Making and Writing Practices

I was reading an article in Inside Higher Ed about how Humanities need to engage with public intellectualism to help address the negativity surrounding humanities degrees AND to use humanities thinking to help address real-world issues. I both agree and disagree with this call for action. So, to show my support I’ll try to address this issue, repeatedly, in public appropriate discussions here. The obvious problem is my lack of high circulation, but that will be addressed another day.

I’ve been interested (as this blog shows) in gamification and education for years. I’m especially interested in the ways game-like learning, or game-like thinking, or gamified system design can improve composition learning – more recently composition learning and transfer. I want students to succeed in composition courses, but I want them to have a stronger understanding of the writing practices they develop and how to access and apply those in various writing situations (both disciplinary and work related). This is a real public conversation – there is a real need for effective writers and effective writing.

I would like to put that in conversation with current calls for change to education that focus on on-demand, or on-time learning. This pushes away from traditional college models with their liberal arts educations – some of the thinking is there is no need for breadth of education when MOOCs and other public/private credentialing services can provide on-demand or on-time learning that significantly benefits the learner and may have immediate affect on their job (then the US economy, etc.).

This is exactly where public humanities discussions are 100% necessary. Sure, an employee could complete a C++ MOOC, then obtain the necessary credentials to advance in their position, or to obtain a new better job. On-demand learning could be more ‘valuable’ as it’s not just a hoop toward a bachelor’s degree, but a course that has immediate application in a learner’s life. I truly understand the theory – I also see how games thinking (and mindset and design, etc.) have demonstrated the importance of this approach to learning for ‘good’ learning (see any number of publications by Gee or Gee and Hayes for discussions of ‘good’ learning).

BUT, and this is where the humanities need to have public conversation about the purposes, functions and goals of liberal arts education, where do students learn critical thinking? Where do students learn to value critical thinking and critical engagement? Where do students learn to write?

I worked as a functional technologist while earning my doctorate. Most of my job was testing systems that had been designed by programers to meet the needs of administrators, faculty and students. My job boiled down to working really hard to THINK of ways to break systems because not all learners progress through systems in the ‘right’ way nor in expected ways. These systems needed to be intuitive as most students would access them once, so a low learning curve was necessary. This approach to thinking was a result of my humanities experience. I cared about the Human experience with these technology systems so they could use them to achieve their goals. I wrote documents to train faculty, staff, administrators and students. I presented workshops to aid staff users, to aid faculty users, to aid administrators, paying special attention to how we designed each unique workflow. These workflows may have been programmed by the programmers (who could have learned from C++ MOOCs) – but they wouldn’t have had a job unless my job existed. In fact, several of my coworkers now fill the role I once filled because the job has become more necessary. This on-demand learning may prepare students will skills and theories related to a topic – but it’s the Humanities classes that teach the critical thinking and critical engagement and writing necessary to support the job in the real workforce.

What i’m struggling with is how to engage a public with these types of questions. I’ve worked in the workforce, I have any number of real work experiences to support this discussion, but what actually appeals to ‘the public’. The current change over of power and the slow dying of neoliberalism both demonstrate that numbers and facts don’t effectively support intellectual public discussions (even the sciences are failing here….global warming). So while I attempt to have public conversations about the value of humanities education I’m in an uncomfortable position of not understanding my rhetorical situation. How do I effectively support my argument that humanities and composition critical thinking and critical engagement can lead to thinking that will allow a student to advance to CEO of a company? To solve unique problems that haven’t been imagined yet? The skill they learn is thinking – what employer would hire a student who listed critical thinking as a skill on their resume.

Can I just add an aside here that there is amazing value to adding critical thinking as a skill to a resume. Fellow humanists – let’s make this happen. Then when asked about it (and some of this is design and gaming thinking) we can discuss how our approach to critical thinking puts the human at the center of the discussion, then attempts to address problems from there. Our humanities is showing, and our value to the company should be obvious – long time workers, stability.

So, to answer the call for public conversation about humanities, here I am, writing about the value of thinking. I feel like my freshmen as i’m writing within a rhetorical situation I don’t understand (but at least I recognize my misunderstanding) so my argument flow lacks cohesion. My audience is unsure if they should be reading. My support is real world experience, the often cringed at example. With a public in flux, traditional data no longer effective, how do we expect humanists to engage in public intellectualism. If we flood the discussion chains with our conversations, each more exploratory than the other in an attempt to find an effective style will anyone continue reading?



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