How do we weigh an academic’s time? May 25, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, Musings, Teaching Idea.
Tags: academic, flipped classroom, flipping, learning, lecture, lecturer
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A while ago Nick Jackson (@largerama) asked of Twitter ‘What is the most worthwhile use of an academic’s time? Lecture or tutorial?’ The answer’s obvious right? Well … maybe. Wherever an apparent truism appears, particularly one with which I’d tend to immediately agree, I always try to step back and ask of myself what the alternative viewpoint might be and might I argue that case? In playing devil’s advocate, I’m seeking to challenge my own understanding. Have I missed something? Was my initial interpretation too shallow?
To the question of the lecture then. As I begin to probe in the Twitter exchange Nick captured in his subsequent blog post, is it fair to take the lecture in isolation? It is after all one aspect of a more complex environment which includes the academic and the student, the location within which the lecture takes place, the curriculum, the organisation which brings all those together (and the budget within which it must operate) plus the less tangible, but perhaps most significant element, the intent or purpose of the interchange. So let’s imagine a university or college which has one hundred mechanical engineering students and wishes them to experience a ‘Stress Analysis’ module of study over a 12 week period. It can spare a lecturer at the rate of 1 hour per week over that time. So 100 students, 12 weeks, 12 hours of lecturer time to cover content X. On the grounds of efficiency or economics, the lecture argument is an easy one to make. If lectures were swapped for tutorials for example, the group size would need to be smaller and the lecturer’s time spread more thinly resulting in each student benefiting from perhaps only an hour of lecturer support in the whole module.
Nick makes the point in his post that time spent in lectures is to some extent wasted and as the video above shows, during carelessly constructed, monotonously delivered, poorly crafted lectures, student attention inevitably wanders. In addition Nick highlights the weak pedagogical principles upon which lectures are built, which inevitably lead to a lower quality of learning. Perhaps then the lecture in which the lecturer is the most active agent in the room struggles to encourage the ‘deep’ learning1 that academics would surely want to engender in their students? Säljö2 categorised five graded conceptions of learning:
- Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge. Learning is acquiring information or ‘knowing a lot’
- Learning as memorising. Learning is storing information that can be reproduced.
- Learning as acquiring facts, skills and methods that can be retained and used as necessary.
- Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning. Learning involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world.
- Learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way. Learning involves comprehending the world by re-interpreting knowledge.
Would it be fair to say that (the majority of) lectures encourage 1 to 3, the ‘surface’ approaches, whereas say, tutorials lean more towards the deeper approaches found in 4 and 5? With that in mind, does the lecture really offer enough value to the students? Although Gunderman3 contends that lectures aren’t solely about transmitting information, they should:
…show the mind and heart of the lecturer at work, and to engage the minds and hearts of learners.
But realistically, what proportion of lectures actually do that? Is it truly possible for a lecturer to bring their ‘A’ game to every lecture? Perhaps it would be more appropriate to allow lecturers to provide their own defence:
And now I’m even more convinced than ever. It’s easy to criticise without offering an alternative though, so let’s imagine more efficient or more effective possibilities other than the traditional lecture, but which make no more demands on lecturer time. Perhaps the most obvious place to start is the flipped classroom model in which a pre-recorded version of the lecture can be watched by the students, maybe even given by other lecturers. But where the gain in that I hear you say? With a pre-recorded lecture then student has the option to watch it at a time and place to suit them (perhaps more important than ever in these times where a good proportion of students take on a job to help pay for their fees), but more importantly at a pace to suit them. The twelve scheduled hours could then be used in any number of ways: tutorial, workshop, Q&A. Maybe students could be asked to ‘front’ these sessions with pecha-kucha presentations, TeachMeet- or Bar Camp-style sessions, anything where they’ve been required to interpret and transfer what they learned from the recorded lecture. And the academic? S/he decides the most appropriate format for each particular aspect of the curriculum; they act as facilitator, arbiter, coach and mentor. They do what they (should) do best and redirect student learning, helping them see misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Will that be easy? Of course not. For many academics it might require considerable personal and professional development, but with deeper learning resulting in more accomplished students as the intended outcomes, surely it’s worth the investment of time?
The lecture only ever enjoyed moderate success a mechanism for facilitating student learning and even then only under particular circumstances, but given the constraints within which it operated, other options were limited. Digital technologies have broken the shackles binding academics … will they now make the most of that freedom?
1 Marton, F. & Saljo, R., 1976. On qualitative differences in learning: I. Outcome and process. British journal of educational psychology.
2 Saljo, R., 1979. Learning in the Learner’s Perspective. I. Some Common-Sense Conceptions. No. 76.,
3 Gunderman, R., 2013. Is the Lecture Dead? The Atlantic. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/is-the-lecture-dead/272578/ [Accessed May 23, 2013].
ePortfolios … or maybe not? April 23, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Resources, Teaching Idea, Tools.
