H800 : Wk 12 A2 Reading Richardson (2005)

May 10, 2009

Week 12 A2: Reading Richardson (2005)
Largely a review of the literature to start. Richardson notes three approaches to studying in HE: deep, surface and strategic.
Studies suggest that choices made by teachers in course design, teaching methods or forms of assessment can encourage “desirable” approaches. The suggestion appears to be that the deep approach is the most appropriate. I would query this (see below, under approaches to teaching).
The Course Experience Questionnaire can measure students’ perceptions of their academic environment (Ramsden (1991)). These appear to be linked to approaches to studying.
Conceptions of learning. Saljo (1979) identified five:
1. Increase of knowledge
2. Memorising
3. Acquisition of facts or procedures
4. Abstraction of meaning
5. Interpretative process aimed at understanding reality.
Other research suggests that these conceptions may have a marked effect on approaches to studying, with students at the lower end of the scale of conceptions (1-3) taking a surface approach to reading the text and those at the higher end (4-5) taking a deep approach. The surface learners will find it hard to adapt to student-centred approaches. It is also suggested that there may be an age divide.
Later researches found a sixth conception, encapsulated as “Changing as a person”.
Richardson criticises his own model (which attempts to integrate approaches to studying, conceptions of learning and perceptions of academic context) as follows:
1. The causal relationships between the components are not as strong as the diagram would suggest.
2. The model makes no allowance for changes over time – how do students reach the higher conceptions?
3. There is little in the model about the scale of changes which would need to be made in order to achieve change.
4. The relationship between approaches to studying and students’ attainment is weak.
Turning to approaches to teaching, there is a similar hierarchy. Student focused teaching seems to encourage a deep approach to learning.
Underlying conceptions of teaching also mirror the structure above.
1. Imparting information
2. Transmitting structured knowledge.
3. Interaction between teacher and student
4. Facilitating understanding on the part of the student.
5. Bringing about conceptual change and intellectual development in the student.
These conceptions do not necessarily develop with increased teaching experience.
Responses to questions
Can technological innovation/learning design encourage more desirable approaches to studying?
This really depends on how far the students are prepared to embrace and use the innovations. Mention was made on the Elluminate session of the extent to which we have “bought into” technological innovation by simply enrolling on a MAODE course. I can see this being very different for a student who thinks that they simply want to find out about law, history or science.
Interaction between acquisition/participation metaphor and “learning just happens to me”.
Whilst students at the lower end of the conceptions of learning scale are likely to view learning as acquisition – or even a more passive metaphor! – Sfard does point out that these ideas can co-exist. In my own field, there is a body of knowledge which must be acquired and participation cannot be the whole story. However, the “learning just happens to me” student is unable to make any realistic distinction between the two.
Definitions of learning and teaching
As an adult, I have experienced learning at all levels and will choose a level of learning which suits the task in hand. A serious postgraduate course, such as MAODE, clearly requires levels 4-6 (on the amended Saljo scale. However, if I was to take an OU introductory course to archaeology, for example, I would probably be doing it to increase my knowledge in an interesting area (level 1). A training course at work might well demand level 3 (acquisition of facts or procedures). An overarching definition would have to include all these elements.
Similarly, my experience as a teacher encompasses a variety of conceptions of teaching and therefore approaches. This ties into my belief that sometimes surface and strategic learning can be necessary tools. The rewards of teaching adults who are returning to education is that there can be real life changing experiences. However, if I am preparing students for external assessment, although I am striving for understanding, and possibly changes in their way of thinking during the course, it is also essential that the students do memorise the course materials (for an exam) and that they are reasonably strategic in their approach. For example, in the ECA at the end of the course I teach, it is essential that the students answer the question asked, not the one that they are burning to answer! So I need to teach at every level to suit the needs of the context and of the students.
So I can see a relationship between teaching and learning but believe that there is a place for a variety of levels and approaches.
Richardson, J.T.E. (2005) ‘Students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching in higher education’, Educational Psychology, vol.25, pp.673–80; also available online at http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/ login?url=http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1080/ 01443410500344720 (accessed 7 May 2009)

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May 10, 2009

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