Sages and curators

I’ve thought for a long time about the ways in which education has been becoming more student centered and less “sage on a stage”.   The latter description of teaching feels dismissive to me of how much earlier generations learned from people who synthesized, organized, weighted and presented bodies of information and ideas that now are widely available through multiple media.  Rather than dismiss the sages, I’d argue that good sages have always been curators  and that the job of synthesizing, organizing, weighing and presenting is even more critical today given the boundless un-curated streams of media and information available 24/7 on the internet and elsewhere.

Training students to be curators, encouraging students to engage with the work of weighing, assessing, critiquing what they hear and observe and take for granted are some of the goals of the academic discipline of Sociology, the field in which I’ve been creating online and hybrid courses this past year.   Some of the ways to cultivate curating that I’m integrating into those courses include:  Student driven research — in which students collaborate with others around a short autoethnography assignment from which they  generate a set of research questions they  “take into the field” doing interviews and writing a research report that synthesizes theory and observation, that is then shared as a group in a presentation online.   Another way that students can be encouraged to become curators is by giving them data to describe, interpret and explain vis a vis other data they’ve encountered in readings or research.  Practicing interpreting what they read in discussion with others, sifting the weight of evidence among conflicting ideas, and getting students out into the community — collecting observational notes, writing about what they see, and comparing those observations with other students —  gets them away from the stage, and cultivates curating in a community with other learners.

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