September 4th, 2013

Fostering the Reciprocity of Learning

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In the July 10, 2013 post, I shared some ideas about learning with students precipitated by an article that made an interesting distinction between “doing for” students and “learning with” students. The post generated some good responses and prompted Aron Reppmann, a philosophy professor at Trinity Christian College in Illinois, to send me an email. “I think you have your finger on something that’s often missed in debates about professors’ posture toward students: namely that to say that we learn with and from our students is not necessarily to say that we are always learning in the same way as our students.”

It does seem a bit of hypocritical to pretend that we are learning with our students if that means we are learning in the same way (Professor Reppmann’s point) or even learning the same things. Those of us who have been in the classroom (or the online classroom) for years are teaching courses with content that we have come to know well. That doesn’t mean we know everything about what we teach. It is still possible, indeed likely, that as we teach it yet again, we gain a new insight or reach a different level of understanding. It is even possible that a student question or answer will take us into new intellectual territory. But even as we learn familiar content better, we are not learning it in the same fashion as students who are encountering it for the first time (or the second or third time in their major courses). We don’t learn with students as equal partners when the learning involves course content.

Nonetheless, we are learners just as our students are and there are parts of the quest for knowledge that’s shared by all learners. Professor Reppmann continues in his note, “Rather than presenting myself to students as their peer in learning, I have come to emphasize the reciprocity of our learning; . . .while we all should have and articulate various learning goals for a particular course, those goals can and should vary according to our different roles.”

Professor Reppmann has a unique way of categorizing these various learning goals. He shares the grid below with his students early in the course. The upper left hand quadrant is what is usually emphasized when teachers talk about learning goals. They are the goals the teacher, the department, and the institution have for students; some are specific to the course and others are goals teachers have for students in every course. But students also have learning goals for the course and for college. Some of their goals may be the same as those in the upper left quadrant, but some may be different.

Then there are the bottom two quadrants. We have (or should have) goals for our learning—in each course, in our ongoing growth and development as teachers, in our fields as scholars, and in our continuing work at our institutions. The grid is completed by the lower right quadrant which identifies learning goals that students have for the teacher. Professor Reppmann notes, “For many students, this lower right quadrant is the most difficult for them to imagine, but it does provoke significant reflection—I frequently receive appreciative comments about this on end-of-semester student evaluations.” That’s not surprising. In fact, Professor Reppmann says students have told him that they haven’t had professors who admit they learn things from students and they never thought about what expectations students might have for their professors’ learning.

Student and Faculty Learning Goals
Image courtesy of Aron Reppmann, PhD. Trinity Christian College. Create your own with this editable PDF »

What an interesting early-in-the-course discussion activity this grid could provoke. It encourages students to think about their goals for the course (beyond a good grade) and how those goals are the same or different than the professor’s goals for their learning. It also allows students to see that their teacher has a learning agenda as well, and challenges them to think about what professors might learn from students. If we are serious in our intent to make courses “learning” centered, then we must take time to talk about learning. Teachers and students should be sharing what and how they are learning. I should be sharing with those I teach how I’ve come to better understand how teachers learn with students—maybe I just have.

If you’d like to use Dr. Rappmann’s chart in your courses, download the editable PDF version below and personalize it with your name.

Student and Faculty Learning Goals | Aron Reppmann | Faculty Focus 20130904 by FacultyFocus