The Lecture is Dead. Long Live Lecture Capture!

64f5oThere are two conflicting themes floating around the wider worlds of technology-enhanced learning at the moment – the notion that the lecture is dead, and at odds with this, an increasingly loud voice from researchers and students who believe that all lectures should be filmed and made available to students for later viewing.

Let’s take each of these separately. Item 1: the lecture, apparently, is an outmoded form of teaching and learning that may once have been a useful way of conveying knowledge to an illiterate populace, but has long since had its day. This is by no means a modern notion. Indeed, the lecture format has been questioned for many years.  Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) long ago produced his own straightforward critique of lectures:

‘People have nowadays…got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do as much good as reading the books from which the lectures are taken…Lectures were once useful, but now, when all can read, and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary.’

A quick search of the Internet suggests the term ‘the lecture is dead’ before I have even finished typing my search query. A quick scan through the first half a dozen blog posts, online articles and journals repeat the same message: ‘nobody learns if you talk at them for 3 hours.’ This is doubly true for the guys who fall asleep during such passive experiences I guess.

Ok. So let’s agree then, that the traditional lecture is no longer required as we can find what we need to know ourselves, and sitting passively in a lecture theatre for long periods of time does not teach us anything anyway.

On to item 2: lectures should be filmed so that students can watch them online in their own time. Lecture capture is certainly front and centre at my institution, with four big-name providers showcasing their brands in the next few weeks. It’ll be like Dragons’ Den, with all four companies being scrutinized for the chance to provide the entire university with a solution only their company can deliver. I have already written about my experiences with lecture capture elsewhere in this blog, so won’t cloud the issue by repeating them here.

Now, if I were a student who didn’t need to attend a live lecture because I could watch it whenever I wanted – with the added benefit of being able to pause, rewind and re-watch, or even spread the whole thing over a few evenings to make it more manageable- then that’s exactly what I would do. And this brings up a new issue: if nobody goes to a live lecture because they know it’s being recorded, then what happens? Does the lecturer ‘perform’ to an empty auditorium? And hang on a minute – isn’t the lecture supposed to be dead anyway?

Should we be spending vast sums of money kitting out lecture theatres with HD cameras and sophisticated microphones if the same spaces are empty and the concept of the lecture obsolete? Should we, perhaps, be making better use of our resources?

One solution would be to support academic staff to sit in front of their computer with a web cam and a microphone, and to show them how to use screen-casting software. They could go on to record their lectures at a time and in a location that suits them, and upload the results at the fraction of the cost of lecture capture hardware and software. In the future, disused lecture theatres could then be repurposed and turned into cinemas. Or fast food outlets.

I’d like to know what you think.  Is lecture capture something you champion?  Please cast your vote here:

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In Kahoots

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For years, educational institutions have bought in various voting systems. You know the ones I mean: they come packed in suitcases with dated-looking voting pads and dongles that require blutooth connectivity and software licences that cost 100 quid a pop. They can take ages to set up (from the quiz author’s perspective) and then take ages to set up (as far as setting up the voting pads, dongles and batteries). They often don’t work, usually because the teacher who wanted to use it had not been given any training in the software required to author their quiz, so the questions didn’t display the right answers, or too many right answers, or no answers at all. And more often than not (in my experience), the dongle doesn’t work or has gone missing or only 5 of the voting pads do work. And as the institution can often only afford one set of voting pads and 2 software licences, only 3 teachers can actually use it BUT they have to book the hardware out 4 months in advance.If that all sounds rather negative, I apologize. But in my defence, I went to a TurningPoint demo once, and the guy showcasing his own company’s system had to abandon the demo after question 3 because the pads failed. So I am not particularly trusting of the effectiveness of these bulky and pricey systems. And that’s why Kahoot is brilliant.  Kahoot is a web based quiz / survey / voting system and its first plus point is that students provide their own voting pads via their smartphone, tablet, laptop or any web enabled device. Students open their device’s browser, go to Kahoot.it and are given a PIN number generated specifically for the quiz they are taking part in. They type in the PIN, and are then invited to type in their name or a nickname. Having done this, they are connected to the quiz, and as soon as the required number if players have logged in, the author of the quiz or survey can start.  It may be easier to bullet point my excitement from hereon in:

  • After signing up to a free account, users navigate a very simple interface to set up their survey or quiz. So it’s ‘I only discovered the Internet 6 months ago and I can use it’ easy.
  • Yes – a free account. This costs nothing!
  • Video-based questions add a great visual dimension, and YouTube films can be embedded as simply as copying and pasting their URL to the question’s set-up screen.
  • Points can be allocated for correct answers. I used this feature at a staff development day a few weeks ago and asked participants to break into teams for an after lunch, Kahoot-based ‘pub quiz’. Each team appointed a captain who used their mobile device as the team’s voting pad and gave themselves a pub quiz team name. Good to see people still use ‘Norfolk and Clue’ as a team name, though my favourite will always be: ‘Let’s have a big hand for Jeremy Beadle’…
  • Responses can be downloaded to an Excel spreadsheet. Great for looking for patterns of answers and then gauging whether a question / quiz is too easy or difficult.
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After discovering it by chance, I introduced Kahoot at the end of last year to a group of PGCE students. One of these students used it in his ‘beginning research’ session a few weeks ago as an icebreaker (and a sneaky way of introducing qualitative research). I went to the session to provide technical support (there were bandwidth concerns regarding 60+ students using the same broadband connection at the same time), but – and here’s a first – nothing went wrong. Better than that, when the quiz was over the audience let out an audible groan of dissapointment. Better THAN THAT – as I walked out of the lecture theatre, I overheard several incredibly positive comments. That’s why I decided to run with it at the staff development day. That and the fact that I didn’t want to lug 3 suitcases of voting pads down to the town centre. But also, because I wanted the school to see what a cool tool it was and consider using it in their own teaching.
And that they have! I asked one lecturer who went on to use Kahoot with a group of his students if he’d be prepared to send me his students’ responses. He did, and here’s a selection of what they said about using Kahoot for a study day revision quiz:
“Kahoot really helped at the end of the session. It was a really good recap/ revision tool. As there was so much information to remember from the sessions it was good to have a fun reminder at the end rather then just leaving for the day and fogetting half the information it had learnt. I found it a good way to test what I had learnt and the subjects I might need to do some futher reading on to improve my understanding.”
“It was a nice way to end the day and showed us what we remembered from the previous days. And showed what we need to research more into.”
Here’s my favourite, because it links directly to something I believe in completely: that we learn better if we’re enjoying ourselves:
“Yes because it was fun. Fun things are hard to forget!”
Before I sign off, one other thing.  Kahoot is simple, bright, colourful and – yes, I’ll say it – the design is clearly aimed at children and young adults.  This often puts teachers and lecturers in the further and higher education sectors off, as they think that using anything like this with adults could be seen as patronising.  So let me finish up with this one thought: I do not recall signing  agreement as soon as I hit 18 that declared that I was going to forgo anything colourful, bold or simple in favour of turgidity, monochrome and complication.  I do not feel patronised when I watch ‘Scooby Doo’ or ‘Doctor Who’.  I enjoy, among other things, ‘alphabetti spaghetti’ and ‘Freddo Frog’ chocolate bars.  I think that I should be allowed to have fun and be childlike even at my advanced age.  And I think that just about everyone else feels like that too.

The Desolation of Smug

Pausing to reflect at the onset of a new year may seem a bit cheesy, but I do think it necessary to take stock on occasion and the start of January seems a logical time to do it. So crack open the digestives and I’ll bring on the Dairylea.

A year ago today I was winding up my old job at Cornwall College and preparing to start a new one at Cardiff University.  Everything but the job title would be different and would involve a cultural and institutional move from further to higher education, a geographic move from a chocolate box coastal village in Cornwall to the middle of the capital city of Wales and an emotional move away from family and friends to a place where I knew nobody. Living arrangements changed more than geographically: having lived on my own for three years, after 6 months of living in Cardiff I had to adjust to living with my partner when he moved in over the summer. As living with someone means compromise on both sides, I’m still finding it hard to get through weekends without my (pretty selfish) 14 hour ‘Skyrim Saturdays’…

I realise now that the decision to move to Cardiff was, quite possibly, mad. The contract I was offered was for one year only, with only a small possibility of being kept on for longer than a year just that: a small possibility. I had signed a two year, full time contract at Cornwall College just weeks before.  And I lived here for God’s sake:

Charlestown

The day after accepting the job and handing in my notice I got a call from the university saying that because of issues with HR, my new role had changed from being full to part time, so it would be perfectly understandable if I decided not to take the role after all. Were I not such a foolhardy muppet I would have politely backed out, put down the phone and asked my boss if I could take back my notice. But….look, I’m not a spiritual person, I don’t believe in the ability to see the future or in any sort of sixth sense, but I knew that I wanted to work in a university, I wanted to live in Wales and that everything would be fine.

