Kjell Askeland Report


On the other hand, it seems correct to say that



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On the other hand, it seems correct to say that members of a group can benefit from learning in the group. That is rational and not nonsense. It amounts to saying that a single individual can improve learning when this learning takes place in close interaction with other individuals. The explanation is that the learning is improved because a group forces the individual member to be more active than if he or she were studying alone. It should be mentioned that there is evidence in educational research saying that ‘student interaction’ is one of the most important factors for good learning.
It should also be mentioned that we should understand ‘activity’ as a deep level concept, and not confuse visible or audible behaviour with mental activity. In order to illustrate this, an example from Roskilde may be mentioned.

A student group in Roskilde was quite ’normal’. Their teacher said that there was a normal distribution of activity among the group members. One or two students were very active, and there was one (female) student who was so passive that it was felt to be a problem.

Interviewing the members of the group, they all agreed with this description, including the passive student herself, but there was something that did not fit into the picture. The passive student, who seldom if at all took part in the discussions, could give an extremely good description and analysis of the main topics and problems that had been discussed.

Then I asked to see what the students had written down during the discussions, and I was surprised to see that the passive student had not written so much, but what she had written, was a clear indication of activity. Another student had written down almost every word of the discussion, drowning himself in words. One of the active (talking) students had written almost nothing, and was, contrary to the passive student, not able to give any résumé of what the other members had said during the discussion. These findings were consistent with educational research on the importance of students’ ability to ‘filter’ information and to ‘contextualise’ the important information into meaningful structures.

Other groups were interviewed about their reading, and it was revealed that reading books alone could be very active, and that many students increased this activity even more when they knew that the outcome of their reading should be presented to the group the next day. This indicates that learning in a group takes place even in a learning situation where the group is not gathered. I call this ‘virtual presence’ and consider it to be very important in cooperative learning.

There are reasons to believe that this ‘virtual presence’ may play a role as part of discussions in the group. In that case, it would be reasonable to speak about ‘virtual group discussions’.

Here, it should be remembered what I said earlier: that students (as a rule) do not know how to discuss. They have to be taught. One should not expect that they learn this from their own experience. The simple fact is that when they start to learn a subject they do not know the specific discourse of this subject. Since each subject has its own discourse, its own rules for arguing, for deciding the value of different sources et cetera, there are good reasons for saying that the most important thing in academic learning is to learn this discourse of the subject. Thus, this objective has to become an important part of the curriculum and the proper didactical approaches should be developed.
*

Individual learning in groups as a strategy for learning.

We should stop talking about ‘group learning’. Instead, we must focus upon ’individual learning in groups’. The results may be rather dramatic. As a teacher in pedagogics I had to guide groups. They came into my office, which was very nice and friendly. I started by asking each member of the group what they needed to learn, and how the other members of the group and I could assist them. There was inevitably confusion. Sometimes the students asked: When are you going to give advice to the group? When are you going to put questions to the group? Once at the end of a session a student had tears running down her cheeks. I asked her if I had done or said anything wrong. She said: ‘I have been to school for 12 years, studied two years, and have had group work through my whole education. And here you come, treating me as an individual in a group for the first time. Could you write a book about individual learning in groups, for both teachers and students to read?’ I promised her I would do that.


*

These ’glimpses’ do not prove anything. They are mentioned here as illustrations to my assumption that individual learning in groups is different from ’group learning’, and that we have a very long way to go before we can say that learning in groups is the same as ’activity’, and we know how this activity can be used to improve the pedagogical everyday life in our school system. The task is not simple, but it is promising.

The way ahead.

Group work or learning.

Before we leave the realm of ‘groups in education’, it is necessary to say one more important thing. We have to grasp the difference between ‘group work’ and ‘learning in groups’. If the educational world could see this difference, it would become a different place.

