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Category Archives: Being a Teacher

Posts pertinent to vocational and higher education teachers.

Using Twitter [et al] to support learning

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As this term we’re considering the value or otherwise of various technologies and tools for education, I want to share this great article from the Campus Technology blog, Using Twitter to Support Learning by Ruth Reynard, on the use of Twitter in teaching. The introduction:

Twitter has become ubiquitous and many educators use it or a similar micro blogging technology to maintain connection with students in terms of announcements, information flow, and assignment updates. While some instructors have experienced success in community building and numerous articles detailing the more common uses of the platform are available online, a couple core questions have emerged.

Can Twitter help support and facilitate the instructional process itself? If so, how, and in what ways can instructors successfully integrate the technology with existing courses?

..CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE..

The great strength of Twitter to me is the connectivity, the ease of use, and that it is naturally addictive to so quickly put something out there and receive real time response from classmates and global peers. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have made many professional connections on Twitter that I would never have had the opportunity or venue to have made otherwise, and it is this, in conjunction with news and link sharing, that is Twitter’s greatest strength. As an example, for a clinical governance assignment last year I asked Paramedic peers through my feed what their organisations’ drug therapy protocols were for ondansetron, an anti-emetic drug, specifically in terms of stated precautions and contraindications. This information is hard to find online as ambulance services do not always make such policies public, but within hours I had contacts from paramedics of several services across the world who collectively provided for me just the insight I was seeking. Another example? I spotted this article not because I was already on that blog tonight, but at the moment that it was shared on Twitter by Kevin O’Rourke, and an hour later I am now sharing it onwards myself.

To foster twitterings of learning amongst a student cohort would be beneficial in generating enthusiasm, sharing thoughts, stimulating discussion, and introducing students to the wider community of peers online. It would be perfect to run ‘in the background’ during a course as a task that would generate such a community for students, and would ultimately provide for them a resource with value beyond that particular course and assignment, whilst not being a heavy workload for students to bear. This last point is important, as whilst Twitter and other web 2.0 tools may possess varying potential for educational use, these technologies have nonetheless not usually been designed for primarily educational use.

Whilst discussing and giving some practical tips on how Twitter’s micro-blogging services may be of educational value, Ruth asks:

  • Is it necessary to use every new technology in a teaching and learning environment;
  • Are teachers always going to be on a learning curve with new technology; and
  • Is it ever acceptable to not pursue the latest tools and integrate them into one’s teaching methodology?

I think the answer to the first question is an emphatic NO!, and that to attempt to do so would be nightmareish. The rate at which technologies are being birthed and are evolving is phenomenal, and frankly I feel that we all are on a constant learning curve just managing and keeping up with the more ubiquitous everyday technologies. Attempting to adopt anything that looks remotely useable in the educational context would make the learning curve exponential, and not just for the teachers, but for the students too; whilst they may be required to only use two web 2.0 tools in your course, consider that full-time students typically take four courses at a time, and that each of those facilitators may also involve such technologies, though not necessarily the same ones! [Clearly there must be some guidance or restraint in exactly what students are asked to do or use, and consensus within faculties or at least schools as to which tools and platforms they will choose from to integrate.]

On that point, the first question is one that must be asked whenever considering the addition of something new to one’s repertoire, though rephrashed to read “…to use this new technology…”, and with added emphasis on necessary. I must say here that I do think it is important to continually assess these new tools for potential pedagogical benefits, and that it is necessary too to keep in mind that the world in which our [usually] younger students live may be very different to our own, in that social media and multimedia in general are an enormous and ever-present part of that. However my point is that determining the validity of the tool’s potential contribution may easily be forgotten in the rush to try everything new, or when responding to the ‘need’ to include web 2.0 and other tools into one’s teaching, and that every newly adopted tool will come at a price, that of the time spent on learning and using something that may not be a potent enough instructional tool to be of true educational benefit.

I feel that in the end any adoption of e-tools that are outside of current teaching methods must be in consideration of these points:

  1. Is it necessary? What educational gains will it achieve that may not be reached so well by other means?
  2. Is there another tool already in use that can achieve this? If so, is this one better in some way?
  3. Is it easy to learn and use? Is the interface complex? Could a student naïve to the technology pick it up in ten minutes?
  4. Will the tool have benefits to the student outside of the course? For other classes? Professional life? Personal life?

Once adopted, the differing nature of these tools may be managed through weighting per the educational value of each; for example, a collaborative class project upon the wiki platform may be of greater value and meet more course outcomes than semester-long commentary on weekly topics and interaction through a Twitter activity, and attributed 30% and 5% total weighting respectively. Whilst this should indicate to students where they need spend their time, the biggest problem I see in the use of Twitter in particular is for the lecturer. There is no tool on earth so powerful in inducing deep procrastination as Twitter, and creating the need to regularly check one’s feed ‘in the call of duty’ sounds a slippery slope to “whaddaya mean, it’s five o’clock already?!” syndrome!

