Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Professional Identities - analysing the data

The values held by future health and social care professionals are something about which we should all care deeply. We may one day be very grateful if we or our partners, parents, or children find ourselves in the hands of people who have a keen sense of social justice and a compassionate nature.

Values are certainly at the heart of current  NHS quality improvement programmes  - see this interesting project involving "values based interviewing": The Health Foundation.

When I started on the Photopeach project I had some preconceptions about the sort of values our health and social care students would portray in their videos.... even after assessing them, I tended to have the impression that the number of different categories of values was very few and had been often repeated. If pressed I would have said Respect, Dignity, Caring would come out on top as key values (as ones we had actually discussed in class). Respect did indeed come joint top (along with with tolerance) but second was valuing the uniqueness of the individual.

Half way through the analysis of the videos, I have been surprised at the diversity of values, skills, professional attitudes and knowledge that the students have selected.

There are over 70 individual values mentioned and I have grouped these into five main categories: Social Justice, Personal Qualities, Professional Skills, Teamwork and Management, and the Desired state of the Service User.

Under Social Justice, such issues as anti-discriminatory practice, promotion of human rights, liberation from oppression and promoting the service user's voice are prominent (this category actually comes top with 47 mentions) whilst the desired state of the service user (comfort, happiness, dignity, independence etc) gets 30 mentions. Leadership and Teamwork gets 22 mentions (fulfilling goals, multidisciplinary working, accountability, leadership, co-ordination etc) which given that the module is called Leading Teams is unsurprising (in fact I'd have been disappointed if these had not materialised).

The two biggest categories (most values mentioned) are Personal Qualities and Professional Skills.
Qualities include attitudes such as altruism, compassion, responsibility and sensitivity, which I would have expected. Surprises included creativity, optimism, honesty and loyalty.

The inclusion of these values or qualities leads me to conclude that students had given this exercise quite a bit of thought and were not simply replicating what they could find on the NHS or SCIE websites that we looked at.

Professional Skills included safeguarding, problem-solving, being an advocate, ethical and reflective practice and managing relationships with service users. Confidentiality was actually the most mentioned attitude in this category.

I guess this demonstrates on one level that we have been doing something right as teachers for the past three years if our soon-to-be graduates are able to articulate these values and qualities so clearly. I think though it also highlights the type of student who comes on the course. I did the exact same exercise with first year students just a few weeks into their studies and the results are not a million miles away from these - a little less diverse perhaps but certainly demonstrating that students come on to the course already espousing beliefs in social justice and the importance of respect and dignity in the care of vulnerable people.

This in turn reflects the diversity of our student body - one third of our incoming students are over 21, 20% over 25. A number of these have already worked in the care sector. Around 10% of our students originate from outside Europe - some of these are refugees. Over half have not come to University straight from school but through a mixture of FE/access routes. We don't have the exact figures but I know anecdotally that a good number of our students are carers already - for children, parents and other family members - or themselves have a disability or chronic illness.

Concern for social justice and compassion appear to be well formed in our students even before they arrive. Developing knowledge of the subject area, engagement with the sociological and philosophical arguments presented on the course  - and of course, work experience - do the rest. Its good to know we'll be safe in their hands.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Aim higher?

So my final year group are currently planning their student led learning activities. I am enjoying the process of negotiating with them about their topics - ensuring a good spread so that the curriculum is covered but allowing for personal preferences and interests to direct the process.

Yesterday I tried out a new approach to developing the assessment criteria for the presentations - by getting them to contribute to writing them. I have toyed with doing this for some time but been put off by the complexity - especially when working with a large group.

Here's what I did. In preparation I created a blank spreadsheet listing the learning outcomes for the module and suggesting four key areas that might be relevant for this assignment: communication and IT skills; research; Academic Skills (such as referencing) and collaborative teamwork.

On the spreadsheet I gave them the core descriptors for each grade band (as prescribed by the University) to indicate the spread from Exceptional First to Fail.

Then, in small groups they worked to come up with descriptors for specified outcomes at specified levels:  Communication Skills - First and Fail;  Academic skills: 2:1 and 3rd etc

At the end of the exercise I collected in their descriptors and used these to construct the finished assessment feedback sheet.

In truth this wasn't radically different from grading matrices used elsewhere on the course (which is good because it demonstrates that they have engaged with those!). Most interesting was the discussions we had on differentiating between a 2:1 and a first: most tend to think that if they tick the boxes then they should get a first whereas the assessment model used in this University would say that a first is beyond what would normally be expected. This is a useful point to try and get across, especially for final year students who are hoping for those important higher degree classifications, and this is perhaps a good time to be reminding them of the standards for the level to which they aspire.

Peer evaluation is also built into the process and the next phase will be to work with the students on designing an evaluation questionnaire which they will distribute following their sessions.The final step is to use the assessment criteria to create a self-evaluation of their own work.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Professional Values: the video(s)

Photo: Sarah Metherell http://photopeach.com/album/d59yl3

I have taken a new approach to my final year module (Leading Teams) this year. For the past 4 years that I have taught it, I have used a project based approach which has multiple facets.

First the students must work in teams of 6-8 students to develop a digital artefact (a website or wiki most often) which has as it's theme the leadership characteristics of the protagonists in a popular film. Over the years the students have analysed Avatar, The Lion King (twice), Toy Story (so many times I had to ban it last year), Twelve Angry Men, and even Matilda.

Theoretical underpinnings for the artefacts are generally drawn from lecture material I produce, seminar discussions and of course text books and articles highlighted in the module reading list. However, a great deal is based on the independent research that the students carry out themselves.

The artefacts produced have ranged in levels of sophistication but generally there has been enough complexity in the task to ensure that all group members get to use their individual talents: some taking on the "techy" roles, others researching or writing, and some surprising themselves as they have emerged as leaders through the process. The students' own reflections on these projects (part 2 of the task) have been an eye opener for them as much as for me.

Student feedback over the years indicates that, increasingly, the students find this less and less challenging technically - and intellectually - so this year the assessment will be based on student-led learning activities. Groups of 5 or 6 have been formed and each has selected a topic which they are going to teach to their fellow students. Apart from two mini lectures introducing the module themes, my input has been minimal. My lecture material and the references are available, but the emphasis is on student-directed research. When students do the teaching  is a short and helpful post about peer to peer teaching (with a great student-produced maths video!).

