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.

I’m in the middle of typing up all the feedback from my Graffiti wall evaluation with my students. It’s hard work not to be defensive and to just sit with students’ outrage, anger or cynicism, but I’m trying. There are also some really lovely comments, some good thinking and some very constructive ideas which balances all of this. And of course the feedback is anonymous which means I can’t check that I’ve understood a student’s message correctly.

However there was one comment that I just couldn’t let slide. The student wrote: “I feel like I’m just being used for a university experiment”. This is one conversation I would love to have with a student. And my response would be “Well, yeah, you are – and isn’t that fantastic?” Having been a psych student at UQ I know what it feels like to be a lab rat. I don’t know if they still do it, but they used to demand all first year students sign up as a participant in a psych experiment. We’d have Honours students conducting hypnosis or sleep deprivation experiments upon us. Despite getting 5 credit points for the experience, and in hindsight understanding WHY they did this, I recall feeling outraged at the time, and like I had to prostitute myself to the university for my degree, so I’m not unsympathetic to the student’s complaint. However I also want to put a different spin on it.

As a student, I’ve also been part of some teaching experiments. For me, they were the richest learning opportunities I’ve ever had (thanks Bob and Tony). I’ve also been part of less dynamic teaching. Having failed an undergraduate subject I had to repeat the course and I remember being astonished to hear not only the same theory – but to have exactly the same jokes in the same places, the same slides, the same stories and the same puns. The only thing worse than having to endure some lecturer trotting out the same old material year after year, droning on in the same tired voice, would be to BE that lecturer: for teaching to matter so little (and let’s face it – it’s only 40% of an academic’s workload) that I would feel no urge to invest in what I’m doing. For me, EVERY course I teach is an  experiment. Every time I stand in front of a group I want it to have something new that I’m trying out: a different process, a different approach. It’s what gives me energy and enthusiasm for what I’m doing. I could not be a passionate teacher if I was merely repeating myself.

And to make it less personal, I think it’s actually the responsibility of a teaching institution to be “experimenting” on students. I went to a talk last week to hear how three schools were utilising Blackboard in different ways. This was an experiment. Bits worked, bits didn’t. But at the end of it they were able to provide us with some terrific ideas about what helped students learn through this medium. I will be taking this knowledge into the next course I teach. I would hope students would actually embrace the idea of us improving our practice.

So what is it that has so evoked the student’s ire? A couple of things occur to me. The first is about  authority. (Now I wish I could claim a flash of brilliance on this one – but it’s taken several sessions with my Professional Supervisor (PS) to work through this one). PS suggested to me that some people need authority. Either due to learning style preference, experience, cultural background or assumptions about learning, some students crave an expert and a more didactic learning approach. They may not necessarily know or admit this, but that need will manifest in the kind of outrage expressed here. According to PS, such students would be highly uncomfortable with loose structure, open-ended processes and the kind of action teaching and action learning approach I employ. Being told this is my approach up front won’t change anything, because the need may be unconscious. What they crave is an expert. The partial positioning of a lecturer as co-learner would create enormous discomfort and open up the space for criticism. If I am not an expert then how dare I lecture? Come back when you know your field and have something solid to teach us! It’s a binary position: either you’re a student or a teacher. (I recall in another course explaining my co-learner stance and having  a student say, “I didn’t pay $600 so I could teach you!”). I have been very clear from the beginning and probably even named it as an experiment. I have said that I’m going to trial new things, and that I don’t actually know if they will work. And when they didn’t, and I had to rework things, some students were upset. The word that was used by student many times was the importance of “fairness”. (The fact that change is “unfair” is worthy of a whole post – but I’ll get stuck into that one later). I told students on Day 1 that I would be running my own project alongside theirs. I have blogged openly about my insecurities and uncertainties. I have admitted fallibility. I have been vulnerable. The idea that one could have mastery of a field and yet still have things to learn appears to be too difficult a chasm to cross.

The other thing that I think may be evoking outrage and a sense of being “used” is a sense that a line has been crossed, from learning for improvement versus learning for personal and professional gain. So not only have I set up this class as a learning “experiment”, but I have formalised that process by gaining ethical clearance for the “project” and I have asked for students’ permission to utilise their feedback, to present at conferences and to write papers (no idea if the latter will happen but I’m hopeful). I am indeed “using” the student’s data and experience and ideas and feedback.  And I am hoping to personally gain from this. I am not apologetic about my desire to move beyond behind casual and part-time teaching contracts! In our class on systems theory we discussed the idea of networks as being linked by a contagion – it could be money, a virus, gossip, resources, etc. In academia the contagion is ideas (developed through research), and we spread this contagion through publishing. Being part of this network exposes me to other ideas and in turn improves my own work. So yes, there is personal gain. But if part of the role of an academic is to contribute to the broad body of knowledge, then it is also gain for the broader field.

