Gorgeous brilliant funny students

June 18, 2010

I am in love with my students. Yesterday four students volunteered to be part of the UQ Blended Learning conference and to participate on a student panel. Originally I had been approached to present my experiences. I resisted the urge for fame and glory and instead I asked if we could invite students onto the stage to share their experiences. It was the right move. THEY WERE BRILLIANT. The four students were bold, insightful, honest, clever, brave and very funny. They challenged academics to check their assumptions and reminded us that students are not a homogenous group. Their use of metaphors and choice of words were hilarious. I just want to hug them.

At the reception afterwards I had numerous people approach me to say how much they enjoyed the session and how impressed they were by the students. I felt like a proud mother duck!

However there was one moment where I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The students were asked if they were aware of WHY their lecturer had employed a blended learning approach in their course. The answer was a resounding silence! Now I remember going through this on Day 1, but obviously it has become lost in the mists of time and the waterfall of information students receive at the start of a course. So it was a terrific lesson for me in how much harder I need to work at making my rationale clear and selling it to students. It’s not necessarily self-evident. I know that emotion changes how we process information and on Day 1 and with the idea of technology being introduced there was obviously a lot of emotion.

So just for the record, here’s WHY we utilised a blended learning approach:

  1. Student feedback from last year suggested students wanted an opportunity to share and discuss their projects. Blogs were utilised for this purpose.
  2. At the start of semester with my different courses and roles I had 150 students and no other staff. I know there is no way I can be responsive to 150 people. Use of blended learning approaches enables access to a wider body to help resolve issues quickly if I don’t respond within the two hour window hoped for!
  3. Students last year provided feedback that group assessment was not practical as most worked and had other competing demands for their time. I was keen to find ways of creating groups without undertaking groups assessment and I hoped the discussion board would assist in linking students through interests – not just through who they knew in class.
  4. I know community development. I don’t know water management, AIDS education and awareness, corruption, mining, or the context of these issues in Asia or Africa or South America that may relate to these. Utilising a blended learning approach means that students have access to an even wider range of resources and ideas – far beyond whatever I could provide. And it means they are not reliant upon the structured activities of a classroom to provide opportunities to share these.
  5. Blended learning was employed to assist students to move from an individualistic and highly competitive view of study to a networked and more collaborative view of learning. This is essential to being good community development workers. There is no reason for a classroom to be a competitive environment. No one gets a trophy for coming first. If 15 students deserve HDs then that’s how many get handed out. Students are judged against criteria NOT each other. Blended learning is utilised to hopefully encourage a more collegial environment by opening up conversation with each other and not just as a one way closed system between student and lecturer.
  6. Because I have taken an action teaching approach and people’s work was situated in the reality of their lives, I was keen to ensure students could communicate not only inwardly to me and each other, but also outwardly, to their own communities as part of the learning process. For some this worked – for some it was possibly less relevant.
  7. Technology IS a part of our communities. Granted, depending upon which community you are a part of this will have greater or lesser impact. But I think part of university learning has to be about trialling new ways of being and interacting – especially those that take us out of our comfort zones.
  8. Blended learning is useful in encouraging people to share ideas and resources. Although this can certainly happen in a regular classroom, my experience is that students are even more likely to do this when all they have to do is send a URL in an email, or post a link to a great website on a discussion board.
  9. I’m not just teaching community development as an abstract concept. I want students to learn about it experientially, practically, theoretically, kinaesthetically. Blended learning assists us to move out of our heads and into our hearts, hands, and guts. I want the classroom to become a community.

More recently I’ve been thinking about the role of technology in social movements: The Battle in Seattle, Climate change rallies, and the work of social campaigners like “Get-Up”, have all been reliant upon technologies for a groundswell of support. I’m keen to explore the connections further and this would make for some exciting conversations with students. Technology versus community is an unhelpful and false dichotomy. The more interesting questions are about the effects, impacts, limitations and possibilities.

So my biggest learning from the conference was an awareness of the need to spend more time talking about the WHY of what we are doing. Even in their brief moment of thundering silence, my students continue to teach me. Thank you so much. Good luck in your exams.


One Response to “Gorgeous brilliant funny students”

  1. Shashi Says:

    Hi Lynda – I thought I’d pop in briefly to say I really enjoyed the panel discussion on Thursday (or whenever it was!). A quick note on the justification for blended learning – when the question was asked, I did have a mind blank! I knew you had talked us through it but couldn’t remember at first what you had said. By the time I remembered (the key thing that came to mind was what you had said about last year’s projects and the lack of connection/interaction between students and different projects), we had run out of time and had to leave!

    Thank you very much for the opportunity to let us have our say. I think you did a great job too at capturing a diversity of experiences and opinions in such a small group of students that are meant to be representative in some way. Well done!!

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