The National Teaching & Learning Forum
Online ISSN: 2166-3327
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James Rhem, Executive Editor
Having felt a passion for teaching for as long as he can remember, James Rhem, creator and executive editor of The National Teaching & Learning Forum, describes teaching and learning as sacramental acts. He was pursuing post-doctoral studies when the opportunity to have a wider influence on the teaching community opened and he began creating publications on teaching for higher education. After founding four newsletters, including the popular Teaching Professor, he founded The National Teaching & Learning Forum in 1990. Rhem is also active as a speaker, offering a humanities perspectives on teaching.
Editor's Note, Volume 23 Number 2
James Rhem, Executive Editor:
Learning begins with careful observation. But even such a basic truth offers only the beginning of understanding. What constitutes “care” and what “observation”? Where do ideas, presumptions, and hypotheses—phenomena that influence what and how we see as well as what we look for—come into play? Way back in 1999 (NTLF, V8N2) we wrote about the “Pygmalion phenomenon” and how our presumptions about students influence how they do in class. Bright students, whom teachers have been mistakenly led to believe to be mediocre, end up doing poorly. It’s frightening to realize how powerfully our presumptions affect our perceptions, or to put it another way, how they corrupt our efforts at careful observation, and thus end up skewing our learning toward mistake and prejudice. There’s no escaping the danger, but a fuller, more conscious embrace of what we know about the phenomenology of our consciousness offers a better path toward more honest teaching and better research into teaching and learning. This issue’s lead article explores that better path in dialogue with James Morley, professor of clinical psychology at Ramapo College. A phenomenological method, says Morley, ends up offering a sound pedagogy grounded in careful observation.
Perhaps careful observation of our consciousness—how we actually think—may offer the way out of the traps of partial understanding we’ve built along the way in the long history of learning. That’s the hopeful prospect underlying Ed Nuhfer’s DEVELOPER’S DIARY. For some time, Ed’s been expanding on the concept of “metadisciplinary” learning. By that he means distilling the overarching patterns of knowing in science, the humanities and technology and finding ways to teach—that is to say, inculcate a conscious grasp of—those patterns in students. With this edition, Ed explores the development of a metacognitive approach to doing just that. We hear a lot about teaching critical thinking, teaching students how to think, how to develop various mental skills. As Ed sees it, all of that falls within a metacognitive awareness and understanding of consciousness, and ought to guide everything from lesson plans to the design of a general education curriculum.
While Ed draws the big conceptual picture, this issue’s CREATIVITY CAFÉ by the Sweet, Blythe, Carpenter team outlines very practical means of getting a grip both on individual and collective consciousness. Brainstorming has been sometimes misunderstood as a free-for-all in which an undisciplined storm of ideas rages until some thunderbolt of insight clears the air. Not so, say the Kentucky trio. Research shows that productive brainstorming accepts rules and limits and ends up producing more and better ideas. Just as James Morley says in discussing phenomenology, “strong fences make good neighbors.”
And we do have neighbors. Descartes proved his existence by recognizing that he thought cogito ergo sum, but he had to quickly realize he wasn’t alone. We live surrounded by others. We learn from their thinking as often as we are frustrated by it; hence the growing importance of groups and group work in teaching. Gleb Tsipursky, who teaches history at Ohio State University, has found an innovative way of utilizing both the group and new digital technologies to give students the important learning experience of the traditional research paper while also creating a lasting resource for other teachers and the public at large. The benefits of Tsipursky’s approach are almost too many to count. Students learn team-building, research and writing skills and much else as well.
But in the end, however important the group may be to learning and the formation of understanding, there’s no escaping the role of individual responsibility. Marilla Svinicki’s AD REM … takes up this issue, questioning the role of learning management systems in reminding students to do their homework.