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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Students Learning About Learning

I had meant to track down Linda's email about the side-class that I (and Liz and John) could teach to support SUSTAIN but I am a little impatient to get some ideas down about how I envision the ideas that such a class could incorporate.

As I recall, the idea is for us to have a 2-unit class to provide some additional direction to students in our department/major to help ensure that the SUSTAIN experience is linked back to the major curriculum. In do some reading about learning portfolios ( Zubizarreta, John and Barbara J. Millis
The Learning Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning, Jossey-Bass; 2nd edition 2009) I came across multiple times discussions about how important it was to get students to reflect on their learning. One set of reflection questions for students that was brought up (and reinforced throughout the essays in the book) is as follows:
· What have I learned? Why did I learn?
· When have I learned? In what circumstances? Under what conditions?
· How have I learned or not, and do I know what kind of learner I am?
· How does what I have learned fit into a full, continual plan for learning?
· What difference has the learning made in my intellectual personal, ethical, spiritual development?
· Has my learning been connected, integrated, coherent?
· Is my learning relevant, applicable, practical?
· When, how, and why has my learning surprised me?
· What have been the proudest highlights of my learning? The disappointments?
· What differences has mentoring in the portfolio process made in my learning?
In reading through this material, I was struck by how I as an instructor assume that students are absorbing the material (or assume that the reason they are not absorbing the material is because the students are not working hard enough). I test them but I don't really operate on the principle that everyone is a little different (including how and why they are learning) and that by not asking students to reflect on what and how they learn that they are more likely to fall further into the murky idea that learning is the responsibility of the teacher (i.e., that learning is teaching) rather than a cooperative effort. Students, upon reflection of how they are learning, can take a greater role in structuring the teaching to better serve them.
I am not sure if I am being clear but maybe I can lay out what I might do in my 2-unit SUSTAIN-supporting class. I can see meeting with students to discuss what they are doing and helping them link the material to their own major and their own career trajectories. I can see helping them organize a learning portfolio that helps them sort out the big picture of their SUSTAIN experience and how it can help them make the next decisions about coursework, internships, even changes of majors (by a positive decision rather than a negative one where students do poorly and seek something else). I can see all of this being developed through a wiki that would involve feedback not only from me but also from other students in the major (taking SUSTAIN classes) and outside the major (taking SUSTAIN classes). I can almost see it as a new way for students to "check in" in a virtual way.
Linda, Liz and John (and anyone else reading this), what do you think?


  1. This is great Neal. I have been thinking about this course also. I actually have IME 270 scheduled in Winter for SUSTAIN. With this actual course we have to develop a course proposal, so I have been thinking about what to include. I have been thinking about project management and client interactions and conflict resolution as topics, but I really like your idea of learning portfolios. I think we should get together sometime soon to put this on paper. We can talk about it on Tuesday when we meet for lunch. I look forward to seeing you soon.

  2. hi neal, i too think it is a great idea of implement these reflective portfolios. having these in place in a thoughtful way would really assist, in my view, what we're wanting in the area of personal and social responsibility as well (including their responsibility around learning).

    You probably know this, but helen chen is on our third person research network. she has a lot of experience with using e-portfolios.