At the end of each semester my university offers a unique opportunity for faculty to learn. The Summer Faculty Institute offers a weeklong, hands-on curriculum for faculty and others involved in teaching. It is immersive, informal, collegial and extremely fun. The sessions are interactive and focus on the latest technological advances in classroom and online instruction. The opportunity to engage with colleagues across the university in newest insights from educational research, and technological advances is something I look forward to each spring (when I am literally dragging and desperate to replenish my wellspring of inspiration.) The Institute ignites my inner student and re-focuses my energies towards developing significant learning opportunities for my students.
Over my next few posts I will share with you some insights from the 2014 Summer Faculty Institute, themed this year as “Focused on learning: Creative Approaches to Teaching.” I will offer what I learned, breakthroughs during the process as well as what I hope to do with what I learned. I also would like to invite YOU, the reader, to share in the learning and offer (via comments) your own outcomes.
What I learned
My key learning, what I am most excited about is the challenge (opportunity) to inspire agency in my students, I am envisioning that student who approaches me on the first day or at the first of each project with “listen lady, tell me what I need to do to get an A.”
In this post I will concentrate on insights gathered from a presentation by Dr. Kris Shaffer, Colorado University – Boulder titled “Productive discomfort: Fostering Learning in an Inquiry-Driven Class” that addressed learner agency. It is a compelling presentation and you may access it here.
Shaffer first shares an open letter presented to his students as part charge for the semester, part disclaimer, part recipe for success, this is a brilliant declaration he reads to his students on the first day of class. He declares I want you to learn how to learn. In this classroom, the teacher is not holder of golden answers. Here, the student is charged to exercise “learning” as in to understand. The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning as a process and not simply hand out knowledge like a product, wrapped in fancy paper and tied with a pretty bow. Shaffer discusses a lot of material in this lecture, and I won’t discuss all of it in my post. I am going to focus on the notion of “training wheels” and the hope of inspiring agency in my students.
Give students a problem they can partially solve, use those skills first, dig deeper. In his presentation Shaffer scrutinizes the pedagogical process of scaffolding as it hinders understanding, i.e., making the unfamiliar familiar and providing context to concepts in a way that the student comprehends and achieves knowledge. Scaffolding in teaching is when, as quoted “the support the master gives apprentices in carrying out a task. This can range from doing almost the entire task for them to giving occasional hints as to what to do next.” As the student—the apprentice—becomes more competent, the teacher—the master—gradually backs away, in effect removing the scaffolding. Shaffer compares scaffolding to the training wheel.
In his lecture Shaffer presents training wheels as a metaphor for the kinds of compromises teachers make with students so that learning appears to happen. He points to the research of Mark Sample (where the training wheel concept originates.) Sample writes that training wheels externalize the hardest part of riding a bike. If you’re a little kid and want to start riding a bike, training wheels are great. If you’re a little kid and want to start to learn how to ride a bike, training wheels will be your greatest obstacle.
Breakthrough in the process
This spring I developed a CAD study guide to assist my students step-by-step and page-by-page on how to learn adobe illustrator. My thinking was that the guide was a sort of road map that my student would use enthusiastically in her reading and tutorials, digging deep as to completely absorb the software. Boy, was I mistaken!
This guide acted as “training wheels” for adobe illustrator. All my student learned was how to scan and copy terms from her technical manual so that she could complete the assignment as fast as possible, like a product, wrapped in fancy paper and tied with a pretty bow. According to what I learned in this presentation, I failed to provoke my student, to offer incentive, to require that she connect to her prior knowledge. I did not give her a chance to figure out something she did not know, student is charged to find her way.
What I hope to do with what I learned
What agency can I give my student? Perhaps I can frame the adobe illustrator module as an industry project in future classes to make it more relevant. Bring in an industry critic to create incentive. Frame the project as a “real-world” scenario that she has to solve, using her wits, involve her in her learning. Can you thing of any training wheels in your classroom? How do you inspire agency in your student? Happy Teaching!
Rainio, A. P. (2008). From resistance to involvement: Examining agency and control in a playworld activity. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 15(2), 115-140.
Discussion on Learner Agency – http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/learner-agency-technology-and-emotional-intelligence/
Images sourced online.
Red gift: http://sammydvintage.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/handing-gift.jpg
Photo Credit: Kelly Cobb