Feature: Confessions Of A Learning Space Builder

By Dr David CL Lim (david@oum.edu.my)

Like everyone else, I am a learning space builder. I read, and thus create my learning spaces, almost everywhere: in bed, at the office, in the toilet, while pacing non-stop in the shape of a square in my living room, while waiting impatiently to board a plane, while having meals or surfing the Net.

Being able to read anywhere and anytime is no extraordinary feat, especially if you have no aversion to reading. But what about the times when you need to be productive, that is, to actually produce work?

By producing work, I dont mean just reading, which is really only receptive work, but having to write out something substantial that you want or need to: a proposal, a report, a journal paper, an assignment, an extended love letter, lesson plans for tutorials, and the like.

I suspect that few, if anyone, can actually produce work that is worth anything (convince audiences, get an A grade, get accepted for journal publication) while in the multi-tasking frame of mind.

Stir fying vegetables and writing an essay on the globality of the English language don’t seem to go very well together for me. Similar odd pairings apply, including waving at friends passing by and trying to write a serious report at the same time, and answering endless incoming phone-calls when you’re trying to write a critique on, say, the relationship between literature and politics, an essay due yesterday.

The point I am making, simply, is that there is great value in being single-minded, as in surrounding oneself in a bubble of silence, at least for those of us who have not been conditioned to be productive only when there are endless distractions and constant noise around them.

Being able to focus singularly on the task at hand and in silence is indeed precious luxury, as many of us know only too well. There seems to be a shortage of it, which does not in any way detract from its value. After all, it is not for nothing that libraries and exam halls in session around the world have a no-noise policy. It is no coincidence either that hospitals are quiet, or that monks retreat into the serenity of silence afforded by remote places such as uninhabited forests in order to meditate.

There is a therapeutic benefit to being able to hear oneself think in the luxury of silence for an extended period of time. If we recognize this as true, then perhaps we should also consider how we, as tutors, might be able to communicate the same to our learners in order to help them create their own productive learning spaces.

Counselling theory supports the popularly overlooked fact that we are often oblivious to the reality before us. We don’t always see what is in front of us. The same applies to some of our learners who might not recognize that productive learning spaces are not found but created through sheer effort, and that strategies are required to ensure that these necessary learning spaces are created for their benefit.

How might tutors aid in learners’ construction of productive learning spaces?

Clearly there are many potential solutions to the issue, just as there is clearly no one solution that is applicable to all individuals. Still, I have found one guiding principle to be useful when engaging with learners - that principle being recognition of the challenge some face in creating that much-needed yet elusive productive learning space.

The principle is, in essence, a principle of reciprocity. Recognize that their challenge is more than valid, and that it is the same challenge facing many of us flawed humans, just as we want to be recognized for our concerns and need to be effective in what we set out to achieve.

That, to me, is the basis for everything else in the forging of an equitable tutor-learner relationship

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As a tutor, I believe that I can help learners to create learning spaces by:

Encouraging them to think independently by giving them short essay tests
Encouraging them to work as a group
Adding variety to the assignments and encouraging them to think from a different perspective
Ensuring that the tutorial room is always conducive for the learners
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