Students or Learners?

I just stumbled across the blog Casting Out Nines (by Robert Talbert) in The Chronicle blog network — I like it!  In particular, I was reading through a post from back in December called “We need to produce learners, not just students,” which stresses the importance of teaching that focuses less on producing someone who can get a good grade on the test (a student) and more on helping that student become someone who wants to learn new things and takes the initiative to do so (a learner).  The approach to teaching (and learning) outlined in this post illustrates exactly what we were getting at with our class discussion last week of using PBL in the classroom and our earlier readings from Freire.  It also touches on another topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately — the shared responsibility for learning between the student and the teacher.  In class, we agonize over the students who believe they are “given” grades and refuse to take any responsibility for their own learning; at the same time, though, we recognize the responsibility of the teacher to facilitate that learning (to some degree).  Our differences of opinion lie in where that balance is.

“. . . if you graduate from university and don’t have the skills or dispositions necessary to teach yourself new things for the rest of your life, it doesn’t really matter what your GPA says: You’re not educated.” (Talbert)

This quote is the first half of a statement made in Talbert’s post, and, to me, it highlights the need for the student to take steps in claiming responsibility for their own learning.  In an academic market where the student is the customer and the customer is always right, forcing greater accountability can be risky for the teacher.  As we touched on in our PBL case study, approaches like PBL and the inverted (flipped) classroom are often met with significant student resistance.

And if I shepherd a student through the university without putting them in a position time and again to hone these skills and dispositions, it doesn’t matter what my title or my course evaluations say: I’m not an educator.” (Talbert)

If the first statement made us feel that we had escaped some of our responsibilities, the second half gives us an even greater charge — to do more than simply “cover” the material at the expense of learning.  As we said in class, the biggest challenge in this might be knowing when to remain silent and avoiding the temptation to give “the” answer.

What do you think?  Have we found a good balance in sharing the responsibility for learning?  How can PBL help/hinder this balance?

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