Thursday, April 9, 2015

Human conversations in education

Last night a friend prompted me to watch a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson (youtube link). I have been quite suspicious about Sir Ken since I heard him claim that teenagers do not wear wrist-watches any more, they have mobiles to tell the time with instead. This statement seemed insightful at the time but ignores the wider cultural significance of a watch. I know one teenager who sports an enormous watch. If anyone in his class wants to know the time they just have to look in his direction. If the infamous wearer can summon the strength to raise his watch arm, the sight of the watch alone is enough to disrupt a lesson.
But I digress... Last night, for me, Sir Ken was on form. It was an American agenda and audience but the points about education being a human activity were spot on. This is what we are in danger of losing and why I like the Networked Learning 'tradition' where we hold that 'promoting connections' with ICT's between learners and 'content'/resources is not a sufficient condition to meet the definition.
An example... When did 'e-learning' ever pay much attention to the spoken language of learners? Indeed, how could it? Why should it?
I've been trying to get a handle on Basil Bernstein - got an old copy of Class, Codes and Control. There is much that defeats me in its pages, however, here is a chunk from p72
There is, it is thought, a dynamic interaction between the speech form learned, the experiences organized by it and subsequent behaviour. The experience of a speaker is conditioned and differentiated by and through his language. Spoken language is a process and processing phenomenon and is the major means by which an individual becomes self-regulating. An analysis of the typical dominant speech mode learned should give important insights into the psychological effects of linguistic processing and the inter-relationships with the social structure which condition and limit the form of the usage.

The point I was struck by here is the 'Spoken language is a process and processing phenomenon and is the major means by which an individual becomes self-regulating'.
If this is true, then as those responsible for other people's learning, we neglect requiring oral presentations of ideas at our peril... well, in as much as learning matters. CampusPack has a 'podcasting tool' (like a blog with audio) and I encouraged students to record to it once; we saw mixed levels of engagement from the single online-only cohort that ran with it. Granted it is a different activity, and was used for different purposes (i.e. learning about voice and subjectivity), but this seemed nowhere near as good as a humble human conversation. Probably you know of better examples than that. Please share :o)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Networked Learning as a pedagogy again

I can't quite escape from the ideas I was talking about in 2008. Media choice and the pedagogy of and around that choice impacts behaviour and somehow we're liable to miss that.
Scenario: Evaluation. You have a large class of students (say 200) and you want to get a good response-rate to the routine end-of-module evaluation. The organisation would quite like this process to cost nothing at all. So, from paper-based, or perhaps optical mark read forms, the organisation has moved to online evaluations. This has coincided with a dramatic drop in response-rates. The choice of media has distanced the student from anything but the slightest amount of pedagogic influence over them (a paper just published refers to this kind of thing as 'pedagogic distance' - see Westberry and Franken 2015 - I think it is a massive issue). Even in a large lecture setting, if a lecturer hands out paper forms and requests students to complete them, the students are likely to comply. This is likely to do with the social form of the lecture as an event within which students immediately cede control to the person managing the session. Once out of the lecture, the spell is broken and all kinds of things come between the student and the online form.
Given that it is not very manageable to troop them all off to an IT room, unless you have the facility and could tie the evaluation in with some other desirable learning opportunity.
You could try an audience response system but that would be expensive and quite clumsy to administer. Apart from anything else, an evaluation with more than a few summary questions is going to feel like an imposition on the students and would, in my view, be an abuse of the lecturer's pedagogic power. There have been many discussions about the issue of students using their mobiles in lectures.
I suggested projecting a very large QR Code that points to the online form. Google's URL shortener serves up a QR Code and still works even though it gets a bit blurry when enlarged.
Any student with a smartphone ought to be able to follow the link. Clearly that is fantasy. It would be a good idea to warn the students in advance or at least to ask them to ensure they have or know where to find a QR Code Scanner app.
Even if they don't complete the form there and then, at least their browser is at the right page and they may go on to complete it later.
So it is hoped that merely by using the lecture setting to display the QR Code and allocating a few minutes to complete the form will increase response rates. Whether this will work after the novelty factor wears off, and what proportion of students who are not capable of scanning the code will feel disenfranchised and possibly put in a worse evaluation than they might have otherwise...!!! As they say, that's an empirical question...
But has the lecturer's action of introducing the QR Code in this scenario promoted connections? Is that an example of networked learning pedagogy in action? The definition says nothing about having students having to be learning at a distance...
Then there's the whole thing about the way that my role here means that I get to sit in meetings and try and join the things that I hear with the 'stuff I know' to come up with useful suggestions. Its serendipity. If learning technologists want to influence learning and teaching practice, they may have to sit in and tune in to yet more meetings.

