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Experiments in student led learning

I’ve been quite inspired by some recent attempts by other educators at turning round the learning experience in schools and allowing students more say in what and how they learn. I’m particularly inspired by the work of Oliver Quinlan, which has been summed up nicely in his recent blog post on Changing Classroom Relationships.

Myself and several of my colleagues have recently posted questions on some of our class Facebook groups asking students what type of projects they’d like to do next semester. In an effort to increase student participation in the planning of their learning I have also asked students what they would like to learn in some specific subjects.

I am uncertain about how this approach will be received by students. I get a feeling that most mature students expect education to be like a commercial transaction – they pay for it, so expect something in return. They expect classes to be teacher led, they expect to be given everything they need to succeed. I’m less sure they’ll accept the idea of actually directing the learning and maybe actually doing some teaching themselves. Perhaps this is too alien a concept in a consumer driven marketplace. Gardner Campbell alludes to this in A Personal Cyberinfrastructure, when he says “the freedom to explore and create is the last thing on their minds, so deeply has it been discouraged. Many students simply want to know what their professors want and how to give that to them”.

So far there has been a reasonable response to the questions posed on Facebook, and I haven’t encountered any requests that are so diverse that they lie outside the boundaries of the units I will be delivering. In fact, most of the requests have been quite mundane. Perhaps it is a case of  “I don’t know what I don’t know”.

In a further attempt to get the students on board I think that I will break with tradition during the first lesson of my 2nd semester subjects and actually take time to look through the descriptors of the units with the students. Together we can identify what they must do to pass, but hopefully this will also prompt them to consider what they would like to do in order to fulfil the outcomes. Maybe this will elicit some more creative ideas from my students, and perhaps set them thinking about skills they want to learn for the future rather than having it dictated to them.

Frankly I’m bored doing the same lessons year in, year out for the same subjects. Maybe a more seat-of-the-pants approach will energise the classes and make it more of a shared learning experience rather than a teacher-led experience. That’s what I’m hoping for, so we’ll see.

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