Kjell Askeland Report



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Concluding remarks:

If Russia in the nearest future is unable to increase expenditure in its educational system, the participants in this system should not wait for ’better times’. It is still possible to say to the rest of the world: We want to compete, not in expenditures, but in pedagogical quality.

One of the most important discussions among educationalists is on the subject of money. Does it play such a big role in the improvement of educational quality? This was earlier considered to be an indisputable fact. From this discussion the general opinion seems to be that: Money is good but good pedagogics can sometimes be better.

This slogan is valid within certain limits, and no discussion about economy should neglect the possibility that the most important thing in an educational reform is good pedagogics. Here, the teachers and the education of them should be considered to occupy a central position in both interest and planning. It is essential that an educational innovation should include a well-structured program for the teaching of teachers.

LEARNING

In this chapter, I shall try to illustrate how our education can be improved through insight in learning. One may of course ask if this should be necessary, since learning is the central point of all education. Therefore we could expect that we already know enough about this. I wish it were so. As an introduction to the theme, learning, I shall describe to approaches, ‘reading’ and ‘group work’


Reading.

As a child, I was forced to stay in bed for long periods, both at home and in hospitals. I learned to read in bed. I went to school, and was bored, because I was forced to learn what I already knew.

Since then, I have learned and learned, and studied many subjects in many universities, but I was never taught how to learn from reading.

We teach children to read. When they can read, we leave them alone. For the rest of their lives, even if they become our students, we think that they can read.

Of course our students can ‘read’. They know the letters and how they can be combined into words, which in turn can be combined into sentences and even to thick books, … but ….( in pedagogics there is always a ‘but’) ,,, they can not read in a proper way.

Text and books represent our central intellectual tool. Against that background it is amazing how little we know about how our students learn from books. Some students believe that the important thing is to learn the text in order to reproduce it. They read the text many times. Other students are more interests in finding the meaning or the central topics in the text. They buy pens with different colours, and underline some sentences, but not all.

There are students with excellent memory. Being asked, they can recite long fragments of texts. Ask them if they can explain the content!

Some students read the texts, and then write down what they feel is the meaning of the text, using their own words.

It happens that a student in a particular subject learns to read in a specific way, and believes that this way of reading can be used in another subject.

As a university teacher, I was sometimes very close to my students. I discovered the problem. They did not know how to read, or to learn from reading! The worst of all; they did not know that they did not know.

My colleagues were positively uninterested, saying that it was not their job to teach our students (in pedagogics!) to read.

Then I started on my own, and very soon experienced that with small investments some of my students improved the learning outcome of their reading. They were shocked that nobody had cared for this during their previous education.

*

The reason for writing this is to indicate that the objectives of the EUROFACULTY Project represent a very, very limited fragment of educational challenges and possibilities. We live in a world where we believe that we have done very much in order to enhance the learning process of our students. People, who doubt that, can gain much understanding by asking students how they read.


The optimistic conclusion is that our education can be improved even without expensive reforms or projects. It is so simple to ask students how they read, and draw some conclusions.

These words express some criticism of the EUROFACULTY Project. To put it simple: The plan should have included some encouragement to the participants to continue the educational development on their own, demonstrating that this can and must be done without waiting for new resources or new projects. The illustration is: Message to all teachers! Ask your students how they read and see if improvements are possible. If needed, ask for books or articles on ’learning from reading’. If possible, ask for help.

Group work.

Group work, - bad group work is a plague in education at all levels. In order to fight against this, we have to focus upon ’learning in groups’. Since we, the teachers, seldom know how one can learn in groups, we cannot expect our students to know,

We invite our students to our curricula, and expect them to learn our subject. We know that to learn the subject, means among other things that our students have to conquer the ’discourse’ that is the specific nerve of this subject. Then we place them in groups. Here we expect them to discuss. The problem is, however, that they do not know how to discuss. Where should they have learned that? From whom?

A tool:

Discourse (German: Diskurs) is a central concept in modern science, highly inspired by Foucault. In this context, it should be understood as the ’rules’ of scientific discussions. Each subject can be understood as a set of rules for discussion within the subject. It determines what is permitted to say, and what not, how thing must be said, and what is considered to be a valid reason for supporting a view. Clearly, the discourse between historians is different from that of physicists. In this perspective, education in a subject consists (among other things) in learning the discourse of the subject.

If all subjects have more or less their own discourse, where ’discussion’ is a central part, we should place this first among all the objectives for our curriculum. The students should, through our teaching and guidance, learn to discuss. Instead, we lock them into a group room and expect them to do what they are unable to do.

