Reflecting on learning

flashcardsI’ve been working quite abit this weekend on my Spanish course. I am getting behind and need to put some effort into it. Had fun using a set of flashcards associated with the course and using these as a basis to create a vocab mindmap using the Freemind mind mapping software. How sad am I? Also was sent a great link to an online dictionary. mindmapvia a tweet. At the same time I have just asked the students on our H809 course how they are finding things so far. It’s really interesting to reflect on the learner/teacher thing. The students who have responded so far have been positive overall about the course, but are finding it tough going. They have also been discussing the balance of activities on the course and in particular the role of the discussion forums vs. their blogs. h809Opinions as you might expect are mixed. Some students like the reflective nature of blogs, others don’t and prefer the more targeted discussions which are possible in the forums. We wanted the students to get a feel for the technologies so that they could then make up their own minds on the different affordances of the technologies and their own personal preferences. Reading their discussions on this in the forums and their blogs they sure seem to be doing that! In terms of my own learning - how’s it going so far? Nerve-wrecking in short. Being a student again is such an emotional thing! I’ve been close to dropping out,  even reduced to tears, and in contrast felt great when I’ve got a good mark in an assignment or when I feel I am making progress. So what do I think are the different aspects of learning and their impact on me? I think there are four main things, listed below - along with my reflections on my own experience with these:

  1. The content and activities - I have to say the materials for the course are superb, beautifully constructed and pedagogically excellent. There are a nice blend of different types of activities - reading, writing, listening, speaking. The pace is good, the exercises well structured and of about the right length, the quality of the audio files is great. 
  2. Structure - one of the reasons I wanted to do the course was to be given some structure, to be forced to do something within a timeframe. The course is doing that for me - my study calendar drives me, the periodic assignments force me to work at a certain pace. I have been wanting to learn Spanish for years and have numerous audio cassettes but have never got very far. 
  3. Accreditation - not really important for me, I don’t need this professionally, but relates to point 2 - ie forcing me to work towards a goal within a given timeframe.
  4. Support - on the plus side the feedback I’ve received on my assignments has been excellent - detailed and helpful. Now the negative. One of the other reasons I joined the course was to be part of an online community with other students. I can see that that’s happening in our H809 course - the students are supporting each other and the tutors provide excellent overall support and guidance. On my Spanish course communication is via an audio conference, Lyceum, once a fortnight, and that’s the problem - I can’t access it, which means I have no communication what so ever with the other students, and no chance to practice my speaking with others. Pretty major problem for a language course!! I am not technically stupid and use alot of other audio and video conferencing systems as part of my job - I used Eluminate on Friday in a video call with Canada. But despite many, many, many hours of trying and hours on the phone to the help desk, I still can’t get in. I’ve been amazed at how emotional I’ve been about the whole thing - really really upset and really really angry. It’s sobering to be reminded how tough being a student is - I think we forget that sometimes as teachers. 

11 Responses to “Reflecting on learning”

  1. stuart Says:

    interesting stuff! i was an OU student a few years back and (referring to the four aspects of learning above) it was actually the structure that made me drop out (or a combination of the structure and content perhaps!). Much of what we were asked to do each week was read the book we were set and find 3rd party websites to support this learning. This frustrated me because 1) i can do that for myself without going to a university 2) if there was something i was unsure of and hadn’t got to grips with by the end of that week’s learning – tough! move on move on!

    i am now learning similar stuff to what i was studying from plain old textbooks supplemented by discussion forums / blogs. However I miss your #4 SUPPORT! I would love to be able to sit down with an expert and ask them questions. No matter how good a book is it will only tell you the same thing over and over again (and if it doesn’t make sense the first 3 times it’s likely not to on 4,5,6th attempt!) and i feel there are only so many times you can post stupid questions in a disussion forum…

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Stewart i totally agree - i really feel i am missing out by not having the connection with other students on the course and having a chance to practice.

  3. Eckart Says:

    Hi Grainne

    Very interesting to hear how a course chair feels as a student at the same time. I made a similar experience during the course in respect of my work as a teacher. It’s often good to change the perspective.

    Being part of an online community seems to me the perhaps most important point in a EL course. I was able to see the impact immediately when it was a bit more quiet in the conferences. It gave me sometimes a feeling of uncertainness. Especially if you are new to a topic or when something won’t work, like your conferencing system. This can bring you to desperation in very short time. Then you need to have the possibility of talking to others, who experience the same.
    These moments are crusial, because of the danger that the student capitulates - the maximum credible accident for every teacher.

