Monday, October 29, 2012

Re-defining Learning spaces

Slowly but surely, I am learning that one of the most significant hurdles in flipping a class is the issue of learning space.  When we flip our classes--that is, shift the instruction of content outside the classroom to make room for practicing application inside the classroom--we don't really take account of the fact that we also need to work closely with our students to create appropriate learning spaces.  It's not a surprise that this point isn't highlighted in the literature about the flipped class.  After all, the concept originated in the high schools where parents do a lot to shape and control the learning space of their children.  As we start to implement the principles of blended learning at the post-secondary level, however, we need to spend some serious time thinking about strategies for teaching our students how to learn outside of class.  This is all the more urgent these days, when high schools are moving away from assigning outside of class work.  In many cases, our students are coming to college/university with little experience in learning outside the class and no idea of how to do it (or, even, why they should have to do it).

In the coming years, teaching our students how to learn outside of class is going to be our job.  We can no longer assume that they come to us with good "homework habits".  Even if they did do some outside of class learning in high school, we can't assume that they know how to create a good learning environment for themselves.  My generation (GenX) went to the library or we studied in our rooms.  Sometimes we met in empty classrooms or in the halls of buildings for group study.  We were used to doing homework and we weren't surprised when we had to do homework in college.  We also lived in a world without the internet, facebook, smartphones, and the hundreds of other distractions our students (and we ourselves) deal with on a daily basis.  I took for granted that, if I asked them to watch videos of lectures (20 minutes each) and gave them a short video about how to watch the lectures (i.e. take notes, write down questions), that this would be enough.  I didn't realize that I really needed to spend time talking about HOW to do their homework, how to create a quiet environment that would let them focus, etc.  Too late, I realized that they are probably listening to these recorded lectures while playing on FB, talking on the phone, watching football, etc.

I was floored when I learned that some of them were actively demanding that I lecture to them in class.  This made no sense to me at all.  After all, when I had my in class lectures "captured" using Echo360, students were quite happy to skip class and watch the recordings.  Nobody was demanding that I require them to come to class.  So I tried to analyze what was underlying this demand.  I realized that the answer probably had two parts: on the one hand, they didn't think they should HAVE to come to class AND do outside of work.  It should be one or the other.  Second, many of them aren't learning nearly enough from the recorded lectures because, well, pressing play isn't going to get the information into their brains.  They have the (false) idea that they would somehow learn better if they were in the class, listening to me talk at them (while, of course, they were tuned out, on FB, napping, and so on).  I am coming to think that this strange longing for the in class lecture has more to do with the fact that they feel comfortable with that space--it's a space someone else has constructed for them.  On the other hand, they don't feel at all comfortable with the idea of constructing their own learning space.  I have learned that part of what I need to do with this flipped class--but probably with every class I ever teach again--is talk in a direct and focused way about how to construct learning spaces outside of class.

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