The Big Questions: Closing the Loop

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Teaching

This morning I had a meeting with Greg & Nick from Revolution Labs, a Milwaukee pre-seed accelerator that supports entrepreneurship in Milwaukee’s central city. The conversation traveled between shared interests, passions, and concerns.

At one point, the conversation turned to The Big Questions. And, you know, I’m a humanist. I love the big questions: What gives life meaning? What does it mean to be human?

These are the questions I bring to my students, because I want them to feel invited into the central questions of human existence. This semester, I’m teaching an Honors seminar on Cyborg Literature, and the questions have certainly been big. Most class periods, we put the questions raised by the text on the board and then try to start to answer some of them. The semester has been filled with questions such as:

  • What does it mean to be human?
  • What should our relationship to technology be?
  • What human knowledge cannot be replicated by technology?
  • How is technology changing categories such as family and relationship?

We’ve talked about these questions as important questions to our world, but this morning, I realized something: I haven’t really closed the loop for students in thinking about WHY these are such important questions. My students know that we live in a technologically-driven world, but we haven’t specifically asked how technology will impact their own lives and decisions. I’ve never asked them about their own role in this technological world.

We’ve been responding to technology rather than considering our selves as agents who make it happen. This doesn’t mean that I or my students need to be tech-makers, but asking the big questions can get us out of simply reacting to technology.

New questions might be:

  • Can technology respond to some of the challenges faced by families today?
  • How can technology best shape your chosen career?
  • What is your vision of utopia, and what is technology’s role in it?

I’m going to rewrite my student’s final essay question so they can engage these kinds of questions. These are questions of great concern not only to my students, but also to the broader community, and the literature that I teach can help to address them. The trick is to keep one foot in the day-to-day of the classroom, and another in the big and relevant questions.

[Photo: “Hello, how are you?” by Chris Craik, Licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0]

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