When I heard about the problem-based learning (PBL) case at Queens College or listened to the TEDx lecture by Seth Godin, I recalled my confusion and embarrassment when I first encountered a PBL-style class. It was the first class I attended when I returned to academia after some years of professional life. The class was for learning a computer scripting language, but the professor did not give any lecture in the lab and just shared his tutorial videos that he posted on YouTube. There was a little project assignment each class that students had to figure out how to complete by themselves watching the tutorial videos. The professor stayed in the classroom just to answer the questions.
My first thought was as follows: why am I here paying the tuition? Did I make the hard decision to come back to academia giving up my career and salary spending all my savings just for watching YouTube videos in the classroom? I can watch them at home or in my office without paying for the tuition! Moreover, I had never seen that type of class when I had been a college student, thus, the professor not giving a lecture seemed like a dereliction of his duty. Due to these thoughts, I was lost during the first class and finally dropped that course.
Ironically, this issue of YouTube learning came up again in another lecture class. In that class, a guest lecturer was invited one day, who was a young CEO of a consulting company for Building Information Modeling (BIM). He said that nobody was teaching BIM when he was studying at architecture school because it was a new system of which not many experts were available. Therefore, he could self-learn BIM only on YouTube, and he could be one of the few BIM specialists when he graduated. He said the self-learning through online platforms would be the future of the education, and we should be more active and comfortable with learning new area utilizing those supports. The guest lecturer’s session helped me open my mind toward the new learning method.
Afterwards, more and more classes in my schedule turned into PBL. I could learn a lot, even though the learning process required significant efforts. During the three years in academia, I could see the guest lecturer was right, also, the scripting language class would have been helpful if I did not drop the course. As Godin explained, the definition of learning seems to move from “collecting the dots” to “connecting the dots” now. I was educated in the system of “collecting the dots” in my college. Although I knew the system was burdensome and uncreative, it was harder to break through the familiar methods. Finally, I could start moving toward “connecting the dots” accepting the new system of learning, which seems like a valuable gift from my graduate studies.
TEDxYouth. (n.d.). STOP STEALING DREAMS: Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXpbONjV1Jc
My interest in diversity and inclusion started when I was traveling 36 countries in Asia, Middle East, Europe, and Africa. It was a project that my friends and I planned together: having one and a half year off from our college, and moving toward the west by land from Tianjin, China. During this trip, I was fascinated that the students from other universities in various countries were studying the same thing to mine. We all looked different but shared the same thoughts. Also, the numerous travelers I met, including hippies or Japanese freeters, showed me non-stereotype lifestyle that could be as happy as another stereotype lifestyle. With this experience, I could throw away my prejudice and gain a wider view of life.
The interest in diversity and inclusion continued to my graduate student life. Last semester, I participated in Virginia Tech Diversity scholar program. In this program, the participating students each suggested an initiative to promote the climate of diversity and inclusion on campus. In my case, I noticed that international students did not have enough chances to socialize with others outside their community, such as international students with different nationalities or students from the US. There were some events for socialization, but students were not much engaged in the existing events. Based on the thoughts that students would be more engaged with self-directed activities, my initiative was a series of culinary classes for sharing various recipes in the world among the students. These were student-led classes, thus, any Virginia Tech student who volunteered could be the instructors. Although this project ended up with Asian Cooking Classes because only Asian students volunteered to be the instructors, the events were successful. Studying and cooking some dishes together, we had a great time. The photos of the events are found here:
This project provided an opportunity to explore different cultures and offered a common interest which could bind students with different backgrounds together. At the same time, the project led me to think about how to utilize my previous experiences in promoting diversity on campus.
Since the number of international students in the US is growing these days, inclusive pedagogy for them is becoming more important. When we say “international student,” it can indicate students from various countries, thus, a pedagogy for international students can be created in many different ways according to the countries that the students come from. Here, I would like to specifically talk about some students from East Asian countries based on the experiences of mine and my friends.
Studying in the US as a Korean, the most challenging part for me has been participating in class discussions. This is because of my culture in which students are generally silent, also my English speaking skill that is not enough to dive in the fast pace of the discussions. Although I tried to speak something each class, I mostly ended up being a silent student. Sharing my experiences with other friends from Korea, China, or Japan, I found that they all had the similar difficulties to mine while they wanted to be more involved in their classes.
Afterwards, I felt bad when I saw myself or other international students who are silent during the class discussion times, and questioned to myself how I could change the atmosphere more inclusive for those students if I taught the class. I thought about a quota system to reserve a certain portion of time for the students who speak less during the class. However, the quota system might be able to interrupt the flow of the discussion, also the system would work only if the students wanted to speak, but couldn’t find an opportunity to do that. Otherwise, the forced speaking time would not be pleasing.
I also thought about keeping a slow pace for the class as it worked well in one of my classes for learning software. But, students’ discussion time would be different from a computing class since the instructor is not the only one who is talking, and it would be hard to ask the speaking students “could you speak slowly?” every moment. Moreover, some people might argue that it is the international students’ own responsibilities to practice speaking and listening English in average speed because college classes are not ESL classes.