*

There are so many things to improve, so many aspects of learning, that I cannot mention them all. A few examples may convince my reader that investment in learning is a good investment, and that there are reasons to believe that the profit will be high, even from small investments.

The examples that I choose as illustrations are these:


  1. The student’s responsibility for her or his own learning.

  2. Problem orientation and project-organised learning.

  3. CooPEERative learning. Learning in groups.

  4. Computer aided learning.

Students responsibility for their own learning as part of ’participation’. ’
Sometimes, people dream and talk about an educational model or an experiment as if it rests upon an absolute freedom, without any oppression.

I do not believe in such ideal constructions. On the contrary, I find them to be oppressive, because they hide the inevitable authority of all teaching. There is and cannot be any school that is completely free from power. Freedom is not to close ones eyes for this power, but to recognise it and use the acquired knowledge to control it.


Education and ’schooling’ are not natural things. They represent, as Dewey said, ‘a prepared reality’. A child is normally more attracted to the green trees in the forest, not in the grey theories of science.10
In his book ’The symbolic species’, Ference Deacon says that the biggest invention animals ever thought out was to invent a symbolic reality. Through this, the animal became a human being.
The problem is, however, that we have to push our children away from the natural world into schools and education. Therefore, the instrument ’education and school’ has its inbuilt authority from which it can never escape.

In this short description of the challenge behind the lyricism, I consider the ’autonomy’ and ’responsibility’ of the students not to be a description of reality, but a process that aims at increasing students’ responsibility for their own learning. This challenge is central for all discussions and experiments which aim at increasing student activity, project organised learning, better lectures etc. The problem involved may be described as the power of authority in all educational models.

The problem arises due to the simple fact that it is a contradiction to say to the child or the student that he or she has to bow to the demands of education while at the same time tell them to take responsibility for their education.

*
One should bear in mind that the problem of ’prima facies’, ’the acceptance of the front side of the picture’ is not a special issue for the EUROFACULTY Project. It exists everywhere in all educational experiments. The point is, as already indicated, that this is a necessity that hardly can or should be avoided. It is simply a consequence of the desire to get the participants of the experiment interested and cooperative. Since educational science is far from being an exact science it should be completely clear that the principles for carrying out experiments in physics are seldom applicable in educational experiments. In physics, it is complete nonsense to talk about the objects of experiments as if there is a need to make them ’cooperative’ or to seek elements of ’enthusiasm’. In education, it is so that if not a majority of the participants believe in the experiment, it is very unlikely that it will become a success. Therefore, simplifications may be considered to be conditions sine qua non for most educational experiments.

On the other hand, sooner or later, one has to show the other side of the picture.

The problem seem to be that after an innovation has been made and is airborne, the planners ’forget’ to turn the picture, leaving the participants in an ’ideology’. They confuse the reality with the simple idyllic picture described in the planning documents where the prima facies is described.

An example:

The planning of Roskilde University Centre was deeply influenced by emancipatory educational thinking. The lyricism in the planning documents and speeches was full of dreams about the autonomy of the students. This was being marketed under slogans like ’participatory control’ meaning that students and teachers should have a joint responsibility for teaching and learning. (The Danish expression is ’deltagerstyring’).

In the evaluation of the Roskilde experiment, there was found widespread appreciation of this among the students. They expressed the opinion that this responsibility for their own learning contributed to their learning motivation and outcome. Further investigation showed the other side of the picture. They believed that they had autonomy, compared to the students in the traditional universities, where the teachers ruled. The real situation was, however, that since they believed that they had freedom they were unaware how deeply their own teachers and fellow students influenced them. Some of the teachers used the students in order to get ’followers’ in a way that would be difficult in traditional universities. The explanation was simply that since the students and teachers were so close to each other, both in the buildings and in everyday life, the students identified themselves much more than they were aware of with the teachers. Since they lived in this ideology (false consciousness) of freedom, they did not recognise or fight against the hidden ’oppression’ of their teachers. It should also be mentioned that the teachers were mostly unaware of these mechanisms.

The experience from Roskilde may lead us to a conclusion saying that we can never entirely meet the challenge of finding a balance between students responsibility, autonomy and the authority of teachers. We should never declare that we have found a ’solution’ to the problem. Instead, we should treat ’student responsibility’, ’student’s control’, ’co-responsibility’ and all such lyrical expressions as a process that never ends. It has to be fought in the life and education of all individuals, both teachers and students, under very different conditions and points of departure. This insight may have heavy bearings upon educational experiments.

The conclusion of the experience from the EUROFACULTY Project is that the underlying objective to ’modernise’ the educational system in Russia can only be worked for when teachers, students, staff and ’innovators’ cooperate because they believe in this process. On the other hand, the experiments and the development work have to make full use of pedagogics, including supportive evaluation.

Students responsibility for their own learning.
Kant: Die Vorsehung hat gewollt, daß der Mensch das Gute aus sich selbst herausbringen soll, und spricht, so zu sagen, zum Menschen: 'Gehe in die Welt,' (…) 'ich habe dich ausgerüstet mit allen Anlagen zum Guten. Dir kommt es zu, sie zu entwickeln, und so hängt dein eignes Glück und Unglück von dir selbst ab.

In educational thinking, there are many different tendencies. One is based upon the thought that the child is ’evil’ and must be ’cultivated’ like a plant in order to learn. Another tendency is influenced by the idea that the child is responsible for its own development. In modern pedagogics, the way of thinking may be described as lying somewhere between these two extremes. The interesting thing in the context of the EUROFACULTY Project is that the problem has not been considered in the way it deserves.

One should therefore not get the impression that student responsibility for their own learning is something that is achieved and established in the educational system of the ’donor countries’ or in other places of the world. It is an ongoing process, and the problems connected with it are not ’solved’, in the meaning of the word that a final model has been found. Instead, this process must be seen as central in all the ingredients needed in the transformation of all educational systems. The reasons for this is simply that ’democracy’ should be a dimension in all learning, and the word ’democracy’ is meaningless unless children, students and citizen in general take responsibility for their own lives, including their own learning.

This is of course nothing but lyricism, and few if any would disagree. On the educational battlefield it is a hard reality that applies, made up of effort, disputes and even conflicts. Above all, this reality is central to all pedagogical issues and choices that we make, both in educational experiments and in the ’normal’ educational system.

In its simple form, it reflects the relationship between teacher and student. Who has the right to decide? Can teachers teach anything to a student who is totally passive? How can we demonstrate that an active student learns more and ’better’ when she or he takes responsibility for his or her own learning?

If somebody should think that these questions represent the full scale of the problem field, one has to say; ’no, it is only the outskirts’. Development has demonstrated that when the process has gained impetus the students may demand that they should not only be concerned with their own internal cognitive processes, but also be encouraged to decide upon what they have to learn. (We have the expression of students being their own educational planners, or ‘their own curriculum constructors’.)

This may sound strange, and give reason to the point of view that this means the same as anarchy, or, as the Polish educationalist Sczaniavski has formulated it: ’This is pedagogical nihilism’.

In reality, serious work is now being carried out in order to find a balance between the authority of both the teacher, ’the science’ and the students’ responsibility for their own learning. As indicated, it is very unlikely that that we may find a standard model, valid in all cases, that can be applied to every academic subject and every teacher or student. However, we have to work with this issue, central in all education.

Student’s responsibility for his or her own learning.

If you start a lecture in an auditorium by saying that you, as a lecturer, cannot guarantee that anyone present will learn anything, some students are sure to react. They may ask if it is not the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that learning takes place. The answer to this is clear, that there is a difference between teaching and learning, and that a teacher can teach much more than the students can or may want to learn.

Rhetorical discussions like this may be seen as a strategy from the teacher’s side to raise the student’s interest and attention. It may work, for a while, but this does not solve the fundamental questions: Why is it so important that students (and pupils) take responsibility for their own learning?

It would be false to say that the reason for the students to take responsibility is to be found in the concept of life long learning. Of course, the students have to take responsibility for their own life, which can be seen as a long learning process.



The important thing is that the students have to take responsibility not only for their decisions on what and where they want to study, but also for every part of the learning process. This can be illustrated by an example:

I once gave some lectures about project-orientation. I described and analysed some contributors to the development of the idea of projects as strategy for learning. Freire was one of them. He describes how a project has to take its point of departure in a theme, and he says that not all themes are good; it has to be a ’generic theme’.

One student raised her hand and asked: ’What does Freire mean with a generic theme?’

My immediate reply was that I would not tell her. She had to find out for herself. The auditorium nearly exploded. ‘Is it not your job as a teacher to answer our questions if there are things that we do not understand in the textbooks?’ My reply was that this was not my job. I said that my job was to help them to learn pedagogics. We had a discussion about this and my students calmed down. Then I addressed the student who had asked the question and explained how I would have approached the problem in order to find out what Freire had meant by the expression ’generic theme’.

