Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Evidence of Learning

As I have taken on more teaching assignments this fall, I find myself asking new questions.  How do I know that the students are learning?  Am I transmitting something?  Am I transmitting something of value?

Since I am talking about traditional post-secondary education rather than continuous professional development, the obvious method for determining whether the students are learning comes in the form of assessments (papers, quizzes, participation in class discussions, etc...).

Since I am relatively new to this, I recognize that my insights are those of a newbie.

In a class of 25 students, it is easy to see with the initial assignments that they come into the class with a wide range of existing capabilities and prior knowledge.  I didn't teach much of anything to the student who writes the perfect answer in the first week of class.  However, I can "see" the learning when they start the class struggling with the concepts being presented, but by week 4 of an 8 week class they are getting more comfortable and by week 8 their final paper demonstrates a significant change in the way they are thinking about the topic. 

In a class of 25 students, at least a third is there to check the box and graduate as soon as possible. They will do the minimum possible and since that has probably been their strategy for a while, they are cruising without learning much of anything. This manifests itself with answers to discussion prompts that repeat something from the assigned readings and does not make any effort to connect to their own experience. Do I give up on that third of the class?  No.  I make them work for it. I try to ask them simple questions that would help them connect the concepts being discussed to their daily realities. I've also learned that it's dangerous to make quick judgments and assumptions about any student's particular approach to learning, their motivation for being in the class, etc...  The reality is that I know very little about them, especially in online classes. 

I have really enjoyed teaching (grading not so much!) and I am most proud of the students who have told me I made them think very hard.  So, that's it.  If I made them think, they built up their thinking muscles and they learned. In online classes, I have to follow strict rubrics for grading.  Those are useful at the beginning, to establish clear standards for the students to follow, but these rubrics are also hampering real conversations and learning from each other.  I'm happy when I see some independent thinking, regardless of whether the readings are cited properly or not.

The students are learning and I'm learning.  What else could I possibly want?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Job Crafting & Stretch Assignments - How to continue to learn

About a year ago, I started on a new professional path, committed to launching a new stage of my career, leaving behind the relative security of a full-time federal government contractor job for the freedom and uncertainty of consulting and teaching.  It was meant primarily as a learning journey. 

Growing and learning require stretching.  That stretching can get quite uncomfortable.  Every single thing I did over the past year was a stretch and therefore the level of discomfort was at times very palpable.  It helped (a little) that I knew this was likely to happen and I was somewhat prepared for it. 

Here are some things I've learned in the process:

  • While I often talked about this past year as a "Year of Learning", it was a form of learning that was meant to help me craft a path forward, not just learning for the sake of learning.    Specifically, I learned that while my initial expectations were to do 80% consulting and 20% teaching, the ratio was perhaps not the right one.  A 50/50 split might work out better. 
  • Stretching should not be confused with pushing oneself to the edge of burnout. In fact, overloading on work and getting overwhelmed only guarantees a decrease in "learning."  If it is impossible to set aside time to reflect on the job/assignment, then I can almost guarantee a lower quality output and no learning (other than not to do that again).
  • As I move forward and leave the idea of the "year of learning" behind, I will focus on the concept of job crafting for myself, which is easy as a self-employed consultant/part-time faculty.  I am writing my job description with a blank canvas.
  • I also want to continue integrating and combining my areas of expertise, looking for deeper insights as well as innovative solutions to stubborn challenges. 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Action Learning and On-the-job Learning - a Follow up

This is perhaps a demonstration of how we learn just by being exposed to a diversity of conversations and how a simple blog and some prompting by others online can generate unplanned learning.  A few weeks ago I posted some questions reflecting my confusion around action learning, on-the-job learning, action research, experiential learning and similar terms.

My understanding of action learning was very fuzzy at the time and it has now evolved to the point where I see it as a specific group learning technique with a narrow range of applications in the same sense that After-Action-Reviews are a specific group learning/reflection technique.  It's a process with a specific set of rules.  It needs to be facilitated by an action learning coach, and it is meant to help solve a specific problem which first needs to be identified carefully so that it can in fact be addressed through this action learning process.

I'm both satisfied that I have a better understanding of the process and somewhat disappointed.  I wanted it to be more than that.  With a name like 'action learning', I expected more.

Is it on-the-job learning?  There is a learning component to it.  Using action learning as a process is a way of learning group problem solving.  It's probably a useful mechanism to improve critical thinking skills and team dynamics.  It's entirely about a work-related problem and therefore it's "on-the -job". However, it's not really what I would call 'learning by doing."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Prototyping through Conversations

I'm in Week 7 of a Working Out Loud Circle (my first) and while I had some difficulty connecting this week's exercises to my goal and I've almost lost track of what my goal was in the first place, there are always interesting insights that come out of the conversation with my circle buddy. 

I have found the additional resources provided in each of the weekly guide to be a great source of useful insights even when I'm not sure the rest of the activities did anything for me. 

Here's an example:  This week was about thinking about a long term vision of oneself. I did a lot of work on that a year ago when I was transitioning from full-time work to consulting.  My vision is still the same and I'm on track. In a sense, this entire year has been an experiment, prototyping a range of different activities.

One of the additional resources for week 7 is a blog post by John Stepper titled "The simplest and easiest form of prototyping is a conversation."  I experienced this earlier this week when, after a significant number of individual interviews to collect data on on-the-job learning for a client, I was finally starting to see where this work was going, I did a hand-written sketch of the framework that was emerging, and during the last two interviews of the week, I went with my "prototype" framework to test some of the ideas that were emerging.  These conversations were some of the most satisfying I have had so far.  Listening, asking questions and absorbing information in interview is great, but I find the conversations where I start to validate my own emerging understanding to be the most satisfying.