In literature on groups in education, it is often stressed that everything is about a group report. The group has to produce a report and deliver it to the teacher. The intended curriculum, the hidden curriculum and the student/pupil strategy strengthen this tendency. The intended curriculum often says that they have to write a report; the hidden curriculum says (erroneously) that the writing of reports is the same as learning. Many pupils or students believe this. The pupil/student strategy aims at impressing the teacher. If you can find and write a report containing information that the teacher does not know, then he/she may find it ‘interesting’. You may get a good note, even if you have learned nothing. The hidden curriculum and the student/pupil strategy in education seem to express the same interest: impress the teacher. This is difficult, but not entirely impossible in traditional education with anonymous written examinations. In ‘modern education’ the traditional exams are sometimes replaced by the ‘writing of group work’. It is more fun for the teacher to read these reports than to read the written answers in a traditional examination. The students/pupils are very clever, and by the help of Googling they find stuff that they believe has a chance to catch the teacher’s interest. But I am, sorry to say it, not convinced that this is acceptable.

The aim of all education is learning and nothing else. In our schools/educational system the pupils/students shall not work. They shall learn. What they do, and sometimes they do a lot, is nothing more than bad journalism. They collect information, glue it together and present it as an article. I call this ‘writing at the cost of learning’.


Conclusion and recommendations.

What I have said is of course not a criticism of group organised learning. My critical words are not a description of reality, saying that everything labelled ‘group work’ is bad, or that the reason for this stems from the label itself.

What I want to demonstrate is that bad prophets have deceived the world. These prophets have criticised the ‘old passivizing pedagogics’, and created enthusiasm for a ‘new activating group oriented pedagogics’ instead.12 So far, so good. The problem is, however, that they did not proceed into the next phase, to create a demanding pedagogical everyday life in our educational system. Since learning needs effort, enthusiasm is not enough. The good pedagogical works do not aim at removing effort, but rather to give advice on how effort may lead to learning. This is the central message in this report. The first phase of the EUROFACULTY Project was a success because it created enthusiasm for some educational ideas that were presented as simplifications. The next step is to go further into the more complicated ideas without losing sight of the demand for learning. Therefore it must be warned against cheap cookery books on ’project work’ or ‘group work’.

My recommendations:



  • that the work should continue on development of group organised learning

  • that this effort should be called ‘individual learning in groups’.

  • that the work should develop the tradition of ‘collective learning’ in a positive direction

  • that both teachers and students should learn how to learn in groups

  • that both teachers and students should learn how to teach/guide individuals in groups

  • that one should not forget that a group needs a place for learning
  • that the competence to learn in groups has to be learned, and that good textbooks are an important ingredient in learning.

If the ‘EUROFACULTY Project’ is to be developed into a model for educational development work, these issues should be considered.

Computer Aided Learning.

For some years, I have had a role in the introduction of computer aided learning in Norway, developing a system of annual, national conferences on the topic. Among other initiatives I was also the initiator and project leader of the first Nordic Conference on Computer Aided Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, held at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (in 1987). On this battlefield, it turned out that research institutions for pedagogy were virtually not present, leaving the ground to enthusiastic technicians, or ’technogogues’ as I called them. Technology became a substitute for pedagogy, including such nonsense and overconfidence in the belief that the machines had some in-built ’wisdom’ or ’knowledge’. Some of the technogogues spoke about ’learning by fact finding’, believing that students learn more the more facts they can find, quite contrary to educational thinking. In some cases, it was believed that the future of learning would depend more upon technology than the mental activity of the learner. They spoke about ‘making learning easier’. Some enthusiasts seemed to believe that knowledge could be transferred from databases into the brains of the students, or that students can ‘exchange knowledge’.

It is important to mention this foolish thinking, because it has continued to develope since then. It has to do with modern ‘pedagogics’, sometimes sold with labels like ’active learning’ or ’project organised learning’. If these labels are resting upon misunderstandings, they may lead to disaster. If one really believes that students should be encouraged to collect information through the internet in order to write project reports, then these ideas are wrong. They are wrong because they represent a misunderstanding of project pedagogics. They are wrong because the internet is not a representation of the real world. The internet may lead the way, not to the real world, but to the ’googling reality’ that seems to reflect the owners interests. This, combined with the threat of plagiarism should be considered in every introduction of computer-aided learning.

