Cultural-historical approaches to teaching and learning in higher education: teaching to support student agency
Being a university student, at whatever age and whether full or part-time, is very rarely an end in itself. It is a period of transitions, into the degree programme and out from it, usually into a workplace. It is a period of potential formation and transformation: recognising fresh possibilities; adapting identities; testing new ideas; making mistakes; and learning. All of these aspects of student life involve being active, interpreting opportunities and demands and responding to them, so that the person who leaves the programme has developed, to be in some way different from the person who entered it. In this chapter the theoretical resources I draw on are cultural-historical ideas on human learning and development in order to bring together the notion of active and agentic learners, involved in transitions as they make sense of the practices in higher education and prepare themselves for the practices of workplaces, with the implications of these moves for those who teach and guide them as learners. The discussions that follow refl ect the approach to practice presented by Boud and Brew (Chapter 5), but their origins in cultural-historical theory mean that they focus particularly on the dynamic of agency and demand, as learners navigate different practices. My starting point, therefore, is that the aim of university teaching is to create agentic and critically self-regulating students who are able to take themselves forward as enquiring learners, both during the programme and after they have graduated. This holds true whether students are preparing themselves directly for professions such as medicine, social work or teaching, or are gearing up for further study. While in university they need to gain expertise in the knowledge practices of the disciplines they encounter, in doing so they learn to grasp and deploy key concepts while using the ways of testing and representing, which are valued in these disciplines and linked professions.