Empowering Students to Own Their Own Learning: Some Things We May Need to Know
This week I had the pleasure of being in attendance at the annual conference for SITE. I was sponsored to attend by the Gates Foundation because I was asked to present on the development of our blended learning program. The presentation went well and I had a lot of positive feedback about our findings.
Beyond having the opportunity to share with the larger academic community, I was able to see many other exciting and interesting presentations. Specifically, one of the keynote speakers, Paul Kim, discussed the development of his Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Creating open university level courses not only questions the nature of what academic institutions will look like in the years to come, but they fundamentally change how people think about the process of learning, how people access learning and the ultimate purpose of learning. With open university courses, such as MOOCs, the customer designs the program based on what skills he or she would like to acquire rather than being subject to prescribed course progressions and unwanted requirements. So it seems that our students will need to develop not only a sense of what they want to learn but also how they want to learn it.
One of the other presentations that I saw this week came from Mishra Punya and his crew of doctoral students. Aside – Mishra is somewhat of a rock star in my eyes for his seminal contribution to research in the field of teacher preparation and technology, as the TPACK framework continues to guide much work in this are. Anyways, their work has been focusing course design for their pre-service teachers. Through this work they have distilled what they are calling transdisciplinary skills. By focusing the learning goals and assignments on these trans-disciplinary skills (perceiving (observation), patterning, abstracting, embodied thinking, modeling, play, and synthesis), learners can build these in domain general ways. To quote their paper “The overarching framework of trans-disciplinary thinking deals with meta-level cognitive skills, which are used by successful creative practitioners across different domains.” Using technology as the material to explore and create, students build skills of modeling, for example, that can be useful in math and science and in the interdisciplinary points where math and science overlap. Really great stuff.
There was another presentation that discussed using QR codes in education. This work takes place on a university campus in New Jersey where all incoming freshman are given mobile devices, i.e. smartphone or tablets. The teachers on this campus use QR codes as a way to provide extra supports to the learner, or as a way to create extensions for learners. In addition, in the teacher preparation courses the pre-service teachers discuss how they can do the same for their future students. What I like about incorporating QR codes is it begins to populate the physical landscape with virtual gateways to information. Through these access points students are in control of their own learning, as they can extend it in multiple directions depending on their interests.
Yet another study focused specifically on the outcomes of a design for a middle school classroom that was centered on the idea of self-directed learning. Using technology to assist students in accessing learn, as well as technology as a construction material with which student generate artifacts of learning. This blended learning model was very well received by the students, school personnel and the community. This transformation was made possible because teachers were open to learning about new technologies, open to new approaches and open to releasing control over the aspects of the learning process.
Lastly, I became a member of the special interest group on Computational Thinking. This group consists of several like-minded professionals, from both University and K-12 level professional backgrounds, who are all committed to the idea of building students computational skills. Using technology in education has changed and will continue to change. However, to quote Seymour Papert at the 2004 conference in Sydney, students use technology to access information and while this is very useful and powerful, this is a limited use of a powerful computational tool. If we don’t teach our students to program, and construct the tools that they will use, then we are simply perpetuating consumerism, instead of taking advantage of an amazing learning opportunity. However, if students are given the computational tools to program their own technological outputs, not only will the mystery in the machine make just a little bit more sense, but we will be fostering truly creative thinkers who can demonstrate their thinking within and across disciplines.