As I strive to create an environment where students can become entrepreneurial in their learning, there is always a struggle with the institution that houses the experiential program. It is not just about the students shifting their mind-sets, but the faculty and the administrative leadership also need to become entrepreneurial learners to succeed as well.
My passion and research is in redesigning what I see as a broken system for education. My goals and ambition for my experiential course model are simple – make every student feel as if they own their learning!
There are many unique and authentic experiences in our experiential model – you get one-on-one attention from me because you are online. You write an email and I respond – you won’t always receive that attention from me in a face-to-face class or an auditorium lecture.The course is not a “one-size-fits-all” – it is not an assembly line. Instead it is a massive, intricate, continuous and complex networking experience and ALWAYS extremely interesting and creative BECAUSE it is driven by contributions from every participant as they discover their talents, ideas and passions. If the course content is not customized to suit every individual in that course, then I haven’t done my job! It is easy to customize when the student creates and curates that unlimited content through their interests and expertise! There is no spoon-feeding, exams, tests or quizzes – just contributions and collaborations! Hopefully this experience will stay with the students through-out their journey of life-long learning.
This video offers a way forward – it all comes down to technology in the palm of your hand!
It is one confident position to state that I design experiential courses. It is quite another (perhaps confident) position to identify the necessary skills to create an entrepreneurial and networked student that gains the most from an experiential course. Most students are a product of the broken system they have been in for decades. They complain about the process but they are also part of the process and consequently are part of the problem. It was the same system when I was a student – all assembly line, where it is easy to ‘read, write and submit’ my essay. Did I learn anything then? Not much. Would I learn anything now? Probably about the same non-amount, although I would probably pay someone to write the essays for me in this academic era.
The first couple of weeks of our experiential class are always painful as students realise they have to unlearn their academic Pavlov Dog behaviours to be able to learn in a new way that is meaningful for their future. As the educator, all I can do is stand attentively at the side as they struggle, get angry, fight the process then finally embrace what is happening and become immersed. It is like taking the training wheels of a bicycle for the first time.
It always works!
Being immersed in higher education at the moment, there are many days when all I see are the enormous gaps between academics and students and the system they are participating in. Sometimes this gap is created through a jostle for control and authority, often creating misplacement of interests and in conflict between the agenda’s of the different stakeholder groups.
Why can’t learning be more entrepreneurial and allow students to find the answers for themselves? When students do this, they truly do retain what they have discovered! Why can’t academics trust their students to find their potential and personalize their learning? When students do this, they truly do retain what they have discovered! Why can’t students be more engaged in their own learning by customizing what they learn towards their passions and interests? When students do this, they truly do retain what they have discovered!
The question of technology within education is as polarizing as ever, perhaps polarizing in the context of ‘everyone’ sees the need to integrate technology into education, yet there is still incredibly dogmatic resistance towards this integration from academics AND from students alike. Both sides can be faulted – one for feeling threatened that (because of technology) their livelihood could be jeopardized and the other side for feeling frustrated that (without technology) their livelihood remains indefinitely at arm’s length. It is a comfortable position for both sides to take because there is always an excuse to support either view. It is always a disappointing conversation….
The system that fosters learning as we know it today can change. As the video asks, “why can’t schooling now, be just a little bit better?”
When the Micro-finance course was redesigned from the online perspective first with face-to-face as the add on feature, many early enrollees were not fans of this new type of course structure or this approach to learning. As students un-enrolled, many comments received fell into the category “I didn’t sign up for an IT course – I wanted to learn about Micro-finance”. Well, we persevered together, as students learned about micro-finance AND new technology and tools for delivering their message and understanding of micro-finance! The results are spectacular and great additions to any ePortfolio they are creating as they commence their professional careers.
In early May this year McKinsey & Company published their research on what technology and tools are used in the business place and are increasing in use and adoption. I am thrilled to note that we incorporated 12 out of the 13 technology and tools in that report, based on the technology and tools the students identified in a pre-course survey.
Our MIcro-finance course is a living, breathing, experiential example of how an academic course can be designed to deliver great content and learning experiences (with the right pedagogy!) AND develop student skills that also makes their learning relevant to Main Street, where they are heading to start their careers!
It aint all sweet roses though. There are plenty of times when academia looks and sounds like this when it encounters technology:
It takes a cultural anthropologist to identify the most important characteristics in our students today. I see this in my own classes (and age is not the deciding factor – returning students display all of the same behaviours!) Thank-you Professor Michael Wesch and the 200 students from Kansas State University (Music by Try^d: http://tryad.org/listen.html)
Highlighting the irony and ‘obvious’, Sir Ken shares his observations on what is wrong in the education system in the USA. Much of the downside that he states applies directly to what I am living through in Australia – especially the bit at the 13:00 minutes mark about the teaching profession not being respected. (In Australia, it is possible to earn more income on unemployment benefits than as a professional educator tutoring a single course in higher education in a 14 week semester – which as a part-time/casual sessional teacher is about all some educators are hired for!). I think that some of his information is a bit off base when Sir Ken comments about the education sector in South Korea – obviously he has never taught in that system!
His example of being a parent of two children and noting how different they are, yet how both children are pushed through the exact same education system does deliver a strong metaphor! Dah! Sir Ken finishes up with his observations on why students drop out of school and education!
Early this week, this video below went viral and ‘says it all’ from the students (Jeff Bliss) perspective! Kudos to the student for his uncomfortable but truthful rant, saying it as it is. His follow up interviews in the US national media are also absolutely on message! What you won’t know from watching his rant is Bliss’s Mum is a teacher, and he had dropped out of school for some time and then returned. It was as a drop-out, that Bliss began to appreciate the value of education. As Bliss tweeted on 10 May: jeff bliss @Real_Jeff_Bliss
“Every one I’m not standing up for my education I’m standing up for OUR education.”
Watch his rant/criticism here:
Smart class-mate for posting online!
So far, not a single word from the teacher at the desk except ‘bye’ ‘bye’ ‘bye’
FOOTNOTE: Added Sunday 12 May, here is a link to another US media piece on this story with Jeff Bliss: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/05/touch-his-freakin-heart-student-rants-at-teacher-in-viral-video/