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.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Peter Goodyear comment in response to Neil Selwyn

I decided to post from the conference having greatly enjoyed Neil Selwyn's keynote. I had been anticipating his session with Chris Jones for a while and would have loved Chris to have been able to participate more rather than keeping to the chairing role. Anyway, there were some useful contributions from the floor and one of those was from Peter Goodyear...

Pictures from Networked Learning Conference 2014"I enjoyed that talk much more than I really wanted to. The point that I keep grappling with is that if you've got the luxury of working for a living where what you have to produce can be critique then there is not so much of a problem with this. 
Many people who work in the edtech area do not earn their living in that way and they have to engage in various forms of action, and that action is very constrained by the politics, the economics, etc.  of the circumstances in which they're operating. And so, the question for me then is to what extent can a critical perspective, disposition or midset, become a resource for action in those constrained circumstances and it seems to me that part of the answer is to develop an ability to understand what the scope for action is in a specific set of circumstances so that one can ask questions about what is doable amongst a range of things that might be doable and what action one might then take.
And I think that gels with your notion of being modest about the effects that we can have and not trying to be revolutionary and change all the world.
The one thing I do then worry about is that if you've got the freedom to act as a critical commentator you can always trump that local action, you can always say, "hey, yeah, but it's pointless really'."

There were several other contributions from the floor which amounted to a plea along the same lines from where each person was speaking. Someone even admitted that pessimism was getting the better of them...

Friday, January 31, 2014

The ZPD is different to scaffolding, different enough to matter

This post will (may) grow over time but for now I just need to dump some quotes and resources in a place where I can find them again and point 'someone who wants to know more' at with relative ease.

I have found that LS Vygotsky's concept, the Zone of Proximal Development is confused with the concept of scaffolding. Some are prepared to openly assert and strenuously defend the position that scaffolding is Vygotsky's concept. In my reading, it is not. Does this really matter? In my sense of things, yes it does and here's an idea of why... Thankfully, both questions are answered lucidly by Seth Chaklin: here are some extended quotes from a chapter of his from 2003:
I also want to highlight and recommend the paper by Verenikina (2003)... in which she points out, citing Stone (1998), that metaphors, such as 'scaffolding', have the capacity to augment understanding but also to constrain it. That, is a problem. Here we go with Seth anyway:

"Popularity has its price, however. Wertsch (1984) suggested that if this theoretical construct was not elaborated further, then there is a risk that "it will be used loosely and indiscriminately, thereby becoming so amorphous that it loses all explanatory power" (p.7). Mercer and Fisher (1992) believe that "there is a danger that the term is used as little more than a fashionable alternative to Piagetian terminology or the concept of IQ for describing individual differences in attainment or potential" (p. 342). Palinscar (1998) suggests that in the context of research about the negotiated nature of teaching and learning it is "probably one of the most used and least understood constructs to appear in contemporary educational literature" (p.370).
Critique of the common conception:
"If Vygotsky's intention was to use the concept for all kinds of learning, then why not name it the zone of proximal learning?" p40
"Vygotsky..., concluding that there is a unity but not an identity between learning and inner developmental processes. Vygotsky (1987) disctinguishes instruction aimed "toward [the child's] full development from instruction in specialized, technical skills such as typing or riding a bicycle" (p.212). In short, zone of proximal development is not concerned with the development of skill of any particular task, but must be related to development." p40
Assistance assumption
"In other words, it is not the competence per se of the more knowledgeable person that is important; rather, it is to understand the meaning of that assistance in relation to a child's learning and development." p43
p57: "In relation to the school age, the theoretical function of Vygotsky's zone of Proximal development research can be understood as a search for identifying a principled way for conceptualising schooling in relation to the whole child and not just the child's performance on a single task" (as with IQ)
p57 " The zone of proximal development is not simply a way to refer to development through assistance by a more competent other. This assistance is meaningful only in relation to maturing functions needed for transition to the next age period".
p59 most work that refers to zone of proximal development does not have such a developmental theory, even implicitly.
Why not imitation, assisted instruction, or collaboration? Is it because neither of these terms hold the same scientistic mystique necessary to attain the desired level of rhetorical capital needed so as to bolster their argument?

