Sunday, June 01, 2008

Process vs. Product

In the composition field, process has been the buzzword for well over 20 years. The idea behind the buzzword is that for good writing to happen, teachers can't focus on the commas and spelling. Some attention needs to be paid to how that writing gets onto the paper in the first place. Only then will students be able to produce good products. The idea of focusing on the process of something is somewhat inherent to all of education and is, in fact, what the anti-test educators among us are focused on. This next week, I'm putting the concept of "process first" to work in a completely different setting.

Every summer, I coordinate the Summer Multimedia Development Institute, a program designed to both teach students multimedia skills and to produce products. Many of the products the students have produced over the years have been very good. They've received rave reviews from alums and have even been cited in MLA presentations. What this has meant, unfortunately, is that the expectations for excellent products has increased and the idea that this is a learning opportunity has nearly fallen by the wayside. And sometimes, honestly, the products aren't so good, which makes both the students and the people for whom the products are being produced feel bad. I look at it as a learning experience, but because there has been this focus on product, the other people involved are just disappointed.

This summer, I've completely reconfigured the program to focus on "educational" products and on the process of learning to create those products. This means that we're not creating products for the alumni office or the admissions department (both of whom I've argued should hire professional multimedia developers). It also means I've built in lots of ways for the students and the faculty working with them to become conscious of the process. We have a blog and the students will all be creating their own blogs and will be asked to write and reflect there on what they're learning. I'm encouraging them to reflect on their technical skills, on working with faculty, and on the challenges of working with technology in an educational settings among other things.

Focusing on process is actually harder. Creating the necessary framework, communicating to everyone involved that it's not about the product, and doing a lot of reflecting and listening is harder than just giving feedback on a finished product. We'll be doing some of that, too, but we'll be doing it within this process-based framework. While it may be harder, I think it will actually be less stressful. Where before students might have felt obligated to produce professional quality work, they can now focus on doing their best and working with their faculty as partners rather than in a kind of client-customer relationship. Honestly, they might produce better work anyway. At the very least, I want them to have thought a lot about what they did and to have learned from it in a way that they can apply that knowledge in the future. Actually, I want everyone involved to learn something--including me--and that's why I like doing things this way even if it is harder.