Advent Calendar Day 20: Elegant Loitering

In a series: ADEPT Teaching and Learning Advent Calendar 2016
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In Day 20 of ADEPT's Teaching & Learning Advent Calendar, Dr Emma Kennedy on the benefits of elegant loitering.

This is the Day 20 post of ADEPT’s Teaching and Learning Advent Calendar, sent as an email on December 20th 2016.

Image shows a cat lying under a duvet facing the camera - behind is a shelf of books.

Elegant loitering

Today I want to talk about an idea that I’ve adapted from Dave White’s idea of ‘elegant lurking’. This is a method that White suggests for gaining confidence and learning on social media: by ‘lurking’ in one’s field, he suggests, and doing it ‘elegantly’ (i.e. lurking in the right places), we can tune in to the discourses at play. We can listen to how people talk before trying it ourselves, and we can get a sense of the most urgent debates. I think that this also applies to subject disciplines, on and off (but mainly off) social media.

I want to encourage students to spend time ‘loitering’ in a discipline, reading resources (even if they don’t understand them all at once) and generally faffing around. In History, this might mean flicking through collections of source material or putting search terms into online repositories and seeing what comes up. It might mean browsing through a lot of journal articles and seeing what ideas are interesting, or hanging out in the relevant library section and flicking through books. For students with more specific interests, talking to their subject librarian or tutor can be a great next step.

Loitering in the resources of one’s discipline is a counter to the ‘strategic’ learning that students often adopt when faced with full curricula and busy lives (signs of this include asking “will it be on the exam?” and “is this reading important?”). Encourage students to explore: explain to them that feeling more comfortable in a discipline doesn’t come from doing only the ‘important’ reading and getting full marks on the exam (two things that are also mutually exclusive, usually). It comes from finding your own path through the subject (albeit sometimes with some gentle guidance) and exploring all the brilliant resources your discipline has to offer. It’s OK to loiter: they don’t have to make use of, or even fully understand, everything they read. They just have to spend some time in the right places and get more comfortable there.

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