Slow teaching

The end of the semester is nearing for a lot of colleges and universities in the Northeastern US.  With the coming closure, one can see a sense of urgency in both students and faculty. Paces are quickened. Emails are written in hurried tones. Meeting goers are arriving late and leaving early, trying to fit as much as they can in their busy days. It’s a fast-paced time of year.

Maybe it’s this crazy time of year, but a few items have come across my digital field of vision that are communicating something clear and poignant:  We need to slow down.  Take the recent review on the Inside Higher Ed website for the book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy.  The book presents a compelling case for slowing down the rate at which we work and teach.  The book draws heavily on the “slow food” movement as a way to makes its point.  Quality food takes time to cultivate and prepare and the sources can only be sustained through concerted, local efforts over extended periods of time.  The fast food movement, with its efficient, low quality offerings, stand in stark contrast to these time consuming productions.

Returning to the book, the authors outline the need for the academy to resist the ever-quickening pace of service, scholarship and teaching and focus on quality experiences over efficient ones.  In a quote from the book, the review discusses that “slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of the corporatization of higher education.”  This perspective is particularly important for our classroom instruction, the authors argue. “It is neither frivolous nor incidental that to ensure that we enjoy ourselves in the classroom: it may be crucial to creating an environment in which students learn.”  Slow teaching, it seems, offers greater opportunities for enjoyment, engagement and effectiveness over efficiency and expediency.

As I mulled the “slow professor” premise, a colleague shared a blog post from the great Alfie Kohn.  While the post focused on the “overselling of Ed Tech,” One section of Kohn’s post really resonated with me.  Discussing the widespread adoption of instructional technologies in schools, Kohn writes “But the rationale that I find most disturbing .. is the idea that technology will increase our efficiency at teaching the same way that children have been taught for a very long time.” To drive the point home, Kohn includes a quote from Terry Bracey where he discusses how technology allows educators “to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn’t be doing at all.”  It’s the fast food mode of instruction. It’s efficient but not particularly satisfying long-term.

Reading the blog post more closely, however, it’s clear that Kohn is not attacking the wholesale use of technology in schools.  Instead, Kohn promotes the use of technology for collaborative activities, creative projects and more open inquiry.  These are “slow food” modes of instruction.  They require sustained development and support.  They require long-term cultivation, local facilitation and attention.  While these “slow food” teaching methods often require more instructional time, they can also offer students with a more healthful intellectual diet long-term.

While these two online articles provide disparate views of education, they communicate a similar message.  As educators and scholars, we need to slow down.  Slowing down our academic and professional lives can foster a more positive mindset across our institutions and also promote higher quality instruction in our classrooms.

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One thought on “Slow teaching

  1. Really interesting post. I was just thinking about this topic this afternoon. I was coming back from the field, where my students were learning to survey forest trees, and I was thinking about how my teaching has changed as the years have gone by. I am less interested in “objectives” and more interested in fostering students’ curiosity, observational abilities, and engaged thinking. To that end, I told the students I wasn’t worried about whether they finished their transects; I was more interested in their learning to use the dichotomous key for identifying trees. But, as it turns out, I was also very interested in getting them to notice the wildflowers and insects, developing their detective skills for reading the clues found in the forest litter, and awakening their sense of wonder. We in the STEM disciplines get so caught up in facts and skills, and are so pushed to focus on job preparation, that human development and preparation for a satisfying life get lost. It does start to feel like we are in a factory producing employees rather than a university producing thoughtful humans.

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