As a kid I was paid in candy by some fellow pupils to keep the teacher busy by negotiating and discussing the content of the classes. A new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that this will probably have had a positive effect on my learning (but I admit it was worse for my waist). The study by Patrik Lilja shows that negotiations about how to approach problems and tasks, and about how tools such as digital technologies can be used, provide an effective model for how an educational programme can prepare young people for the future. In his doctoral thesis he explores how education and instruction can be organized to prepare students for the challenges of the future, as the conditions for production, communication and uptake of knowledge are changing.
From the press release:
One way is to organise education according to methods based on inquiry, a concept with a long history in the field of education and roots in the work of John Dewey – a renowned philosopher and educational reformer.
‘The basic idea is that learning is organised as a process where students ask questions, conduct studies, create various products, and discuss and reflect,’ says Lilja.
Based on a case study, he explored how the principles of inquiry are integrated in practice and how they affect classroom activities, learning and development. The empirical material comes from a field study of an upper-secondary programme in social science at a Swedish school where the students’ work has been organised in the form of problem-based learning and projects. The students carry out thematic projects spanning over several school subjects. The study covers two classes with a total of about 50 students, of whom about 20 were followed closely for a long time.
Patrik Lilja investigates different aspects of students’ work in four separate analyses. A central finding is that the programme is organised according to an ecology of negotiation.
‘This refers to a learning environment that allows students to interpret and find their own ways to approach tasks, to get involved in and actively discuss various issues. At the same time, they are required to consider the learning targets declared for each theme,’ says Lilja.
The point is not to transfer the learning process to the students but to give negotiations a central role. The negotiations may concern how to approach and plan tasks and how to use various tools, such as digital technologies. The students are expected to solve problems together – a process that requires both cooperation and information retrieval from many different types of sources, which they have to assess in terms of relevance and objectivity.
‘The role of teachers must be understood at multiple levels. They partly contribute to making room for the students’ initiatives and decision making by arranging situations where the students in groups need to negotiate and decide how to approach the tasks at hand. They also teach and join student discussions,’ says Lilja.
The thesis gives many examples of advanced work by both students and teachers. The school environment implies a great potential for students to develop complex competences and approaches of the types that are deemed relevant in the modern information and knowledge society.