change agent

Deep vs suface approach to learning

The idea of this activity is to understand what does deep learning means and what are the kind activities and assessment that the teacher needs to create so that deep learning can happen.
In order to study this aspect of the learning experience there are some resources to read:

  • The Higher Education Academy guide
  • This blog post
  • The National Education Association blog
  • Conceptions of learning and knowledge in HE: relationships with study behavior and influences of learning environments (Noel J. Entwistle and Elizabeth Peterson, 2005)
  • Some files I have been reading are available this link to my box
  • Steven Johnson’s Ted Talk: Where does good ideas come from?

Normally I adopt a deep and strategic approach to learning. Meaning with deep that I seek for meaning by relating ideas, using evidence and monitoring my learning so I can improve if needed and, with strategic I use Entwistles’ ideas meaning that it is an integral personal understanding. Achieving through organised and self-regulated effort guided by self-determination.

My experience with deep and surface learning

I usually want to go the bottom of things and understand the origins of ideas, from where they come and to what they relate in the bigger picture. I try to construct meaning all the time looking for connections among prior knowledge and the new one. The more connections I found the deeper and stronger the knowledge and the broader the range to where I can apply this knowledge. I think I have a big connected network of knowledge units that feed each other. I try, through my learning, to connect the majority of nodes in my knowledge network that I can, making it a strong and relevant network for my job and life in general.
I am not after grades. I do even read many things and take many online courses for the sake of learning and I am not interested in any certificate or accomplishment. Although I think this is not entirely right as in our society other people will ask me for evidence of my knowledge and I need to have those grades or certificate at hand to show them when necessary.

When the topic is not of my interest I try to think how relevant it is to what I am interested in and so I decide if I will go deep in that particular topic. If it is not so relevant I do the readings but more than reading I scan and see how that can answer the questions and then I move on.

In this course I adopt the two approaches in different moments. For example if my time is very limited and I do know the content I do not go very deep in the answers because time is gold at the moment but when I confront myself with new content that is relevant and totally new for me, i.e. unit 3, I will stop and go deeper in order to be able to connect this unit to my overall work in the university and my own research.

There must be a relevance to my practical work which is normally close connected to my intellectual interest. Therefore I have to say that most of the times I adopt a deep approach to learning.

Deep vs deeper learning

 It is very rare that I learn with a surface approach, it is against my nature. So I have chosen deep vs deeper and both experiences in mathematics.

As you know I am a math teacher so I studied math education as my undergraduate degree. There I had a math teacher that taught us integrals. He gave us the algorithm to calculate the integrals and voilá he gave us 234 exercises for homework. I did them all but I just followed the rules he gave us. It was quite easy and at that time I was so busy (I had already my 3 children, house, husband, dog and all the rest of a very active family life) that I did not care about not understanding the essence of it. I did wonder why we didn’t see any theorems but again no time to go deeper. 15 years later (2014) I became interested in the history of math, so I started to research in the origins of calculus. I had to give a workshop in a summer university in Denmark, so I new the only way to do a good workshop is having a deep understanding of the subject. So I went deeper!! I struggled so much, I read and read and looked at many different sources of knowledge. I saw videos, I heard podcast, I read original sources, secondary sources. I did a lot of exercises, I did a time line with the important stepping stones of the development of the calculus, I assisted to talks. I did not leave my house for a week just studying. I wrote an email to my supervisor one day really desperate and he send me from the Netherlands via post a chapter of a book but also an attachment with an exercised I did not understand, already resolved and explained and suddenly, the light came to me smile I got it!!! I understood the whole threat of reasoning I was after (Descartes and his discovery of analytic geometry as one of the stepping stones for Calculus to move forward and develop). It was really intense for me. I did not any thing different for almost a week. I know one should change, go out, forget, etc but I couldn’t, I was so into my learning desperate finding connections, links to my prior knowledge that I couldn’t leave nothing aside. When all the bits and pieces of discrete knowledge strarted to become part of a continuum I felt inside my head how all suddenly was making sense and many of the problems became clear to me.

After my workshop, I felt the ontological transformation I went through!!  I really changed inside, it was such a nice feeling. This moment of AJA, UNDERSTANDING, THE PENNY FALLING, its for me one of my favorites. So I guess that is why I avoid surface learning

Unit 2: How people learn in HE

2.1: Theories of adult learning

Andragogy Principles:

1) Need to know: It is important for adults to know why they are learning what they are learning, why they will benefit of it and what are the risks of not learning it.
2) Self-concept: Adults are responsible for their own decisions giving them ownership of the learning deciding what and how to learn. Ideally they are self-directed which could lead to be self-managed in their learning experience
3) Grained ideas about the experiences they have can make them biased and narrow minded limiting them to have a broader view of a topic they are learning
4) Readiness to learn: Focus on what is useful in a particular context making the learning relevant and timely.
5) Orientation: Learning should be focus on tasks and problems rather than subject
6) Motivation: Is generally intrinsic in adults. They usually learn for the sake of it (I am not so sure about this)

I would like to this a different approach but not disconnected from andragogy but an evolution of it which evolves to Heutagogy ( Blaschke, L. M). Canning, (2010) explains that there are 3 levels, pedagogy which is the first level where students need to be engaged with the learning material, in the second level, andragogy learners cultivate them self through learning and knowledge and in the third level, heutagogy the learner reaches realization. It is a continuum that evolves with life.
Andragogy (Self-directed)                     Heutagoy (Self-determined)

Single loop learning                                  Double loop learning

Competency development                        Capability development

Linear design and learning approach        Non-linear design and learning approach

Instructor-learner directed                         Learner directed

Getting students to learn                           Getting students to understand how learn

(From Blaschke, L. Sustaining lifelong learning: A review of heutagogical practice and self-determined learning)

Heutagogical practice implies self-determination, self-governance. It emphasises more to prepare students for the workplace where more reflection is needed regarding what and how content is learned. Heutagogy is based on the Greek for “self” and the focus is to develop learner’s capabilities where learners are the major agents in their own learning, being the learning a consequence of personal experience (Hase and Kenyon, 2007. I have a reference list if required but I will not put all of them here for space reasons).

