Understanding your students

Useful links

'Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education' by Chickering...

Learners play an essential role in contemporary pedagogy and there is much evidence to suggest that we should focus on our students as agents of their own intellectual growth. For example, long ago, Chickering & Gamson (1987) and Tinto (1993) argued that getting to know your students helps facilitate their sense of academic and social integration and consequently their learning.

As noted earlier in the course, Bransford, Brown, & Cocking (2000) summarised the state of our knowledge of learning and teaching at the turn of the century in their classic text How People Learn. They argued that learning is a process of building bridges from two ends, and that to build such bridges requires that we know where our students are. We should, for example, strive to understand possible cultural differences and also do our best to explore learners' goals, interests, and passions.

Knowing learners online

But can we get to know students in online environments? How can we accomplish this? What have other successful online academic staff done to promote understanding, to better know their students at a distance?

In the following video, experts in online learning consider the teacher-student relationship in learner-centred online environments.

In the following interviews, experts in online learning consider the teacher-student relationship in learner-centred online environments.

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Expecting to be engaged?

Key terms

Information literacy: The set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyse, evaluate...

It is clear that many of today's learners are deeply engaged in the digital environment (Rosen, 2010). For example, it is estimated that by the age of 21, the average American has spent around 3,000 hours reading books but more than 10,000 hours playing video games (McGonigal, 2011). The question is how this use of technology influences students' expectations of – and actual use of – technology at university. McGonigal asserts that these game environments are scientifically engineered to engage users in ways that most of the rest of their experiences (especially formal education) do not, and that these experiences shape learner expectations for engagement in educational environments, including their expectation for online learning.

However, there is another perspective to consider. A recent survey of over 10,000 Australian undergraduates found high levels of technology use, with more than 90% of respondents using search engines, text messages and email more than a few times a week. However, these students' use of technologies (other than search engines) to support coursework-related activities was still quite low (Gosper et al, 2013). So, does use of technology in everyday life translate into a desire to use technology for learning? The results are mixed. In studies of student expectations in both the UK and Australia, students do not always see the potential of technologies they are familiar with, such as social networking, for learning (JISC, 2008; Gosper et al, 2013).

How, then, can educators and learners share what they each know about technology?

In the following activity, compare and contrast your own history as a learner with that of your students, and enter your thoughts in the space provided after each question. Click the 'View summary' button to see a summary of the questions and your responses. You may wish to copy and paste your answers into your Teaching Online portfolio. Then use the 'View feedback' button to view our thoughts.
Compare and contrast your own history as a learner with that of your students; consider your response to each of the following questions, and then continue on to our feedback at the end.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Mastering Online Pedagogy
UNIT | 2 : A deeper dive: Theories for learner-centred online pedagogy
PAGE TITLE | Let's meet the learners

Question 1 of 3:

Think about your own time as a learner. How is your history as a learner different from that of your current students?


Question 2 of 3:

What might be the implications of these differences for how you design learning materials and activities?


Question 3 of 3:

What distinctions between your own experiences and those of your learners might you need to be more aware of in order to develop an online learning environment that is relevant and engaging for your students?


Feedback

Most of your students will certainly be familiar with social media and will get a lot of their information from websites and blogs. Some may tweet and most will text a lot, even while they may not actually talk on their smartphones. At the same time, your students may also be uncritical users of media in education. That is, students are likely to be media savvy but not digitally literate. You surely know a good deal more about your domain, including its technological tools. Perhaps you could explore ways to share what you respectively know.

The era of information abundance

Many educators have begun to recognise that the centuries-long focus on providing 'content' to students has become less crucial in an era of information abundance. Whilst we need to carefully consider authoritative course resources, we need to be equally mindful that students can use the internet and online resources that are provided by academic libraries to better gain access to and better understand content.

... and how to guide students through it

A new focus on digital and information literacy has emerged in light of this shift; promoting a critical stance on the legitimacy and accuracy of online resources to your students is of increasing importance. Providing students with guidelines on the evaluation of online materials will help them to function more effectively in a world of information abundance and will allow you to foster an orientation that places learning over teaching. We will return to the theme of learners later on, as we attempt to understand their changing demographics and needs.

information literacy

The set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyse, evaluate, and use information.


Useful links

Key terms

Information literacy: The set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyse, evaluate, and use information.

Digital literacy: Those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society (JISC, 2012).