    Perhaps that’s the most important point to make it happen in a course, that you have a community, where you feel confident enough to say what’s going wrong. The blog’s can play an important role in that, because of the low threshold to mention a problem. You can mention something, what you perhaps wouldn’t mention in an email, because you don’t want to offend someone.
    That’s enough for the moment ;-)

  4. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Eckart

    yes i totally agree. I feel I am really missing out on the Spanish course by not having the connection with other students, somehow being an adult learner that community connection is even more important. I was a very very different learner at university age 18!! Learning when you are older is harder I think, somehow one lacks confidence more (well I do anyway) and so the reassurance from fellow students and tutors is doubly important. Having said that I think learning as an adult is more rewarding. Hope the course is going well for you and that you have been able to relax abit this weekend after TMA1!!!

  5. Kate Sim Says:

    Hi Gráinne

    It is interesting to read your experiences of being a student again. I often think it should be compulsory for educators of all sorts at regular intervals. :-)

    Just a thought about your lyceum problems (yes it can be horrible - I used it last year for another OU course). Why don’t you see if a couple of the other students would try a session with you in Elluminate. You can set up and use one of their vRooms for free. Some of the functionality is limited, but should be fine for language practise.


  6. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Kate

    yes i agree with you totally - it “teaches” you so much being a student!
    Thanks for the tip re: elluminate - trouble is i have had no contact at all with any of the other students so don’t feel i have bonded with them enough to do what you suggest. Used elliminate for the first time on Friday and was very impressed!

  7. Laura Says:

    I’m doing LZX194 and due to various work trips and family emergencies and occassional technical problems I haven’t been able to get to any Lyceum sessions for weeks (but then this is why I chose the online course as I thought it might be slightly more flexible for my manic lifestyle!). I am trying desperately to keep up - 30 mins in a lunch time, CD’s in the car on the way to work and on train and planes but I don’t feel like I’m ever on top of it. I went to a Flamenco night last night and understood about 3 words! Ole! Like Stuart I feel like I am being moved on before I’m ready but I think that’s just my fault for not keeping up rather than the structure or pace of the course, which I think is good. If you want some student contact and I’m at the same level, call me and say Hola!

  8. Gráinne Says:

    oooohh laura yes yes yes! contact with another student at last! I totally feel the same. I have spent most of this weekend trying to catch up and am finally making progress with book three, but i fear my lack of being able to practice anything is a big hinderance. Lets meet up - the blind leading the blind sounds good to me!!! :-)

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  10. Ann Jones Says:

    This got me reflecting on the learning features that are mentioned and how/whether they also apply to informal learning - which is how I am (mainly) approaching my own language learning at the moment (Welsh). Thinking about content and activities: in sorting out my own learning I also have to find the content and activities to take part in and it means that I quite often return to similar resources and go through phases of using them - so I have been through the listening to a Welsh soap for learners phase (courtesy of the BBC - excellent language learning website);listening to Welsh radio phase; reading books - and currently watching programmes on the Welsh language TV channel via the web. The trouble is, most of these are about comprehension rather than production. So I have to say the idea of having content and activities decided for me is very attractive - and also someone else structuring the activities. In the past I have really enjoyed (and benefitted from) intensive language courses - which of course are not informal.

    I also think the support of other learners is very important and so far is the thing I’ve really missed in my language learning is being able to discuss the ups and downs with others regularly - and even more, being able to talk in Welsh - getting practice in using the language is so important - and also I think this is really crucial in staying motivated - it’s a great feeling to be managing to communicate reasonably successfully in the language. I guess one of the advantages of being an “informal” language learner is that I can focus on the things I want to; but it also means I don’t engage with the aspects that are harder work or give less immediate reward - like the grammar. So I’m really pleased and excited to be going away on a Welsh weekend course this weekend as I will be pushed into doing the grammar - but much more importantly (for me!), I know from experience that having the opportunity and environment to practice and speak for the whole weekend will also be a real motivation boost.

    You don’t say specifically whether not being able to get online affected your motivation for the course - I’m sure it would me - so I think you’ve done brilliantly to keep going without that!

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