Alanya Harter

Back to School, Lawrence Krauss, and the English Community

Blog Post created by Alanya Harter Employee on Oct 2, 2015

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Today I've been musing about what matters in teaching and learning. It's personal--my daughters went back to school, entering the 8th and 10th grade, and I followed a compressed version of their daily schedules at two Parent Nights this week. Last night I heard from a life science teacher who has her students keep a journal of inquiry, observation, and discovery; a math teacher who teaches interrogation and perseverance over formula and mastery; and a history teacher who has flipped her classroom so that class time can be differentiated and interactive. Education is changing, at every level, and technology both helps and hinders. To me, that science journal--a marble composition book, with a running table of contents kept by the students--was a revelation. It was pencil and paper, with illustrations, annotations, and descriptions that record what students saw, thought, and learned during class. It was so old school it seemed brand new. The apps and the websites and the ebooks and the journals we all use to organize our work and life are all just tools, really, to help our firing, fallible synapses remember, connect, and collect information and ideas that make each of us readers, writers and thinkers. Flipping through that journal, I saw my daughter as a learner of things, in a way I never had before, though it would take more musing to articulate why.

 

It's also my job to think about teaching and learning, of course, and I've had a front-row seat for the changing higher-ed classroom over the past 20 years. The rate of change introduced by technology is on a steeper curve every year, and in every discipline, though at a more sedate clip for my beloved humanities. Still, the demand for quality content to support teachers also grows every year. On September 18, we launched The English Community. It's been gratifying to see how many people are creating accounts--and, we hope, finding content that's valuable to them as teachers. Over the past few weeks I've been reading the community site analytics to see what kind of story the numbers tell. Today, to my surprise, I saw that the content that tops the chart (1,558 views to date, grabbing the crown from now #2 post by Traci Gardner, Converting to a More Visual Syllabus ) is a video taken during our recent STEM Summit: Mariette DiChristina chatting with  Lawrence Krauss on filtering for the right information.

 

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When I watched this video, it was like all the pieces clicked into place, confirming something I didn't know I believed: Content doesn't matter as much as knowing how to retrieve it. Dr. Lawrence Krauss says, "We all want to provide answers," and that's undeniably true for us as publishers, whether the answer is a new solution to an old challenge, or up to date, correct information in a rapidly growing and changing body of knowledge (or database!). That's one of our greatest challenges, to build not just a collection for teachers, but a collection with a deliberate and eventually elegant architecture of curation and filtering that our users will understand and use to retrieve exactly what they're looking for. And that relationship of content and retrieval isn't unique for STEM pedagogy, any more than the importance of a structured argument is unique for composition teachers. Thinking meta gives me a peculiar joy--but how do you create a taxonomy that anticipates all the different ways people might try to retrieve the content you create? We're trying different things, learning, making mistakes, and adapting.

 

 

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We're trying to create a scaffolding that makes sense to people, with tags, categories, and spaces, so you'll be able to find the content you're looking for. And if you're not finding what you need? Ask a question right in the community and we'll try that old throwback retrieval method, person to person, call and response. Because really, everything new is old.

 

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