As a teacher, I want to help my students discover. I create a framework for learning where students’ insights grow out of their independent and collective work, and where I too can learn.
I urge students to use writing as a way of thinking, as a process of progressing from muddy concepts to clear thoughts. I ask them to think visually too, to make observations and construct arguments using maps, diagrams, and photographs. All my courses entail learning through doing: recording field observations through writing, drawing, and photographing, leading a discussion, or teaching others.
I want my students to gain a sense of authority, the confidence to analyze primary data, to develop a hypothesis, to construct an argument. Often the city itself is a primary text; each student choosing a small site within that larger whole, then becoming an expert on their small part of the city, their own observations the evidence from which to argue a point, reading books a means of interpreting observations and testing conclusions. Sometimes what they see contradicts or challenges orthodoxy.
“But how do I know if I have the right answer?” students often ask. Most important is not whether the answer is “right,” but the quality of the question itself and of their reasoning, how convincingly they marshal evidence to support a hypothesis.
Since 1996 I have crafted for each course a Web site as a framework for learning, a forum for presenting work, sharing ideas, and extending discussion beyond the classroom. It delighted me when a student in one class used the Web site for one of my other classes as a resource to explore how people can learn to “see the invisible.”
Listen to what one MIT student told him: