I’m feeling more back on track with my PhD proposal literature reading and idea synthesising than I have for a little while but I don’t feel much closer to understanding exactly what I want to do yet. The closest I can come to it is that I want to identify the things in H.E that get in the way of people adopting TELT practices (that actually improve teaching and learning, not that are simply ‘innovative’) and find practical, implementable strategies to overcome them. I feel as though there is more than enough research out there about what these effective TELT practices are, I’m happy to take it as a given that TELT can help, and so I’m left wondering which sector of ‘education’ I’m looking at.
Is this in fact more about organisations and management and how things run? I have a feeling that it’s bigger than this which is why I still have technology and TELT pedagogy as standalone areas of investigation on the roadmap (as well as students, unis as organisations and TELT support strategies). One thing that I thought about as I was reading the Bennett et al (2016) paper was the fact that it didn’t include the impact of other academic activities (e.g preparing research grants) on the practical design process. This wasn’t the focus of the paper, obviously but the more I look at TELT in Higher Ed., the more inextricably intertwined and complex it all seems. (I’m mindful that I need to remember the advice here that it’s a PhD, not a Nobel prize)
I’m hoping that better organising my ideas in Scrivener might help me out. At the moment, it’s just a place where I have copy/pasted virtually everything that I’ve been finding in the many folders and subfolders and pages and subpages that make it a beautiful tool. Using Scrivener to work on an application to upgrade my HEA fellowship helped me to see for the first time what a powerful writing tool it can be, in that it effortlessly supports a writing style that jumps all over the place as ideas form. So my focus this weekend is to try to tame this beast – and may God have mercy on my soul.
When this paper was recommended to me because I’m currently looking into the work and role of university teachers (academics/lecturers/whathaveyou), I was hesitant because I thought that it might be more focused on the solutions area of my research and at this stage I’m more interested in understanding the problems. Nonetheless I read it because, well, I’d be an idiot not to listen to my supervisor and also because I was taught at one point or another by all of these women when I did my Masters and I have a lot of time for them and their work.
It explores one of the fundamental activities that makes teachers teachers – learning design – and examines the approaches that a group of 30 university teachers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds take in either developing a new course or redesigning an existing one. As I’m finding in a lot of education research, this is something that has been explored far more in research into teaching in Primary and Secondary teaching but scantly in Higher Ed.
I might just digress for a moment to a question of language because the more time I spend in this space, the more keenly aware I become of how seriously it is taken. Bennett et al make an interesting deliberate decision to use the term ‘teachers’ instead of academics, lecturers or even tutors, (professor being more of a title perhaps), which are the terms commonly used in Higher Ed. Personally, I prefer it because in this specific context of teaching, teacher seems more accurate. ‘Academic’ also incorporates research and ‘lecturer/tutor’ are both tied to relatively specific teaching activities but ‘teacher’ captures all aspects of the act of teaching. I don’t yet feel confident enough in my role as an education advisor / professional staff member to use it however, because I worry that some of the ‘teachers’ that I work with would take it as diminishing their stature. I’m not saying that’s fair by any means and in fairness I know many more who wouldn’t give it a second thought – I think. I guess a question to consider here is also whether we can compartmentalise an academic’s activities so that they are variously a teacher or a researcher. And where does ‘scholar’ sit in that? So instead I do a little linguistic dance where I jump between academic and lecturer for the most part when I think what I’m really talking about in the context of my work is someone that teaches. In keeping with the style of the paper, I’ll stick with teacher here and ponder further use later.
