I was recently talking to a neighbour who started at one of the Sydney universities this year. A bright and academically gifted young man who got a high ATAR and was tutoring kids in his spare time was deeply disappointed.
“You see”- he explained to me, and his eyes lit up.
“My high school teachers were very different. They didn’t just talk and talk at us. They got us to work on projects and discover the answers ourselves. We also worked a lot together with other students, and here at Uni, we don’t. I know it is on us to find study groups outside of the class, but with COVID and everything it’s not easy, so I just don’t learn as much…”
My neighbourA high achieving school student
What my neighbour was describing were not your typical 1st year student problems. Rather, it was a shock of someone who was used to learning in an ‘active learning’ environment and suddenly found himself in the ‘chalk and talk’ classroom.
It made me sad, as for this bright young man going to university was a ‘downgrade’ rather than an ‘upgrade’ of his learning experience. Granted, school teachers have smaller classes and more training in active learning and teaching methods – a luxury that few university teachers have. However, I wish that we sometimes thought about students like my neighbour whose learning spirit seems to be crushed by long and dull lectures. So, I am currently working on a self-access learning module on active learning approaches. It will cover some key beginner, intermediate and advanced active learning techniques. If you have any suggestions on what YOU’d like to see in the module, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org I would really love to hear from you.
Olga, there’s a point at which opining about ‘long and dull lectures’ as if those characteristics are the default is actually quite insulting to your colleagues who pursue their craft in good faith. It should be possible to advocate for new and different approaches without adopting a condescending deficit model of communication, especially towards those who have spent decades grappling with the particular demands of university teaching (where students are adults, not subject to the same degree of control and compulsion as school students and expected to utilise their own autonomy to a great degree). Furthermore, we need to be realistic about the effective domain of ‘active learning’. University education often involves exposure to large and complex bodies of knowledge built up over centuries, if not millennia. For someone to be held to have developed a sufficient degree of understanding in such areas, a degree of transmission of expert-curated information is required. In the absence of that, ‘active learning’ is just a euphemism for the classroom as creche.
Thank you for your thought-provoking comment, Wylie. It was not my intention to generalize, and I sincerely apologize if it came across that way. I was merely reporting a perspective of one student, which made me stop and think. Re: active learning. The term ‘active learning’ is indeed vague at best, and I am personally not a fan of it (isn’t all learning ‘active’), but it happens to be the term that’s used widely across the sector. I completely understand the need for the ‘transmission’, and the potential of active learning is to make this transmission more student-centered and effective.