Friday, 23 September 2016

Learning is not a spectator sport

Many thanks for the opportunity to be part of the IDS Learning Event. Through it I was able to network and learn quite a bit both from the facilitators present and the lecturers from other institutions of learning who were participating in the workshop.

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain
Previously, I was of the opinion that teaching was a routine job: lecturers were given a course outline and handed content to teach. They then had to pass on the same to students mostly through class lectures. I was familiar, to a small extent, with this. Being at Strathmore University where use of IT (power-point slides and the e-learning system) in teaching is highly embraced and encouraged, I was really interested in knowing which other ways IT could be used in teaching and understanding the process that goes on at the back-end before students receive content to chew on.

During the first session, an important revelation dawned on me: Learning is not a spectator sport. Genuine learning is active and not passive. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers no matter how diligent they are at doing that so as I previously presumed. What a rude shock! I had relied upon the bare minimum stated above for almost the whole of my life. It was evident thenceforth that I was barely scratching the surface of just how much I could internalize and grasp. I learned that when students are actively involved in their learning, they learn more than when they are passive recipients of instruction. You can imagine that I resolved to participate in class more. Then came the resultant problem:  how would I be able to participate constructively in class?

Integration of IT in learning through especially use of dashboards on e-learning sites would be the answer to the problem that dogged me. I found out that through expression of opinions and reading what other students posted on the dashboards, it was possible to refine my thinking and to harness more knowledge from my fellow students than I had previously been doing.

I also came to the realization that, other than just passing on information required by the course outline, lecturers passed on their “industry experience” when teaching. This was an important aspect of the whole learning experience as information was widely available on the internet and anyone could access it, however such experiences gave classroom students an edge over others.

The most important “pickups” for me were the learning theories available to lecturers. I had always thought of learning as a one-directional tool, not knowing that there were several different approaches that taught specific skills. I often wondered what the point of group work assignment was, for example, especially as in some cases one person ended up doing the assignment for everyone else and submitting. (I must say I am guilty of doing this too, as previously the emphasis for me was on the marks available rather than the skills such an assignment was required to confer on me.) However, after learning about behavioral, cognitive and connectivism theories, I now get why different lecturers choose to use a specific techniques or combine several.

Interacting with lecturers from other institutions really made me appreciate Strathmore University even more and the facilities it has availed for student learning. Comparatively speaking Strathmore is a bit ahead of the other institutions. I resolved this had to reflect in my understanding of the coursework and to reflect on the nature of skills I would have at the end of the course. The same is important, especially in light of the current IT-skewed society that we live in.

In conclusion, I had a good time at the conference. The lessons I picked up firsthand will remain etched in my memory for eternity.

Michael Omugah is an undergraduate student studying Bachelor of Commerce at Strathmore University

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