Chaklin, S. (2003). The Zone of Proximal Development in Vygotsky’s Analysis of Learning and Instruction. In A. Kozulin (Ed.), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context. Cambridge University Press.
Stone, C. (1998). The metaphor of scaffolding: its utility for the field of learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(4), 344–364.
Verenikina, I. (2003). Understanding scaffolding and the ZPD in educational research. PDF file. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from

Friday, January 17, 2014

The digital literacy of controlling attention and focus

As I am about to embark on some serious study I have been thinking a lot about enhancing the small amounts of time I do get to spare on reading and scholarship.
Apart from sheer 'interest/motivation' as a dominant factor in directing attention, with more than a nod to Prof Goodyear, there is more to books than mere nostalgia and aesthetics, there is ergonomics. A book will not bleep or blink at me. Taking the fight to the technology, so often the source of distractions, if it's a 'digital book', it may even read with me. I have been recently interested in the idea that getting the computer to read aloud as I read the text may help attention, engagement and cognition. What do you/others think? Am struggling to locate research about it... along the lines of Driver and Noesselt 2008.
This new paper in JC-MC by Courbet et al is heading in the right direction before concentrating on advertising:
Faced with an abundance of advertising messages, Internet users occupied with their current task activate selective perception and processing strategies that lead them to allocate only minimal cognitive resources to advertising, which generally interests them very little.  (p274)
In psychology, we have the concept of flow, a phenomenon studied by Csikszentmihalyi in artists who were so immersed in their work that they ignored bodily needs for food or sleep. Flow is one of a range of psychological states, see the image below (souce: wikimedia commons), indicating the strong links with this 'ideal' state and motivation. Sadly, students are often faced with learning episodes that do anything but encourage flow.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Contextualising information fluency

It was time again to deliver my 'collaboration lecture' morning. I blogged about this previously in July 2011 in terms of the activity I set students upon as part of it. This time I went in with a discussion about digital literacies still buzzing around my mind. Joe was probing about the ways in which, for example, presentations, happen in clinical areas, giving the 'digital' practice a compelling context that students could see themselves participating in when joining the workforce. Conveniently, the students were just back off placement, returning for the final theory block of their second year - they were chatty, especially with each other!
The module assessment requires them to work in groups towards a summative group presentation (which has 10% of the marks awarded by their peers for their contributions towards the groupwork). In order to build a case for learning about and through collaboration I decided to ask them what had they seen of presentations, broadly defined, out in practice areas. Out of 80 or so students, I had about four or five responses. Here is a flavour:
  • Mufti-Disciplinary Team meetings, where the patient's notes and scans support case reviews.
  • A doctor leading a session for patients about their condition.
  • A nurse, leading a small group teaching session
That last example was the only one featuring a nurse actually doing the presenting. So I called upon the fact that nurses have a professional commitment to the continuing development of themselves and those around them. They could expect to be responsible for the practice-based learning of their own students one day. More than that, on qualification and registration, all nurses are duty-bound to act as 'Stage 1 Mentors', meeting the requirements set for that role by the national regulatory body, the NMC, "you must facilitate students and others to develop their competence" and that could well imply the development or use of an online resource.
In another context, it is a real possibility that they would deliver a conference presentation at some point in the future. I tell the students that working alone is 'easy'. You can be as lazy about the way you work as you like on your own. Once you involve others in a collaboration, it becomes vital that they make some key decisions about how they are going to work together. Part of that must include how the group will curate artifacts of the collaboration (agreed search strategies, articles found, summaries compiled, ideas noted, the presentation itself, etc.) and communication, including discussion, either face-to-face or online. Of course, these methods are useful when working alone but collaboration opens up the potential for a richer, perhaps riskier learning experience.
So the students get some ideas about how to manage the artifacts of collaboration, but little or nothing about the act of parleying with the knowledge acquired or presented by them or their collaborators. This is where epistemic fluency comes in, a key transferable skill - but a rare and shy 'animal'. Goodyear et al only capture a glimpse of it in their study... If it is so scarce, is it too difficult, too ambitious to expect to be able to conceptualise and present to students (or staff, come to that) as something really vital? And yet, have the students really got the most out of collaborative learning projects without actively trying to leverage the opportunity to maximise gains in epistemic fluency?

Goodyear P, Ellis R, Brew A and Sachs J (2007) The development of epistemic fluency: Learning to think for a living. In: Transforming a university: The scholarship of teaching and learning in practice. Sydney: Sydney University Press. Available at:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What motivates your students?

