>Autotronics Project Semester 2

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Outline of the course this semester.
This is the concept map for a project with semester 2 (2010) Autotronics students.
Again the first step for this project was working with the staff teaching this course (Community of Practice), unfortunately staff teaching the students in the first semester is still a long way off and needs sometime to reflect and to take in the transition from transmission to student-centredness. We have hence inherited some problems that I’ll discuss later.
This would be my second project where I have established a CoP to work on pedagogy, facilitation and assessment at the same time looking at how we can use learning technology to enhance student experience and learning.

Reflections on the CoP

The beginnings
The first get-together is always hard on everyone especially for staff who are coming in not sure what to expect and importantly what degree of openness would be required. I approach this carefully hence an informal location and a cup of coffee puts everyone at ease (thanks @thomcochrane for the idea). Next getting a touch on what people feel about use of technology in class and what they think is good or bad about it. This normally creates a space for me to talk about other projects and discuss the similarities and what the outcomes were. I have so far found after the first gathering that you are likely to get a couple who are really interested and hence go away looking for more information and case studies. These people in my experience have come the conveners (people who work within a CoP to keep others informed and enthused). These people in my experience have played an important role in keeping the CoP afloat. I have reflected on this and the reason why this happens is: 1. these people are already are a member of the CoP that has existed for a while hence I am considered an “outsider”, and 2. these people already have a relationship with others in the CoP while I am still establishing myself. Working with staff in a faculty or a department it is important to recognise these people and work along side them while you are still establishing a relationship and identity. Spiky profile of staff is a major challenge, some staff are early adapters and are willing to give a go while others need more time to digest what we had discussed. Again it is important to allow time for this to happen, it is an important stage of the process.

What follows
Revisting Pedagogy
In my experience discussing teaching practice has been a very sensitive issue. For some in the CoP the practice could be years long and hence you have to be very careful how you approach this. I have faced some real resistance from staff and some even choose to leave the CoP. I have found discussing a ‘new approach’ in my case social constructivism creates an atmosphere for people without realising to open up. Mostly the questions are either inquisitive or defensive of whatever their current practice maybe. There are always those who choose to sit back and listen to what is being said again there is nothing wrong with this. So without pointing a finger at anyone or without asking for someone to openly discuss their teaching practice we have created a surrounding where people reflect on their practice voluntarily. This in the following meetings materialise into questions leading into discussions and case studies of others in the CoP to learn from or add to with their own experience.
Having an online presence for the CoP is not critical at this stage but I have found it to be beneficial. Staff who are on-board by now start to use the space to post constructive comments, useful questions, case studies to backup what we would have discussed on the other hand it also gives members who wouldn’t normally engage in discussion to open up. At times discussion could continue online after the meeting had concluded. I am very aware of the fears people have especially when it comes to technology hence at this stage having an online presence is beneficial hence making participation voluntary works best. The priority at this stage is to discuss and lay a foundation to build upon. To get the staff to reflect on their practice and identify areas they could improve upon at the same time raising awareness on advantages of social constructivism as most staff I have encounted predominately teach in a transmission mode – delivery of  knowledge from the teacher to student.
Designing courses for collaborative learning
Remember all this happens in the CoP over several meetings in formal and informal spaces as required.
In my experience achieving the change in mindset from traditional teaching methods to constructivism has taken somewhere between 9 months to 1 year. You’ll have some staff who make this shift in a few weeks or in a matter of few months but for a majority in my case it took them 9 months to 1year. I didn’t collect any data especially age but knowing the members in the CoP’s I have been involved in, staff over the age of 40 have taken a longer time to achieve this change. However there were few in the same age group who took few months. I found the main difference between the members in this age group and those who made the change quicker to be their attitude – willingness to change and try something different.

Once we have achieved the change in pedagogy it is time for planning, what will be done in class. Over the projects I was involved in last semester, I have come up with this sheet to help staff plan for the lessons.

When we talk about student-centred learning we are somewhat limited to what degree we can involve students in the process. Most courses offered at tertiary institutes outline the learning outcomes hence we have to walk with this limitation to design a student-centred environment or learning experience. The course design framework takes this limitation and provides the staff teaching a way to create an engaging, student-centred learning experience. The design framework is based to Laurillard’s conversational model for learning.

The course design framework discussed above is a “Scaffolded approach” to student-centred learning. Critiques of student-centred learning say that students enrolling to master a discipline may not have any experience or may have some but not relevant. Hence students are not in a position to know where to start from and are unable to create a context for themselves for learn from.

Scaffolded Student-Centred Learning

Figure 1: Three phase Scaffolded student-centred learning

Figure 1:
Key: T = Teacher involvement, SC – Student Community, PLN – Personal Learning Networks

Phase 1: Teacher plays a critical role in setting the scene. S/He designs learning blocks per each learning outcome or could be just one. Teacher directs the learning but ensures students are actively involved. The focus in this phase is establishing a students community and on engaging student with creating content – Teacher designs questions that provides direction to the students on what content to create. This could be individual or group activity. Students are encouraged to give peer feedback on the student community (individual blogs). There is very little or no context.

Phase 2: The the end of phase 1 students are (1) familiar with the tools, (2) have acquired skills needed (digital), (3) now have the base knowledge which they can build upon, (4) recognise the importance of students community and collaborative learning and (5) begin building their critical thinking skills. This provides them and puts them in a position to now start negotiating the learning context. They could collaborate with the teacher in creating one for themself or a group could negotiate one for themselves. At this stage and would probably happen in the first phase implicitly students would start developing their own learning environment and learning network. The focus for students stays with the student community but the PLN becomes a source of knowledge.

Phase 3: At this stage students are entirely in the driving seat and hence a true student-centred learning emerges. The teacher is there as a guide, student community and the PLN take a greater part in the students learning.

Use of Learning Technologies

So far we have talked about pedagogy and facilitation, we haven’t seen where technology fits into the puzzle. As the students progress through the scaffolded continuum, technology plays an important role in keeping the learners and teacher connected. It also plays a part in bridging the gap between learning and context as context is not always in the classroom or other formal learning spaces. Technology for collaboration, creation and communication. Use of technology in phases 1 and 2 is determined by the teacher however the use of tools in phase 3 is determined by the student.

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