So, we’ve got this great concept for a grassroots community of students sharing advice and resources to improve their learning. The big question that needs to be answered is this: “How do we make this thing float?” We can feed it all the resources and great ideas we like, but if the students don’t take to it in the long run it’s not worth doing.
At least initially, the project is staff driven. This is a fact; it’s already, inescapably true because the project has been conceived by members of staff. The reason we’ve initiated this project is in three parts:
- We really want our students to be the best they can be;
- We're excited about the possibilities for learning presented by new technology;
- We're concerned that it's relatively difficult to find out what tools are available to improve learning.
We are able to see the need for a project like this because as teaching and support staff (I include in this category postgraduate students with teaching duties, like myself) we are well placed to see overall trends in student learning behaviour. Having spent some time in the academic environment, we tend to have a grasp of the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ learning behaviour (though we may often be bewildered as to how to encourage the good).
But in spite of all this, it’s not our place to tell students how to learn. The best we can do is support and encouraging them in discovering how learning works for them.
Now, we may have an interest in student learning, but it’s abstract. Students have an interest in their own learning, and theirs is immediate, concrete and very personal. In addition to this, they have several attributes which can be used to great advantage:
- They have a grip on technology that most of the current generation of lecturers and professors can only dream of;
- They're incredibly creative, especially when they understand that their contribution is valuable;
- They want (like most of us) to make like as comfortable as possible.
This last point is a double-edged sword. If you can convince someone that doing something will ultimately make their lives better, it will be much easier to persuade them to actually do it. On the other hand, if we hand down an artifact from on high, it will likely be accepted at face value, used as-is for a while and ultimately end in stagnation; it is easy to believe that ‘the university’ is an authority on learning and there is no point in questioning its judgements on the subject.
The solution to this dilemma seems to be thus:
- Involve students in the planning and decision-making process as early as possible;
- Form a core group of students to carry the project forward:
- Drawn from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible, to encourage 'cross-pollination';
- Preferably as excited about learning and technology as we are!;
- CICS/LeTS act as consultants to this core student group:
- Providing expert advice where appropriate;
- Supporting/maintaining infrastructure where requested;
- Providing access to resources which would otherwise be unavailable.
In this way, the university can provide a comforting background feeling of continuity while maintaining a respectful distance and allowing the students to go wild and create something amazing.