I think I’m doing this wrong.

Or maybe, I’m not doing it wrong. I’m doing it differently. Gen Z students are not like me, a Gen X middle-aged teacher. Gen X is fiercely independent and experimental in our own way. That’s significant: our own way. According to David Barnett in the UK’s Independent, Gen Xers work hard and play hard, we learn from the past and the future and we make things work when we need them to work.

School was not touchy-feely. It was the Banking Concept or it was study hall. There’s a reason Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was so popular. But now education needs to be more interactive, more attractive, less boring. And let’s be clear: reading is boring.

According to Darla Rothman in A Tsunami of Learners Called Generation Z, “continued interactions with a fast-paced, sensory laden, multimedia environment predispose/influence a brain to a shorter attention span. In the classroom, the average student’s attention span is seven to ten minutes; but online, it is now eight seconds. That has a lot to do with hypertext, which encourages learners to point or click on a link to get the information they need without reading all of the text. “Keyword spotting” is a preferred strategy to locate needed information” (3).

Reading anything on paper, with its lack of color and sound, the inability to easily move from one source to another (the many tabs open in any one browser) must seem to them as interesting as a blank white wall. The lack of fluidity is not native to them. The lack of choice in where to focus attention chokes them.

This is not to say any of this is good. It’s just different and it’s what I have to work with. I can’t change it. I can’t suddenly force an entire generation to give up their apps or the sheer volume of information they are accustomed to having on an hourly basis. Gen Z students are not digital natives, many can work apps, but not software, however they are connected at the brain to streams of information that they don’t see as supplemental. These streams to the majority of them are necessary as air.

Their culture is a visual one. Perhaps if I want them to understand rhetoric, to write about rhetoric, I need to start there. I need to help them unpack and interpret what they see instead of what they read; what they hear instead of what learned elder has said. It’s like putting medicine in whipped cream. I must be stealthy and sneak in my antiquated forebears who taught me so much through their books.

(I wish Kindle had a multiple open book feature. Would they read more? I might.)

So what does Gen Z need? Visuals. Interactivity. Groupwork. Tangible products that they can tick off a list so they can “move on” to the next thing. They may not be so different from Gen Z, at least my version of Gen Z. Coming from a small town half industrial, half farm in the early 80s, no one cared whether or not I succeeded.  I didn’t expect teachers to, I did my own thing because I was curious. That meant books. Newspapers. AM Radio.

The curiosity is different, the venues of information are different., but the drives are the same. It’s just a matter of maturity, which I can’t control in them, and the ‘aha’ moment, which I can facilitate if they are willing.

Reflection 2: What is Open Pedagogy?


What is Open Pedagogy?

For my visual, I put Open Pedagogy in a box, which is where most of my work takes place. That box is the public institution, the one that receives Federal, State, and County funding, the box that bears the name so many politicians throw around: accountability.

Accountability looks like learning outcomes, retention expectations, student learning, and my service to the college. All components of accountability must be folded into my definition of Open Pedagogy, which may seem antithetical, but is reality. Luckily, I believe that to change a system, a person has to be part of it, to work with and within the system.

Open Pedagogy is one created collaboratively with students using the learning outcomes; this means that students work to understand the current learning outcomes, add their own learning outcomes, help create assignments to tweak existing assignments to make them relate to the students who have to complete them. According to Devon Ritter, open pedagogy also means providing models of plans I’ve used before, so students have a example to start with, instead of the overwhelming empty slate. In addition to models, providing my rationale or adding my thoughts on what I want students to get out of my class, especially the part of my rationale that connects writing to the world outside of the classroom, will give “an individual learner…a better sense of how a teacher may have designed their course to support students…” (Ritter).

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would teach. Then I read Freire. Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” provided me with the terms I needed to explain my hatred of the educational system I came from. Public education in the 70s in New Jersey looked and felt oppressive; in my mind, it exemplified the Banking Concept. Once I knew there was an alternative, I bounced into teaching like a beach ball at a Phish concert.

When I first encountered Open Pedagogy, problem posing seemed like a perfect fit. Organizing a class is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Working on a jigsaw puzzle solo is long, tedious, and sometimes not as peaceful as advertised. Once more people get involved, the process may be messier, a little more confused, but as progress is made and the puzzle comes together, there’s satisfaction and the appreciation of a job well done. This, to me, is open pedagogy. My class is a puzzle. We know the outcomes; just like the picture on the box of a jigsaw puzzle, we have a guide in the learning outcomes. But how we get there is an open process. Open Pedagogy shares that process instead of putting it all in my hands, thus creating a participatory learning environment.

