Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching: 1. Cultivating Autonomy

Ros O’Leary & David Webster

The first of the five areas of our Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching model, is Cultivating Autonomy.

While not wishing to overly stress the Kantian notion of the autonomous agent, potentially atomised in neoliberal isolation, and being hostile to discourse about student resilience for related reasons, we still want to nurture our learners as self-directed and efficacious humans, both within and beyond learning contexts. The first target, in such a project, you might correctly guess, is the lecture model.

The paradigm model of the lecture format is passive for the student (though actually, this is more complex than noted, with as the impact on the student is not predictable or visible, but we are speaking in relative terms here). Some students and tutors may like it that way. They have got used to it, and are comfortable. It also fits with industrial scale education, and the broadcast-model it embodies is familiar via our consumption of mass media. There are plenty of occasions when it might well be suitable, and getting students out of it can involve substantive transitional grumpiness. Nonetheless, our experience is that incremental steps can begin to allow lecture sessions to begin to nurture autonomy.

File 22-06-2017, 15 08 26This can be from small steps: talking in pairs during a planned pause in class, tweeting/posting their conclusions joining in a Kahoot/Socrative quiz, and the impact of bite-sized chances for student to use their voice, respond in even small ways, to the content, can be surprisingly powerful. It can, of course, – all the way up to semester-long project work. Kember and McNaught carried out research into ‘award winning teachers’ and have some useful insights on this:

Case-based teaching and problem-based learning share a common starting point. The starting point is an open case or problem which is usually based on a real-life scenario… … Case-based teaching and problem-based learning can be seen as the poles of a spectrum for teaching and learning using cases or ill-defined problems*

While autonomy is cultivated through virtually all active learning methods, more will be explicitly delineated in our Proposals table, in the last of this series of posts, where we try to translate our 5 areas into activities.

* David Kember, Carmel McNaught. Enhancing University Teaching: Lessons from Research into Award-winning Teachers. Routledge 2007.

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