A more academic discussion of the approach can be found here: David Boud , Ruth Cohen & Jane Sampson (1999) Peer Learning and Assessment, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24:4, 413-426,

As a warm up exercise this year, I gave the students the task of creating short slide show videos - using Photopeach - on the values of a health and social care professional (as I have for the first year students see: Reflection on Professional Identity). The purpose of this was to prepare them to a) learn how to source copyright free images b) create impactful presentations using few words and strong images c) articulate their own values in relation to potential career options on graduating. (This final point relates to the part of the module that looks at career planning and job applications).

All groups approached the task with commitment and there have been some outstanding results.

Here are some of my favourites:

Health and Social Care Values (created with students' own photos)

Social Work


The difference we wish to make 

Why we chose this course..

(with thanks to Gemma Tur Ferrer for the original idea!)

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Digital by design

The first two weeks of term have flown by already and the digital story telling project is underway. Using Photopeach to create a simple video with music and captions, the students are busy creating a digital essay on "professional values".

Last year I spent a lot of time explaining the importance of digital skills to my students and pointedly taking them step by step through a number of tools and processes. This year I am adopting a more immersive approach.

In the process of creating this digital essay, students are indirectly learning a number of other skills  - from searching for, downloading, saving and uploading images, to understanding Creative Commons licenses and avoiding copyright restrictions. They also learn how to: access and edit Google Docs to enrol themselves in project groups, share ideas on Discussion Boards, familiarise themselves with the Mac keyboard layout and touch pad gestures, create and save office documents and send them as attachments to emails, take a photo of their whiteboards and upload these to the Facebook group page etc.

We sometimes blithely assume that most students can easily tackle all of these processes, but I have spent a lot of time in the workshops sitting alongside some as they struggle with these tasks, often for the first time.

And let's not forget the really fundamental skill of learning to work together in groups - something that is fraught with anxiety for most students. Even if, as in the case of this project, groups are self selecting and based on early friendship alliances, there are still some students who find it hard to easily fit in a group and, once there, understand how they could or should contribute.

The positive thing for me about the Scale Up workshop is the space it gives me to move around the groups, checking on progress as needed - especially now that I have a two hour workshop with fewer students (well, there are still scheduled to be 60-70 in each workshop, so "smaller" is relative!)

For the first three weeks I also have the luxury of a co-tutor which really helps when students are asking for support on technical issues. 

Well.... so far, so good. I can't wait to see the outputs from this first assignment and to follow up with students on how they see their progress in developing their digital skills.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Refection on professional identity

The first assignment I am planning for the new intake of students is going to be a digital reflection on professional identity. This is based on work that Gemma Tur Ferrar has been doing in Ibiza with first year primary school teachers which we have been discussing over the summer. As well as analysing the work of her students over the last couple of years, we are planning - together with Victoria Marin - to run the same activities with our respective cohorts and compare outcomes. Victoria and Gemma's students are all trainee primary school teachers and are Catalan speakers, mine are health and social care students and English speakers. Victoria and I have very large seminar groups (70 -80 in each) whilst Gemma's is much smaller. We hope to consider differences in class size and technical (digital) skills; the influence of language and culture and the different emphasis that health and social care and educational values might place on different aspects of professional identity.

To kick start the process with my students I have decided to give them as an example the work of one group from Gemma's class (in Catalan with translation - courtesy of Google translate -  below):

“The teachers we want to be…..
Because the text book is already outdated
… and rows of desks also,
a new day dawns in education.
There are many ways of learning
and many situations in which to learn
incorporating new technology,
valuing diversity,
promoting respect for the environment.
Continually developing ourselves,
we are committed to developing people for the 21st century”.

I like the idea of sharing the work of students from different cultures - internationalising the curriculum is big on all our agendas at the moment but language can create barriers. It would be great if we could find more ways of using technology to overcome them..... now there's a challenge!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Reflecting on reflection

Moon,(1999) Map of Learning

An interesting by-product of the international virtual collaboration project is that it is really making me focus much more closely on the subject of reflection in learning and professional development. Indeed that is the title of a really great book by Jenny Moon which has been the inspiration for my redesign of my study skills module .

The aim of the assessment in my module is to enhance students' reflective skills - and, along the way, their digital skills - by asking them to develop (part 1) digital artefacts which reflect their thoughts and feelings about their future careers and (part 2) tell the story of their learning journey through their first transitional year as "becoming" professionals.

I have been ruminating on the precise tools to be used in this first exercise - Gemma has used Photopeach  over the past couple of years (you can view some lovely examples - in Catalan - on Gemma's blog), I rather favoured Padlet, Thinglink or Pinterest (thinking about platforms for curating links), whilst Victoria was inclined to give her students free rein to choose.

This weekend I have been involved in analysing the levels of reflection in the Photopeach artefacts produced by Gemma's students (relying on Google Translate where my rudimentary Catalan failed me!!) and as a result have become rather more enamoured of it. The combination of images and music in a gently flowing slideshow give the artefacts a romantic and filmic quality that conveys, and invokes, powerful emotions. For an exercise that requires students to make a statement about values, ethics and aspirations, this seems highly appropriate.

There are lots of opportunites in higher education courses for students to present verbally and in writing but few where we ask them to engage at an emotional level. For students entering into the "people professions", developing their emotional intelligence is crucial. The use of imagination, creativity and imagery involves making manifest some aspects of knowing that are not fully conscious but which are felt at a bodily level (Collier, 2010). Hence the combination of music and images, together with inspirational quotations, powerful value statements and expressions of desire, has a powerful emotional impact on the viewer.

Another aspect of importance for me is that I have asked students on many occasions to write a reflective account of their learning as a short essay and often been disappointed to read rather impersonal, imitative (if not actually plagiarised) accounts, focussed on what has been taught rather than a personal learning experience. The best of the Photopeach video essays I viewed this weekend were each uniquely individual and referred to theory only where it had been inspiring and transformational for the student. 

