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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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.

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

Don’t be Scared of the Dork

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James Clay wrote a thought-provoking post last week. Called Show me the Evidence, James talks about how: “when demonstrating the potential of TEL and learning technologies to academics, the issue of evidence of impact often arises. You will have a conversation which focuses on the technology and then the academic or teacher asks for evidence of the impact of that technology.”

James cites fear as a key reason behind this, suggesting that many lecturers don’t have the capabilities to use IT, so lack the basic confidence to use learning technologies. To save face, and because it would be mortifying to have to confess to a lack of skills, they ask for the “evidence”. This then enables them to delay things.

Weirdly, I can’t think of a single occasion when an academic has asked me for empirical evidence or to cite the research framed around my work. I tend to go about things the other way-heading the academics off at the pass because I am the one who is afraid to look like a dunce in front of them.

I delivered a lunchtime session to academics looking at the flipped classroom model last week. The conversation turned to the (still) widely-held belief that anyone under 25 is a techy-wizard, while the rest of us can barely use our smartphones. (A different kind of stalling technique, perhaps? It’s always academics who bring this up.) I offered some ramblings about Marc Prensky’s ‘Digital Natives‘ theory being a load of old cock-and-bull, and that Dave White’s ‘Visitors and Residents‘ model was more realistic and less ‘pigeon-holey’. The group liked this as it appealed to their academic mindsets, so I was then able to sneakily show them some tools while they were feeling more at home.

Another thing I sometimes do is suggest that the academic in question might want to try out the method / tool that is being suggested, and then write a paper about the experience. Again, this appeals because it’s more in tune with how academics tend to work. I think a lot of the fear that James mentions comes from an assumption that learning technologists and academics speak two totally different, and incompatible languages. We don’t, but it can certainly be hard to prove it!

Sheila Take a Bow

Several years ago, asking teachers to make sure they were using technology as an integral part of teaching their subject was akin to only employing a baker if he or she also had the ability to fly a plane.  People did not enter into teaching to use technology, and if they did it was purely because they wanted to teach computer sciences.

Write a ‘black and white’ sentence such as that last one and it seems reasonable to assume that it is too much of an ask and perhaps, with historically large workloads, much in the way of extra-curricular administration to complete and lack of time, an unreasonable ask at that.  However, in 2013 the ‘I can’t / won’t use technology in the classroom’ debate rings hollow.  Technology is as much a part of our modern landscape as letters and numbers. Now be honest.  If anyone told you that they don’t use the number 7 because it never works for them and they can’t get the hang of it, you would raise an eyebrow and look incredulous.  Yet educators are still using this as an acceptable excuse for not using technology.

Or are they?

Teachers and trainers (like all of us) are all on a technological continuum, with ‘can’t use it, won’t use it’ marking one end and ‘I love it,  I use it as much as I can’ the other. And here’s what I’ve been finding for the last few years: there are more teachers on the ‘right’ side of the continuum than the ‘wrong’.  I would even go as far as to say that the ‘can’t, won’t’ teachers are so few and far between as to be on the point of extinction.

Talking honestly, the things that make me love technology are also the things that drive me mad, so I would assume even the most enthusiastic teachers feel swamped. The digital landscape is a meta universe. It is in a constant state of flux and exponential growth. Technologies, like stars, are born then die at the turn of a calendar page.  The number of electronic devices, fads and trends and the quantity of sites that promise to provide the same service in different ways…well, it’s expanding even as I type.

Start to make presentations. Use PowerPoint. Wait: don’t use PowerPoint, as everyone says it’s rubbish.  Use Keynote. Use Prezi. Use sliderocket. Oh-hang on-it’s called ClearSlide now.  Try animoto then. Share the presentations on Jorum.  Or SlideShare.  Try delivering it using the Pecha Kucha method.  Try collaboration.  Use Google Docs.  Use a wiki.  Or Wallwisher.  Sorry – Padlet.  It changed its name.  Want to use blogging?  Blogger’s good. WordPress is fab.  I used Posterous, and told dozens of staff and students to use it too.  But I had to move all of my posts to Tumblr because Posterous got bought by Twitter and now it’s closing down.  Tumblr’s good for online curation too, and that’s good for Problem Based Learning and Student Led Enquiry.  Scoop.it’s good for curation too.  And PearlTrees.  And Pinterest.  And Wallwisher.  Sorry-Padlet…

That there is my thought process on a day to day process.  I find it exhilarating because I genuinely love what I do, but it can be exhausting. And, to be honest, a lot of the time I feel swamped by the sheer amount of (ever growing) information out there.  And because of my job, that can make me neurotic:

Am I using the right presentation tools? Hasn’t PowerPoint got a bad reputation because people just use it badly?  Why wasn’t I aware of this particular website when I wanted to curate some information about giraffes?  Is everyone using it but me?  I’m supposed to be a Learning Technologist, so I’m supposed to KNOW about all of these things.  Should I have moved my blog to WordPress, because so many people in the know use it? I like using Tumblr but maybe that makes me a bad Learning Technologist?

Here’s the point of today’s post then.  This is solely what I get paid to do for a living and all of my working hours are dedicated to exploring, using and advising on technology.  So if I find it all too much on occasion, is it any wonder that trainers and educators who are employed to deliver learning in completely different subject areas were resistant for so long?  And isn’t it a bloody marvellous thing that they may lack the ability to use what’s out there, but they are certainly no longer resistant?

So let’s give a big hand to all teachers, at all levels, in all sectors.  Because they must find this technological age vast and perplexing, yet are required, almost by proxy, to use it – and use it innovatively, dynamically and in such a way as to shape the next generation’s own digital futures.

