The Art of Conversation

In working with faculty members across several different disciplines to design meaningful courses for college learners, a common thread emerges again and again- we teach more than the content.  When admissions counselors give tours of our institution to prospective students and their parents, the selling points are- relationships with peers and faculty, social events, food and housing, athletics etc.- more than content.  This is the reality.  In both face to face and online learning worlds, we place more importance on the how and why and where of learning than the what of learning.  I’m wondering if our course design and development reflects these same priorities.  Do we invest time designing opportunities for students to become better conversationalists, better collaborators and better communicators in conjunction with bringing them the best content in a clean design?  This NYT article today addresses some conversational needs among young people that would resonate with many faculty members with whom I work. Here is a snippet.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits.  As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”  And we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

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