At a recent panel for Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture's annual fall conference, I had the opportunity to receive some valuable insights on an approach to education strategies.
Apparently, there is an issue when it comes to how "student-centered" a course should be. In engineering the design and goal of a course, faculty members are confronted with the problem of content versus process that complicates this issue. Professors, as such, have a responsibility to offer content for coursework, since they alone possess the robust scholarship necessary to make such decisions. There is a duty, however, to engage the interests of the students attending the university who are pursuing studies in various disciplines. The question is, how much dialogue should there be between students and faculty to ensure that courses are constructed with the balance that provide challenging, yet stimulating content for students. The process of a course pertains to how the method by which the content should be explored. The same happy medium is required here to ensure similar success. The problem that happens most frequently, from my perspective, is that it is either the professor's course or the student's course. Basically, either the professor has designed a course with strict and rigid parameters without allowing for pedagogical adaptations or the professor has compromised on too many issues, allowing students the course settings they desire while simultaneously relinquishing content of any real substance.
The solution? Humilty.
According to one of the panelists, humility in curriculum is essential to foster an optimal setting for learning. Ultimately, what this means is that the professor has to assume the virtue of humility to acquire a perspective of both his students and himself that will elevate that student-teacher relationship to its highest good. A professor with humility will become, in a sense, a student once again. He will realize that, despite years of experience in scholarship and research in his chosen field, he is not above the force of education. He, too, can engage his students and the course content in a way that will ensure that he will never stop learning. Professors often speak of the enriching experience of being an educator which usually implies that there is still much to gain.
Socrates supposedly said that "The only real wisdom is knowing that you know nothing." According to the panelist, it is this humble perspective that may inspire a sense of awe and wonder in a classroom setting that may inspire students to engage readings and material purely for the sake of education, the perpetual quest for truth. The responsibility of casting this aura over the classroom center rests mainly on the professor, whose agency is vital in setting the proper tone for a learning atmosphere.
Some of the greatest courses I have taken during my time at Notre Dame have been ones that have created this same atmosphere. The professor engaged the text as if he too were a student. Feeling that this was the case, the professor joined us in discussions, the hierarchy was disbanded, and grades became objects of little or no importance. The thirst for knowledge was instilled by an overarching sense of humility which loudly admitted that "we know nothing." The virtue of humility involves another balance. It takes humility to say "I know nothing" but this can turn into despair and dejection if it is not accompanied with a healthy sense of pride that completes the phrase: "I know nothing, but I possess the capacity to learn." It is with this complete, humble realization that we find ourselves looking at the world from an awesome perspective that spurs us towards the wonder of truth.