If we permit our educational system to be exposed to the dangerous mixture of a misunderstood project pedagogics, computers and ’googlerism’, this will not be forgiven.

What is needed is the development of relevant pedagogical models for the use of computers as tools for learning. These models take their point of departure in learning theories, and these theories should steer the use of computers and not the opposite way around. Pedagogics should be the masters of computers. Computers (or the designers of both hardware and software) should never be permitted to become masters of our educational system. They may, of course, propose innovations and new ideas on the basis of cooperation between technicians and pedagogues.
There are some basic considerations to bear in mind concerning the use of computers in education.
Learning by fact finding.

Computers may give easy access to facts about almost everything, but there is no evidence to say that this in itself increases learning. First of all, there is no theory or research in pedagogics that lends support for ideas like ’learning through fact finding’. To find a fact is not the same as to learn it or to remember it or to understand it in its context.

If we really believed that our students learn more the more facts or content we put into the curriculum, we would (at least) have doubled it, expecting the students to learn double as much

On the contrary, we say to our students that we have found a reasonable amount of facts, theories and methods, and made a curriculum from them. They do not have to read all the books on the subject. They may trust us. They will master the subject if they learn the content that we have prepared for them. (In project pedagogics, students are partners in the process of selecting the content of their syllabus, but this partnership has to rest upon their competence. This is part of project pedagogics.)

*

On this background we can say that ‘journalism’ represents a danger when it is based upon collecting facts from books. If it is based upon collecting facts from the Internet, one should perhaps see this as a catastrophe.

The important thing is to ask the question: What does it mean to ‘master a subject’? Is it to have facts stored in your personal hard disk, be it in your brain or in your computer? Nobody believes this. We know that the important thing is to master the methods, the language, the ‘discourse’, the concepts, and the ‘style of thinking’, in short, ‘the culture of the subject’. Facts represent only a part of the subject, and they are transient. Therefore all efforts in the direction of using computers as tools for improving learning should be judged by the answer to the question: do they help the students to master the subject?

Simulations.

One of the important problems in many subjects is that the students do not understand the mechanisms and processes that take place in a complex phenomenon. It may be easy to explain rather simple relationship of cause and effect, but even here there may be difficulties for the students to predict the results from variation of a single parameter. In a complex system, where there are interactions, this may be even more difficult. Thus, one should use computer simulations to increase the students understanding.


Media-supported TEACHING and learning.

Some people speak about ’digital media’ as a pedagogical tool. This is nonsense. Pedagogics is not interested in how signals are transmitted. For learning, it is of no primary concern if signals are sent from one part of the world to us via copper or gold cables, via satellites or on DVD. We do not care whether our computers work with optics or electric pulses, or if they are analogue or digital. We leave that to the technical experts. They may, if they so wish, differentiate between digital and analogue transmissions of signals. For us, we must say that we are normally not able to perceive digital signals. Normally we hear, see, taste, smell and feel non-digital information. The closest we get to digital perception is listening to a message sent by Morse code.

Some people think that we always learn more if we are exposed to many different media at the same time. This is most openly demonstrated when lecturers use PowerPoint or overheads covered with text and symbols and speak at the same time The lecturer believes that we all have the capacity to read a message at the same time as we listen to it or another message.

There are people who maintain that pictures can say more than a thousand words. This is in general not true. If it were, we would have thrown all our textbooks out of our curricula and introduced movies. This has been tried, with dubious results. It seems safest to say that ’sometimes a written or spoken message may be better received when it is supplemented with a picture’.

The most important media for dogs is smell. The most important medium for humans is text/language, expressed as written or spoken language. Therefore it is pretty safe to say that the good textbook, combined with discussions and lectures seems to be the most promising instrument for teaching and learning. Expressing this provocative view, I am often attacked for being reactionary and that I am against the use of computers as a tool for teaching and learning. In fact I believe that computers represent both a solution to many educational problems and new opportunities for improved learning. In order to achieve this, we must protect our pupils and students from the sales promotion from the computer technogogues.