The authors explain that Higher Education in Australia since the 1990s has experienced a major period of change and this has
brought significant pressure on educators to adopt new and innovative educational approaches within a relatively short time. Design support services exist centrally or within the faculties of all Australian universities, but these are limited resources for which there is strong demand, leaving many university teachers to rely on their own skills. This is a particular challenge for discipline experts, who often have limited pedagogical training and are expected to balance teaching work with research, professional service and administrative responsibilities (p.9)
(And this is before we even start to consider the impact of the increasing reliance on international students and ongoing casualisation on the sector)
In an attempt to identify opportunities to empower teachers to design better learning experiences, the authors set out to understand their existing design processes. They conducted semi-structured interviews with 30 teachers that had been found by contacting professional organisations in Australia and vetted to ensure a diverse sample of disciplinary backgrounds and teaching experience. They were asked about their process and experiences in designing new units and/or redesigning existing units and given generic prompts to expand their responses. Wherever possible they were encouraged to discuss multiple examples to minimise possible biases that might be encountered in discussing single experiences. The responses were coded and arranged into categories to create a hierarchical structure. (I hope you don’t mind the inclusion of these relatively dry methodology descriptions – I’m still working out my own). I’m mindful of the difference between this approach in understanding the ways that teachers work and that taken in the Goodyear study in a recent post of mine, where teachers provided a description of their work and thoughts as they did it, rather than months later. Given the complexity of design in comparison to responding to forum posts, there are clearly major practicalities to consider however I’d imagine that there is probably a happy middle ground. (To their credit, the authors do acknowledge the time distance as an improvable factor in their research)
There were a few notable findings, most significantly that the discipline area of teaching had virtually no impact on the design process that the teachers undertook. While there was roughly a 50/50 split between teachers who identified learning outcomes first versus those who identified the content they wished to cover, essentially all worked through a reasonably iterative process where they started with the broad considerations of the course and gradually focused on specific details. The content/outcomes focus was sometimes influenced by the fact that the teacher hadn’t previously taught a unit and needed to refresh their own understanding of the core concepts. This was generally part of a course redesign. It was also interesting to note that course re-designs were sometimes also deemed necessary because a new teacher to the subject found that the previous curriculum was too tightly aligned with the specific research interests of the previous teacher, which they didn’t share.
The interviews led to the creation of this model of general design processes
One random observation that I also found interesting – none of the participants sought design assistance or used existing learning design models or tools. The authors comment that
it may be that the use of these approaches and guides has been integrated into the tacit practices of higher education teachers, or it may reflect their limited adoption. Further research is needed to resolve this question. Although this study helps to understand what teachers currently do, with the intention of informing further support strategies, there is clearly a related question of what teachers should do that also needs to be addressed as part of an overarching research goal” (p.16-17)
Bennett et al acknowledge several areas for improvement in their research – 75% of the participants were teachers with 10 or more years of experience which doesn’t offer insights into the perspectives of early career teachers, who may arguably have a greater need for support in learning design. Selecting participants based on their membership of relating teaching organisations would also have tended to load the study with the kinds of people that already have an enhanced interest in teaching practices too.
From my personal perspective, while I agree that there can only be benefits in taking more sophisticated approaches to learning design, I would have liked to have seen an examination of the quality of the courses that these teachers were actually designing and/or the impact that they had on student learning. For all we know, these courses could all have been designed uniformly badly. My main takeaway though was that, in the absence of formal training and in the presence of unfortunately (and inexplicably) under-resourced support units, Higher Education teachers may gradually work out at least what works for them in terms of learning design and evolve this across the course of their careers.
A few other areas seemed to be lacking that I think needed to be factored in as well – the timing of course design. In Higher Education in Australia, the weeks before the beginning for Semester 1 coincide with the application period for Australian Research Council (ARC) grants and this can be a time of significant pressure for academics to sustain their research, which still contributes more substantially to their standing within the university than their teaching does. While it makes for a much messier question, ignoring these impacts on academics’ activities may not provide us with the complete picture that we need to better support their teaching.
Bryan Alexander is pretty great, kind of like the wild haired California wizard of the eLearning world. His work (in collaboration with commenters on his blog) in creating the Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology just makes him even cooler.
A couple of my favourites:
Big data. n. pl. 1.When ordinary surveillance just isn’t enough.
World Wide Web, n. A strange new technology, the reality of which can be fended off or ignored through the LMS, proprietary databases, non-linking mobile apps, and judicious use of login requirements.
I was recently invited by @UQKelly – Kelly Matthews of the University of Queensland – to attend the National Students as Partners Roundtable on a glorious Brisbane Spring day. (For which I am grateful almost as much for the chance to escape a particularly bleak Canberra day as for the exposure to some interesting ideas and wonderful people working in this space). This isn’t an area that I’ve had much to do with and I was invited to bring a critical friend/outsider perspective to proceedings as much as anything.