On the other hand, these first artefacts were not deeply reflective, but that was not surprising.
According to Moon's Map of Learning there are five stages of learning:

Noticing – acquisition and organisation of data; filtered through previous learning/experience and motivated by the perceived purpose of the learning Making Sense – a process of growing awareness of the coherency of the material – organizing and ordering the material Making Meaning – the new material is assimilated and allows a deeper understanding of the discipline; material is well linked together and there is evidence of a holistic understanding of the subject Working With Meaning – linked to higher levels of reflection, summarising themes, critical analysis, marshalling an argument Transformative Learning – self motivated learning, learning that is reorganised and restructured by the learner in a creative way; evidence of change in the learner of which the learner themselves is cognizant. Learning about learning.

The last two stages need further reflection on the intitial stages/outcomes of learning in order to materialise - which provides the link between part 1 (the first, tentative exploration of values and aspirations) and part 2 of the assessment: the final digital story which pulls together the learning experience across the entire semester or academic year.

Finally, Moon suggests that students need a clear sense of the purpose of their reflections, require a degree of scaffolding (which the two part assessment provides) and a specific rubric to help them understand what is required of them. The work I have been doing in analysing the Catalan artefacts has really helped me to develop my module's structure and learning activities to ensure these factors are all included.


Collier, K. 2010, 'Re-imagining reflection: creating a theatrical space for the imagination in productive reflection' in H.Bradbury, N.Frost, S.Kilminster, M.Zukas (eds), Beyond Reflective Practice, Routledge, London and New York, pp. 145-154.

Moon, JE (1999) Reflection in Learning and Professional Practice, Routledge, Oxford

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

21st century skills: virtual collaboration

I recently started - but regretfully did not manage to finish - an interesting MOOC on the teaching and assessment of 21st century skills. The main focus was the teaching and evaluation of collaborative problem solving skills and case studies were drawn from an online, transglobal exercise in which the participants could chat with, but not see, one another whilst completing tasks of varying complexity. (Well, that's as much as I recall - apologies if I am misrepresenting the MOOC).

Anyway, yesterday I embarked on stage 2 of my international research collaboration project with Gemma and a third colleague, Victoria, which reminded me of the MOOC and caused me to reflect on the skills of collaboration once more. We were Skyping (without benefit of video) between the UK, Finland and Spain with frequent drops in the signal, occasional problems of translation between Catalan and English, and using Google Docs to capture ideas and action points. Clarifying meaning and intention was a key part of the discussion as we were each of us bringing a degree of knowledge about some, but not all, aspects of the project and experiences that varied in terms of our teaching and research backgrounds.

The MOOC I briefly sampled is now closed, but the assessment framework can be found here as a PDF and it provides a useful guide to the functioning of online collaborative partnerships. What I found interesting in our discussions yesterday was the need - and our willingness - to clarify misunderstandings and arrive at shared definitions of our "problem" and how we plan to tackle it. At times it was a case of groping in the dark - which reminded me of a great book about virtual teams I read many years ago and a training exercise it described where a team is sent blindfolded into a room to erect a tent!

I feel quite excited about the collaborative project. The subject matter interests me and fits perfectly with my teaching - indeed, starting on this project has already caused me to redesign the teaching and assessment for my module (and hopefully thereby improving it too). On a personal and professional level I am motivated to do the work in a way I never have been when contemplating starting on a research project of my own, which leads me to think that support and mentoring through the process is what has always been missing for me. Furthermore, collaborating with people who work in different institutions, different countries even, and in different disciplines from my own, is both liberating (I feel more free to make mistakes and admit my shortcomings than I might do with a close colleague) and challenging - the difference of perspective forces me to look at the subject matter in a new light.

Well, one of the principal focii of our project is reflection so here I am reflecting on the way we are working together - telling the story as it unfolds, recording my feelings about the process, making links with my previous experience and setting out my hopes for the future. I have already discovered a surprising new thing about myself from this exercise - I like being part of a team! and I feel a genuine synergy emerging from our combined efforts. This is perhaps a rather shameful realisation for someone who teaches team dynamics and indeed has mainly, over a 30 year career, been employed in the position of team leader. But maybe it simply reflects the perennial difficulty of finding exactly the right combination of people, with exactly the right collaborative skills, to make team work really work.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

#uogapt Classroom design, technology and learning: pecha kucha


Shaping how we teach: The Connected and Open Classroom from Jane Challinor

Creating a pecha kucha took about 4 times as long as a conventional 30 minute presentation. I don't think I want to ever do it again. Plays in to my quest for perfectionism even more than creating a Prezi and I am dreading the actual delivery in breathless 20 second bursts. Or maybe it's just presenting full stop that I wish to avoid? I am though looking forward to visiting Greenwich and the conference itself.

A digital self portrait

I recieved a message last night via the ALT members email list which communicated a really infectious sense of excitement about using Padlet as a"canvas" to create a beautiful, visual collection of links, images and ideas. (thanks Daniel Scott!)

Intrigued, I decided to give it a go. I have used Padlet before for class discussions and feedback but I hadn't previously seen its potential as a digital storytelling platform.

I had been considering Thinglink for the collaborative project I blogged about recently but for some reason was holding back from fully exploring that platform. I think I was looking for something far more visually engaging - ideally a cross between Thinglink and Pinterst maybe? Using Padlet in the way Daniel has does the job perfectly! What do you think? (view full size)


Friday, 20 June 2014

Facing Up to University II

Reflection and digital storytelling - an international collaboration

During a recent holiday to Ibiza I met up with a friend, Gemma Tur, for montaditos, beers and a bit of a brainstorm about a collaborative project.

We found common ground in an idea to have our respective students working on a digital storytelling project with the aim being to compare their experiences of, and learning from, the process.

Gemma's students are trainee primary school teachers whilst mine are budding health and social care workers. Our plan has two stages: at the start of the course to have the students produce a reflection on what it means to be a professional, what are their professional values and their hopes about their future career. Gemma has previously done a similar exercise with her current students. (See her blog) We hope to use something fairly simple like ThingLink to get them started. (An idea I picked up from Linda Casteñada when I visited her class in Murcia).

Stage Two will be at the end of the module where a more comprehensive multi media artefact will be created to reflect on learning from across their studies as part of a portfolio assessment.

