This Charming Man…?

March 10, 2010

Student Centred Learning? …Oh, I’m sorry I thought you said Marxist Dialectic.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 1:33 pm

Crabby old me.

I’ve been working in education development longer now than I’ve done anything else in my life, apart from being a subject within the educational process. I’ve been taught, I’ve learnt, I’ve talked to 4am about James Joyce and the revolutionary way to teach Joyce, I’ve thought about how to teach and how students learn, I’ve thought about technology and how it can enhance the student learning process. I  had successes and some monumental failures (don’t teach ‘Of Grammatology to first year undergrads – you feel bad, they feel bad, you feel worse when the student evaluations come in; or give them a journal piece on gay sex in public places when discussing Edmund White – all I will say is messy)’.

This ramble is to get us to the subject of  ‘Student Centred Learning’. I swear I am really, really, really over this one. You know the concept of it is not difficult. Putting the student at the centre of the educational process, rather than thinking about the position of the institution, or teacher or lecturer. The concept is so rampant that primary and secondary schools have been doing it for quite some time. In Universities, we have what often occurs to me to be two camps. Those that think that we are on some some mission that will eventuate in some post-revolutionary socialist state where we will live in some pedagogical paradise (involving hugging ever available body no doubt), or the counter-revolutionaries that are holding out for the whack ’em with a lecture and a tutorial a week, in a it was good enough for me it’s good enough for them attitude.

Of course it never was good enough. Bad teaching has always been a defining quality of higher education the world over. But it didn’t really matter that much when you were

a) getting students, from the ‘best schools’, who were very good at playing the system

b) very bright working class kids who would get through on natural talent

c) a combination of both privilege and talent.

We have the revolutionaries. And I have worked with many of these folks, and pretty sure I was one of them. They who see the student centred approach akin to historical materialism, the we will get there in the end at some point, unknown, in the future. The lonely Socialist Worker, collecting signatures and selling the paper in an effort to bring about a new world order, as if getting enough signatures or buying a copy of SW would bring the prevailing hegemony down.

It is neither a step into some Stalinist dystopia, nor is it the promised land. What it is is a recognition that with hyper-massification of education you have to change your methods of teaching and learning. We are no longer just teaching the privileged elite, or the bright kids that shine. If institutions buy into the education for all argument (and funding), then they/we have a responsibility to extend the way in which we teach, and assess. The two essays per unit per student, may be quite convenient for me to mark each  semester (with a cheeky little red in my glass), but it hardly acts as a reflective, continuous, sustained piece of work for the poor bugger that has to make sense of my ramblings on Derrida, or the late 20th Century Gay Novel.

And the zealots? Get over it, engage staff in it, be persuasive and just do it; leave the tambourine banging to a Sunday where it belongs.

Oh, and before I finish my rant – educational leaders? It isn’t a balancing act between the believers and the non-believers, it’s a pragmatic approach to expanding student numbers, so take some responsibility for what happens in these courses rather than the paper trail around them.

Oh and if you want to know about that revolutionary way to teach Joyce? No idea. A certain feted Irish writer, who has just published an excellent book on hypochondria, and I cracked the teaching Joyce nut, but did it far, far too drunk in Brussels, and we couldn’t remember the idea in the morning. I’m pretty sure it was student-centred though.

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