Students as Partners (which I’ll shorten to SaP because I’ll be saying it a lot) more than anything represents a philosophical shift in our approach to Higher Education, it doesn’t seem like too great a stretch to suggest that it almost has political undertones. These aren’t overt or necessarily conventional Left vs Right politics but more of a push-back against a consumerist approach to education that sees students as passive recipients in favour of the development of a wider community of scholarship that sees students as active co-constructors of their learning.
It involves having genuine input from students in a range of aspects of university life, from assessment design to course and programme design and even aspects of university governance and policy. SaP is described as more of a process than a product – which is probably the first place that it bumps up against the more managerialist model. How do you attach a KPI to SaP engagement? What are the measurable outcomes in a change of culture?
The event itself walked the walk. Attendance was an even mixture of professional education advisor staff and academics and I’d say around 40% students. Students also featured prominently as speakers though academics did still tend to take more of the time as they had perhaps more to say in terms of underlying theory and describing implementations. I’m not positive but I think that this event was academic initiated and I’m curious what a student initiated and owned event might have looked like. None of this is to downplay the valuable contributions of the students, it’s more of an observation perhaps about the unavoidable power dynamics in a situation such as this.
From what I can see, while these projects are about breaking down barriers, they often tend to be initiated by academics – presumably because students might struggle to get traction in implementing change of this kind without their support and students might not feel that they have the right to ask. Clearly many students feel comfortable raising complaints with their lecturers about specific issues in their courses but suggesting a formalised process for change and enhancements is much bigger step to take.
The benefits of an SaP approach are many and varied. It can help students to better understand what they are doing and what they should be doing in Higher Education. It can give them new insights into how H.E. works (be careful what you wish for) and help to humanise both the institution and the teachers. SaP offers contribution over participation and can lead to greater engagement and the design of better assessment. After all, students will generally have more of a whole of program/degree perspective than most of their lecturers and a greater understanding of what they want to get out of their studies. (The question of whether this is the same as what they need to get out of their studies is not one to ignore however and I’ll come back to this). For the students that are less engaged in this process, at the very least the extra time spent discussing their assessments will help them to understand the assessments better. A final benefit of actively participating in the SaP process for students is the extra skills that they might develop. Mick Healey developed this map of different facets of teaching and learning that it enables students to engage with. A suggestion was made that this could be mapped to more tangible general workplace skills, which I think has some merit.
As with all things, there are also risks in SaP that should be considered. How do we know that the students that participate in the process are representative? Several of the students present came from student politics, which doesn’t diminish their interest or contribution but I’d say that it’s reasonable to note that they are probably more self-motivated and also driven by a range of factors than some of their peers. When advocating for a particular approach in the classroom or assessment, will they unconsciously lean towards something that works best for them? (Which everyone does at some level in life). Will their expectations or timelines be practical? Another big question is what happens when students engage in the process but then have their contributions rejected – might this contribute to disillusionment and disengagement? (Presumably not if the process is managed well but people are complicated and there are many sensitivities in Higher Ed)
To return to my earlier point, while students might know what they want in teaching and learning, is it always what they need? Higher Ed can be a significant change from secondary education, with new freedoms and responsibility and new approaches to scholarship. Many students (and some academics) aren’t trained in pedagogy and don’t always know why some teaching approaches are valuable or what options are on the table. From a teaching perspective, questions of resistance from the university and extra time and effort being spent for unknown and unknowable outcomes should also be considered. None of these issues are insurmountable but need to be considered in planning to implement this approach.
Implementation was perhaps my biggest question when I came along to the Roundtable. How does this work in practice and what are the pitfalls to look out for. Fortunately there was a lot of experience in the room and some rich discussion about a range of projects that have been run at UQ, UTS, Deakin, UoW and other universities. At UoW, all education development grants must now include a SaP component. In terms of getting started, it can be worth looking at the practices that are already in place and what the next phase might be. Most if not all universities have some form of student evaluation survey. (This survey is, interestingly, an important part of the student/teacher power dynamic, with teachers giving students impactful marks on assessments and students reciprocating with course evaluations, which are taken very seriously by universities, particularly when they are bad).
