Tell ’em about the Honey…Mumford…

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THEN:

Back in the day, when I used to work in teacher education, we used to dedicate hours of the curriculum to teaching our students the notion of learning styles. My students would all studiously complete their VARK questionnaires, we’d discuss at lengths the theories of David Kolb and Honey and Mumford (I always saw the Honey Monster in my head when they came up in discussion) there would be a post – VARK moment of self absorption and ‘all about me’-ness when we all chattered about how, according to our results, we needed to teach – and be taught according to our newly discovered preference to read, or listen, or ‘do’ / watch in order to learn, then spent another session looking at how to plan lessons according to our own students’ learning styles.

Ultimately, our classroom discussions would always end at the same point. That we all had a certain preference or leaning towards a certain learning style, but that didn’t mean we didn’t learn when doing something a different way. I may prefer to hurtle into learning something new like a bull in a china shop and learn through a process of trial, error and an emotional rollercoaster ride, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn about imaginary numbers while watching and listening to Hannah Fry on television last night. And I learned the first verse of Jabberwocky when I was a kid by reading and rereading it.  For my part, I always wondered aloud about the possibility of daily stresses and strains – how hungry we were, how thirsty were, whether we had a good night’s sleep the night before; how seemingly little things could subconsciously affect our learning styles. I admit to agreeing to having certain preferences – leanings towards certain style of learning, the way I’ll lean towards a certain pizza topping or chocolate bar, but not exclusively and solely to these: it’s important to this analogy to remember that I also enjoy roast potatoes and apples.

NOW:

A few years ago, academic papers, articles in education-based newspapers, blog posts by respected education thinkers, conference keynotes and TED Talks started busting the ‘myth’ of learning styles.  There was no such thing as learning styles, and to think there was meant that educators around the world were doing a grave disservice to their students, who had been pigeonholed into learning according to their VARK scores and  ill-prepared to take on a fully 360 degrees, multisensory world when they left education. BOOM!

NEXT?

A few months ago, a colleague asked me to turn some of her old teaching materials into a online package that could be used as a ‘flipped classroom’ resource. A large percentage of the content was around learning styles. There were links to online VARK tests, articles about learning styles, the need to tailor teaching according to individual or group styles, and for a second, I wondered if I had gone back in time. It’s tricky, and to paraphrase the old saying, you can can take the teacher educator out of the classroom…but my role is different now, I work in Professional Services rather than academia, and it’s certainly not for me to tell teaching staff what should or shouldn’t be in their programmes.

Then, two weeks ago I attended an International Exchange week in Finland. I noticed on three separate occasions that the theory of learning styles as fact was embedded in presentations from academics around the world. (Why were you there then, you ask? And yes, as promised in my last post, I will get around to that.)

And this week, a random VLE announcement from a lecturer in my inbox reminding students that their learning styles assignments needed to be sent to him by the end of the week.

Am I out of the education-as-curriculum loop? It’s been almost 8 years since I set foot in a classroom, so education practices and theories will have moved on. Maybe learning styles ARE a thing, and steps toward more black and white thinking are the way forward? (I always thought more in terms of shades of grey, hence my ‘leaning’ as opposed to ‘learning’ styles theory.) Maybe there are more styles that we weren’t aware of 10 years ago? I always thought there were just the four – but look! There are now eight learning styles! If this keeps going, we’ll have 32 by the time I hit retirement age!

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Finally, maybe, this is a sign of the times and a sort of low-key flat earth conspiracy theory? (DISCLAIMER: I’ve been watching a lot of ‘Ancient Aliens’ on Discovery) We’ve known for a very long time that the world is round, yet there’s growing support for the contrary. Maybe the same is true with learning styles too.

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catzI think I’ve mentioned before that blog posts are like buses: nothing for months, and then three come along all at once – and having noticed that I haven’t written any blog posts for a good six months I feel as if i should give an explanation. It’s not because I’m lazy, neither is it because I haven’t had the time. Quite simply, it’s because I haven’t done anything ‘blogworthy’ for a while.

I’m not complaining. There’s no need to PM me and ask if I’m OK (hun) because my life is dull and unrewarding. Far from it – I’ve enjoyed a beautifully hot summer awash with gin, friends and travel, been on some lovely walks both here and abroad, visited the biggest cavern system in Europe (in Slovenia), and spent some proper quality time with my family in Cornwall and Stafford, but my job has been unremarkable. Not uninteresting, not ‘bad’ – just unremarkable.