In the heutagogical approach the instructor facilitates the learning process by providing guidance and resources but the design of the learning path is entirely by the side of the learner.

Students engagement history

Activity 1.4: Students engagement history. Main events.

The video is quite dynamic and I think it is a good synthesis of what have happened in relation to this topic of students’ engagement.

More than naming them, as I do think it is clear in the video and writing them down wont be of much value for me, what I think is relevant to mention is, in my view, the shift from the idea of the ‘corps’ in the Greek era where the driver was to recognise the quality and reputation of the teachers to then shift to “defend” students rights. Two very different drivers. Although in Padua the situation of the majority of students as foreigners is what triggers the movement. The idea is that they need to take care by themselves of their rights, they need protection I guess. Then students start demonstrating against social issues like the Vietnam war or the massacre of Tiananmen amongst others. When the fees are introduced the philosophy is completely different and students are seen as ‘clients’ that are paying for a service and that turned the attention to a different aspect which is the quality of the experience of students at the university and how can they be part of that experience in a productive way. Which is what started in 2005 until now.

Activity 1.3: Redefining the relationship between student+universtiy

This activity is intended to compare and critique the 3 models of students, the consumer model, the co-producer and the one that puts the student at the centre of a community of practice.
In my view the first 2 models have inherent flaws in how students are supposed to play their role and they do not explain fully what is happening in HE. If we see students as consumers of a service and therefore we explain what is happening in HE we are missing some aspects in the explanation or we are adjudicating to the model to many issues. Questions like this came to my head while reading: What happens with students who have studied all their life in a private school and for them paying for education is nothing new for them? What if their parents are paying for the fees and haven’t even asked them selves about this issue? What if they are considering that they are paying for the expertise and experience of their teachers and for being in a safe place to learn? This approach of students as consumers as the only explanation makes not much sense to me. Definitely education should not be treated as a market place and should not be seen as a service empty of value and humanity. And yes I agree students who see them selves as consumers of a service for which they are paying are missing a big part of the university experience.
I agree with some of the critiques exposed by McCulloch. I do agree that the model of student as consumer de-emphasises to much her/his role as a learner, it takes away her/his responsibility of doing the hard work to learn and in a sense it seems like the money you are paying will easy the struggle learners have to go through in order to transform and grow intellectually. But I do not think it means automatically that students will not have a deep learning experience. The idea of “satisfaction” as a core aspect in the learning experience is awful. There is a limit to this and I do agree that there is a responsibility in teachers to engage and motivate students but it is not about making of the lecture a circus. If one reads about how boring or un-understandable the lectures of brilliant thinkers were, i.e. Newton, Einstein or John Nash but how motivating it must have been to have the chance to listen to them. Learning is not only about having fun it is about reflecting, struggling, rethinking one self in the process. It is far from being measurable in a satisfaction survey.
In order to find some solutions to this problematic model, McCulloch proposes a different one, the student as co-producer but not without some difficulties and inconvenience. The student as co-producer is meant to be partner in the production of knowledge, therefore they are given some responsibility in the work. They are also involved in the community at a collective level. In that sense they should be brought into the decision-making process, involve them in the curriculum as well as give them control of some parts of their learning environment. This is one of the strong points in this model from my perspective. Not so sure about the curriculum bit as maybe students do not have the knowledge nor the expertise to plan or design a curriculum but maybe they could be part of the discussion and think together in how to assess the course maybe. The learning environment is for me one of the key points to exploit in this model of student. This model is enriched and improved by Coffield who developed the idea of community of practice where learning is seen more as an inductive process, a process of becoming active and engage participants of a community interacting not only with teachers but also with fellow students. The goal in this approach is building and being part of a community of practice, learning is becoming a participant, students are apprentice and teachers are expert mentors, knowledge is an aspect of practice and knowing is belonging and participating. Very much what happens with academics in their field. It is very much about belonging to the community and working hard in the pursuit of new knowledge that could enhance the understanding of the field and create new applications. Learning is seen as an ever evolving organic process. In this view students have power but in order to exercise it they need to engage and commit participating proactively in their community of practice.
To conclude my reflection in relation to the idea of redefining the relationship between students and their universities the model to follow is the one where students are part of a community of practice with all the responsibilities it entails and taking the commitment seriously transforming in a proactive manner the areas of their concern. Adding to the community and enhancing the university experience.

Unit 1: Becoming a change agent

Learning outcomes

  1. Identify some of the drivers underpinning change in the FE/HE sector;
  2. Identify key aspects of the role of a student change agent;
  3. Recall the evolution of student engagement in FE/HE using named examples;
  4. Evaluate strategies to overcome some the challenges of working as a change agent;
  5. Select the best approach for determining institutional readiness for student-led change;
  6. Identify the potential advantages of student-led change for a range of named stakeholders.