Initiation to networked learning

Education all over the world has a very similar uniform defining structure. Be it schools, colleges, or universities, you sit in a lecture hall, listen to someone talk about a subject hour long, complete assignments and sit through exams. Those final grades are all that matters, that decides your level of understanding and more importantly your level of competence. And this structure has defined the framework of learning as well. If you graduate top of the class, you must have learnt the most. The true sense of learning often gets lost in this rat-race. By the time a person becomes a successful banker, he hardly remembers 12th grade Physics and loses all the wonder and curiosity of the workings of universe.

As well as this might have worked in the past, I would like to believe “learning” should not be so stringent, so restricted. Debates and discussions always broadens one’s perspectives, it forces us to think more and to ask deeper questions. The current understanding of pedagogy around the globe is undergoing a transformation and hopefully for the better. Universities are replacing conventional lecture rooms with more informal, more interaction-oriented pathway classrooms. I have the rewarding opportunity to be a teaching assistant in such a class this semester. The set-up is more like a restaurant than a classroom. Round tables, lot of talking and the instructor and us TA’s going around making conversations, provoking healthy debates. Such an ambience in a classroom has lots of assets; the instructor can ensure to the best of his ability that the students are grasping the concepts, the students are able to feel more connected to the subject as well as to others in the class. Instead of the often-bitter sense of competition that we have grown up with our entire school and college life, this format of pedagogy cultivates a sense of educating oneself and other’s around without bias. Such a setup creates a beautiful dynamics of teaching and learning, learning while teaching, and often blends the student-teacher hierarchy.

Probably the most natural way to take this beyond classrooms and further into the circle of academia would be to utilize the vast space of world wide web. To share ideas and opinions in form of blogs and posts, to make resources more accessible. After-all, knowledge grows only when shared. But everything good also comes with a share of bad. I really think I need to be more informed about networked learning and the various aspects of what it entails, to have more educated opinions.

Please feel free to comment, share your ideas, ask questions, or share links that you have found useful. Here’s to my “initiation to networked learning” !!

6 Replies to “Initiation to networked learning”

  1. Hi Riyan,

    Your assessment of conventional learning is one that is shared my many of your peers. I am really excited about the class you are TA’ing for this year. Will you tell us more? The setup sounds super-cool and like you are practicing different methods of creating a community and pushing back against competitive mindsets. I liked your reflections on a blended student-teacher hierarchy. I can completely relate to that. Especially in a studio course, I find that as an instructor, I am often learning as much as the students through their topics of exploration. I find that when I am humble–acknowledging what I don’t know and making a commitment toward discovery and growth, that I get a ton of buy-in from the students. Often learning in the creative arts comes through students working through their process, where the teacher doesn’t necessarily provide the answer, but points them towards the tools or frameworks that help them develop their topic/plan/creative work as individuals.

    PS. Please tell us more about your course!

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  2. Hi Sara!

    Yes you mentioned a very important aspect of this sort of interactive teaching practice; we as instructors/ teachers don’t always feel so pressurized that we have to know all the right answers. Often through the thought process of a student, we discover better ways to understand a problem, learn new perspectives. All we need to do is give a students a direction of thought, help them on their way to the solution. Another highlight of this physics course that I am TA’ing for is it’s dominant focus on concept rather than abstract maths. It’s one course where students are for the first time meeting exposed to ideas of electricity, magnetism and waves. And the mathematics involved in these terrorizes students (not just undergrads :p). And here in this new set-up, we get through an entire class with as few equations and as less maths as possible. There are plots and figures or toy models, and students are asked to think and discuss among themselves what the answer to a problem will be, without doing the math. There is so much to learn by just listening to the students discuss these among themselves.

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  3. Hi Riyan,

    I agree with you about the positive impact of the informal classroom setup on the learning experience. It empowers the teacher- students and student-student relationships, especially when the student is shy and doesn’t want to talk or participate in a big classroom discussion.
    Also, I like the idea of the class you are TA’ing for. Setting up a physics class that way, attracts the students and keep them interested and motivated to learn more. Once the student has the motivation, he can understand the math behind the physics easier. Even if it is not easy for him, he will make an effort to understand it since he is interested in it.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Maha. Yes the first step of a good teaching+learning practice should be infusing curiosity and developing intuitions. Great feats of engineering have been achieved by humans since ages, even without the advent of Mathematics. So we should always try to work out a problem in our minds before plugging it into equations.

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  4. Hi Riyan,

    I absolutely agree with your interpretation of conventional learning. However, I think that depending what level of education you are currently at depends on how that information should be presented.

    http://www.indiana.edu/~idtheory/methods/m1d.html

    This link details three levels of cognitive learning: memorization, understanding and application. The example you gave about 12 grade physics would most likely contain a majority of memorization and a little bit of understanding. In my opinion this type of instruction and its associated testing is important because it is very data and factual oriented, without lots of room for discussion. However, the banker will most likely use that instruction throughout their life within the application context. As graduate students, I truly believe that a majority of our instruction should be presented somewhere between understanding and application. Thus, providing ample opportunity evolve our thought process by using “a new lens”. With that said, I am hesitant to see how networked learning will effect a students ability to actually learn with ample amounts of mis-information nested within actual information.

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    1. Thanks for sharing this interesting link! And yes, learning is a layered process. It would be unjust to oversimplify it. But I do believe, right from when you are being introduced to a subject, like 12th grade Physics, to when you are an expert in some field, it is important to understand the concept first and then do the memorization and applications. To fall in line with your thoughts, there has to be a balance. We can not just tell students how cool the cosmos and galaxies are and not expose them to the ugly tensors. But before we talk about the maths, we need to make sure the students feel interested enough in the subject to do the maths.
      Your last statement reflects my apprehension to web-based learning as well. It is difficult to supervise and authenticate all the information that is out there; and if not dealt with carefully, networked learning could do a lot more harm than traditional methods.

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