The New Education and a New Learning Community

Last week, faculty, staff, administrators and students began participating in a new learning community here at Plymouth State University. The purpose of the community is to understand how pedagogy could or should develop under the new integrated cluster model that is emerging across our wider university. The pedagogies that the learning community is focusing on draw from interdisciplinary theory, project-based learning, and open education; the intersection of those three learning spheres is what we have started calling “cluster pedagogy.” There are seventy-three of us (at last count) embarking on the year-long journey to explore cluster pedagogy and work together on learner-centered approaches to university innovation.

photo of book

One of the first readings that the Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community (CPLC) is considering is the intro to Cathy Davidson’s The New Education. I read this book when it first came out, and felt immediately like it resonated with the shifts PSU was trying to make in our approach, but I remember feeling frustrated because we had no teaching and learning center here at the time, and I couldn’t find a place to enter a conversation with my colleagues about what I was reading. I couldn’t be more grateful now to feel that there are channels for discussion and many, many collaborators on my own campus who are interested in the kinds of ideas Davidson is sharing.

So I know most of this post has been about my excitement about our nascent learning community, but I think a huge part of what Davidson is really talking about is shifting teaching models into learning models, and participating in the CPLC is a great example of this. Frustration in the CPLC has already emerged (and I know much more will be coming) because it’s hard to learn without clear objectives and hard to engage without a sense of what the outcome will be, especially after a couple of rough years on campus where many of us felt like we were spinning our wheels in confusion over what was expected of us as the new cluster model was rolled out for us (or rolled over us). But doing professional and pedagogical development in an inquiry-based process seems tied to the kinds of agency that Davidson cites as most important to her understand of the “new education.”

I am also so interested in the idea of “newness.” I think what does resonate for me is the fact that the structure of the university is dated (dated to the late 1800’s, to be specific). But of course, so much of what we do inside these structures is subversive, surprising, refreshing, resistant. One thing that excites me about the CPLC is the mandate to notice just how many of us are engaged with the new education– and have been for years– and then to find ways to reshape the university around our practices and our students (instead of the other way around as is so often the case).

I’ll just end this ramble with a quick shout-out to some of my favorite parts of the intro:

  • the twin critiques of edtech and of workforce readiness: the fact that these are right up-front tells me that Davidson knows what “innovation” looks like (smells like, tbh) on the ground, and that she is not up for your nonsense;
  • linking the defunding of public higher education directly to the “students as customers” business model that is so pervasive in our public colleges right now helps throw a critical light on some of our most corrosive and self-sabotaging efforts to save public higher ed;
  • I appreciate the interest in making ” the academic periphery the core,” and think it offers some really fruitful ways of learning from our most “experimental” programs, but also of thinking in more agile and dynamic ways about ecosystems for learning in general. (I wrote a bit about this here.)

Davidson is a guiding figure for me in my learning network, and I always appreciate that she keeps the material conditions that effect students and teachers and staff at the core of her imagination, and that she approaches innovation with a historian’s perspective. I am so happy to have the opportunity to use this book to open conversations with my colleagues now, and to work at a university that seems truly interested in considering her challenges and questions.

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