Pivoting into ‘deep’ learning
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SINCE the pandemic disrupted the education system in March for us here in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, we were more or less forced to adopt a virtual approach to teaching and learning. The sudden shift and the inability to build competency and have the requisite infrastructure meant that the switch to virtual school was fraught with challenges. These are challenges we are still struggling to surmount.

At my university, our examinations and assessments became asynchronous. Some of my lecturers converted our courses to 100 percent coursework for assessment, which meant that my grades were calculated from continuous assignments and quizzes throughout the semester. For these courses, there was no final examination — that extra pressure assessment that has the potential to determine whether you pass or fail a course.

The other courses that kept the final examinations offered a variety of assessment mechanisms — whether giving a final assignment to be completed over at least two days or, an examination was made available online during a certain period and there was a fixed time to complete it.

In December, however, I had one of the stranger assessments I’ve ever had throughout my entire schooling experience. Strange, even in a pandemic internet school context. My lecturer asked us to complete an on-line management-type simulation. Here, we were tasked with immersing ourselves in a managerial role and navigating the various scenarios presented as we felt best. Though we were taught a myriad of theories and approaches throughout the semester, he asked us not to revisit our notes before engaging in the simulation. My lecturer’s focus, I gathered, was for us to just genuinely react to the scenarios.

In the managerial role, the employees in the simulation engaged me on various issues — some understandable and some frustrating. My responses and solutions were what I perceived to be the best actions. Seems simple enough, right? Well, it was. The second part of this examination/ assessment (and this was the part that was graded, not the simulation) required each of us to look at the feedback offered on the decisions we made during the feedback and write a self-reflective essay.

For this essay, we were asked to use the feedback to assess how we could have improved our decisions (if any improvement was necessary) and then apply the theories and approaches we learnt during the semester to explain why improvements could be made to our decisions. We were also asked to reflect on similar circumstances (previous experiences) where we might have made a similar decision, as opposed to the optimal decision articulated in the feedback.

It was a strange assessment. It didn’t require me trying to remember concepts, theories, or approaches. But, it was this deep or immersive type of learning that helped me to understand whatever I was taught throughout the semester, instead of just regurgitating information garnered on a paper.

Unfamiliar ways of assessing learners have been a key feature of internet and zoom school since using physical classrooms is not necessarily the safest place to be for large groups of learners. Teachers have had to find ways of assessing, despite the circumstances presented. And, I don’t know if my lecturer would have been able to tap into his innovation and offer us such an assessment, had the pandemic not required some amount of pivoting. But, if for nothing else, I’m glad that he was able to conceptualise such an assignment and include our class in the pilot of it.

I believe this experience in the management course offered a glimpse of what is possible, once we stop clinging to the traditional methods of teaching and learning (memorising and regurgitating).

In an article published by the Atlantic, Ben Orlin, a math teacher in California posited that memorisation is not necessarily the best way of encouraging learning. And, an overreliance on memorisation, instead of encouraging deep thinking, reasoning, and an immersive way of learning may result in no real critical thinking or analysis.

I hardly remember any of the formulae I crammed into my head before now. My younger sister asked me for help with a Grade Five science question and Google had to help us both. I don’t remember half of the old white men who articulated theories for courses I did a year ago. But, ask me about management approaches and I got you.

The pandemic has provided some leeway for us to examine how our education system is set up and perhaps, make changes that could have longer-lasting benefits.

If you would like to discuss this column or any of my previous writings, please feel free to contact me via email: vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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