So the third thing happening here is sensitivity to power, and a sense of dishonesty about the use of power. So for example, I am positioning myself as a co-learner, as though I was an equal (“look, see, I’m learning alongside you”) but in fact it’s not a relationship of equals. I am ultimately evaluating students. I am in a lecturer role. So what I name as working relationally and being transparent, others might label as disingenuous.

I admit at this point I’m stumped: I don’t know how to work through this. I need to go to the literature. I really hope someone has done some research on this.

Image source: http://lifesagasp.wordpress.com/2007/07/12/rat-in-a-cage/

Reflection

June 7, 2010

I thought I’d spend some time reflecting upon a presentation I went to – all about the use of Web 2.0 technologies in the University. It was a very impressive presentation and showcased a whole range of fascinating technologies that held all sorts of potential for the educative process. What fascinated me though was that despite my immersion into this world for a semester, my first response was still to move to fear. As I listened and watched I could hear my defenses kick in: “Oh no, this is too much, too many..I’m interested, but I don’t have time to explore all of this…”

I had to very deliberately hold myself still and calm and try to move back to love and think about why I was attending. I struggled to “love” the technology. But where I could go to was a love of learning and a love of being at university. I am so grateful that I have access to spaces that offer challenges to my ways of thinking.

What interested me was that only once I had moved to love was I then able to begin to think critically rather than cynically or defensively. So in my reflective space a few things struck me.

The first was very funny. The presenter said: “We’re over blogging, wikis and discussion boards” – it completely cracked me up. Over it? Wait a minute. When did this happen? When did we get “over it”? Some of us are still getting the hang of it! Because I had moved away from fear I was able to giggle at the irony of this – rather than curl up with a sense of failure.

The second thing that struck me was the moral panic that sets in about generational differences. There was a line among some participants about how young people are thinking and relating differently, and I wondered how often through the ages these lines have been sprouted. No great wisdom on my part, just a nice reminder to myself to try to stay open.

Most of all I found myself appreciating the importance of simply having reflective spaces. Learning is a reflective space. Now that may sound obvious, but on the other side of the teaching game there isn’t much space for reflection. You tend to run around madly preparing materials, meeting with students, attending to admin, trying to do your own research and struggling to keep up with the ever amassing pile of literature on your desk. Sitting in the lecture theatre I was afforded the luxury of being able to free associate for the first time in weeks. As I was watching a presentation about IT my head made links to a fascinating range of issues: pieces of technology some of my students would love – and a mental note to self to send them the links, I thought about my own teaching practice and a conversation I’d had regarding support for first years students, I remembered an article I’d read and promised myself to send the author some feedback, I thought about the wisdom of crowds vs the tyranny of the mob, I thought about the move from fear to love. Most importantly it made me remember that finding the reflective space is an important act of self-care.

Image source: Photography by Darren Staples, http://blogs.reuters.com/photo/2007/11/23/continuing-reflection/

Yesterday was my last SWSP7123 class, and for me, the end of this project. But it’s not the end of my learning. Certainly I will have further reflections as I work my way through the feedback on the course and my teaching. I have that lovely “just been run over by a truck feel”! Despite this it’s 2am and I’m awake and buzzing. Somehow if I’m to do this tomorrow with my second year students I need to get to sleep. Clearly some blogging debrief time is needed! So using my favourite process I’m going to reflect on how it all went.

  1. 1. So here’s what I did:
  • A warm-up connection activity
  • Peer assessment of blogs (alongside some surveys on my teaching and their use of technology)
  • A graffiti wall course evaluation exercise
  • An awards ceremony for the course
  1. 2. How I feel is much less clear:

Firstly, I feel enormously relieved: we got through a massive semester; no lives lost, no major catastrophes, no fatalities. I can now go back to working 5 instead of 6 days per week and can get some of my other work done. Hurrah.

Secondly, I am feeling awe-struck. As I went around the room and saw people’s work I was struck by the talent and hard work of students. And I am in awe of the issues they have tackled. They have aimed to much bigger than I had dreamed – and that’s rich learning for me. I know for some students this course was incredibly difficult – even naming a project took weeks. To see where they have ended up and the incredible bounds and leaps in their learning was so moving.

