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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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… 

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.

Post for ALT #OER18: ‘Hands off my Stuff!’

ekI’m all for sharing. My parents made sure of that when I wouldn’t let me brother play with my Dick Dastardly pedal car and in return my brother wouldn’t let me play with his Evil Kneivel Stunt Bike, so he pulled the legs off my Sindy doll and I pushed him down the stairs.

We were both 37.

Joking aside, the world in which we live and work provides us with precious little in terms of time to make decent educational resources, we’ve all become pretty good at churning out PowerPoint presentations and worksheets, but quality, fully interactive, multi-media online teaching and learning resources…not so much. And I would suggest that this isn’t down to lack of technical ability, as there are plenty of free and easy to use web-based content creation sites out there. I’d hazard a guess that it’s down to lack of time.

So it makes sense to share resources with our peers – and not just for the aforementioned benefits of time-saving. There’s a lot of wheels being re-invented every day by teaching staff sitting in splendid isolation just three feet and two locked doors away from one another, making exactly the same content. And that wastes the very little time that they are afforded to create resources in the first place.

And yet, convincing some academic staff isn’t as easy as I’d hope – or expect. “Make resources that can be shared!” I suggest to audiences at conferences and training sessions. “Go to TED Ed, make a fully interactive lesson, then let other people use it in their practice!”

Cue a Mexican wave of arms folding in indignation.

“Why should I?” is the inevitable question asked by one Mexican-waver. “I spent time making that. Why should someone else who has done nothing benefit from it?”

There it is: the point of this blog post. The ‘hands off my stuff” moment.

And I sigh as a sea (well, to be fair, it’s usually more of a puddle) of heads nod in agreement, and I reply with something along the lines of this:

“Because we live in a world where your friends, your family and your students are making, creating, curating and sharing digital content, be it blog posts about the pitfalls of parenting, films of cats on YouTube, PhD theses on Academia.com, journal articles on Orca or pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch on Pinterest. It’s the twenty first century, the internet is the biggest canvas and the largest repository of content the world has ever had the privilege to be able to access and to make use of and we can’t just switch it off.”

At this point, I’m usually starting to rant a bit, and to be honest, it’s to no avail. It’s when I get to the next bit the at those arms start to unfold and pennies start to collectively drop:

“And it’s because someone else has made something, somewhere, that you can download and use yourself. It’s reciprocal. It saves you time, and in doing so, it frees up some time to do the stuff you want to do!”

Now, this may paint some of our peers as a bit mean spirited – so let me be clear that it is only the very small minority of which I speak, as most of my peers are more than happy to make and share their resources, even if it is just another PowerPoint presentation on slideshare. But I’ll be honest. It’s the 21st century, and the world is a pretty mean-spirited place to live on right now. So let’s share what we can, when we can. Let’s feel the love.

Just get yer hands off my Sindy doll…

 

You’re Tired!

fired

It was on this very day 10 years ago that markets woke up to a problem when French bank BNP Paribas halted redemptions, or funds claimed by investors, on three investment funds. It was this act that triggered what has become the UK’s most recent and largest financial crash, but conversely, it was also exactly ten years ago today that Apple launched its first iPhone. Both of these anniversaries, though not intrinsically linked, have given me cause to think about where we are a decade later, and have prompted this post.

From 2008 onwards, the word recession became a part of our everyday life and language, and as budget cuts began to take hold, so the educational zeitgeist – be it around compulsory or post-16 teaching and learning – started to be re-framed around two key words: innovation and enterprise.  It makes practical sense to think in these terms if the country’s economy is flat-lining and the need to do more with less (innovation) along with the need to try to make a living at a time where the financial ground is barren (enterprise) become survival. I've written about innovation in education before, so if you want to check my earlier post out before continuing, do go ahead.

If I were to link these two words with cognitive processes, then creativity of thought, lateral thinking, and imagination, would be fundamental.

A decade ago, the iPhone was the epitome of innovation. It was, and still is, the 'must have' smartphone, it's still ubiquitous, it's rather beautiful, it has, effectively, replaced the office, but now that it's ten years old and developers' ideas are running out, each brand new iteration becomes less groundbreaking and certainly less innovative.