According to Bronwyn Hegarty, participatory technology helps the participatory learning environment. Michelle Pruett, author of “Gen Z’s Favorite Social Networks: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat,” notes that “Gen Z has unparalleled access to smart phones,” but Gen Z is mostly interested with “platforms driven by visual content like photos and videos” (Pruett). If Open Pedagogy is something that fosters student engagement because it utilizes the concept of social learning and the notion of community, then, as Composition faculty, I have to meet Gen Zers where they are, which is more visual than verbal (Kleinschmidt). This means using electronic means and multimedia platforms to create and share work; using electronic platforms means students can participate in something they do very well, create networks and communities that are safe spaces in which they can experiment with the curriculum. As a community, classes can create ground rules and learning outcomes that matter to them. Although we have to use the institutional, departmental, and course outcomes, there is nothing to stop a class from interpreting or adding to the outcomes in a way that works for them.

Related to the composition classroom Open Pedagogy requires reflective practice. This has been ingrained in composition classes for a long time. I remember doing reflective practice in my first college freshman year in 1984. It’s not hard to get students to come up with reflection prompts that relate to what they are doing in any given context.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add Wiley’s 5Rs: reuses, revises, remixes, redistributes, and retains (Wiley). Open Pedagogy shares, which means opening up to peer review and working with others to collaborate on the best assignments. Although to some, this might be tantamount to appearing in public naked, it’s necessary because more perspectives can make cohesion. Myopia is mostly unintentional. Sharing mitigates myopia.

Why is Open Pedagogy important?

Michelle Pruett’s Four Minute article was enlightening. As a solid Gen X, I don’t understand the need for digital connection. It’s nice; it keeps me in touch with my “all over the country” family, but so does a telephone. For Gen Z and late Millennials, it’s their natural habitat, an information stream they were born into, so they are primed for sharing. They are primed for choosing their own content; more than I ever was.

At the same time, context for them is everything. This group also needs more direction and more instruction when they are doing tasks outside their natural habitat. They are a paradox and this paradoxical way of being may have consequences after they finish school. Giving students models to work with, providing examples of lessons with rationales, familiarizing and breaking down learning outcomes that we all have to work with and connecting them to resources I use to create coursework will give them loose parameters to start from.

Providing this loose framework may give them the raw ingredients to cook a class. This is a skill set they can take out of the classroom and into the wider community of employment. Knowing how to work with the resources at hand and realizing the personal ability to use a system to make it work for them are important for life work, not just schoolwork.

For me, schoolwork is life work. If I’m not constantly developing my own skills sets, I’m stagnating and I don’t believe I can effectively work with or retain students if I’m stuck in a teaching rut. As a community college prof, I may not be in an ivory tower, but I am in a brick one. This is how students see us sometimes, a wall to be scaled on their way to something else. This is not how it has to be. Open Pedagogy offers opportunities for buy-in because the creation of their learning process is an extension of their learning process.

What is the potential impact of Open Pedagogy?

There are teachers in my educational past who would drop more than a few surprised curse words if they knew I am a Composition Professor. Paulo Freire was the catalyst for my teaching. There is only one other foundational belief I have that keeps me growing as a teacher: an educated populace can keep a nation safe from tyranny. If Open Pedagogy can empower just one or two people like Freire empowered me, then we have some movement toward changing the current culture. Especially since Gen Z is the most inclusive generation of the three or four generations existing now.

I think Open Pedagogy can do more than empower one or two people in a class. This is really about self-determination and working with constraints. There will always be constraints, but they don’t need to stop anything. There is empowerment in working successfully within a system not of your own making and Open Pedagogy has the potential to be the key.

What are the future directions for Open Pedagogy?

As long as social media continues to grow, I think Open Pedagogy will grow as well. Right now, the fight over cell phones in the classroom, in my view, is ridiculous. To outright ban cell phones shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the students we work with. In order to reach them, we have to meet them halfway and this means including the habitat where they work best. The internet has valuable resources and our students are walking around with a world full of information in their pockets. Open Pedagogy capitalizes on that.

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo, et al. Pedagogy of the Oppressed 50th Anniversary Edition. Bloomsbury USA Academic, 2018.

Hegarty, Bronwyn. “Attributes of Open Pedagogy: A Model for Using Open Educational Resources.” Educational Technology (2015): 3-13.

Kleinschmit, Matt. Generation Z characteristics: 5 infographics on the Gen Z lifestyle. 2018. Webpage. 1 October 2018. <https://www.visioncritical.com/generation-z-infographics/&gt;.

Pruett, Michelle. “Gen Z’s Favorite Social Networks: YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat.” Criteo, 17 July 2018, http://www.criteo.com/insights/gen-z-social-media/.

Ritter, David. “April Open Perspective: What Is Open Pedagogy?” Year of Open, Open Education Consortium, www.yearofopen.org/april-open-perspective-what-is-open-pedagogy/.

Wiley, David. “Open Educational Resources Awareness Course – OER.” Universal Design for Learning – OER : Three Brain Networks, moodle.gprc.ab.ca/mod/book/view.php?id=33543&chapterid=2493.