Student voices: A narrative ethnolography

Student voices: A narrative ethnolography

Voices3Over the lunch hour the average age drops by about 15 years. The group is bigger. The space more crowded, the noise level, louder. People are bringing in extra chairs, the visible physical signs of making room at the table. There is context, of course. Student Awards has been a liaison, a conduit, a matchmaker. Parents call them a dating service between their kids and money. Some Fellows have written nuggets on what it’s like to be in university, offered some helpful intel.

The big questions still hang in the air…..

How do I know what I want to be when I grow up? These kids know the fast forward dance of non-choices and it’s a real question: how DO they know?

How do teachers work with unengaged, unprepared kids who seem to want to remain undistracted by meaningfulness, for whom engaged seems a better option to the brutal disappointment that follows caring? Profs and students have more in common than either realizes.

What are the significant barriers to your learning? How does barrier-free lock? Higher education, what is it? What could it be? The global café is sincere and candid with topics that command interest: technology, classroom teaching, beyond the bricks, barriers to learning, purposes of higher education. Good modeling, mostly. Good facilitation Mike Atkinson and Tom Haffie! Participation seems real. The give-backs are more of the same and more of different. Both are good, both necessary.

Do you really want to know my name? The question calls out from story. Two people are weeping at the raw feeling at the heart of the question; they hold each other’s eyes and know why crying is honorable in this moment.

What are the barriers? Money, time, loneliness, intolerance; fear, most of all. Fear of failing, fear of not being heard, fear of being invisible, fear of job security, fear of being held hostage by mistakes that anyone has a right to make.

What are the barriers? Unspokens and not speaking. Racisim. Classism. Here’s a lose-lose scenario for you—social life, sleep, learning…. Choose two; you can’t do three. That’s university.

Higher education, what could it be? Students are at microphones. Who is speaking whenever something is said? They plead; they implore. Here are their voices….

  • make it what it’s supposed to be
  • Technology is not in itself as important as when to use it; it has potential and capacity, not magic –
    • listen; stop preaching
    • how do you spell c-i-v-i-l-i-t-y ?
    • find your passion and use it as the vehicle … that’s the line they’ve been sold. It’s a good line.
  • Does it mean anything? Is higher education up to that task? Fueling passion?

Voices4Teachers are talking, too. Agreeing on what counts as resources—life, books, people, writing; being excited, being enthusiastic. Students need to understand how learning works. Teachers need to learn improvisation. Teachers need to understand how learning works. Students need to learn improvisation. Learn how to learn. Learn how to fail.

Now it’ round two: Implementing… What does Barrier-Free look like? Table talk. Buzz, buzz, buzz. A cascade of voices, undulating, flowing, an important message being carried, moving like a wave across a large crowd. People are leaning in, inclining towards each other, elbows on the tables. Spines hunched like question marks….. why is it so hard to do a good thing? Neighbour relations; small is beautiful; practice what you want to get good at; disobey; read; stop holding court. Trust us to tell you what we need. Trust us to help you with what you’re bad at. Who said that? Students? Teachers? Hard to tell. The voices seem to be blending …. PAUSE

Now its time for takeaways. We celebrated inclusivity; we shared voices. Is once every 25 years enough? Students at conferences, not only (but always) at teaching and learning conferences. How about at disciplinary conferences? Might be a good idea if disciplines plan on continuing. Today we work as equals in a shared interest, and while it is the case that teachers ought to (more often) shut up and listen, it is also the case that it’s not necessarily lectures that are the problem, but rather lecturers. It’s time to ride the energy; time for teachers without borders. Students coming into post-secondary education want to be on a wild ride….. can we make it one? And, by the way, Talking isn’t teaching. The earth, literally, moves mid-afternoon. Themes erupt—inclusivity, engagement, embracing fear, improvisation. Barriers remain. “Tried and true’s” remain—read books at home; have your brain rinsed regularly; teach through and via meaningful, real –world, mundane relevance, the world in a grain of sand, eternity in an hour. Especially when the earth moves. As we applaud each other, that earlier, plaintive question continues to pound and thrum, haunt and enchant; it rattles my cage: Do you really want to know my name?

–Maureen Connoly