The Hole in the Wall

March 30, 2010

An A-ha! moment in 2 parts:

Yesterday I attended a series of professional development workshops looking at the experience of international and CALD students in university  group work and assessment. My interest in attending was driven by my experiences in my SWSP7123 class and what I perceived as the struggles of a number of international students (in particular) with the digital requirements of the course. My analysis has been that there are two potentially opposing policy agendas within the university at present. On one hand there is a drive towards internationalisation, and with this, the importance of attracting international students to our courses. On the other there is a massive push to embrace new media and online learning, blended learning and flexible delivery of content.  In watching students come to terms with this I have been worried by what I perceive as extremely high stress levels. I worry that I am creating an unfair playing field, with those new to IT having to do a great deal more work and learning. The workshops didn’t answer my concerns.

However afterwards I went for coffee with my IT guru and he told me all about a fabulous project called ‘The Hole in the Wall’ in India. The aim of the project is to build digital literacy through enquiry based learning. In a nutshell, a computer scientist, Dr Sugata Mitra, explored what would occur if poor children had unlimited access to computers and the internet. He made a computer available through a hole in the wall. He provided no training or support – just letting the children play and discover. As the attached story says, “Within minutes, children figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day they were browsing. “Given access and opportunity,” observes O’Connor, “the children quickly taught themselves the rudiments of computer literacy.” “

This was such an important reminder to me and was very humbling. I’ve been so concerned about my duty of care to people I’ve forgotten to respect their ability to learn for themselves and to ensure I don’t take responsibility for people’s emotional state. 

The one piece of information from the afternoon’s workshop that was incredibly useful to me,  was a throw-away line, where one presenter reminded us of the “Big 5” personality traits – those few personality traits believed to be enduring over time.  (For those of us not undertaking Psych 101, the  Big-5 factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neoroticism – see Costa, P.T.,Jr. & McCrae, R.R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources. And  yes I did have to go back to my undergrad psych books for that one!) The presenter reminded us that part of what guides the learning process is the openness trait, and our individual responses to change and to new situations. What I understand this to mean is that the anxiety about IT I have been witnessing may be a personality variable rather than a cultural factor. Some students will struggle more with the anxiety a new situation produces. It therefore wouldn’t matter what new situation I was introducing, some students would automatically have higher levels of anxiety simply because it is new. In this case it just happens to be IT. So what this tells me as a teacher is that I need to be cautious about my interpretations.

This is not to deny the place of cultural sensitivity and an awareness that members of some cultures may – as some of my students have suggested – be less inclined to expose feelings or reveal private thoughts. I also need to hear the way in which some students negate their own agency within the process, an abandonment of self to cultural identity.

The fact that international students are here in Australia, learning in a new system, away from home and supports and learning in their 2nd, 3rd or 4th language, tells me that these are already a group of people who have a higher level of openness. They ARE at the more open end of the spectrum.

 I therefore need to be conscious of the resilience and complexity of human beings, and acknowledge our ability to stand in multiple sites at once.



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