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Education and Technology:
Serendip's Experiences 1994-2004

Expanding the Conversation

Serendip was founded ten years ago in part as "a continually developing set of resources to explore and support intellectual and social change in education ...". Over the past decade, Serendip has been involved in an extended (and continuing) process of "trying out things" to see how the web can be used in education as have many others. This section of reflections on education and technology contains materials contributed by others reflecting on their own experiences.

Dialogues, Roles, and Metaphors: Changing Education

Your reflections on the web as interactive conversation connect with thinking I have been doing over the last ten years and several projects I have developed premised on:

  • The centrality of dialogue - of ongoing exchanges of ideas and perspectives - to education/learning
  • The revision of traditional roles, such as those of 'student' and 'teacher,' in education.

I describe here one project that embodies these premises - Teaching and Learning Together - and elsewhere a second - Talking toward Techno-Pedagogy. I also discuss elsewhere a larger, conceptual framework I have been developing to help me rethink how I understand and engage with others in education - Finding/Creating New Metaphors for Education.

Alison Cook-Sather

Teaching and Learning Together

Alison Cook-Sather

Only dialogue, which requires critical thinking, is also capable of generating critical thinking. Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education.

- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1990, p. 81

Background: I designed Teaching and Learning Together in 1995 in collaboration with Ondrea Reisinger, then a teacher at Springfield High School, Delaware Country, PA. Our goal was to revise the culminating courses required for secondary certification through the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program to include those most often excluded from but most affected by teacher preparation: high school teachers and high school students at work in local schools. Funding: The project was first funded by the Ford Foundation (in 1995-1996), then by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (1997-2000), and is now supported by Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges as an integral part of teacher preparation through the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program.

Approach: To create the possibility of various dialogues carried on among multiple participants, I do the following:

  • invite experienced mentor (school-based) teachers to collaborate with me as well as create space for a separate dialogue between these experienced teachers and pre-service teachers, both within the context of the college classroom
  • create a space for dialogue between pre-service teachers and high school students and a space for high school students to offer their perspectives in separate conversations
  • invite the pre-service teachers to take up the role of dialogue partner with experienced teachers, with me, with high school students, with one another, within themselvelves.

Central components of the project:

  • Classroom-based dialogue
    • Weekly conversations between pre-service teachers and me (as the teacher of the seminar)
    • Regular conversations between pre-service teachers and experienced teachers in their subject areas in the context of the seminar
    • Weekly conversations among high school students, which are audiotaped, transcribed, and made available to the pre-service teachers
  • Web-based dialogue
    • A weekly email exchange between experienced, classroom-based teachers and pre-service teachers
    • A weekly email exchange between high school students and pre-service teachers
Theory into Practice: Not only do these dialogues constitute much of the pre-service teachers' preparation to teach, they change the thinking and ways of engaging in education of all participants involved.

Here's what participants have to say about the experience of these dialogues as dialogues:

Experienced Teachers' Perspectives on Dialogue Pre-service Teachers'
Perspectives on Dialogue
High School Students' Perspectives on Dialogue
'Working with the college students keeps me up on the latest trends in education. It introduces me to fresh ideas and new enthusiasm and reminds me why I got into education in the first place.' ... Teacher of high school mathematics

'Working with the pre-service teachers made me pay closer attention to my own practice ... I could say, 'Your assessment better match your practice,' and then I would go back to my own classroom to check and make sure that mine did.' ... teacher of high school English

I was able to discuss and consider new and evolving theories of education that would otherwise pass me by in the daily isolation of my classroom.' ... Teacher of social studies'

[I was] amazed at the simple, easy-going way in which enormous fields of inquiry, research and practice were brought up through what seemed like a casual group discussion, almost a 'group conversation.'... Teacher of French and Spanish

'[I remained] mildly frustrated with the dialogue until I realized that I was expecting [my high school partner] to speak in my language. Amid our discussions of student voice and its value, I had neglected to realize that his learning, his method of articulation, was through experience and concrete examples. I had sought to give him voice while failing to hear the sound of his individual words.' ... Pre-service teacher of social studies

