Whenever you’re around teachers for any substantial period of time – and this may be primary, secondary, or tertiary educators – it’s not uncommon for you to hear a comment to the effect of ‘teachers learn as much from their students as they learn from their teachers.’ There’s a good reason that this statement has the status of a truism – it’s true! But the greater message along these lines that I try to emphasise to the cohorts that have come my way over the past several years is that students learn more from other students than they do from their teachers. And this is exactly the way it should be.
That I’ve seldom seen students taking notes in seminars after another student says something particularly valuable – even when I’ve explicitly recommended this during student presentations – is probably the most depressing aspect of negotiating this particular issue. To an extent, this trend can be seen to imply that something another student says (in contrast to something a teacher says) isn’t really all that important. And when I’ve pointed this kind of scenario out in seminars in trying to break down these barriers, I have never had anyone dispute this interpretation. A knowing silence generally greets the issue.
I don’t say this with the intention of offering a sharp critique of students; it’s primarily a product of the environment that students have developed within. The pervasive notion – still borne out by the physical layout of far too many educational facilities – that the teacher alone is the sage who needs to be listened to, learnt from, seen as the very fountain from which students must seek to obtain knoweldge, is a notion that remains pervasive. Tellingly, when I initially began to provoke student discussion on this subject in a unit’s opening seminar, the very first response I got to the question ‘Why are you here?’ was ‘To see you.’ No matter how much educators embed collaborative tasks and peer review processes into student assessment, and how much institutions speak of teachers being ‘facilitators’ of learning rather than ‘teachers,’ this overwhelming perspective isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.
Yet in making teaching videos, I’ve recently discovered one means of at least partially ameliorating this obstacle to learning. I’ve often incorporated contributions from students directly into my videos (what I used to call ‘meLectures’) for a few years now, though maintaining or re-discovering contact with graduates who have recently shed the ‘student’ label can also provide a powerful illustration of how much students have to offer each other. Here is a conversation I recently filmed with Catherine Shelley, a former student at Deakin University, who generously gave up her time to give back to those she would have been sitting beside in a class, only a few years ago…