A range of suggestions and observations for SaP implementations were offered, including:
Trust is vital, keep your promises
Different attitudes towards students as emerging professionals exist in different disciplines – implementing SaP in Law was challenging because content is more prescribed
Try to avoid discussing SaP in ‘teacher-speak’ too much – use accessible, jargon-free language
Uni policies will mean that some things are non negotiable
Starting a discussion by focusing on what is working well and why is a good way to build trust that makes discussion of problems easier
Ask the question of your students – what are you doing to maximise your learning
These images showcase a few more tips and a process for negotiated assessment.
There was a lot of energy and good will in the room as we discussed ideas and issues with SaP. The room was set up with a dozen large round tables holding 8-10 people each and there were frequent breaks for table discussions during the morning and then a series of ‘world cafe’ style discussions at tables in the afternoon. On a few occasions I was mindful that some teachers at the tables got slightly carried away in discussing what students want when there were actual, real students sitting relatively quietly at the same table, so I did what I could to ask the students themselves to share their thoughts on the matters. On the whole I felt a small degree of scepticism from some of the students present about the reality vs the ideology of the movement. Catching a taxi to the airport with a group of students afterwards was enlightening – they were in favour of SaP overall but wondered how supportive university executives truly were and how far they would let it go. One quote that stayed with me during the day as Eimear Enright shared her experiences was a cheeky comment she’d had from one of her students – “Miss, what are you going to be doing while we’re doing your job”
On the whole, I think that a Students as Partners approach to education has a lot to offer and it certainly aligns with my own views on transparency and inclusion in Higher Ed. I think there are still quite a few questions to be answered in terms of whether it is adequately representative and how much weighting the views of students (who are not trained either in the discipline or in education) should have. Clearly a reasonable amount but students study because they don’t know things and, particularly with undergraduate students, they don’t necessarily want to know what’s behind the curtain. The only way to resolve these questions is by putting things into practice and the work that is being done in this space is being done particularly well.
For a few extra resources, you might find these interesting.
Writing about work by your supervisor feels a little strange but, as adults and scholars, it really shouldn’t. Obviously there is a power dynamic and a question for me of what to do if I disagree with him. Putting aside the matter that Peter Goodyear has worked and researched in this field forever and is highly regarded internationally while I am essentially a neophyte, I’m almost certain that his worst reaction would be the slightest brow-crinkling and a kindly, interested “ok, so tell me why”. He even made the point that the research may now be dated but it could be worth following the citation trail. Fortunately none of this is an issue because, as you’d hope from your supervisor, it’s pretty great and there is much to draw from it.
In summary, this chapter focuses on understanding what and how teachers think when they are teaching online. Sadly perhaps, little has changed in the nature of online teaching in the 14 years since this was written – the online teaching activities described are largely related to students reading papers and participating in discussions on forums. This gives the chapter a degree of currency in terms of the technology (although a few questions emerged for me in terms of the impact of social media) and I imagine that little has changed in teacher thought processes in this time related to assessing and trying to engage students online.
In some ways it’s the methodology used in the study that is the most exciting part of this – it steers away from the sometimes problematic reliance on transcript analysis used often (at the time?) in research on online learning and makes more use of the opportunities for observation. Observing a teacher reading, processing and replying to discussion forum posts offers opportunities for insight into their thoughts that a far richer than one might get in observing face to face teaching. By using a combination of concurrent and retrospective verbalisation and interview, a rich picture emerges.
Concurrent verbalisation involves getting the tutor to keep up a kind of stream of consciousness dialogue as they work on the discussion posts, with the researcher prompting them if they fall silent for more than 10 seconds. This can prove difficult for the teacher at times as they need to stop speaking at times to concentrate on the replies that they write but a balance is generally found. The session is also videotaped and the researcher and teacher watch it back together, (‘stimulated recall’), which gives the teacher the opportunity to discuss what they were thinking in the quiet moments as well as enabling them to expand on their recorded comments. In terms of understanding the things that are important to teachers and how they work with the students, I find this method really exciting. I’m not at all sure how or if it will align with my own research when I come to it but this rich insight seems invaluable.
The author opens the chapter by thoroughly going through the motivations for researching teaching – ranging from an abstracted interest in it as a good area for study to a more action research oriented focus on improving specific aspects of teaching practice. He explores the existing literature in the field – particularly in relation to online learning and finds that (at the time) there were a number of significant gaps in research relating to practice and he proceeds to set out six high level research questions relating to online teaching. It seems worthwhile sharing them here
What are the essential characteristics of online teaching? What tasks are met? What actions need to be taken? Are there distinct task genres that further differentiate the space of online teaching?
