John Seely Brown sees a divergence between what outside-world practitioners do and what we have typically been able to replicate in the classroom (see post on this site) . It is a difficult challenge because when we try to extract the “essence of biologist” we don’t get everything. What we usually bring into the classroom is what Seely Brown calls the explicit knowledge. This is the kind of knowledge we find in textbooks.
But we miss what he calls the tacit knowledge, the daily habits and tricks of the trade of the working biologist, for example.
So long as we teach in classrooms we are challenged to make the links between what we ask our students to do and what outside world practitioners are actually doing.
Many educational programs offer work experiences, externships, or cooperative work experience. These help to make the connection with outside world work experience. These connections can be amplified by using them effectively.
What use do you make of the liaisons that are necessary to create work opportunities for students? Are working world contacts invited into your institution to participate in inside learning activities? Are they invited to be advisors to the program? Do they participate on juries evaluating student work?
Educational technology can be a great aid in this process. Since working practitioners are often busy people electronic communications can reduce the need for travel and can open up possibilities at great distances. Tools like Skype, email, discussion forums, and wikis can greatly facilitate interaction between your students and your outside world contacts.
This kind of interaction not only helps students acquire some of the tacit knowledge they will need but can help teachers check on the currency of the learning activities they design.
Teachers in disciplines like English, Humanities, Physical Education, Philosophy, Political Science (and many others) should also be thinking about contacts in the outside world. Why not? One only has to ask the question, “Why are students taking my course?”. Ideas for outside connections will come streaming in. Why shouldn’t students in English communicate with actual playwrights, poets, critics, and literary writers? Humanities spans so many disciplines that the possibilities are endless. Physical Education has a purpose. Why can’t that be expressed through contacts with practicing fitness trainers, seniors homes that would appreciate a little help with classes for their residents, or marketers who claim to offer healthy food products in the community? In earlier times philosophers and other academics developed their ideas by writing to their peers. Why not your students? Local politicians can often be enticed to exchange views with students. If they accept, design a full-blown activity around the interaction.
And then there are the social media. Any of them could be a good answer to a very important question: “How can I get my students publishing their work?” Just asking this question will generate reams of great ideas.