Letting magic happen

20140505-204644.jpgMagic can happen in the classroom, a tutoring session, or meeting with a colleuge in their office. You have to embrace it. Let there be space enough for it to happen and lastly, you have to let go of your agenda so it has space to flourish.

Today, I popped up to someone’s office for a few minutes so we could discuss questions that I had after the workshop. I mentioned my idea of turning students’ perceived negatives into a positive. There was a lot of discussion at the workshop about how the students are not ready for university level education. The lecturers talked about how students use electronic devises in the classroom and how disruptive it can be to them as they try to teach. It seems this topic of discussion comes up quite a bit no matter which country I’m in. They started talking about how students multitask in their personal time or time away from the classroom. The conversation then took a sharp and predictable turn to “but they’re multitasking poorly.” So, this morning in our conversation I mentioned to the woman conducting these workshops, that multitasking is exactly what lectures expect from students, they just don’t want them using electronic devises to do it. For example, if a student is taking notes they are multitasking. The student has to listen to the instructor, process the information, and then translate it into notes on their paper. In order for the student to take notes well they have to listen, process, and write almost simultaneously. My real point was basically, like with employees, when training (teaching) you have to meet students where they are and then go from there.

I had a few more questions for her about South Africa’s higher education system, as a whole. It is a completely different system than I’m used to in the United States. The only instructors who get courses on pedagogy are in the education faculty (department). Other faculties (departments) assume teaching is common sense, everyone can do it. I was a bit surprised by this way of thinking but at the same time, not totally surprised. If this meeting had happened back in February, I would have been blown away. However, having been here this long and worked with as many students as I have, I had already picked up on this attitude. This attitude reflects in their teaching practices as well because in the workshop they mentioned several times not wanting to “spoon-feed” students. I know I mentioned that in the previous posting on this workshop but it really made an impression on me!

We went on to discuss the biggest debate in South Africa’s higher education circles, the restructuring of higher education to a four-year degree. This does not mean that South Africa is considering transforming to a liberal arts based educational system, but rather this additional year would be a transition year. She stated that many students drop out because they aren’t fully prepared for university life and this unpreparedness expresses itself in two ways. First, students who don’t have to work, away from home for the first time, and cannot handle this level of freedom. These students end up failing out of university because they party too much. The second group fails out of university because they are not fully prepared academically. So, these students come to university, but they are not fully prepared for the academic rigor they encounter in the classroom. Additionally, these students are generally balancing more responsibilities along with adjusting to university academics. They are probably working and could also be taking care of their younger siblings for example.

I’m looking forward to my next workshop on Thursday, Authentic assessment of student learning.

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