Category Archives: mature students
People often look at me a bit funny when I say I’m doing my teaching diploma online through University on the Hill and some of them will often say what I’m assuming most are thinking ‘how can you learn to be a teacher online?’ More so when they find out I live within walking distance of another university which offers teacher education. In fact there are three university providers of teacher education in Auckland and I still ended up going online with an institution in another city.
So why did I choose to study online through a university that isn’t even based in Auckland?
The short answer as to why I chose the University on the Hill is because they said yes first. A longer story can be found back at the application phase. Simply put I found out through the interview process that the university I thought was my first choice was actually my second.
I’ll admit I took a huge risk taking the road less travelled when there was a safe, some would argue better, option available.
Going down this route has also come at a costI’ve missed out the social aspect of being a student and the support that this offers.
Seeing the facebook interactions there’s an obvious camradrie there between the on-campus option of this course in comparison to online students. I’ve made some friends through my diploma but the friendships aren’t as strong as the ones I made the first time I was at university because when my course buddies and I get together it is once every few weeks for the purposes of study rather than just generally hanging out between classes.
But there is a good side to this.
No campus politics.
During my first degree I served two terms as Vice-President of the Students’ Association which meant I was up to eyeballs in campus politics. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a huge amount from being involved with my Students’ Association and made some life-long friends along the way but I was stuck very much within a bubble and felt a bit disorientated once my term was over. However this time I around I’ve literally distanced myself from being sucked into serving on committees, negotiating with various campus factions, supporting causes and the pressure that goes along with being responsible for an organisation with a $10 million turnover in order to focus on my studies.
But there are a whole bunch of reasons I enjoy studying online.
- I like being able to study when and where I want. If there’s something I’d like to go to during the day time, a class at the gym, meeting up with a friend or just life getting in the way then I don’t need to worry about missing classes.
- I really like that I can engineer placements to suit me. Because there are just handful of students in my city I’m not competing against course mates for placements at desirable schools. Both times my university placement office has put me in my first choice of schools. Placement number 1 was ace and placement number 2 seems to be shaping up as a cracker.
- Finally the big one, no commuting. In fact on cold and rainy mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed I’ll fire up my laptop and study in my PJs until noon.
Underneath this apparent slothdom a whole bunch of learning is taking place due to the extra time I have to devote to my learning. There’s blogs to visit, twitter chats, #RSCON3 and #twecon to participate in. Alongside the regular studies my days are spent interacting with real teachers, university lecturers from the otherside of the planet and children from different countries via social media. Through the beauty of tabbed browsing I can virtually be in several different places at once. While I am inside the university listening to lectures, I can be visiting a class blog in Australia while facebooking another course mate and tweeting with a university lecturer in Scotland.
Physically learning outside of the university has forced me to adapt my learning, and I think it has done so for the better.
I probably would never have started writing this blog or entered the world of twitter if I had been on campus because I would have carved out some sort of niche for myself inside the university bubble. But when I look at who I interact with on twitter and the people who comment on my blog I realise that being out of the university sphere has pushed me further into the world of teaching which is the place I want to be.
In reality I think that online learning is really no different to campus learning insofar as you get out what what you put in. I know that this style of learning is not for everyone, I wouldn’t have handled the isolation and probably didn’t have the self-discipline to cope with the rigours of this course when I was younger.
But now that I am in the second half of my diploma I find myself thinking ‘how can you not learn to be a teacher online?’
AKA as the first week freak out.
For some reason I thought having gotten through the first half of my course I’d be feeling a bit better about semester 2. That happy feeling lasted until I cracked the spine on my course outlines for this semester and went ZOMG how am I ever going to learn all that?
Alongside a Maori Educational philosophy and practice paper, I have one paper in which Social Science, Science and Technology are jammed together and another in which The Arts (visual, performing and music), Health & PE and Language Learning are shoehorned in to give the would-be teachers in my course exposure to all the learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum.
What was it Piaget said about learning?
We go through a period of cognitive conflict as we assimilate and accommodate new information into existing schema.
So that explains the headache.
But can you really learn to be a teacher in a year?
I’m probably unusual in I majored in education as part of a liberal arts programme during my undergraduate degree so obviously there is some significant crossover in what I’m studying now and what I studied the first time around (even if it was 10+ years ago). A lot of my education papers were filled with people who were gaining a teaching qualification (as opposed to people like me who took education papers because they weren’t sure what they wanted to do when they grew up). So my experience in the diploma is perhaps atypical given that I already have a reasonable grounding in educational psychology and philosophy with Special Education and IT and Education papers thrown in for good measure.
Nevertheless the condensed nature of the course means that I’m going to have to rely a lot on general content and pedagogical knowledge to be able to fill gaps in some subject areas. There is no way I will get up to speed on the ins and outs of teaching science/social science/the arts/technology/health& PE to primary school children in a semester. In fact I had to go back and check that I had covered the six learning areas for the semester and realized I had left off language learning. Doh! This makes me think that the duration of the graduate diploma programme just isn’t sufficient to cover everything that we need to learn about teaching all the curriculum areas we are supposed to be teaching by the time the end of the course rolls by.
