Risks in Teaching and Learning

I am filling in for another teacher to teach Year 12 Information Processes and Technology (IPT) for a few weeks.  My class was nervous (to say the least) when I said I would teach them in way that perhaps they were never taught before.

It’s not that I was being particularly innovative but I really wanted to leverage my years of (IT) industry experience to make the course as real as possible, within the shortest amount of time, i.e. the short weeks I had with this class.

About IPT

IPT lends itself well to Project-Based Learning (PBL) because the course is meant to be project-based.  That is, the core concepts of Project Management (PM), Information Systems and Databases and Communication Systems are meant to be explored within the contexts of (2 of 4) options Transaction Processing Systems (TPS), Decision Support Systems (DSS), Automated Manufacturing Systems (AMS) and Multimedia Systems (MMS).

The Proposal

I proposed to cover TPS and MMS together as one project. Far from charmed, doubts were palpable. This was eased somewhat when I showed I went through the PM process to create the (PBL) project plan.

In a nutshell, the project aimed to enhance the current Library system (a TPS) to incorporate a multimedia alert system for overdue loans. Students were to play different project team roles and generate products accordingly. Students were to pretend to be IT professionals and interview the school librarians.

Risks, Issues and Solutions

 I didn’t really know what the students already knew. They had supposedly covered all the core content and about to go into the options. We had a lesson of high-level revision (blank-page) strategy. This revealed that the students did not have a big-picture understanding of the course and how everything was connected.

The students didn’t really know me. Trust could not be built in one or two lessons. Showing an interest and coming in with loads of enthusiasm about the course and teaching and learning helped. I shared stories about my IT experience (it is somewhat tragic that the IPT course does read like my CV) and a little about my interests and family. I was always honest.

There is so much content.  My main strategy was to focus on keywords and concepts and connections; quite a good learning (and teaching) strategy. This actually helped build their confidence as guided questioning showed they can remember or work things out. There is still work to be done to get them thinking independently. Doing this approach, they eventually saw that it was possible to combine TPS and MMS.

Real Learning

Our meeting with the librarians was a hit with all parties involved. Students asked interesting questions and librarians happily obliged. Role-playing in a real context allowed students to experience a real interview with users. They saw the library system as a TPS and were pleasantly surprised to find out that it already had MMS elements and that the work they were doing could be useful for the school….alas, we don’t have the tine to really develop/build the solution.

Our meeting was capped with a debrief under the trees (see image), outside the library. We discussed our project, teamwork, professionalism. We discussed what we learned, especially the wrong (and right) assumptions we had. They seemed genuinely surprised that the librarians “owned” their system (in fact, most users of any information systems do).

So much was learned in that “lesson”.

lesson under the trees

Now what?

We’re at a crossroads. We have covered much ground regarding TPS. They can do MMS content on their own, if they have to. We have 5 lessons together left.

I want to keep going with the project but the class asked me to prepare them for the HSC – to consolidate everything, a brain-dump of sorts. They want to know how to unpack and answer questions. They want to know what they yet do not know and understand. They want me to explain. They want me to lecture (fancy that! and I said no). They want me to keep asking questions. They want to know so much.

What they really need is to learn how to learn. For that, I am willing to forego the rest of the PBL. Yep, another risk – chuck out the plan!


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