Dusting oneself off

 It’s an interesting phrase that can mean a couple of different things.

Today I mean it in terms of trying again after a failed program. I was talking with someone the other day who had been a part of numerous failed programs, each of which was based on a specific instructional design meant to promote social and informal learning.  Thus far, the design has inspired both, but never on an appreciable scale (and scale is important; you can’t sit back on your laurels bragging about the three students who really got it when 30 did not).  That being said, we both believe the design can work if implemented correctly.

Herein lies the key of dusting oneself off: Take a deep breath, brace yourself, turn around, and stare boldly, dispassionately at your mistakes. Don’t hope that a different context will fix things (“Next time will be different”). 

Learning from one’s peers (social learning) in a classroom setting is founded on two underlying assumptions: We are willing to listen to our peers and our peers actually have something valuable to say.

Quite frankly, I have found both to be lacking at every level of my educational career, although now that I am out, I learn from my peers all the time.  This is a contradiction worth examining.

Q. Why don’t people say more interesting things in classroom assignments? 

A. Because they don’t see the relevance/don’t fear the consequences of phoning it in/don’t apply themselves in the classroom in the same ways they do in the “real world”/have other more important things to do.  Also, they may fear the consequences of making themselves vulnerable.

Q.  Why don’t we listen to our peers?

A.  Because it is a less efficient way of absorbing information; they will say all sorts of things with some small nuggets of truth wrapped up in the middle, whereas an instructor – who has spent hours reading/thinking/refining the message will lay out all the nuggets in a 50 minute power point (which we will swallow like pablum, fail to learn well enough to apply, and forget in one year)

Rather than hope a new group of students will finally “get” the joys of peer learning and use that instructional design like it was meant to be used, let’s address the problems at their very pedagogical root:

Make the assignments more interesting. Integrate peer work into the formalized instruction – lecture from it, discuss it in class, use it as examples.  Limit your input to responding to theirs’. You’ve got to raise the stakes to catch their attention.

Featured Image: Austin Ban

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