Westberry, Nicola, and Margaret Franken. “Pedagogical Distance: Explaining Misalignment in Student-Driven Online Learning Activities Using Activity Theory.” Teaching in Higher Education 20, no. 3 (April 3, 2015): 300–312. doi:10.1080/13562517.2014.1002393.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Design for learning

People talk about 'blended learning' as if it is something worth making a distinct point about. The only thing it is distinct from is 'undesigned' learning... where the 'instructor' (in cases where there is one) has, for whatever reason, not designed it (enough). The T P sea K framework of M ! s h r a & K o e h l € r is, in my view, a typology that introduces unhelpful distinctions (feel free to google it, I'm not linking to it from here ;). The T(=tech) needs to become part of what we do as instructors in the way that it is when we learn to drive or act generally in the world. For me, T  P sea K is basically P - pedagogy.
pensive moi - because every post needs a picture and I was feeling low on creativity
I tweeted a link the other day, the heavily critical one by New Media in Monash. Within the hour, Dr K o e h l € r had favourited it and followed me, little me. That was simply too keen for my liking. I tried to rationalise this as I checked him out... As I viewed his 'trap' from the inside, it occurred to me that I still had a chance to get out. Happy to say, clearly I did escape. What I saw in there disturbed me though. K o e h l € r's actions on Twitter and the decor of his web presence meant just one thing: money. Someone is making money out of these acronyms. It doesn't matter if the theory is shaky, just like the learning styles stuff, there is good money to be made and people will buy it, walking away satisfied customers, thanking you very much. We might take a generous view of all this and say, well, they have to make a living somehow. But the thing that worries me the most is the effect on education research and theory in general. T P sea K is just P. That's the beating heart of it. It's not a new insight and provides us with another niche theory that does not hold much promise for building meaningfully upon. What it has is the potential for meme-like caché amongst those interested enough to care about teaching but in too much of a hurry to really care about building theory with greater explanatory power (e.g. Policy makers with the power to dictate various curricula). So, with more than a glance towards LCT, we get yet another confusing segment along the horizontal plane of the theory landscape (which now resembles a massive sprawling shanty town - sorry this simile is not quite as PC as I would normally align with) instead of something which genuinely has potential to build and be built upon, advancing theory AND practice in education. 
Here is a design principle I think has some reflective power to positively influence practice:
"design for learning networks will normally be improved if attention is paid to the little things that allow participants' activity to shift smoothly between the digital and the material." p270
If you cant do pedagogy then get some help or give up now.

Goodyear, Peter, and Lucila Carvalho. “Synthesis.” In The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks, 259–76. New York ; Abingdon: Routledge, 2014.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The SHARP learning cycle

Just knocked this up for use in a session in a couple of weeks. I like it - wish I had time to say more. Perhaps will come back again and do that. For now, thanks to Peter Goodyear! Here's a 'bit more'...(updated 22/10/2014)
The fairly subversive pedagogy of a networked learning activity rides bareback on the conventional hegemony of the student/staff dichotomy where the students are 'encouraged', almost as an act of faith, to take up the reflective and generative practice of knowledge work; through internalisation and externalisation, they bring their own practice under the reflective scrutiny of authoritative theory. They 'feel their size', and this brings on a minor crisis: it is expected that they will not understand everything they read, they realise that the bar is significantly higher than they had appreciated. Coming to terms with this discomfort is an important aspect of 'affect' in learning. Even to appreciate that 'higher ground' exists may be novel and generative in itself. But, more significantly, the mind is piqued into confusion, frustration, arousal and enquiry. Sense/meaning-making can commence, even if only through a stumbling advance. The 'stumble' metaphor here intentionally implies an iterative wobble 'back and forth', attempting stability, between the theory-laden artefact and the learner's own reified, tentative understanding. It may only be after this that the 'third space', an online forum, is deployed and the shared object(ive) of the scripted task invokes a collective sharing of the experience, providing the learner with contextually rich alternative attempted 'takes' on the theory and its application in practice, not least the practice of learning.
These 'affective' elements of learning are vital for what Illeris (2008,p13) terms,
"accommodative or transcendent learning.", where "one breaks down (parts of) an existing scheme and transforms it so that the new situation can be linked in. Thus one both relinquishes and reconstructs something, and this can be experienced as demanding or even painful, because it is something that requires a strong supply of mental energy... In return... (the learner has) understood"

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When 'good enough' is actually 'best'

At Cardiff we've had a long-running 'pilot' of persistent group chat (PGC). Chris Graves has been instrumental in this. PGC is like a chat room but a history is kept in the room of previous conversations so the experience is in between synchronous and asynchronous. There is also an element of presence awareness.

Pidgin Instant Messenger screengrab
We've used the free Pidgin software to access XMPP 'rooms'
Yesterday a colleague was telling me about a time when they had spoken about the use of persistent group chat for tutorials at a conference for Welsh Further Education staff. Another colleague was explaining how they had found that holding tutorials in Second Life helped students to express themselves. If education is fundamentally conversational then conversations are useful to that end. However if education is fundamentally about collaboration (I think Andy Blunden makes this point but need to read more!) then evidently you need to be building something together, a conversation can certainly be supportive of that, wherever/however it happens but talking will only get you so far.
Our PGC advocate explained how their live demo did not start well when they were unable to connect with the student that they'd planned to. However, coincidentally, a colleague was online and doing a tutorial at the time. All agreed to help with the live demo and the audience watched as the live conversation continued. As the remote tutor was signing off, literally just triggered by the text displayed on the screen, members of the audience at the presentation instinctively voiced their goodbyes. Some of them then caught themselves doing that and felt daft realising that they were waving at some text on a screen. This demonstrated very much how vivid the experience of humble text-based communication can be, especially synchronous or near-synchronous.
Where the academic practices of the given discipline or field are primarily text-based, that is really where the focus should be, around developing confidence, style and sophistication (even epistemic fluency!) with that mode of communication. When 'voice-to-voice', it is easy to enter into almost a therapeutic relationship with students and talk with them and to them for hours, whereby they may indeed reveal all manner of interesting details and walk away having had a lovely time. But that is very different to developing writing skills by practising them. Writing is very difficult. Focusing on writing, even deliberately limiting students to writing, may not be very glamorous but it cuts right to the beating heart of an apprenticeship in knowledge work. Second Life, second best IMHO.

Monday, August 4, 2014

VR+gdoc - helped Damien and I converse

Taking a stroll with Damien, Tag and Neil
I was really pleased to meet up with Damien again last Sunday. Damien is a remarkable young man, having gained a first class honours degree in computing in spite of being profoundly deaf. My brother had persuaded him to stay over and catch the morning service. Funnily enough the sermon was all about 'ways of hearing', of which there are an amazing number: e.g. partial and hearing for someone else to name just two!
Damien uses a Galaxy Note to help him and those he's conversing with to hold conversations without reaching for paper and pen. I had hatched an idea to show him. I like taking reflective notes by dictating into Evernote via voice recognition - it's much faster than typing. Now transpose that to a situation where a synchronous editing application like Googledocs can relay the dictated text onto the screen of anyone with the link to that Googledoc and you have a new way of the deaf keeping track of what is being said. I'm looking forward to finding out if Damien has found an application for this next time we meet up.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

'In it to win it?'

Healthcare professionals as a group have polarised attitudes towards social media. Quite a lot of the time the scare stories that emerge are genuinely terrifying. Then there is a cadre of people who are working from within to leverage the benefits. For example, #wenurses - a weekly twitter-based chat around professional issues. I have tried to encourage students to consider their role in this through an online workbook (see
The newly announced study by group gives another reason why we should be encouraging students at all levels to engage purposefully in social media.
I was struck by the following quote by Dr Pete Burnap Computer Science and Informatics who said:
"Social media has often been associated with the spread of malicious and antagonistic content that could pose a potential risk to community relations.  We frequently hear about trolling and social media being used to harass members of the public or certain groups in society. However, this research provides some evidence that suggests it is actually the more positive and supportive messages that spread to a significant extent following events of this nature."
As we consider a new social media policy for the new School of Healthcare sciences, we will be trying to counter the usual list of 'donts' and 'dread' with the view that Healthcare professionals have a role here, to add their electronic voices to make a positive contribution towards shaping emergent social media activity.
There are plenty of benefits for professional use of social media afterall... see Cooper and Craig 2013 for example. I've adapted their 'figure 2' for our use. They used the term 'digital native', which is generally thought to be a flawed concept by now. Also, I prefer the term 'digital fluency' as it is more reflective of the how people come and go, gain and lose 'working knowledge' (ie. as per Goodyear et al. 2001) of things digital. Also, given that we are dealing with students who will see themselves as quite a way off from 'senior professional', I've dropped the 'senior' to help them relate to the idea of aiming to be a professional.