The key issues to emerge from the discussion with the students about their experiences of the CG were about their feelings of learning, their descriptions of the learning environment and their realisations of what they had learnt. These issues are elaborated upon below.
Feelings of learning
The students agreed that throughout the studio they felt valued and respected by their teacher. This support gave them the courage to try new unfamiliar activities and discover new things about themselves which ultimately led to their feelings of increased self-confidence. They also described the sensation of true learning as involving a sense of feeling uncomfortable and disoriented, but this was considered to be a positive aspect of learning because it would inevitably pass into a state of feeling energised and confident. Generally, they were highly satisfied and felt personally empowered by what they had achieved in the studio.
The students described the introductory experiences to the studio as disorienting and disarming. For the first few weeks they felt uncomfortable and anxious, as well as angry and annoyed that they were not receiving any clear guidance or direction. They spoke at length about one lecture, that is, the Paper Lantern lecture. This event appeared to serve as a catalyst within their experience of the CG because this particular lecture was where they were challenged about the ways they thought and approached learning and were subsequently invited to make a deliberate choice about how they would learn. Some took the challenge and ‘jumped in the pool’ to join their teacher ‘splashing about’, others ‘stayed on the edge’.
The students said they trusted their teacher, but only after an initial struggle to let go of their old patterns and familiar ways of learning. They indicated that their trust in him was reinforced by their teacher demonstrating he was being honest and ‘real’ with them which they recognised through him sharing his own frustrations in teaching the course. As a result, they started to feel safe in the studio and developed strong personal senses of belonging and being part of something unique.
The students described at length their use of personal blogs for reflecting on their learning. The adoption of blogs by students in the course was initially slow, but as the studio progressed, the tools gained momentum in their use and were considered by the students to be most useful for expressing in more thoughtful and considered ways the emotional issues they encountered in their learning in the CG. The students also agreed that when they realised that their teacher was making the time to read their individual blogs it increased their own sense of self-worth and commitment to engage with the tool for their own learning as well as their respect and trust of him as their teacher.
Each student negotiated a learning contract with their teacher and they agreed that this approach enabled them to be more comfortable, feel safe and unstressed in engaging with the objectives of the CG. The students concurred that the learning contract meant that their individual goals for ‘achieving’ were their own and were not solely driven by striving for good marks and having to be at university. They felt that the contract also implied acknowledgement by their teacher that the rest of their lives mattered and that their personal experiences were an important influence in their individual learning in the CG.
Realisations of learning
The students related a number of significant realisations about their learning. They were explicit in stating that learning was about exploring ideas and not just developing technical skills as their previous experiences in the program had purported. The emphasis in their learning had shifted away from developing skills (product) to learning how to think (process) as well as discovering self and ideas. They were confident that they were each developing a common language for expressing and exploring ideas which also reinforced by a strong personal sense of belonging to a community of their own.
They agreed that despite sometimes feeling anxious, angry and annoyed that these feelings were a positive aspect of their learning experience. They realised that these uncomfortable times ultimately preceded more energised and exciting states of new realisations and connections. They recognised that these patterns for experiencing learning were desirable and conditions they would seek and recognise as positive in the future.
They agreed that through the CG they had learnt to learn from each other, and not only depend on their teacher for directing their learning. His lectures and stories were inspiration or springboard for learning activities. They realised that in learning, there is no single right way or answer. They had also made connections with what they were learning in the CG with their personal lives and interests outside of university which reinforced further that they were exploring and learning for themselves.
The students implied that because of the CG they experienced new feelings of respect and value for others. They felt that they had improved their abilities to listen, to discuss ideas with others and to work in teams. They also had more confidence to question and explore ideas without becoming as personally and emotionally involved in discussions.
The students also revealed realisations that it was likely that what they had learnt in CG would become more obvious to them over time. They stated that even though some aspects of their experience didn’t make total sense now, they believed that the true value of what they had learnt would be more apparent in the future.