How do these practices and task genres vary across different educational settings (e.g between disciplines, or in undergraduate vs postgraduate teaching, or in campus based vs distance learning) and across individuals?
For each significant kind of online teaching, what knowledge resources are drawn upon by effective teachers? How can we understand and represent the cognitive and other resources and processes implicated in their teaching?
How do novice online teachers differ from expert and experienced online teachers? How do they make the transition? How does their thinking change? How does the knowledge on which they draw change? How closely does this resemble ‘the knowledge growth in teaching’ about which we know from studies of teaching in other, more conventional, areas?…
What do teachers say about their experiences of online learning? How do they account for their intentions and actions? How do their accounts situation action in relation to hierarchies of belief about teaching and learning (generally) and about teaching and learning online?
How do learners’ activities and learning outcomes interact with teaching actions? (p.86)
Skipping forward, Goodyear conducted the research with a number of teachers working online and identified several key factors that shape what and how teachers teach online. The focus of their attention – is it on the student, the content, how well the subject is going, whether students are learning, the technology, how students will respond to their feedback etc – can vary wildly from moment to moment. Their knowledge of their students – particularly when they might never meet them in person – can shape the nuance and personalisation of their communications. This also ties to “presentation of self” – also known as presence – which is equally important in forming effective online relationships. Understanding of online pedagogy and attitudes towards it are unsurprisingly a big factor in success in teaching online and this also impacts on their ability to manage communication and conflict in an online space, where normal behaviours can change due to perceived distance.
There were a lot of other noteworthy ideas in this chapter that are worth including here and it also sparked a few of my own ideas that went off on something of a tangent.
Those who foresee an easy substitution of teaching methods too frequently misunderstand the function or underestimate the complexity of that which they would see replaced (p.80)
Teaching is not an undifferentiated activity. What is involved in giving a lecture to 500 students is different from what is involved in a one-to-one, face-to-face, tutorial. Also, interactive, face-to-face, or what might be called ‘live’ teaching is different from (say) planning a course, giving feedback on an essay, designing some learning materials, or reflecting on end-of-course student evaluation reports. (James Calderhead structures his 1996 review of teachers’ cognitions in terms of ‘pre-active’, ‘interactive’ and ‘post-active reflection’ phases to help distinguish the cognitive demands of ‘live’ teaching from its prior preparation and from reflection after the event) (p.82)
The affordances of the user interface are an important factor in understand how online tutors do what they do. This is not simply because online tutors need to understand the (relatively simple) technical procedures involved in searching, reading and writing contributions. Rather the interface helps structure the tutors’ tasks and also takes some of the cognitive load off the tutor (P.87)
Studies of ‘live’ classroom teaching in schools have tended towards the conclusion that conscious decision-making is relatively rare – much of what happens is through the following of well-tested routines (Calderhead, 1984). While swift routine action can be found in online tutoring, its curiously asynchronous nature does allow more considered problem solving to take place (p.97)
Many of these ideas crystallise thoughts that I’ve come to over recent years and which I’ve shared with Peter in our supervision meetings. I’m going to choose to believe that his inner voice is saying at these points, ‘good, you’re on track’ rather than ‘well, obviously and I wrote about this a decade and a half ago’. This is why we go with this apprenticeship model I guess.
As for the other random thought that emerged from reading this paper was that as we get more comfortable with using video and asking/allowing students to submit videos as assessments, we’ll need new ways to ‘read’ videos. Clearly these will already exist in the scholarhood but they may not be as widely known as we need.
Rather than fretting about what I haven’t been doing cough#reading the literature#cough, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve been doing instead, because it’s not like I’ve been lazing by the pool. I’ve been doing things that (I hope) will inform my research by giving me a bigger picture view of education and Higher Ed.
