Mount Royal University education professor, Norm Vaughan defies anyone who thinks learning is sitting down, being still, receiving a huge heap of information and filling in the correct boxes.

“We like to standardize things in Alberta. We really want good little construction workers,” says Vaughan. He adds, “We don’t want people thinking outside the box.”

“The skills I might teach you are going to be outdated by the time you graduate.”

Vaughan insists the real learning happens when students stand up and take education into their own hands in order to become lifelong learners.

Through his teaching and research, Vaughan is helping anyone who wants to learn feel empowered through hands-on education.

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MRU education professor Norm Vaughan’s recent study shows students place little value on their own assessments of work. The educator says this is a big problem and doesn’t lend to a lifelong learner mindset. Photo courtesy of Norm Vaughan.

One thing that must change, he says, is how learning is assessed.

“80 per cent of the work done in university happens in the last two weeks of the semester. [Students] are stressed, we’re stressed,” says Vaughan.

“We need to do it so it’s assessment for [their] learning to feed forward.”

Vaughan favours formative feedback. This is an evaluative process where assessment takes place through each stage of learning instead of posting a final grade after a completed assignment.

According to Vaughan, formative feedback develops an adaptive mindset for the average learner

“I think the system … has conditioned people not to trust themselves.”

Vaughan is a former geologist who eventually shifted into education with a PhD. in educational technology from the University of Calgary. His latest research contained some unexpected results.

His study, published in 2013, examined student attitudes toward three forms of assessment — evaluation by self, peers and instructor.

22 students used online surveys, journal postings and post-course interviews which helped Vaughan to determine their perceptions.

Not surprisingly, the students highly valued their instructor’s opinion.

Vaughn notes that while this is to be expected, it is not empowering for the learner.

The biggest surprise was how little value students placed on their own opinions of their work.

“Initially students saw no value in recognizing their thinking process. By grade three they’d given up on their own learning because it’s all exams.”

At the end of the study, students discovered both self and peer-assessment can be used to help aid their learning and many changed their perspectives to value more than just instructor evaluation.

Vaughan continues to research technology-based approaches to learning in his quest to make everyone a lifelong learner.

Editor: Abby LaRocque |

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