Yesterday I posted a speculative tweet:
Wondering if anyone is using a good eportfolio system they could recommend?
— Ian Guest (@IaninSheffield) April 22, 2013
Several people were kind enough to respond, but it quickly became clear how open I’d left the question. Since some responses revealed avenues I might not have otherwise considered, that actually proved to be rather serendipitous. (More about the responses in a post to follow). So perhaps it would be more sensible to outline what we’re actually looking for and see whether anyone can suggest other alternatives I’d not even considered.
Where we are
For some while now, we’ve been concerned that we don’t have a formal system:
- through which students can record participation in co-curricular, school- and non-school-based activities, other than a brief section in their planner.
- by which staff (curriculum, pastoral and leadership) can monitor and/or comment on student activity and participation, other than by checking individuals’ planners.
- which feeds the aforementioned data into our reporting system. This process is currently a summative event undertaken by form tutors in negotiation with the students and for various reasons significant facts sometimes get missed.
- which will provide an overview of all activity being undertaken and/or filtered down by for example Year group, interest category etc.
Where we want to go
So in summary we’re looking for a solution which:
- allows students to record participation in co-curricular activities (long-term and fine-grained):
- in different ways: online, by email, text(?)
- in different forms: text, photos, scans, links
- allows students to search, filter, organise, edit and append their records
- is longitudinal, following students through school, year on year
- can be monitored, searched and filtered by staff
- allows staff to see summaries:
- for different groups of students
- under different categories
- over time
- feeds information into our reporting system
- potentially at least, allows the students to leave school and take their record with them.
The above constitute our “Essentials” whilst the following might be considered “Desirables.” We need a mechanism which will:
- showcase academic/mainstream curriculum work
- allow staff to comment/provide feedback
- allow peers to view/comment/contribute
- allow ‘outsiders’ to view: parents, potential employers, admissions tutors
- allow outsiders to contribute, comment etc e.g. work experience feedback.
Now the more astute amongst you will recognise that the essential criteria don’t precisely constitute an eportfolio. JISC1 summarises things quite succinctly:
…an e-portfolio is a product created by learners, a collection of digital artefacts articulating learning (both formal and informal), experiences and achievements.
the operation of which can be represented diagrammatically as:So if we go looking for an off-the-shelf eportfolio system, will it be over-specified for what we need? Or maybe there are no eportfolio (or other) systems which do offer the specific functionalities we need? As Frasier would say “I’m listening.”
The sheep was shorn March 12, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, Resources, Teaching Idea.
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Had the great privilege to attend and present at the inaugural Derbyshire TeachMeet last night, organised and compèred most ably by Jim Smith (@jim1982) and hosted by the most accommodating Hope Valley College. I was impressed by the number of staff from HVC who attended and who also contributed some excellent, thought-provoking presentations. But coupled with them were others from near and far, many presenting at a TeachMeet for the first time who also provided stimulating and inspirational ideas. I needn’t name them individually since they’re all listed on the TeachMeet site.
Each and every presentation gave me food for thought, but one theme stood out. At many of the TeachMeets I’ve attended, IT was very much at the fore, often driving the content of the presentations or acting as the catalyst for the teaching idea that was being shared. Here it very much took a back seat and played no part in many presentations. In other cases it was simply the enabler of the activity, allowing the teaching idea to take centre stage. With such a large proportion of people attending their first TeachMeet, perhaps there was no imperative to live up to what had gone before, no preconceived idea of what might be appropriate so attendees therefore had the freedom to speak about absolutely anything. Which all made for an extremely eclectic mix and consequently meant there was something there for everyone.
Identifying one presentation which stood out amongst such riches is always a challenge, but for me Louise Hollis on Literacy in Languages claimed the Academy Award because she managed to squeeze such a wealth of great ideas into her few minutes. Simple and effective strategies which would be easy for anyone to apply in any subject. High quality, high concentration. Thanks Louise and thanks to everyone else too … especially Jim for getting the whole thing off the ground. Already looking forward to the next installment of TeachMeet Derbyshire.
Resources referred to in my preso can be found at http://www.tizmos.com/IaninSheffield
“I wanna tell you a story” February 19, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea, Tools.
Tags: #etmooc, digital storytelling, storytelling
I hope those (more mature?) UK residents for whom the title quote has meaning will forgive the reference to a long-lived and for many, well-loved English variety entertainer, Max Bygraves. But his catchphrase neatly encapsulated what entertainers need to do – to tell stories. Or at least to adopt the role of storyteller. Storytellers hold your attention, stir your imagination, compel you to want to hear (read/see/experience) more, invoke an emotional response … make you care. Storytelling can be for entertainment and pleasure, but also help understanding, solicit co-operation or build coalition … or even sell a product or service. As Joe Sabia outlined, the influence of digital (and other) media on storytelling may not have changed the essential elements of storytelling, but I’d suggest they have enabled the following:
- Reach – access to a much wider audience through the Internet and the social networks which magnify.
