As I continue my Student Centered Learning trainings, I am realizing more and more that the methods I’m teaching faculty do not fully address the classroom barriers they face. A trainer needs to be flexible- and I’m learning how to adapt my training almost every day with new approaches, tips and handouts. It’s humbling. This is such a typical problem for a Western “do gooder” coming to an Asian country to “help”, but offering some approaches that are not useful or culturally appropriate.
Where are the gaps in my approach? I do know that I am skillfully conveying the basics of student centered learning. I’m convincing the faculty they need to supplement their long, boring lectures with interactive activities, that the activities can be very simple, that they must learn to manage an interactive group in an atmosphere of respect and equality, and that simple, free technology is available using smart phones for classroom interaction. I’m helping them get excited about these methods, and I’m touching their hearts with anecdotes and interactions that demonstrate kindness and respect for poor, low-caste, and academically underprepared students. I’m beginning to convince them that they can still get through their syllabi and that students may very likely perform better on exams.
The problems, however, are many. Classes are very big- 50-100 students. Their classroom spaces are small and there is very little room for movement- yet I’ve been teaching them activities that do involve a lot of movement. (I’ve never had to teach classes of this size!) Students are not accustomed to these methods, and are likely to offer resistance and even disrespect. And, many classrooms have no or very poor internet access. To top it off, there is very little time and opportunity for faculty development and training. Faculty get discouraged as they think about these barriers. Science and math faculty are hard to convince that they can use these interactive techniques in the sciences.
On top of it all, it’s a huge sea change in an educational environment that has been using antiquated lecture and rote learning for centuries, thanks to the British. Institutional reform is needed, but my training does not address that. Faculty seem somewhat passive in a very hierarchical environment and are not accustomed to lobbying for administrative changes.
So I continue to look online for new ideas- find videos that demonstrate free, easy to use cell-phone based interaction for science and math classes- and I openly acknowledge the many barriers they face. We talk about “planting seeds”, that change comes slowly, and that this could be the beginning of a grassroots movement within their college and perhaps in the region!
Humility needs to be my guide.