one more thing

The final assessment for the first unit of the Graduate Certificate of Higher Education calls for a 500 word post answering the question:  What idea(s) explored in the modules have you found most useful and why?

The most personally affecting idea explored in this, my first module, has been that of the ‘student’. While some research skills and learning practices remain from my former experience of ‘being’ a student, the less sanguine memories of endless waiting in line for enrollment or for empty desks in the computer lab have diminished. Good memories of student life are, on reflection, all face-to-face interactions with peers, academics, causal and general staff, and librarians.

The faceless interaction of the ‘online’ unit has provided a much-needed perspective on the generally disempowering experience of ‘being’ a student today. To be fair, I’d already developed an acute sense of this while coordinating my first unit at Deakin earlier this year. The ‘first-person’ perspective of the student experience has reinforced the need to seek out and develop technologies and practices, assessment structures and participatory curricula design to help overcome the distance between student and teacher, and students themselves, that is somewhat achieved in the experience of co-presence, whether it’s the lecture or the tutorial.

My experience of this unit and the certificate in general has been extremely valuable in helping me develop insights into the changing nature of ‘being’, or perhaps, ‘becoming’ a student at Deakin and as a consumer in the Australian Higher Education industry. Failing to manage my own understanding of the course through reading the unit guide, was excruciatingly embarrassing, especially in my previous ‘beings’ of a student I was competitive, organised, driven, etc. I find myself far more sympathetic to new and newer generations of students, especially off-campus students, as they attempt to juggle studying with work and family commitments, and submit assessment materials ridiculously late, or incomplete.

The experience has planted seeds in my imagination as I plot to overcome the focus on student grading in the humanities, and re-evaluating the relationship between assessment, grading, feedback and student learning.  Even the idea of ‘trimesters’ and units, drops away as I review all the brilliant, compelling and interesting contributions from peers participating in the unit, that would be useful and productive to read, review and respond to in-depth, and in our own time, especially at this point in the year when teaching briefly winds down, which brings me to my concluding point.

Returning to the dialogism between constructionism and behaviourism, was also useful, but I’d also add to that mix, the principles of connectivism, coined by George Siemens and written extensively on by Stephen Downes (2012), that knowledge is quite literally the set of connections that consist between sets of entities or, in this case, people. Downes (2012, p11) writes:

“Connectivist learning is a process of immersion in an environment, discovery and communication – a process of pattern recognition rather than hypothesis and theory-formation. Learning is not a matter of transferring knowledge from a teacher to a learner, but is rather the product of the learner focusing and repeating creative acts, of practising something that is important and reflecting on this practice.”

The unit has been a wonderful chance to work through some of the assumptions I’ve made in my teaching and curriculum design, and my peers have presented a range of approaches and solutions to problems I hadn’t envisioned and encountered yet, but I have a nagging sense, a feeling, that the certificate, like other initiatives at Deakin, such as the new ‘cloud’ focus, are not fundamentally grasping the efficacy, openness and empowering experience that fully ‘connected’ learning can achieve.

Downes, S. 2012. Connectivism and Connective Knowledge:Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada. Available: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf [Date accessed: October 26, 2012]

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