Connected Learning with limited resources?

Although, I like the concept of connected learning I find it hard to wrap my head around how it is possible to accomplish this goal with the limited resources we have? Teachers are not paid nearly enough and the amount of time and effort it would take to individually curate and work with a student’s interest would be monumental. The current system (although severely flawed), seems to work – teachers can disseminate knowledge to all students through a structured curriculum and course outcomes can be used to evaluate whether students fully understood the concepts. Exams also reinforce learning and critical thinking skills. This sort of a system obviously tends to ignore student interests and possibly students that are outliers i.e. those who are having a hard time coping up with the material and/or those that have exceptional talent. In an ideal world a connected learning environment (in school) would be best for every student.

I’ve gone through several different types of learning environments which have all been in stark contrast to each other. Through all of my schooling years we were tested purely on our abilities to memorize (understanding of concepts was of far lower value and marks on the exams were of paramount importance); in contrast the undergraduate years were a little more relaxed – there were some courses (not nearly enough) with project based learning (PBL) that were extremely fun. I can look back and say that I definitely got a lot more out of such PBL courses.

Graduate school on the other hand has been far more liberal (both in terms of course selection and in terms of the curriculum) – I enjoy the format of most graduate level courses which to me is connected learning, based around a structured curriculum. Typical format of such courses have interesting and challenging homework’s based around key concepts discussed in class, followed typically by a mid-semester and/or final project that is fairly open ended. I have come to really like this style of teaching and learning – such a format ensures that I not only learn the key concepts, but also apply them to a project, which reinforces the learning. Graduate school to me is a good model of connected learning – however such an environment is hard to implement in schools and undergraduate institutions, partly due to the large class sizes and partly due to the nature of the curriculum in the courses. Several undergraduate classes (such as Calculus I, II) build on your base knowledge – project based learning would be hard to implement in such courses.

11 thoughts to “Connected Learning with limited resources?”

  1. The scarcity mindset is running rampant in higher education. The scarcity mindset is the idea we are operating under a limited amount of finite resources which leads to competition for resource distribution. Given the resources are limited, colleges and departments then go into a self preservation mode where they hoard resources rather than fully investing them, or contributing them towards a collaborative goal. The arts are bad in this area. Far too often we operate under the idea that we need more in order to do more. At the same time, funding cuts in the arts have been going on for so long that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

    What I find fascinating is how many people automatically assume that resources are purely financial. I would argue our definition of resources needs to expand to include time, space, facilities, faculty, and most importantly… our students. How would the higher education landscape look different if instead of continuously competing for resources we chose to share the resources we already have? What could higher education accomplish if we utilized all of our resources to their fullest potential?

  2. I completely agree with you, that the present system is significantly lacking. I believe that professors, and teachers should be paid well. It’s sad to see that picking up a job in the industry sometimes means further pay than in teaching. However, I must say that today’s teachers and professors include some brilliant and dedicated leaders. This is because, these people have a lot of passion for what they’re doing, and they want to do it for the sake of their student’s success. They do what they love, and that’s what keeps them going.

    Therefore, I believe the present system gave us some stars, but also caused us to search for good salaries and good career opportunities in the life of professors and leaders. This reminds me of the whole discussion about professors needing to have the right just to teach, and not research, and be treated equally.

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Sarah, thanks for your response. You’ll find that those who are passionate about their students’ learning process find particular resistance from the education system. Having the right to “just teach” comes at a steep price. I did a blog last semester about a professor at UC Berkely who has been asked to leave his position because he teaches too well! You can follow his posts here:
      http://alexandercoward.com/BlowingTheWhistleOnUCBerkeleyMathematics.html

  3. I agree that we need to look at resources in that people, our students are resources to make these connected-learning atmospheres possible. In this way, the teachers have to give up a certain amount of control. You never know what the students might do!

    However I do not believe that all departments could share resources. The separation keeps smaller departments alive and autonomous. There is merit in a middle ground with some departmental resources and space and time, but then another part is shared with the intent of working together to receive the resources and interesting opportunities.

    PBL is a very interesting method for applying knowledge and utilizing student engagement.

  4. Great insights! I agree with you on the implementation of PBL. However I also think that this could be implementable for fundamental classes which build on your base knowledge. For example Calculus could have several projects which ask the students to plot various graphs, or have a number of objects in different shapes such as parabolic, etc. and ask the students to randomly take one home and come up with its representing function. I think that examples like this could exist in all fundamental first year courses and may even be more important than senior year projects.

  5. This was a really interesting article! I think you made a lot of really great points. I agree with your point that project based learning is hard to implement in large classes such as calculus. However, I agree with Yasaman that instructors can introduce activities that promote connected learning into these types of classes. For example, discussing real world applications of some of the general concepts could help students connect what they are learning in class to other classes that they take and other things in their life. Another activity that could be introduced that would promote peer interaction would be to take 5-10 minutes in a class and have students work in small groups on an interesting problem or application of a concept. Having students work together in class can help build that peer culture which is often lacking in large classes.

    1. I think I’ve seen plenty of effort to make calculus problems relevant to real-life situations (the slipping ladder is a common one), but I’ve never come across anything that I really cared about. I do like the idea of having peer-interaction in small groups and feel like that would be more effective.

  6. This is a great discussion thread! I think we can all agree that connected learning is a really interesting idea but that the implementation may be harder than it seems. I also agree with Willie’s point in that the resources are not only financial. In my opinion, the resources most important in trying to implement a connected learning environment would be time and faculty. As most students learn best in a slightly different manner, the need for such an individualized type of learning (or “interest building”) would require a lower faculty to student ratio and a lot more time investment. Also, although most agree that this type of learning environment could (and would) foster better learning and critical thinking, how exactly one shifts an entire education system based on didactic learning to one of connected learning is the biggest problem. So much needs to be done in terms of planning and preparing those in our current education system, that I am afraid we are still a long way off from really putting this into any kind of effect.

    1. Sheryl, I agree preparing our current education system for this shift in educational paradigm is a monumental task. Like you pointed out low student-faculty ratio’s create a individualized type of learning environment. However don’t you think that hiring more faculty to reduce the student-teacher ratio does come at a financial cost? I tend to think that in the end everything ties down to financial resources (directly or indirectly).

  7. I like the way you classified types of learning in each level from very conservative to liberal. But I think that we can overcome the limited resources by other simple means. For example, teachers still have the ability to stir up curiosity among children by giving them small experiments to do at home, further reading in specific topics, extra quizzes and more.

    1. I agree that parents play an every bigger role in the education system today. They are just as important and need to foster and encourage a child to explore beyond what is taught in the class room text books.

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