This brings me to my conclusion, in the form of some questions:

How shall we develop better teaching/learning by combining computers and textbooks?

Is it possible to develop ’lecturing textbooks’ where text, pictures (even movies) and simulations are combined? When we start to work in that direction we discover that book companies publish textbooks, computer-companies develop computer programs as if books do not exist, and moviemakers produce ’educational films or programs for TV as if neither books nor computers exists.

It is my personal belief that future education will be built up in a way where ’combined lecturing textbooks’ are used in project organised curricula.

*

During the discussions with some of the participants there were some indications saying that there is a danger that the implementation of computers and media is not regulated by educational knowledge and considerations. If this is correct, this will lead to a waste of resources, both in time (for the students) and in money. The message is clear: The use of computers and media, or a combination of them, should never, under any circumstances be left to the technical computer- and multimedia-experts. Remember this, said about educational films, so much hailed by non-pedagogues:

‘We loved them because we didn't have to think for an hour, teachers loved them because they didn't have to teach, and parents loved them because it showed their schools were high-tech. But no learning happened."

(Cit from Oppenheimer ‘ The Atlantic Monthly, July 1977, p 48.’


Language training.

In principle, the teaching of common languages (to which English and German should belong) is not the task of higher education. If you go to a university to study German literature, it is expected that you know the language itself and concentrate on the subject ‘German literature’. This concerns an important question in pedagogics: ‘What belongs to primary education and what belongs to higher education?’

An example from Norway: The professor meets his new students in chemistry (in 1957). He shows them a thick book; ‘Holleman Wiberg; Anorganische Chemie’. One of the students raises his hand, - ‘I can’t read German’, ‘that’s your problem’, says the professor.

He was a good teacher. Why did he answer as he did? Because German was a subject taught in the Norwegian gymnasium, and he therefore expected all the students to read and understand German. Today it is different. No teacher in higher education would dare to have such expectations of his or her students. It is probably so that no German textbooks can be used in higher education without first offering preparatory courses in German. The simplest solution would probably be to abandon German as a language for teaching material and only use books in English.

The situation in Russia does not permit any ‘principles’. The reality here is that if Russian higher education shall prepare the students for the global world, it is necessary to teach them foreign languages. Since there are few books in Russian on international law and economy, there is a double need to use English and German books in the teaching of these subjects. The pedagogical problem is that the students are forced to ‘think’ in at least two different languages, Russian and English or German.

The decision to introduce language training for faculty, and as a consequence for students too, may have been made out of necessity, but educational research should also be taken into account. The reading of books and the use of a foreign language is not simply a technical question, but a question of ‘culture’ or ‘way of thinking’.


The introduction of English or German as teaching/reading/writing languages alongside Russian was made out of necessity. Only few voices speaking against this were heard during my work with the EUROFAN Project. One interpretation of this criticism, feeble as it was, is not without value. Since language and thinking are so intertwined, one should of course be aware of the dangers of introducing foreign languages as a tool for reading and writing. Resistance to doing this can be seen in several cases. There is nothing xenophobic or backward in this. Every country and every person therein has the right (and perhaps the duty) to preserve its own language and culture.

There is another dimension to this: One should consult pedagogical research,

From the pedagogical point of view, the question must be formulated: Are there any dangers in the introduction and use of a foreign language in schools and higher education, or is it only to be considered as an unproblematic ’tool’ for teaching and learning?

The answer is that it is not a simple tool, but an effective and sometimes dangerous instrument. There is some empirical evidence that the use of a foreign language in teaching and learning may have a negative influence upon the learning outcome. To this findings must be added the comment that any other result would have been surprising. According to Vygotskij’s theory of learning, the learning and use of a foreign language may be seen as an ’investment’. This must be taken from somewhere.

This problem of ‘investment’ should be considered in what might be called ‘the pedagogical economy of learning and learning outcome’. This should be understood as analogous to economic investment in economy. Even where there is convincing evidence that the result of an investment may improve production output, this does not lead to everyone investing. ‘To invest or not to invest, is a complex question.’

