While I’m normally someone who is proud to have surpassed the national average, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled to spend $700 on one semester of used textbooks. When I showed up at the bookstore to pickup my online order, the bookstore employee told me that my order had garnered some attention due to the astounding volume of books. I had added the classes that totaled to the greatest amount of books of any other student. I laughed, and said something stupid like, ‘well that’s the life of a history major!’ Now, I’m not going to pretend to know the burden of a student who is barely going to make a rent payment and finds out they have textbook cost that exceeds the tuition payments they had very carefully budgeted for.
Sophomore year, textbook sellback preparation
The most ethical problem textbooks carry, whether they cost students $600 or $1200 a year is the unanticipated cost. Why are colleges not communicating with students actual textbook costs, and why do colleges not regulate or consider textbook costs? I loved this recent study by Jeff Denning (BYU) that showed how reducing community college tuition by $1000 can increase enrollment by 5.1 percentage points. If only there was a way to reduce costs by one thousand dollars!!!!!! 😉 All joking aside, this is how students become forsaken by the education system. I can complain abut student debt, or wanting to buy nicer things, but nothing is more integral than providing access to education to those in our communities.
Another issue is the utility that the textbooks serve for the consumers of the textbook. I have been in many a classroom where I comply and buy my textbooks at the beginning of the semester but it’s function as a supplementary material is weak at best. Some professors only have you use a couple of pages of a full text! If a text is useless to me, and to all of the other students, why are we even spending $200 on it? In my opinion, if I can be expected to read 5 different textbooks a semester, a faculty member can skim an open textbook. All that, and students can save money that can be used to alleviate financial stress from students. Whether it’s a matter of access or making education a little bit less less financially overwhelming for students, the barrier of cost of textbooks needs some attention.
After the Indie Ed-Tech gathering, BYU has tried to make sense of the personal API goals and combine them with pre-existing initiatives that have been floating around. We’ve been trying to design personal learning environment applications, dynamic messaging systems, and discussing how the personal API fits into all of this. An important question arose from a design critique: are we solving a problem students have or a problem we think they have? The topic of discussion moved from all the great tools we can provide students with to what is ever going to compel students to use a tool like this. How is this not just another LMS to students? Another place the university requires me to login. When I woke up this morning I scrolled through my twitter feed. Optimism, plans, buzzwords, articles, and many conversations about what students need. Discussions on how we are going to free our students of institutional control and finally allow them to be the kind of student they want to be.
What real needs is this application going to meet? Luckily Tarah & I are also students, and have heard a lot of discussion about student needs, as well as share our own needs.
- Aggregated notifications. I can’t even aggregate my notifications within one LMS! I am personally expected to login to multiple LMS tools, a department calendar, an institutional calendar, course messaging and announcement systems, university messaging systems, and I’m sure other locations. This doesn’t even include the emails I am constantly refreshing to ensure something new didn’t come up. If there was a way to streamline and aggregate all of this, this could fill a need that students have.
- Portfolios. In many capstone courses, students are required to submit work samples from each of their courses in the program. I remember gathering (and improving) French papers from many different semesters and years. I feel comfortable assuming that not every student plugs their laptop into an external hard drive for backups on a weekly basis as I do. I recently had a roommate who stumbled across this problem in her public relations program. It was time to show work samples, and because of a new laptop, she was out of luck when it came time to produce papers she never thought she would use again. This functionality could also provide work samples for job search, and has the potential to create personalized, data-driven resumes and CVs.
- Course communication. Although a lot of this happens via phone number exchanges and friendships, there are many students within courses who do not have the same student relationships. A dynamic, archived messaging system could provide students with the opportunity to see what conversations students are having, pose questions, schedule study groups that welcome all students in the course, etc. It can even allow for students to provide instructors with feedback in some cases. Providing a forum for these types of conversations beyond the contrived chat feature of the LMS could expand student relationships and course communications.
These are needs that students have but the reality is that at every institution is a bright, innovative group of individuals who find ways to solve these problems. Any tool created would need to meet these needs to such a level of convenience and usability that they would move away from their existing routine.
The issue I saw with all of this is that we have discussions of what is good for the student, and what the student needs without ever actually asking the average student. Maybe students don’t want to control their data or personalize their learning. Maybe they’re just hear for the certificate, to get in and out as easily as possible. I would hope not, but I think as we continue to design, test, and roll out applications the student needs to be at the center of these conversations.
In an effort to understand what has been written on autonomy in education and why it’s important, Tarah Kerr and I scoured the web for articles on the subject. Although this is not an all-encompassing meta-analysis or literature review, we started to notice some themes and gleaned some valuable information on autonomy.
