Friday, 30 November 2012

Freedom to Learn

In trying to develop further my thinking about the whole VLE vs Facebook student engagement debate, I have been revisiting learning theory. Donald Clark's Plan B blog has been a godsend in this respect as he has helpfully been providing a quick overview of some of the most respected ones (as well as offering a critique of the downright disreputable -see the one on Bandler/NLP for example!).

Using a social medium such as Facebook maybe fits best with a social constructivist view of learning  - especially in the student run group where students are learning from one another how to negotiate the course and their assessments. Of course there is nothing to stop it being used in a more traditional way - in the banking mode coined by Freire  - where the tutor simply makes deposits and expects students to absorb what has been posted for later "withdrawal" in assignments. Perhaps this has been the problem with a FB Page which is really designed for broadcast rather than interaction.

My experience of the Study Support Page has been diminishing returns - initial high interest in the page, gradual waning of activity (readership) as evidenced by the regular stats emailed to me by Facebook, but at the same time increased membership of the student only (closed) group and activity in the VLE Discussion Forums. For me this parallels the process of engaging fairly remotely with the pre-enrolment student body, supporting their safe arrival in Induction Week, and gradually transferring activity over to the VLE where the "real" work is now to be done.

Over on Don't Waste Your Time, David Hopkins asks what etiquette had been taught to my students, and how clear was it what they were mean to DO on the FB page. I think this is a legitimate question.

What I could have done is set up a CLOSED GROUP for the pre-induction activity and continued to use that as the main platform for discussions, in place of the VLE. I could also have taught students about privacy options to reassure those who are nervous of social networking and trained the staff team to be able to post and interact effectively. If this in turn were linked to research on the use of social media in health and social care organisations, this page could then have a clearer purpose, and possibly greater engagement. So with this in mind, a Social Work colleague and I are now thinking of setting up just such a closed group for final year Social Work students.

[A recent book  Social Work in a Digital Society (Transforming Social Work Practice) by Sue Watling and Jim Rogers attempts to put use of social media in Social Work education into context and usefully discusses privacy, cyber bullying and the like. I also liked this project  which sets out directly to address these issues.]

The problem is that most students still expect a lecture and timetable constraints, delivery models and the emphasis on research led teaching - all point to this expectation too.

This is evident in this little story I came across on Twitter last week:

On the face of it, the fact that students like lectures is music to the ears of lecturers.On the other hand, is this good news?
Students are old school – they want lectures. They want to listen to a professor who’s engaging, who’s intellectually stimulating and who delivers the content to them [my emphasis]
Contrast this with Illich - here's Donald Clark's useful summary:

It [schooling] is all based on an illusion, he claims, the illusion that most learning is the result of teaching. Most people acquire most of their knowledge outside of school. Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction. Most learning is, in fact, a by-product of some other activity defined as work or leisure.

This feels right to me - it certainly reflects a lot of my "mature" learning experiences. I learnt to be a counsellor mainly by practising the skill and having professional supervision. I learnt Spanish mainly by teaching myself in my spare time, reading lots of novels  and having lots and lots of conversations with Spanish people on holiday, on Twitter, whilst playing Angry Words, and on Skype.

I also learned how to use social media by doing it, in a supportive community of friends and through the generosity of those who were prepared to share their experience through blogs, tweets, YouTube videos, SlideShare and webinars. And I go on learning by sharing my journey and listening to the feedback and reading and asking stupid questions.

More from Illich caught my eye this morning, (I have now progressed to reading the original text which can be found here.)

He talks about the madness of wasting educational resources on those citizens who "have outgrown the extraordinary learning capacity of their first four years and have not arrived at the height of their self-motivated learning"

Whilst I would not entirely agree with this, it does remind me that the difficulty of the task of facilitating learning in undergraduate classes is in part to do with the habits of dependence induced by "schooling" and in part to do with lack of maturity. Perhaps I am inclined to immerse myself in informal educational experiences because I have simply reached an age where I am ready to do so? And maybe, the formalities of teaching in traditional school and University environments provided me with a thirst for knowledge and a life long habit of learning.

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