As Paulo Freire (1993) effectively illustrates with his metaphor of a banking system, traditional teaching and educational settings presume that academic knowledge can only be deposited into students’ minds. Learning is a more active process; knowledge, ideas, and information are co-constructed and co-created among peers and teachers. Especially in the digital age, the learning process is different as information is readily available and becomes obsolete quickly. Connectivism is a useful concept for understanding the learning of “digital natives.” It posits that learning should lead to actionable knowledge. It is focused on connecting relevant ideas among many different elements, including people and things, in a network of information readily available for learners (Siemens 2005). In this way, learners can develop the ability to continuously learn on their own in the future rather than focusing on what they know today (Siemens 2005). In this connectivist view of knowledge and learning, a learning environment should be designed to maximize personal connections and networks of information, to interact with multiple sources, including the teacher, peers, internet, and more, and to allow students to take ownership of their learning by exploring and creating their own knowledge.
I became more interested in the connectivist theory of learning, moving beyond the banking model of education after observing courses (a total of six courses) in a lecture-based and teacher-centered environment as part of a research project. This research project that I worked on with Dr. Rachel Shane (Chair of the Department of Arts Administration at UK), entitled “Integrating Meaningful Technology in the Arts Administration Classroom,” is published in 2017 in Cultural Management: Science and Education. In a lecture-based setting, we observed that most students seemed to be looking at the teacher but the majority of them actually were staring at their computer screens watching videos with no sound, checking emails, working on assignments unrelated to the course, and texting using their phones. On the other hand when we applied more student-centered learning environment using democratic and student-centered learning tools (e.g., Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, YouTube, etc.) for a follow-up lesson, students were less distracted by their devices and used them instead to learn the course content in an active manner. Working on this research project made me realize that I was teaching in a way that is more aligned with the banking system and teacher-centered pedagogy as I spent the majority of class time lecturing, ultimately leading me to entirely rethinking my own pedagogical practice.
Based on this experience, I overhauled my courses to maximize students’ roles in their learning and to help them learn to connect with different sources (e.g., course materials, peers, teacher, and the internet) by incorporating more group work, group and whole class discussions, more work time for students in class, and minimal lectures. Often students first work through course materials and answer questions designed by me using online collaborative educational programs (e.g., Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Sheets. Examples of these activities are included in the teaching section of my dossier). I give a summary of the content after they explore the content themselves and build their own understanding around it. Then students apply their understanding to solving problems situated in real life. For example, in my financial management courses, students work in teams of four to understand a chosen arts organization’s financial situations and predict future standings based on 990 tax forms and other reports and articles published by the organization or found online. Students do research together, give feedback to each other’s work, and get to experience different perspectives brought by multiple people in their group. In all of these processes, I often intervene to ask further questions and correct any misunderstandings along the way. This setup makes it difficult for students to come to class without completing the required prep work (e.g., readings).
The redesigning of courses was not an easy task as many students are conditioned to learn in certain ways. When teachers do not teach in those ways (e.g., lecturing using PowerPoints and other teacher-centered pedagogical tools), students consider that teachers are not teaching. I intend to continue to improve my new student-centered approach of teaching as students’ understanding of the content becomes much deeper and more nuanced as a result. I noticed this when students shared their discussion results and answers to my questions to the class and through their submitted assignments. They have more organic understanding of the content that is based on context as they are the ones who are creating knowledge with their peers and I am facilitating that learning experience. Also it is more about teaching them how to find information they need and utilize it for their future work as knowing something right now might not be relevant for their future work in a fast-paced digital age.
In addition, this approach can be applied to online courses. In AAD 520: The Arts and Artists in Society and AAD 610: Financial Management for Arts Organizations, I facilitate a number of group discussions and projects. While I cannot always be in the same room with these online students, having group activities and discussions helps expose them to the different perspectives of their peers. When they do group projects together, they regularly meet through Google Hangouts or Skype to work on assignments together, bounce ideas off of each other and learn from each other. When they can not figure out certain aspects or have questions, I am always available to help. In addition, in AAD 520, I let students choose the topic of their final research paper based on their interests. The fact that they will write about a subject matter that they personally care about makes them go further in finding sources to include and ask more critical questions, which helps them internalize and own the knowledge they gain in the process. These are a few examples of the many occasions that I have clearly witnessed how students’ understanding grows more profoundly from a student-centered and connectivist environment than from simply sitting passively in a formal classroom setting or looking at a screen.
I recognize that there remain a number of challenges and uncertainties that cannot be immediately resolved or completely understood by my practices and teaching philosophy. However, I strive to improve my teaching and student learning through communicating with my students and constantly thinking and researching best practices. One way I use to communicate with my students is to conduct a midterm evaluation of courses and adjust my teaching based on the results (the online midterm evaluation form is included in Summary of and Reflection on Course Evaluations in the teaching section of the dossier). I am constantly learning to be a better teacher by observing and listening to my students.
Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.” International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3–10.