Saturday 6 October 2018

Negative Learning.

We've been asked to reflect on a negative learning experience from our past, which reminds me of when I did my undergraduate as a mature-aged student (I was almost 40) and had to write about a teacher who inspired me. I must confess that at the time I really couldn't think of any who inspired me as such. There were a couple who were very good, a few who were good, but none who stood out and would one day be mentioned in any of my memoirs as the reason I went on to other things.  Instead I wrote about a terrible teacher I had who inspired me to not be like him.

My tutor loved it. I got great marks.

I must point out here I am, by nature, a very optimistic person. I'm not some inherently negative, but it was easier to recall a poor teacher than a brilliant one who had engaged me.

But it seems I'm back writing about a negative learning experience.

The major one for me, and it has relevance to my current studies, was a distance/online postgraduate certificate for which I was awarded a scholarship a few years ago.

It was in regards to a discipline which at the time I was not performing in my role at a school, and as such had no practical experience. This course was conducted fully online. Unfortunately this consisted solely of downloading weekly mountains of PDFs and reading them, accompanied by a weekly 'blurb' paragraph from the tutor.

There was a not too active discussion board, for which we later learned any student who posted fewer than 15 posts lost 10% of their marks at the end of the module. This was not advised in advance. We were instructed to buy two very expensive textbooks, which were hardly referred to and, coincidentally, had been co-authored by the tutor.

Assessments were marked against criteria that seemed to be different to those given to us, while other pieces presumed prior knowledge. There had been zero advice, information or training in conducting particular assessments, and then we were marked down on missing elements. Meanwhile the tutor was unavailable and unresponsive to emails.

There was also a disparity in the marking. In the second term we learned we could choose not to undertake the full term of reading, writing, essay writing and assessment by attending the tutor's two day workshop. As this fell in the middle of the term break, I had already booked holidays. Myself and one other student had to undertake the full course, while the other 17 went to this workshop, which ended with two page multiple choice tests being handed out. All very informal, where they sat at the tables, discussed answers and everyone passed above 80%. I felt that was incredibly unjust.

Although I did well enough in this course, it was not a pleasant learning experience. For much of it I felt overwhelmed, struggling to understand theory without discussion or guidance, and even alienated at times. I questioned the relevance of what I was learning, whether I needed to study this and whether I was 'doing things right' in the practical aspects. I have to say this experience put me off further study for many years. And instilled a distrust of online study.

I suppose this experience, like many others (positive and negative) informed my own teaching practice. As a teacher I strived to:
  • Ensure assessments are clearly explained and marked against supplied criteria
  • Ensure all elements being assessed have been taught
  • Ensure inclusion of students. Don't trust they understand without checking
  • Make myself available to students
  • Prepare and present varied and interesting relevant resources
  • Ensure parity in marking (even across differentiated assessments)
  • Teach the relevance of what is being taught
  • Be open to change
  • Self reflect and act on it

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