About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Learning takes a Village

 I started writing this blog post a month ago after attending #MyFest22 sessions that really required a lot of thinking and reflection.  Sessions in Creating an Accessible Syllabus, Global OER, Entangled Pedagogy and Liberating Structures may at first seem totally different. But my mind is always trying to find links and common threads. So needless to say, my mind has been peculating.

I think what each of these sessions pointed out was:

  1. a STUDENT's learning, in fact, has many moving parts in which many people have a say and role
  2. the learning environment is complex with many moving parts which all people involved in that environment need to understand
  3. Students as well as Faculty need to have choices as they assess the learning landscape (often immediately either in a classroom or in a synchronous online environment) 
  4. Learning (for me) is a negotiated process and negotiated knowledge. But the outcomes are transactional knowledge, with the ownership determined by the school, students, and educational policies. 
So let's break this down.

The Great Pivot

Like many who were teaching when the pandemic hit, I had to pivot from a classroom based class to an online class overnight. Unlike many, however, I have always incorporated flexibility into my course based on: 
  • student or teacher illness, 
  • change in classroom, 
  • change in or lack of access to technology (like the year I lost my online class over a weekend in the middle of the course because of a technology upgrade), 
  • weather (hurricanes, blizzards, ice jams)
I worked with other faculty in my department, supporting them in modifying their syllabus, activities, or technology in moving their course online. In fact, there were three faculty members mentored others in our department, trouble shooting problems for the quick pivot. Sometimes the only thing a faculty member needed was a sounding board, other times they needed emotional support, and others needed just to be shown where to find the resources they needed to convert their course.

For this last group, they only were aware of their small piece of the university. For both students and faculty, many people needed to find videos that would explain how to use the technology. There were instructional designers and educational designers who I had been working with for years. Pointing students, faculty, administrators, and staff to the correct group of resources was a daunting task, yet necessary for the 3 of us working with our colleagues. It helped that we had a department chair who also was willing to find resources and share them with TA's and instructional staff.

My first two weeks online, even though I had gone over how to follow the course online in my face to face class, I spent time explaining to my students how to navigate a fully online semester. We discussed the differences in how to study and do work when living with others who were online or in their space at the same time. While some may think that this was a waste of time to the content students were supposed to learn, it was important to take the time out to:
  1.  acknowledge the complexity of the new learning environment
  2. trouble shoot technology and resource shortcomings
  3. identify accessibility issues (including mental health, learning and disability, and technology) and creating accommodations to insure student access to learning
  4. renegotiate learning outcomes and evaluation with administrators, the department, and students, and,
  5. create new pathways and choices for faculty and students to learn.
Without this time to reorganize the course so that all parties were onboard, created chaos in the class and left out many people in the learning process. I found that for many in my class, they then took the skills they learned in these 2 week and applied it to their other classes. As was discussed in the Liberating Structures workshop I attended, there was structure which students could hold on to, but within the structure was choice and agency by all parties who had a say in student learning.

The New Normal

By the summer, it became clear that COVID was here to stay. However, each of the parties began to work as moving pieces at a different speed. Administrators at our university (and at many universities, as reported by academics and students) tried to impose a standardized process to ensure "quality control." Since many universities in the US and Britain have begun to use a business model of education, the focus was on scarcity and allocation of resources, streamlining and standardizing the learning process, creating fixed structures including "instruction delivery" systems and evaluations, and strict time lines. 

One of the first factors to cause problems was the strict time lines that were common in traditional face to face instruction. The next problem area was how to standardize the learning evaluation, resulting in the need for technology to include surveillance of student tests and monitoring of what students and faculty were doing online, something that was rarely done in in-person classes. Many of the online classes were asked to use the standard template that was a universal design that may or may not have been relevant for the content, mode of delivery, student needs, professional requirements, or faculty teaching style. 

The result was an educational system that allowed for little flexibility or negotiation between staff, faculty, students, professional communities, or student families/communities. While the learning environment was varied and needed more flexibility than ever, the systems put in place were solid, unbendable structures.

The result has been a call to change higher education as it faces a crisis not seen since 1968. 

Creating a new, equitable higher education system

Next week and the week after, #MyFest22 will hold two sessions on Reimagining Higher Education. Now is the time for us to recognize the 4 principles I listed at the start of this post. It is important that we also recognize:

  1. Higher education is made up of people, not only systems. People and learning are messy and can be time consuming. While economists and policy makers refer to people as "human capital" as if they are just another material good in the economic processes of a country, HUMANS can be unpredictable, vary from person to person, and have different understanding, knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses. 
  2. It is important to take into consideration the various factors that go into creating a learning environment including resources, time, relationships/communities, trust and emotions, space(s), goals, and purpose.
  3. There is an element of negotiation when it comes to creating curriculums, instruction, learning environments, syllabi, and evaluations. However, there are also structures that have been developed within which students learn and teachers instruct, administrators and support staff work at creating boundaries for behavior and learning. In other words, universities are dynamic within the structures that have been created to help in learning. These structures may need rebuilding or reconfiguration as environmental factors change, but too much change will make the university unstable.
  4. For the university to continue as a place of learning, it is important that multiple voices are heard, there is constant self-examination, and the university has enough resources and say to ensure there is appropriate change when needed.