Cogito ergo blog

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Or, blogito ergo sum?

Obviously a fan of blogging myself, they’re a nice place to start in considering how web 2.0 technologies may be useful to my teaching context. I’ll group my thoughts into a couple of main categories – facilitation of teaching, including limitations of the blogging medium for this, and professional representation. I was thinking to stick with this format when considering other technologies too in future posts, but I don’t think any other tools would have nearly so much application in terms of the second category; I can see nothing so powerful in representing yourself as putting your own words, images, and multimedia upon your own website, and sharing the lot with the world. Even published books would not have such potential reach, and all for free! Anyway, more on that later.

Facilitation of teaching

Blogs as a teaching tool seem an indirect method to me. They’re not specifically designed for this at all – they are, first and foremost, a personal self-publishing medium – and I think any teaching benefits would result from firstly the sharing of information, and secondly, to a lesser degree, the potential for encouraging your students to engage in blogging for reflective learning themselves. Whilst there a few ways to provide a lot of course information upon blogs, I think overall to use a blog as one main medium for course facilitation would be clumsy at best and deleterious to the student experience at worst, and one obvious limitation stems from the temporal focus of the blog: all information is displayed according to date of posting, making it too difficult for students to find core information within the blog proper. It is possible to provide static information upon subordinate pages, as I have done on this blog by summarising posts for each GCTE course I do (see here and here), but as these are still formatted as pages of a blog rather than flexible web pages one must re-jig the entire thing when you update it, a hassle I experience everytime I update those pages with my blog posts. Blogs are better suited as an adjunct only to a course facilitation tool such as Moodle or Blackboard, both tools in which the entire course, from announcements to assignment submission, student discussions to documents and course information, can be accessed from the one site and without too much bother. Whilst it could be used for course announcements, and the reverse dating of post order would suit that use well, these would be available anyway from their Moodle.

What is important to remember with all these web 2.0 goodies is that students have enough on their plate without adding extra extraneous cognitive load, and that every time we ask a student to go to a different website to access different core facets of a course or to use any 2.0 tool that is exactly what we are doing. The best option is to embed such tools into more central web pages if possible, so that everything may be reached from one spot. If such things cannot be embedded then the percentage of use of separate standalone tools such as blogs, wikis, etc. should be directly related to the amount of time students need to spend there, and what they can actually achieve and gain whilst there – there must be a cost/gain analysis. For example, students cannot interact directly with blog content, only indirectly by reading posts, posting comments, and by responding with their own blog posts. By comparison, on a wiki they can have editorial rights to add and edit information, and directly and in real-time participate in social learning by collaboration on assignments and in creation of the wiki itself.

All things considered, here are my ideas for use of blogs as a teaching tool:

  • An ‘added extra’ that teachers produce to encourage deeper thinking around a topic, such as by posting about interesting research relevant to each week’s coursework; eg, if the weekly topic is “assessment and management of head trauma patients”, then an article considering a new neurological assessment guide would throw different light on the the matter and have students think more deeply about why we do such things the way we do, and the need to constantly be looking to improve our practice.
  • The blog could be incorporated into tutorial sessions by posting early questions on what is upcoming in the tutorial, and then following the tutorial, post a discussion piece on what was covered. This could reinforce for students what parts of the course material were really important to learn, and helps them to learn it by simply presenting it to them again in a different way, or summarising class discussion that was had.
  • Part of the course requirements could be to engage in reflective learning through a blog. Many of my paramedical science courses require posting a weekly discussion of only around 300 words or so in response to a question around each weekly topic. Instead of submitting these the usual way, either sending only to the lecturer or posting upon a discussion board, these could be posted to a student’s personal blog. This would establish an instant blogging community comprising the student cohort, and students can easily catch up on others’ posts without traipsing around many websites by utilising an RSS feed that the teacher could establish and link to. Part of the assessment could include the need for students to embrace this community of blogs by commenting on their peers’ blog posts.
  • Blog pages could be used to provide course documents and information for download. As mentioned earlier these static pages are more awkward to update, but if they are established early in the course and are put there only as a second reference location for students then they may not need too much editing. The benefits of this could be that if students are reading something on your blog and want to relate it to the course profile, or assignment task, they may access these on that site rather than heading back to Moodle.
  • Teachers could use the blog to comment on student blogs and assignments. Recognition of work is a strong motivating factor, and the teacher may also demonstrate to their students the benefits of blogging and their online community by mentioning excellent points made on student blogs and essays. It can also be used to address questions raised by students, such as further discussion around a more tricksy clinical matter raised in student assignments; eg. were an essay on a student’s choice of respiratory ailment, one issue that may come up in those done on acute pulmonary oedema may regard the use of salbutamol in such cases. By reflecting student work publicly it provides instant value for them that extends beyond the achievement of a grade in the coursework. This brings me to my next point..
  • Learning engagement theory. Setting student blogs as an assignment task ticks many of the main facets of learning engagement theory:
    • Relate: Collaboration is not direct, but social learning opportunities are fostered in establishment of a community of student blogs, and
    • Create: Creation of a project with real-world value beyond university coursework
    • Donate: Student work is available worldwide upon the web, and may also be linked directly from a student page on the faculty website. It’s a nice idea to link to students’ public work and again encourages the establishment of a community of learners in the online environment.

