Rethink!Almost exactly a year ago I wrote here about a project I had embarked on at Rotterdam University with a group of a dozen or so teachers:
The aim is to let the members explore and learn in a self-steered setting, as a diversification of the internal training methods they have on offer for their employees. Subject matter is how to adapt their teaching to the digital reality their students are already living in, and the digital reality in place in the fields of work they are educating their students for.
We spent a full year exploring and Freddy Veltman worked with us the entire year, as we were her subject of empirical study for her PhD research into how professionals develop themselves. My own role was as designer of the original work format, as facilitator to the group and moderator in the group’s online platform, and as subject matter expert for all things social media.
Last Thursday all members of the group presented their work to colleagues and management. A project that has been very dear to me has now ended. Time to look back for a bit.

The Big Five
During the year we realized as a group we were getting results and learning things in five different areas, that were relevant to Rotterdam University. These five areas were dubbed The Big Five by one of the group members, and the term immediately stuck:
Authenticity (Bringing your teaching as close as possible to reality. Real problems, real results, real work formats, making everything count.)
Co-creation (Involving both your students and colleagues in each and every stage of both development and execution of your teaching modules.)
Competences (What’s needed for a teacher with regard to the first two points, and to do your own exploratory and networked learning as a teacher)
Knowledge Creation (What we learned that can be packaged for others and can be transferred to others in the organisation)
Work Form (How the free format self-steered learning group worked for us, how it can be used both in teaching as well as in growing professionally)
There is a lot to say about the five points above, but that warrants multiple posts, so I will not go into it now. In stead I want to focus on the effect the project had on the participants and on their students.

HZap08 Final Informal Meeting

Informal meet-up this spring, Working session (by Anja)

Change your work, change yourself
I doubt that at the start the participants knew what they were getting themselves into. Most of them thought they embarked on a project to modernize their teaching. But all, including me and the project manager, ended up (re-)shaping our skills and our attitudes in unexpected ways. I’ll let a few quotes taken from the final interviews with group members speak for themselves.
“I rediscovered the fun of learning. I learned that merely working to improve my teaching is a boost in enjoying my work and be motivated all by itself.”
“Doing things, acting on thoughts, gives a lot of space in my mind”
“I now have the guts to experiment.”
“I am sad that I don’t get to lecture as much anymore, I enjoyed that so much. But I am now much more involved with my students, much more in touch with them. I’ve started loving my students so much more.”
“The relief of being able to ask anything in the group, however small or ‘stupid’. All questions were good questions.”
“I’ve lost my fear of technology, my fear of making mistakes using technology.”
“I was brought up to be modest, to think that sharing was exhibitionist. I’ve learned to share so much more.”
“Glad we had an entire year. Real change needs time.”
“I came to change my teaching module, I left having changed my world.”
“I feel closer to my colleagues and to my students. The contact is much more real.”
“I’ve learned to own my work. My primary concern are my students, everything else is secondary. I would get away with doing much less, but that would make me feel completely miserable.”
“It’s been over 35 years I had so much fun learning so much.”
“It’s amazing to learn from and connect to people all around the world. It’s inconceivable how much that means to me.”
“I almost exhausted myself in the first months. Spending time on this project until 2 or 3 am. But I needed to.”
“This project made my entire job much more fun. The space and freedom to explore and experiment.”
The list goes on. Mind you, this is all irrespective of the fact that it has been a bumpy ride for the group at times. Harsh words have been exchanged between members, frustrations and tempers flared. This was no walk in the park.
Change your work, change your students
Group members also have a lot to tell about how changing the teaching modules, changing their own teaching skills and attitudes, impacted their students and the results the students achieved. In general appreciation for the courses went up, results stayed the same or went up as well. Especially for those modules where books and theoretical material were dealt with as resources while immediately applying that knowledge in the course. Students found themselves more challenged, more involved and having more understanding of the role of the teacher. Again a few quotes, from both teachers and students to wet your appetite:
“My students don’t miss my lecturing at all.”
“It’s amazing what you get back from your students when you let go.”
“Being open to my students that I am experimenting myself, actively inviting their feedback, and the amount of recognition you get from that.”
“When I met a student some time later, and asked her how the course I adapted had effect on her, she started to cry.”
“Amazing what we learned in three weeks. I now understand so much better what my future profession is about.”

Me and Jet working, group working session (both by Ernst),

I’ll go into results on the Big Five and examples more in consequent postings. I feel privileged to have been part of this project.
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2 reactions on “Rotterdam University Learning Community Results

  1. Via Wilfred Rubens, die ik sinds twee jaar graag een van mijn grote webleermeesters noem – sinds ik ‘uit het niets’ ben beginnen (leer)bloggen en blogleren met mijn leerlingen, middelbare scholieren bovenbouw – kwam ik uit nieuwsgierigheid jouw verhaal lezen. Of beter verhalen vanuit je learning community.
    Raar maar waar: elk van de quotes die jij citeert, zou ik in de mond hebben kunnen nemen. Jammer genoeg maakte ik geen deel uit van een hechte community zoals jij die hier voorstelt. Ik heb me als leraar in mijn eentje – wel in samenspraak en samen met mijn leerlingen ‘op het web gegooid’, in de overtuiging dat het nu of nooit was. Ik kon en wilde niet langer wachten tot de schoolgroep gezamenlijk een learning community zou vormen. Dat mag pretentieus en asociaal klinken, maar ik kon niet langer weerstaan aan de uitdaging van het web 2.0 en wilde aan het experimenteren gaan, authentiek en hecht samen leren met mijn leelrlingen, open kennis delen ‘met de wereld’, ‘de wereld’ ook tonen dat jongeren veel talent hebben. Zo ‘ontdekte’ ik een ‘kring’ van stevige edubloggers bij wie ik informeel in de leer ging.
    Mijn klassen en ik wilden door een verandering van leeromgeving onze manier van werken veranderen: van vandaag op morgen, met vallen en opstaan, zoekend en vindend en zoekend … En mijn – onze ervaringen – liggen in de lijn van wat de leden van jouw community persoonlijk en in relatie tot hun studenten hebben beleefd en geleerd.

  2. Hi Ton, thank’s for sharing this great experience! I also make this eperience with members of project groups in teacher training. When they realize and reflect that they have learned for themselves in a new way as well as they have learned to teach in a new way, they are initially very surprised. This Surprising is a result of the teacher habitus. In Germany teachers do think very deaply in their hearts: “I know how to learn, but the student’s don’t and won’t”. So “Change your work, change yourself, change your students” is a basic insight: It’s all stimulated and lounched by changing your own activity! I found this very good theorized and put in an intervention methodology by Yrjö Engeström (“Expansive Learning” and “Developmental Work Research” – in German: “Entwickelnde Arbeitsforschung”)

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