Could both of these students have got more from their involvement with the course if they had taken time to reflect on their goals and their strengths and weaknesses, especially at the beginning of study? Alan, whose reaction to the course was positive, for example, could have learned more about how the course succeeded if he had reflected rather more in the beginning about his initial scepticism and his preference for communicating verbally rather than in writing. What was the reason for his attitudes and what was it about writing that he found difficult? Although the course has changed his views and his abilities to some extent, he seems to put some of the outcomes down to chance. Could it have been only the chance of a friendly group with good natural dynamics that made the course worthwhile – and if so what has he learned that will transfer to other comparable situations? He might have been able to identify more reasons for the success of the group and the course in stimulating his interest in writing if he had recognised that the development of writing skills was one of his reasons for doing the course in the first place – and if he had set himself a plan for pursuing this goal explicitly through study of the course.
For Janet the course has been a failure and she dropped out. She might have avoided that if she had given herself more time at the beginning to recognise the mismatch between what she felt her strengths and interests were, and what challenges she would probably face on a course taught through conferencing (as this was). Disappointment and drop out were not the only possible outcome. She could have decided to contact her tutor at the earliest sign of problems to ask for help. Her tutor could have advised her on strategies for coping with the backlog of messages, and might have given her confidence to contribute, if only irregularly.
If feeling in touch was a strong need, she could have found a fellow student to work with as a pair, so each might have agreed always to reply to the other. This might have made up for the uncertainty about whether anyone would reply to a message – a way of combating the feeling of a 'cold medium'. If she found communicating through speech much easier than writing, she might have built on this by speaking aloud what she would say in a reply first, and only then put it in writing.
Perhaps you thought of other strategies that either or both students could have adopted. Undoubtedly the strategies that we can think of are unlikely to be as successful as those the students decide for themselves. This is because we cannot know the reasons behind what a student says, or their circumstances of study. You yourself are in the best position to decide what will make a positive difference for you, and what actions or strategies might enable you to make the most out of time spent studying. Whatever the answers, the starting point is to make time for reflection: to explore what you want to study and why, and how you will help yourself meet the challenges that you will find as you work towards your goals, whatever they are.
Cook, M. (1995) Student Workbook: Learning to learn University of Humberside.
Wegerif, R. (1995) Collaborative Learning on TLO'94, IET, Open University, Milton Keynes.