I have not been a student in the traditional sense for some time. I have not sat in a classroom, at a desk, and listened to a teacher or speaker discuss and run a class centered around a central topic. Everything I have done over the last few years has been focused on my own learning and those elements that I deemed necessary for me to focus on: technology, school change, leadership, curriculum, educational theory, methodology, state mandates, assessment, differentiation, learning styles, visual literacy, Web 2.0, or any other of the most current buzzwords the field of education. In the last seven years, that time that has passed since I have last entered a graduate school classroom where my primary role was that of “student,” a lot has changed in me. Never was this as evident as a lecture series I sat in on Monday and Wednesday of this week.
Dr. Eric Davis, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, came to our district to engage any of us interested in a conversation about how to teach our students to better understand terrorism, its root causes, and a means to combat it in an enlightened way.
I was an anthropology major in college, and took enough history to obtain a dual degree (have to check on the status of that one). It’s my bag, and I am lucky to work with a department that is rife with history junkies. So when one of our teachers arranged for Dr. Davis to speak with us about his work in the Middle East, we were all excited to work up some intellectual sweat.
Dr. Davis ran his class like many of our classrooms are run: he used a slidedeck laced with his overarching objectives, followed by rationale, example, and explanation. He also, at any moment, took questions or requests for further clarification from us. No different than many of the history lectures I attended in either high school or college.
What was different was me. In those previous situations, the only source for information I had was Dr. Davis, his syllabus, and the recommended books on that syllabus that I was to have read for that day’s class. In Monday and Wednesday’s class, I had all of you, I had video, I had Flickr images, I had Amazon’s recommendations.
As Dr. Davis spoke about Fareed Zakaria’s work on how to win the war on terror, I popped out and linked my notes to his book on Amazon. The same with obscure texts like those by Olivier Roy. As he talked about and showed us startling images from the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and the treasures that were lost, I realized I wanted those images too, so I pulled them into my notes from Flickr. He discussed the use of Iraqi student blogs with his undergraduates; I conducted a quick scan of my twitter network and of Davis’ own resources and and found several examples.
We all asked questions and contributed to the discussion. I chronicled it in a way that I never would have. My notes look vastly different and more robust than anything I could have done ten, even five years ago. His lecture, his class, took on a whole new life in my notes. I dropped in questions to myself that I’ll look back on and that will help me go in new directions later on.
The best part, for me at least, is that I shared them with everyone in the seminar via Google Docs, and I asked them to drop in their notes and thoughts as well, or to just use mine to springboard even further.
I am now that student–that student that wants more than just what is front of me, and knows how to get it. We had all types of students in this seminar: those that listened, those that talked, those that hand-wrote notes, and me. The best part about it is that it doesn’t matter at all if no one shares their notes with me in the collaborative document. Their interactions in engaging Dr. Davis became part of my thinking and my documentation. They contributed to my learning, and the least I can do is give back to them this document.