I’m of to buy a sausage roll now.  But only if the baker has a pilot’s licence…

Kill the Pigeon (Hole)

Whatever happened to individuality? Why are we so scared of people not fitting into a recognisable, comforting box of our own design that we feel compelled to design quizzes, tests, skills audits and questionnaires to force people to fit into constructs of our own imagination? And why, after ‘building’ such constructs, do we merrily label ourselves according to our learning style, teaching style, form of intelligence or preferred blend of coffee?

Educators, as far as I know, are reasonably bright, therefore I would hope, reflective, critical and self-aware people.  Yet I know of no other industry or sector as that of education so willing to pigeon-hole teachers and students with relentless head-down, arse-up passion.  As soon as another dusty, bespectacled academic decides that teachers are either dolphin or panthers (or some other mobile phone tariff), or that we are aural, visual or kinaesthetic learners, their thinking becomes reified as the new black in education without question.

 But isn’t it actually dangerous to look at our class list, see that we have a majority of supposed ‘visual learners’ in our class, then teach a curriculum to their preferred style, ignoring the fact that in the real world nobody really gives a toss how you prefer to learn? By mollycoddling, aren’t we actually un-preparing our learners for the world outside of the educational institution?   

 Let me step back a wee bit – this is starting to sound very black and white and a little ‘ranty’. 

 I do admit to thinking that we all have different forms of intelligence: some people are more practical than academic for example.  In my Teacher Education days, when talking about Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (for years I’d ignorantly refer to him as Howard Marks by mistake, then wonder why my students would snigger and mumble about ‘Afghan Black’ and ‘Lebanese Red’) I could see exactly what the revered Dr Gardner was saying: Take 50 people with the same IQ and some will be better at maths, some at languages, some at music, some at construction and some at unicycling.  These broader brushstrokes do serve a purpose: roughly defining who you are without the need to constrict you, put you in a box, stick a label on you then move on to the next specimen.

 As humans, we seem to have an almost primal need to brand ourselves as ‘visual thinkers’, ‘left-brain thinkers’, ‘dyslexics’, ‘left-handers’, ‘dolphins’ or ‘reflectors’, so as a result, as soon as another theory of learning is published it becomes doctrine without challenge.  If we, as teachers, are supposed to be so bloody clever and critical, why do reify without question anything that certain people say?  (Though I am waiting with baited breath for the day that Geoff Petty suggests all Further Education lecturers should wear day glo green because the colour makes students better behaved. Education’s cry won’t be ‘but how can you prove that and doesn’t this all sound a bit mad?’  It’ll be ‘What shade of pink should we wear Geoff?’)

 Steve Wheeler is, amongst other things, Associate Professor of Learning Technology at Plymouth University and a genuinely nice bloke.  In his blog, Learning with ‘e’s, he posits that ‘the teacher’s worst enemy is bad theory’.  Because someone with the prefix Prof or Dr attached to their name has suggested something, we should not accept it without question. Instead, maybe we should do just the opposite and question it before accepting?

 Actually, that’s one of the reasons I left Teacher Education.  I could no longer espouse this stuff (Wheeler refers to it as ‘folk medicine’), nor could I really continue my habit of locking the classroom door and saying ‘all that stuff you’ve been told about learning styles is crap’, as mavericks cannot remain mavericks for long (as I found out)…

Read Steve Wheeler’s aforementioned blog entry, then read the rest of his blog.  It really is good stuff and it says exactly what I’ve been harping on about, but far more eloquently.

Social Networking – using Facebook for Teaching, Learning & Marketing

The following article will be published in the University of Plymouth’s Blended Learning Journal next month.  Here’s a sneak preview…

There are those who say that only the brave or foolhardy educator would consider using Facebook as part of their teaching toolkit.  The knotty issues of friending students, cyberbullying and online identity sit like land mines in the field of battle and institutions, for fear of blowing themselves up, often find a blanket ban of the infamous social networking site solves any issues before they have a chance to occur.

It’s now 2012, Facebook is ubiquitous and as much a part of people’s daily routine as cleaning their teeth, eating Shepherd’s Pie and washing socks.  Switch Facebook off at network level and you can no longer stop students from accessing it – as the proliferation of smart phones will attest.  Take students’ phones away from them at the start of each day and return them when the buses arrive to take them home and you are effectively switching normal life ‘off’ for students and plunging them into the dark ages.  Surely this isn’t the correct way to prepare young adults for normal life?

How then, do institutions embrace this technology while ensuring use of Facebook as a part of teaching and learning is safe and secure?

Cornwall College decided to bite the social networking bullet when it became apparent that the best way to contact students outside college hours was not via email (which students rarely check, it apparently being ‘the domain of the elderly’) or through the VLE, but to go to where the students already were: Facebook.

The next step was to write a Briefing Paper extolling the virtue of safely using Facebook as part of teaching and learning and a Safe Use Policy designed specifically for social networking.  We wrote a short, dynamic and image-rich online training session for staff interested in using the social networking site, a checklist highlighting a series of criteria that teachers had to adhere to in order to set up a Facebook space for their learners, then sat back and waited…

…Six months later and the college has almost 2 dozen Facebook spaces used to sharing important course-related information, films, documents and links (and those all important messages to students) and to market the college’s restaurants and beauty salons. 

Whetted your appetite?  Follow these links to access downloadable copies of the Briefing Paper and Acceptable Use Policy, and watch a webinar that explains all of this in more detail.

LINKS: