This is a follow-up to an earlier post where I discuss running a project management module with no lectures and no traditional seminars - so go read that first.
We have reached week 4 of my project management class and I have hit upon a problem that I did not anticipate. To recap, the two students groups have 300 hours each to allocate to complete their project. I thought that the students might have issues getting their projects started and I also worried that the projects selected (an enterprise app and updating an open source strategy text book) would prove to be too complex.
No the issue we have hit is... the students don't seem to need me... at all. I thought that I would have to intervene to get them to pick projects, I didn't. I anticipated I would have to intervene to get them to separate into two project groups, I didn't. I was convinced that I would have to very directive at the start to get them to work out the starting tasks, it never happened.
I have had a couple of short conversations about the number of manhours that the book group should allocate to find new examples for the book and another conversation with the App group of estimating the number of hours given they have never attempted this task before. Other than that, I have largely been reduced to making cups and coffee. This might change as the weeks progress and we run short of man-hours but I wouldn't bet on it. I have therefore found it pretty hard just to get out of the way. I think so far I've managed to keep this in check but it's a very different experience from the traditional lecture and seminar.
So, you might conclude from this that I'll be switching all of my classes to this active learning approach - well.. no. There has been a lot of discussion of the merits of active learning vs the traditional lecture but frankly most of it is rubbish. In a UK HUM/SS context that gap doesn't exist in the same way it seems to in the US to start with. However the real reason it is an impoverished debate is because the discourse is centred around the perspective of the individual lecturer or how it would change individual modules which is a myopic approach.
When I decided to run this project management class this way, I carefully considered how it fit within the overall diet of the students - that is to say - how would it contrast with their other modules this year. So the debate for me wasn't really about my individual choice but how it fit the development of the student body in the context of their course of study. Students should be engaged in a range of ways and to do that properly, programme teams need to think carefully about how everything stitches together not simply "what do I want to do?"