But in my experience the best way to learn how to be a teacher is by getting out into the classroom and learning from other teachers. During my courses I will have two Teaching Experiences of 7 weeks of which a minimum should be 4 weeks of full control of planning, teaching and evaluating lessons. I’ve already got 3 weeks under my belt from my first TE and even if I do the bare minimum of 3 weeks this time around, I’ll end up with 6 weeks of teaching which really doesn’t seem like all that much in the grand scheme of things. Which is where the induction process for Provisionally Registered Teachers comes in.
Our system doesn’t expect Beginning Teachers to know everything despite having that nice piece of paper saying we are qualified to teach. That process already tells me that I will need to be prepared for a steep learning curve the next few years which will likely flatten out somewhat when I find my feet. However I imagine teaching really isn’t different from any other profession in that the minute you stop learning you are already falling behind. But do diploma teachers have a steeper learning curve than graduates coming in with a three-year education degree?
I suppose it depends what else we bring in with us.
This week my Social Science lecturer joked that one of the duties of my last job, to draft responses to primary students who wrote in protesting *ahem* the southern ocean activities of a fishing fleet from certain country in Asia, *cough* was one of the 10 top jobs cut out for future Social Science teaching. Certainly taking a whole bunch of humanities-type papers has been useful for developing a reflective framework and conceptual understanding of education within a broader context. I also thank my lucky stars that I had enough sense as a teenager to take a reasonably broad range of subjects in school like physics, music and maths right up until year 13 and kept learning after I graduated university in the form of a new language, sports and hobbies. What can I say? I’m nerd.
But does that make me a better classroom teacher?
Probably not, but it doesn’t necessarily make me worse either.
Maybe diversity in the workplace is a good thing.
Thinking back on my first education papers what made them so stimulating was the diverse nature of the student body. School leavers like me got to interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds who were entering or re-entering university after many years or decades away from formal study. This time around, there are only a few students in my course who have just finished university however there is still an extremely diverse student body. There’s a couple of lawyers, a vet, people who’ve run their own businesses, some are ex army, there’s a number with science backgrounds, a few more who are ex hospitality. A lot of students are parents and there are many that have worked overseas. We are a well-travelled bunch!
As teachers were are told that we need to celebrate the different gifts that our students bring to our classrooms but we should also be doing the same of our would-be teachers. Whether they are a fresh young thing out of university waving a graduate diploma, an older person retraining in the degree or anyone in between they all have the potential to make an excellent contribution to teaching. Our students benefit from the multiple perspectives and talents we bring to their lives.
So maybe for some 1 year is enough to get us started.
Hopefully it will be for me.
Since this week I was on study leave, I could whine about exams. But seeing as I moaned about that last week I feel I should be blogging about something of more substance.
So instead I’ll have a go at taking apart this very bad idea from KPMG:
Only students doing courses that benefit the economy should receive interest-free loans, according to a suggestion from a leading accountancy group….it was time to discuss targeting the scheme at “areas where graduates can add real value to the economy quickly”, such as agricultural sciences, agribusiness, horticulture, viticulture, biochemistry and international marketing.
It is these ideas which are exactly the reason why we have governments who make policy decisions since they are in theory supposed to do so on the basis of what is best for all sectors of society, not just one community. I notice that teaching, social work, nursing, medicine and dentistry have not made the list of ‘adding real value to the economy quickly’ courses. These professions might not add value (though I disagree with that premise) but our society and in turn economy would not function without them.
However on a purely practical level why shouldn’t we picking winners? Didn’t I previously opine that gaining an education with no purpose wasn’t worth the debt? I still think that students need to think about what the purpose of their university study is before they jump into a degree. However I disagree with KPMG’s assumption that a future career should be the only detriment of what course of study for the simple reason that the economy of today will be the same as the one in 4 years time.
We know this is not the case.
Even in my own working lifetime (about 10 years) the world of work has changed considerably. There are jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago and even within ‘old’ professions like teaching technology has changed the way teachers do their jobs. Picking what the world of work will look like in 5 or even 10 years is difficult to do. Moreover there is an argument to be made that an individual’s passion and talent are also important when you are looking to find your dream job.
But does society benefit if everyone is individually pursuing their talents and interests?
According to a column in the New York Times, it all comes down to whether you are a PC or a Mac person. Bill Gates argues that you should go down the road of making sure your education prepares you for the world of work. While Steve Jobs says you create the right learning environment and the rest will take care of itself.
Right now I’m writing on a clunky old PC while my heart years for a MacBook Pro.
I still have a student loan. Not a big one, but it’s still there. Prior to embarking on University 2.0, my loan was into the four-figure territory but this round of tuition fees has me back in the five figures again. Thank goodness this time around the loans are interest-free, because without it my loan would still be well into five figures.
In exchange for my student loan I have an Honours degree in Education and Politics from respected institution. And self respect and life-long friends and blah, blah, blah.
Don’t get me wrong my degree was fun to earn, and I learned a lot. But I can’t honestly say that university study prepared me for the working world. In fact I would go to say that the experiences I had outside of the lecture theatre, writing for the student magazine, being the Vice-President of the Students’ Association and organizing the odd student protest were of far more use to me in the ‘real world’ than the academic side of university the first time around.