Thirdly I feel exhausted. I think one of my insights from this semester is how hard one has to work to hold processes together. It probably looks enormously chaotic and disorganised, and students would be amazed if they learnt how much preparation goes into the processes I run. I often wonder if this style of teaching looks like lazy teaching: so much occurs behind the scenes. On the day, the students do the work. However I’ve woken up with every muscle in my body absolutely aching. Without even realising it I must have spent the whole day wound tighter than a spring and clenching everything that was clenchable!

Fourthly I feel chuffed! My peer marking process and use of IT somehow worked. We managed to pull it off in a class room with a lack of powerpoints, and limited access to computers. Thanks to the generosity of students we made it work. Woo Hoo!

Fifthly, I am disappointed. I am disappointed in myself: I botched some of the processes and left things behind. I had put together the most detailed instruction sheets so students would be clear on every detail, and then somehow lost the box of handouts on the way to the classroom! I had the whole day choreographed and then had to holler at people all day. So more disappointment – I didn’t debrief the peer assessment process and I’m dying to know how people found it.

Sixthly, I am so very humbled. A group of us went for drinks afterwards and I had the privilege of hearing a little more about students’ personal lives. As they talked about family they had left behind, how much they were missing their lives back home and how much they valued this opportunity to learn (or even how much they were looking forward to meeting their newborn baby!) I just felt such admiration and humility. Too often in Australia we take our education system for granted. International students do it so tough and I am moved by their dedication and willingness to make every moment here count. It is very inspiring.

So as a response to this, I’m annoyed. I KNOW students had exams and assignments due and were under pressure, but it’s the whole grade obsession. I only have the students for six workshops. For them to decide the last class is less worthy because it’s not all about their grade saddens me immensely as it shows they haven’t really understood some of what we’re learning: that the ending is as important as the beginning, that debriefing experiences is where rich learning occurs, that just because something isn’t up on a PowerPoint doesn’t mean that it’s content free. I was still teaching. Experiential learning is as valuable as theoretical learning. I wanted the students to experience an interesting evaluation process. I’m also annoyed on behalf of those students who were present (in both body and mind). But it’s the reality of student life. This is one class of many, and a tiny fragment of people’s busy and demanding lives. Despite my best efforts to construct an alternative reality, this class is NOT the centre of the universe! However I’m human and being asked if people can leave class because they have an assignment due, or need to study for their evening exam, just makes me feel really cross! It’s not my best side I know. I believe that what we’re doing in this classroom is important and valuable and I want to honour the efforts people have made to be here. I think about a couple of students who drive incredible distances (from across the border, and down from the Sunshine Coast) just to be here, or international students who have left their family at home for their education and are here under enormous difficulty, and I get incredibly annoyed on their behalf. Like I said, it is not my most attractive side.

Emotion number 8 is fear. I know that there is lots of negative commentary on those feedback sheets and these are going to be barbs to my ego. I go through this every semester. The feedback is invaluable. But like the students, I have an ego that jumps up and wants to shout “but…but…but…”. I also know that often in the process of debriefing or venting students will write things in a more critical way than perhaps intended. Without the context and broader conversation it is easy to misinterpret and get defensive.  I tried hard not to look as people wrote: but I saw enough to make me flinch a few times: “Long-winded”- moi? But…But…But…”).

So emotion number 9 is courage, mixed with hope. I hope that I will be brave enough to recognise this feedback for what it really is. I need to actually take joy in the criticisms. Going back to my previous post, if the learning process requires us to master our own pain, then I should see the negative comments as part of this pain: to name it simply as sour grapes or venting would be doing students a grave disservice. Teaching isn’t about making people “happy” or “comfortable” or “entertained”. It’s about challenging, taking people out of their comfort zones, providing opportunities to engage with new material in new and interesting ways. If I have done this, then I have succeeded, but I should not expect people to be grateful for pain.

Finally, emotion 10 is a great deal of sadness. For thirteen weeks I get to be part of a community of students, hear their insights, share their ideas, and get a taste of their world. I live vicariously through their work, and rejoice in their humour, thoughtfulness, compassion, friendship, generosity and support of one another. In our “awards” ceremony I heard the very deep bonds students had forged and the love they had for one another and it was all I could do not to cry. This teaching business is such an extraordinary honour and privilege. But then the community dissipates. Like Melucci’s concept of the biodegradable organisation, it exists as a blip in time, serving a particular purpose, and then it goes back to ground. And I will miss that community. It will leave a hole in my life and will be a moment in time I will treasure.

3. So what have I learned?

That’s a question that I will be reflecting on for weeks. Watch this space: so much learning about learning, about teaching, about processes, about use of IT, about students, about group dynamics, about setting up student projects, about myself, about UQ, about life.