The result of language teaching may be that students are eventually able to speak, understand or even think efficiently in a foreign language, meaning that it runs in an ‘automatic’ way. The student does not analyse every world or sentence in order to translate them. Instead, for the fluent speaker or reader, this runs in a somewhat ‘separate’ language universe, that Vygotskij describes as ‘automatic’. The point is that it takes a lot of effort and time to get there, and this ‘investment’ has to be taken from other learning activities. It is at this point that ‘pedagogical economy’ comes in. If the working load upon students gets too high, learning is not effective, and there is a need for students to escape the pressure by certain ‘strategies’ in order to survive.

Research indicates that universities and teachers do not always know the ‘time budget’ or workload of their students, resulting in a situation that, if students should do everything that is expected of them, they would have no time for sleep.

For the EUROFACULTY Project, it is interesting that nobody, as far as I have found, could say anything about the pedagogical budget, even if this represents a central issue in the project. The problem to be discussed is this:
Q: You have planned to reduce the number of hours for lecturing.

A: Yes, and we have succeeded in doing that.

Q: How has this influenced the total workload upon the students?

A: Actually, we do not know.

Q: But wasn’t it indicated that time gained should be transferred from lecturing to more ‘active forms of learning’.

A: Yes, that was the intention.

Q: But how do you know that there was balance in this ‘budget’.

A: We do not know.

Q: Another thing. You don’t’ want just to introduce active forms of learning, but also the learning of foreign languages. From where are you to take that time? What activities are going to be reduced in order to learn foreign languages?

A: We think knowledge of foreign languages is a good thing, that it increases the competence of our students.

Q: Yes, that is probably right, but it represents an investment, and the ‘money‘ you have to spend on it is ‘students time and effort’. If you demand the students spend more time and effort in one activity, you have to tell them to spend less time on other things. Am I not right?

A: Yes, but we do not think in that way. Perhaps we should.

Conclusion and recommendations on language learning and the use of foreign languages as a ’tool’ for teaching and learning.

The need for training in foreign languages for the participants in the EUROFACULTY Project was clearly and correctly seen as a necessity, and proper measures were taken to address the problem.

As for the future development in this area, one should be aware of the dangers and legitimate resistance to a development that may have to an unwanted cultural impact.

One should keep in touch with research and debate in other countries on this problem.

There should be a discussion as to whether language teaching and learning is a task for higher education. One should consider the possibility that it is more at home within primary education and perhaps should be started even earlier.

The question as to whether language teaching and learning is a task for higher education or not should be treated very seriously in a context where all levels of the school system should be seen as being part of a more or less continuous process.

Until that is done, the teaching and learning of the most important languages like Chinese, German and English must be carried out within higher education. And one should never forget that this investment takes resources from somewhere. As part of the temporary solution, one should seek to minimise this investment as far as possible by using the most modern and best methods for the teaching of foreign languages.

THE TEACHING OF THE STAFF.

In pedagogical reforms within higher education it is not usual to include the staff in the sense that they must be given a deeper insight in the principles included in the reform programme. As a result of this tradition, the administrative and technical personnel are expected to take active part in and to support the innovation without being properly prepared through a relevant teaching/learning process. In most cases, this is probably not a big problem as many reforms are more or less of a purely administrative/organisational nature without deeper impact upon the pedagogical everyday life of the institutions involved.

If you change a university or if you build a new one according to established routines and structures, non-academic representatives may take part in order to take care of their work conditions and protect their interests,

In other cases, if the change is considered to be more fundamental, having impact upon the tasks and expectations on the staff structure and the individuals involved, it may be wise to anticipate this, and include the staff in both planning and preparation.

The need for dispositions in that direction is known from the establishment of Roskilde University Centre (RUC).

In Roskilde, the new university was built as a conglomerate consisting of smaller units, called ’houses’. A typical model for a ’house’ could be a unit of about 60 students, 5 teachers and a ’house secretary’.

