Do As We Say, Not…

In keeping with my recent promise, I’m going to do a shorter and definitely incomplete post.

Most parents eventually realize that children follow our examples way more than they  follow our instructions.  If you really want your child to do X or behave like Y, then you have to model that behavior and do X yourself and behave like Y.  The admonition to “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t very effective.  They will do as we do, not as we say.

Yet colleges, and I presume universities, although I speak only with experience about colleges, seem to be predicated on the idea that modelling desired behaviour somehow isn’t relevant in the college context.

I can’t tell you have many times I’ve been to a professional development event or major conference and had to sit through some long presentation  and lecture where the speaker was trying to convince me not to lecture any more.  Or where the speaker was using  a word-dense Powerpoint slide deck to convince me that the research suggests not using Powerpoint in class.  Right. Do as they say, not as they do. Then there’s the time college leadership has brought in outside speakers to lecture us on the need to flip our classrooms.

It strikes me that there’s a lot of this behavior-message mismatch happening in our pedagogy  too. We want students to think critically and creatively.  Yet we will only accept whatever the big publisher’s textbook says as authoritative and we mark wrong the student’s attempts at another interpretation. Or, we mark them down when they deviate from the rubric. What’s worse, we say we want them to think critically, yet all of our course content – textbook, ancillary slides, problem sets, etc. – is just the packaged content Pearson-McGrawHill-Cengage oligopoly. We use it without even thinking about it, let alone critically evaluating it, modifying it, and making it our own.  Of course, without open licenses, we can’t modify it. So why did we choose it in the first place if we couldn’t critically make it our own? What are we really teaching our students?

In my role as founder and Chief Instigator of the LCC Open Learning Lab, I’ve been struggling with how to get more students interested in writing and creating on the public web.  I started with hopes of pushing them to create domains of one’s own, but I’ll admit it’s been a struggle to just get them to want to write on their own blog.  Unless you count Facebook and Instagram posts, writing as a way to think or express themselves is something they seemingly only do when it’s assigned and required.

Then it struck me. I’ve heard this complaint before. It’s kind of evergreen actually among faculty and administrators.  Students don’t write enough.  A common solution for several decades now has been for a college to create a “Writing across the curriculum” program (WAC).  The very fact that WAC’s have been around a long time and students still aren’t writing that much should tell us there may be something else missing in our solution.

I suspect the missing piece is what we, the faculty and administrators, do.  In my experience, outside of tenure-seeking faculty at research-oriented schools, most faculty  don’t really write much.  What little they do write is in response to an assignment: write a document assigned by an administrator.  I’ve been told they’re too tired to write after reading and grading all their student papers or any of a myriad of other reasons -reasons that sound vaguely like what I hear from students.

I know that before I discovered WordPress and blogging, I didn’t write that much.  I imagined a lot of things I’d write, but they stayed in my imagination locked away and totally incomplete – just like I suspect many of our students’ ideas.  But when I started blogging, embraced an open course content approach, and began to develop my own public persona on the web as Econproph, it all changed. My critical thinking skills improved. My ideas began to reach people. They responded. That inpired me and I learned more. It became  a virtuous cycle.

So, I’m wondering if Writing Across the Curriculum isn’t a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”.  Perhaps in order to inspired students to write more we should change the WAC program.  Instead of Writing Across the Curriculum, why not Writing Across the Campus?  Why should students be reading what their professors, deans, and provosts think and say?  Shouldn’t they be able to see how these people with whom they interact daily, actually critically think, engage ideas, and communicate?  Perhaps if we  Do the writing ourselves, they’ll follow our example.

Note to self:  If this was a “shorter” post at 794 words, then I apparently don’t know what “short” is supposed to mean.