I went to the ePortforum for a couple of days – chatted with people using ePortfolios, learnt about what they’ve been doing, how social constructivism aligns with ePortfolios (quite well really), considered what the best applications for ePortfolios are (leaning towards competency based education and employability skills), enjoyed glorious Sydney weather and marvellous company, went to Joyce Seitzinger’s always great workshop on learning design principles and chatted to more of my education advisor (EdAd) peers about the value of setting up a Special Interest Group (SIG) through HERDSA
Consulted with EdAd peers on Twitter about the SIG and put an application in to formally run one through HERDSA. (To be completely honest, I’m not 100% certain about whether this is the best approach and what benefits being under this umbrella will bring but doing something seems better than umming and aahing).
Worked for far too long on an application to become a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. (Better part of the last three weekends). This involved a lot of critical reflection and writing, describing my philosophy of teaching and coming up with a couple of case studies about leadership and mentoring. These were particularly challenging because my perspective on mentoring is that a reciprocal relationship of equals is a far better approach – fortunately there is a body of literature out there to back this up. Long story short I wrote far more than needed for each section and had to do some brutal editing. I tend to use a lot of qualifiers (there’s one – tend) in my writing but mostly because I like the nuance that they bring. As it turns out, I hadn’t quite grasped (to be generous) exactly what was needed for the case studies and have been advised that an application for a level down (Fellow) is far more likely to succeed. As the first professional staff member to apply to become a Senior Fellow, this is a shame but I’ve also spent more time on the application than I’d expected and I truly need to get back into “proper” study/research. I’ve also been told by the big cheese in the process that he will advise me on my SFHEA application in the new year. It was nice -though taxing – to get stuck into some writing.
I’ve also been working on an infrastructure project which seems to be coming along – well actually two at the same time. (Kind of the same thing in two different locations with different stakeholders though, so that helps). It’s a One Button Studio – essentially a video booth with present lighting, sound, camera, backdrop – all a presenter needs to do is plug in their USB drive and hit “the button” to start recording a reasonable quality video. Learning a lot about the range of stakeholders and moving parts – there is construction to be done, cabling, contractors, sound analysis, hardware purchasing, security, questions of who owns which spaces and how we get into them, internal politics, support arrangements, questions about how sophisticated to go (as simple as possible) and somewhere in there user requirements. It does let me bang on a little about sociomaterial theory however and affordances.
STELLAR wrapped up – in some ways it kind of limped to the finish line with maybe 4 still active participants at the end but lots of valuable feedback and ideas for the next iteration. Pokemon Go has actually been giving me some inspiration – the random way that mini-challenges (catch a Pokemon with a randomised level of difficulty) pop up on a semi-regular basis has made me think about ways to release single question quizzes in Moodle on a timer of some description and some kind of rewards system for “collecting” different kinds. (That part is far more in the abstract so far)
I was also very kindly sent up to Brisvegas for a flying visit to the Students As Partners conference, in exchange for my outsider perspective via tweets (tick, done) and a blog post (coming soon, I swear). First impressions are that this is a potentially rewarding and enriching process that democratises education. There are a few core questions to be dealt with – how to ensure that student involvement is representative and beneficial and how much can/do students really know about what they need to learn? The event itself was run spectacularly well with a lot of student involvement and a very dynamic mixture of tag-teaming presenters, frequent discussion (at tables) breaks and a ‘world cafe’ approach in the afternoon. As I say, more on this soon.
I also put a proposal together to present at MoodlePosium which may or not have been conveniently copy-pasted from my HEA application in the spirit of reusable learning objects and also wrote up a strong enough argument to get to go to ASCILITE at the end of November.
On a more prosaic note, I reinstalled Windows 10 on my workhorse because it had developed a worrying habit of crashing on shutdown and some restart glitches and I assume most of you know how time-consuming that process can be, not the reinstall as much as tracking down all the software I had installed and serials and updates and whatnot.
Now I’m taking a week off work to get back to reading and reflecting and the research literature and oh dear I just thought about how cranky my project plan is going to be with me. I’m sorry planny, we can work this out – please don’t give up on me yet.
Also all the day to day work stuff and trying to help come up with practical and satisfactory approaches to satisfy stricter new national reporting requirements for Higher Education that are coming up in the new year, as well as keeping an eye on major education projects in the college that I haven’t been asked for help on with yet
Oh and also finalising the governance documents and proposals for the TEL/Online learning groups that I’m on at work that went to the executive last week. Of which there has been zero reporting back from the representatives that went to the meeting. I could chase it up but I’m trying hard to not look at workmail this week, so it can wait. Probably.