So, having left Cornwall, for the first two months of my time in Cardiff I worked for 3 days a week, enjoyed long weekends and lived very frugally. The department I worked for got the go-ahead to form a new School with a second department, and as a precursor to this happening, this second department employed me for 2 days a week, so I was now full time. Once the new School was formed, it was decided that everything should be built from the bottom up, so new roles were devised and job descriptions were written. All staff were invited, using anecdotal evidence, to match their skills to those laid out as part of these new job descriptions. I chanced my arm and matched my skills to those of the newly-written role of Learning Technology Manager and in November was told that my match had been successful.  So…promotion and a permanent role were both mine, meaning that there was no need to worry about being homeless in Splott after my initial one year contract ran out.

Here’s where I start getting a bit smug perhaps.  But this is a post for me, something to go back to when I feel like the village idiot of London (which is quite often, but probably something best discussed with a therapist) and will not be read by anyone else, so is as good a space as any to list my achievements so far in 2013.

  • ePortfolios
  • Electronic handbooks
  • Assignment Essentials package for all School students
  • Health and Safety training package for all School students
  • Online research module for all School students
  • Online palliative care module
  • Online genetics module
  • Electronic Multiple Choice Questionnaires (replacing paper-based summative exams)
  • Online and interactive Expert Patient materials
  • IPE digital hub

So here’s 2014 and as I adopt a Krytonesque level of smuggery, I can honestly say that working at a university is everything I had hoped for. I feel fulfilled personally and doors are starting to open professionally. I have been asked to present a keynote address at an upcoming conference and my School is paying for the dissertation stage of my Masters degree, which I made a start on in October. I miss my old home, but find city life exciting, colourful and incredibly freeing. I can indulge my love of live comedy, film and theatre and this year, on my birthday, I will be popping down the road to fulfill a dream of over 20 years: to see nine inch nails play live.

I still miss Skyrim Saturdays though…

Useful things what I have Discovered as a Learning Technologist

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This morning I was having another look at this article, published by The Guardian almost a year ago: 20 tips and resources for using learning technology in higher education. Scanning through it again made me think about the nuggets of useful technology-based information I’ve collected / learned / made up in my few years’ experience as a Learning Technologist. Here they are:

