A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Lean-Forward Pedagogy

By Colleen Kearney Rich on May 31, 2013

Mark Sample
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Mason English professor Mark Sample is an excellent example of a faculty member who has embraced technology and social media tools and made them part of his teaching practice.

“As opposed to a lean-back pedagogy, with students leaning back, slack, in their chairs, I have tried to develop a lean-forward pedagogy, which literally makes students lean forward in engagement and anticipation,” he says. “We often think of technology as creating passivity in people—television is a lean-back medium—but I argue that technology can just as easily make students lean forward.”

In his ENGH 451 Science Fiction course, Sample asked students to “tweet” using the social media tool Twitter while watching the film Blade Runner outside class.

“In this way I was able to turn movie watching—a lean-back activity—into a lean-forward practice,” he says. “And because the students often directed their tweets as replies to each other, [the assignment] was social, much more social than viewing the film in class together.”

Over a five-day period, Sample collected hundreds of tweets and used a tool called Storify to categorize the tweets and identify underlying themes in the online conversation. He then used this information to lead the discussion in the next class.

In another class, he asked students to create an “expressive digital object” inspired by one of the works they studied in class. “In assignments like these, I’m less concerned with the final product than I am with the creative process itself and the student’s rationale and design choices.”

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