22 Student Agency & Unknown Territory

Lisa Doner

My take-aways of the CPLC concept to date:

  • Considerable effort by a large community of educators has been put into alternative approaches to education with student attitudes as the prime focus. We (PSU) is not alone in “remaking education”. CoLab and CPLC are support services for faculty connecting us to this larger community of innovative educators. This may sound obvious to other CPLC teams, but I still feel a lot of uncertainty about what constitutes Cluster Pedagogy versus pedagogy I already know about. It makes more sense to me to think of CPLC as a service, rather than an outcome (from my perspective).
  • Open textbooks, ungrading, and experiential learning are practices that can move us out of the existing lecture-to-relay-knowledge teaching structure and into one that empowers students to seek knowledge in their own styles of learning. In prior educational models, students were groomed by K-12 experiences to expect learning  to be accomplished by traditional approaches. While many students might adapt readily to use of open textbooks, or experimental learning, I think  ungrading may cause stress in students who have spent a lifetime learning how to get good grades. I had an experience with this when I was in 8th grade; over the entire year we never received a grade in any of my classes. I didn’t like not knowing how well I was meeting expectations and, in fact, had to repeat some courses when I moved to another school because I wasn’t deemed competent in those subjects (Algebra and French). Because of this, I wonder if students, parents and employers are as keen on the idea of ungrading as some of my faculty peers seem to be.
  • Change is necessary, change is coming but not everyone will support radical change or large-scale change. This is not about stubbornness, laziness or fear, but different perceptions about how far student agency can carry students into unknown terrain. How much direction and guidance from the faculty is needed is a key question that gives me hesitancy.
  • My project is aimed at improving student competency in the workforce, and the approach is almost entirely experiential and highly interdisciplinary. Various partners from key environmental employment sectors will be directly involved in training students in skills where they typically see gaps in new employee’s abilities. I’m really excited about using interactive media like H5P as tools for students to self-assess their understanding of processes and methods before they are tasked with a “real life” situation in he a outdoor field setting. I envision using them to create (with employer input) a wide variety of “what if” scenarios that require students to apply knowledge in many different circumstances. Also, because many employer-trainers will not have time or ability to travel to Plymouth, I think that intensive use of Zoom with video in a dynamic setting, maybe by linking to GoPro or other recording technology, will be needed. Instructors can demonstrate a method in a live feed, responding to questions in realtime, and students can practice and receive feedback from trainers watching their efforts from anywhere in the world. Students might  also develop an online chat forum to share their learning experiences with other students (again, anywhere in the world) such as keys to interpreting instructions and translating them into actions. This chat forum will be open to the trainers, to add additional helpful hints, respond to chats giving misdirection or advocating poor practices.

My biggest challenge over the year will be finding instructors willing and able to use the technology in this way, and also figuring out how to compensate these off-site instructors without heavy course fees. The benefit of such a program for our students could be enormous, including networking with potential employers, building student confidence in achieved skills (reducing imposter syndrome in new graduates), and establishing a student support base composed of peers and professionals.

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