Partnerships in teaching and learning: An emerging role for technologyRon Oliver
Edith Cowan University
It is interesting to explore this direction in higher education as we move to a more client-centred mode of operation. Increasingly universities are needing to follow business principles and practices in their mode of operations to attract and secure markets for their educational products. Whereas previously Australian universities were predominantly funded by operating grants from the Commonwealth Government, today a significant component of their budgets must come from other sources such as student fees, commercial courses, external consultancies and industry partners. No longer can universities operate alone and the need for partnerships has become of paramount importance.
The issue of partnerships and the various roles of stakeholders in the learning process is becoming more and more prominent now in the planning and implementation of university courses and curricula. Stakeholders in this process include the Government which funds education, business and employers who will employ the university graduates, professional bodies which look to set and maintain standards, teachers and academics who design and implement the courses and the students enrolled in the courses. While there have been many partnerships developed among these stakeholders in the past, one area where the partnership has been less evident has been in the learning process itself, that between the teachers and students.
The impetus for this paper has come from observations of learning in my own teaching as a consequence of a move from traditional teacher-centred learning environments to student-centred learning. Like many other universities, my university is continually looking to find ways to improve the quality of its teaching programs. Apart from developing and designing strong courses and programs, it also recognises the need to focus on the improving the delivery and implementation of these programs. Our university has invested significantly in building and improving the infrastructures associated with course delivery and has created sound and effective systems to guide and support their use in academic programs. These systems include programs for both staff development and student support. As we steadily move to embrace contemporary learning theories in our course delivery, the future seems set for enhanced teaching and learning and quality graduates. But the dearth of partnerships in some parts of this change process appears to have the prospect to limit the attainment of intended outcomes. It is the purpose of this paper to explore and discuss the interface between the plans and good intentions and the implementation in terms of the need for steady and well established teacher-student partnerships.
But nothing comes without a cost. Student-centred learning is a more difficult learning process for many. It aims to promote understanding and deep learning as compared to the alternative shallow or surface learning (eg. Biggs & Telfer, 1987). It places the onus onto the student to explore and inquire, to reflect and articulate, to collaborate and cooperate, all active tasks requiring enhanced degrees of initiative, interest, motivation and of course cognitive and physical effort. In schools, students and parents tend to accept the will and judgements of the teachers and schools and activities of this form are accepted and encouraged. In universities, however, where the learners are often more questioning clients and have many ways to influence outcomes, it cannot be so readily accepted that what we think is good for learners is what they will think is good for themselves.
Learners come to universities for many reasons. Some come to gain credentials, others come to learn. Some are highly motivated and clever, while others are less motivated and find learning a much more difficult process. We know that among adult learners, many are already aware of what helps them to learn and have preferred styles for dealing with the content and information which they are required to learn (Knowles, 1984). And we also know that adult learners are not nearly as docile as school learners. In instances when the learning is not seen as in their best interests or in their preferred ways, they will make their feelings known and expect to have their concerns listened to and dealt with. From this comes a situation where partnerships hold strong prospects for ensuring that the needs and interests of both parties are met and appropriately considered. A case study in the local context To more fully understand the needs of learners and the issues associated with developing student-centred learning environments, it is useful to consider a case study of my own teaching undertaken in 1997 among students in a post-graduate course. The students were enrolled in a unit which formed part of a Graduate Diploma in Interactive Multimedia Technologies. This unit explored the use of multimedia as a tool for distance education and open learning and it was appropriate that much of the design, planning and implementation of this course should reflect the values and content being delivered. This course was presented in a face-to-face mode but made extensive use of student-centred learning activities and learning processes.
The unit contained a variety of teaching and learning activities and used technology in a variety of ways to support student inquiry and learning. The principal forms of learning activity used in this class included:
As part of the evaluation of the course, I asked the students to complete a detailed description of their impressions and opinions of the various components of the course and their feedback while predictable in many instances provided some interesting insights concerning their impressions of this changed form of learning environment. The student responses provided interesting information in several areas, in particular, students' impressions of:
|Perceived impact of learning activity||Score||Rank|
|doing assignment 1
doing assignment 2
reading the textbook before class
reading the teacher's printed notes
completing written notes before class
teacher-led class discussions
group activities and discussions
WWW searching and reading before class
WWW searching and reading during class
finding URLs to post
reading URLs posted by other students
interactions with other students in the class
personal browsing on the WWW
The table provides some interesting insights into students' impressions of the value of the various learning activities. Those activities which they saw as having the most bearing on the learning were the two assignments and the teacher-led discussions. Those activities which they saw as having the least impact were such activities as WWW searching and reading during class, reading URLs posted by other students, finding URLs to post and WWW searching and reading before class. All these activities were planned by the teacher to be active and engaging forms of inquiry and information seeking and were considered to be vital components of the learning process, yet students saw them as having least learning value when compared to the other activities.