The main thing [I learned from the experienced teacher with whom I worked] was that good teachers never stop looking for ways to improve, and that educating yourself is as continuous a process as educating your studentsÉI think that when practicing educators are present as often and as strongly as they have been during my preparation, future educators can develop a strong feeling of purpose, togetherness, idealism, etc., all leading to confidence in the first few crucial weeks and months of teaching. [TLT] models the belief that teaching should not be a solitary profession, but that we should all learn from and collaborate with each other.' ... Pre-service teacher of French

I don't think it always occurs to teachers to ask students about [their opinions on approaches to teaching]. But, after my experience [in Teaching and Learning Together], I do it as a matter of course in my classroom.' ... Pre-service teacher of English (after three years of teaching experience)

'The interaction between [my high school partner] and me was teaching me how to listen to a student, to analyze her thoughts, to apply them to the formation of my own teaching persona ... The relationship we were building brought my reflections back to my own goals of being an effective teacher and interacting with future students. ... Pre-service teacher of biology

'This project has helped me in a lot of ways. I came from South America about four years ago, to this country, and I still, up to this date, I found myself at a lower level than I wish I would be in being a student, intellectual-wise. So this project, just having discussions and meetings after school every Wednesday, has helped me in my thinking process and my thinking skills. I think they've developed a lot.'

'I never really thought that [teachers] wondered about some of the things that [my pre-service teacher partner] asked me. And just to think that they actually wondered about that or cared about that made me respect them a little more.'

'It really brought out all my thoughts [about teaching] and gave me a chance to express them.'

Teaching and Learning Together also redefines the roles of all who participate: teacher educator, experienced high school teachers, high school students and pre-service teachers. Here's what participants have to say about the experience of playing nontraditional roles in their own and others' education:

Experienced Teachers' Perspectives on Roles Pre-service Teachers'
Perspectives on Roles
High School Students' Perspectives on Roles
'I see us [experienced teachers] as resources and, more importantly, as students of the pre-service teachers.'... Experienced teacher of high school mathematics 'Within each paragraph [in the letters] the dynamic of who was teaching and who was learning changed. We were both students, experiencing teachers, at the same time as I was preparing to become one.' ... Pre-service teacher of social studies

[My high school partner] and I built our knowledge [together], rather than giving it to one another, and neither one of us was ever only a teacher or student in the traditional sense. ... Pre-service teacher of French

'People can choose to close themselves into a role, or they can step in and out of many. Roles and knowledge are on a continuum, a spectrum of choices and expectations.' ... Pre-service teacher of French

'By informing the people who are training to become teachers of good ways to teach and help students learn, we are in effect helping education reach a better level for the students of tomorrow.'

'[Participating in Teaching and Learning Together] kind of made me think about how to be a better student.'

[Participating in this project] made me step back as a student and just look at how everything was going on in the classroom. It made me look at how I was being taught and how teachers worked.'

Further Reading: Here's a list of publications in which I discuss Teaching and Learning Together and the insights that have emerged from it. I welcome further dialogue about these either on this forum or by email (

Cook-Sather, A. (forthcoming). 'Translating Between Student and Teacher.' In Education is Translation: A Metaphor for Changing Learning and Teaching. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cook-Sather, A. (2003). Listening to Students about Learning Differences. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35, 4 (March/April), 22-26.

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Re(in)forming the Conversations: Student Position, Power, and Voice in Teacher Education. Radical Teacher 64, 21-28.

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). 'A Teacher Should be. . .': When the Answer Is the Question. Knowledge Quest 30, no. 5 (May/June), 12-15.

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing Students' Perspectives: Toward Trust, Dialogue, and Change in Education. Educational Researcher 31, no. 4 (May), 3-14.

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Teachers-To-Be Learning from Students-Who-Are: Reconfiguring Undergraduate Teacher Preparation. In Stories of the Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher's Heart, edited by Sam M. Intrator. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Find Out What It Means To Me: RESPECT. Academic Exchange Quarterly, Volume 6, Issue 1(Spring), 168-173.

Shultz, J., & Cook-Sather, A. (2001). In Our Own Words: Students' Perspectives on School. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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