[This is the blimage (blog image) challenge: Use an image above sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…See what you can make of it! (Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge).” Read about the original idea here.]
My focus throughout this blog is firmly fixed on issues of education and faculty development. With that said, this photograph calls up Plato’s cave analogy. However, instead of going out, I want to go in….deeper. Let’s briefly examine the role of exploration and adventure within the typical day of class.
I really like taking adventures. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to go caving (spelunking) in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. I got the idea from a National Geographic magazine. My friend and I repelled into pits, crawled through small tunnels, squeezed our bodies through plates of limestone all for the purpose of exploration: How deep could we go? What, if anything, lived down here? What does it feel like to be in complete, all consuming darkness? How would we manage our fears (e.g. claustrophobia)? What new structures and natural oddities might we discover? How do you prepare for unknowns like mud, water, cliffs, hydration, nutrition, broken limbs, etc.? In the process, we saw things that most people will never get to see. The best part of it is that these caves never seemed to end. There was always more, which left us (to this day) wanting to go back.
When I think about teaching and learning, I have to ask: To what extent is my course a place of exploration? In the macro sense, I will move students deeper into the caves of the subject matter and their intellectual development. There are big questions that we can always revisit. In other words, if my course had one question that all our material would seek to address, what would it be? For example, I teach Inquiry and the Craft of Argument to undergraduates. One big question for the course next term is:
To what extent do people make decisions about what to believe and do based on sound reasoning?
One cave in this course is the exploration and examination of what it means to have confidence in sound reasoning.
On a micro, day-to-day, level, we find ourselves moving through questions (like tunnels) that may splinter off or end. We find ourselves back tracking, setting markers to find our way back out. We create mental maps by noting features and experiences in certain places. We manage our expectations and desires so that we can come out safely, but inspired. We periodically stop to assess our resources, progress and goals. We collaborate with partners to choose lines of inquiry, to check our egos, and to share the enjoyment of discovery. We see things that we may wish to explore later.
I know these are metaphorical abstractions, so what might an example look like?
Assumptions are a always a good place to start. A key to teaching students to think critically and creatively is to help them identify and examine their assumptions relevant to the the subject, course and teaching and learning responsibilities. How often do we crawl into the cave of a text and ask students to uncover the author’s assumptions? How often do we challenge them to explore the extent to which their assumptions direct their behaviors and, therefore, what they see when they read, write, listens, build? How often do they fair-mindedly examine my assumptions about what they are to learn and do?
The right frame of mind, the right network, the right resources, and the right tools (even if we have to make them) can help us do amazing things. In the caves of inquiry, we find parts of ourselves that had we not ventured in might be unknown forever. So, with respect to Plato’s cave, I say there is a time to go deeper inside.