By Richard Bailey and others, Leeds Metropolitan University
We’ve all heard that ‘markets are conversations’. But is what applies to markets also true in education? Do the same open, conversational principles apply or is it different in the classroom, where the professor retains asymmetric control over the students? Do concepts like ‘open source’ have any meaning in teaching and learning?
This semester, I’ve been leading a course in Public Relations and New Media to a diverse gathering of postgraduate students in our Faculty of Business and Law. We may be studying in Leeds, in the north of England, but we’re drawn from all over the world (see end of this article for a list of countries of origin) and from several different courses and backgrounds.
Inspired by the famous example of MIT making its teaching resources freely available online (reported in Wikinomics), we’ve been conducting our own experiment in ‘open source learning’. The class is supported by a blog and a wiki page.
University teaching is full of comfortable rituals: if you remove the rules, then you force people to think for themselves. We have tried to leave the comfort of the classroom and address the complexity and uncertainty of the world of business, marketing and communications. I firmly believe this will be more useful to our graduates than an ability to recite some textbook learning.
But, as always, it matters much less what I teach than what the class learns. So let’s hear the opinions of class members (views are anonymous to encourage free expression).
Chaotic, intercultural class
“There is no specific structure to the class. However, as explained to us, this is on purpose, as the world of new media is evolving everyday.”
“Sometimes it can be intimidating to involve yourself when the teaching methods used are so alien to us.”
“PR and New Media class consists of over 15 different nationalities and it is already challenging enough without this ‘open-learning’ system. This experimental learning process requires a teacher with great intercultural competence. Some students from high-context cultures are not used to speaking their mind out loud; in their culture people who talk a lot usually are not wise. Forcing them to contribute might be not the best way either, as they have spent almost all of their study years sitting nicely on the stool and accepting the fact that teachers are the ones who are supposed to do the talking.”
“A bias from the professor could be that everyone is familiar and up to date with social media and all it has to offer. I think several students, me included, only used Facebook before we started this class. However, the experience has driven me to explore the world of Twitter etc, which I probably would not have done otherwise.”
“This class has been a little chaotic though probably similar to the workplace which has been really valuable. There is such diversity in the class so it’s been great to be able to work with other students, and bounce ideas off each other. I think my experience could have been enhanced had I been more interactive both on and offline. I really like that there is a choice as to how class members can join in, some are quiet in class though quite active online and vice versa. The class has quickly exposed me to a range of ideas that I can easily look into in greater depth in my own time. It’s been a great experience.”
Learning community finds its voice
“It’s great to learn from fellow students – learning from others is the best way of understanding the continually widening scope of new media and PR in general.”
“The class has helped me become more confident in expressing my views in front of people I am unfamiliar with, which will hopefully carry through to my professional career.”
“Communication and debate are words that have been thrown around syllabuses for decades, but now our learning community has found its voice in an innovative and advanced arena.”
“’Thought provoking’ is the best term to describe this module. As new media is actually evolving faster than any books or theories, there is no better way to teach than nurturing students’ curiosity and excitement to continue learning by themselves.”
“I absolutely loved having a class blog instead of a study book. Everyone was free to contribute and the blog features up-to-date information and trends that might long be outdated when eventually published in a book. What I learned was that it’s not the tools that matter, those will change and evolve, but what matters is that one develops a “good nose” for what will become important online and what can be neglected. And it’s nice to surprise your teacher with facts that he didn’t know yet. In short, everyone was able to benefit from this new teaching method.”
“I think a necessity for succeeding with this type of teaching is to have a professor who encourages and then embraces the participants. This helps to reduce the uncertainty which a lot of students experience in this kind of teaching. It has made me curious and made me engage in a way no other class has done so far.”
Countries of origin of class members:
Australia, Bahrain, Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Syria, UK, Vietnam.