But then I went to university not really sure what I wanted to do except escaping a life-time in west Auckland. Perhaps that was my downfall, my career objective was to escape something rather than train for something else. But it was an expensive proposition and what I am wondering now is what really was the value of that degree?
The topic came up with a discussion with my parents about the governments proposed crackdown on defaulting expat student debtors which inevitably turned into a discussion about whether it makes financial sense for young people to go to university if they aren’t training for a specific profession like law, medicine etc.
My parents pointed out that after one year of professional training my brother found a job earning more than I will as teacher even though I have 5 years of full-time study under my belt (4 year honours degree + 1 year grad diploma). His education cost far less than mine not just in terms of tuition fees but also years forgoing income. I conceded the point that I wasn’t particularly focused on what I was doing at university the first time around.
In retrospect I probably should have pulled pints in London for a few years to get the travelling out of my system and come back more focused on my academic work. But then I suppose you could say that my degree enabled me to get a job out of university, and that if I hadn’t gotten that job, I never would have hated my job, and finally gotten around to getting my diploma teaching 10 years later so everything worked out in the end.
This time around I am a lot more focused on getting done what I need to get done in order to graduate at the end of the year and find a job. But if I was dispensing advice to high school students who were thinking of going to university to avoid having to deal with the perplexing question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, I would say that perhaps university is not the place to find the answer to that question.
If my first could be characterized by a freak out, the word for my second week of study is definitely slog. As in ouch my brain hurts from slogging it out to complete my first assignment.
I should of expected it. If you spend a few months away from the gym and expect to do the same workout you did before your absence, your muscles will quite quickly scream ‘hey take it easy there buddy.’ Almost 10 years away from varsity and 7 months not working have resulted in my brain being a bit out of shape. To go from life as lady of leisure to ‘hand in your 4000 word assignment in 2 weeks OR YOU FAIL’ has been a major shock to the cerebral. My brain feels a bit like it’s been through the academic equivalent of the first episode of the biggest loser.
However there have been some positive aspects. Teacher Trainee, The Queen of the All nighters during my first time at varsity, actually had the assignment largely finished TWO DAYS before the thing was due in. Am I 100% happy with what I turned in? Not entirely, but then my reaction to work is almost always grade dependent. I like a bit of external validation for my efforts in the form a nice shiny A. Bs are nice too and well Cs get degrees (or diplomas). I’m pretty confident I haven’t failed (the very fact I just typed that sentence now has me convinced I failed).
But this week has got me thinking about life as a student the second time around who is a.little.bit.older. than the stereotypical school leaver scholar (yes I hate the term ‘mature student’).
Starting (back at) study = adjustment = stress = take it easy on yourself
Although I resisted the temptation to entitle my essay ‘Jean Piaget is my homeboy,’ the Swiss theorist was on to something with the idea that we go through a period of cognitive conflict when faced with adapting to new situations. Starting (back) at varsity is exciting but also stressful. Give yourself time to adjust to your new life and take any setback when (not if) they occur as a chance to learn. Speaking of which, is anyone interested in a ‘LEVing 4 Vygotsky’ bumper sticker?
Maintain a network
University study can be lonely especially when it seems that you are the lone oldie in a sea of 18 year old school leavers. Education papers I have taken in the past have almost always had students from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds even if the gender is skewed towards women. This current course is no different in that regard. One of the highlights of the week was getting together with other students from my course in this city for a study session. As luck would have it, a staff member for one of the other sections of the course happened to be in town, it ended up being a highly worthwhile and fun experience.
Keep a life outside of varsity
Along with my regular gym work, this week I took a class in Stand Up Paddle Boarding (I’m hiding out somewhere in that picture) through my gym. It was good to try out a new activity and I felt reinvigorated to get into my study that morning. I’m also amazed that I didn’t end up in the water.
Get to grips with new technology
I love that Word now has a wizard that makes referencing a piece of cake, you tube has a whole bunch of nifty documentaries for me to watch, google books is useful for a quick glance at source material when it is too wet to venture to the library, USB sticks can store vast amounts of documents and obviously that I can blog. It wasn’t like that in my day when we had had to walk 10km to the library in the snow just to construct our bibliography, floppy disks were the height of portable data storage and they had this thing called USENET. But sersiouly, technology has probably changed a whole bunch since you were last at university so mastering it will make it easier on you in the long-run.
I spent way too much time this week at the expense of my class work which means that I am going to be spending a lot of time this weekend catching up on my reading because I didn’t prioritize my time well. Prioritize, Prioritze, Prioritze, shall be mantra for week 3.
Unplug your modem every once and a while
I didn’t realize how much Facebook,Twitter and general faffing about on the internet suck up my productive time until I was doing some work on my assignment while babysitting a friend’s child (said child was in bed). My friend had meant to give the password to the wifi connection but was running late so we forgot about it. But being without the internet actually worked out well, as I didn’t have any online distractions and got a whole bunch of work done on my assignment.
What tips would you give *cough* mature students to get their brains in shape after time away from the ivory tower?