Professional representation

Academics are meta-professionals, engaged in many concurrent activities and the owners of many skills. Experts in their field, researchers, teachers, authors, administrators, and miscellaneous (website coders, multimedia producers, student counsellors, etc etc!), they have a lot going on and a lot to share! The blog is an exceptional tool for online professional representation, and can form the basis of one’s outgoing connections to other academics, industry groups, students, and employers. From our readings last term, Segrave, Holt, & Farmer’s approach to academic professional development championed the importance of “the three C’s: communicating, collaborating, and community” in the area of professional capacity enhancement, and the need for storytelling and sharing with other academics one’s tales of teaching successes and challenges. The potential of blogging as a main tool for professional representation is enormous, and I’ll brainstorm some main points here:

  • It is YOU. You, on the internet, your chance to put yourself out there! Use your blog to tell the world who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Whilst a website might take more time to set up and organise, it takes mere minutes to sign up for a blog and to publish your first post, and so is very accessible for even the most pressed for time!
  • Putting a bit of yourself out there also makes you much more accessible and relatable to your students; to them you will gain further dimensions than just that of their ‘teacher’, as they may see that you are additionally a researcher, future colleague, fellow student, and human. Providing some history also will give context to your teachings and shared experiences.
  • By providing the ability to share and champion the importance of your work and discipline, blogs assist you to more firmly establish yourself as an expert in your field, and provide a venue to engage in social and commentary aspects of your work such as publishing opinion pieces on emerging research or news relevant to your industry or discipline.
  • Whilst research may be published in journals, a blog and website permits more conversational discussion of your work, with additional scope to inform the world of your current research undertakings and upcoming publications. This would be especially beneficial for those who have published several related articles covering a specific matter.
  • Connecting with other academics both within and without your discipline to share war stories, all kinds of news, to discuss teaching strategies, or to seek advice from the collective pool of experience, and so on. You can share your blog and find others in your discipline on sites such as Edublog, who also have a blog hosting service and have yearly awards for excellence in educational blogging.
  • One excellent example of a blog used for professional representation is that of Stephen Downes. On his blog Stephen makes daily posts on technology in learning, lists his published articles, provides information on upcoming and past presentations and keynote speaker roles, details his professional affiliations. Stephen’s blog is also available to read as a daily newsletter via RSS feeds, making his contribution even more accessible.
  • Readership and reach may be expanded by use of RSS feeds, and those who do achieve wide readership may also generate revenue by publishing on the Amazon Kindle Store!

The workload and time consumption of blogging may be as much or as little as you please, but it is best to publish regularly to retain readers, ideally establishing a set schedule. Collaborative blogs written by two or more authors create a stronger voice with a wider range of opinions and less individual workload, but can dilute authorship. A collaborate blog is however very suitable for a group such as your faculty, and would be a great way to represent the school, to share news of research (and potentially recruit research subjects!), and to engage students and working professionals whilst sharing the workload around the staff. Some collaborative blogs / websites such as Faculty Focus encourage reader submission of articles by established professionals, and contributing to sites such as this is another excellent way to use blogging as a professional development tool.

Reference.

Segrave, S., Holt, D. & Farmer, J. (2005). The power of the 6three model for enhancing academic teachers’ capacities for effective online teaching and learning: Benefits, initiatives and future directions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(1), 118-135. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/segrave.html

INTP, mmmhai

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One of our active learning tasks was to determine our own learning styles and personality types, which involved undertaking this index of learning styles test and by completing a Jungian / Myers-Briggs analysis. Now I have done these before for work and have always found this kind of thing rather fascinating – especially how personality tests often know seem to more about me than I do! When taking these the idea is to click your first intuitive response without lingering over and pondering the questions too much.. everybody can think of instances in their lives in which they have associated with both alternative answers to each question, so by always going for your first instinct the test is more likely to give a truer response. Any departure from your ‘true’ nature you may think you’ve created by not chosing one answer that best suits is balanced out anyway by the fact that in full versions of these they ask a literal zillion questions, and determine your expression of each personality facet as a degree of expression, rather than an outright You! Are! Extroverted!

Anyway, although as usual I thought I’d answered all of the questions much differently to the last time I did one of these, as usual I ended up INTP once again. *cue twilight zone music* There are a lot of neat sites out there with more information on personality types; one of the best is mypersonality.info which gives an in-depth analysis and a ton of fantastic information on each type, as well as comprehensive tests with in-depth results (eg. mine). Fun facts that I learnt today: Apparently INTPs are logical, individualistic, reserved, and curious. They are also less common – and, let’s face it, almost certainly a bit peculiar – which probably explains the need for an abundance of support groups out there in which they may huddle together and shrink away from the strange outside world..

