Learning has changed! As a university student I remember spending the majority of my time listening, reading and writing. All very passive, sedentary activities. Today as a teacher, if I use these same methods I have a group of students who sit glassy eyed in class snapping the occasional picture of the notes and diagrams I put on the whiteboard. The Millennials are a different breed, they’ve grown up with technology, are hyper connected and their engagement and motivation is contingent upon continuous real-time in situ (on-the-job, in class) interaction. Knowing how these characteristics are challenging the way organizations operate, I was keen to see whether the same would be true in class.
Knowing that students are obliged to attend all classes as part of their Master’s program, four hours of pure lecture on a Monday morning is the equivalent of being held captive and inflicting punishment. Not a good plan…. As a facilitator, I step away from the traditional “Professor” role and into one that considers the student takes responsibility for their learning. I design each class with the purpose of engaging and challenging their thinking around specific learning objectives. This is done in a variety of ways using techniques for creative teaching to encourage interaction, peer-to-peer thinking, creativity, individual reflection and learning. Case studies, discussions, role-plays and simulations are used to highlight the context and the environment for each specific learning topic.
Recently I worked with a colleague to design a collaborative challenge to develop students thinking and leadership awareness skills, when working in teams. The pre-class assignment asked them each to assess when they were at their best, or worst in a team situation. Based on feedback groups were formed around two of the most prevalent themes; difficulty with decision making and lack of participation in a team. Over the course of the next 70 minutes the teams needed to work together creating a piece of art that portrayed
- What exactly make these situations challenging, and
- Be able to clearly explain their painting, in a story.
The challenge was broken into 6 segments – brainstorming, design, prototyping, creation, storytelling and debriefing.
One team attributed the challenge of participation in a team to time constraints, diversion, lack of focus and waning communication abilities. Another team portrayed the same challenge with a completely different perspective explaining that one person usually has the best ideas and that they need to convince the others who lack ideas, what they are missing. The third team explored difficulties with decision making in teams, explaining that good ideas need to be cultivated and supported by the right people at the right time, otherwise the ideas fragment and disperse.
True to character, involving them in a learning activity that peaked their curiosity, guaranteed motivation. Engagement was at an all-time high and each teams’ outcome was spectacular! Their ideas were rich and they were able to use complex metaphors which they related to their challenge. The spectrum was vast– from dodo birds, to bursting condoms, blinding darkness and rainbow light bulbs.
Once the team challenge was completed and their stories shared, students received a take home questionnaire that required they reflect individually on their interaction throughout the process. The time they take to think through their answers will help them deepen their understanding and awareness of themselves. Learning and reflection is essential in their personal development and a key characteristic to becoming a future leader.
Nadene Canning, BSL Professor