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Willing to learn : being a student in an age of uncertainty Ronald Barnett Institute of Education, University of London ‘ Improving Student Learning –

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Presentation on theme: "Willing to learn : being a student in an age of uncertainty Ronald Barnett Institute of Education, University of London ‘ Improving Student Learning –"— Presentation transcript:

1 Willing to learn : being a student in an age of uncertainty Ronald Barnett Institute of Education, University of London ‘ Improving Student Learning – for what? ’, Dublin, 5 Sept 07

2 Worlds of uncertainty Uncertainty refers surely not just to the world out there but the inner world How we respond to uncertainty. We see unpredictability – but we also feel uncertain So uncertainty is both cognitive and experiential. Uncertainty refers to our being in a world of unpredictability U is both perception and response (this reflection is crucial for us here) It looks two ways at once.

3 Two students’ reflections: anxiety is the very essence of being a student in an age of uncertainty ‘ (beginning the student journey) is a scary, exciting and fascinating world ’ ‘ I remember thinking … this is amazing, exciting, exhilarating and downright terrifying. ’ ‘… working with a complex world is also about attitude … not giving up when you feel overwhelmed …’ ‘ you can never be totally prepared ’. ‘ we need … self belief to survive and prosper …’ ‘ skills [of being creative, critical enquirers] need to go alongside absolute perseverance and dogged determination …’ (Natacha Thomas, ‘ Preparing Students for a Complex World – the Harsh Reality of being a student. ’, University of Surrey, June 2006 ‘… what ’ s fascinating about Alison ’ s courses is the amount of panic, you know, that surrounds the essays and I felt it personally … It was a very, very scary thing to do because … there were no right answers ’. (postgraduate student, University of Glasgow, commenting on courses taught by Alison Phipps)

4 Students: being-in-time Students normally arrive on time and in time; but they are also in time in another sense. Why do students keep going? (an extraordinary phenomenon) My own students – 2 recent instances Students see themselves in time They project themselves forward - and are not overwhelmed (even if daunted) ‘… being-towards-possibilities … is itself a potentiality-for-being. It has its own possibility – that of developing itself ’. (188) ‘… as Being-possible, … Dasein is never anything less; this is to say, it is existentially that which, in its potentiality-for-Being, it is not yet. ’ (186). (Heidegger, Being and Time)

5 A will to learn Why do we get up in the morning? Not because we have lots of knowledge - or many skills But because we have a will to do so, to take on the world in all its infinite complexity and uncertainty. A student persists because she has a will to learn ( ‘ learn ’ understood generously)

6 Two problems (‘research questions’) 1 Which is more important – the intellect or the way in which a student is? ‘ The will is the substance of man, the intellect the accident ’ (Schopenhauer) – is that right? Ontology trumps epistemology ( perhaps ) Can we supply any warrant for this belief? 2 But is the will to learn general or specific?

7 ‘Being has not been given its due’ (Sartre) Being is the foundation of what it is to be a student ‘ Being a student ’ But today, we have to think of being-for- uncertainty ‘ Being-for-complexity ’ But also, complexity-in-being Cf a degree course in Music Design Technology

8 Becoming (cf ‘Improving Student Learning – for what?’) ‘ Become what you want to be ’ (univ advert) ‘ To be a subject means to transcend. ’ (Heidegger) But the becoming and the transcendence come out of the wrestling with hard and complex material – not dilettante; not ‘ becoming oneself ’ in a facile sense Strange juxtaposition – self-becoming and the standards inherent in the ped activities. Not a happening to oneself – but a happening into which one places oneself; & subjects oneself to the demands before one. ‘ Whoever has preserved a strong will together with an ample spirit has more favourable opportunities than ever. ’ (Nietzsche) - A will to become – amid uncertainty

9 The bunjee jumper The student hurls herself forward Takes risks Leaps into space of her own Her words and her actions are hers ( not plagiarised ) She flies Is energized Is exhilarated Confronts her fears But is unlikely to come to harm Not just living with but for uncertainty (The pedagogical situation provides exhilarating spaces.)

10 A Will to Offer The student not just puts herself forward She puts her offerings forward They are gifts & the response isn ’ t known in advance (so courage is required ( cf Natcha ’ s reflections )) So pure gifts A gentle rebuke to Derrida? ( ‘ The gift annuls the gift ’ ) These are, therefore, truly precious gifts – and deserve our thanks.

11 Losing the will to learn Int: ‘ The modules that you failed – do you think anybody could have done anything to help you? ’ A: ‘ No, it was me. I just lost interest in the modules. Looking back on it, I just wasn ’ t trying to understand it. I had lost interest. I believed it wasn ’ t for me and I didn ’ t want to do it. ’ Int: Tell me about the process by which you left. A:It was gradual and my attendance dwindled out. It wasn ’ t an abrupt end, it was gradual. I started thinking about the options. As I attended some of the classes my mind became more made up and I realised it wasn ’ t for me. ’ ( ‘ Re-thinking working class drop-out ’, Jocey Quinn et al, Joseph Rowntree report (2006))

12 Gaining the will to learn ‘ I had no awareness of my ability, so when you get an inspiring teacher that has faith in you, or helps you understand a topic then, you know, it ’ s amazing. ’ (4 th yr student, post 92 univ) ‘ The only thing I can say that this yr has done to me is that it ’ s given me a bit of independence and confidence. Before I was one of those people who didn ’ t used to talk to many people. Now, I ’ m really open. … I ’ m quite happy now about going to university. ’ (student who had left univ soon after joining.)

13 The will to learn – a schema ( and answers to our earlier two questions ) SpecificGeneral S W to L Epistemology X Ontology

14 A pedagogy of inspiration ‘ You get excited … if a teachers inspires you … (you) feel that drive to get involved. ’ (4th yr student) The inspiring teacher literally in-spires the student, breathes new life, new energy in. But the student has to take it in; to be open to it. This is new spirit; the spirit of higher education. ‘ Spirit lives and moves whereever our striving for clarity is a striving for fullness of insight ’ »Karl Jaspers, ‘ The Idea of the University ’ This is a critical spirit – open to new and even alarming frames of understanding, which the student makes her own.

15 Conclusion: ‘Teaching is more difficult than learning’ ‘ The teacher is ahead of his apprentices in this alone … (he) is far less assured. ’ But teaching is also more difficult than research. Teaching that brings about inspiration, and ‘ being-for-complexity ’, is demanding; impossible even. But there can hardly be a more significant human calling.

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