To get us started I have been doing some reading around the subject of digital storytelling and the value of reflection - Jenny Moon's book has been particularly helpful: Jennifer A Moon  1999 (2004) Reflection in Learning and Professional Development -Theory and Practice;  as has Alterio and McDrury (2002) Learning Through Storytelling in Higher Education.

I've also been thinking about the whole issue of representation - why is is useful to use symbols to represent words/thoughts? How does this aid reflection and creativity?

Creative insights often occur by making unusual connections: seeing analogies between ideas that have not previously been related. All of our existing ideas have creative possibilities. Creative insights occur when they are combined in unexpected ways or applied to questions or issues with which they are not normally associated.....thinking on several planes at once.  
  Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds 2011

And are there useful ways in which we can talk about this as a way of learning?
An interesting video about researching this subject can be found on the Digiexplanations site (although this deals mainly with science subjects it still has a lot of relevant points to make.

I'll blog more on this topic as the project takes shape....

Friday, 6 June 2014


Some thinking I have been doing in advance of the APT conference in July "Connected Learning in an Open World".......

What makes a classroom connected and open and how do these factors change the behaviours of both teacher AND student?

For me openness has many facets. It's about being open to change, open to student centred strategies, open to students taking over the content and design, going beyond the closed environment of the traditional classroom to encompass the wider world and even encroaching on the students' and the teachers' private space and time.

Connected can mean a classroom that is connected to the internet, but also means students being connected to one another - working together to solve a problem, both in the classroom and beyond it. Connected too to the teacher in new ways - through social networks as well as email or face to face in classroom time and tutorials.

Once you start to change the teaching environment you change the way learning happens. Until very recently the traditional classroom had not changed its appearance in over a century and our traditional expectations of student behaviours match this environment - students who are attentive, facing forward, sitting in rows and following instructions. Teachers who are standing, speaking and directing. In the connected and open classroom, these boundaries, like the boundaries between classroom time and personal time, teaching space and social space, start to be eroded.

Clearly things are changing and the typical classroom is being disrupted technology. This is a visualisation submitted by a masters student at the University of the Balearic Islands in Ibiza on the impact of ITC in the classroom. This is a great video, exemplifying the notion of connectedness and openness on so many levels: the student uses You Tube to submit his assignment and he adopts a meme - the Harlem Shake - which itself symbolises both collaboration and disruption.

So yes, we think of BOYD, wifi,  technology in the classroom, the internet, flipped approaches etc, as being the disruptive elements that bring about connectedness and openness, but there's something else that makes a difference - and again we saw it in the video: seating arrangements.

In the US there has been developing a movement? known as Scale Up which is changing the shape of classrooms. There are some variations but essentially the space is dominated by large round tables seating 9 students in 3 groups of 3. Round tables are especially important because they enable the student to look at other students and not at the teacher, symbolising a less teacher dependent and more collaborative way of working.

This has an impact on how we structure teaching sessions: to make full use of this new type of space, it is necessary to rethink the curriculum and the pedagogy. As an example - when I first started to teach this module it was known as Study Skills. Students completed their main assignment by visiting the library and finding and photocopying three journal articles about a particular group of users of health or social care services, they wrote a short precis of the three articles and submitted an individual hard copy (this is just 4 years ago). Now the module is known as Research and Professional Practice: students work collaboratively in groups to research a particular group of users of services, but this time using electornic databases, websites and social media as their sources. They submit their final projects using an internet based platform such as Pinterest or Tumblr. The curriculum focus on digital citizenship and skills and instead of lectures and seminars, there are active workshops where over 100 students come together to learn, work and create.

I'd love to be able to tell you that this module is a big success and that all the students are over the moon about the new classroom . They are not. They sometimes find it hard to see the relevance of what they are doing to a career in health and social care. They find the classroom noisy and unfocussed. They find the tasks too demanding - or not demanding enough. Attendance has not improved. Grades have not improved. The workshops and the planning that goes in to them are exhausting for the teaching staff too. But we are doing something difficult here, running just one module in this way - sowing the seeds of change - in a first year that is delivered 80% traditionally - 1 lecture/1 seminar. I like what Dewey said about the familiar....
Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds something like affection. We get used to the chains we wear, and we miss them when removed. ~ John Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum (1902)
First year students in particular like and expect the traditional lecture and seminar format - they feel this is where and how they actually learn something. Freeing them from their familiar chains is going to take time.

SCALE UP stands for Student Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside down Pedagogies - essentially the flipped classroom approach is used with students studying learning materials at home and coming to class to participate in activities which demonstrate the theory.

In Scale UP US style - which actually originally focussed on Undergraduate Physics - students are tested, ranked and then assigned to mixed ability groups for the activities and group assignments. Each student in the three-member group also has a secific role - which alternates each week. These are generally the recorder or note taker, the investigator/experimenter and the sceptic or questioner who challenges the group's assumptions.

My institution in the past 12 months have adopted the Scale Up methodoloy and I volunteered to be one of the "early adopters" for my first year module in Study Skills.

My own classroom looks superficially like the MIT set up, but with considerably less space, which does cause some problems of noise and restricted movement. I also don't test students and place them in mixed ability groups. However, my students are provided with Mac Books. This is also a feature of more recent iterations of Scale Up, the group of three students share one lap top so that the emphasis is on shared learning and collaboration.

This contrasts with the way I used to teach the "techie" bits of my module - that is, as distinct topics, in one off sessions in a computer lab, where each student had their own pc and where their focus was still predominantly on following what the teacher was doing.

So in the Scale Up classroom, round tables are helping to provide more connectedness. Another important aspect is the wifi - which in this classroom is generally reliable and fast. This allows the students to turn their faces even further away from the teacher, and makes the classroom walls even more permeable or open to the outside world.

In my module I see this having an impact on two levels: firstly by enhancing the independent learning of the students - i.e by encouraging them to find their own answers ("Google It!!"). Secondly by supporting them to develop "digital competencies" - using effective search strategies, evaluating what they find on line, bookmarking and storing information safely, presenting information in innovative ways, using social media appropriately and developing an online identity that is congruent with their future roles as health and social care professionals.

