The Reflective Instinct

I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Reshan Richards on WBAR, the college radio station of Barnard College in New York City.*  Though I enjoyed his reminiscences about his days playing Metallica covers with his middle school friends,** I wanted to highlight a few things that Reshan said about teaching and learning.  The following excerpt is loosely edited for clarity:

I believe that there are things in recent or emerging technologies that allow students to demonstrate understanding and communicate their process of thinking in ways that teachers have always felt was valuable.  But in the past, there was no way to mediate or capture [these understandings and this process of thinking].  Now those means exist, and I think they should start to inform the conversation about what assessment means, or how assessment is approached in schools.


I work hard to separate assessment from grading, to avoid using the word “assessment” as an equivalent to “grading.”  Because of the things people can do with certain tools, especially open-ended tools, a different type of learning process can be captured, shared, and communicated.


If you think about a valuable teacher/student relationship, the best thing is to sit down with the student, talk to her, let her show you what she knows.  And so you have this very human, personal relationship based on understanding, not just based on content or the score on a test.  Sure, those could be fuel for discussion, but that test or that exercise — that task — shouldn’t be the end point. The problem is that it’s impossible to get that type of face-to-face time.  It’s inefficient or literally impossible to do.  I look at technology as a way to bridge that gap, to address that gap, and help us facilitate those types of conversations using tools to make the relationship more human, as opposed to the other end of the spectrum which is, “oh, it’s impossible to get two people in the same room, so let’s try to automate and computerize and dehumanize the process as much as possible for total efficiency.”


My recent work and explorations have really been around five dimensions that basically all mobile devices have:  the ability to take photographs, shoot video, record audio, capture screen shots, and make screen captures or screen recordings.

Those kinds of natural documentation capturing processes, even five years ago, were not ubiquitous. It wasn’t a thing to say or think, “I can just snap a picture of that and send it off to a million people,” or “I can take a video of that right away and edit it, reflect on it, or watch it.”

Those types of processes were not instinctually immediate, and the reason I think people like them today is because they feel very natural.  Maybe it’s narcissism and people like watching themselves, but I think humans have this very natural, reflective instinct.  From an education perspective, we should be looking at these new habits that are forming because of technology, and ask ourselves how working with such habits could promote the process of learning, as opposed to just the judgement that something has been learned or not learned.

*This interview was conducted by DJ Dino for the Ovation Performing Arts Show.

**I shouldn’t downplay the importance of Reshan’s formative years playing music in neighborhood bands.  Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this interview and Reshan’s work in general is the palpable sense of fun that infuses his operating procedures.

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