I could have blogged about the number of requests I get every day from staff wanting to be enrolled to modules on our VLE, or the drop in sessions I run around lecture capture, the day-to-day instructional design projects I’m working through, the technology strategy I’m writing for the school, the new curricula the School is currently putting forward to various University panels and boards that will be delivered using blended learning and the flipped classroom (hence the lecture capture training sessions)…but none of this is really exciting enough to blog about. And why would anyone be in the least bit interested?

But…and I refer you back to that first sentence…the past few weeks have seen a couple of things happen that I think are worth talking about. So look out for posts in the next week or so around the following:

The Wales Deanery Conference (Sharing Training Excellence in Medical Education) I was invited to speak at, which meant I got to visit the Cardiff City Stadium (rather than just drive past it, as I usually do)

The Festival of Enhancing Learning with Technology (FELT): an event I organised and ‘put on’ for School staff which, if nothing else, gave me the opportunity to buy a Fuzzy Felt kit in order to design the posters

And next week I’m going to Finland as part of an exchange / sharing good practice week, which should warrant a post, even if it is just photos of me at the Moomin Museum in Tampere…so watch this space (though you shouldn’t have to watch for too long…)

 

PressED Impressed

Imagine a conference that takes place online…

Okay, that’s not too challenging, nor in 2018, is it a massive stretch of the imagination.

Imagine a conference that takes place online but is about one thing, and one thing only – the use of WordPress in teaching, pedagogy and research… 

That’s still not too challenging, though reading back through these first couple of sentences, you may be thinking that this all sounds rather constricting. So, like a snake that hasn’t eaten for a month and has just spied a fallen antelope, let’s make things even more constricting.

Imagine a conference that takes place online, is solely about WordPress, and is hosted entirely on Twitter… 

Now your collective foreheads are wrinkling, aren’t they?

I was intrigued when I found out about PressED, having never considered for one second the notion of Twitter as a conference space. And I have to admit that I submitted an abstract out of curiosity as much as anything else. There were a range of logistic mountains to climb, surely? How could a conference ‘run’ on Twitter? How would it be managed? Who would manage it? Surely it would become an ever more complicated maze of Twitter threads containing more back channel noise than Chip Alley on a Friday night. I’ve become embroiled in a lot of Twitter chats, and endured a number of migraines as a result. So this would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?

It turns out that the answer to that last question is a big, fat, glossy ‘No’. And that’s down to ensuring presenters stuck to a very simple but effective methodology, and very clear organisation. Here are the rules:

  1. One presentation only to be delivered any given time
  2. Each presenter given exactly 15 minutes: 10 minutes to Tweet their key points, and a following 5 minutes to answer any questions

Tweet scheduling was actively recommended by the conference team as a way to make the process as fool-proof and stress-free as possible. Using TweetDeck, I wrote 10 Tweets the afternoon before (ensuring all of them ended with #pressedconf18), added relevant images taken from my overarching PowerPoint presentation, added the presentation to SlideShare and generated a link, and then added this link to my final Tweet for anyone who wanted to find out more. So the image you see below is of me ‘doing’ my presentation. And yes, I was working from home, in bed, wearing pyjamas. My scheduled Tweets were automatically appearing every 60 seconds, and I was able to concentrate on any related Tweets, likes, retweets or questions that were coming through.

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And what a fantastic experience it was. Presentations started and finished at exactly the times allocated – due, largely I guess, to the fact that everyone seemed to have scheduled their Tweets in advance. Each presentation was easy to follow, questions were answered quickly and thoughtfully from presenters who weren’t trying to juggle their presentation along with audience questions, comments or interruptions. And, vitally, as someone who is using WordPress as a replacement VLE with a small group of students, it was a perfect opportunity to get some insights from other practitioners doing the same.  I finished feeling elated, excited, and with a real enthusiasm for this very clean ‘crisp’ way of doing a conference.

I took a lot away with me too – a new way of taking part in a 21st century conference, and a new way of using Twitter… but if there is one valuable, pedagogic ‘take away’, it’s just how many other people are (perhaps subversively) using WordPress as a replacement for Moodle and Blackboard. Maybe the days of the locked-down, institutionally-branded, ‘nothing other than a digital filing cabinet for ancient PowerPoint presentations’ VLE are approaching an end?

