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Are Independent Learners “Empty Vessels” or “Intellectual Robinson Crusoes?” Independent Learning and Student Development C-M Bernier, Dejan Djokic and.

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Presentation on theme: "Are Independent Learners “Empty Vessels” or “Intellectual Robinson Crusoes?” Independent Learning and Student Development C-M Bernier, Dejan Djokic and."— Presentation transcript:

1 Are Independent Learners “Empty Vessels” or “Intellectual Robinson Crusoes?” Independent Learning and Student Development C-M Bernier, Dejan Djokic and Peter Spelt Learning Set Advisor: David Burns Tuesday 11th January 2005 How Students Learn: Implications for Teaching. Sixth Learning and Teaching Conference

2 Reasons for Independent Learning - “Good learners have to be creative” PRACTICAL Increased student numbers in H.E. institutions Developments in technology and web access Financial pressures upon students necessitating part- time work Expectations of Employers for transferable skills in graduates INTELLECTUAL Autonomy in active learning Assuming responsibility for learning in a dynamic approach preventing passivity - “spoon-feeding” and “empty vessel” Greater flexibility for lecturers in course developments Adjustments between school and university for students

3 Background DEFINITIONS OF SELF-DIRECTED OR INDEPENDENT LEARNING (Benson and Voller, 1997): 1.Situations in which learners study alone - the “Robinson Crusoe” model.” 2.A set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning with external guidance. 3.An inborn capacity suppressed by institutions. 4.The exercise of learners’ responsibility for their own learning. 5.The right of learners to direct their own learning.

4 Critical Theories of Independent Learning 3 aspects of independent learning have been identified (Mezirow, 1981) – 1. INSTRUMENTAL LEARNING - task-oriented problem-solving suited to the surrounding environment 2. DIALOGIC LEARNING - understanding methods of communication between individuals 3. SELF-REFLECTIVE LEARNING - how we come to understand ourselves and our learning process - key to developing as active learners and researchers within Higher Education Institutions and beyond

5 Competing definitions of “Independent Learning” The concept of “Independent Learning” is highly contested in historical, political, intellectual and educational terms. At its most basic level, it is “the ability to take charge of one’s learning” (Holec, 1981). “the learner’s control over the planning and execution of learning” (Tough, Knowles).

6 Definitions continued… “The self-directed learner should not be thought of as an intellectual Robinson Crusoe, castaway and shut-off in self-sufficiency.” (Moore, 1973). “no act of learning can be self-directed if we understand self-direction as meaning the absence of external sources of assistance (Brookfield, 1985). “truly autonomous learning can occur only when learners have full knowledge of the possible alternative learning activities” (Chené, 1983).

7 METHODOLOGICAL ISSUES DOMINANCE OF THE WEST - IDEOLOGICAL AND POLITICAL ISSUES - Independent learning associated only “with open democracies which encourage freedom and autonomy” and existing only “in cultures that stress clear role definition, social control, strict upbringing of children, and respect for authority” (Brookfield, 1985). CLASS BIASES - Critics warn against the “middle-class nature of the majority of samples” in data analysis ETHNICITY AND RACE - overwhelming majorities in favour of any one ethnic and/or racial group necessarily distorts data. NATIONALITY - international versus E.U. student bodies

8 Reasons for research into independent learning Student emphasis upon a DYNAMIC AND INTERACTIVE approach in HE context. To assess the extent to which the lecturer should develop as a figure of authority or as a teaching resource/guide. To allow students to become self-reflexive about the learning process. To identify more closely relationship between “learning facilitation” and “knowledge transmission” (Kember & Gow).

9 THE QUESTIONNAIRE - Part I In Part I, students were asked to indicate the most effective and/or important of the following: TEACHING METHODS TEACHING MATERIALS METHODS OF ASSESSMENT TEACHING STAFF AND PEERS PROBLEM-SOLVING THE MAIN AIM OF MODULES The students were asked to rank what they saw as most effective and the results were tabulated as follows.

10 Returned questionnaires American & Canadian Studies (1st year): 22 Mathematics (2nd year): 65 Engineering (1st year): 107 Modern Languages: 28

11 All methods are found to be reasonably efficient, some more than others: Amer./Can. St.: seminars & essay feedback; Mod. Lang.: seminars, tutorials & exercises; Maths & Engineering: exercises more than lectures, tutorials & problem classes RESULTS

12 All like handouts, but esp. Maths find the web efficient too, whereas Americ./Can. St. & Mod. Lang. like further reading (Maths do not)

13 Most find revision for exams the best time to learn (projects for Mod. Lang.), but Amer./Can. St. find writing coursework good too, and Mod. Lang. do not really have a preference

14 Most find themselves the most important in their learning, except for Amer./Can. St. students, who find the lecturer more important.

