May 8, 2007 (Refreshed Sept 13 2010)
E-Coaching Tip 43 Customizing and Personalizing Learning
Customizing and Personalizing Learning
One of the shifts in teaching and learning that we need to pay more attention to is customizing and personalizing learning. Traditionally, learners are doing what we have been designed for them. As has been documented in many places, students are now moving to the center of learning experiences and consequently they want to have more control over how and what they learn.
Suggestion 1: Reduce the number of team members or vary the size of the teams
While striving for consistency and fairness is important, there is no particular reason why all groups need to be the same size. Projects can usually be adapted quite easily to varying sizes and the learners can be responsible for proposing how they will do that. So the default project team size might be five, but the learners who want to do projects in groups of 2, 3, or 4 or even as an individual can propose a revised project for approval. If you decide to give this kind of choice, you may next ask, “Where is a good place to indicate this flexibility?”
Suggestion 2: Expand and provide choice in the list of possible topics for the project
Most learners are working professionals and have preferences and interests that influence their choice of project and commitment to a project. While providing flexibility in team size is important; flexibility in the choice of a topic is even more important. Combined with the proposal of a team size, then, is the choice of topic. So early in the course, even in the first week, it is not too early to focus the students on choosing a topic and a team for their project. You can do this with a general announcement and require the students to prepare their proposal together and then post their proposals for input and review as part of a course discussion. Once the proposal has been vetted and revised, the proposals can be submitted as an assignment to you.
Suggestion 3: Be very explicit about the task model, but provide flexibility in the task creation that will provide evidence for student learning
“Task model” is a term coming into assessment literature that describes three variables of any assessment. They are (1) key features of the task, such as the content area and the level of difficulty or complexity of the task; (2) the directions provided to the learner, and (3) the expected work product that “allows one to observe the students’ performance”. (Gibson, 2003) We can help to customize and personalize learning by providing the widest possible range of experiences while being clear about the need to have an effective and professional end product.
Suggestion 4: How flexible is too flexible in the choice of projects? Here is a guideline that combines challenge, confidence and interest
L. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is a good principle to guide us in just how flexible we might want to be in the design and choice of course projects. Recall that Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development defines the space that the learner is ready to develop into useful and independent knowledge and skill. (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978) Ideally, if the project task model is sufficiently flexible, learners can define and select a project that fits his or her personal zone of proximal development. As this zone (ZPD) combines both a confidence level as well as a challenge level, learners naturally gravitate to a project that more or less fits their learning needs. Obviously a key role of the faculty mentor is to ensure and guide learners to a project fit that combines challenge and know-how. Time spent ensuring this fit is well worth it. The proposal process described above can be part of this process of ensuring a good fit.
Guiding Questions for Ensuring a Good Fit for Project Work in Courses
Here are a couple of questions that you may want to use to test whether or not the project is a good fit. Is this a project that the learners are doing more for the teacher or for themselves? Or, “Will this student care enough about the work to make a significant investment in it?” These questions help to balance the tradeoff between making the work a product that demonstrates what they have learned and can be part of the assessment process and a product that will be of lasting value to the learner. (Gibson, 2006)
Designing for Discovery and Discernment
In closing, here is a quote that I would like to share, “The skills required by knowledge-based economies are not absorption and recall, but discovery and discernment.” (Weigel, 2005) Designing projects that fit the learners can help build these skills.
Definitions: Zone of Proximal Development
“The distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.” (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978)
E-Coaching Tip 22 (Fall, 2006) Emails or Announcements -- Which Tool Should I Use for What? http://www.designingforlearning.info/services/writing/ecoach/tips/tip22.html
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