I’d like to finish up this post by saying thank you to PressED organisers Natalie Lafferty and Pat Lockley for making this amazing event happen. 

Manners Maketh Mobile

This week I spoke at my institution’s Centre for Education and Innovation Open Seminar (#CEIOS) series. The umbrella title of the seminar was Adding a Mobile and Interactive Aspect to your Teaching and Learning, something that in 2018 seems to be as contentious a topic as it was a decade ago. My presentation was called Please Destroy Cellphones Before Entering, and the thinking behind it was ignited by a sign I’d seen blu-tacked to the front of a lecture theatre, where I was asked to show a group of undergraduate students how to access a wiki activity on their laptops, tablets and smartphones. Sadly, I had to inform the group that I couldn’t run the session as planned because of the poster*. Though, because of the size, (A4), only the lecturer and eagle-eyed members of the front row could read it: 

Please Destroy Cell Phones Before Entering

The presentation looked at the very black and white state of mobile device use in higher education. There is a ‘mobile devices in the classroom’ continuum with academics firmly rooted at opposite ends, but with very few in between. So there’s either a laissez faire attitude – let them bring in their smartphones, let them text one another, let them use Snapchat, let them use Instagram, and if they fail their assignment / course, that’s their problem (this is the end of the spectrum I admit to being closest to), or, as with the poster I saw in the lecture theatre, there’s an outright ban of mobile devices. This is usually because teachers feel that students’ attention should be focused solely on them – a reasonable enough expectation, but if you are wondering why your students are plasying around on Pinterest and not focussing on you, maybe you need to make your lectures more interesting and / or interactive? Or maybe, even if they ARE interesting and you ARE the best teacher in the world, maybe even the most captive mind isn’t going to be able to handle 3 hours of being talked at? 

Leaving contentious statements to one side, I argued that there needs to be a middle ground; a compromise. And while it’s true that research has proved that students who use mobile devices in lessons do not do as well as students who don’t, (see the presentation at the end of this post for more information), there is a need to consider the following: 

  • Banning mobile devices in 2018 is tantamount to cutting off somebody’s hands and / or forcing them to travel back in time 
  • Higher Education students are adults so by banning mobile devices, it could be suggested that we are treating them as children?  And if we treat students as children, will they respond by acting like children? 
  • A smartphone or tablet has an incredible amount of potential as a learning tool. So if you catch your student playing with their phone, is it unfair to assume they’re frittering time away on a social network, because they may be searching the internet for further information around something you mentioned that really hooked them? 

At the end of the presentation, I invited the audience – a mix of learning technologists and lecturers – to take the first step in drawing up a list of ‘Mobile Manners’; suggestions for how a compromise can be made so that mobile devices can be allowed and used in sessions, but without the current all or nothing approach.  Here’s what we came up with: 

  • Remind students that this isn’t a social space – it’s a learning space 
  • Be present: agree. Perhaps, on a Service Level Agreement with students at the start of a programme of study. For example: emails can only be checked at break times, important calls can be taken when needed, but devices must be on vibrate, etc. 
  • Give an informal breakdown of what the session is about: ‘I’ll talk for ten minutes – and I really need you to listen to this, then we’ll have a Mentimeter survey, followed by a group task for about 20 minutes, then another ten minutes of talking – again, I’d its important, so I want you to listen and make notes, then we’ll have a break where you can check your social networks / email / WhatsApp messages…”. This may be especially useful for cohorts of younger students 

Something that we kept coming back to was what could still be an elephant in many staff rooms: if lectures / taught sessions were more engaging, less ‘chalk and talk’, and there were more opportunities for student interaction, then maybe students wouldn’t be so quick to reach for their smartphones. Could lectures be shorter, perhaps? Could they be designed to be more interactive, with more opportunities for audience participation? 

I’m keen to see this list of ‘Mobile Manners’ take shape and become more definitive, so please comment below with any suggestions you have. Thank you in advance.

 

 *I did run the session – I was just trying to be funny. And, as usual, failed abysmally… 

Let’s Hear it for King Ludd!

imagesI’ve been working in the technology enhanced learning sector in one form or another for over a decade now, so I reckon I am able to give advice to the next generation of learning technologists without fear of reprisal. So here we go. Pin back your ears and take heed young Padawans, for here it comes:

Embrace your inner Luddite.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but your inner Luddite can be a critical friend and a bridge between you and any academic or teaching staff who are not sure or happy or confident about using technology. But before I explain why, I want to dispel a few myths.

