Rosemary Joyce: Remarks on Legitimate Peripheral Participation
Rosemary Joyce is Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley and one of the founding editors of the journal Social Archaeology. Her research interests include settlement patterns, symbolism, and social organization in complex societies, the analysis of archaeological ceramics, and Central America, where she has participated in field research in Honduras since 1977. She is the author of Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender, and Archaeology (Thames and Hudson, 2008) and The Languages of Archaeology: Dialogue, Narrative, and Writing (Blackwell, 2002), and the co-editor with Julia A. Hendon of Mesoamerican Archaeology: Theory and Practice (Blackwell, 2004), as well as the author and editor of numerous volumes on social archaeology and gender. Joyce also writes for the Berkeley Blog on a variety of topical issues. Professor Joyce received the Division of Social Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award for 2003–2004 and UC Berkeley’s Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs for 2006.
Summary of the Presentation
In her talk, Professor Joyce described the ways in which she has used the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Cambridge University Press, 1991) in the graduate and undergraduate classroom. As Jean Lave noted during her presentation to the working group, Situated Learning considers learning as a social activity, implying that “teaching” might be better conceived as creating a community of learners.
Joyce described classroom learning in relation to the subtitle of Lave and Wenger’s book, exploring the ways in which participation, peripherality, and legitimacy can be used to change how we think about student learning. Participation, she noted, is the easiest to implement; the teaching culture of the university is already moving in the direction of making undergraduate education more focused on participation. We recognize that straightforward and traditional lectures, in which students passively receive information, are less useful than having students actually do something. Many of us already use participation techniques such as small groups and interactive questioning.
Approaching learning in terms of peripherality, in Joyce’s view, can allow us to move away from a model in which we consider the student inferior to the master teacher. She thinks of peripherality as a physical metaphor in the classroom: if she notices that students are moving farther and farther away from her in the lecture hall, then perhaps they are also drifting away from the learning community. It is worth noting Lave and Wenger’s description of peripherality:
Keeping these ideas in mind, Joyce uses “peripherality” as a way of thinking about drawing students together in a closer circle, both literally, as they move in the classroom over time, and metaphorically, as they gradually participate more fully and are empowered.
For purposes of teaching, in Joyce’s view, the most important of the three terms in Lave and Wenger’s subtitle is “legitimate.” Joyce argued that our attempts to give students real-world projects often backfire, creating illegitimate demands on them. For example, she described an assignment that she used to give in a museum exhibit design course: students would be asked to design, build, and install a museum exhibit in a three-month period. This standard assignment, given in similar courses at many universities, is considered a test of their “real-world” skills in implementing what they learn over the course of the semester. However, Joyce explained, the results are often extremely poor — even for the best students — because a task of this nature would take a skilled professional like herself around two years to carry out. In attempting to be “real-world,” the assignment actually asks students to carry out a fake, or “illegitimate,” version of a disciplinary practice.
In order to change the assignment and make it “legitimate” in Lave and Wenger’s sense, Joyce asked herself what disciplinary activity could legitimately be carried out within three months. The answer she came up with was writing a grant proposal for a museum exhibit according to National Endowment for the Humanities guidelines. In drafting such a proposal, students conceptualized their exhibits, but they did not have to try to build and install them in such an unrealistic time frame.
Joyce spoke in favor of telling students explicitly when we are using theories of learning, as this may help them reconcile themselves to modes of learning and study that don’t fit their expectations of “schoolish” work, or work that they don’t enjoy. For example, she assigns plenty of group work, even though many of her students are individualistic and resist it, “because the real world is full of groups working” and of communities of learners.
In contrast to her success with teaching undergraduates from the perspective of fostering “legitimate peripheral participation,” Joyce noted that graduate students in her pedagogy course have been resistant to adopting such methods in their own teaching. When her department revived its once-defunct pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, she assigned Lave and Wenger’s Situated Learning and Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as course texts, and she described the changes she had made to her own teaching.
First-time GSIs in her course who have resisted this learning model have done so for two main reasons. First, some contended that there was too much content for them to cover in their classes, and teaching using so much participation and attention to fostering learning would take away from conveying material. Joyce suggested that we need to rethink our definition of teaching expertise; the graduate students making this objection seem to think of teaching expertise as a simple difference in content knowledge between themselves and students. Research and practice both show, however, that teaching expertise is far more complex, and that teachers may often know more than students about a topic, but do not necessarily need to in order to teach effectively. Second, some graduate students argued that they had learned effectively within the traditional institutional forms of education, so their students should, too. Joyce described these graduate students as convinced, rightly or wrongly, that passive instruction is effective, and suggested that the tendency of these students to identify personally with the institution of the university might cloud their judgment about teaching methods. She noted further that these were also the students who tended to overvalue grading as a way to know whether students have learned. Professor Joyce’s challenge is to convince GSIs that grading and learning are not only two different things, they are in contradiction and competition with each other. When GSIs allow students to become focused on the grading, the focus on learning is lost.