The UnTeacher: Hacking the Syllabus and the Everyday

The internet is what you get when everyone is a curator and everything is linked — David Weinberger, Too Big to Know

What I like most about THATCamps is that the sessions are inclusive and participatory. While there may be a session moderator, the best moderators manage to decentralize the flow of ideas. Since my first THATCamp at CHNM in 2011, I’ve wondered how I could bring the unconference to the college classroom. I therefore propose a session in which we figure out how to become unteachers. What does an unclassroom look like? What does an unteacher do? Do students have enough knowledge to bring to the table so they can have a rich and transformative discussion? How is unteaching different from “flipping” the classroom?

At the 2011 THATCamp MCN conference, I announced to a group of curators that I wasn’t a huge fan of museums, which generated an eager and productive conversation. I suggested that perhaps I’d take more interest in museum exhibits if I were the one curating them — researching the history of artifacts, grouping them according to themes, writing historical notes, etc.  (And since then, I’ve see that at least one museum has taken up a similar idea.)

I imagine the same exercise of curating could be true for my own students. When David Weinberger says that “everyone is a curator,” he’s referring to the vast amount of information that everyone has to sift through on the internet and in the archives. Now, more than ever, students need to learn to sift through this information themselves, and teachers (and publishers) should not continue to safeguard the curriculum by writing syllabi and requiring pre-curated textbooks.

I therefore have two major lines of inquiry I’d like to explore. 1) How does an unteacher design an unclass? What does a syllabus for an unclass look like? 2) How does an unteacher manage the everyday classroom? How can students apply their independently curated knowledge? What do students do every day?

Categories: Proceedings of THATCamp, Session Proposals |

About Leeann Hunter

Leeann Hunter received her PhD in English from the University of Florida. Her dissertation examines the relationship between bankruptcy and the rise of the Victorian daughter as social entrepreneur. In her research on the Victorian period, she focuses on the economics of the family, the machinery of social relationships, and the emotional impact of financial disasters. In the classroom, she demonstrates a passion for collaborative learning and community-building, by introducing students to such themes as "collaborative consumption" and "invention mobs," where students both study and practice different forms of collaboration and creativity. She also has a passion for working with at-risk students who face additional obstacles in the classroom.

4 Responses to The UnTeacher: Hacking the Syllabus and the Everyday

  1. Dawn Schmitz says:

    I love the idea of spending first part of the term having students put together the readings — including primary sources (digital or not), and multimedia sources — for a course. Part of the coursework could be students not just finding readings but also making the case for what they chose and why they are best for meeting the course objectives — using a blog or whatever format is appropriate. You could either have students come up with the reading list by consensus or let them individually choose among their peers’ recommendations. Then there’s the matter of what they would do with these readings in terms of assignments for the rest of the semester… I’d be really interested in talking more about this.

  2. I tried a version of this with my History of the Information Age class last fall where they worked with me to construct the syllabus, find readings, and decide on assignments they would do. My posts about the class along the way are here. [Start at the bottom and read up.]

    Sorry I won’t be able to be at the discussion, but I’d love to hear what you all come up with.

  3. I remember you doing that, Jeff! One question I’m asking myself is whether all the students have to agree to *one* syllabus or *one* reading schedule. I’m thinking about it in terms of pods of 4-5 students, depending on how big the class is. If these pods are reading and reviewing different materials, I wonder what unique knowledge they might bring to the class, and how we might apply these various strands of knowledge. I’m inspired, in large part, by Michael Wesch’s “Smart Mob”:

  4. Pingback: Teaching as Scholarship: THATCamp Piedmont » Roger T. Whitson, Ph.D

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