Too often people think about things happening to them, rather than thinking about how they make things happen. Agency is important, and we must never forget that we have the capacity to act. You can see the results people can have in the current events in Tunisia and Egypt.
Agency is a critical part of citizenship – a point that Lewis Hyde makes in his excellent new book Common as Air. After discussing how the concept of property includes both rights of action and exclusion, and that the former is often forgotten, he says:
What might be called he active-verb part of property will be especially marked in those areas of social life where participation is essential. In a viable self-governing nation, for example, citizens can only know themselves by way of their civic agency. True citizens are not the audience of their government, nor its consumers; they are its makers. The same may be said of a viable culture.
It struck me as I read this that the same can be said of education. Try this out:
True students are not the audience of their education, nor its consumers, they are its makers.
In order to learn, you have to participate, you have to take action, and you have to connect ideas. We’ve known this at least going back to the foundation of the Socratic method.
What does education look like when you think of it in this way? I think it ends up looking a lot like the Connectivism and Connected Knowledge course put together by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Here is part of how they describe it:
CCK11 is an unusual course. It does not consist of a body of content you are supposed to remember. Rather, the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person.
In addition, this course is not conducted in a single place or environment. It is distributed across the web. We will provide some facilities. But we expect your activities to take place all over the internet. We will ask you to visit other people’s web pages, and even to create some of your own.
It’s easy for educators to just tell people a bunch of stuff and expect them to remember it. It’s more challenging to create a situation that facilitates agency and learning – but that’s what innovative educators do.
In the same way, it’s easy to be a student when all you have to do is memorize and regurgitate. It’s a lot harder to create your own course.
But creating your own course, and your own assessment is what true students do. They exercise their right to action in their education.