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Tapping out new rhythms in the journey of learning

Sue Trinidad and Rozz Albon
Faculty of Education
Curtin University of Technology

Introduction

What is this new rhythm of learning being tapped out in the Faculty of Education? We dissent from the idea that anything new is innovative. We recognise our approach is a new creation made from existing notes. We believe it has been created by several structural components as represented in Figure 1, andragogical practices as documented in Table 1, and the synergy they create. Separately these are not new or innovative, however, we feel when combined in this way they make a new and wonderously harmonious rhythm.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Conceptualisation of the New Rhythm

Applying a constructivist approach that is student centred

The journey took several phases, beginning with an exploration of the question of how do we, as lecturers, apply and model a constructivist approach that is a student centred approach to teaching and learning (Dougiamas, 1998; Taylor, 1998; Tobin & Tippins, 1993). The concept of a community of learners (Radloff, 1998; Straker, Jones & Tucker, 2000) existed separately in each of our own approaches to teaching and learning but it wasn't until our involvement in the Learning Effectiveness Alliance Program (LEAP Project) at Curtin University that these ideas and philosophies were made explicit. Team collaboration, course consolidation and review was encouraged through the first year of a teacher training program within the Faculty of Education. Together we then developed our units with the goal of providing a more cohesive approach to the first year intake of the degree. The first phase, depicted in Figure 2, was the realisation that, while each lecturer was skilled in their own unit, they needed the input of the knowledge and skills from the other unit to further develop the concepts of constructivism and student centredness. That is, the lecturer in technology education wanted to apply the principles from the teaching, learning and assessing unit and the lecturer in educational psychology wanted to apply the principles from technology.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Phase 1 of the Journey of Learning

The second phase of the journey involved applying the concept of mentoring (Spencer, 1996; Harnish & Wild, 1994) within the community of learners. We originally asked the question how do we each achieve our personal and collective goals of the unit within the 15 week semester. A problem based (Radloff, 1998) framework was used to identify constraints such as student's and lecturer's prior knowledge and skills, weekly curriculum sequence and resourcing implications. Solutions were found with mentoring and modelling (Wild, 1995) and these became significant key factors as we later reflected on the rhythm we were creating. Given that mentoring involves working with the 'expert other' this key factor guided the conceptualisation of the community of learners to fruition.

The third phase of the journey involved operationalising the constructivist approach to further develop the concept of the community of learners. Andragogy, as detailed in Table 1, provided a framework which also enabled the integration of technology within a 'real' life context. At this phase we defined our lecturing role to involve mentoring, modelling active life long learning strategies, developing deep meaningful learning contexts and collaborating. Mentoring allowed us as lecturers to support and enrich each other in our personal learning journeys to create up to date learning environments. Modelling involved specifically addressing the application of technology and learning theories. Knowledge was made explicit by drawing on and directing students to current information sources such as journals, books, online catalogues, databases and Internet sites. Through reflection, it became obvious that our personal love of learning and passion for the unit content was critical to developing the synergy of the learning environment. We believe our enthusiasm and commitment enhanced the development of the community of learners and from this point we could feel a new rhythm developing. The initial units' content and assessment strategies were reviewed and modified by us to reflect a unified approach to achieving curriculum and Faculty outcomes and ensure a constructivist, student centred approach was evident.

A prime consideration in the structuring of the learning environment was our perception of the way students approach learning. We recognised that only the students themselves could construct their own knowledge therefore we decided the role of the student was one of a learner who is involved in higher level thinking processes of analysing, synthesising and evaluating. Technology was considered integral to the process of identifying, gathering and recording their own learning. Inherent in the concept of the community of learners was collaboration where novices and experts discuss and debate issues. Students were to be encouraged to become proactive members of groups and undertake various roles including that of leadership. Online collaboration would be implemented as a method to solve problems and facilitate student to student mentoring and working towards becoming independent self regulated learners. Choice and negotiation were built into their learning and assessment for the purpose of encouraging them to be responsible decision makers and in control of their own learning.

