Around the middle of last year I featured a post on this blog titled Literacy: Freedom of Choice can be complicated..., in which I demonstrated some of the tools and applications I was experimenting with to foster more in the way of learner-directed freedom of choice with a given course structure and content. This in turn was a follow up from related posts (and thoughts/experiments) The difference between a Syllabus and a Silly Bus, and Avoiding the Burn After Reading Reaction.
The basic idea? Show the learners a range of example 'profiles' (students with particular backgrounds and study/career agendas) with 'portfolios' (a step-by-step explanation of how they applied the course outcomes to match their own personal, work and educational goals). Learners choose one or more of these profile+portfolios and attempt to map these activities back onto a course outcomes grid, commenting on them critically and according to their own learning preferences and agendas.
A big difference this year has been a newly upgraded version of the Profiles and Portfolios tool (embedded above), with instructional video and embedded mapping documents, applied at the very start of the course rather than mid-way through. Bear in mind that last year the Profiles and Portfolios tool was developed as the needs of my learners became more apparent as the learner-directed course progressed. This is what makes the beginning of a new academic year exciting for me as a course developer: you get to reorganise and reapply the gems you've developed along the way the year before and put them to better use with a new cohort!
By having this up and ready right from the start of the course, the results with students have been very interesting. There is some initial bewilderment and frustration with the request to skim through example portfolios of work and use a mapping document to (a) align the activity choices to formal learning outcomes and (b) think critically about the content/activity choices, but it has faded relatively quickly as students start to engage with the application. The rationale appears to make sense to them.
More importantly, the speed with which learners have launched into their own self-directed content and curriculum has been much more impressive than comparable 'uptake' the year before. The Profile and Portfolio Discovery Activity (as I loosely term it) seems to have a real impact on students' capacity to not only understand the rationale behind a learner-directed program, but get 'stuck into it' relatively quickly. In turn, the learner-directed approach has resulted in more and better work appearing from students compared to previous years with a more lock-step teacher-designated course design.
Of course, the application here emphasizes literacy (which, being more along the lines of a mode or application rather than a specifically targeted content-based training course, makes it flexible to a variety of learning priorities). But this sort of case study approach incorporating noticing, critical thinking and personalisation might be a useful technique to consider in any course where a learner-directed portfolio is being considered as a valid and productive way to facilitate learning.
Or even just any course with a lot of complicated 'to dos'; so many learners become so bewildered and overwhelmed right at the beginning of their course, no matter how clear we attempt to make the introduction and guidelines. Rather than asking them to study and remember/absorb the course requirements and recommendations, a discovery approach like this one might help them build that understanding.
And the fact they built that understanding on their own could make a huge difference.
It certainly appears to be making a difference with my new learning cohort this year.