experiential learning

and maybe i should take a stronger cue from one of my favorite aspects of education: the part where we all (students and teachers) get to participate in the practice of learning, in the tasks that apply our knowledge and skill, in the activities – individual and collaborative – that test our insights in context… because i was looking for insights in what i now see must to students have seemed like a blasé set of reflection questions — when i really should have been looking directly at the experiential-based activity these questions were asking students to describe.

when my students recently participated in editing and transcribing documents from the Martha Berry Digital Archive, among the assignment guidelines was a set of reflection questions which i’d hoped would elicit thoughtful responses about the historical context of the letters, the distinctive writing styles of the authors, the challenges of transcribing an unfamiliar hand — and…

and i was wrong. the reflections were not exactly an edge-of-your-seat read…

the transcriptions, on the other hand, told an entirely different story – they expressed an arduous attention to textual preservation and a palpable sensitivity to authorial fidelity. learning that was by no means evident in a set of i-am-doing-this-because-you-are-making-me reflections leapt from the pages of transcriptions, where efforts to preserve every dot of punctuation, each and every majuscule and minuscule, barely visible indentations and hyphens, and spellings such as thot for thought were evident and fresh and inspiring.

peer exchange and review (much like code review) perhaps contributed to the high quality transcriptions, whether because of the pressure inherent in sharing work among peers, because of the substantive feedback such a process can and often does produce, or because of the two-heads dimension of collaboration. the in-class discussion was excellent as well. like the transcription activity, discussion was context-bound, so immediate and direct reference to the texts being discussed defined the dialogue.

so what if i was disappointed by the utterly glitter-less & hereafter divorced-from-the-assignment reflections. the transcriptions and discussion told me what i really needed to know.