Where do you put your attention?

In thinking about why I am attending this Critical Literacies course, at a time when I should probably be focussing elsewhere, I realised that one reason is that I would like to know more about how to manage learning in an online networked environment. Sometimes, it hits me hard that I am seriously short of the necessary skills!

I mentioned this to a friend who suggested that I access this link – http://blip.tv/play/AYGSj3IC

This is a longish presentation by Howard Rheingold, who has a lot to say about 21st century literacies but principally about where you put your attention. I would agree that this is a critical literacy.

Also relevant to this is a post that George Siemens has made on his blog today. ‘Does the internet make you dumber/smarter?’ because I think it’s not just a question of ‘where you put your attention’, but ‘how you put your attention’ and I suppose that is what a lot of this course is about.

Intervention in students’ learning

I really enjoyed Howard Rheingold’s Elluminate session today and there was lots there to comment on, but I would like to listen to the session again and reflect a little further before doing so.

But Howard’s session, and thinking about how teachers and learners are changing, for some reason reminded me of a past student of mine. I think it was when Howard was talking about how much and when he felt it necessary to intervene in his students’ learning. Here is the story of one time when I tried to intervene in a student’s learning.

Paul was a mature student in his late 30s, training to be a primary school teacher. At the time I was teaching science. Because of my subject I have only ever done a minimal amount of teaching in lecture theatres – it has normally been with students grouped round tables, working practically, problem-solving, discussing ideas and so on. Paul was very interactive in these sessions, contributing to discussion, thoughtful, creative and intelligent – also with a great sense of humour. As his tutor, I thoroughly enjoyed learning alongside him.

Then it came to the time when he had to hand in his assignment. I was very surprised and somewhat disappointed when Paul didn’t get the high mark that I had thought he would. His work just didn’t meet the marking criteria. All the students were always given the marking criteria, and of course we had discussed them in a session, so I didn’t see that he could have been unaware of them.

After the assignments had been handed back, I spoke to Paul about not meeting the marking criteria and suggested that if he wanted to get a higher mark on the next assignment, then he would need to address the marking criteria more explicitly. I have never forgotten his response.

He said he hadn’t come on the course to jump through hoops to get high marks for his assignments. He wanted to pursue his own lines of enquiry and follow his own interests. If he was going to spend a lot of time writing an assignment, he wanted to be sure that it met his own needs. He would do enough to pass, but he wanted to enjoy writing the assignment for himself. If he could do that and pass, then he was quite happy with the mark he got.

At the time I was surprised but admiring of this stance. In my experience – although I suppose it does depend on what job you go for – the final grade of your qualification or class of your degree is not always taken into account when you apply for a job. In Paul’s case, he was going to be a good teacher. That would get him a job despite the low marks on his science assignments, and in the meantime he had shown that he knew what he wanted to learn and how he wanted to go about it. It would be the latter that would go on his reference!