Higgs, Bettie (2010) BUILDING STUDENT ATTRIBUTES FOR INTEGRATIVE LEARNING. In: Making Connections: Intentional Teaching for Integrative Learning. UNSPECIFIED.


Over the past few years, at University College Cork, the first year Geoscience residential field-course  has broadened its scope to bring in new skills and new perspectives - not only for the students - but  also for the staff involved in the undergraduate programme. At the heart of the transformation was  the desire to help students discover the interconnectedness of the separate modules they study, and make meaningful connections within the geosciences, and between neighbouring disciplines. Hence,  the course was designed to give students multiple opportunities to connect-up their learning. As the course moved from design to enactment, student engagement was monitored, and evidence of 'connection-making' was collected. The results of this study have been published elsewhere (Higgs, 2008; Higgs and Hall, 2008), and so the following short contribution will highlight only additional insights into building capacity for students' integrative learning in the field setting.    All of the students (ninety each year) engage in pre-field work preparation. This involves campus-  based literature research, and collaborative group work. Each group investigates a different aspect of the geosciences. A large amount of information is built up, and questions are raised, that relate  to the field area. Students become primed not only for the geological field work, but also for the  valuable peer-learning that is promoted with this approach. As one of the course assignments, each  group must link and enhance their campus research with new knowledge gained during the field  work. Included in this, groups must identify connections between their work and other disciplines they study in their first year. This brings a level of 'unpredictable learning' which has proved highly desirable, causing students to become more engaged in the academic work, as well as in the social experience that residential courses offer. A learning outcome focused on 'integrative learning' and  'connection making' allows for this breadth of learning, and allays the fears of those who believe that a learning outcomes approach to course design is too restrictive.    During the field-based component of the course, the students work in their same collaborative  groups, guided by a leader. Traditionally students went into the field with a blank notebook, and  were encouraged to make sketches and notes capturing what they observed. Commonly the notebook  would capture only what the leader had said, and students could gain a high mark for their ability  to do this. Now, a workbook has been introduced to help students through the crucial process of  observation, where they must take time to look at a rock exposure or natural feature from multiple  perspectives, before recording what they see. Pulling together important aspects of the natural  world into a sketch, or a set of brief notes, is the student's first experience of thinking and acting  'like a geologist'. It is an exercise in synthesis. The data collected must then be used in the evening  exercise, back at the field base, to reason and justify emerging interpretations. In this setting,  students are encouraged to formulate questions, and ask for help. Such opportunities for discussion and reflection proved powerful in beginning to build the student (and staff) attributes identified as  necessary for integrative learning (Huber and Hutchings, 2004; Higgs, Kilcommins and Ryan, this volume).    The evidence waiting to be uncovered and discovered in the 'natural laboratory' of the geoscientist  allows multiple opportunities to connect with other disciplines. The intentionally designed  opportunities in this course were built around concepts in geophysics, geochemistry, palaeontology,  geography, the history of science, and community engineering projects, to name but a few. Some  students engaged more than others, but data showed that the overall level of engagement for  everyone increased. One set of data that was collected stemmed from a questionnaire asking students  to report on 'how they learn best'. The data before and after the field component showed interesting  differences. Before the field work began, students had a narrow perception of how they learn, with examples being heavily dependent on the 'lecturer' and good note-taking. At the end of this  field-based module, a much broader appreciation of ways of learning was apparent (Figure 1). For example, Figure 1 shows that two explicitly integrative skills, drawing on existing  knowledge and questioning, have a relatively high importance. Yet on the first evening of the field course, only two students included 'questioning' in their 'how do I learn best' responses.  Figure 1 also shows that the first-years students had recognised the importance of peer-  learning, and challenged their previous feeling of dependence on the lecturer. Data sets such as these give leaders insights into skills that could be practiced and enhanced in the second year of the programme.

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