Monday, 26 March 2012

Authentic Authenticity

It's been another challenging week! Let's assume that means we're learning lots and being stretched!

Community Engagement
One of Fraser's goals for this year is to better engage (to use a popular educational term) with our community. While the project was not by any stretch of the imagination set up as a PR exercise, I expected that the Curriculum Integration Project would provide some opportunities for this engagement. However, I've been taken aback by just how this has played out as we have begun to engage with our wider community in an authentic way (read "went begging for help to complete our project"!).

I've already blogged about the contribution Adlite Signs made to the project following a student's suggestion. Added to this though have been visits to our studio from people like Emma from the Ministry of Done, and Margi, Simon, Mark and Charles from Wintec's Media Arts Department (the people behind the Waikato Independent and The Village on the Hill). These people have taken the time to connect with our group of budding magazine publishers and share 'real world' experiences of various parts of the publishing industry.

Further to this has been the incredible generosity of the artists and designers who have not only been willing to be interviewed by our students for the magazine, but in some cases have offered their time to come and run workshops, or be filmed for stop-motion videos of them making work, or have pointed the students in the direction of additional information and other resources that will help enhance the project.

Epitomizing all of this has been a media specialist (I'd better check with her before I say too much to identify her!) who has met twice with members of our team to share invaluable insights from her experience in the industry, and finished our last meeting with a "just call me any time you've got a question." What incredible people we're having the chance to work with! And if you're reading this, thanks to all of you!

It is becoming clear that one of the key challenges for the project teaching team is working out how we can provide sufficient structure for the students to give them confidence that they will have a successful product at the end of the project, while maintaining the flexibility to respond to the new learning that takes place at each step. A number of students have let us know that they were feeling pretty overwhelmed by the size of what we've bitten off, to the point where it was starting to get demoralizing. I guess that's the 'down side' of engaging with 'authentically authentic' learning in this kind of project. When the teacher moves to being at best a facilitator, and at times a fellow learner it can leave the students with a sense of 'who's steering this thing?' which has clearly been unsettling for some.

However, I'm becoming familiar with some of the cycles of our project learning process: We engage with some form of focused 'learning event' (frequently a visit to or from a guest) which opens our eyes to a series of previously unseen challenges and opportunities. This frequently leads to a bit of a down-swing as the students grapple with how to incorporate this learning into their current understandings of the project. After a day or two of unsettled-ness a plan and structure begins to emerge as they take ownership of the new element of the project. And then we invite in a new guest in and the cycle continues!

Out of this cycle is growing a greater sense of student ownership and driving of the project, which has to be a good thing!

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