We began by reading key departmental documents and creating a Padlet into which groups fed back the key facts and myths surrounding Datenschutz. I wanted students to learn about various Apps and programmes so that by doing so they would understand that good EdTech is that which acts as a tool or vehicle to help students achieve a pedagogical objective. They easily grasped how to use Padlet and also, upon reflection, how it could be of use in their future classes. In particular they liked the idea of how it allows students in different locations to plan collaboratively in real time. They further saw potential in it as a tool for synopsising texts, reading for understanding and reading for information. So far so good.
With all key information to hand students turned their attention to creating the Infographic. Again they were to learn by doing. After a mini-lesson on why and when to use Infographics they were broken into two groups, one for text and factual accuracy and one for images and layout. Groups were divided by interest, artistic and language ability and with an eye to splitting cliques. It should have been plain sailing to get the Infographic completed and sent out to the department of education in plenty of time. But something went wrong. We broke for lunch but when we came back there was no sense of urgency or investment in the task. Even a Skype visit by a noted expert on the theme could not motivate the group to deliver an artefact.
At the end of the day the sense of deflation was palpable. Students could see that I was dejected also. I decided to brave the situation and ask for feedback on what had gone wrong. The key feedback was as follows:
- I asked too much of the group.
- They did not feel that the objective was valid.
Both issues are questions of methodology. I have consistently advocated the implementation of a PBL approach in small-group lectures. This was a class of 12 so should have proved ideal. Of course, this was more PBL compressed with the key elements being there, a real-world problem, an authentic audience, a strong hook and structured research phases. But today the sum of the parts did not quality Project-Based Learning make.
The first issue is that I threw the students into group-work cold. We did not develop the collaborative structures (physical trust, emotional trust and collaboration) necessary for success. This structure takes time to develop. Because lecture-style teaching is the norm at the university students did not have a great deal of experience working in a team. It was not that I asks too much of the group; rather the group was not a team and so not placed to maximise its potential. Ultimately I have to take responsibility for that.
On the second point of reflection, students felt that the objective was not relevant. Of course the objective, to help Bavarian teachers to take more risks with EdTech by giving them a clearer understanding of data protection laws (which is a significant theme in schools here) was relevant. It just didn’t appear relevant to the students. I chose the outcome hoping to motivate them to enact real change in their profession but by doing so I restricted student voice and choice - a central plank of any worthwhile PBL project. And this now allows me to pinpoint the specific cause of student that disengagement after lunch.
The background story to why students rejected the outcome was in large political. There was recently an issue that played out in the newspapers where students of the university petitioned the minister for education. The minister, most likely feeling harassed, released a press piece criticising the grammar used by students in their letters. There is something of a standoff between students and the department of education at the moment. During our lunch the story of the standoff spread among the students creating a diversion and as a result of this distraction they did not feel engaged with the task in hand. With that vital ingredient missing, they felt no pressure to produce a high-quality artefact and none was forthcoming.
Ultimately, today students left class with a solid understanding of Datenschutz due to their research and collaborative planning on Padlet. They will take confidence from this and are more likely to experiment with EdTech in their classrooms because of it. But I can’t help but think about what we might have achieved.
So what have I learned for the next time?
- Set high but realistic expectations.
- Increase student voice and choice in the project in the planning stages.
- Begin the seminar with at least some team-building activities and reflection.
Equally important, I have learned:
- Blogging after disappointment is a great processing and reflection tool.
- There is always tomorrow to get it right.
- John Hattie would, I hope, be proud of me for using feedback to correct my teaching.
- I would rather be temporarily disappointed tonight than not care at all. :)