Sunday, April 17, 2016
As I was reading “Trickster at Your Table,” I was particularly interested in the tension that seems to exist between two epistemological theories — one that encourages the “trickster” moments that are unpredictable and nonlinear and one that adheres to traditional, structured forms of instruction. I realize the article wasn’t polarizing these two perspectives as mutually exclusive, but it did make me think about whether upper administrators – who seem to value efficiency, cost-effectiveness, clear data, etc. – would support the trickster approach.
I’m actually extremely interested in the idea of “play” and how low-stakes games and opportunities for students to truly experiment can generate new ideas, connections, and a renewed sense of curiosity. I just went to a writing conference this past weekend in which one of the speakers was talking about angles of a story and the importance of learning to write about age-old topics in new and fresh ways. She said that studies have been done that indicate how much more receptive people are when they are presented with information in new and different ways and that they are more likely to remember the content because of it. The logic goes like this: We are more likely to remember information when dopamine is released in response to certain stimuli, and our brains are more likely to release dopamine when we are presented with information that extends beyond familiar concepts and methods of delivery. However, when information seems too familiar, then we are less likely to engage with or remember the content.
I think that this relates to the “trickster” moments that are described in this chapter and the idea of helping students explore familiar concepts in new ways to enhance learning and forge new connections. It makes a lot of sense to me that this process isn’t linear, clear-cut, or predictable, which I think is more in line with how learning actually happens, but I also think there is an underlying premise within the university that learning should be controlled, organized, and predictable. We always have to name our course objectives and make clear steps toward those objectives, and as much as professors might try to cater to different learning styles, it often isn’t possible in large class settings, particularly considering the constraints of time and space. And the students themselves are often too caught up in concerns of their course grades and overall GPAs to engage with more chaotic, nontraditional activities that might (or might not) enhance learning.
I was actually just talking with some of my students the other day who are feeling stressed out about the projects that they have coming due in the next few weeks, and why they are feelings so stressed. Even though some of the projects they are working on seem interesting and certainly have the potential for exploration and creative application, my students don’t see it that way. There are too many things to do in too little time, and they are worried about getting the best grade possible. So, they don’t explore or engage in the process of trial and error.
My overall point is that although I am very interested in finding ways that will really make learning engaging and new by engaging students in the chaos and unpredictability that accompanies true learning, I’m questioning the practicality within the built-in structures of the university. What are some ways that a writing center can meaningfully and intentionally engage in “trickster” teaching methods alongside more traditional approaches? What are the challenges that they might face in terms of resistance from administrators (who value order, cost-effectiveness, and hard data) and the students themselves (who value GPAs and efficiency)?
Geller, et al. say this about the value of trickster approaches: “It is learning to unlearn, learning to be flexible in the face of newness, and learning deep listening that is hard. At those moments, we come to see that staff education practices that welcome a Trickster state of mind are even more important than we thought” (21). I completely agree, though I’m not sure that students, upper-administrators, and other various constituents hold these same values.