- Richness – diversity and profusion of media through which stories can be expressed.
- Revealing – allowing a wider range of creators, for whom traditional storytelling may have been less accessible, to appreciate that they have something to offer and the media through which it might be delivered.
- Recycling – where content created by others can be reused to tell the same story in a different way, or weave an entirely different narrative, or be mashed together from different sources.
- Requesting – the audience need no longer be passive receptors and can be invited in to contribute to, or influence the direction of the story
As teachers, perhaps we need to scrutinise more carefully the role of storyteller and how might exploit the techniques and processes of telling a story so that the experiences to which we expose our students become more compelling.
The ‘story’ I chose to tell for this #etmooc assignment was inspired by a single image a colleague showed me just last week. I wondered whether it could form the subject of a story, but rather than put it up front and centre, I chose to approach it obliquely. Other storytelling techniques such as 5-card Flickr put imagery front and centre in order to stimulate the imagination. I elected to use simple words to conjure images which would hopefully lead the reader in a direction such that the final reveal was a complete surprise. Progressively revealing more and more of the image hopefully served to stimulate the imagination further.
Master storyteller? Well not yet. With such little text, each phrase, each clause, each word needs to be chosen with care and precision. I could have done with a little more time, but you can only tinker so much and eventually you have to ‘ship.’ I think maybe the image reveal could have been done a little better and though I considered making it visible on every frame, thought it might detract from the story and the reader’s need to conjure their own image as they absorbed the words – doing that whilst pondering the imagery would have been too much I felt. One final thing, boy isn’t finding a piece of appropriate CC music for the backing track time consuming?! Wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final choice, but the days are only so long.
Progressively revealing an image is a useful technique on large screen displays, perhaps using IWBs to tease out the storytelling in our younger students. Rather than show a whole image at once, use the IWB spotlight or eraser tools to reveal just a small section and ask students to first describe what they see, then as different scenes are shown, how or if they might be related. It’s surely the process of filling in the background for oneself that stimulates imaginative thinking?
The Art of Explanation – Terminal Velocity January 6, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Teaching Idea.
Tags: commoncraft, lesson planning
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In the preceding post I discussed the aforementioned book and wondered if there were any lessons to be learned from the messages the author, Lee Lefever, had to offer. Given how successful they clearly are, could the CommonCraft techniques be applied to the way we do things in school? Of necessity having to return to my subject-teaching roots, I elected to choose the topic of terminal velocity – a term (thanks to the film of the same name) with which students are largely familiar, but have less understanding of the concept.
So we have around 3 minutes to follow the general structure mentioned in the previous post. I wanted to solicit agreement using a big-picture statement, set the context by saying why this might be important for them, tell a story which explains how and why a character experiences terminal velocity (and lives to tell the tale!), make connections to other examples with which the audience should be familiar, then conclude with a summary.
Turning that into a CommonCraft-style video would then entail several hours more work to produce the resources, film the sequence, then edit and produce the final movie (something for later perhaps?). However I did go to the trouble of writing the script and recording the narration:
Assuming that I finished off the project and produced a video, does it have a place in a Physics teaching context? Well, yes, no and maybe. It certainly summarises the concept of terminal velocity and with illustrative visuals would hopefully capture the essence in a way all (most?) students could grasp. It assumes a certain level of knowledge – forces, gravity, air resistance, acceleration – this is OK under CommonCraft ‘rules,’ but does require that you are familiar with your audience. I guess the video could be used as a resource to which students could refer back upon competing the topic, or even as an introductory piece – create an almost identical video (not too much overhead) containing an error; students then have to explain which they think is the correct version and why. But we have to be careful not to stray too far from what a Commoncraft-style video actually is; Lee is very clear that they’re about explanation, not description, illustration, definition or elaboration. Maybe the video serves as a touchstone to which students can refer back; a foundation on which they can build further knowledge and understanding.
Producing a Commoncraft-style video then is perhaps more about the process of interrogating your own understanding of the concept you’re trying to explain, so that you re-evaluate the way you usually introduce that learning. I wonder if there’s value in students producing videos – an artifact which would display their true understanding surely, rather than the regurgitated facts examination questions often demand?
And finally something for you to think about:
If a human falls from ten-times their height, they’ll probably be rather unwell. If a spider falls from a hundred-times its height, it’ll walk away unscathed. Why is that?
If you understand terminal velocity, you’ll be able to explain