Stretching classroom boundaries: Web 2.0, Asperger's, Primary Source
Posted Oct 23 2008 2:10pm
An extraordinary event occured this week in my Abnormal Psychology class at the College. For several years I have required that my students maintain blogs of weekly reflections on class material and commentaries on assigned readings. Most recently, my students read "Look me in the Eye" by John Elder Robison, which is about is childhood struggles with Asperger's. Robison found some of my students blogs and posted comments with his own critiques of their critiques. My student Jenna discovered that Robison had strong words to say about her synopsis in which she took the author to task for what she felt was unreasonable justification of some of his vengeful acts toward others, including a school teacher. You can read Jenna's blog and click on the "comments" to read Robison's comments. You can also read Jenna's response to Robison's comments under that section. After that I discovered that Robison had commented on several of my students blogs, often with tough (would he prefer "direct") words.
These events were fascinating for several reasons:
1. In little Keene, NH a college student can write about a famous author's book and get a response from that author...not by going to the author, but by having the author go to her! Imagine how exciting it is for a college student to suddenly be dialoguing about a book with the real life author!
2. Jenna was able to experience directly a central issue in the field of Asperger's. Robison pushing hard the "respect for neurodiversity" model which is being picked up by many of the major patient advocacy groups (e.g., GRASP, AANE ) as a contrast to a more traditional "DSM Psychopathology" model.
But that's not all! The boundaries of the classroom were further expanded by email responses to Robison's comments by others who had read Robison's book, but were not in my class. For example, here's an excerpt from a former student who caught wind of the blog posting:
Sean came home from class today and told me that John Robison actually responded to a students critique of his book. I have to say that I really enjoyed his book and I was actually somewhat happy that he managed to teach himself to socialize. However, if he actually got upset about someones opinion on his book, then, in my opinion, he has not come as far as he gives himself credit for.
The former student added:
It is pretty cool that he responded to her blog though
These events have jazzed my Abnormal Psychology class (it's like a famous person has entered the room through their blogs) and makes you think of even more possibilties for education. For example, instead of bringing in famous authors to give one-shot talks at colleges (for large sums of money where few will attend, let alone talk directly with the speaker), why not invite them in to classrooms "virtually" by commenting on student papers or participating in class discussion boards? Student papers could be posted on Google Documents so that famous writers (who can stay home and communicate on their laptops) can view those documents and post comments (without slipping and falling on the ice on campus which I did today!).