It's time for another cohort of students into the revised Bachelor of Nursing programme. The March intakes are always smaller - about 90 students. ECDL has been left out of this 'Cardiff Nursing Futures' curriculum and so I came up with the UniversIT Information Fluency Portfolio, launched it last October. What's brought me back to blog about it is the reflection that not many, if any, students from the September '12 cohort have engaged with the UIT portfolio. That's in spite of the fact that there are lots of ways we've embedded digital literacy into the curriculum. Students have to create a leaflet individually for one module, for another they work in groups to present a wiki-based health informational Website, we're doing D@SH.
This time it's different though.
Over the last years I have observed that students are motivated by various things. Assessment is of course the major one. But you cannot assess everything (unless you went to a type of 'Community Equity'ish way of assessing micro-contributions, as per my presentation at NLC2012 - link to blog entry ;).
CelebrationsOur students have to sign registers since the governing body requires them to study for a recorded 2300 theory hours. The tweak that I think has changed engagement this time, although it's quite early to be certain, started with a conversation with the programme manager. We agreed to dedicate one of the last days on the timetable for hours representing effort students expended completing their UIT portfolio. If they complete it to my satisfaction by then, they can get these 6 hours added to their total. If they do not, as you may have guessed, they have to make up the hours by completing their UIT portfolio, and there is a deadline for that. I'm laying on face-to-face sessions, notes of which are being posted in their group wiki (CampusPack) where I'm also listing the group names so that I can indicate which of them has finished their UIT portfolio. When they have all done that I will create a group-based certificate for them, I may even include a picture of the group if they can supply a suitable one. There is no deadline for the certificate, so that groups do not miss out if one member is late completing. In these ways I am keying into various types of motivation that stop short of the sharp stick compulsion of summative assessment but which will, I hope, reach deeply enough into the students' minds and lives to promote connections and build working knowledge. Did I mention that there's chocolate at my IT sessions? Strangely enough, the library's sessions with these students are also featuring chocolate this time around...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reaping what we sow

I've been reflecting on the kinds of learning that are actually possible in different scenarios. Take a fairly generic breakdown of types of learning as described by Illeris (2009):
  1. Cumulative - low-level conditioning
  2. Assimulative - learning by addition
  3. Accommodative - learning that includes an element of unlearning or reformation
  4. Transformative - restructuring of a fundamental nature, e.g. of the personality
Mandatory training is an area that has seen increasing use of 'e-learning'. The kinds of subjects involved are fairly momentous, for example, equality and diversity. We would all like to live in a society that values difference and where people can get on with their jobs enjoying the sense of dignity and respect that helps keep them well motivated to function optimally in an organisation. But what kind of learning is required to move an individual from a position of 'hardened bigot' to 'respectful admirer of difference'? That would surely require accommodative or transformative learning. Is that possible in an 'e-learning' package? Let's say this is hard, but perhaps not impossible. Then add in the situation, the context, within which that 'e-learning' package is used: e.g. where 'learners' are time-poor, the main motive is one of compulsion and monitoring by 'big brother'; the materials themselves are electronic 'page-turners' and their assessment is aimed at ensuring you've read through, not that you have become a 'better person'.
Train Crash at Montparnasse 1895 It is precisely because of these kinds of scenarios that networked learning needs to stand up and get promoted as an alternative vision for how learning and learners can benefit. Anyone involved in the educational enterprise has a duty to take a critical stance in respect to what is being passed off as 'e-learning'. A good place to begin in order to inform that critique would be the Manifesto written by Beaty et al. I know that is wishful thinking, especially in the face of assertive managerialist and cost/benefit-driven cultures. These cultures undermine education that aspires to learning that is more effective, not to say profound. But what will the real cost to society, organisations and individuals be if all the really important things we are supposed to be and know are 'learned' in such an impoverished way? How do people learn? Can we really load people with 'quick fix' or 'tick-box' learning and expect the same outcomes as we would from when we participate in "learning and teaching environments...  that seek to encourage dialogue, exchange of ideas, intrinsic approaches to study and engagement." (Beaty et al 2002, p6)? I cant put a price on that.

Beaty L, Hodgson V, Mann S and McConnell D (2002) Towards e-quality in networked e-learning in higher education. [Online] Available at:
Illeris K (2009) A comprehensive understanding of human learning. In: K. Illeris ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning. London; New York: Routledge. 7–20.