Next day I met my students again in the auditorium. I started my lecture by asking the student, ’Do you now know what Freire had in mind by a ’generic theme’? The student answered ’yes’. Then I looked at her again, and asked another question: ’Do you know the answer better than if I had told you?’ “Yes”, she said again.

I do not know how many of the other students could explain what a ’generic theme’ is, but I am quite sure that most of them had at that moment got a contribution to a deeper understanding of the importance of taking responsibility for their own learning.

(Here the difference between erothematic and achroamatic lecturing is clearly visible.)

As far as I have seen, in the EUROFACULTY Project nothing has been said explicitly about the students’ responsibility for their own learning. However, reading the stated objectives, one gets the feeling that the underlying melody is playing along this theme. There is (to this date) no information about this transition, but some information indicates that students who visited the other participating universities were struck by the difference in ’atmosphere’, related to student’s individual responsibility for learning. If this can be verified from the existing material, one may conclude that the progress made in accelerating the development towards student’s responsibility can be traced back to that part of the project dealing with these ’visiting students’. However, despite the substantial agreement among the students in the project who studied abroad for some time, this agreement does not seem to be documented. So one cannot establish the degree of impact this feeling has had upon development at the IKSUR.
One should be aware of the importance of a student’s responsibility for his or her own learning. It represents a much deeper and much more fundamental change in educational thinking than that which is manifested in ’groups’, ’projects’ or in the use of information technology. It is much easier to bring computers into a university than for the students to take responsibility for their own learning.
Student’s responsibility for his or her own learning as part of didactics
As the number of lessons was reduced in the faculties taking part in the EUROFACULTY Project, some students took the opportunity to stay in bed in the morning. In a few cases, the parents contacted the university to ask what was happening.

One cannot reform students and make them take responsibility for their own learning. They must learn this through a long and demanding process. Many teachers seem to believe that they are responsible for their students learning. In some cases, they believe that the students learn what the teachers teach, and are surprised when they discover that this is not the case.

The issue of student’s responsibility for their own learning has a heavy bearing upon our concept of pedagogics.

Pedagogics should not be interpreted solely as the science of specific methods of teaching and learning a given content or syllabus. (Kanon). It is, and should be considered in a much broader sense, including the ‘values’, conventions and culture of society. These are much more difficult to influence and change than teaching methods or open curricula described in our educational plans.


Pedagogics is a carrier, an instrument for reproducing fundamental aspects of values and ways of thinking in a society; therefore, one cannot completely understand any school or university completely outside of its historical context. Kaliningrad is a place in Russia, and the IKSUR is a university in Russia and accordingly must be understood in the light of Russian traditions. To some extent, this has to be understood as traditions and culture in the Soviet Union. Reading the history of the Soviet Union, including its fight for survival, its philosophy and its educational thinking the reader learns that authority was an important aspect of every corner of both society and private life. The Soviet Union was a ‘commanding society’. This included the school system.

One interesting paradox of the student movement in Western Europe in the late sixties, demanding more student influence and co-responsibility for the pedagogical decisions was that it was greatly influenced by Marxist students. At the same time, Marxist pedagogical thinking in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union rejected this development, calling upon the need for order and ‘structure’ in the pedagogical everyday life in school.

Of course, authority was a problem in other societies as well. From an educational perspective it should suffice to remember that the struggle against academic authority with dominating professors, unquestioned scientific syllabuses, pedagogics and curricula, was met with resistance. ‘The Frankfurter School, ‘1968’ and all the other movements did not solve everything, but they were important factors in the bringing about change and the decline of authority in all areas of society, including military ‘style’ of leadership, the situation in hospitals, and the role of doctors, as well as in the church and many other areas. These ‘movements’ were also possible in the Soviet society at that time but the conditions there were much worse. Thus the start of this process of change was delayed.

The task of bringing about the conditions where pupils and students take responsibility for their own learning is a part (and probably an important part) of this process. It is taking place in Russia now, and the challenges facing the EUROFACULTY Project in the ‘donor countries’ are still unsolved. However, as indicated above, we should not forget that this process started earlier in the donor countries. We should also consider the very different conditions in which these movements are facing, and be aware of the fact that pedagogics is a part of the main ‘culture’ of a society.

The task of getting pupils and students to take responsibility for their own learning cannot be solved by a special course; it has to be developed through a long process. This process cannot be separated from the national culture.

One could argue that the task is too difficult, and that it should not be considered as a part of a program for higher education. If one wants to address this important task, one should start with the children. Of course one should! But on the other hand it is never too late!


