Nell's Musings

A random collection of thoughts and ideas from Nell as she engages with the world around her.

How do we know our students are working if we can't see or hear them?

I recently watched a discussion with Kate Bowles about being mindful and teaching online as part of the #HumanMOOC, and among other thoughts and ideas that resonanted with me, was when she posed the question

How do we listen for our students who participate, but do not speak?

Later on in the discussion, she also highlighted how ever increasing value is given to what we can see. In online learning environments, this often means discussion board posts, assignment submissions, and possibly attendance at synchronous sessions. There are many reasons for this, including the ever-growing push from management to metrify learning and to provide them with data about 'engagement', retention, and teaching 'quality'. A lot of this, however, also comes from us as teachers

As teachers who care about the learning journeys and engagement levels of our students, we often rely on what we can see in order to make judgements about how well our design and practice is doing. We want to know whether our students are engaged in our units (courses) and their topics and content, and we want to know that students are learning effectively or 'keeping up' with everyone else. We design our units (courses) to maximise the opoportunities for learning, and we are confident that if students complete the activities, and follow our instructions, and do what we ask, then they will achieve the learning outcomes. We then want to check to make sure that this is happening.

What Kate Bowles' discussion on mindfulness reminded me about was that each of our students will learn differently, and that we cannot, but more importantly should not, expect every student in our class to behave in the same way. Reflecting on my own successes in learning in both award and non-award courses, they have come in different ways, with differnt levels of engagement in the prescribed activities, and widely varying levels of active participation with the learning group.

Some of my deepest learning has occured through reading other people's posts and tweets, following their links, finding related resources from thoughts generated by one or more of these, and then hashing these ideas out privately at home.
Each of these activities are representative of engagement in the learning, but none of them are visible to the lecturer or teacher.

The challenge, then, can be to recognise that as teachers of adults we can provide opportunities for learning, but it is up to our students how they take advantage of them. When deciding how and when we ask students to share their learning with us, it could be useful to ask the question - "how does this enhance the student's learning?" before including in an activity the need for them to show their learning to us.

Hattie's work on visible learning and his finding that feedback on student learning, both to and from the student, may have had an influence on our desire to know what students are doing, and gathering evidence of their learning, in order to improve teaching effectiveness and to maximise liklihood of student success in our classes. A question that Kate Bowles raised, which I think is really important, is whether or not we are asking the right question(s). So often we ask questions, through productive activities or formative and summative assessments etc, about what students are achieving, when perhaps we should rather be asking questions about whether or not they are getting what they need.

My challenge to myself for the two units I am teaching next semester will be:

  • to listen for the student(s) who are not talking - by trying to find ways to check in with everyone in the class to ask if they are getting what they need
  • to not make assumptions about which of my students are and are not engaging effectively with the opportunities provided - just because I can't see or hear them doesn't mean they don't exist