Having a connected and open classroom has changed the form of the assessment. Last year it was classroom tests and essays about the value of social media in education. This year its a presentation of their research using social media - both as the source of information and as a presentation platform (e.g a Pinterest board about homelessness; a Tumblr blog about fostering and adoption).

So now, a funny story that almost completely undermines everything I have been saying about classroom design. In April I went to the University of Murcia on an Erasmus exchange to witness for myself some really advanced work in the use of TEL. My hosts in the Faculty of Education have an international reputation in this field.

Due to some losses in translation, I was expecting an open and connected classroom not unlike my own. I had been asked to conduct an interactive workshop on using social media for research (Pinterest) for a group of teachers in training on a module which focuses on the use of ITC in the classroom. What I found was a traditional raked lecture theatre, students who brought in a variety of devices of their own and, on that particular day - no wifi. After an initial panic, the students simply downloaded the phone app and did the exercise that way, sharing information with one another until each group was able to get on line and start on their pinboards. The teachers didn't intervene or help in any way (to be honest I had forgotten 3G and phone apps in my panic and dismay at everything going wrong). This is part of the ethos in the team that runs this programme. They told me that they used to give quite a lot of instruction to students about platforms and tools they could use; now that support is minimal. The students complain and get distressed that they can't manage these new ways of working without teacher input, but gradually they go away and get on with it. And they are proud of their achievements.

At the end of the day this is not really about technology, it is about decreasing students' dependence on the teacher as the fount of all wisdom and coming to view themselves as thinkers, creators and teachers.

So, the moral of the story is that what really makes for a great pedagogy in the open and connected classroom is not the technology, not the tables, not the wifi, not even the flipped classroom. What is most important here is TRUST - of the teacher in the student and of the student in himself.

As I reflect on my experiences home and abroad over the last year, and look forward to the reshaping of the curriculum for the next one, it is this notion of trust that I am going to try and embed into my plans. Trust isn't the same as blind faith. I know things will go wrong, but I also know that there will be something to learn. So I guess I'm going to have to trust myself on that too.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Erasmus reflections: the view from home

The old campus of  Universidad de Murcia
So - now I'm home, the bags are unpacked and I have filled in my official report for the Erasmus scheme.

It is important now to reflect on what has been the value of the exchange and what do I think will change as a result of it?

Firstly for me, the immersion in a new environment, a different culture and with the opportunity to speak and listen daily in the language I am studying has been invaluable. This is a tiring process but the rapid development of fluency and vocabulary is amazing - and it is something that just doesn't happen in a normal holiday experience, especially if you go with another English speaker, as you simply don't need to speak as much when you are pretty much a self contained unit. Travelling alone brings different challenges and working rather than just being a tourist requires a more sophisticated vocabulary altogether.

In terms of personal learning about education, this has many levels. I saw at first hand the impact of democratic processes in the appointment of senior managers - something which doesn't happen in my university. It is interesting to compare the different educational systems (UK and Spain) - the growth of private universities for example. And student experiences differ, with many young people often choosing to continue living at home whilst studying.

I was very careful in my choice of university to visit. I had a specific interest in technology enhanced learning and the University of Murcia is fortunate in having a reknowned Innovation Unit and reknowned innovation leaders in Mari Paz Prendes Espinosa and Linda Casteñada. In particular being able to work with Linda and Maria Mar Sánchez in their classrooms taught me a huge amount about trusting the students to find their way with technology and about the value of setting creative challenges.

Delivering a workshop for the bilingual student teachers was a personal challenge. My delivery and design was not really very much different from what I would have done for my own class, but the room set up and available technology presented another sort of challenge - and performing in front of an unfamilar audience (and such a great teacher as Linda) did make me a little nervous. But I can at least now add international teaching to my CV!

The links forged with the University of Murcia have the potential to be of great mutual benefit. I hope on a personal level to continue having contact with the Innovation team in order to collaborate on projects - and to undertake a language exchange with Marimar Roman with regular Skype calls or Hangouts.

I am also hopeful that there could be student and other staff exchanges in the Social Work discipline as a result of contacts I made there - and with luck I'll be going back!

Getting the basics right: Atica, the LMS and to mooc or not to mooc

Thursday's first meeting was with the team at ATICA - the ITC support team who manage the LMS.
The virtual learning environment at UM runs on an open source platform developed in collaboration with US and UK universities which has all the usual accoutrements. The design is different from the ones I have used but essentially the functions are the same. One thing that stood out for me was the clear and simple links between the VLE and the university's system for recording student grades.
The Team also demonstrated a collaborative platform for staff - open to any academic to store documents, create discussions etc. This functions as a shared space to develop research.
In the maths faculty I was introduced to the Dean who has long been a champion of TEL. We discussed a student social network site that has been developed exclusively for the use of students in the faculty to share work, documents and links, ask questions and make comments. It is moderated by a non faculty member of the ITC support team, but otherwise there is no other interference.
We also discussed Universidad de Murcia's engagement in MOOCs. Having been a pioneer in its first year of running these, he is now asking what is the point of the MOOC? Unless there is clear rationale for putting a course into this format, and unless the academic involved is given some recompense for time and effort, this is an inevitable question, and one which all universities really do need to be asking themselves.
My penultimate day in Murcia ended with a visit to a salsa club with Marimar to experience a little hands on social learning! 
Today a meeting other UK teachers from Southampton (Sue White and Hugh Davis) and the Universidad De Murcia team sharing the work of each university'sTEL work - including this interesting slide from Hugh which shows the drop out/participation rate of MOOCs. One answer Southampton have found to "what's the point" is to embed the MOOC within a course for paying students. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Day 3 - el dia de monstruos! #mmtic1

Today I attended a class of trainee infant school teachers. This was the day they were presenting their finished group projects - animated videos about "monsters" to be shown to infant school children. They have had some basic introduction to the necessary tools - like audacity and movie maker - but after that they were on their own. The results were colourful, quirky and exceptionally accomplished stop motion animation with handmade clay figures or pencil drawings. In a discussion with the teacher, Malle, after the class, she echoed something that Linda had said to me the day before: that having started out giving very detailed instruction on the use of technology to their students, both teachers had come to the realisation that students learnt more when given very little information about the tools. Instead the teacher indicates a couple of likely platforms that might be helpful, then leaves them to it, simply offering to be on hand if needed. Initially the students complain and despair but gradually they accept the situation and eventually embrace the technology and adapt it creatively to their purposes.

