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Fostering creative human beings 21st century challenge
 

LEARNING PROCESS: Teaching and assessment should be so structured to guide students to indulge themselves into a deep learning activity as opposed to that of a surface learning or strategic learning activity.

This principle should apply to every student, irrespective of his/her background, gender, culture, ability level etc., so that at the end of the course each student is a better practitioner of deep learning, minimising at the same time any possible involvement in surface learning and the like.

It is important to stress on the fact that the comparison as a better practitioner of deep learning, minimising at the same time any possible involvement in surface learning as a better practitioner of deep learning is made with respect to the state where he/she started the course, rather than with another student.

Teaching and assessment should be structured so as to guide students to take control of the learning process as opposed to a purely didactic approach to teaching in which the teacher takes complete control.

This principle focuses on giving students an active role in the learning processes. Such an approach helps students to build confidence in their own abilities and increased independence to manage the learning process.

Flexibility

It provides more flexibility for students, with different backgrounds and characteristics, to involve in the learning process to suit their situations and aspirations, within a broader framework introduced by the teacher. Further, stressing on the importance of taking care of one's learning and guiding the students towards achieving it, are the key to putting into practise the well accepted notion of life-long learning.

Teachers should motivate students by giving benefits, not only of studying a particular unit, but also of a particular learning approach used. Further, students should be given a positive impression that the learning objectives can be achieved.

The subject should not be shown more demanding than it really is. It contrasts from giving a negative impression with comments implying the content is hard to master or the education level of students is inadequate, based on some prejudices or malformed information etc.Teachers should respect students and student learning. They should not be presented as omnipotent gods possessing boundless knowledge.

Instead, they should be presented as facilitators who provide guidance to students to take control of their own learning. They should be flexible in their approach to teaching/learning process than presenting themselves rigid in their view points.

They should accept the possibility that there could be more intellectually capable students than themselves in a random student community, though not necessarily in life-experiences and amount of information exposed to.

Contents of a unit should be so structured and formulated to be strong enough in concepts, while narrow enough in detail, so that students can take part in effective learning process such as a deep learning activity. This contrasts from paying more emphasis on unnecessary detail within a limited period of time thus minimising opportunities for students to conceptualise and reflect.

The assessment of a unit must be carefully structured to align with the objectives of encouraging deep learning. For example, as an easier management technique of a large class, use of multiple choice questions or short answers should be avoided as it promotes surface learning.

Research

Recent research shows that a category of highly capable students who are referred to as visual special learners, struggle with multiple choice questions as they find more than one correct answers by looking at it from different points of view.

For example, when a deep learning process is emphasised, a student who rationalises, conceptualises and reflects well on material must be given a higher rank than a student who provides a higher number of facts accurately within a limited period of time.

The time factor of an examination component of a unit must be carefully structured so that whole student community gets a fair opportunity.

The time allocated for each question should include allowances for students not only for writing the answer, but also for reflecting on the question and planning its answer.

This is a very important factor in assessment as recent research shows that a highly capable category of student community struggles with timed tests as they use more time on reflecting on possible answers.

Further, the same student category was found to be weak in hand writing, that is, in speed and clarity due to the fact that their cognitive domain operates much faster than the psychomotor domain.

Evaluation process

The whole evaluation process of a unit should contain as many different evaluation techniques as possible. For example, it is better to have a non time-constrained component in addition to a timed component (still carefully structured). It helps to minimise the disadvantage, specifically on the same student category referred to earlier.

A higher number of varied assessment components would give a fairer evaluation, provided that they all focus on deep learning of students.

Unit material must be presented in a wide range of methods. For example, in addition to presenting them in lectures, a comprehensive version of that can be made available on the web so that as a student who prefers a visual method ahead of an auditory method is not neglected.

Another example would be to include clear diagrams as much as possible will help students who prefer visual objects. Further, such an approach increases the flexibility in presentation, addressing preferred styles of a wider range of student community. It focuses more importantly on diverse human characteristics than on diverse social groups, because the former is very likely to be found even within the same social group.

Broadly focused

Unit contents, the teaching context and evaluation techniques should be broadly focused on long term benefits to students. It contrasts from narrowly focusing them on a particular situation or an environment for short term benefits.

This aspect is related to the idea of internationalising a curriculum. But the internationalisation should not be restricted only to the curriculum, but also to other areas such as teaching contexts and evaluation techniques. In other words, the whole teaching/learning process should focus on directing and guiding students to achieve their fullest potential.

Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist, refers to this aspect of achieving one's fullest potential, as a human being, with greater creativity as self-actualisation.