4. What would I do differently next time?

    Just thinking about today, I think it’s such a shame I couldn’t get my colleagues to join me. A critical conversation a la conversation café was what I really wanted to do. I know it would have yielded some pretty incredible information and may have been a more engaging process for students. I think my graffiti wall was a reasonable compromise. Obviously next time I would aim NOT to lose information sheets and surveys. But I don’t think I could have been better organised. It was just a lot of “stuff” to have to carry and cart. It would be nice if I could think of an easier way to manage the logistics. Finally I think I would aim to lower my expectations of myself and the students. We’re all human, struggling with competing demands and doing the best we can do. I aimed to create an exciting and engaging process. Maybe next time I need to aim for something more gentle and reflective.

    (And maybe next time I’ll take a sleeping tablet before bedtime! )

    I never thought I’d be turning to Rousseau or Nietzsche for solace. Yet a colleague has shared with me a couple of articles that tackle the issues I am struggling with: namely, the question of compassion for students (see my previous blogs for elaborations upon this).

    In the last few weeks I have had a couple of students visit me to share their view on my teaching practices. These few but vocal students declare me to be a poor teacher and unfair marker who has created stress and unreasonable pain, and consequently damaged their health, their relationships, their jobs and their lives. This leaves me shaken to say the least.

    Baker, Brown and Fazey (2006) suggest that such behaviour by students is reinforced by the culture we live in where “the private conduct and distress of the individual is a matter for political intervention” (p. 33). I am fascinated by these turns. I am reminded of one student who accused me of racism because I had awarded a “fail” grade to him (despite the class being 50% international students – including those with the top grades). Another referred to receiving a low grade as a form of “bullying”. I know these are particularities and do not represent the views of most students. I also have colleagues telling me to “toughen up” and reminding me that I’ll be worrying about these things long after students have forgotten my name and most of what they’ve been taught. Yet it still gets under my (thin) skin.

    I have a strong commitment to alleviating suffering – it’s why I’m vegan, it’s why I’m an environmentalist, it’s why I fight for animal rights. It’s why I work for social justice and why I do the work I do. Accusations that I might actually be causing someone harm and suffering are not ideas I can easily shrug off.

    However there is a counter argument amongst our great philosophers that is worth turning over for a while:

    Starting with the work of Avi Mintz, the argument is made that pain is a necessary and therefore desirable component of education. Mintz suggests that too many educators are caught in trying to mitigate pain rather than allow it. In doing so, they fail their students. Building on the work of Rousseau, the argument goes that the suffering we find in students is actually good for them, and instead of being alleviated, it should be promoted.

    I’ve been dwelling on this for a couple of days now. Hanging out in a School of Social Work means I bump into so-called “strengths-based” approaches on numerous occasions. If I’ve understood Jonas correctly it would seem that educators, under the guise of a strengths-based approach to teaching, provide students with lots of affirmations – supporting their ideas and rewarding their efforts. Yet a truly strength-based approach to teaching would take a different form. It would see individuals as strong and capable, rather than weak and pitiable. The strength to be celebrated is the strength of the individual to overcome current barriers and hardship to become more powerful and virtuous. Nietsche makes an important distinction in the role of pity in education. He does not reject the concept of pity altogether. Instead he argues against the alleviation of immediate suffering. In other words, if, feeling pity for a student, I alter their grade and award a higher mark, then although I am alleviating their present suffering, I am also eliminating their chance for learning and development. Thus I would be doing the student an enormous disservice in the longer term (Jonas, 2010).

    Coupled with this, Mintz (2009) notes the emergence of the “self-esteem” movement within schools, that has sought to make self-esteem the central educational issue. The result has been termed “the new illiteracy” with teachers pandering to students’ interests and sacrificing genuine intellectual interests. Drawing on the example of maths teachers who “rescue” their pupils from pain by supplying answers too early in the stages of problem solving,  Jonas (2010) suggests that what is required is not the end of suffering per se – but the increase in self-mastery in students. Such a skill requires facing hardship and difficulty. If teachers become overly concerned about students’ wellbeing they may avoid challenging their students to ensure that their learning is smooth and comfortable. In turn, students learn to avoid challenges. Mintz (2010) suggests that such a move is anti-intellectual and represents a collapse of the belief in human potential. Taking this idea even further Jonas suggests that to eliminate suffering is to actually eliminate the possibility of virtue and happiness (2010, p. 52). Interpretting Rousseau, Jonas argues that,

    “to encourage pity on the wrong occasion is to demean individuals and debase their potential for growth. Pity in this sense backfires because it hurts human beings. The only way to help individuals is not to pity them for their suffering but to help them overcome it.” (p. 51).