Over lunch I discussed with Linda the need for teachers to occasionally not know, to be fallible and to look foolish in front of their students. Linda and Malle are both willing to put themselves in this uncomfortable place and this is what I feel inspires their students to "have a go" at new and scary things. In their turn, as infant teachers, they are modelling to their pupils how to learn - through trial and error - and how to live with the anxiety that process invokes.

The monster videos had a common theme of overcoming fears, feeling fallible and succeeding with the support of others. This is very much what I see happening in the classrooms this week!

I have been facing monsters of my own all week too. Being here at a strange university is one thing, but being here alone and not being a native Spanish speaker is quite another. Every evening has been a challenge for me, finding my way around Murcia, discovering places to eat, negotiating menus.

During the day, in between classes, there have been meetings which bring challenges of their own as I struggle to keep up in a different language, my brain simply becoming exhausted after the first couple of hours, but always I feel supported by the patience of the people around me, their willingness to help and their tolerance of my mistakes. Today I had a meeting with the Unidad de Innovación - the Innovation Unit of the University. Just that name is magical! and what they do - supporting the teaching staff to become creative with technology, even undertaking support roles in the University's MOOCs - is really transforming how teaching is done here. Without the support of such a team,to help them overcome their fears, to give them the time and the tools with which to innovate, it is very difficult to persuade the average university lecturer to change their approach to teaching and learning. Each year the unit puts out a call for bids to propose new projects and that forms the basis of their programme of work. Up to 80 new projects are being supported at any one time.

I have to add - as a final irony - that the wifi continues to be the biggest challenge of all for me. Whether it is sitting propped against the bathroom door in my hotel as I constantly refresh my log in details or the painfully slow signal in my temporary office at the University, I have been beset by techno gremlins all week.

Finally - today has been a big day at the University as all the staff and students voted in their new Rector and a new team of Vice Rectors (the equivalent in UK of Vice Chancellor and proVice Chancellors). The democratic process has much about it that is to be admired but the campaigns are also deeply political and divisive and changes to the current management may mean the end of innovation, the end of mobile learning and even the end of wifi here at the University. For some parties, it seems, teaching with technology is the scariest monster of all!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Day 2: teaching with technology? y gracias a #rict1314

Its great to see that some things about teaching are the same the world over. And it is fascinating when you see the differences.
As the class started at 12 I was expecting to arrive a few minutes early to set up my presentation and generally get ready. No. This being Spain, I meet with Linda around 12, we wander over to the classroom block, and the class starts "eventually". This in my university would be a major crime against timetabling and students would be on their feet demanding their £9000 back (those that had turned up anyway).
Unlike my own big, flat, Scale up room filled with big round tables and macs, this is a traditional raked lecture theatre and students bring their own devices.  They do manage during the group work section to organise themselves in huddles but I am suddenly very appreciative of my usual teaching space.
The students designated  to introduce me do so using Pearltrees. The photos are the nice ones I have posted recently (and none pre-diet, thank goodness! ) They have discovered that I hail originally from Oldham and got my degree at the University of Leeds. Phew - nothing too embarrassing there. Disturbingly however, they mention a couple of recent Facebook posts about Murcia, reminding me that I really need to check my privacy settings - again.
At the end of the class the students ask a few questions about project based learning and applaud as I finish answering them. This kind of treatment could go to my head, but I think this spontaneous show of appreciation had more to do with the fact that it was nearly 2 and there was a chance of breaking early for lunch. (I still can't get used to the idea that 2pm is an early lunch!)
I gave the class in English - which is the norm for this bilingual group - and normal of course for me, but what is different is that this group of students chose to have their course delivered in English rather than castellano, to enhance their learning!!
So much for the differences.
The similarities are equally fascinating: students chit chat at the back of the class, which is reassuring in a way as I always thought it was just me or my course where this was a problem. My colleague Linda deals with this much as I do, by inviting those students who don't wish to be there to go join their friends in the canteen.
As I grow in confidence I give the odd "ssshh" which works much better than it does back home.
The presentation goes well and I give them their task - to create a Pinterest board of their favourite educational tools, web pages and apps. And then the WiFi packs up!
Ah! This is just like a home from home!
Somehow we limp along: one or two manage to latch onto a signal, they download the app on to their phones and use that instead. One group takes over the teaching podium. Without a big screen and PC to be able to demonstrate now, I walk round the room checking on progress, answering questions as I can. When I don't have the answers, better things happen, as students make discoveries by themselves and I carry the messages about these discoveries from group to group or shout across the room inviting groups to make a direct connection.
The noise and the seeming chaos are just like my classes back home which is how I know something wonderful is happening. That and the links to the new Pinterest boards that are emailed and tweeted to me :)

At the end a few students come to ask questions about teaching with text boooks which I don't quite understand at first so we switch between castellano and english in an effort to improve our communication. It's all very exhilerating :)

All in all, despite the technical problems, I absolutely loved working with such an enagaged and engaging group of people - and I have asked Linda if I can stay here as her assistant!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Erasmus exchange - Universidad de Murcia

It's been almost a year in the planning - longer if I consider that I have wanted to make an Erasmus staff exchange visit for the past three years - but finally I am here.

Why did I want to do this?

Well - firstly as a student of the language, it was a goal to aim for: to feel sufficiently fluent to be comfortable working (largely) in castellano and to be able to get by on my own in a strange city.
After 10 years of studying, I finally feel ready for the challenge!

Secondly, I have been following various Spanish and spanish speaking "professors" on Twitter for a number of years and have an impression that there is a lot of great practice here in Spain that it would be good to see first hand.

Thirdly, and specific to Murcia, I formed a connection with Linda Casteñada some years ago when I attended the first PLE conference in Barcelona. She later helped me with one of my Spanish homework assignments by sending me a wonderful book she and her Head of Department - Maria Paz Prendes - had written about the University of Murcia's transition to a connected campus. What better place to come!

