This question was asked by my colleague @HeidiHutchison at Edcamp Baltimore on Saturday in a session discussing Project Based Learning. It has stuck with me ever since. As usual, when I feel like I am pushing the envelope, I use my senior elective as a laboratory. This time, it is the Modern Asia course.
We are finishing up our study of India with a few days on the evolution of the Indian economy post-independence. After that the curriculum is wide open to the end of the semester. Last year, I had each student choose an individual topic to research and create a presentation to class. Included was an analytical paper as well. It gave the appearance of student autonomy and control, but they really only had a choice about content. Autonomy over content is substantial, but not the same as the freedom that comes from asking the question Heidi posed.
So, I will go into class tomorrow and ask the students what they want to learn. I need to be prepared to help support individual and small group work, as well as potentially some whole class work. Do they all need to write a paper to be analytical and reflective in their work? Do they need to do some sort of class presentation? Do I want to insist that they create something involving technological skills like an infographic? I doubt it; at least I doubt that all students need to do the same things. I do want them to be analytical, reflective and public with their learning. Beyond that, I am open.
What I know is that by truly opening up the curriculum, I need to be prepared to adjust to whatever I get back from my students. I do want to keep the parameters of the course as set in the course description and title, Modern Asia. Beyond that, I will simply ask the question, “What do you want to learn?”