  1. If you build it they will not come.  I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again: do not spend a fortune building an institution / course-based carbon copy of an already established platform such as Twitter or Facebook.  Your intended audience will not thank you for making them set up yet another username and password when they already use (for example) Facebook every day anyway.  This segues into point 2 very neatly…
  2. …go to where your audience are.  If your intended audience / participants already spend time on Facebook, then use Facebook as a way of contacting or notifying them. It really is that simple.  However – don’t tread on anyone’s toes.  Facebook is a social networking site, not a virtual learning environment.  Don’t suck out the fun, but do ‘paddle around the edges’.
  3. Use technology only when it enhances the learning experience, not just for the sake of ‘ticking the technology box’. A lot of educators worry that if they don’t slavishly embed technology into every single lesson, then they will be awarded low observation grades and be ‘failures’.  If only this mindset could be changed. Sometimes there really is no point in using technology in a session.  Sometimes it just confuses, interferes and takes up too much time.  Sometimes reading an old fashioned book is better than using an eReader.  Really!
  4. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.  There are MASSES of pre-existing resources out there, which can be used as they are or re-purposed.  I think one of the reasons a lot of educators dislike technology is because it can take a very long time to make a single electronic resource that may only be used a couple of times.  A quick visit to sites such as Jorum, TED, the Khan Academy and even YouTube can dig up some fabulous multi media resources.  And resource sharing sites like Scribd, Slideshare and Prezi feature content from others that have been made freely available to download, use and even customise to suit individual needs.
  5. Don’t be precious – share! I remember developing a rather dynamic-looking Prezi presentation for a teacher a few years ago, which I promptly embedded into her page on Moodle.  The teacher in question was delighted with the finished result, then asked whether anyone other than her students could see the presentation.  When I said that they could – in fact, on Prezi it had already had a almost one hundred views and a dozen downloads – she was furious.  There was no sensitive information displayed on the presentation: indeed, all of the content had been copied and pasted from a public document – but the teacher in question was livid at the thought of other ‘lazy’ people saving themselves time by downloading HER content.  I was asked to take it down from Prezi immediately.  It was then replaced by a lengthy Word document that only those enrolled on the Moodle page could access. Her students had to read pages (and pages) of dull – looking text and nobody else was able to benefit from the content uploaded to Prezi. Lose-lose situation.  To add a bit more depth to this viewpoint, have a read of Mark Childs’ blog article Being Precious and Presenting, written after I initially published this post.  In fact, follow his blog.  It’s damn fine stuff.
  6. Use whatever your audience is using.  And yes, this does rather link to points 1 and 2.  Nobody likes to have to learn how to navigate around a hundred new platforms or sites with a hundred new usernames and passwords.  If a student has been using WordPress to write their blog for the past 3 years, why force them to use Blogger just because it’s a site you are familiar with?  Chill out, and keep your audience within their comfort zone most of the time
  7. …because, at the same time, you need to use the embedding of technology as an opportunity to improve your audience’s personal IT skills.  And do this by stealth, making the learning curve as comfortable as possible.  Someone who uses PowerPoint and only uses PowerPoint will be more likely to try out something that feels familiar to them like SlideRocket than they will using something completely different such as Prezi.  ILT scares and confuses a lot of people – even those more than happy to experiment.  Even me a lot of the time. Baby steps folks! 
  8. Provide a smorgasbord of tools, and let staff / students use whichever they want – even if you don’t like the tools yourself! So offer PowerPoint (because it’s much maligned yes – but it’s also familiar and the epitome of ‘industry standard’) and if someone says they want (you) to use it instead of the myriad of arguably ‘better’ presentation tools out there,  just make sure they / you use it well. Pecha Kucha anyone?  And remember – the more tools you have in your arsenal the more choice you have.  Don’t feel obliged to use them all though.  You’ll just go mad.
  9. Don’t make assumptions based on age.  To say that ‘everyone under 25 is technologically savvy’ and ‘no one over the age of 50 can use technology’ is to make really inaccurate generalisations…and yet these are reified by learning technologists, researchers, academics, teachers, mechanics, shop assistants, window cleaners and anyone with an opinion.  I know of many people over the age of 60 who – gasp – have been using Facebok, Twitter, Google Docs, YouTube and Second Life for years, have been known to play on a gaming console and – get this – can even use a smartphone!  Conversely, there are young people out there who haven’t got the foggiest idea how to send a text message, and even a few with no interest in Facebook. 

To quote the great John Lydon: ’ I could be wrong, I could be right’.  These points msay be salient or the ramblings of an ignoramous.  Either way, I think they hold water, and it’s my blog.  So there.

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.

IMP Blog Post: How I use ILT in my Practice

I’m going to continue my blog with posts relating to the University of Plymouth IMP module I am enrolled on (“iLearn”), so this is a continuation of my experiences as a student, this time on a second ILT-based course. This also gives me a chance to kick-start this blog again, as it’s been dormant for about 9 months! (I finished the MUVEnation course, so stopped using the blog and moved to “Posterous”. BAD Bex!!!)

I’m still a Lead Teacher / Learning Technologist at Cornwall College’s School of Education and Training and still teaching PTLLS, DTLLS and the Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English. Rather than write a lengthy (and possibly dull) narrative examining all the stuff I do that involves ICT and ILT, I’ll do some bullet points:

  • Project Manager of Cornwall College Island in Second Life
  • About to deliver the first (ever I think) Initial Teacher Training course that uses web 2.0 applications like Flickr and Skype, cloud computing, moodle and Second Life and has no face-to-face content at all. This I think, will form the basis of my research paper: can teaching skills be taught in Second Life then transferred into as real life classroom by trainee teachers who have never met their tutor? We start in two weeks, so this blog should be a useful place to record what is happening!
  • Administrator for Cornwall College’s moodle site, setting up courses for staff and delivering training (again to staff) at beginner and intermediate levels both face-to-face and using GotoMeeting
  • Run a PTLLS and the Level 5 Diploma in Teaching English as blended learning courses, with one third of the content delivered in the classroom and the remaining 2 thirds on moodle / Twitter
  • Deliver ICT / ILT training to staff to improve their personal ICT skills and think about how to use ILT effectively and imaginatively with their own students.
  • Also collaborating with the University of Glamorgan to develop electronic graphic novels as learning resources for HE students who find academic writing, referencing, research and study skills hard to get to grips with. I am hoping to develop an iPod Touch/ iPhone app. that will display these graphic novels aspart of this project…but need to learn Objective C and Cocoa programming in order to do this…(gulp)

I’ll add to this post if anything else crops up or springs to mind, but for now I think that’s it…