Tell ’em about the Honey…Mumford…

honeymonster-770x470

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!

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 11.37.34

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.

Advertisements

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… 

A bit on the side…

51ENCRCE3FLThat got your attention, eh? 😉

I’m going to start this post by travelling back in time to about 20 years ago. Here, at the tender age of 27, my career in education started and I became an adult literacy tutor.

I bloody loved it, because everything I had been immersed in to that point had been about words and language. And yes, we take it for granted that parents and school teachers will teach children how to read, but there have always been adults who, for one reason or another, have fallen through the net, and it was them that I wanted to reach out to.

As my career evolved, it moved away from adult literacy towards teacher training, then away from teacher training into Technology Enhanced Learning  and BOOM! – here I am, your friendly neighbourhood Learning Technology Manager, who is still all about words and language, but who now spends her daylight hours being more about HTML5 and SCORMs and flipping the blended learning MOOC…

…the thing is, as much as I love the world of technology, I still hanker for those days of adult literacy and burbling on about how getting to grips with language makes life just so much easier and opens so many possibilities (often literally as well as metaphorically). So it’s with a Ric Flair-style WOOOOOOO! I can announce that I have made a brief return to the world of adult literacy by way of an on-the-side freelance gig that has made me punch the air with glee.

Take a look at this:

So here’s a situation where refugees and indigenous people are living and working side by side through circumstance rather than choice. This has lead to frustration and confusion from both groups, not helped by the fact that the number of international languages being spoken across the board is massive – and the blocks to communication this has thrown up seems almost insurmountable. It makes sense then, to agree to use a lingua franca, and in this instance it has been agreed that this will be English.

This is where the Avallain Foundation comes in. The foundation wants to focus on people who have been left behind because of emergency and change, and they firmly believe that education is the only constant variable that can be the key to going back to society, the community or the labour market; something I’m very much in agreement with. They are also very aware that education isn’t limited to the classroom and that new technologies and the internet enable access to lifelong learning at a very broad scale.

So they (we) are developing adult literacy and numeracy curricula at 3 levels – beginner, intermediate and advanced – to be delivered using a blended learning format. The content is embedded in the stuff they need to know – so it’s all written around food hygiene, healthy living, disease prevention, computers and the internet and business and commerce. And that’s not stuff that the foundation decided that they need to know –  they actually went to Kakuma and they talked to the refugee and indigenous populations to find out what the potential students actually wanted.

What’s great is that I’m coming at this from two angles – I’m writing the level 3 literacy curriculum, but I’m also learning how to use Avallain’s in-house e-learning authoring tool to develop the online content based around it.

This has been the first time since my teaching days that I have been involved in the whole process; my current day job means that subject specialists give me content that I go on to develop electronically. I’d forgotten how much deeper the relationship with content and with the final electronic product goes when you are involved from the jotting-the-theoretical-content-down-on-the-back-of-a-fag-packet stage right through to the beta testing the electronic resource stage.

I wonder whether this is the subconscious reason why some academic staff don’t engage with e-learning at all – because, on some level, they don’t want to feel the disconnect that comes when they hand their content (their ‘knowledge’) over to someone who doesn’t understand the subject area, but is going to go on to develop that knowledge into something that they, as the subject specialists, don’t feel they have much ownership of.  I certainly feel as if I have done a much more immersive and ‘well-rounded’ piece of work if I write the content from a subject specialist perspective, and then go on to develop that content using my learning technology skills.

Developing these curricula is a wonderful, fulfilling experience – but it has certainly given me much pause for thought.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Disprin)

My job means I get to play around all day with a nice mix of technology and education.  It means that I need to know about lots of emerging and developing technologies, theories, ways of teaching and learning, hardware, software…and so on, and it also means that I need to be (seen as) positive and optimistic about all things digital, which I always try to be.  And yet, when I stumbled across this post on the JISC RSC Wales blog yesterday, it made me feel as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders:

Capture

Click image to access post

For a number of years now, teaching and learning with mobile devices-now referred to as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD-Because Education Needs Acronyms) has been a constant theme.  It has also been something I have willfully ignored, because BYOD has always felt to me like a massive and incredibly knotty topic as well as a way of working that sounds both time consuming and tricky to manage.  Past experience has taught me that the IT infrastructure (well, the internet) in most institutions isn’t quite ‘fat’ enough or fast enough to deal with the volume of data pinging back and forth. Teachers have to find a way to get students with a massive range of skills levels to do the same thing on a variety of devices working on a variety of operating systems.  And this opens up a veritable shed full of possible problems.

What if, for example, using an all singing and dancing app sounds fine in theory…but it isn’t available on all operating systems (Microsoft, I’m looking at you)?

What if the WiFi signal is weak or keeps dropping out? What if your students are having trouble connecting their device to the Internet? I did a demo for a browser based quiz (using Kahoot) with a group of PGCE sessions recently, thinking that bypassing branded apps and sticking to the one thing all mobile devices have-the internet-would keep things quick and simple.  What I thought would take no more than 10 minutes took closer to 30 because, despite the wealth of mobile devices present in the classroom, half the class just couldn’t get their devices to connect to the WiFi. We got there in the end, but were I being observed I would have received a right talking to at the end of the session.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to assume that everyone can use every aspect of their device, from Internet settings to film editing apps, but usually the truth is quite different.  Owners with the smartest of gadget will likely admit to only using it for phone calls / text messages / Facebook / taking photos. So assuming that all students can use their gadgets to the full is blinkered, naive, and possibly arrogant. Actually, assuming that all teachers have more than a working knowledge of how all mobile devices work is really asking the impossible.  Because surely for an activity to work, this has to be the case doesn’t it?

And what if there are more students than devices? It may be good to have a spare iPad available to give to someone without their own tablet…but if they have no tablet, they probably have even less idea how to use the shiny and slightly scary tablet the lecturer has proudly put in front of you than those mentioned above. And do students want to be picked out by their tutor and peers, for whatever reason, as ‘the one who still hasn’t got a smartphone’?

Equality of access is more than ensuring that everyone has a device in front of them. Students with physical and special learning needs make deployment of the right devices and software vital…and more complicated.  There can be accessibility issues beyond connection speed too.  ‘Blackboard’ can be accessed through a browser, but is an incredibly frustrating site to use on a device with a screen as large as an iPad, so must be hellish on a BlackBerry.  It can also be accessed via an app, but only on an Apple or Android-powered device, so is no good for people using Microsoft devices. And bingo!  We have an inequality of service issue.

So I completely and utterly understand why teachers don’t bother. And I know that I should slap on my positive face and try to convince them that this is how (someone) has decided our students will learn BEST from now on, so get on board because you don’t want to get a reputation as an educational dinosaur. And if the shed full of problems wasn’t there, I would.

I don’t want to be seen as a Luddite, and there are some common sense approaches to BYOD mentioned in the following articles, so I’ll finish up by linking to these, thereby leaving on a more positive note.

UFI Charitable Trust: Primer on Bring Your Own Device – 7 reasons to leave them to their own devices (advocates letting students use their own devices in ways that suit them as a means of learning rather than trying to deliver lessons with prescriptive ‘you need a mobile device, this app and a working knowledge of network troubleshooting t0o do this’ content.

Donald Clark: Keep on taking the tablets – 7 reasons why this is lousy advice (there must be something magical about the number 7!  Quite liking the author’s conclusion:  “I’m not against the use of tablets in schools, I just think that turning it into a ‘movement’ is a mistake and that too many of these projects are poorly planned, badly procured and lack proper evaluation.”)