey, and for many of today's educators, it was intellectual engagement and independent activity which marked the authentic learning experience, the genuine and creative pedagogical process. As Dewey ( 1997) stated in a later work, also anticipating Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
Ultimately, what matters most in terms of a progressive education is the ability to make meaning in new circumstances, construct knowledge that is useful and connected to the world in which we live, and cultivate critical faculties with which to evaluate and adjust the personal and social circumstances that present themselves on a daily basis. It is the challenge of critical pedagogy, and the challenge of human existence. "And so," geographer Yi-Fu Tuan (1999) suggests,
But how to cultivate this combination of geographical intelligence and artistic imagination? How to grapple with the space of the known and the creation of the possible? One approach can be found in a combination of computer (especially internet) technology and emergent curriculum.
The idea of emergent curriculum has been around for many years, and is often discussed in terms of K-12 education. Simply put, it is a way of capitalizing on unanticipated teachable moments by using issues and ideas that emerge naturally to augment and often direct the course of the curriculum. Often these moments are initiated by the students' interests but expanded through instructor activity; initial questions and observations might lead to adjustments in readings or assignments. But I am here using the term to indicate a more student-centered and student-propelled experience, which can be built into the educational enterprise from the outset, either through space and time left in a syllabus or through willingness to jettison pre-planned activities. The former is often a feature in my courses, where texts or topics or teachings are left incomplete, thus providing opportunities for student input and adjustment. The latter is a constant feature of my own pedagogy, wherein virtually all material is up for negotiation and student direction is always encouraged. Much of this has been the result of a project funded by the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, where I spent a year examining and documenting the process of what I have come to call the cultivation of complicityan attempt to help students become more involved in their own education.
The benefits of emergent curriculum are legion, and such an approach shifts the focus of learning from the teacher and the material to the student and the experience of meaning-making. Rather than providing a one-way conduit of data, emergent curriculum demonstrates how student interests can be valued and validated. As Freire ( 1993) writes,
By focusing the ways and means of education on the areas that interest students, we provide an opportunity for construction and criticism (à la Dewey), a venue for the otherwise unused energies of connection and critique. Dewey (1930) himself states,
In an emergent curriculum we have the opportunity for creation, in the form of student-centered and student-generated investigation, and critique, in the form of student-initiated and student-designed analysis, which will in turn lead to yet another creation. The circularity is valuable under any circumstances, but when framed as emergent knowledge and understanding it holds a double meaning.
Perhaps even more importantly, such emergent learning, when connected to issues of social justice or perceived inequity, provides a ready laboratory for social change and progressive action. Thus all opportunities for emergence become visions of utopia broadly defined.
This is the other and less obvious benefit of emergent curriculumthe possibility of constructing visions of the "good place" just out of reach. For while some of what our students seek is instrumental and practical, much can also be utopian and idealistic. Students who ask about racist language in a text are often looking for a way to impact racist aspects of their own society. Questions about inequity or oppression are rarely academic, and a commitment to emergent curriculum can often channel negative observations into positive action. And this is where technology can be most influential.
Earlier in this paper I found fault with educational technology that remained isolated from the obstacles and opportunities of the world outside the academy. In a learning environment where most college students own a personal computer, where many have access to the internet, where some have already begun exploring the possibilities of cyberspace, it seems unimaginable and irresponsible to ignore the connective potential of information technologies outside the control of the classroom. Others have written about the benefits of students having access to immense data banks and image libraries, of mastering the world through yet another imperialist assault led by innovative technologies, but I am more interested in the way in which the internet and the personal computer open opportunities for creativity and critique. One of the most important benefits that can be derived from the new computer information systems is an opportunity for students to create their own responses to perceived needs.
Take the case of an Introduction to Theatre class, one of the staple courses for theatre departments across the country. The goal of the course is to introduce students to theatre as a discipline, a process, a product, and a practice; it can be thought of as a path to the profession or a way of cultivating future audience members. In either case, the course will most likely include explanations about the various aspects of theatrical production, theatre history, and theatre criticism. For me, one of the most important aspects of this course is the understanding of season selection, and an awareness of how theatre can and should appeal and apply to the community in which it occurs. This level of thoughtful consideration must involve investigation of the audiences for which the play is to be performed, the resources of the theatre organization which is to create the performance, and the texts which are available for performance. When discussing season selection it is common for students to ask about local theatre, or theatre from their home town. At that point I see an opportunity for electronic media and emergent curriculum.
How does the La Jolla Playhouse, or the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, or the Hartford Stage choose a season and what are the factors involved? Who are they playing to and what are they seeking to say? What is the makeup of the community and to whom are they appealing. All of these questions and more lead to the world wide web and an assortment of tools and techniques, all of them discovered and disseminated in the process of asking student-generated questions. One set of students might look at census data and economic factors contributing to audience demographics. Another student might look at previous seasons in an effort to plot a change in focus. Still another student might track down reviews to see how the local press reacted to selected performances. Ultimately, this will most often lead to an examination of local theatre, perhaps even theatre on campus. In many cases, I have seen this kind of search and rescue of information lead to student proposals of plays for the following on-campus season and greater involvement in the department as a whole.
Imagine a freshman composition class, Writing Practice I, wherein students are asked to come up with a topic that is pertinent to their new environment; something that can help them connect with the process of writing because it is intimately linked to their lived experiences. Perhaps the class will decide that they are interested in creating a guide for incoming freshmen, focusing on the kinds of things that most "official" publications never cover. The first step is to head to the web and find out what the university is already doing, then generate a list of alternatives that can be both information and text-based. Students will search the campus server and servers from other campuses, looking for ideas. Once they have come up with categories such as transportation alternatives, bike and board corridors through town, social centers downtown, and best unknown places to sit around campus, they set about researching and writing about their choices. Ultimately, the guide goes on-line and is available as an alternative to official university organs, providing a student-generated, electronically accessible word on the street.
Consider a liberal studies course called Challenge and Response in the Modern World, devoted to examining and understanding the current century in light of the previous and the next. Often during this course, students begin to feel dissatisfied with what seems to be the hopelessness of contemporary society and begin to agitate for alternatives. Many of those alternatives can be found by turning to the internet. An ongoing feature of this course is now the setting aside of space and time for students to determine areas of interest, regions of curiosity which can be investigated and pursued within the context of the course. Past semesters have included work in environmental justice, human rights, managing waste, and postmodern revolutions. The students decide their topics within seminar groups, examine traditional scholarly avenues of research, and ultimately turn to the world wide web for current and controversial investigation. The results are made public in a symposium and propaganda is widely distributed.
All three of these examples have occurred at various institutions including a major Midwestern research university, a research oriented state university, a liberal arts oriented state university, and other sites, and all have things in common: they occur within the framework of an established class; they begin with student interest and motivation; they provide time and space for students to pursue questions they themselves see as vital and worth considering; they allow other aspects of the established curriculum to be abandoned in favor of alternative projects; they do not rely on teacher expertise; they do rely heavily on computer support; they lead students into arenas of construction (students are making meaning throughout) and critique (they are constantly evaluating data in light of new information); and most importantly, all of them end publicly.
One of the most important aspects of these projects is the opportunities they provide students for self-direction and self-determination. Critics of emergent technology have focused on the way in which identity is broken down by on-line and mediated environments. Sociologist Kenneth Gergen (1999) has been one of the most outspoken critics of postmodern technologies, seeing them as damaging to both conceptions and creations of the self. Others also see a "crisis of self" occurring as a result of the disempowering of individuals in a technological society. As Barglow (1994) states,
But while there are psychological dangers in new technologies, there are also psychological and social benefits. In projects such as the ones mentioned above, where emergent curriculum constructs a power-enhancing environment and students are encouraged to make significant personal connections between themselves and other distant social actors, the benefits to self and society can be significant. In their essay "Critical Pedagogy and Cyberspace," Colin Lankshear, Michael Peters, and Michele Knobel write,
Students who see connection as beneficial to their own work and their own world, who have grown up with cyberspace in the same way in which many of us grew up with television, who are committed to looking beyond the curriculum for answers to their own questions, are less likely to see the future as disempowering and less likely to allow even newer technologies to overwhelm either their sense of self or their hope for the future. Such students are creators of the future, for they are better connected to the present and more confident of their own abilities and agency. And in the classes mentioned above, such students are in the majoritysomething that often occurs when they are given the power of choice and the chance to make change. They can imagine a better tomorrow, and as Tuan (1999) suggests, imagine the good.
And with projects such as these, which incorporate responsible pedagogy, meaningful practice, emergent curriculum, and electronic resources, students are allowed to cultivate the creativity necessary to build the good place, and the critical faculties necessary to interpret and understand the good society. They are better prepared to pursue what Freire ( 1993) explains is "the continuing transformation of reality, in behalf of the continuing humanization of men" (73).
Can all of this be accomplished without the aid of technology? I am not sure that it can. When we use these cyberspace links, connect personally and technically, make connections that are literally active rather than mediated by passive print technologies, we are taking the process of construction and critique to a new level. Students who rely on traditional forms of research are less likely to pursue the most immediate and the most controversial subjects. Students who are asked to master the tools of the past rather than the tools of the present, are forever looking backwards. And most important, students who see the results of their actions as private and local are much less likely to become active social agents and connected citizens than those who make their meaning in public and on a grander scale. As in theatre, what matters most may be the public performance, for a craft is only valuable when it is shared. Of course, Barglow (1994) tells us
Yet a cyber-pedagogy within an emergent curriculum provides a window on the world that is far from anonymous yet immensely personal. And the more public the results of this work can become (through student web sites, for example), the more important it will be for the students and for their society.