Healthy characteristics

While it is essential that teachers be aware of certain disabilities in some students, it is equally important that they carefully differentiate between a wide range of healthy characteristics of different students in the community and specific disabilities. For example, a highly capable visual spatial learner, who has poor auditory skills, should not be tagged as a person with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Another example would be, as mentioned earlier, a highly capable student who takes a long time to reflect on timed examination questions or who is a slow writer should not be tagged as having learning disabilities or a slow learner.

Instead, it is the responsibility of teachers to develop not only an inclusive curriculum, but also a whole teaching/learning process to cater all students in the community, possessing different healthy characteristics. The concept of diversity of the community, within an educational environment, must be seen from this perspective.

Teachers should avoid referring to stereotypes based on gender, age, culture, religion etc., which can be seen differently by different sections of a student community.

Stereotypes

They should generalise such stereotypes beyond the given boundaries and use references that are common to every student as a human being. For example, if a particular culture invokes certain limited freedom on its members, the resulting situation should not be seen as a cultural implication, but as a deprived freedom on human beings in general.

In other words, if the same freedom was constrained on members of another cultural group, the same implications would have resulted on them as well. This point is well explained by Abraham Maslow in his pyramid of hierarchical needs presented as applicable to human nature, rather than a particular culture or a section of human beings.

Teachers should attempt to refer to material presented to students in a self-contained manner based on fundamental principles, while referring to any related detailed material only if essentially required. That is the relationships of the presented material to fundamental knowledge should be highlighted so that students get a firm base to involve in a process of constructing meaning.

It contrasts from giving students a large number of isolated information. This principle helps students to approach a learning process in an open minded manner, constructing meaning from fundamental knowledge rather than rote learning based on unnecessary, unrelated detail.

Student-centred learning

It is apparent that a large number of higher-education institutes around the world seem to agree, in principle, on a set of valuable pedagogical notions such as student-centred learning, fostering deep-learning and critical thinking, internationalisation of the curriculum, encouraging students to take care of their learning, which leads to life long learning, preparation of an inclusive curriculum to cater diverse student characteristics etc.

However, we, as teachers who put these notions into practice, should reflect on our own practices to identify the extent to which we have been successful and effective. It is proven beyond doubt that certain long-standing practices put certain student categories in disadvantaged situations.

For example, practices of auditory/sequential nature, which was predominant for over centuries in higher education, serves negatively on a highly capable student category known as visual/spatial learners.

Just because the latter category may possibly be a minority of the student community, it does not warrant them to be neglected, and be at the receiving end of a non-conducive educational environment. Such situations should be seen more from ethical and humanistic points of view, rather than a legal requirement.

Assessment criteria

The utmost important responsibility now rests upon the educators, specifically in the higher-education, to prepare not only an inclusive curriculum, but also an inclusive teaching/learning processes and assessment criteria, giving careful considerations on diverse nature of healthy student characteristics.

The matters such as cultural diversity can be more accurately generalised as belonging to human nature constrained by certain human conditions, rather than as pertaining to a particular culture.

To elaborate, if a certain constraint is either imposed or removed from a certain cultural group, they are likely to behave in a different manner altogether. Along the same lines, the well-known psychologist Abraham Maslow presented the concept of hierarchy of need with respect to all human beings in general, irrespective of any cultural consequence.

Student characteristics

It is equally important that when deep learning and critical thinking are fostered as a whole, they are persisted even when addressing diverse student characteristics and irrespective of the discipline they are being used.

The approaches of deep learning and critical thinking by definition do not impose restrictions on the disciplines in which they be used; rather it is the techniques used to manage teaching/learning processes of any content.

However, the responsibility again falls on us, the educators, to structure the teaching/learning activities and assessment criteria to promote deep learning and critical thinking, irrespective of the discipline; the need for preparing them conceptually strong, while limiting in detail, is important, so as to minimise any possibilities of approaches ,in contrast, as surface learning and the like.

For example, if a particular course, as a whole, only aims at providing students with a certain set of skills to survive in an existing situation or a particular environment, not only a majority of these students struggle in their lives in the face of ever changing socio-economic environments and situations, but more importantly face a drastic breach in reaching their fullest potential and self-fulfilment.

Intrinsic education

Deep learning and critical thinking concepts go hand-in-hand with the notions of internalising and intrinsic education; deeper the understanding of knowledge, more the internalisation of it and the higher the intrinsic nature. The related notions are the key to enhancing creative instincts of human species, as indicated by Abraham Maslow.

He stressed on this important point of any education system as being able to produce creative human beings, by developing their natural species-wide instincts.

An education system of such a focus helps students to achieve their fullest potential, referred to as the process of self-actualisation.

Such a system also helps students to self-identify what they are good at and, at the same time, what they are not good at, or simply to recognise their own identities, rather than someone else or a particular educational institute doing that, most probably with much lessor accuracy, for them.

Such identification leads one to stay focused in what one does and, to maintain higher motivational levels in the face of various adverse social situations and other such external hindrances.

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