RAPPORT, Volume 2, Issue 1 RAPPORT Issue 1 version4FINALSO - Page 11

RAPPORT WWW.RECORDINGACHIEVEMENT.AC.UK Issue 1 (2017) seems we should have better understanding of how individuals’ previous learning experiences and qualifications affect our ability to learn. Anecdotally, we may associate the encounter with an inspirational teacher with our later choice of subject at university, or the opposite, how a difficult experience put us off an area for the rest of our lives. For example, Carol Dweck (1999, 2006) has suggested that the way children are treated during their time at school will shape their beliefs about learning or ‘mindsets’ which, in turn, influence how they approach learning. Children with ‘fixed mindsets’, according to Dweck, believe that success or failure is due to their ability not effort, and will interpret results accordingly (e.g. ‘I got good grades because I am clever’ or ‘I failed this test because I am not good at maths’). There is not much that can be done about it, so there is no reason to try harder or something different, and there is nothing that teachers’ feedback can offer that can change things. The opposite happens with children who have a ‘growth mindset’. By contrast, they attribute their results to their effort and are eager to try something different the next time. Instead of taking feedback personally, they use it to improve. Progressive changes in adults’ beliefs about knowledge, or ‘personal epistemologies’, have been studied through post-tertiary education (e.g. Baxter Magolda, 2004; Perry, 1970), but relatively little is known yet about how these conceptions influence the ways they learn. Individual differences, for example, intelligence, personality and learning styles, have also been researched (e.g. Furnham & Mon sen, 2008; Furnham, Monsen, & Ahmetoglu, 2009), but far less is known about how cultural differences are reflected in the way students learn. Perhaps, the reader can think of many other important factors associated with learners. We do not want to restrict input factors to aspects of the learners’ characteristics or their background, but would like to include any aspects of their current lives that influence their learning in positive or negative ways. There is some evidence of the contribution that attachment bonds to parents make to college students’ adjustment and development (e.g. Mattanah, Lopez, & Govern, 2011). In the same way, the multiple responsibilities of mature students can influence their learning experiences (e.g. Panacci, 2015). Input variables also include the learning environment. The curriculum can be understood broadly as learning experiences that arise from the combination of content, goals, methods, assessment, extracurricular activities and (even) learning environment, hidden curriculum and cultures (Shao-Wen, 2012). Curriculum design reflects the history of a discipline as well as the state of the art, but also a pedagogical philosophy, often implicitly. In some institutions, a clear mission guides the curricula. In the first years of the 21st century, centres of excellence in teaching and learning (CETLs) embedded in many universities the UK carried out work on different ways of teaching or facilitating learning. We ought to mention the important work of support systems that assist students with academic skills, but also counselling, general health and finances. Such services operate at a local level (e.g. personal tutors) as well as centrally. Finally, resources include libraries and labs, but increasingly online resources accessible remotely at all times: VLEs, email, ePortfolios, online library catalogues and electronic libraries and portals that provide access to thousands of academic journals. While the above relates to the conditions for learning, they do not constitute the learning itself. For learning to take place, the students must both engage with the curriculum and use the resources available. By illustration, the University of Bedfordshire aspires to generate learning processes referred to as ‘realistic learning’ (Gaitán, 2007)4, where the learner is active, not passive. Instead of viewing teaching as the transmission of knowledge we conceive it as supportive of the construction of knowledge by the learner. We favour learning by doing, rather than through merely listening to a lecture. From this perspective, learners become active when the learning relates to their interests or when they can make sense of the material in terms of a purpose for learning it. Learning then becomes meaningful. However, we believe that the most significant learning takes place in social interactions with others (peers or lecturers) where students work on tasks collaboratively. It is essential that learners have their views and prior knowledge challenged and that, as a result of careful analysis and debate, they transform their understanding; there can be a modest, but important, shift or a total reorganisation of their thinking (Mezirow, 1997, 2000). Learning can also be challenging in that the materials and 4 The notion of ‘realistic learning’ relates to some of the ‘principles of good practice’ proposed by Chickering and Gamson (1987, 1999), but its dimensions describe aspects of the learning process that lead to deep learning and learner development, hence qualities of the learners’ experience rather than things that tutors ought to do. We believe the role of excellent teaching is, of course, to foster or promote these qualities of leaning. However, teaching on its own, even if it is excellent, cannot produce realistic learning without the students’ engagement. We believe realistic learning requires a partnership between learners and tutors. 10