A Sense of Wonder

Today I’m attending the annual conference of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, and I heard a keynote address by Michael Wesch, who teaches cultural anthropology at Kansas State. He gave one of those wildly popular TED talks — about taking students from being “knowledgeable” to “knowledge-able.”

Today’s talk was equally thought-provoking. Think back, Wesch suggested, to your student days:  what was it that gave you your passion for your subject area?  He’s betting it was not the answers but the questions, especially the big ones.  To question is to:

  • be on a quest to learn
  • invite connections (between ideas; between people)
  • embrace our vulnerability

How, in our classrooms, can we evoke that sense of wonder and questioning in our students?  Here’s what we don’t want — physical space and classroom practices that communicate that

  • to learn is merely to acquire information
  • information is scarce
  • authorities will provide you with all the information you need
  • authorities will tell you whether information is reliable
  • obey and follow along.
So here’s a thought experiment:  imagine that your class is a movie, and you’re seeing it from the outside.  What do you see going on?  Are your students on a quest? Are they connecting both with you and with each other?  Or are they just absorbing information (or worse yet, checking their email and posting on Facebook)?  Thinking about my own classes, I’m afraid I wouldn’t always like what I’d see.  But I’m working on it.


About Beth Thornburg

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