ECS Students Learn Organic Lessons about Leadership

Early College Studies Workplace Learning courses require students to be willing to transform how they learn, from traditional learning styles to a problem-based curriculum. Problem-based learning provides students a problem up front, which then provides students a context in which to learn new information and skills. With this comes the need to learn how to work together with others to research information and solve problems.

In a traditional setting, students become used to relying on only themselves and either being a student who gets the work done, gets the work done eventually, or a student who never gets the work done. This doesn’t work for problem-based learning scenarios where students actively work in teams and must rely not just on themselves, but on one another as well.

Working together, students make their way through activity lists — also known in some educational circles as ¨playlist-based instruction¨ — that lays out individual requirements and teamwork requirements leading toward completion of the problem.

A sample activity list showing individual requirements, choices of how to learn the material, choices of who to work with when working in a group, and requirements of teams.

This requires students to coordinate their efforts as a team. Students must be responsible for getting their individual requirements done and teammates must hold one another accountable so that all can contribute to the team’s efforts.

As many students are finding out, this is not an innate skill. Most students need to learn how to work in teams; they don’t know how to do this if they’ve never had the chance to do so before. They need to learn how to keep everyone in a group on track and how to hold each other accountable. They experience what it’s like to let a group down if they don’t hold up their end of the work, and they potentially experience the frustration of being let down by someone who did not follow through on his/her assigned task.

Having these experiences in Workplace Learning are important because the students are not just left to have the experience and potentially learn from it; the curriculum incorporates reflective and metacognitive discussions to help students learn from it.

Recently, WPL I students participated in a whole-class check-in discussion where they were required to talk about how their work is going and what wins and challenges they are experiencing as a group. A conversation organically grew about the productivity of groups and group members and the challenges of running themselves rather than “being run by a teacher.”

This led the class to discuss and explore the benefits of having a group leader. They discussed the best way to appoint a group leader, and the instructor prompted them to think about whether its better to have everyone in the group vote in a leader or whether its better for a natural leader who has risen up to take over.

The instructor made it clear to the students that she would not dictate to them what they had to do to run their group; instead, it was their job to take the information exposed during the class discussion and apply it to their group’s situation as they saw fit. This approach allowed for student choice and autonomy — “the right or condition of self-government” — and meant that students came to the realization about the need for a leader on their own rather than being told to select one.

Students owned their group decisions, and this is an ideal outcome for all of our youth to learn.