The Dilemma of the Night and the Midnight Lab

24 Sep

I was thinking the other day about night, that students are generally understood to be intellectually active at night, and that courses are mostly scheduled in the day.

My first thought was that this might not be a big deal in a traditional class, with a classroom, etc. That night activity is when students will just do their homework, a good use of intellectual activity. But then you’re tired in class when it’s time to talk about the homework.

Then I was thinking, well, it’s the online era.  Students will invest their intellectual activity into the online aspects of their work at night. Computer systems are happy to work with you at night. And you can imagine students interactively engaged in the online world, so there’s perhaps a little active learning going on, some group work possible, maybe some meaningful online conversations related to the course content, etc. So that’s good. But if you have a classroom in your class, you still end up with a sleep-deprived student there, even if their online activity was a great use of their intellectual energy.

I like the classroom.   In fact, I think it becomes more important as we create a variety of new ways to communicate and share information outside of it.  Instead of having to be everything, including an information and logistics conduit, it can be what perhaps it was always meant to be. Allowing things that you can only do when people are together.  A few posts ago I referred to the instructor who came to the conclusion that the lecture might not be the right thing for the special features of the classroom–this is that sort of idea.

As an aside, this kind of thinking–asking, “what makes the classroom special?”–inheres in Blended Learning. Last week’s ELI focus session on same made me realize two things: one, that you can extend your special teaching / learning presence into the online world, and two, that you can tailor what you do to fit the online world and the classroom respectively (when you use both in a course), and that thereby the whole might be more than the sum, etc.

Anyway, one little suggestion to resolve the dilemma of the night and let our intellectual activity happen while our classroom activity happens — is just to schedule some classes at night.  Real ones, with professors and everything.   I call it the “Midnight Lab” idea.  (I have this other idea that every class should be a lab, or an atelier; more on that in another post).  The idea has fun symbolic value: while the rest of the world sleeps, we construct new meaning. While the work-a-day, quotidian machine pauses and gasps for air, the ghost of ideas leaps forward. Some instructors might secretly abhor the early-morning class and find themselves intellectually vivacious at night.  It’s when they do their research, have a wonderful dinner sparring with friends on the pitch of great ideas around a bottle of wine, grade papers.  So a Midnight Lab could work for all participants.

For the record, I would love to take or teach a Midnight Lab.  Although it would probably destroy my routine, such as it is, make me horrendously unreliable on email and semi-distracted in meetings (during the day), particularly those meetings without structure, and I would probably deliver my kindergarteners to school with mismatched socks and myself to work with mismatched shoes, and we might eat all of our meals out of a crock pot (prepared at night), I still think it would be neat, vital, conspiratorial, communal, fun.

Another idea would be to have all courses scheduled later.  Noon – 10PM, for instance.  Not as fun as the Midnight Lab, but still meaningful.

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