At the Teaching and Learning Institute we have recently launched a scheme called Supporting Peers to connect colleagues across the University so that they can develop and share teaching and learning experiences and expertise. The main way that we are currently conceptualising this inititative is as “conversations about learning”, partly to define this as different to the more formal institutional process of Peer Observation of Teaching.
This means that we are currently building a network of colleagues who want to learn more about an area/activity of teaching and learning but also colleagues who want to share an area of or approach to teaching and learning that they are knowledgeable about.
We are hoping that this becomes a way colleagues can pursue their interests, build learning and knowledge with the added benefit that we as a central unit also learn more about the teaching and learning interests of staff and can offer relevant support.
Once we have a pool of colleagues interested in this development and the first connections have been tried out then we are planning to investigate ways that the learning conversations can be continued online in a collaborative environment where resources and reflections can be shared. For now expresssions of interest from colleagues have been slow but we are aware that this is something that needs time to develop.
Every large organisation has the issue of connecting departments and mainstreaming pockets of innovation and this scheme is one way that we are trying to address this. Another way we are building collaboration and innovation is by funding teaching and learning projects that involve cross-University teams. To see what Innovation Projects have been funded so far see the Innovation Projects section of the Teaching and Learning Institute website.
I started writing this post to clarify my thinking about the scheme and hopefully get some feedback from anyone in HE implementing similar peer oriented opportunities for teaching and learning staff. Then the blog post was left in my draft folder for a while untill my Twitter feed was suddenly full of connected learningreading and I thought there was an interesting connection with the emphasis on interest driven learning and peer supported learning and the activities the Supporting Peers Scheme is hoping to promote.
A model of Connected learning was recently launched by the The Digital Media & Learning Research Hub. Some of the main characteristics are summarised quite well in the blogpost Connected learning resources and infographic from 5th March on the blog Dangerously Irrelevant written by Scott McLeod
- Interest-powered. Interests power the drive to acquire knowledge and expertise. Research shows that learners who are interested in what they are learning, achieve higher order learning outcomes. Connected learning does not just rely on the innate interests of the individual learner, but views interests and passions as something to be actively developed in the context of personalized learning pathways that allow for specialized and diverse identities and interests.
- Peer-supported. Learning in the context of peer interaction is engaging and participatory. Research shows that among friends and peers, young people fluidly contribute, share, and give feedback to one another, producing powerful learning. Connected learning research demonstrates that peer learning need not be peer-isolated. In the context of interest-driven activity, adult participation is welcomed by young people. Although expertise and roles in peer learning can differ based on age and experience, everyone gives feedback to one another and can contribute and share their knowledge and views.
- Academically oriented. Educational institutions are centered on the principle that intellectual growth thrives when learning is directed towards academic achievement and excellence. Connected learning recognizes the importance of academic success for intellectual growth and as an avenue towards economic and political opportunity. Peer culture and interest-driven activity needs to be connected to academic subjects, institutions, and credentials for diverse young people to realize these opportunities. Connected learning mines and translates popular peer culture and community-based knowledge for academic relevance.
- Shared purpose. Connected learning environments are populated with adults and peers who share interests and are contributing to a common purpose. Today’s social media and web-based communities provide exceptional opportunities for learners, parents, caring adults, teachers, and peers in diverse and specialized areas of interest to engage in shared projects and inquiry. Cross-generational learning and connection thrives when centered on common interests and goals.
- Production-centered. Connected learning environments are designed around production, providing tools and opportunities for learners to produce, circulate, curate, and comment on media. Learning that comes from actively creating, making, producing, experimenting, remixing, decoding, and designing, fosters skills and dispositions for lifelong learning and productive contributions to today’s rapidly changing work and political conditions.
- Openly networked. Connected learning environments are designed around networks that link together institutions and groups across various sectors, including popular culture, educational institutions, home, and interest communities. Learning resources, tools, and materials are abundant, accessible and visible across these settings and available through open, networked platforms and public-interest policies that protect our collective rights to circulate and access knowledge and culture. Learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture and community.
I do think that these ideas around connected learning which highlights the social nature of learning as well as the focus on interest and peer-driven learning are not new as such but build on thinkers/theorists like John Dewey, Lave & Wenger’s communities of practice, George Siemens and connectivism, Stephen Downes and connective learning, Howard Rheingold’s work on peeragogy etc and Dr. Alec Couros and open thinking/open education and networked learning to name just a few of the people in this field. See for example Alec Couros presentation Towards Open and Connected Learning:
Or Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens.
“The social environment consists of all the activities of fellow beings that are bound up in the carrying on of the activities of any one of its members. It is truly educative in its effect in the degree in which an individual shares or participates in some conjoint activity. By doing his share in the associated activity, the individual appropriates the purpose which actuates it, becomes familiar with its methods and subject matters, acquires needed skill, and is saturated with its emotional spirit.” (John Dewey in Democray and Education, End of Chapter 2)
Kathrine Jensen (@kshjensen)
Teaching and Learning Institute