Real learning should be more than students absorbing and regurgitating information. Learning should be about exploration, solving problems, and collaboration. As educators, we must provide a significant learning environment allowing students to develop real-world skills, not dependent on multiple choice answers.
Exploring ways to make this shift to holistic learning is about accepting change. Teaching in the 21st century is about embracing change not fighting change (Thomas & Brown, 2011). We need to adapt to environment where students can strive to think and develop solutions organically without boundaries. Where students value asking questions sometimes more than finding the specific answers. Students pursuing curiosity, boundary less collaboration and personalized learning tailored to their needs.
To create a significant learning environment, students need access to resources which will provide for these learning opportunities. “Until now, we have lacked the ability, resources and connections to make this kind of learning scalable and powerful “(Thomas & Brown, 2011). Students now have access to resources that never seemed possible. I have developed a blended learning plan that will provide these possibilities for students. This plan allows students choices to take control of their learning. Allowing students to work at their own pace, collaboration with students beyond the classroom, opportunities to create presentations or videos to share, and spread their ideas through blogs.
When developing a course that provides students to learn in such a powerful way I had to look inward to reflect on what my learning journey has been all about. What learning philosophy’s have provided me with the most substantial growth? Learning has been a challenging journey and my beliefs will continue to evolve. I spent a majority of my education learning through Behaviorism, where primarily I learned passively through teacher lead instruction. But this way of learning did not provide me the tools I needed to solve real problems. I discovered that through Constructivism, I could take control over my learning. My real learning pursued through project based experiences and solving real-world problems. Through this discovery I began to develop a foundation for my courses.
Through course design, it is important to have structure and set goals giving students guidance. The new culture of learning is not about allowing students unlimited access without any boundaries (Thomas & Brown, 2011). Students need to know where they are going through learning goals, then access to activities and assessments to align in achieving these goals. To accomplish this structure, I first began with developing my Big Harry Audacious Goal (BHAG) focusing on the Civil Engineering Unit of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) course. Setting this goal provided overall direction for this Unit. Then using Fink’s Learning Outcomes 3-Column table I created more specific goals starting with the end in mind. These goals focus beyond content, and emphasize relational components making the educational experience whole. These goals were aligned with equivalent level of activities and assessments for Civil Engineering.
I followed up the 3-Column table with Understanding by Design (UbD) template developed by Wiggins and McTighe’s. This strategy is connected to Fink’s 3-Column Table, but the UbD template is much greater detail. Using this template allowed me to zoom in to develop direction for the student’s construction of a bridge within the Civil Engineering Unit. This template provides three stages to identify results, determine evidence, and detailed learning plan. I found it substantial to decide not only what I wanted students to understand throughout this process but what essential questions were needed to guide students through these concepts. It was valuable to reflect on the sequence of the information to establish clear direction throughout the course. Having the ability to use both the 3-Column table and UbD template will create a structure I believe with significantly benefit students.
These ideas, goals, and tools add immense value to creating a significant learning environment, but for students to be truly successful they must incorporate a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, students can embrace challenges, use feedback to learn, and become motivated by others success. In contrast is the fixed mindset where students give up easily, avoid feedback, and feel threatened by others success (Dweck, 2006). Even though mindsets cannot be taught, I have incorporated this concept into my classes and exposed students to the value of having a growth mindset. When students are exposed to this information they can reflect on their own lives and ability to choose their approach to learning.
Working through EDLD 5313- Creating Significant Learning Environments has been all about connecting the dots within my classroom. I uncovered not only what I want my students to learn, but how I want them to learn, and most importantly why I want them to learn this way. The “why” lead me to develop my own learning philosophy, providing me with core concepts and ideas of how I have learned and what methodology were most beneficial for me. Then using this philosophy to construct a more holistic learning environment for my students, where students have control over their learning to thrive and grow. Developing goals while starting with the end in mind, providing direction and structure to get students to where they need to be by the course end. And then interweaving these ideas with the importance of a growth mindset. I believe these tools will greatly benefit my students while continuing to grow my blended learning plan.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House Fink, L.D. (2003) A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning; Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: Author. Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for supervision and curriculum development.