The purpose of this paper is critically reflect on the Learning Contract used in Directed Studies courses for graduate students. The author argues that Directed Studies classes may serve a dual purpose of both exploring students' learning patterns as adult learners and being a scholarly endeavor. This study is an auto-ethnographic account of the author's learning experience as an international adult learner during her first Directed Studies course in a doctoral program in the U.S. Autoethnography is defined as a form of self-narrative, a representation of the self in social context (Burdell & Swadener, 1999; Humphryes, 2005; Spry, 2001) and a research method that combines the personal with the social, cultural, and political (Ellis, 2004).
The author conducted a Directed Studies course with Professor Z (anonymous) as the faculty member. The author did not keep a journal or document this experience in any way; instead she used the flashback technique in literary writing. The flashback is a narrative technique, which illustrates past events related to the present to provide a back story in the form of scenes from the past (Bae & Young, 2008). It is a method to bring the reader into the life of the character/narrator.
What is a Learning Contract?
There is no one specific definition for Learning Contracts; rather, many definitions apply to different contexts. Anderson, Boud, and Sampson (1996) define Learning Contract as, "a document used to assist in the planning of a learning project. It is a written agreement negotiated between a learner and a teacher, lecturer or advisor" (p. 2). A Learning Contract is also defined as, "an alternative way of structuring a learning experience: it replaces a content plan with a process plan" (quoted in Codde, 1996, p. 1). Mayville (1973) defines Learning Contract as, "a document drawn up by the student and a mentor or advisor that specifies what a student will learn in a given period of time and how" (p. 1) that learning will take place. A Learning Contract can be understood as an approach in teaching where students are viewed as lifelong learners. It aims to develop students' self-directedness and control of their own learning experience.
A Learning Contract is a plan for a learning process, rather than a learning content or outcome that is directed toward individual learners with a focus on their own learning needs. Anderson et al. (1996) found that Contract Learning can be utilized as a means to, "develop the existing skills and experiences of the learner, recognizing connections and sequences" (p. 10). They also provide an environment for active engagement where learners have more freedom to plan and organize their own learning experiences. Students take initiative for their own learning and explore their own potential, learning patterns, and develop their learning skills to achieve their learning objectives. Accordingly, the teacher's role is that of a facilitator who leads students through asking questions to stimulate them and help them make "informed choices" (Grasha, 1994).
My learning experience has been shaped by two different perspectives: the Transmission Perspective and Constructivism. According to the Transmission Perspective, students receive knowledge in pre-determined structures that shape their ways of thinking and hinder their participation in their own learning. As such, individuals are, "converted ... into students incapable of critical consciousness which would result their intervention in the world as transformers of that world" (Freire, 1970, p. 73). The Transmission Perspective focuses primarily on the content and teacher's delivery of the material (Pratt, 1998), and links to a "surface and non-deep approach to learning" (Trigwell, Prosser, &Waterhouse, 1999). On the contrary, I was challenged and encouraged to think critically, analyze, discuss, and construct new knowledge through the constructivist approach. …