As for the ILS test, my results for the four learning dimensions - active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global – came back as:

Reflective – 7 | Intuitive – 3 | Visual – 3 | Global – 3

These marks extend in both directions from a mid-point of zero to a high score of eleven, and whilst I showed only mild preferences for three learning dimensions, I did demonstrate a strong preference for reflective rather than active learning. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the reflective process of blogging? (Or perhaps I just ‘talk’ too much..!)

So what is the value of knowing all this? For students it can highlight strengths and weaknesses in personality and learning style, such as identifying for example that one learns best by visual means, and that perhaps drawing mind maps and diagramming information would help knowledge acquisition and retention. Personality typing may also inform choices about aptitude for various professions, though I’d probably not take this last point too seriously.. mind you, one information page does note that INTP folk make suitable university professors, so perhaps if I do gain a lecturing position down the track I could use this as evidence for promotion, haha!

And what about for educators? Knowing your students’ learning style would be lovely if tutoring one-on-one and so able to adjust your teaching style and learning activities to best suit your visual-kinaesthic learner, but how does one do that for a class full of Jungian mismatches? The answer is to use a range of learning activities, each of which may focus upon different kinds of input. For example, instead of always teaching by verbal lectures using few visual aids, which would favour auditory learners only whilst leaving visual or kinaesthetic learners out in the cold, mix it up! Represent information in different ways, such as text illustrated with diagrams, and where possible augment these practical or otherwise ‘real-life’ examples; these are things that much of us do anyway to keep things interesting, but it is useful to remember too that this levels the playing field so far as acknowledging the individual differences amongst our learners are concerned. As a wise man once told me, rather than dishing out a set menu (or, heaven forbid, alternate drop!), offer your students a smorgasbord.

"I have captured the signal and I am presently triangulating the vectors and compressing the data down in order to express it as a function of my hand." *points finger* "They're over there."

The most entertaining parts of this of all is in discovering which famous or infamous people you are in league with, though I can’t help but point out that the professions of them all are so diverse as to pretty much debunk those career suitability pages! I also must share my favourite personality test of all time, one which determines which cast member of The Simpsons you are most like. Whilst working as CSO last year taking this test was part of the initiation to the station I was then based at, and I’m still not sure whether it was a good or a bad thing that I was picked out by others as Professor Frink before I’d even taken the test! Click here to download the Simpsons Personality Test, and cross your fingers you don’t wind up with Monty Burns or Barney Grumble!

Lecturing: First do no harm?

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Lecturing by Socrates, 440BC

Lecturing in the 1780's

Lecturing in the 1880's

Lecturing in the 1980's

Reading Kearsley’s Learning Engagement Theory this week reminded me a good deal of our readings on the Seven Principles last term, in particular the emphasis on social learning through collaboration and group work (I summarised some of those readings back here). Most relevant to Kearsley’s work from the 7P readings was this paper discussing the challenges and benefits of online collaborative environments, including the problem-based learning and group work activities so relevant to teaching paramedicine. One thing that very much stuck with me from that reading was the authors’ commentary on class results following interactive versus didactic lessons, where they found that “..even the best lectures achieve student gains that are at the low end of student gains in interactive engagement classes“, a statement which very much echoes my own experiences as a student.

On that note we were asked to consider our own learning experiences this week, specifically which of these we found to be the most and least valuable. For me, teaching others is by far the richest learning experience, for as the saying goes ‘to teach is to learn twice’, and when teaching others you always need to learn just a *little* bit more so that you’re one step ahead of that student (yup, there’s always one!) who lobs the inevitable curly question at you! Lectures, then reading, were the methods with least student retention of material, and by viewing the learning pyramid it is clear that of the various methods of teaching the best learning is obtained from those which engage more of the senses, and demand more back of students in manipulation and use of the material to be learnt. For me this underlines once again the need to really focus students with every lesson we conduct – whether these are on-campus or on-line classes – and to be creative in fostering active engagement with and deep learning of the material.

It also leaves me pondering the place of the lecture in our teaching repertoires, and whether or not it still belongs in modern tertiary education. Compared with the other ways in which we might engage students in learning, is it the best use we could make of the limited contact time we have with our student cohorts? Five percent retention, and even then only from those students that are awake AND not otherwise engaged in Facebook / texting / work for other courses?! Well perhaps it does still have a place, albeit not in its traditional guise, that of the venerable lecture hall where students squint down upon their lecturer from the lofty heights of their pews. Whilst lectures originated from the simple need of ancient teachers to speak to and instruct many pupils at once, modern technology has provided teachers with far more reach than simply that of how far their voice will carry; podcasts, audio and visual lecture recordings, and other forms of digital presentations may still be lecturing in a sense, but the convenience of ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning I feel does at least outweigh the limitations of this otherwise unidimensional form of teaching.

