«Kevin O’Neill and Özlem Sensoy Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, BC, Canada Kevin O’Neill, Ph.D.1 Özlem Sensoy, Ph.D. Associate ...»
face-to-face debate as they had in the online forum. Even students who had been assigned to the most unflattering cases usually stood at YES (Canada has become more compassionate), and expressed horror when a few of their peers stood for NO. This was a mystery to us until we carried out focus group discussions with the students at the completion of the unit.
We analyzed students’ responses in terms of the strength with which they expressed belief in three ideas: That there should be one true story about any past event;
that historical accounts are based on evidence; and that historical accounts represent educated guesses based on evidence that can never be entirely complete. Prior to the unit, Mr. George’s students and the comparison group were not statistically different on any of these three scales. At pretest, both groups were strongly committed to the idea that there should be one true story (an average of about 5.3 on a scale of 7). Both groups were also strongly committed to the idea that historical accounts are based on evidence (an average of about 5.4 on a scale of 7). Students were more widely distributed on the “educated guess” scale, and got lower average scores (an average of about 4 on a scale of 7).
Looking at changes in students’ positions on these scales between pre and post measures, we found a statistically significant change on the “educated guess” scale t(32)=-2157, p=.039. The difference between the means was 0.44 in the positive direction, indicating that the unit, while short, had led to a modest increase in students’ use of the “educated guess” explanation to understand differences in stories about past events.
Further analysis suggested that this change was not more likely for students who were already successful or in school, or whose parents were better educated. However, particular kinds of exchanges with our telementors did appear to influence students’ learning. Correlational analysis revealed that a mentor’s helpfulness in four particular ways predicted students’ loss of faith in the idea of “one true story.” As we expected, retreating from a belief in one true story correlated significantly with mentors offering
correlated with mentors suggesting library resources or web sites that students should examine – a move that implies a “one true story” is not evident. This is the sort of guidance that Linda offered to Majunder and his teammates.
These findings left open the mystery about why students demonstrated near unanimity in the live horseshoe debate. A few days after wrapping up the unit, Mr.
George led a whole-class discussion in which students generated a list of things that worked for them, and didn’t work for them about the unit. When prompted about what didn’t work, some students told us they felt their answer to the question of the unit (has Canada become more compassionate) was predetermined as Yes, because the cases depicting a lack of compassion were not matched with similar current-day events. In their view, one had to assume that improvement had been made in 100 years!
Back in his office, Mr. George wondered aloud what his students knew about Canada’s contemporary environment. Did they know that a paralytic refugee claimant, Laibar Singh, had been deported from Canada recently after seeking sanctuary in a Vancouver-area Sikh temple? Did they know about the tasering death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekansky at the Vancouver airport in 2007? Apparently they did not, or did not bring this knowledge to bear in their work on the unit.
In a recent re-design of Compassionate Canada we constructed five “clusters” of cases, each of which contained one of the historical cases from our first implementation, plus an analogous current-day case. For example, one cluster invited students to compare Canada’s response to Tamil refugees in the 1980s and in the post-9/11 era. Analysis of
horseshoe discussion was much more vibrant, with students taking far more divergent stances and achieving greater success in persuading one another to their positions.
We hope to use the framework of the Compassionate Canada unit to construct curriculum for jurisdictions elsewhere in Canada and internationally (using appropriate case materials), and to further test our hypotheses about how students’ conceptions regarding differing accounts can be improved while covering a cramped curriculum. To actively and tolerantly participate in a culturally diverse democratic society, young people must appreciate the multiplicity of pasts that inform their fellow citizens’ views of
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