One of those exercises we are sometimes asked to do is to think of those teachers who inspired us when we were students. Often we can think of one or two really brilliant teachers who inspired us. Of course we can also remember those teachers who we do not have such fond memories of. But the vast majority of the teachers of our memory are grey, bland anodyne half remembered amalgamations of the system that processed us.
I have been giving a lot of thought recently to the issues surrounding student engagement and e-learning. I have come to the conclusion that it is about time that we as a profession start to ‘market learning.’ Students want to know the relevance of what they have to endure. They want to know that the tasks are authentic to them and most of all engaging. If they do not regard what they are being asked to do as authentic, relevant and engaging to them, they tune out and as a consequence under perform. I beleive that there is a direct correlation between disruptive behaviour and student engagement.
I have said before that students do not NOT want to learn. They most certainly do, but are we helping? With instant access to the exponential growth of information at their fingertips via Google, they are, I fear, cutting out the middle men, us. This is why I believe that we as a profession, as an institution, we need to start to market learning. Why should students want to be in your class, to sit through your prepared course work? How does what you are asking them to do relate to their world, their future? Is the information you are making them ’soak up’ something that could be found via a Google search inside a couple of minutes? Is your method of delivery speaking to or past the students in front of you. “You shout and no one seems to hear..”Does that have resonance with your own classroom experiences?
I think that we have become lazy, if not lazy then perhaps complacent. The nub of it is that in the state run school system we have chosen to be in the classes we preside over. It has been mandated by local laws however that students have to attend or classes, our schools. They have no choice, they are there in front of us becuase the law says that they have to be. They may be there in body, but are they there in mind and spirit? Becuase our students have to be in school, we do not have to do anything to keep them interested or engaged. They simply have to turn up and we can regurgitate the same old stuff to them year after year. However, if I had to market my lessons to entice my students to be there I would have to work hard to convince them to come into my room. My lesssons would have to sparkle. I would have to be better than my competitor just down the hall. I might even have to offer special discounts or extended warranties to keep them. Students would be weighing up the pros and cons of similar courses on offer, it would be akin to a decision to purchase a Galaxy SII over an iPhone4, each has their pitfalls and each has their killer apps. In the end it would come down to personal choice on behalf of the student.
Students know who the good teachers are in a school, they have a ranking system, they know the classes where they are engaged and they know the classes where they can bunk off, sleep, disrupt or do whatever. If your students were given free choice today, without you being able to market your lessons to them. If they were free to move to the classes of their choice, to build a curriculum around what they regarded as relevant, authentic and engaging to them, how would you fare? Would your class be brim full of keen students waiting for the next inspirational lesson, or would the proverbial tumbleweed be rolling through your empty classroom? Are you one of those inspirational teachers who will be remembered clearly 30 years later, for the positive reasons? Or are you one of the grey ghosts who is biding their time, regurgitating the same course material year after year?
We have to market learning. Yes there are sacred cows in each curriculum that are not negotiable, but we do not explain why they are so to the students and how these sacred cows will have relevance to them in the future, if not now. If we can not make this argument, then maybe they are negotiable. What is true is that we are talking past our students. They do not get, why we do not get technology. On the whole we do not use the technology, resources and methodologies that are the very fabric of our students’ existence. If we did we would stand a good chance of re-engaging them in their learning.