One of my teacher training courses over ten years ago included reflecting on Hattie’s theory of visible learning as well as many other pedagogical perspectives. In student groups, we discussed the importance of teachers seeing learning through the eyes of students and various approaches to empowering students to take ownership of their own learning. There was a lot of focus on shifting perspectives from a teacher based learning perspective to one that focused more on the students’ perspectives. We talked about Vygotskij’s zone of proximal development and how teachers need to use students’ previous knowledge and experience as a starting point, to then use the practical approach scaffolding to create a framework for learning. All the different theoretical perspectives that I was encouraged to try have been applied in different ways during my years of teaching. I have never been “the same teacher”, I think, in different context, but I have tried to shape the activities (based on learning objectives) according to the student groups I’ve met. I’ve worked with young teenagers, young adults and adult students, and regardless of age and background, all students and student groups have been different. Sometimes I’ve even used the same material in two different groups with two completely different outcomes.
Having worked with both project based and problem based learning as well as group work in different ways over the years, I have continued to use group based activities as we’ve moved completely to a digital classroom setting at my university, in times of Covid-19. I’ve been curious to learn more about networked learning, so when I heard about the ONL course, I thought it was a good idea to enrol. I wrote in a previous blog post that I’m not sure what my expectations were as I registered, but regardless of what those expectations were, I never could have imagined the process as it actually was. What I have learned is difficult to put into words, but this experience will influence my teaching practice in various ways.
During the past few weeks I have reflected a lot on what happens in a group over time, and how group dynamics influence openness, creativity and flow. Collaboration is a complex thing. One of my group members from PBL10 wrote a lyric about collaboration, and asked the question “Where is it actually happening?”. That is a good question. Collaboration is not just about working together in a group towards certain goals and sharing knowledge and experiences. It’s a process of listening to what being said but also what is not being said in a meeting, learning about differences, understanding prerequisites for learning, and embracing diversity and ideas. It happens in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of places. Collaboration involves understanding that every interpretation from every individual is valuable, and also that a single voice is just as important as everyone else’s. By that I mean that it is important to be norm critical. Especially when we view an opinion as “different” or “odd”, we need to reflect on why we think that way, and try to reevaluate our own perspective, not try to change the other person’s perspective or influence them to think differently. Instead, being norm critical is what brings us to learning, and to understanding another person’s point of view. That’s where true collaboration takes place.
I would say that norm critical pedagogy has become a bit of a trend in Scandinavian countries in recent years, and I would agree that it is important to reflect on one’s own cultural “glasses”. Sometimes an approach in group work can seem so “obvious” or natural, especially if most people in the group agree, but we have to remember that we are always influenced by our previous experience and background. What one person says, that might go against what the majority want or believe, is just important to look at as what the majority want or believe. Like I wrote above, that’s where we’ll find the best learning experience. One of the things I’ve learned or confirmed in the ONL course is to reflect on the importance of diversity and listening. When I have looked at what other PBL groups have done week by week, and when I’ve seen the different approaches and group constellations, I’ve reflected on how different the outcome has been in what people have presented from the PBL groups and what participants have blogged about on an individual level. There was also a comment in our final webinar that made me think about norm critical pedagogy on a deeper level, as we need to remember that prerequisites for learning (and collaboration) are so different. We come from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds. So two of the reflections I will take with me, moving forward, is what happens in a group over time, and how important it is to listen to every single voice. I will try my best to engage students in group work that takes place over time, so that the groups have time to get to know each other more, and develop a deeper understanding of each individual’s perspective. I will give them specifik tasks to challenge them to listen and to be norm critical. I will ask them to reflect on more questions like 1) what do I think about what X said, and then 2) why do I think I think that way (what in my previous experience causes me to think that – what perspective do I have?) and 3) have I created an understanding of what has influenced X’s viewpoint? In other words, I will use more of a meta perspective in the questions I give to my students. All in all, this course has taught me a lot about group dynamics and collaboration, and what openness can mean in a group context, with added “toppings” of creativity and diversity. Thanks PBL group 10 – it’s been quite a journey!