Cluster Learning, Community, and Change
With more than 70 of my colleagues, I have spent a significant portion of my summer participating in the Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community (CPLC). Although the community will continue to work for the full academic year, our final assignment of the summer asks us to “discuss your key takeaways from the CPLC experience so far, and explore how you hope they will inform your work at Plymouth State over the upcoming academic year.” Here are my thoughts.
My takeaways regarding cluster pedagogy (which we are starting to call cluster learning because pedagogy is a bit jargon-y and because we want to focus on the learning more than the teaching) are so many that I don’t think I can list them all. For example, one of the ideas that has emerged from the community is one-pagers, which I wrote about earlier this month. (Here’s the final version of my syllabus one-pager.) I am creating a set of one-pagers of my own to help students understand the syllabus, the idea of a one-pager, etc. I am also going to ask students to create their own one-pagers about topics related to climate change as well as about the Habits of Mind (HoM) and their individual practice and development of the HoM. I love this idea for a lot of reasons but particularly because it presents a great way to discuss purposeful communication. As we talk about one-pagers, I will relate them to the various ways that we can communicate the same information and get students to start thinking about why you would use a one-pager in one situation and a research paper in another situation. Another takeaway regarding cluster learning is the idea that in project-based learning, the project is the main meal rather than the dessert. In many classes, students learn some concepts and then apply those concepts to a project. The project in these cases is the dessert–it comes after the learning. In project-based learning, the students learn the concepts while they are engaging in the project. So to implement this in my class, I am going to have students work on the Digital Polarization Initiative as it relates to claims about climate change. The project involves investigating claims about climate change in order to learn about climate change. Students will publish the results of their investigations on a central web site called https://climatechange.plymouthcreate.net (if they choose to–it’s important to give them choice about how public to make their work). Although I have seeded the site with some claims that students can choose to investigate, they will be allowed to investigate any claim they want. As I said, I have a lot of these kinds of takeaways.
But I have kind of a “meta” takeaway about this work. The thing that has been most valuable to me about the CPLC is the LC, the learning community. As I said in a post on our Moodle site, “What I was not able to fully express on Thursday is the level of anxiety and fear I feel for our institution, our students, myself as an individual, our country, our entire world. I’m not sure I’m always aware of the level of anxiety and fear that I feel. Those are scary emotions that can lead despair and/or cynicism so I try not to give a whole lot of brain space to them. But this learning community, this group of people coming together to steward positive change gives me hope for the survival of the things I value. I am grateful for the hope and it helps me to keep working.” This is something I want my students to feel. I want them to see themselves as part of a community. Even more, I want them to see themselves as agents of change, as people capable of creating the world that embodies their values. Helping students develop this sense of agency is the reason that I have been engaged in this work since the beginning. Helping my students understand their ability to make a difference in the world is the way that I have chosen to make a difference in the world. Working closely with 70+ people on this effort is a rare privilege. And it’s difficult to express how profound the experience has been.
I am entering the upcoming academic year optimistically.
Image Credit: I took this photo on August 14, 2019, as I headed into the first day of University Days. I call it “Reflecting on PSU.”