Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A digital disaster

well that may be a little strong, but the first class in the new teaching and learning environment yesterday was less than smooth...
....and it wasn't the Apple Macs that caused the grief - in fact most students settled in happily to using them and were generally tolerant of the unfamiliar UI . Some had brought their own ipads and laptops too and the wifi stood up to the test.

No - the disaster was in another area altogether and I am left wondering why I never seem to anticipate the unintended consequences of change projects or at least remind myself to expect the unexpected.

The main confusion for the students seemed to be in navigating their way through the VLE. After spending the summer building what I thought a really beautiful learning room it was only when this was tested to destruction by 100 students that I realised my errors. Although I'd tried to put stuff into logical sections and sequences, students were nonetheless frustrated by having to scroll back and forth and wade through clunky breadcrumb trails to complete simple tasks. And engagement with those tasks was miniscule at the end of the hour.

So where did it all go wrong?

I think firstly I was too ambitious in terms of what I hoped to achieve in a first session with a large group, using unfamiliar equipment and an unfamiliar platform. I could have cut down the material by 2/3 and simplified the tasks.

Secondly, I didn't spend long enough explaining the layout and navigation of the learning room.

Thirdly, I do think that if we had been able to get the student mentors in post from Day One, more general support could have been offered which would have facilitated the process. There was some technical help available for the hardware, but noone on hand who could explain how the VLE was meant to be used (apart from me).

And what went well?

Well the session was well attended and the group were lively and engaged with one another in attempting to overcome their various problems (and in working on the set questions, to be fair).

I was freed up to be able to circulate around the room and help small groups where necessary. The vast majority were on task and not simply checking their emails. I did also see some groups leave the learning room to do a bit of googling in order to develop their repsonses to the tasks.(This is a GOOD thing in my book)

I spoke to a small group of students afterwards to get an immediate response. Their feeling was generally "it was a bit confusing but we'll get used to it".....so no shock horror then.

Nonetheless I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning as I tried to figure out what I needed to do to fix things. I was grateful to Twitter (as is often the case) for a lovely Edutopia post on learning from our mistakes
aimed specifically at the "connected educator" - which in turn led me to find these wonderful TED talks on learning from failure.

I do have some regrets about my hubris in thinking I could manage all of this in a class of over 100, but then I remind myself that the aim of Scale Up is to bring student centred, problem based learning to the large class. I also need reminding that bringing technology into the classroom is essential and an urgent priority - as this article echoes.  Making changes of such an order is bound to be fraught with difficulties.

Afterall is said and done, my big mistake yesterday might not seem much of a mistake at all to others. And I am learning from it. I am going to make some changes to my lesson plans for the coming weeks and I am going to add a screencast to the Learning Room which will explain the navigation.

I am then going to stop beating myself up and remind myself that whilst I have a responsibility as an educator to support and facilitate my students based on the best evidence available, ultimately I have to trust each individual learner to find their own way - and even to make their own mistakes - in the process of learning.

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