An autonomous learner by definition is “one who solves problems or develops new ideas through a combination of divergent and convergent thinking and functions with minimal external guidance in selected areas of endeavour” (Betts & Knapp, 1981, p. 27). The idea of autonomy has been highly studied within the context of foreign language learning and learner motivation. Much of the research on autonomy unrelated to language learning is conducted within the self-determination theory framework, a theory which focuses on human motivation, emotion, and development and the factors that affect these processes in people (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). A review of literature found that across multiple studies, autonomy-supportive settings increased performance, satisfaction, and engagement (Burton, Lydon, D’Alessandro, & Koestner, 2006; Miserandino, 1996; Pink, 2009). Students who acted in accordance with autonomous motivators experienced positive psychological and behavioral outcomes, such as improved psychological well-being, goal progress, and school performance (Burton et al., 2006). These studies also found that a lack of autonomy can cause a learner to feel angry, anxious, and bored (Miserandino, 1996). Autonomous learning draws upon intrinsic motivation from the learners and focuses on autonomous types of extrinsic motivation which are conducive to student engagement and learning (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). Although autonomy can greatly influence a learner, research has shown that autonomy in isolation is not enough to promote improvement in learners’ psychological and behavioral outcomes. Competence, purpose, and autonomy must all be perceived as being fulfilled for learners to experience positive effects (Miserandino, 1996; Pink, 2009). Autonomous learning does not seek to disrupt the traditional classroom model or the dependence relationship between the student and teacher, but rather seeks to provide instructor support of student interest pursuit and identity construction (Kant, 1996).
I recently had a conversation with Phil Windley and others at BYU where we discussed the importance of autonomy. Why do we even care about it and how can it help students learn? Having always been a major proponent of autonomous learning, I got on my soap box and shared the deep impact that autonomy has had on my life. Phil challenged me to put into words my testimonial of autonomous learning. All the content in this blog post, and all that I am as a learner, teacher, and individual is because of two very special individuals. I am forever indebted to Bryan Jackson and Quirien Mulder ten Kate for their dedication to their students, for their efforts that enable the T.A.L.O.N.S. program, and for our now shared loved of lifelong learning.
I believe that every learner benefits most from forging their own path to self-actualization. I was empowered to find my path through the George Betts autonomous learner model. At 13 years old, I entered a high school program that was centered around this model, and it has become increasingly difficult to separate any of my personal challenges or triumphs from this experience. There were days of direct instruction, and content that had to be delivered as mandated by the province, and all of those instances of learning were quite ordinary. There were times, however, when I knew I was working and something significant was happening. I was engaging, learning, and performing in a way that I thought was beyond my capacity and beyond the boundaries of a curriculum. I remember almost audibly asking myself how can this be learning if I’m having so much fun? I don’t know when I wrote learning off as an unenjoyable activity, but between self-created science experiments and semester length studies of Bob Dylan as an eminent individual and literary figure, I saw a change in how I interacted with my learning. It began to seep into my personal time in a way that I welcomed with open arms. The stakes for my learning skyrocketed. It was not longer an activity driven by compliance; it was an activity driven by engagement. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, observes this phenomenon and states that it is only through engagement that we can achieve mastery. I found myself enthralled with not only the content I was learning, but with the learning itself. I observed that all my peers were discovering themselves in a similar manner. There were those who threw themselves into music, political studies, environmental endeavors, and the list goes on, but for me it was always learning. I continued to pursue my areas of interest, and kept learning at the forefront of those interests. It was in class that one day that I discovered ds106radio through Bryan and began spending class time combining my interests of music, technology, and, of course, learning. I spent my class time interacting with a group of instructional technologists, and became enthralled with the fact that such a career path existed. Bryan let me play, fail, learn, and most importantly create my own curriculum. Class time wasn’t something that was focused on a government regulated outcome. Class time became about pursuing interests and fitting the outcomes into those interests so they could be learned through engaged mastery. It was through this autonomous program that my lifelong love of learning was kindled, and my path to self actualization was forged. Although I can’t pinpoint the first time I learned “autonomously,” and I hope there never is a last time, I can (try to) put into words what learning autonomously has done for me. Autonomy has allowed me to pursue personal goals through classroom-based learning. It has helped me see assignments and activities through a personal lens. It has encouraged exploration and opened me up to meaningful learning experiences and self-actualization. It is because of autonomy that I am an instructional technologist, and it is because of autonomy that I will continue a lifelong pursuit of learning.