As a member of the conference panel for the next International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation in November (ICERI 2017), I’ve been reading through a selection of papers that have been submitted from educators, researchers and technologists from around the world. Though it has been a genuinely interesting and rewarding experience, something has been niggling me, and I can't shake it off.  And it's not just something that's coming from some of the submissions I've been reading: I've noticed it locally too. Things that are being mooted as being innovative are, on closer inspection,  no more than the re-hashing or re-branding of concepts, methods, and processes that have been around for ages. At the risk of sounding like 'Irritated of Nantwich', I'm going to suggest that filming clinical skills procedures and then making them available for students to view online is not innovative, asking teachers to curate and then reflect upon their CPD by way of an online portfolio or blog isn't a new idea, and recording audio feedback to students rather than typing assignment feedback isn't enterprising. These are all genuine examples of practice that has been labelled as being innovative and enterprising and that have been on my radar for a few weeks. The thing is,  they are also all examples of practice that were on the same radar a decade ago.

So have we run out of ideas?

I don't think so. I'd like to think that our collective imagination is limitless. But I do think that because we live and work in a daily state of emergency – where our day in the office amounts to little more than fire fighting, and our home lives are increasingly fraught and lived in the shadow of political unrest, inequality, lack of resources and a race to he bottom – it can be hard to find the space, the time and the right frame of mind in which to be innovative or enterprising. And so, because we are told that we must be enterprising and innovative in order to raise our institution's profile and remain relevant, but we can't reasonably be inspired on command, we re-package, rename and rebadge projects that have already been done, hoping that our audience likes the emperor's newly-tailored suit. Maybe if we had time to breathe, and vitally, to be allowed to take risks and make mistakes, we would be able to be truly innovative. Sadly, I can't see a time when this will be allowed to happen.

But I am determined to finish on a positive note. A cafe down the road from me not only makes the best coffee in Cardiff, it has been innovative and enterprising by doing one small thing. You know those cardboard coffee sleeves that you get in Starbucks and Costa? Visit the cafe, buy one of their fantastic coffees, then for one pound, you can buy a reusable coffee sleeve made from material. Simple. Brilliant. And it saves trees too.

The way to academics’ hearts is through their minds

I presented the following abstract at Cardiff University’s Learning and Teaching conference on Tuesday. And no, I haven’t forgotten about those ‘gaming is the future’ blog posts I keep promising; other things keep getting in the way!

When it comes to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) there has long been an emphasis on demonstrating how to use digital tools in staff development sessions. However, there is little evidence of other staff development sessions examining the methods and models TEL. Institutional directives request that staff use a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and offer training on the mechanics of uploading documents and renaming folders, but they do not explain the methodologies or pedagogic models behind using a VLE. Other directives require that academic staff embed digital literacy skills into their teaching practice in order to hone their students’ own skills. Academic staff are rarely asked if they know what digital literacy means themselves, hoping, it would seem, that the meaning of digital literacy is learnt and passed onto students through a process of osmosis. I would suggest that if academics and teachers work from the taxonomy of pedagogy it is from this taxonomy that staff development is approached.

Repeated reviews into the professional development of teachers and ways to diminish their fear of technology have recommended that staff are given substantial time if they are going to acquire and, in turn, transfer to the classroom the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and completely infuse technology to curriculum areas. (Brand, G.A., 1997). However, lack of time is just one issue, and constant emphasis of the need to ‘find time’ merely distracts from the proverbial elephant in the room: that academics are ‘scared’ of technology because they aren’t told how it fits a familiar pedagogic framework. Learning technologists are expert at explaining how to use a tool, but often miss out the pedagogical value of the tool, assuming that the teacher will think of a use for it.

In response to this, I currently run sessions for teachers and academic staff looking at methods and models such as the flipped classroom, Personal Learning Networks, blended learning, digital literacy, the benefits of online communities of practice, and the differences between pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. We have debated at length Prensky’s notion of the Digital Native against that of the Residents and Visitors model espoused by Dave White. We have looked at the psychology behind the online learner and their need to feel part of a group. When staff begin to understand these theories and methods, they feel better placed to choose tools that are appropriate to their curricula, their students and to relevant assessment process.

I would suggest that there is a real need to do more of this. If academics can see things from their particular (and familiar) perspective, they will see what tools work best and then, if needed, be taught how to use it.

Technology often feels like something that is being ‘done’ to people via institution-wide directives, and not something that they can do themselves. It is now 2017, so the time has come for a change in thinking.

References:

Brand, G.A., (1997), Training Teachers for using Technology, Journal of Staff Development, Winter 1997 (Vol 19, No. 1)

Prensky, M., (2001), Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, located at: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf, date accessed: 22nd February, 2017

White, D.S. and Le Cornu, A, (2011), Visitors and Residents: a New Typology for Online Engagement, located at: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049This, date accessed: 22nd February, 2017