This semester, I’m leading a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) built upon the book The Slow Professor by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber. Modeled after the “slow food” movement, the book is intended to “challenge the culture of speed in the academy” and offers suggestions on how faculty can slow down and enjoy their work in higher education.
Our FLC meets regularly to discuss chapters we’ve read and examine ways we can make changes at our institution. This week, we read a chapter titled “Pedagogy and Pleasure” where the authors discuss ways to discuss the importance of the affective aspects of teaching and learning. “Students,” Berg and Seeber write, “make no distinction between how they felt in a course and how they thought; their emotions – whether positive or negative – were integral to how they learned” (p. 36). The authors also cite an “affective learning manifesto” produced by the MIT Media Lab where they discuss the connection between affective and cognitive functions. “A slight mood does not just make you feel a little better but also induces a different kind of thinking, characterized by a tendency toward greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving.”
After reading the chapter, it’s clear that positive learning environments can have an impact on student learning and that instructors play a large role with the affective dimensions fostered in our classrooms. It’s important for instructors to not just facilitate learning but to develop relationships with their students. These teacher/student relationships can foster a sense of belonging and affiliation in the class and help to motivate and engage the students to learn. Although I agree with the need to promote a “pedagogy of pleasure,” I disagree with one of the challenges that the authors identify as undermining the “pleasure of teaching.” Early in the chapter, Berg and Seeber write that “the current emphasis on ‘evidence-based practices’ and ‘processes to measure impact’ in teaching and learning entirely overlooks pleasure” (p. 34). While I think the authors are really responding to the corporatization of higher education and the explosion of buzz words in the field, their attack of “evidence-based practices” is misplaced. I’ve written before about the power of active learning strategies and the mounting evidence to show its effectiveness in collegiate classrooms. But I would also argue that active learning strategies aren’t devoid of pleasure. In fact, active learning employs some of the same techniques that the authors identify as promoting a pedagogy of pleasure. For instance, Berg and Seeber discuss the need for instructors’ to actively listen to their students during class. “Listening,” the authors write, “is an important inducement to learning.” The traditional lecture environment, however, offers few opportunities for instructors to listen or for student voices to be heard. Active learning, on the other hand, puts student activity at the center of the learning process. By having students sharing their voices and ideas in the classroom, active learning strategies foster the type of pleasurable, student-centered learning environments that Berg and Seeber promote.
Overall, however, the Slow Professor draws attention to an aspect of teaching that is often ignored. Teaching (and learning) should be a pleasurable endeavor. This doesn’t mean that it should be devoid of rigor or high expectations. But the work should be enjoyable. Any “pedagogy of pleasure,” however, must recognize active learning not as a buzzword to be avoided but as an evidence-based strategy to be employed.