Final week of the semester

This is a period of change for everyone in academic settings.

Coming into the last week of the semester, I’m at a transition phase in many areas of my life, but especially in my work at the university. It is a transition in which I try to come to terms with the idea that because a semester ends, the work for my students and myself does not and should not end. Projects at the doctoral level and even at the Masters level are usually far to large to be constrained by four months of work. An IRB usually takes 4-6 weeks after a couple of weeks figuring out what we want to do if we can really figure that out in such a short period of time. At this point more than half the semester is usually passed by us. Further, the scope of doctoral projects is often large, lasting a year or more in some cases because there is no one simple question we seek answers to with our research and theoretical framing.

Thus, I’m seeking a different way to teach and one of my fellow faculty members is working with me on that starting next semester. We did some planning yesterday regarding how to address a possible cognitive apprenticeship model within our two courses by linking the work meaningfully between them. Further, the work we have done in my course this semester will follow several of my students to the next course and those that are not in the course will remain connected to the projects, working actively on them.

My challenge, as it was as a public school teacher, is that the old chronological structures of school are inappropriate to today’s requirements of work and learning. Telling someone they must fit everything into 42 minutes a day (middle school) or three hours a week (university) becomes absurd because it reinforces the idea that things should end within a set amount of time and that learning, work and even access to one another between students and instructors should be limited to that time in an old model student-instructor relationship. Rather than such a model, it makes more sense to recognize the goals of the PhD: produce independent, successful researchers, teachers, theorists, and writers. These are minimal requirements for the most part. There is also the development of professional relationships and building a network of peers and friends in the field and becoming acclimated to the unspoken norms and rules of the larger group of professionals. These are things that are hard to teach in a set period of time, especially through traditional relationships and structures.

I may have more experience and know more about the field and research than many of my students. However, there are many areas in which they know a lot more than I do. I can guide them and act, as Vygotsky framed it, a more learned other. However, to a large degree, we remain peers. I have much to learn from them and the professional relationship we need to build for them to be successful at the conclusion of this period in their lives as students should be different from how it is now. I would say “apprenticeship” is too strong a word. I am a fellow learner with the students I work with as a professor, not as was once conceived as a “professor of truth” or the one right way. That is ego in which one places their idea of power and knowledge above others, insisting on their “correct” view that should not be questioned, at least in the classroom.
There is no one right way and, for me, no one truth. Instead, there is a way of being that I believe should be open and seeking intersubjective agreement and the truths that exist for the duration of our time together.

I’m not sure where I’m going now as the transition begins, but I know where I’ve been uncomfortable and feeling strange. There has been learned a lot about what not to do and how not to think about how I and others work. What should the word be for this proposed relationship between today’s learner and today’s instructor? Perhaps a cognitive partnership as Jonassen begins to frame it in Computers in the Classroom (pg. 14-15), but with people instead of technology? It will require thinking on my part and the part of others I work with regularly.

Perhaps figuring out some of this can help with transitions in the other parts of my life as well.

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