Lucka 16: The square peg in a round hole

During university I got tired of the curriculum. I only recovered my interest when I joined a research group in Oncology and worked on a real research project. There we were allowed to design our own experiments, to fail and to reflect about our mistakes. We didn’t get bad grades for that. In fact, we felt trusted and important. We learned as students and taught our peers about other things we were good at.

During postgraduate years, the preferred course was taught in a “chaotic” lab where the teacher said: here you have all reagents, decide for yourself what is the most suitable for your experiment. Improvise and be creative!

The best pedagogic course was an international MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) where we learned from and during the interaction between each other in multidisciplinary and multicultural groups. At the end we produced a blog where we reflected on what we’ve learnt.

But I’ve never reflected on why I liked these experiences so much until now after passing the edx course “Leaders of Learning”. Here, Dr. Richard Elmore presents a frame that helps to organize different points of views about learning, leading, organizing and even designing different learning spaces. It was then he made me think about where did I learn best? Which learning environments did I enjoy the most? Who were my best teachers? Why?
In this video that we co-produced with Filip Levälahti from Arcada, I explain Elmore’s frames more in detail and in this picture produced for the ONL course 2021 we illustrated with examples the way different learners might think about their learning situation.

So, as teachers we are facing an heterogeneous group of students where some will learn best from a structured and teacher-centered approach (Hierarchical Individual), some will enjoy some structure but also group work and interaction with the community (Hierarchical Collective), some will appreciate more a self-pace course they found in the internet where they don’t need to pass an exam (Distributed Individual), some will bloom in personal learning networks (Distributed Collective) and some will go over boundaries in this frame.

Therefore, as a teacher I started to think about what kind of students I wanted to form and how would I do that? If my duty is to make sure the students reach all learning goals, how should I formulate such? Which learning goals and outcomes should I strive for? Should I allow the students to formulate their own learning goals in line with certain topics? What possible ingredients should I incorporate in my courses to engage and motivate the majority of my students?

Now, dissecting the elements that made my experiences so appealing I could identify some factors that resonate somehow in the way we intend to teach at LiU: real world-inspired problems, design, experimentation, allowance to fail and time for reflection, trust, group discussions, multicultural and interprofessional environments, teacher and students interchangeable roles… I am just missing more of improvisation, transdisciplinary projects, creation/production where the students leave the class with something they’ve accomplished and can use sort of more of skillshares or makerspaces.

After revising this model, I also started to think about my son who said to me that he learns more from the internet than in school. I remembered my friend who dropped out from school because “he was bored”, the one student that jumped from engineering to medicine and was taking philosophy courses on the side, the ones learning through Domestika, Coursera, Khan Academy or Edx and tailoring their own curriculum…Logan LaPlante being happy in finding something fulfilling to do for a living…All of these people might not fit in just one learning type, in just one frame and might not thrive in one prearranged educational path, not because they’re are failures but because there must be other opportunities for them to fit in. Maybe we can start designing learning experiences that also accommodate those students who learn best in the collective distributed frame?

If we play with the idea of the future being about active choices, a place where knowledge is everywhere, content is everywhere as well as the teacher, where we learn in networks and in a personalized way maybe we discover that we won’t need to feel like a square peg in a round hole anymore.