Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Innovation in the classroom: an homage

One of the critiques I found most annoying about my past life in grad school from businessvolk was the claim that we, academics, we’re not in the “real world.” I have a bunch of counter arguments to this claim—not least of which that the so-called real world often has lower standards than those maintained in an academic environment--but the occasion for this post was coming across the blog of a former professor who continues to bring such energy, innovation and commitment to the craft of teaching that he frankly makes most of my colleagues in marketing look like, well, absent-minded professors.

He was one of the earliest and most aggressive adopters of message boards and other digital technologies, not for their own sake, but to facilitate student engagement. He taught and taught me that the point of the humanities classroom was not to communicate a particular idea but rather to get students excited to think in a new way. (It's still my goal for early meetings with a new client). What his methods--now widely adopted--created was an ongoing discussion and debate which went on all week. The hour or 90 minutes in the classroom became the climax rather the start of the debate with well-honed arguments that had been advanced and rebuffed and refined online. You can check out his website here.

He recently posted a description of how--long after my departure--he demanded that his students learn HTML so they could develop websites to voice their arguments. This was a literature class, mind you, though always a highly politicized one. The majority didn’t know HTML, but he told them to figure it out. Everyone complained. I'm sure I would have as well. But as the post indicates, it turned at least one into a web consultant. We should all hold our own staffs in the real world to such a high standard of invention under duress.

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