I’d be interested to see how many tertiary courses still offer on-campus lectures, compared with how many have moved from the lecture hall to providing purely digital lectures in either audio or audio-visual / multimedia formats. Given the poor performance in student engagement and material retention of lectures in the traditional sense, they just don’t seem a high-yield, value-added way to spend academics’ or students’ valuable time.

“I lecture only when I’m convinced it will do more good than harm.”                                              ~ Wilbert McKeachie

Lecturing today! If I'd desaturated the entire photo, what difference would remain from the others?

References.

Kearsley, D., & Schneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Smith, K., Sheppard, S., Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (2005). Pedagogies of engagement: class-room-based practices. Journal of Engineering Education,  94(1), 87-101. Retrieved from http://www.ce.umn.edu/~smith/docs/Smith-Pedagogies_of_Engagement.pdf

Netiquette

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This term I’m studying technology in education, EDED20485 at CQUni. Our course has started with a discussion on netiquette: etiquette and manners in the virtual & online environments. I did well on the netiquette quizzes but have been very active online within forums for many years, so am long familiar with the environment and ‘terms of engagement’. I must admit that others’ poor netiquette really does annoy me – I get that same twitch that arises whenever I see wanton grammatical abuse of some poor apostrophe!

I only correct others on this though if I see somebody’s poor manners repeatedly causing genuine issues; in such cases I would drop them a private message or email and just suggest that their message may not be well received due to them (for example) using all caps, or posting an oft-asked question without first doing a search. Most forums or other online environments do have their own stated rules so it’s often useful to direct people to those for more information, or when designing the online environment it helps to provide clear links to these guidelines. Everyone enters these environments for the first time at some point, and it’s important to remember that poor netiquette may be entirely unintentional, perhaps especially in adult learners.

The netiquette issue that bothers me most is flaming, trolling, and other blatantly antisocial behaviour that people wouldn’t engage in were the online conversation be conducted in ‘real life’ (well, usually!). I love this cartoon by Randall Munroe of xkcd on the matter of remembering the human..

My contributions to the class netiquette wiki:

  • If you have a problem with somebody, speak to them privately in a private message or by email or phone, rather than raising your issues upon the more public online environment.
  • Remember the human! Think – would I say this to them in person? What elements of tone or meaning in the conversation might have been lost in the aether between your computers? Online text-based discussions are more one-dimensional than discussions in person.
  • Use the entire keyboard – ‘text speak’ is gr8ly annoying for others reading it, and is unnecessary when you are not using a mobile device (and even those all have full, easily used keyboards now!).

Ternimology:

  • Trolls: Those who purposefully cause disruptions to discussions or blatantly stir up fights with others for their own enjoyment.
  • Flaming: Harsh attacks or putdowns upon others, or expressing strong opinions against the prevalent views of others or topic in question.
  • Lurkers: Those who consistently log in to read others’ posts, yet never contribute to discussions themselves.
  • Moderator: The people who run online environments such as forums or wikis, and who ‘clean up’ troll posts, respond to problems, keep the place running smoothly.
  • Grammar Nazi: Somebody who gets their knickers in a twist over apostrophe abuse. blush
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Have setup a PBworks wiki to have a play around with, and discovered that these folk regularly hold live training webinars for new educational and business users. You need to register but they’re free to attend, and provide information on getting the most from the wiki systems. I’ve registered for the next one in March; happily they’re even at a decent time of day!

Check them out here.  :D

Evidence-based change yourself

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It’s interesting doing this quality improvement plan for our assignment. Much of the reflection, self-analysis, and critical evaluation I have conducted already whilst progressing through this course – I recall commenting at one point on the value of reflection via this blog. For teaching academics the opportunity to do this formally would normally occur on a regular basis, at least yearly but more likely at the end of each semester, and upon consideration of feedback from various sources, not the least student review both during and after each course. As I am not currently in a formal teaching position I don’t have a great deal of this perhaps most valuable feedback source yet, but I did request feedback from those attending the learning session I conducted and of course received critique from my peer reviewing me. Still, much of my information does arise from only me and my self-reflection, and as expected in this early stage of moving towards a formal teaching position my list of things I need to learn and improve is vastly greater than my list of things I already do well! I’m really looking forward to the time when I am working as a teacher and will have the ability to conduct these quality improvement changes based upon the feedback I have received – ‘closing the loop’ – and then observe the effects of these changes, hear how they are received, and improve further upon my service delivery.

In the meantime it’s good to know at least that doing the GCTE as I am is absolutely the best way I can address that currently whilst located in the outback and working on-road, but I am working on other tasks too as part of my self-improvement plan. My self-review has found that whilst I’m doing all the right things to improve pedagogical aspects of my abilities as an educator I must not forget the practical side – I still need to gain more experience in conducting teaching sessions, especially in a lecture format, as much of my experience to date has been as more tutorial-type sessions. Addressing this will include organising more formally my regular teaching & training sessions, opening these up to local nursing staff, and becoming involved in the nurse education sessions conducted at the local hospital here. I am also chasing up being able to get away to conduct set sessions again for the hospital-based stations that my own station supports, though as always this is dependent upon operational constraints, boring things such as rosters and staff availability.