We tend call anyone who refuses to engage with technology a Luddite, but to do so is to do a disservice to Luddites. Wikipedia says that:

“The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices. Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste as machines would replace their role in the industry. It is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery itself in an attempt to halt the progress of technology.”

So they weren’t against using technology per se – but using it fraudulently and deceitfully. I’d change those rather pejorative terms  and in terms of education would suggest that we protest the use of technology for the sake of it, which is often to the detriment of better, manual methods. An example might be making notes in a class or lecture. Students could use a laptop or tablet and type their notes or take a photo of a classmate’s notes, but research suggests that the act of putting pen to paper ensures that a cerebral connection is made that isn’t made when technology is used instead, and the author is more likely to remember what he or she has written as a result.

Luddites feared that their skills would be replaced by machinery, and this ‘fear’ is now a concern that we need to be cognisant of. Referring back to note taking, handwriting is a beautiful skill – damn it, it’s an art – but now we type rather than write by hand. I adore calligraphy (but as a southpaw am rubbish at it), but the thought of it becoming automated -or worse still, dying out completely – terrifies me. Because if we lose it, we lose a bit of humanity.  So let’s learn the new skills the twenty first century demands of us, but not to the detriment of the old skills that bring so much joy – and aid learning.

Finally, despite what we may believe, the Luddites did not protest against machinery, and did not want to halt the progress of technology. This suggests that they were actually all for technology – but not from an evangelical ‘this will replace everything’ point of view. They saw it as both a boon and a concern – as something to be embraced, but to be critical of at the same time. And I think a good learning technologist has the same, balanced view.

One other thing. Earlier I talked about being a bridge. I find that academics who claim to dislike technology don’t actually dislike it at all – they just lack confidence, are nervous, and don’t want to admit it. Bridges can be built and crossed if we, as technologists, accept this, and explain how sometimes technology isn’t the answer, that in some cases pens, paper and talking to one another in the same physical space is the best method, and that technology is not a panacea, nor is it evil. It’s just another tool to add to our toolkits, to be taken out and used only when it makes things better. You wouldn’t use a hacksaw to hammer in a nail, and it would be daft to replace an effective old-fashioned teaching tool for something digital just because it’s digital, at the expense of effective learning.

 References:

Association for Psychological Science, (2014), Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension, accessed at: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/take-notes-by-hand-for-better-long-term-comprehension.html, date accessed: 1st March, 2018

Wikipedia, (2018), Luddite, accessed at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite, date accessed: 1st March 2018

Mucha PechaKucha!

PechaKucha is one of my favourite ways of presenting information, has been around for fifteen years, and is still very much an unknown quantity in education. It has just two golden rules (and from these you must never deviate):

  1. 20 images
  2. 20 seconds per image

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that PechaKucha Nights are held in over 900 cities, but more surprised that whenever I talk to teaching staff they know nothing about it. Having said that, the concept was devised (in Tokyo) as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. As a result, I guess it’s something that’s ‘done’ in industry, and these evening events are very much for thrusting young people working in architecture, banking, graphic design and such like.

In 2018, students are still sitting through incredibly lengthy PowerPoint presentations that are text-heavy, image-light and weigh in at 30 slides or more in length. Moreover, we are all forced to sit through the same thing at conferences, staff meetings and training sessions. Think of the amount of time that could be freed up if presentations were exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long! And think about how exact, how concise the presenter has to be to keep their narration to 20 seconds per slide. Bliss!

I do have to admit that building a PechaKucha-style presentation is a labour intensive process and takes a fair bit of practise to get right; and this may be a reason why teaching staff – already unable to find time to eat lunch or take a bathroom break – may not feel able to engage. The presentation I’ve added below took about an hour to build in PowerPoint, but took a lot longer to narrate – because I had to stick to key points (and there are so many to choose from), and no matter how much I trimmed away at my script, each slide had to be recorded, trimmed down and re-recorded a few times to be able to fit in with the 20 second time limit. BUT, using screen recording, I was able to film it, bung it onto YouTube, and, if this were an academic presentation, in theory I would be able to signpost my audience to it as an online resource rather than having to repeat the same presentation ‘live’ several times.

What are your thoughts on PechaKucha? Does it have a place in education, or is the ‘tight’ presentation style too restrictive? Let me know in the comments section below.