Against this background, it is remarkable that not more attention was paid to this issue in the planning and design of the EUROFACULTY Project. In the report on the ‘Tartu-Riga-Vilnius EuroFaculty Program, 1993-2006’ it is stated (p. 12) that there had been an ‘operation’ in order to deal with this question, but it is not explained what this consists of, nor is the process or results of the ‘operation’ described or analysed.

During the EUROFAN Project, I met some of the students, and in some cases I had lengthy discussions with them. To my great pleasure I discovered that they had a very good understanding of what I was talking about, though they had never heard of this part of pedagogics before. Being asked, they could describe how they had developed as a result of their experience of the EUROFACULTY Project. Firstly they gained a feeling of importance and felt that both the teachers and the university as a whole had become more interested in them. Secondly their contacts with the pedagogical culture at the universities abroad had been beneficial. There is of course no basis for any conclusions indicating that the IKSUR is on course to address the issue of getting the students to take responsibility for their own learning. The information and the impression that I gained from the very few students that I met may have stemmed from the fact that they were not representative for the student population. Still, I had a feeling that even if this was the case, these students gave very convincing indications that they had profited from the EUROFACULTY Project. This should be considered to be the important message.

My recommendation on this topic is that the task of developing students’ responsibility for their own learning should be taken seriously in future projects. This should be done in an active way, utilising theoretical research, models and experience in this area.

This serious approach includes the necessity of avoiding any over optimism, thinking that it is an easy task.


PROJECTS AS STRATEGY FOR LEARNING.

How do we learn?


On the difference between traditional teaching and project organised learning.

Contextual learning.

Children are not empty boxes when they enter school. They have a language and possess grammatical competence. We do not fully understand the learning processes that are involved, but we do know the result. The amazing thing is that children learn new words at a speed of about 10 new words each day. In practice this amounts to an average of one new word each hour they are awake.

Ten new words make up about 4000 words a year. If this goes on we may say that a young person of about 18 has a vocabulary of about 60 000 words. He or she knows what an apple is, that there are red apples, green apples and yellow apples. He or she knows that there are green tomatoes, red tomatoes and yellow tomatoes, and never hesitates when asked about the difference between red apples and red tomatoes.

In order to see the educational implication of this process, we may use a thought experiment.

When a child is born, we send in a teacher. The teacher bows over the newborn child and says: ’welcome! I am your teacher, and it is my task to teach you 10 new words each day from today until you are 18. We do it this way: I tell you the 10 first words. You listen, and seek to understand the meaning of each word that I tell you. Tomorrow I ask you if you have done your homework, and test you’.

The teacher starts with the ten first words (in alphabetical order, starting with a.

aback

abacus


abandon

abandoned

abase

abashed


abate

abbey


abbot

abbreviate


The child listens, remembers, and repeats, but (sorry to say it) with little understanding of the meaning of each word. The procedure is repeated each day.

Than the crucial question is: Does anyone believe that this child at the age of 18 can speak, use the language to master the surroundings in its world?

Of course not!

We do not believe that ’schooling’ is an adequate tool to teach children in a way that is described in this thought experiment. Even if we do not fully understand the process, we know that children’s’ cognitive development takes place as a result of a social process. A process where each child interacts with other children, other people, ’the objective reality’ and its representations through media. We know something about activity as an absolute necessary part of learning. This is not so only for children. It applies to students too. Research on effective learning in higher education indicates that ’student interaction’ is of major importance for excellence.

Situations’ as significant contexts.

If we look at our lives, and the lives of children and our students, we discover that these lives consist of ’situations’. A ‘situation’ is understood as something that takes up a limited part of the four-dimensional world (space and time) in which we live. Of course, the concept of ‘situation’ is very complicated, including many aspects as ‘calendar’, ‘self’, ‘experience’ etc, but for our purpose we do not need to dig too deeply into the vast amount of theories that can contribute to a deeper understanding of it. In this context, we simply state that learning takes place if and when a ‘situation’ is significant for the learner. In order to explain this, we can use an example. If a family is placed together around a table, this is a ’situation’. (More correctly, we should say that there are as many ‘situations’ as there are individuals present.) The father asks: ’Tina, can you give me an apple?’ The small child hears the sound ’apple’, sees something being given from one hand to another hand. In this ’situation’ the child does not learn what an apple is, but the sound ‘apple’ and the sight of an apple have found their places in the child’s brain. When Aunt Eliza visits the family two weeks later, she brings an apple to the child and says: ’Do you want an apple?’ Then the sound and other attributes of the apple are connected to the child’s earlier experience. He or she has still not learned the word or the definition of an apple, but through a series of situations where the child is confronted with impressions connected to ’apple’, the child learns.





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