Overall, whilst working on road and not in a teaching position I will need to continually and proactively push to create these opportunities for myself, as they won’t occur naturally in the course of my work to the extent that I need them to. Therefore every little change I make, every session I conduct, and each nugget of feedback I receive will be of value to me, especially combined with my own ‘debrief’ and self-review of my performance after every one.

Evaluation, reflection, and scholarship of teaching & learning

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The last couple weeks have focused upon evaluation and on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), which tie into each other as ‘quality control’ and improvement aspects of education at several levels. This includes evaluation of performance as a teacher, of the course content, and of overall curriculum, as well as (or perhaps especially) the methods used to facilitate these teachings. Evaluation is present in many forms and can be provided by or solicited from various stakeholders, including not only the obvious ones – students and line managers, our customers and employers – but also from peer review by colleagues, by external accreditation bodies, and from those industries for which we are preparing qualified graduates.

Whilst going through all this it’s been interesting to note that much of what I’ve read in both the course readings, information online, and in my textbooks has made the point that feedback and evaluation may be taken as a negative and stressful event, rather than as a positive means for reflection and professional development. Evaluation, by students, faculty, and self, are essential parts of teaching that should be embraced as a positive part of reflective practice, not gone through the motions of as a ‘token’ effort, or shied away from as a threat. It is easy to see however how one may become defensive and nervous at the thought of such quantification of performance, and I have certainly seen this in even the most exceptionally skilled and experienced Paramedics come clinical audits, CSO visits, and recertification; I have no doubt too that when my time comes to undergo student and formal appraisals of my performance as a teacher and facilitator there will certainly be some nerves! Unfortunately though falling into negative thought patterns means missing out on one of the best opportunities for self-development and improvement there are, and as with many difficult tasks I think the key is in the attitude with which the situation is approached. Phil Race has a great chapter on this topic in his Lecturer’s Toolkit, in which he discusses and provides practical advice on evaluation and formal appraisal, including how it is best undertaken, how to seek student feedback, and how to deal with concerns and both negative and positive feedback. To me the overall best way to prepare for such events is to not make it an ‘event’ as such at all; rather, consider it a regular factor in your teaching and an ongoing process of reflective practice.

Reflective practice means constantly undergoing self evaluation and proactively eliciting feedback with the aim of improving performance in all areas. This includes assessing & reassessing not only the quality of your teaching, but also the suitability of your teaching style and the methods used for the ever-changing student cohort and industry demands (there are many reasons why feedback may not be entirely 5-star, and not all of these imply that the teacher is at fault!). This feedback provides vital identification of areas for improvement to be acted upon; once changes have been made, the effects will be measured during the ongoing regular reassessment, effectively making the classroom an ongoing pedagogical experiment. Such information is also invaluable for constructing professional development plans which not only give direction to but also demonstrate how one has worked to improve weaker areas and built upon identified strengths, thereby contributing not only to better practice but also to the academic’s personal career portfolio.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is an extension of the aforementioned processes and activities, and is especially interesting to me as it is more vital to my discipline than for most. To me SoTL is being actively engaged in discerning the most effective methods of teaching within one’s teaching context, and, most essentially, also sharing this information with the institution and also with the wider community of tertiary teaching. This means connecting and networking with other tertiary educators in various ways to gain and share knowledge and skills, such as by publication of journal articles, blogs, and contribution to collaborative websites, and by attendance of courses, conferences, and workshops. It seems the answer to dealing with evaluation and the need for continual professional self-improvement is to engage in reflective practice and SoTL. The evaluation process cannot help but be positive as it becomes part of the teacher’s public efforts to improve their class facilitation and student achievement of course outcomes, and the whole endeavour transparently supports core organisational objectives of producing high quality graduates. In the end it promotes the discipline itself as a whole by researching and contributing to knowledge on how best to create new professionals that will contribute to and eventually themselves further the profession. For my discipline in particular I think SoTL will is absolutely essential as paramedicine is a very new field in tertiary education, and there is still much to be determined in terms of the most efficacious ways to produce high quality paramedic graduates.

As discussed the main process in evaluation and reflective practice is to discern from evaluation and feedback which areas of teaching or facilitation need to be addressed, then devising an improvement, implementing it, and reassessing results during ongoing self-assessment and reflection. Within SoTL these processes are undertaken as a project (the six main facets of which are those common to most kinds of research project management), which may then be formally reported upon and disseminated to add to the pool of knowledge on teaching in that particular discipline. Projects are often created in response to an identified need – for example, the research project I mentioned a while back that I am developing is in response to an identified need and a lack of current data regarding paramedic education – but they may also arise from reading others’ projects and deciding to implement such changes to improve one’s own teaching. Being involved in SoTL either directly by undertaking own projects, or by reading about and connecting with others to provide feedback on their work and contributions, are all activities that I feel are well worth pursuing, as even if evaluation and feedback show that one’s own teaching is going very well there is always more to learn, and being involved within a connected network of academics to share ideas and innovation is beneficial not only to the teacher and the students, but eventually to all stakeholders concerned.

