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(“Sponsor” of this blog being my full-time employer, Kaplan University. Without full-time employment, I would be a starving writer. Therefore, today I’m deviating a bit from my usual blog topics to write about higher education. But it all relates–see my postscript.).

Flickr photo by Robert S. Donovan

After reading @Jessifer’s post Wednesday in the classroom, I immediately thought of the open education movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I wrote my master’s thesis on the Symbionese Liberation Army, so I did a lot of reading about radical student groups of the 1960s. Bill Ayers, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, worked at an open education school in Michigan in the 1960s. This was the first I had heard of participant-centered pedagogy. The kids decided what they were interested in, and the teachers adapted instruction accordingly.

My opinion was torn whenever I read of these schools. On one hand, I thought, “How did the children learn everything?” I can see children being interested in reading or art, but are they naturally interested in math? Wouldn’t they just want to play all the time? What about older children? I cannot see many kids choosing to spontaneously learn algebra or anything else that might be “hard” (at least, I wouldn’t have).

On the other hand, I was intrigued by the idea and admired those who felt so strongly about this type of education that they started their own schools. They bristled with energy and creativity, and they had the guts to try something new. I have always admired renegades and aspire to be one myself.

I’m still drawn to the idea of participant-centered pedagogy, maybe because it still seems radical to me. Why shouldn’t teachers help students make discoveries on their own? Why can’t students learn from their peers? I’ve been in this MOOC MOOC for just a couple of days and already I have been exposed to new, creative approaches to higher education. These ideas have come from articles curated by the Hybrid Pedagogy gang, but I’m learning from my peers as we’ve collaborated on an essay and commented on each other’s videos. All the information has come together to lend me a new perspective.

The open education movement in public schools had run its course after a decade. “By the early 1980s, open classrooms had already become a footnote in doctoral dissertations” (Cuban, 2004).

But just because the open classroom movement in public schools did not become the educational revolution some had envisioned does not mean the best of its principles cannot be applied to higher education. Likely, the ideas behind this movement need to be modified and improved upon. Maybe participant-centered pedagogy was not a solution for K-12 education, but perhaps in higher education it can reap rich dividends.

What lessons can we learn from the K-12 open education movement? What caused it to fail, and how can we in higher education avoid the same mistakes? What would make participant-centered pedagogy a success in higher education? I have some ideas, but would love to hear yours!


Cuban, L. (2004). The Open Classroom. EducationNext. Retrieved 14 August 2012 from http://educationnext.org/theopenclassroom/

A postscript about this post’s content and how it relates to my writing career:

I refuse to see the important aspects of my life as discrete and wholly separate from one another. Much as my hands do not look like my feet, they are both part of my body. My different jobs and interests may occupy separate parts of my brain, but they still reside in one larger space.

The following take up large portions of my typical week:

  • Full-time job: higher education administration at a for-profit university
  • Part-time job: Adjunct instructor in mass media at state university
  • Part-time job: Writer. Author of forthcoming memoir, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down. Actively trying to create my “brand” through blogs, Twitter, online/print articles, etc.
  • Spare time: Reader, mostly nonfiction. Triathlete. Finding time each week to swim, bike, and run. Ashtanga yoga if I can fit it in.


  • I approach each with creativity. How can I create something new, whether it be a new way to deliver content to students, a new sentence/paragraph/chapter, a new running route or new swim stroke?
  • I try to do each better every day. How can I be a better writer and teacher? How can I improve upon my work in curriculum? How can I become a faster/stronger swimmer, cyclist, runner?
  • I see a narrative in all I do. What is a logical beginning, middle, and end to each story? How do I begin a triathlon slowly enough so I leave enough energy for the end, but not so slowly that I’m the last one to finish? How do I build the arc in a story? In a class, how do I take students on an engaging and logical journey?
  • All have a historical perspective. I’m a student of history. I’m always asking, how has this been done before? How can I improve upon the mistakes of the past? Nothing exists in a vacuum. I recognize that everything has a precedent which should not be ignored.