Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Death of the lecture

A recent article in The Chronicle picked up on Harvard's recent financial splurge on new approaches to teaching. The motivation for the splurge was the growing that the traditional teaching method in Higher Education - the lecture - was failing to achieve its goals of "prodding students to make meaning from what they learn, to ask questions, extract knowledge, and apply it in a new context".

One would hope that Harvard has not just woken up to the scholarship of Teaching and Learning and its potential to enhance student learning. But the article does highlight the problem that tutors, usually highly qualified and with many years' experience, often lack the confidence to experiment with new approaches to classroom teaching. Add the use of new technologies into the mix and these tutors are even more likely to retreat to the safety of 'doing what they have always done'.

As a Learning Technologist I have always strived to focus on the pedagogy of e-Learning when recommending activities to tutors. Another article in the Chronicle illustrated that technology for technology's sake is unlikely to yield a better learning experience for students and while this approach may succeed, it is also just as likely to fail. The article spoke of a technophile tutor who after many years of extolling the virtues of new technologies to his colleagues is now focusing on what he believes to be even more important: the bond between tutor and student, and the need for the former to nurture the latter rather than talking down to them. Above all, the article highlighted the need for learning to be a participatory experience.

If tutors do decide to experiment with new participatory technologies there is a significant risk that their attempts will fail due to inexperience. And for those who have always simply 'given lectures' the idea of using new technologies to increase participation is often perceived as either irrelevant or terrifying. Providing tutors with practical templates that explain how this can be achieved through the use of technologies such as social media, video and interactive activities would therefore help give them the confidence to try new approaches to supporting their students. I've been searching for a while now and haven't found any such templates - if anybody has come across something similar please feel free to share. Otherwise I think I've found what I'm going to be doing for the next few months...

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What would a disrupted education system look like?

Great presentation as ever from George Siemens considering the ways in which technology is disrupting education:

"Deliberate practice" - another way of "flipping the classroom"?

I came across an article suggesting that "deliberate practice" is a more effective way of teaching students than the traditional lecture. I've not heard of deliberate practice so I decided to investigate.

According to the article, the deliberate practice method involves the tutor providing students with a multiple-choice question on a given topic. The students then discuss the question in small groups before providing their answer electronically, presumably using a clicker tool or polling application. The tutor can then see their level of understanding about the topic; he answers the question by way of a short discussion before moving on to the next topic.

This sounds great, and it's certainly something I'm going to try myself, but isn't this similar to the concept of 'flipping the classroom' as suggested by Salman Khan in his seminal TED talk? Khan's method of using video to deliver core content as a means to free up the face-to-face time for more constructive discussion is a powerful new way to enhance student learning. The article on deliberate practice indicated that students exposed to this method of teaching did more than twice as well in a test than those in the traditional lecture setting. The phenomenal impact of the Khan Academy's approach to teaching also suggests that technology now provides a legitimate way to challenge the centuries-old method of teaching that is the lecture.

Educators such as George Siemens and Stephen Downes are also challenging Higher Education to with their concept of Massive Open Online Courses. With students able to access unlimited content online, universities are increasingly under pressure to justify the very nature of their existence. Maybe changing the dynamic of the traditional lecture using 'deliberate practice' or by 'flipping the classroom' will be enough to quell the unrest.

Let's hope that more research is conducted in this area.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Are you a technologist, academic developer, facilitator or chameleon?

We're being restructured. It was never going to be a straightforward experience, but as Homi Bhabha remarks, "the state of emergency is also always a state of emergence" (Bhabha 1994: 41). I must thank my PGC course leader for that.

I'm having to justify my role as part of the restructure. Currently I am an Academic Developer, but fairly soon I could be a Learning Technology Facilitator, an e-Learning advisor or just a Learning Technologist. What's the difference? Does one present more opportunity for professional development? Beetham, Jones and Gornall (2001) state that a Learning Technologist often performs a variety or roles including but not limited to:
  • Educational developer
  • Educational researcher into learning technologies
  • Resource/materials developer
  • C&IT skills professional
  • Library/resources professional
  • Technical support professional
  • Manager (teams and projects)
  • Academic innovator, and
  • Technical developer/researcher
I can certainly find examples of all of the above in my day to day work and this indicates the complexity of the Learning Technologist role. There is a great deal of change happening both within and outside our institution at the moment and if e-Learning initiatives are going to be sustainable they will need to be implemented by people in posts that are themselves sustainable.

For the past two years I have strived to not be pidgeon-holed as an IT Technician but rather as a member of the academic community. If the activity of the Learning Technologist is not underpinned by sound pedagogy it rarely has the desired impact on enhancing learning. But the strict separation of IT and Learning and Teaching has always brought about a blurred boundary around 'who owns e-Learning' in the institution. I'm beginning to think that moving into the IT department might actually enable me to do my job more effectively that before.

So who am I? Technologist, Academic Developer or Facilitator? Or a combination of all three? I think its time to become a chameleon...