I cannot stress this social link enough, for everything I am describing connects to the premise that students can and should hold the power of education in their own hands. Furthermore, this power can and should be turned, whenever possible, to the large questions of our society. It has been my experience that students who grapple with important issues and challenging problems will always rise to the occasion, and that students who are given the opportunity to make a difference in their community will always do so. As geographer Tuan (1999) reminds us, "what challenges human beings most is not architecture, for magnificent shells have been built since antiquity, but rather the making of a society that not only lives harmoniously but also is able to rise to a level of moral/intellectual excellence that matches its architecture" (21). We have at our disposal a technology with a track record for the dissemination of democracy in the midst of oppression. From the e-mails of Kosovo children and web sites of Chinese dissidents to whitesonly.net and rushlimbaugh.com, technology, Barglow (1994) reminds us, "lends itself as readily to the legitimation of social change as to legitimation and preservation of the status quo" (180). So what better way of encouraging social change than through the use of technology in the classroom and in the community?
Of course, this is where the idea of critical reflection must be included in the curriculum, for any text presented without interrogation becomes anti-democratic. Likewise, technology is a risky medium for social change, because, as Barglow (1994) points out, it is "essentially contradictory; [for it] articulates and extends the fissures and inconsistencies that characterize our lives" (182) But if that essential contradiction, those fissures and inconsistencies can be made the subject of investigation and reflection, if they can be used to construct meaning and critique society, then technology can become a valuable asset. Once again, Barglow (1994) is useful in pointing out that when dealing with technology as text, we can let it be
What made my students propose a new season of plays, create a new freshman guide, and propose alternatives to a depressing future was, at least in part, a realization that the information they were receiving was no more valuable than the information they were creating; that there is little difference between a well-researched and articulated book, journal article, web site, or term paper. In accepting the challenge to search for and rescue unheard voices (by which I mean those not already included in the curriculum), including their own, they were striking out in favor of self-determination, and against what they perceived as institutional oppression. Freire ( 1993) wrote that "when people lack a critical understanding of their reality, apprehending it in fragments which they do not perceive as interacting constituent elements of the whole, they cannot truly know that reality" (85), but that when they begin to see the inter-connections and relationships within a reality that is both constructed and malleable, they have power.
The combination of an emergent curriculum and a technologically connected student community can lead to both individual and institutional change. Students who learn through desire and curiosity about the impoverishment of their own environment (physical, social, spiritual, etc.) are better prepared for action and more likely to take it. Another geographer, J. B. Jackson, in a text edited by E. H. Zube (1970) put it this way.
But in taking control of their own education, and making meaning through the use of information technologies, the students in my classes have gone beyond being "simply tenants or guests or spectators," and have instead taken up the banner and acted on their "chance to create or modify some part of our world." In the days and months and years following these classes, many students have contacted me about how their actions have continued and borne fruit. Sometimes it is merely in a personal way, as in the student who has changed her buying and eating and wasting habits and the habits of her roommates. Other times it is linked to community, as in the teachers who change their own curriculum in response to the work of our classes. Occasionally it is more regional, as in the students who have gone on to work for social service organizations. Perhaps we will never really know what effect this has in the long runcertainly there are programs and classes trying to track this but thus far the reports are limited. Yet we pursue these goals not because they yield immediate fruit, but because they hold future promises. And technology has a place in this struggle, as Rhodes (1999) suggests:
Now I am not sure about "benevolence," but I do know from experience that the combination of information technology, transformative pedagogical practice, student empowerment and emergent curriculum, creativity and critique all contribute to socially awareness and deeper learning on the part of students and faculty.
Woody Guthrie once said "the note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine" (this came from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit This Land is Your Land: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie which is currently touring the United States). Paulo Freire (1997) echoes this when he writes "the struggle for hope is permanent, and it becomes intensified when one realizes it is not a solitary struggle . Unhopeful educators contradict their practice. They are men and women without address , and without a destination. They are lost in history" (106-7). Every theatre production, every teaching moment, and every social interaction is, for me, an act of hope, an effort to make the world a better place. And while technology is fraught with peril, so is education, and so is theatre. There are pitfalls and pratfalls waiting around every bend. But when we keep hope and change and humanity as our destination, even the most dangerous tools become instruments of construction and critique.
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