“For four years, Juan Pablo Alperin has been using an online annotation tool called Hypothes.is to generate reading-based discussions in his classes. The results have been so positive that this year he applied for a Dewey Fellowship (a teaching and learning–focused position granted by SFU’s Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines) in order to spread the word.
‘I applied for the fellowship because I’m so excited,’ says Alperin, an assistant professor in the Master of Publishing program. ‘I want to use it to get more people to know about this option.'”
In the Master of Publishing program, it has always been the goal to be both current and relevant—both within the publishing industry and in how students are taught. And education is changing.
As guest lecturer Keiron Simons said at the start of the second semester, “School is supposed to be about social connection and personal empowerment.”
And so, while students can still expect to write multiple research papers, lead lectures, and complete extensive group projects, they can also expect class to run a little differently than traditional lectures as instructors experiment with active learning methods.
Active learning is a way of teaching wherein students take responsibility for their learning. They work together to explore, explain, and exchange ideas. They research what interests them. They all participate, because equality is built into lessons to make classrooms safe, engaging spaces.
In PUB 802: Technology & Evolving Forms of Publishing, we were asked to come to class having read the syllabus. We were asked to give serious thought to what we wanted the course to be about, and about what we wanted to learn.
After some discussion in our first class, our professor left for 20 minutes and instructed us to continue the discussion without him about what we wanted to learn. We were also supposed to decide who was going to be responsible for leading each class. It was up to us to mobilize ourselves. Even though we are well-educated adults, it was still difficult at first to break free of deeply ingrained institutional norms and embrace the autonomy we had been given. And guess what? We managed just fine.
Now in my other life, I work for a school board. We are big advocates of active learning, and I write about our innovative successes on a regular basis. But to be on the other side of it so completely was an eye-opening experience. By being given autonomy over our education, our class felt empowered and listened to. We knew that we mattered, and that our instructor truly cared that we got as much out of our education as possible.
It was a win for him as well, because he knew that by using active learning methods we would be more engaged in his lessons and encouraged by the knowledge that dialogue would flow in both directions. If a kindergarten teacher comes away from a similar teaching experience telling me how she learned alongside and from her students, I have no doubt that a university instructor will have similar things to say. In active learning, we all come away from the lesson with greater knowledge and understanding.
Of course, active learning goes beyond letting students have a say in what they are learning. It can be about creating a safe space for all students to speak, such as by using the annotation plugin hypothes.is to allow students to take notes on online articles as they are reading, or having them write out feedback (One Minute Essays) on cue cards at the end of each class. Or is can be about working with them as the Magazine Project evolves into the more relevant Media Project, and giving them the flexibility to design an agile media entity that will evolve throughout the semester. All of these are real examples of things taking place right now.
It’s a different way of learning for sure, but that’s a good thing. We are more than competent, and after this semester, we will be more confident too.