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An interesting article by David Glance at The Conversation, discussing a new form of educational technology that provides teachers (well, anyone!) with the ability to produce and distribute their own interactive, multimedia ebooks. The growing availability of electronic textbooks is I feel simply brilliant, and these will undoubtedly become increasingly present in all levels of education for practical portability and ecological sense – and this coming from a bonafide bibliophile who loves nothing more than a stonking great textbook, yet is over the moon with the ability to tote around seventy-odd Kindle version textbooks upon her iPad! To me the incorporation of multimedia into these makes great sense and will elevate such resources above being simply electronic versions of the traditional hardbound tomes. I am curious as to whether the system will allow the author to designate restrictions to purchasers to limit distribution within a class, for example – if so it could be a neat way to produce a study guide or any lesson material.

However whilst it sounds very interesting and is a great concept, and I support any advance which provides greater power in self-publishing to the masses, I too feel the restriction to the Apple platform to be a major drawback in the context of educational material, especially in terms of the forced endorsement of one particular company’s products. It will be interesting to watch how it all pans out.. perhaps the widely available Kindle versions of textbooks will develop multimedia capabilities (one can already create their own Kindle ebooks), or another non-Apple utility will arise with similar functionality for the general public. In the meantime I can’t deny it’s interesting to consider the ability to author a multimedia ebook myself and to self-publish so easily, and will almost certainly have a play.. it’s reminiscent in a way of the ability for anyone to create apps for various systems such as iPhone and Android and to sell these online.


Teaching with tech: could iBooks Author spark an education revolution?

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The days of bulky textbooks could soon be behind us. [Apple]

Late last week, Apple announced the launch of a new piece of software, iBooks Author, and a new version of its eBook reader, iBooks 2. It’s a development that promises to accelerate the move to interactive eBooks, by radically simplifying their development.

iBooks Author does to eBooks what Apple’s GarageBand does to producing music – it makes the development of an interactive eBook as simple as dropping in a presentation or document. Videos, audio and other interactive elements can also be included, and the software automatically positions these elements, adjusting text and layout.

Once produced, eBooks can be distributed through Apple’s iBooks store – after going through the Apple review process – for download onto iPads, iPhones and the iPod Touch.

iBooks 2, Apple’s new eBook reader, has been updated to support the new textbook format and has launched in the US with a sample of beautifully crafted high school textbooks covering science and maths.

A catalyst for change?

It’s an ironic feature of new technology – the social and cultural change that new tech brings is so unequal. Nowhere is this more clearly highlighted than in education.

Kids, living permanently connected and socially mediated lives, are transported into the dark ages the moment they step into a classroom. Although there are examples of excellence and progress, there are many classrooms in which teaching and learning practices have remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

In the early 1980s, MIT Professor Seymour Papert believed personal computers would bring about radical changes in schools, both in the way students learned and how educators taught.

Using computers, Papert thought, students would be able to move at their own pace, learning, experimenting and testing themselves. Teachers would become facilitators and guides, and not the source of the content.

It’s now 30 years later and progress has been slow. Teaching has barely scratched the surface of the potential integration of computers (especially mobile devices) into the classroom.

There are many reasons for this. Lack of funding, training and infrastructure play a large part, along with a fear of change and the potential scrutiny and criticism this change may spark off.

It is possible, though, that we are at a point where this might all change.

[Apple]

The platform is right

One of the impediments to integrating computers into the classroom has been purely practical – in many schools, there was literally nowhere to put them. Even with notebooks, issues such as power and storage were enough to limit their use.

Tablets such as the iPad are an ideal platform because of their weight, size, battery life and versatility. Importantly, a tablet also doesn’t form a physical barrier between student and teacher in the same way that a desktop or even notebook computer can.

The iPad’s versatility is starting to be recognised, with roughly 1.5 million iPads now used in educational establishments. Some universities and schools have even started issuing students with iPads.

The content is coming

The second significant roadblock in the way of using computers in education has been the lack of content. More specifically, there has been a lack of electronic versions of textbooks that are tailored to a learning curriculum.

Traditional publishers have not rushed into the eBook market, with Forrester Research estimating that eBooks make up only 2.8% of the US$8 billion textbook market in the US. Reasons for this include:

  • the fear of sabotaging profits on print versions of the texts
  • the cost of eBook production, and
  • the fragmentation of publishing formats and platforms.

(Interestingly, eBook sales in general exceeded print book sales on Amazon for the first time last year.)