There appears to be a pattern in this table which suggests that the activities which the students liked the most were those with higher degrees of structure and teacher direction and the tasks which students valued the least were those which provided the higher degrees of autonomy, personal choice and direction.
Interviews with the students shed some light on the reasons behind their choices. The WWW activities tended to be disliked by the students because they were fraught with problems caused by equipment, networking and general access. Students had considerable difficulty locating relevant information, found the WWW to be quite distracting at times and had difficulty coming to terms with the vast array of information with which they had to deal. On the other hand, the more structured learning tasks provided more instant access to relevant information and content and were seen as more convenient and appealing. Interviews and discussions with the students revealed rather large differences in expectations and impressions between myself and many learners. While I was happy to be delivering a meaningful, engaging and challenging setting for students' inquiry and learning, a number of students found these attributes to be discomforting, inconvenient and unacceptable. Had I engaged in some form of dialogue and negotiation ahead of setting the tasks and activities for the learner, it would have been possible to craft more appropriate learning environments for a number of the students. There were particular differences of opinion found between part-time and full-time students and between the younger and mature aged students. I'm sure if my instruments of inquiry were more sensitive I would have found even more differences among the genders and among students with different learning styles and among students with different levels of technology literacy.
It is clear that some activities are likely to result in more cognitive engagement and processing than others. And it is true that these activities place more burden and responsibility onto learners. The move to technology-based learning also placed demands on students for access to equipment and infrastructure. If we as teachers are wanting to increase the scope and quality of learning in our courses, it is important to convince the learners that this is in their best interests and to motivate and encourage their participation. But we cannot assume that all learners will be willing participants from the start. The different reasons and purposes which see adult learners come to universities must be considered as we create and craft our courses and an important part of the teaching is to work with the students to create some match in expectations and mutual understanding. Some will argue that universities should be free and able to structure and plan their courses as they see fit. It is true that universities must set their courses and objectives to meet many requirements including their own standards, the employers and the professional associations that act as gatekeepers of their professions. But we must also remember the clients that we serve. If we are not seen to be acting in their best interests, if our expectations are not in accord with theirs, then they will act in the ways in which clients usually do and vote with their feet.
Technology is a powerful tool in providing for learning environments where teachers and learners are partners and where learners have scope and prospect for choice in the nature and form of their learning. Technology-supported learning environments offer the following opportunities:
For some students there is an expectation that they will be taught everything they need to know in a face to face mode through direct instruction. They see a direct link being teaching and learning and are uncomfortable with moves to distinguish between the two. Student-centred learning can be uncomfortable for these students because it generates distance between themselves and their teacher. Technology can reduce this distance. Teachers can now employ many creative ways through technology to stay in close contact with students despite the diminution of face to face contact.
Some students consider that teachers' roles are diminished in student-centred learning environments due to their lack of involvement in the content delivery. Technology enables teachers to have an even bigger impact on content delivery through the construction and creation of the virtual learning spaces that technology-supported environments can create. In such settings, teachers can assume far more important roles as coaches and facilitators and can have far more direct bearing and influence on what is learned.
From my experiences I am now very aware of the need to see teaching and learning as a partnership between myself and my students and to bring them to view it this way too. I have my own views on what forms of learning and what I would like my students to achieve and I have firm views on the best ways to achieve these goals. But an important part of this process is sharing my values with the students and at the same time understanding their values and expectations. Part of the challenge for me as a teacher is to provide flexible learning environments which cater for the needs and expectations of all students and to ensure that the students come to share my values in the subjects in which we share.
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Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species. 3rd. ed. Houston: Gulf Publishing.
Laurillard, D. (1993). Rethinking university teaching: A framework for the effective use of educational technology. London: Routledge.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teaching in higher education. London: Routledge.
Taylor, A. (1990). A 'window' on student-centred learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 21, 229-30.
|Author: Dr Ron Oliver is Associate Professor in the School of Computer, Information and Mathematical Sciences, specialising in multimedia and instructional technologies. He has extensive experience in implementing and researching applications of computer technologies in education and has a particular interest in the use of technologies to support open leaning and distance education. He is editor of the Australian Journal of Educational Technology and Associate Editor of the Journal of Interactive Learning Research. He has published widely in his field in international journals and has won awards for teaching and research. In 1997 he won the Australian Award for University Teaching for the use of multimedia in teaching.
Please cite as: Oliver, R. (1998). Partnerships in teaching and learning: An emerging role for technology. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Planning for Progress, Partnership and Profit. Proceedings EdTech'98. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech98/pubs/articles/oliver.html