In conclusion, I am still looking for effective ways to create an inclusive pedagogy for international students like me. At the same time, I would like to note that this posting should not be a single story about East Asian students because this is purely based on my experiences and some conversations with my friends. There would be some other students from East Asian countries who are good at discussions and well participating in their classes without those concerns.
Let’s assume that you are working on a group project in a class. You are ambitious about this project, but, two other team members are not that interested in the group project as you are: one member is always late in the group meeting or does not show up. Another member comes to the meeting, but does not want to work. The portions he wrote have errors all the time. In addition, he keeps criticizing and rejecting your works or ideas during the meeting without showing his works or other alternatives. You are tired of arguing with him. The due date is coming, but your group work has not proceeded. What would be your solution to this situation?
- Work everything alone, and just put the group name on that
- Stop being ambitious, give up your grade, and leave the situation as it is
- Talk to the professor that your team members are not working
I made the situation above based on the stories of some college students’ comments. A college student says that group work is communism. This method takes away his motivation, thus, he couldn’t learn anything from his group works; another student complains that group work is an outcome of professors’ laziness because group work is easier to grade than grading the whole students, also professors don’t need to prepare their lectures during the group presentations. College students express many kinds of negative opinions about group works on the web, but I realized that there was always one reason behind their complaints: they don’t want to share their “A” with a member who doesn’t work. We cannot blame this idea because it is true that getting “A” without any contribution to the group would be unfair.
Reading the article, Making the Grade: The Role of Assessment in Authentic Learning written by Lombardi (2008), I found a wonderful table called “Peer Group Assessment Template.” The idea here is that students evaluate each other after their group works, which can be reflected in the final grade. If this table was utilized in the classes, the college students’ experiences about group works might have been different. But at the same time, I was questioning what if there was no grading or just pass/fail system related to those group works? If so, the fundamental reason of avoiding group work will disappear because students will not have “A” anymore that they should share with a lazy group member. I am not sure if the quality of the group work outcome will be better or worse without grading system, but I guess that the atmosphere of the group would be much more humane because they will see each other as friends rather than a manpower for achieving a better grade.
The readings about mindful learning reminded me of a class that I took for learning building simulation software. In that class, I learned different kinds of simulation programs which were recently released. Since they were in a new area and many new simulation programs had released every year, the instructor of the class was not knowledgeable about all the programs that we had to learn. He talked about this situation on the first day of the class and emphasized that our class would be a collective learning session rather than a lecture, and he would be learning the programs with us as well.
As the instructor explained, the class did not have much lecture time, and the instructor’s role was more like a coordinator. The assignments were self-learning the software by using the tutorials given by the instructor, and solve the given problem utilizing the self-learned simulation tool. During the class time, students had discussions about useful functions of the software sharing each other’s simulation results. The hour-long discussions made me feel studying at an ancient Greek institution. The paintings that describe the institutions, such as the School of Athens or Aristotle’s School, have different scenes from the classrooms of today, in which students always have discussions.
Aristotle’s School (source: Wikipedia)
Although I learned a lot from this class that was enjoyable as well, this experience made me question the role of higher education. Today, the development of online communication has facilitated learning a new subject. Questions raised during the learning can be easily addressed in online forums, which also offers similar types of experience to the discussions we have during the class. It seems that taking a class or the presence of an instructor will not be mandatory anymore for learning something. Then, what would be the role of higher education in the future? Would that be guidance on learning, filtering knowledge among the excessive information on the web? Or offering an on-site platform for better discussion, motivation, networking, and certification, like a part of the actual roles? How would the future of higher education be changed?
In 2006, I dropped a computing course, because I could not follow the pace of the class. Even though the professor answered my questions, I easily forgot the answers, and I was tired of asking the same questions again and again. It was my third time to fail or drop a class related to computing, and these experiences became a big complex about my computer skills afterwards. During the professional experiences, my computer skills that I had suffered in learning were improved, I thought that the improvements were a fruit of my hard working which could be a happy ending. However, other computer programs have appeared since 2006 that made me face even more challenges than before while I still had a bad memory, and was reluctant to learn the new skills. I wanted to overcome my computer phobia, and it was one of the reasons that led me to return to academia.
When I started my first semester after several years of working, I realized that the definition of learning had been changed from ten years ago. When I took a computing class, the professor said that the goal of a class today is learning how to learn during your whole life rather than transferring a fixed knowledge. She also said that she was really slow in learning computer, but she could self-learn the skills that she teaches now with the support of YouTube and learning communities on the website. Thus, if she could learn the skills, all of us should be able to master them. Her comments were encouraging to me, and she was right. I could not follow the class sometimes, but the video tutorial assignments helped me to cover the missing parts. The advantage of the video was that I could replay the difficult parts again and again without feeling guilty, and the materials were easy to find in Google. The interesting point was that the professor in the 2006 class was a high-level expert compared to the professor in the 2016 class, but the latter class was much more helpful for me.
After taking this class, I do not have computer phobia anymore. Nothing is changed, I still cannot remember the things I learned, but whenever I face a barrier in learning, I know that the answer is out there, which will come to me soon. Now, I practice new software regularly by using YouTube or Lynda and enjoy communicating with anonymous people in learning communities. Learning new software is not a painful process for me as before, I finally liberated from the burden of computing!