Club-Admiralty

v6.2.3 - moving along, a point increase at a time

EL30 - Agency (Week 9)


The last week of EL30 was on the topic of Agency.  The video chat was quite interesting to watch but the topic of agency wasn't as big as I thought it would be (maybe time to rewatch? It's been a few weeks since I watched it).  The conversation started off with some interesting examples of community agency, but it seems to have gone beyond that. I have taken some snippets of the conversation and reflected a bit on them.

Just to situate this blog post, here is the information about this week from the course page: "Each of the major developments in the internet - from the client-server model to platform-based interoperability to web3-based consensus networks - has been accompanied by a shift in agency. The relative standing of the individual with respect to community, institutions, and governments was shifted, for better or worse."

One of the things that jumped out at me was an issue with analytics, an issue brought up by the discussants of the week: the data that we collect for analysis is data that is necessarily and by definition historical.  By trying to replicate the best practice of the past, you are also replicating potential structural inequalities. Furthermore by basing your decisions and actions on historical data (without a critical eye on the conditions - both stated and unstated conditions) you could exclude inadvertently exclude the same populations that were historically excluded populations, and these are the same populations that you need to include going forward.  Need to be critical about your data use.  The key take-away here is that no matter what data you end up using to make decisions, data isn't value-free.

Another comment, this one made by Jutta also gave me pause to ponder: supporting learner agency means supporting learner generated goals.  This is quite interesting, and it sort of flies in the face of how Instructional Design is taught, and how courses are generally designed ;-).   While the beginning of any good instructional design plan includes a learner analysis, the learning, or even performance, goals that the learner isn't really in the driver's seat with regard to goal setting.  The goals are usually institutionally set.  "By the end of this course you will..." - that's how most learning objectives begin, and none of them really consider a learner's individual goals.  As I was sitting here, reading my notes on this session, and thinking about this point, I was thinking about my own learner experiences.  When I first went to college I did have instructors who actually asked us learners "what do you want to get out of this course?" (or something along those lines).  This was a bit of an odd question for me at the time (and a little bit now) because of two things:

1. Some courses were required courses for my major, or for some sort of distribution requirement as an undergraduate.  I sort of feel like the institution is punking me a bit. On the one hand they are telling me that I need to be there; for reasons that aren't necessarily explicit to learners at the time, other than "well this is a required course in your plan of study"; while at the same time they are asking me what I want out of it now that they have a captive audience.  Agency is lost when something is compulsory, so asking "what do you want out of this course" seems disingenuous for compulsory courses. 

However, here is another example:  I almost minored in German†.  To earn a minor in German I needed to take some elective courses, and one elective that looked interesting was a history course on Weimar Germany. In having electives there was learner agency, and it prompts the learner to think about what topics are of interest to them from a wide (or constrained) array of choices.  This probably made the course more interesting (or rather, I was interested in the topic, so I was more self-motivated?). In that class I don't think anyone asked me what I wanted to get out of it, but I probably would have had a better answer :-)

2. I do wonder how much learners are sabotaged by being provided with learning objectives for the course prior to being asked what they want to get out of it?  Is someone's thinking constrained if you present them with what the course is about (specifically) and then ask them what they want to get out of it?  What if you ask them before you share your learning objectives?

Now, as an instructor I do (try to) ask students what they want to get out of the courses I teach.  In some cases what they want is totally incompatible with the course - and since I work in an institutional setting my 'bosses' expect certain things from a course.  That said, I do actively keep an eye out for things that might interest my learners as we cover topics that might be adjacent to their interests.  I see this as a form of mentorship.

I'll wrap up this post, and maybe even #el30 with something Silvia said: We shouldn't wait for our desired future to happen.  We need to create the future we desire.


Marginalia:
† I was actually 1 course short! All I needed was a literature course, but what it basically boiled down to was stay 1 more semester for the minor, or graduate now.  I chose graduation.


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