    In this sense, pity is not a feeling at all – but rather a reasoned decision about how best to assist an individual become more autonomous. For both Rousseau and Nietzsche the goal of the educator is to develop self-mastery in him or herself to such a level that they can overcome their feelings of pity for a student, to enable the student to develop their own self-mastery.

    However the problem I have with this is that it starts to feel very paternalistic. Who am I to say that this student needs to suffer in order to learn? Or that this activity – seemingly torturous to a student  –  is actually in their own interest. I don’t know students well enough to make that call.

    Jonas extends the ideas of Rousseau and Nietsche, suggesting that we need to focus less on how teachers determine when and how to show pity, and instead to focus upon how students can guide teachers in those determinations. “Students can learn, in other words, how to educate teachers on when to act on their feelings of pity” (Jonas, 2010, p. 57). However as Jonas notes, to do this though, requires a particular kind of classroom – one where the teacher’s role shifts to developing a culture of self-mastery and the desirability of suffering in the classroom.

    (“Glorious failure” anyone?)

    References:

    Baker, S., Brown, B. J. & Fazey, J. A. (2006). Mental health and higher education: Mapping field consciousness and legitimation, Critical Social Policy, 26(1), 31056.

    Jonas, M. E. (2010). When teachers must let education hurt: Rousseau and Nietsche on compassion and the educational value of suffering, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 44(1), 45-60.

    Mintz, A. (2009). Has therapy intruded into Education? Journal of Philosophy of Education, 43(4), 633-647.

    Image Source: Sculpture from my garden.

    I don’t remember thinking much about the marker’s experience when I submitted my undergraduate assignments. I was too fixated on getting my own work back to care about any pain they were in. If I had thought about it I would have rationalised it as Karma: you caused me pain – you deserve pain back again. As I sit looking at the 20 assignments I have yet to mark today I wonder what I can have done in my life that was so awful to have been deserving of this fate. I don’t remember taking a life, dishonouring my mother or father, or coveting my neighbour’s ass…yet here I am…in hell.

    The act of marking is different from the act of reading assignments. The assignments are a joy. I love seeing people’s ideas tumbling onto the pages, with varying degrees of detail and clarity. No matter what the quality of the work is, you can always see the purity of the idea and taste its sweetness on the page. I marvel at the boldness, creativity and courage of the students – the incredible work some have done, and the brave heights some have scaled. I am so humbled by this work. It’s all I can do not to paste them all over my door and cry, “See? See how brilliant these people are? How bright and utterly hopeful they all are?” It’s an antidote to a weary world. It’s a long weekend and I’ve spent every day submerged in beautiful ideas of changing the world for the better. Such a privilege.

    But marking? Having to put a cold finite number against each paper? To rank order them and define one as better than another? To judge them as objectively as I can, knowing all the while that subjectivity will and must creep in. Is this worth 2 or 2.5 marks? I struggle to feel generous towards the student whose paper is in 9 point font – at 3am my eyes feel the strain. If nothing else I am jealous of anyone with such perfect vision. It takes effort to mark with a generous and open heart. And I struggle not to feel too much sympathy for the international student who I know must have sweated and laboured over their writing to ensure it was clear and precise despite the seemingly random rules of the English language. I want so desperately to encourage them – and to let them know, that underneath the errors of syntax and grammar their ideas shine clear. .  I open the paper and can see their faces clearly. I know exactly who the student is and I can remember the conversations we’ve had and the questions they’ve asked.

    I wish for some other way that this process might be run.

    I recall being a first year student – receiving my first university paper back with a 52/100 scrawled across the top – with a tick on the last page. I had gone from a straight A student in my highschool days, to a bare scrape across the line. And I had no compass for three years. I want desperately to save my students from that pointless, impersonal, life wasting experience. My partner shakes his head watching me, saying I spend way too long on each paper. I know I do. I measure it so that neither I or the students will be in doubt about how long I’ve spent thinking it through, and making sure I tend to each paper equally. I want them to know that I have taken this seriously.

    It doesn’t matter that they are all adults with a lifetime of experience and their own ways of understanding success and failure. I know that no matter how old we are disappointment stings. I want to hug each student before I hand the essay back and say with sympathy, ‘I’ve been there. I know it.’ Writing is a personal and private act. I want to honour and uplift that act. But my role demands that I act as judge and weigh the worth of their work. And ironically this course is all about taking the private into the public. And how we do that is the skill we are here to develop. Including me it would seem.

    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.

     Source: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/india/thestory.html