Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Including our students in the academic conversation

Judith A. Langer argues “that in order to use instructional scaffolding teachers need to ensure that the students have ownership of the learning event.” In his article about Instructional scaffolding, Konrad Glogowski goes on to say that “once the student is engaged as a researcher/writer/thinker, the teacher can focus on conversing with the student.”

Researcher/writer/thinker. Is this how we view our students? Do we give them the respect and authority to initiate, plan and develop their own learning and thinking? Do we see ourselves as “co-participants” in our students’ research and/or learning process? Or are we waiting for the final product to be finished so we can “grade it”. This mind shift is critical if we are to embrace a learner-centered environment.

Our “job” and the tools we use change as our students grow and learn. We, as educators, can no longer rationalize that those who can’t succeed in our classes probably shouldn’t be here. Learning is both social and active. Too often, in higher education it is isolated and passive. We must adapt, challenge and find new ways to engage our students in the academic conversation, so they are involved in the learning process. User-created content such as blogs, wikis and podcasts allow students to develop not only their own voice but also an audience who reads, responds and reflects upon what they write—an authentic context in which their own reading, writing, and critical thinking are valued.

I recently attended a conference sponsored by the Georgia Southern Center for Excellence in Teaching: SoTL Commons. SoTL stands for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. More information about the conference later. However, in relation to what I’ve said earlier about engaging our students as “co-participants” in the learning process, I attended a presentation by Brannon Anderson, Furman University and Bonnie Mullinix, Educational Consultant. The presenters asked us to consider multiple perspectives for identifying methods for identifying and capturing transformative learning as students participated in the River Basins Research Initiative. Brannon indicated that they had self-reported data as well as personal observation that the students did change their perspectives regarding science, fieldwork, and themselves as scientists. We read qualitative data—journals in which the students indicated this change. What caused them to change? In part, we all agreed it was because they were considered colleagues—not just undergraduate students. They were included in the process, in the conversation. In addition, since the research is ongoing, there was no real final product. The process was what was important.

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