Finally, I know that Linda uses technology with her students and works with them to develop their Personal Learning Networks. Although she works with primary teachers in training rather than with social science students, as I do, I still thought this an ideal place to come and observe the similarities and the differences, to learn about some innovative good practice and generally have time to think about ways I could improve my own approach. And it's sunny!

So - Day 1: started off well being picked up by the lovely Maria del Mar in her impressive big white car in which I was whisked off to the palm tree lined campus at Espinardo. We were met by Linda and Manel Rives - the guest speaker for the first session - and what followed was a lot of kissing. Later I met the rest of Linda's team and her boss - and there was even more kissing! Well - because of the cultural differences I should say more accurately that there was a lot of fumbling as I first held out my hand, then realised that the two cheek kiss was the official protocol. I also learned, by the way, that loud "mwah" sounds are not de rigeur - in fact they might even be frowned upon - but I was much too embarrassed in my quaint English fashion to fully notice all the nuances of these exchanges.

Kissing over, I attended a really interesting workshop run by @manelrives  in which he explained the many great learning opportunities to be had through mobile apps - and then led a workshop in which Linda's students found some and explained to one another how they thought they could be used in the classroom. (at least, I think that was what was happening - my castellano was flagging after an hour!)

The one slightly worrying moment came at the start when Linda's students presented their guest speaker. They had been charged with exploring his online identity to find out as much as they could about him and put this, along with any photos they could find on the web, into a charming Powerpoint presentation. Oh dear! It's my turn in the morning. (Note: I really must Google myself tonight!)

The rest of the afternoon was spent in my new temporary office - with aircon and wifi I'd kill for in my "4 star" hotel in the centre of Murcia. Linda ran through the week's itinerary of meetings and social events (I'm even going dancing one night as Maria is also an avid salsera) and I prepared my workshop for tomorrow. It will be in English as this is a bilingual class and English is compulsory. As a bonus, the University has a publicly accessible swimming pool (thanks again to Maria for the investigations) and I shall explore that tomorrow after the class.

I finished the day walking over to the tram stop for a pleasant ride back into the centre of Murcia. As I walked down a shady tree lined boulevard back to my hotel, I really felt that this was living my dream! If an Erasmus exchange is about anything, it must be about a short, intense, immersive experience of a different culture and whilst I "know" Spain as a tourist and holidaymaker, being here as "prof" and student rolled into one is giving me exactly that.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

#digilit The experiment draws to a close

A year ago I was involved in two MOOCs - #oldsmooc and #octel - which helped me think about the redesign of my "traditional" study skills module to transform it into a more contemporary digital skills module. At the same time I volunteered to take part in a pilot of a Scale Up classroom environment. Just to add another variable to the mix, I also volunteered my module to be part of a Changing the Learning Landscape bid that the university was making to fund student mentors in classrooms

I have been blogging about this for the past year here on The Virtual Leader and also over on the module team blog Not To Scale

So now the great experiment is drawing to a close and the students have submitted their module evaluations.

There is much to learn from this. Designing a module to teach 21st century skills is one thing, designing it to be taught within a brand new teaching environment is another. The environment we teach in really does shape the how and the what of the curriculum. For this reason the changes made to the module were complex and complexity brings with it unintended consequences.

Some exciting and unlooked for outcomes for me are that a) more of the wider course team now want to teach in the Scale Up classroom b) there is general acceptance from the wider course team that digital literacy skills need to be embedded across the curriculum, so the module will likely disappear in 2015 and c) there is a lot of support within the team for greater use of student mentors in classrooms.

The last few weeks of the module have been particularly enjoyable as students have been working on their final group projects. My role has been much more that of a support for the groups and the classroom environment really lends itself well to this style of teaching. I feel the students and I are able to develop a relationship where I can see their progress and understanding and they understand the point of what we have been teaching them for the past 6 months!

I have now finished marking their final research projects and so it is possible to judge the extent to which digital literacy skills have been developed.

The first option they were given was to design a short research questionnaire using Survey Monkey or Google Forms. Option 2 was to use a platform such as pinterest or Tumblr to curate various resources relating to their particular research interests.

They also had to complete a worksheet in which they outlined the preparatory research they had carried out on their topic, reference their sources and discuss their design choices and any ethical issues.

I am generally very pleased with the majority of submissions which do demonstrate that they have managed to pick up the rudiments of Harvard referencing, can find their way around Google Drive and other web based tools and find articles, websites, ebooks and the like to support their work.

There is even the beginning of an understanding of research skills which, whilst many of the students don't see the point of them (according to their module feedback) we HE teachers will see as welcome news.

I will certainly be running at least one final iteration of this module. I have learned much about how to make bext use of the room, the technology and also what sort of assessment best aligns with the learning objectives for the module. Next year, project groups will be set up much earlier and there will be opportunities for formative feedback in Term 1, with the final project itself having more depth and breadth.

I will be sorry in one sense to see this module go altogether and will continue to be anxious about how well we can embed essential skills into the wider curriculum, but if that does begin to happen, the learning curve we have been through in the past few years will have been worthwhile.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Learning from my students - and a Twitter tale....

I am reviewing students' final reflective assignments at the moment (on the theme of team work) and I noticed a number of them referring to a specific model (http://www.team-diagnostics.com/the-model.php) which I had not seen before.

It is a really interesting model developed by Hackman and building on his earlier work on Team Effectiveness, which I do refer to in my module.

I assumed students had found this by googling the name Hackman, but I later realised that I had myself re-Tweeted a link to the model (without actually reading the article - as a "save for later" read) and simultaneously posted it on my LinkedIn feed.

I now realise that those students who used it are the same ones who follow me on Twitter and Linked In.

On a related note: as I have been marking, I have had a slight sense of irritation that so few of the resources I carefully curate at the start of the module ever actually end up in the students' reference lists - preferring as they do to google and use whatever popular business style websites pop up on top.

However, there are also some instances where they have managed to find articles that really add depth to the discussion and which I have found develop my understanding of the subject.

This lends weight to a) my intention next year to include NO RESOURCES WHATSOEVER on the module and let them research their own

and b) my belief that Twitter can be a useful tool to share this research in and around the module

In fact a completely Tweeted module sounds good to me!

