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Minding our Prompts and Cues: Some Thoughts on How to Recognize, and Respond to, Tertiary History Students' Indicators of Deep Learning

Author: Rosemary Gill

Type: Case Study


We teachers understand what deep learning is, we can experience it ourselves and describe it, we can recognize it in students' work, and we can optimistically plan to facilitate it in our classes, even as we bear in mind the caveats of phenomenology. But how can we know when it is happening for students? Do we have to wait for their written assessment, or for the comparatively unhurried, conversational atmosphere of a seminar? This discussion paper offers some thoughts on recognition of student indicators of deep learning, and how one might respond to these. The discipline in which the discussion takes place is History, taught at accredited tertiary level, in an ecumenical theological college. The expression 'deep learning', shades off into a variety of subtle nuances. What these have in common, however, is their insistence that this type of learning involves connection. It links hitherto fragmented experience and knowledge within the individual. It may also connect these with the experience and knowledge of other people, here specifically students who share a learning venue, and those who teach them. Connection makes meaning, and with this comes understanding. And this is not any old understanding, this is the understanding that carries with it a new dimension of self-consciousness. As John Biggs wrote in a locus classicus, 'Understanding is itself the realization that what is separate in ignorance is connected in knowing.' He continued, 'Cognitive growth lies not just in knowing more, but in the restructuring that occurs when new knowledge becomes connected with what is already known' (Biggs, 1999). The question is how one can develop a methodology for the discernment of this that is both valid and portable, in the sense that it can be carried into virtually any tertiary teaching/learning situation.

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