January 03, 2018
By: Christian Wandeler, Ph.D.
Learning in a Changing World
In a changing world, the ability to think critically, innovate, learn independently, collaborate, and lead are crucial. The expectation is that schools and universities prepare students for changing careers and a changing world. Best practices to reach these aspirations are student-centered instruction, collaborative learning, learning communities, project based learning… And of course, during all of this, students should also learn the most current technologies.
As a university professor, I teach educational research methods and statistics. As such I do research on how to support faculty in the development of their instruction, while I am at the same time also developing my own teaching practice. In my first year I was mostly lecturing, with a lot of dialoguing, but realistically I was doing most of the talking. Then I implemented much more group work during class time and eventually shifted to a flipped classroom, where students would view lecture videos as homework and collaborate on assignments and discussions during class. I strived to develop my pedagogical and technological content knowledge and actively included my students in trying to further innovate of what it meant to teach and learn with the current mobile technology.
Open Mindset and Self-management
It is with this open mindset, that I came across agile learning and eduScrum. Having researched how people develop their human potential in organizations and the workplace of the future. I always aspired to create a similar environment in my courses. I have particularly focused on self-managed organizations, such as the Morning Star Tomato Company, which has no formal hierarchy. They lamented to me that people often first have to learn to self-manage, to be self-determined and to be a leader without formal authority. These skills are all fundamental in order to work well in a flat organization. So, I immediately saw that eduScrum could help me bridge two areas in my life, the research about modern workplaces and how to prepare my students for it, while teaching them research methods.
After I first spoke with Willy Wijnands I was really excited, but also a bit concerned. Could I really trust my students to take control of their learning? And more importantly could I trust myself to be able to assist them in an effective way? Using the eduScrum approach required some courage and a growth mindset. Regular coaching by Willy was fundamental. He did a fabulous job at making the method simple to understand and was always available to reflect together and discuss the next step. There weren’t any difficulties that he hadn’t experienced already. He shaved several years of my learning path. True to his method, his coaching style was to the point, effective and with a few questions and reflecting on how to improve. My main initial concern was that I had a lot of material to cover in my course, and I was not sure how I would check if students had understood the main concepts. (This actually was already a concern with the flipped classroom.) An important realization was, that there really is a lot of flexibility in varying the degree of control. The burn chart and the demo meeting at the end of each lesson serve as feedback on overall progress and understanding. The multiple check-ins with the teams during the lesson time provide information about the degree of understanding. When one realizes that several groups struggle with a concept, there is time to have the groups stop and provide a mini-lecture for clarification. I had a lot of content and lecture videos online that I was able to point teams to.
Development of collaboration and leadership skills
What is particularly important is the constant reflection at the end of each session. Not just about the content, but about how they work as teams. Students figure out what works and what doesn’t. The students develop self-management and leadership skills. They also check if they built a culture in their team that matches with their definition of fun. Here some comments from students: “I was anxious at first and had a preference for just listening to lectures, but then I realized that I was here to become a leader, and that included taking charge of my learning.” “I loved how we were able to establish our own plan of action.” “The team became an important part of my life and working together to get the assignments done was very effective.” “This was a good set up because each group had their own time with the professor, opportunities to ask questions and reflect on assignments in small groups with the professor.“
Room for improvement
Based on student evaluations there were two concerns that surfaced. One was that they wished a bit more “explicit instruction on some of the more complicated concepts”. Another was being stuck in a team that they don’t like. To my knowledge that was only the case for 1 out of 20 people. And this is a challenge that Willy has had before. Here the facilitation skills of the instructor come into play. It is about perceiving certain group dynamics and potentially facilitating a discussion around that.
I am very happy I implemented eduScrum and will use it again. But I definitely would recommend to have a coach available, because it makes the instructors learning easier, faster and helps keep the confidence and trust. Having materials online available makes it easier too. I am actually thinking about implementing it in a fully online class. Two things I will improve is a) plan time for explicit lectures, when they are pulled by students, and b) in addition to the team based survey on their team functioning, also have an individual survey, where I offer an opportunity for students to signal me when they want help with a difficult conversation about their team functioning.
Overall the engagement and buy in of the students is what most convinced me to use it again. I had teams send me demo videos from their meetings on Sunday afternoon. Two teachers started using it in their own classroom. One student used it to manage her work at the office. Me personally I started using a scrum board to manage my family’s preparations for hosting guests over the Christmas break. All these are signs that eduScrum is a great tool to develop self-management, collaboration and leadership skills.
Christian A. Wandeler, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in research methods and statistics at California State University, Fresno. He got a Ph.D. in personality and positive psychology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and studies teacher training, the development of hope and learning achievement, the equity of the Swiss educational system, and studied the quality of the career and technical education system in Switzerland. He consults organizations in the development of human potential, professional development and growing the workplace of the future.