We believed the nature and structure of the assessment would drive the delivery of the unit and achieve outcomes. Therefore, we decided assessment should be criterion referenced, public and explicit. Students were to use technology to develop creative products and portfolios to demonstrate their learning. This would include collaborative development of checklists and rubrics to assess work presented using self, peer and lecturer assessment.

Throughout the delivery of the units, technology facilitated the exploration and collaboration of learning both online and in the regular weekly classes. For example WebCT was the vehicle for group communication, lesson content and public display of students final products.

Table 1: Andragogical framework

Aspects of learning environment Constructivist applicationApplication to ED 128 Teaching, Learning and AssessingApplication to ED 458 Using Technology in the Classroom
Teacher role
  • Mentoring
  • Modelling active life long learning
  • Developing meaningful learning
  • Collaborating
  • Lecturer-Lecturer; Lecturer-Student
  • Applying current knowledge
  • Using Learning theories
  • Being passionate about content
  • Enthusiasm and commitment
  • Synergy
  • Lecturer-Lecturer integration of content and process
  • Lecturer-Lecturer; Lecturer-Student,
  • Modelling technology application
  • Applying Learning theories
  • Being passionate about content
  • Enthusiasm and commitment
  • Synergy
  • Lecturer-Lecturer integration of content and process
  • Student role
  • Creating knowledge
  • Collaboration and sometimes expert
  • Mentoring
  • Independent learning
  • Self regulated
  • Analysing, synthesising, evaluating
  • Proactive members of groups where experts become leaders
  • Student-Student
  • Self directed learning
  • Responsible decision makers
  • Using technology to identify, gather and record information
  • Communicating ideas online and assessing products within groups
  • Experts become mentors
  • Student-Student
  • Self directed learning
  • Responsible decision makers
  • Assessment
  • Criteria referencing
  • Producing creative products and/or Portfolios
  • Making student constructed checklists public and explicit
  • Tuteshops, website and quizzes
  • Collaborative assessment
  • Self, peer and lecturer assessment
  • Making student constructed rubrics public and explicit
  • Constructing online portfolio and web page
  • Peer presentations
  • Integrating Technology Assignment
  • Self, peer and lecturer assessment
  • Technology use
  • Facilitating exploration and collaboration
  • Online technology through WebCT
  • Online technology through WebCT
  • Adapted from Changing the conversations about teaching, learning and technology: A report on 10 years of Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow research, ACOT (1995).

    Evaluating the process

    The impetus for phase four was instigated by the evaluation of the LEAP project. While it was clear we were tapping out a new rhythm to learning we needed to analyse more clearly just what this rhythm was. Figure 3 attempts to represent this rhythm. The star is symbolic of the synergy arising from the interaction between students and lecturers, and the integration between new knowledge and old knowledge. We believe it is the synergy that provides the momentum for motivation and engagement in learning. There exists a perpetual creation of energy.

    Figure 3

    Figure 3: Rhythm of Learning

    Phase four allowed us to evaluate the journey of learning by asking a number of key questions. What was different now in comparison to our previous teaching? To what extent had we achieved student centred learning? How appropriate was student centred learning for students we taught? Did the application of constructivism contribute to deep and meaningful learning? Had we allowed students to be in control of their own learning? How effective was allowing students to be responsible for their own learning and assessment? What aspects of mentoring were successful and should the mentoring role be further strengthened? The answers to these questions are discussed below and they identified synergy, mentoring, modelling and continuity of learning as the key beats to the new piece - the rhythm of learning. We identified our current teaching as different from previous teaching practice in the following ways. Firstly, we actually used the learning theories themselves not only referred to them as theoretical examples. Students reported they had a firm grasp of learning theories and technology applications. For example students reported on learning experience reflections in their journals:

    "...we all decided it was a really good learning experience, we all learnt from each other and our computer skills increased".

    "I find doing the case studies during tutorials very helpful as it helps apply the theories to different classroom situations that we may face one day. It's also good to get a range of different opinions and points of views from everyone".

    "Having tutorials is great as we get to interact with the other student and get their opinions on different ideas and theories and have discussions about the topic so its more easy to understand when there is a range of opinions about the situation".

