Saturday, July 22, 2017

On unsophisticated document dumps

It is said that staff do not use expensive, sophisticated learning technologies in sophisticated ways. Repeated audits over many years show that the virtual learning environment (VLE) is used as a 'document dump' (noting pejorative metaphor). This view trivialises situated use of 'documents'. I just came across an example of how documents are used by students in my data and thought I would share here. Very simply, a student mentioned how they were about to access a learning task guideline in the VLE to check if they were following it properly in preparation for working on it the following day. I'll just make two points, neither with any claims to 'originality', before I go back to my coding:1. The 'document' is framing the plans of the student, not just while they are accessing it but when they are not using the VLE at all, shaping their planned engagement in learning activity, as well as afterwards. The document itself and the words in it constitute the substantial learning technology, the one that is having a deep effect on the students' trajectory, their life as a learner. I think I'm being sensitised to this 'historical' angle by Gadamer...
2. A lot of hot air and political capital is invested in the quest to make patent and profoundly effective use of learning technologies. It's a common enough rhetoric that frames academics as resisting opportunities to make the most of an institution's considerable investment in software licenses, hardware, support etc. With their specialist knowledge of the potential affordances of technology, learning technologists do learning itself potential harm by endorsing the 'academic as Luddite' line. This overlooks the need to attend to what the student is actually doing in terms of learning. As Goodyear and Carvalho (2014), when learning tasks are set for students, there is a 'loose coupling' between task and activity where the student interprets and engages with the task requirements. 'Teaching-as-design' should attain greater significance in people's minds than any given learning technology per se. A well-constructed reading list can be a powerful 'learning technology' but enacting this sort of view does not make headline-grabbing demands on an institution's infrastructure and attention. Indeed, it potentially dissolves the need for whole layers of management and support... which makes me wonder why higher education took this technologistic road in the first place...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fishbowl Seminar Instructions

Fishbowl seminars. I dont know who thought them up but I like them. I keep having to cook up a description of them, find images of the set-up etc. So I thought I'd put it here, partly to make things easy for myself - not because it necessarily has anything to do with networked learning... except that the first place I encountered it was in the Aalborg NLC.
So I've made this image (yes I am colourblind). 
And these are the instructions for my setting - tweak to suit :)

This is a way of a managing a group conversation. It needs at enough people to form a decent circle, plus three. So 10 is a good number but I have seen it done successfully with many more than this (see for example).

You will need to rearrange the room so that there is a circle of chairs around three chairs in the middle. In smaller fishbowl seminars, it's good to avoid someone sitting directly behind someone else, especially the 'main speaker'. 
You will need about 20 sheets of A4 paper and lots of post-it notes (the number of members, squared).
Divide the time available by the number of members to find out how long each round will be. Allow for a couple of minutes for 'handover'. 

Three people are in the middle of a circle of chairs. One is for the 'presenter', the other is a tutor, and  another 3rd person - the latter two kick off with questions.
If anyone wants to speak, they have to take one of the seats in the middle. They do this by rising from their seat and tapping the shoulder of the tutor or 3rd person to replace them in the middle. 
It is good to give the people sitting around the centre something significant to do so that they are actively listening and contributing even if they do not enter the centre. For example,
  1. Each round, appoint a different person to keep the time. They should announce when 2 minutes are left on the current round. 
  2. Ensure that each person around the outside has at least one postit note. They are asked to write some brief (it can only be brief!), anonymised feedback on the postit. Sharing email addresses can happen a different way! At the end of a round, the postits for that round are stuck to a single a4 sheet.
Probably you have suggestions which could enhance the above, if so, please share :)