During the analysis of this new university model it became apparent that there were differences between the houses that could possibly be explained by ’personality differences’ existing between the house secretaries. To the astonishment of the scientists who performed the evaluation of RUC, it was discovered that in some houses the secretary actually took part in meetings where educational matters were discussed. It seemed as if the houses where this took place were the ’best’ houses.

In interviews, this was confirmed. During the interviews these ’active’ secretaries expressed their insight and commitment to the learning process of the students. This was not found in the other houses. In answer to the question why they attended the meetings for planning the educational projects, they said that they considered it as a matter of course. They were expected to take part in the pedagogical everyday life of the house. In some cases it was clearly stated that they had to develop both a ’personal’ competence and a more particular competence in the subject taught in order to do their job. From the standpoint of the evaluation project, this could be justified by educational research. Here it was discovered that the success or failure of students does not depend solely upon cognitive competence, but also upon ’social’ or ’human’ factors outside the scope of the more intellectual academic teaching. The success of these houses could most probably be explained by the fact that the house secretaries took an active role towards the students and helped them to master the demanding everyday life in a project organised university. They could not have done this without some competence within the area of the subject and pedagogical principles involved.

In the EUROFAN Project some attempts were made to address this issue. Of course, it was not expected to find anything resembling the experience from Roskilde, simply because the realities in Kaliningrad were so different. On the other hand, there were several indications that the staff had played an important role for the success of the EUROFAN Project. Some of the staff members were mentioned in different sources. Esteem was expressed both for their understanding of and work on the project. Due to lack of information, it is not possible to say anything about how these people became ’participants’ in the project or how their competence was developed.

It is necessary to have this aspect of pedagogical development work in mind, not least because an interest in project orientation is expressed. One cannot say how this interest is going to manifest itself, but one can say this much; if an educational system aims at reaching the highest level of teaching/learning efficiency, all means must be used. This includes, among other things, members of the staff having insight into the educational thinking and thus contributes to its success.

The library and the librarians.

Since books are so important in teaching and learning, the library and the librarians should be considered to be of vital importance. There are reasons to doubt that many students do not know how to read in order to learn. Teachers sometimes seem to neglect the possibility of cooperating with the librarians as part of the teaching/learning process. Sometimes they seem to believe that the only important thing is that the students get the books they feel they need, thus reducing the librarian to a kind of some human robot. On the other hand there are other librarians that want to develop their libraries into ’learning centres’, but if they try to do this alone without the necessary cooperation with teachers who have interest and insight in pedagogical matters the result may be catastrophic.

If you visit a bad ’learning centre’, you will not find so many students reading books. You may find students, either alone or in groups, placed before many books and a computer screen. If you ask them what they are doing, you may get the answer that they are ’doing project work’ or ’group work’, and that they are collecting information for a report. That is exactly what I have criticised earlier in this report.

This development is of course a result of bad and misunderstood ’project pedagogics’ and ’group pedagogics’. It is of course made even worse with the wrong use of GoogleNet, where the students may find a sea of facts. The inevitable result is what I have called ’bad journalism’, which leads the students in completely the opposite direction to good pedagogics concern. According to pedagogical reflection, the object of learning is neither to collect facts nor even to learn them, simply because these facts are transient. Putting it simply one may say that the important thing is to learn how to find facts when you need them and to be able to combine these facts into ’models’ or ’contexts’ as found in the different disciplines. It is of little use for a student to know many facts of Russia today if he or she is unable to analyse or understand the development and the future of a Russia where the learned facts are no longer valid.

The problem is not that of cheating. It is about a lack of understanding of the much more fundamental problem that arises when we substitute learning with writing ’reports’. Of course, writing is a good tool for learning. The slogan ’write in order to learn’ is correct, but the unsaid slogan ’writing instead of learning’ is not acceptable. Here is the key to address the issue on how to use books and GoogleNet or the library as a means to assist learning, In the future, the librarian will be a partner in the good and effective pedagogical everyday life in education. The sooner we start this development the better. (Again, the issue of books, libraries and librarians is part of project pedagogics.)





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