15 Most students consult each other, but Amer./Can. St. and Mod. Lang. ask the lecturer. Some maths students consult the web, and Amer./Can. St. the library.

16 Amer./Can.St., Mod. Lang.: knowledge transmission & stimulation of further study Maths & Engineering: problem solving

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21 The Questionnaire - part ii Students were asked to respond to the following “open-ended” questions: How do you see the role of the lecturer in your learning? Should teaching be a one-way process? What would you see as the greatest obstacles to your learning? How would you define the “studying” process at university? Would you support the university’s commitment to independent learning?

22 Open-ended questions: Responses Students viewed lecturer primarily as a guide, providing necessary knowledge & inspiration for study They preferred teaching to be a two-way process yet reinforced the importance of the lecturer in knowledge transferral (Eng. find class size a limitation) The learning process was defined as as combination of the following: mainly memorizing (Mod. Lang.), the application of newly learned techniques (Eng.), the formulation of one’s own opinion (Am.Can.St.)

23 Open-ended questions The most major obstacle in learning was identified as lack of time, motivation and self-disciplines, a lack of resources (Am.Can.St. & Mod. Lang.), large class sizes (Eng.) Biggest aid: course materials, efficient lecturers Most students would support the university’s commitment to independent learning, although 1-to-1s were also considered useful to (Am.Can.St.)

24 Implications for American and Canadian Studies Students find seminars & essay feedback the most efficient teaching method Web is not considered a very efficient teaching material Students find the lecturer more important than themselves in their learning, and consult him/her when facing a problem Students view main aim of modules as knowledge transmission, stimulation of further study and recognise the importance of the development of independent thought

25 Implications for Modern Languages No clearly preferred teaching method Web is not considered very efficient teaching material Students find themselves at least as important as the lecturer in their learning, and consult fellow students as well as the lecturer when facing a problem Students view main aim of modules as knowledge transmission, stimulation of further study, and recognise the importance of the development of independent thought

26 Implications for Mathematical Sciences Students find doing exercises the most efficient teaching method Students find the web, not further reading, efficient teaching material Students themselves important in their learning, not the lecturer (then they consult each other) Students view main aim of modules as problem solving, not stimulation of further study

27 Implications for Faculty of Engineering Students find doing exercises the most efficient teaching method Web & further reading are considered moderately efficient teaching material Students themselves important in their learning, not the lecturer (then they consult each other) Students view main aim of modules as problem solving & training for specific jobs

28 Implications (common for all faculties investigated) All teaching methods were found to be reasonably efficient Handouts were the most popular teaching material Students saw themselves and the lecturer as the most important for their learning and NOT their peers However, students consult each other when facing a problem – limited use of library, popularity of consulting lecturer varies

29 CONSIDERATIONS OF THE DATA POTENTIAL PROBLEMS WITH METHODOLOGY It is important to note that our sample of students is relatively small. Class and ethnicity/race biases. Variety of numbers of questionnaires returned across schools may cause imbalances in the data received and conclusions made.

30 BENEFITS of Research into Independent Learning Guidance on how to develop learning strategies best suited to student needs and available resources. Guidance on how the energies of the lecturer may be best spent – not only in giving lectures but also developing e-learning resources Impact upon the structure of CURRICULA - Independent Learning does not mean learning alone and requires thoughtfully considered modules and degree programmes

31 BENEFITS of Research into Independent Learning Urging students to take responsibility for their learning and not be “empty vessels” Confirms the importance of a move from a “unidirectional lecturing format toward a more interactive style” (Kember&Gow) Benefits to employers in encouraging students to development relevant skills Further research into independent learning can begin by considering key aspects of: personal autonomy; self-management; learner control; autodidaxy (individual learning in society) (Cranton).

32 Future Research Breakdown in responses by year to assess the full extent of their differences and/or similarities Further investigation into lecturer responses so that views can be compared with the possibility of devising ways and means to “reframe” (Cranton) the learning context and encouraging lecturers to become more self-conscious in their teaching practices. Further investigation into the differences in experience and learning outcomes for European Union and Home students versus International students to gain insights into cultural, political and ideological practices and differences.

33 Future Research Cont... This research at Nottingham will help to identify the role of Research Universities in this process - how to transfer skills of lecturers as self- directed learners onto student body. To ensure HE institutions are centres for innovative and liberating thought. To ensure that “Independent Learning” is appropriately defined not as encouraging students to become Robinson Crusoes but as encouraging modular development tailored to individual needs and which will enhance individual abilities.

34 “the search for shared purpose, the search for personal self-direction, and the search for quality work require one another. Together they create the possibility for adult relatedness, integrity, and generativity and therefore represent the essence of genuinely liberating higher education.” (Torbert)


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