How power dynamics can undermine effective learning

By definition, there is a finite amount of power over any given set of human interactions. How those relationships are structured can have significant impacts on the ability of students to think for themselves. The industrial mode of teaching with the teacher as the font of wisdom standing in front of the class imposes severe power disparities within the classroom. Students are basically playing a zero-sum game. They can either submit to the power relationship that the professor establishes within the classroom or drop/fail the class. Most students accept this without question, but it severely impacts their capacity to grow and thrive as learners.

Getting students to own their learning

As a teacher, I have always looked for more effective strategies to get my students to think for themselves. I have looked particularly at Empowered Learning as a mechanism to make the students in my American and Texas Government courses engage in material for a class almost none of them want to be in.

I have come to believe that it is only through empowering our students that they can hope to enter a flow state of high concentration and focus. Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state between overly challenging and boring. It is in this zone that individuals are most effective in pushing their creative and intellectual boundaries when “instruction was perceived as challenging and relevant.” “Doing what the professor wants” interferes with my students’ ability or even willingness to engage in activities designed to achieve Flow.…Read More