This post originally appeared at EdSurge on October 16, 2015.
I feel strange saying that I, a Davidson College Junior named Andrew, have obtained ‘Student Agency.’ Does that make me a ‘Student Agent,’ a sort of James Bond of the educational Free Will? Does that mean I can drop out? Have I made it?
Well, no. I haven’t made it. Because ‘agency’ is a capacity that you never stop developing. You can’t obtain it and you can’t take it away. Education can encourage or discourage ‘agency,’ but education cannot eliminate or provide it. I make this point because ‘student agency’ is often paired with phrases like “the flipped classroom” and “active versus passive learning.” These phrases suggest that agency is a flippable switch: Yesterday, my professor was an onerous, tweed-coated, lecture-giver; today, with an iPad, Lynda.com and an unanticipated boost in self-discipline, I barely even need her!
We can’t continue to frame agency as something that educators give to students. That feeds into the old model of knowledge transmission, where educators stand up and give information to students. Developing ‘agency’, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort where both parties stand to gain (and lose). Collaboration, then, is fundamentally about a relationship between two (or more) equals. As such, ‘agency’ demands a couple of things: individualization, relationship, and equality.
This is important because it lets us see the revolution in education as something more than a couple of quick, life-changing clicks and tips. You can’t just flip the classroom. Developing a student’s capacity to be an ‘agent’ is a horribly difficult, complicated, and personal work. It’s unquantifiable and un-MOOCable. It’s very nearly an art; It’s almost moral; and I believe it is the central role of the educator.
So let’s say this moral, artistic, deeply personal act is part of the educator’s purpose. If it is, I’d like to speak to the way that a group of brilliant, revolutionary educators are cultivating ‘Student Agency’ in me: (more…)