Of course, publishers have now learned the inevitability of an electronic future for textbooks. The fear of not being part of this will drive the move from print.

iBooks Author makes it easier than ever before to create your own eBook. [Apple]

The release of iBooks Author (a free application for Mac) opens up the production of educational material to anyone. It’s not so much the ability to author the books simply – although this is significant – but the ability to distribute, and potentially get paid for, such works. As with its apps, Apple has created an ecosystem with critical mass that makes it worth the effort of producing books in this way.

Of course it’s not just books that are important for content. Apple has for some time been delivering educational video and audio content through iTunes U. This education-specific section of iTunes has seen 600 million downloads of educational video, audio and study material since it started in 2007. Stanford University and the Open University top the list of universities providing material, each with more than 30 million downloads.

Last week, Apple also announced the availability of a dedicated iTunes U app. This app joins 200,000 educational apps in the iTunes App Store.

Is Apple the future of education?

Every announcement from Apple seems to bring out the sceptics.

There is resentment at the revenue cut that Apple takes when products are sold through their sales network. With iBooks Author, the License Agreement prohibits the use of eBooks produced in this way to be distributed anywhere other than through the iBooks store, where Apple takes 30% of the revenue. (This limitation doesn’t seem to exist for content given away for free.)

What the critics haven’t mentioned is that most textbook authors receive little financial return for their efforts from publishers. In most cases textbooks are written out of dedication or for academic recognition, with the financial returns rarely covering the time invested in the writing.

BarbaraLN

Further criticisms have been levelled at Apple for creating a closed environment that forces people to use Apple products to access their content. This is in contrast to Amazon, Google and others that provide software that allows users to access their media purchases on any platform. Sites such as the Khan Academy provide high quality instructional videos for free and there is a wealth of free educational websites available on the internet.

Finally, critics argue that in American schools at least, the money for iPads would be better spent on recruiting and training teachers. Their argument is that there’s little evidence to show iPads contribute to improved learning outcomes.

But a report released last week about a pilot study found students using an algebra application on an iPad (instead of a printed textbook) performed 20% better in California Standard Tests.

What next?

For anyone involved in education – whether a teacher, administrator, parent or student – the ability to produce and distribute educational material represents an exciting and pivotal moment. All of the necessary stars have aligned to spur the move to digital educational material.

Of course we haven’t yet seen how Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others will respond to this, but the net result is sure to be positive for learners and teachers everwhere.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The chicken and the egg. And the chicken. And the egg…

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The Eight Learning Management Questions, and just about all other things I’ve seen so far upon overall program, course, and lesson design, all echo the same core strategy in ever increasing depth and detail: assessment of students’ existing skills and abilities, determination of what is to be taught, definition of learning objectives and outcomes, construction of teaching strategies, and design of assessments around these. It’s a logical process of constructive alignment and makes sense, reminding me of the process of systematic patient assessment whereby the clinician repeats the same pattern of assessing patient bodily systems, only with increasing focus upon finer details with each pass.

An interesting point in Oliver’s (2000) paper on application of this process to development of web-based courses was that students were dissatisfied with the greater ownership and responsibility for their own learning conferred by online learning. Somewhat contrary to my expectations, they preferred others to make decisions for them, and to attend set classes rather than self-manage their learning pace. Maybe it’s laziness or a hangover from ye olde school days to need to be told what to do and when to do it?! Or maybe that way is the path of least resistance for students, as it could be extra cognitive load to have to manage when and how they study as well as the study material itself. It’s perhaps a different mix of each factor for each student, but was noted though that this seemed to diminish as students gained more familiarity with the online learning environment. Another study mentioned in the paper found that it was not the greater control over learning so much as the loss of teacher presence that was the problem, again underscoring the need to provide a high level of teacher presence in the virtual classroom.

Given this reading was authored twelve years ago I wondered if the even more ubiquitous presence of technology in everyday lives had since changed student receptiveness of online learning delivery, which reminded me of one of my bibliography readings. The authors (Williams et al, 2011) questioned undergraduate paramedic of several Australian and New Zealand universities for their opinions of several aspectcs of the elearning experience. The students involved all attended on-campus programs using blended teaching styles, and it was concluded that paramedic student attitudes towards elearning were mixed, and that they were only likely to make the most of such delivery methods if these were high yield lessons. This current research highlights the continuing need for use of such technology to be carefully structured to meet course objectives, and for the design to provide a high level of instructional quality.

References.

Oliver, R. (2000). When teaching meets learning: design principles and strategies for Web-based learning environments that support knowledge construction. In R. Sims, M. O’Reilly & S. Sawkins (Eds). Learning to choose: Choosing to learn. Proceedings of the 17th Annual ASCILITE Conference (pp 17-28). Lismore, NSW: Southern Cross University Press.

Williams, B., Boyle, M., Molloy, A., Brightwell, R., Munro, G., Service, M., & Brown, T. (2011). Undergraduate paramedic students’ attitudes to e-learning: Findings from five university programs. Research in Learning Technology, 19 (2), 89-100. doi:10.1080/21567069.2011.586679

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