    Students used the learning theories in their own journey, deep and meaningful knowledge and skills were economically acquired. Secondly, the locus of control was placed with the students. There was a clear change of role for us from controlling the delivery of the course and the assessment to engaging the students in higher level thinking and independent learning involving an awareness of outcomes, choice and negotiation. We believe that we encouraged a student centred learning focus to a high degree as verified by student feedback. These comments are taken from journal reflections:
    "Overall I found this class very good and I enjoyed it a great deal. I find having the lecture as well as the tutorial great as it helps to understand the information without having to just decipher it yourself in your spare time, it gets you thinking and gives a range of views from others".

    "We all felt that each individual in the group was able to competently achieve some of the objectives so far. We have all increased our skills in many different areas as outlined in the stated outcomes/objectives".

    However, such an approach did not always meet all the demands of student learning styles. One can not assume that students will automatically be autonomous learners. Many students were dependent on the transmissive mode and found choice, time management, negotiation and collaboration difficult. Through modelling and mentoring, many students were supported in their growth towards independent learning styles. This was especially evident through the online learning environment supported through the use of WebCT. The issue of developing autonomous learners supported through technology requires further exploration by us and at a Faculty wide level.

    It appears that our constructivist approach to teaching contributed to deep and meaningful learning. Other lecturers have verified that transfer of knowledge and skills occurred in other units. Mentoring played a critical role in supporting student's learning under a constructivist approach. This approach afforded the students opportunities to review, apply what they had learnt and help peers both online and within the tutorial groups. Developing group assessment tasks extended the mentoring role in a less formal way. For example, in developing teacher interviews, interviewing the teacher, summarising the results and identifying the underlying theory, sub parts of an assessment task required students to tell each other what they understood and in turn reaffirm and consolidate their own knowledge.

    Mentoring was also critical to our lecturing role. For example without the 'expert other' some of the goals and outcomes for students would not have been achieved to the extent they were. These aspects of mentoring were most successful and we believe the mentoring role could be further strengthened by making this explicit as a learning strategy to students.

    Conclusion

    This paper describes the four phases two lecturers have taken in a journey to develop a community of learners during a semester within the Faculty of Education, Curtin University of Technology. Expanding horizons in teaching and learning involves change. Creating change is not easy but facilitating the process for change to occur can be challenging and rewarding if it is carefully planned and constructed. In education we are faced with the daunting task of making significant change in teaching and learning to prepare our students for the future. We believe we have made definite and positive changes to our teaching and students' learning through a need to expand and align our teaching with emerging trends. Creating the appropriate learning environment to encourage this change is necessary. As Tom Stannage reaffirms "innovation and reflection on success and failure blend to challenge us to become more skilful teachers and support our students to become more successful learners" (Herrmann & Kulski, 2000, p ii). We found it is critical to construct the learning environment by applying constructivism and acknowledging a variety of learning sources recognising that much of the learning occurs outside the face to face lecturer/tutorial delivery. Key elements that were critical to the successful rhythm of learning were synergy, mentoring, modelling and continuity of learning.

    References

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    de la Harpe, B., Kulski, M. and Radloff, A. (1999). How best to document the quality of our teaching and our students' learning? In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 108-113. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf99/dj/delaharpe.html

    Harnish, D. and Wild, L. (1994). Mentoring strategies for faculty development. Studies in Higher Education, 19(2), 191-201.

    Herrmann, A. & Kulski, M. (2000). Foreword. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching, pii. Published papers of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology.

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    Sparrow, L., Sparrow, H. and Swan, P. (2000). Student centred learning: Is it possible? In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/confs/tlf/tlf2000/sparrow.html

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    Taylor, P. (1998) Constructivism: Value added, In B. Fraser & K. Tobin (Eds), The International handbook of science education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.

    Tobin, K. & Tippins, D (1993). Constructivism as a referent for teaching and learning. In K. Tobin (Ed), The Practice of Constructivism in Science Education, pp 3-21, Lawrence-Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.

    Wild, M. and Kirkpatrick, D. (1995). Some ideas and issues related to using multimedia technologies to teach tertiary students to perform complex tasks. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p281-286. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf95/wild281.html

    Please cite as: Trinidad, S. and Albon, R. (2001). Tapping out new rhythms in the journey of learning. In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/trinidad.html


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