iLearn personalised learning unit: Journal 4

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This will be the final journal of my current ‘how to learn’ unit before we hit the end of the educational year. Remember the intent of the unit was to shift the emphasis from me teaching to students learning, and especially to students taking responsibility for their learning. The unit has been aided by mobile, ubiquitous devices (in our case, the iPod touch) – chosen because of the power of such devices to put learning tools right into each learner’s hands.

First, I’ll report on how the last weeks of the unit have been going. As alluded to in the last journal, school events such as swimming and compulsory PD I had to attend have really impacted on how much time I’ve had with students, such that we will not complete the unit. Now, two things – first, this is still ok as I’d built the critical thinking/ making learning decisions throughout. Secondly, in reflecting on this I’ve realised that all units suffer from interuptions – I just need to plan less – or maybe not – perhaps I actually should keep planning ambitious units but just plan in agility for the sub-parts.

Agility really has shown itself to be the key to the success of the unit actually. Because even though I planned for reflective points every two weeks, some students only needed one week, some three to work through the ‘solution’ (app) they had found (duh!). To help manage this complexity, rather than go back to a one-size-fits-all unit, in this phase I introduced a data-base tracking where each student was up to. By displaying this at the start of each session via data projector, I could begin each lesson discussing with students exactly where they were up to. This database also includes a cell for student comments – I quiz students constantly about their app – what, how, why questions linking it back to their decision making and chosen focus area. These comments then form the basis of the review that students write once they either complete an app, or decide its not helping them.

So as we near the end of this ‘proof of concept’ run through of this unit, I must ask – did it work? I’ll answer for myself, and for the students. For me, what I’ve found is that this unit has been very hard work. Thrilling yes, exciting, but also – going uphill – ie. creating rather than just using an exisiting program, and stepping back rather than always stepping in. These are not always natural teacher behaviours, and despite knowing in my head lots about student-centred learning, the power of what is established (both for myself and my institution) has shown itself to be very strong. But I do believe in personalised learning, so I’m committed to this now.

For the students – I’ve had comments like – ‘why are we doing this?’, and ‘do I have to come?’ – exactly the kind of questions that students have always asked in regards to being part of learning support. Does this mean it wasn’t the revolutionary change the world unit I had thought? I hope I never did expect so much of it – what I did differently though when asked these was respond back with a question this time – putting the emphasis back on student decision making. I see that it will take more than one unit though to have students take full responsibility for their learning. But now they have successfully completed pro’s and con’s charts for example, they have begun to learn critical thinking. Some students have completed these independently to such a degree that I am sure they will be able to do this.

As for 2010, I’ve already started planning two additional units with the same approach but building on what I’ve learned. And I’d like to set up some ‘critical friends’ as part of this – email me jnxyz at mac dot com if you are interested!