Tuesday, 21 January 2014
#rhizo14 Week 2 Enforced Independence
Well there's an oxymoron if ever I heard one....
.... and yet this is exactly what I am wrestling with in my first year undergraduate module. The students enter University expecting - and sometimes even demanding - very detailed guidance, worksheets, notes and handouts. They think lectures are the way University education should be done - I even had some first year students tell me today that they preferred exams as course work required them to do too much reading and they couldn't handle the distant deadlines: pressure, recall of facts, 2 hours of hand cramps - this is what learning is all about!
So these same students then turn up to my module and they are in a large open space with 100 other students, seated at round tables with Apple Macs available. Or they can bring their own device. Whatever. They get a few minutes of introduction from me for this week's theme and then they get to it - searching the internet, answering questions, posting responses on Twitter, Facebook, Padlet. Whatever. We think about digital identity, digital citizenship, research skills, ethics, intellectual property. I provide a detailed written structure for the module through the VLE where I post links to videos and articles for them to read in their own time. They get feedback through a short formative piece evaluating the role of social media in research; they choose their own work groups for a final summative project using Storify or Pinterest (or... whatever) to curate their online research.
Yup. They hate it.
There's not enough teaching. They don't understand the point of what they are doing. They don't get the relevance of social media to social science research. There are no handouts! (Well, very few). The group is too big and too noisy (these are justifiable complaints in my view!). They can't find anything on the VLE (also possibly justified - its UI is Byzantine). They hate the Macs.
and yet ...... Week 13 of the module: they settle down to the task, they use the Macs with ease, they ask fewer questions. They seem engaged - with the task, with the conversations in their groups. They may just be getting it.
I cut my teeth, teaching wise, in a Person Centred Counselling course. The curriculum was designed by the students (within some constraints). Students peer assessed all the time - in formative practical work and in the final summative dissertation and case study. The group process was in the hands of the group - I was a facilitator. Things got messy - a lot of the time. They hated it. One particularly angry student stated (to the whole group) that the course was rubbish because everything the students learnt they did entirely by themselves. On the final day, after a year of being angry with me about this, she repeated her claim - only now she got it. Yes - they had done it all by themselves. They were/had become independent learners.
The difference with my current students is that they don't really have the same Freedom to Learn. Other parts of their course are taught traditionally. There are exams and course work and grades and structures that will judge the worthiness of the student to progress to another level. There are rules about plagiarism and using Google and Facebook and Twitter and Wikipedia will be frowned upon (maybe even punished). And the biggest oxymoron of all - I am forcing them to be independent. I am not permitting them to learn in the way that is cosy for them, I am imposing (through my power as teacher) a set of conditions and expectations about what is good for them. Just as I do as a parent to my children.
Knowing when to nurture and when to push the chicks out of the nest is key - as is knowing the difference between encouraging independence and abandonment. I don't know how, when or if I ever get this "right" - but then, I am still learning....