The Semester of Drafts

One thing that I can quite get over is how reluctant students are to share work in progress. Of course, some of this can carry over to academic culture in the humanities where sharing drafts (even as “working papers”) has been received quite unevenly. The idea that one’s intellectual processes should somehow remain secret seems to derive from ideas that exposing how the wizard works will either let the good ideas fly away before they are “all growed up” or result in embarrassment when people realize that brilliance does not spring fully formed from a scholar’s mind.

For professionals, it is ultimately a personal and professional decision whether to share a draft or not. For students, however, reluctance to share work in progress makes it difficult to evaluate, influence, and understand the work processes. In my experiences, most students experience difficulties related to their work flow and organization. These are largely issues of process not product.

Teaching in our fancy Scale-up classroom, I hope to have unique opportunity to access student processes, but creating an environment where students work on their own, in small groups, and in larger groups. Getting students to offer their initial thoughts to a prompt individually before asking them to synthesize these ideas with their peers will encourage the students to see the intellectual process as both collaborative and iterative. Their first efforts to address a prompt, engage a question, or consider a problem will of necessity be drafts. 

As I have noted on this blog, the idea of prying into the learning process of students finds inspiration from Foucault’s and Bentham’s panopticon. Observing and parsing the learning process at ever smaller intervals also has parallels with industrialization as craft production models gave way to finely managed workflows. My Scale-up class – with its emphasis on collaborative work, finely parsed workflows, and decentered learning – follows patterns known from the emerging (post)-industrial, information economy where knowledge and creativity (or the more highly vaunted “critical thinking”) has become a corporate commodity. 

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