(p.s this was my first attempt at embedding a free image from Getty images - now freely available for non commercial embedding: give it a go!)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

make a change.... #FutureEd

And so the MOOC about the History and future of Higher Education has come to an end. I have actually completed all the assignments, watched all the video lectures and read at least the core text - Now You See It - which was provided free of charge.

This has been a really stimulating course which, more than other MOOC I have dipped into, fully held my attention and taught me useful things that have impacted my thinking about my teaching practice.

Each week the topics of the videos - and the reading alongside - have caused me to stop and think about what I do and why I do it and further, have made me want to change what I do. Actually, to be more  specific the MOOC has given me the confidence to put into practice changes I have wanted to make but didn't feel I could. In particular - thinking about ways in which I could support students to build their own curriculum. This is what I think it means to make alliances with other change makers. If you are the only person who dreams of something different you may feel you don't have the strength to do it.

I have also been struck by the notion of proximity - and this has made me stop and look a little more closely at some of the great things that are going on in my own team - so I have come to see that we are most of us really trying to do something a little different, but perhaps not feeling fully confident to do it on a big scale just in case it doesn't work.

If you put these two ideas together - you get small communities of practice at the local level who have a dream to change things and can support one another to do just that.

Unfortunately there is always another side to the story. In sharing and in trying to do something different we leave ourselves exposed to criticism of the most unconstructive kind. I was really sad to note, in the closing forums of the MOOC,some really harsh comments about the leader, Cathy Davidson, as well as of Coursera and the very idea of a MOOC. Whilst I can understand and even sympathise with criticisms about the assessment process and the relevance of some of the activities, wanton "trolling" of someone who seems genuinely enthusiastic about sharing her expertise and experience for free seems rather churlish. Similarly, I know I come in for a lot of criticism for trying to do things differently in my teaching  - although less through open trolling (no conveniently shielding internet forum), more through the unsolicited offer of "feedback" that colleagues have "heard" from unhappy students and feel I ought to be "made aware of". The irony is that I would genuinely like feedback from colleagues interested enough to come and actually observe my classes - or even who want to talk to me about my objectives in doing what I do.

But despite these disappointments,  I have been inspired to share my practice more widely and to try to learn from those further afield. During this MOOC I have submitted two small presentation ideas for international conferences.

My aim is to go and meet people from different kinds of educational institutions in different countries both to talk about what I do and also to listen to them talk about what they do. One of the conferences was actually inviting presentations outlining a classroom project that maybe hadn't gone exactly as planned but which was providing some learning and new ideas for the future. How nice to be able to go and talk openly about "unlearning" - and learning from mistakes - rather than having to present the usual facade of expertise, knowing and perfect practice.

I will be making changes in my own classes as a result of this MOOC and as a result of just listening better to my students - and my colleagues. There is also a part of me now wanting to be part of making changes on a much wider scale, but of course as Lao Tzu said - a journey of a thousand miles begins right where you stand.

Monday, 3 March 2014

#FutureEd How we teach shapes what we teach

In last week's videos Cathy Davidson was discussing how teaching and learning is shaped by the technology we use. This seems very apt in the case of my classroom.

Typically, the seminar rooms we use in my institution are still set out in rows - facing front. Occasionally they are grouped together to facilitate group discussion but in rectangles which leave some students straining to join in a conversation. Scale Up is different in that it has provided us with round tables.

The very shape of the tables mean that students are facing each other and many have their backs to the tutor. This can be frustrating for tutors who still need/want to deliver content but is a real boon for student led learning.

A year ago, I "delivered" a session to first year students on designing a research question. I had a PowerPoint presentation and I spoke to them for about 40 minutes. Although I would have liked some interaction, a short exercise asking them to apply what I had just said to their own projects resulted in very little response.

A year on and I knew that the same style of delivery would be difficult in the Scale Up environment - not just because of seating arrangements, but because by now the students are used to getting on with group work and impatient of long presentations.

So this time I gave them a worksheet on which they were to write their tentative research question. The worksheet also contained a list of criteria by which the research question could be evaluated. The idea was to pass on their own question for another group to evaluate and then reflect on the feedback to help refine the final wording.

As they completed the exercise, I went round the groups challenging them and debating their questions and their feedback to one another. I could have done this exercise in this way a year ago but didn't. Working in this new environment has made me think differently about how I teach.

Is my teaching content different?
There is certainly less content as the focus of the sessions is on students researching on line and finding out for themselves. The other major innovation in the Scale Up classroom is the availability of wifi and laptops. So my teaching now is less about content and more about process, and as the year has progressed and the students have become familiar with the technology and the student directed format, there is in any case less teaching altogether.

Sessions  - like today's - can seem rather chaotic on the surface as students are all occupied on different tasks, producing their final projects. This is not so much perceived as chaos by the students - who are (facing away from the front and towards one another) conscious mainly of their own group's interactions - but by the teacher. I flit from group to group helping with technical queries about specific tools and websites or answering questions about the assessment process, witnessing the development of the groups' projects as I pass by.

So the shape of the room, the shape of the tables, shape the interaction between student and teacher and shape the how and the what of the teaching. I feel too that in this environment the students are also shaping how I teach. The room, the wifi, the tables, the access to the internet, give the students a power they didn't have (or couldn't access immediately or maybe legitimately) a year ago. Now I feel that somehow the power balance in the room is shifting as they start to determine the content, pace and process of their learning, relying on me for support the way they rely on Google. My teacher is an app?

So, is this scary? Fun?  A bit of both I guess. In one sense I feel I am losing control of the classroom and that what I am witnessing is just poor behaviour management on my part. On the other hand, I am back to my Rogerian Freedom-to-Learn roots as "one who creates the environment for engagement"

Now that is exciting!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

#FutureEd Learning from my students

OK -this isn't empirical research and it isn't statistically significant, but I had an encounter today with four students which stopped me in my tracks and caused me to rethink my approach to rethinking assessment.

Assessment is a big theme at the moment  - it was the focus of the FutureEd mooc last week, its a matter of debate on the course I teach on, it's also the theme of an assignment my daughter is writing for her PGCE.

I have been really interested in Cathy Davidson's discussion of assessment in her book Now You See It and that in itself has been causing me to rethink a module I teach and how the assessment can be made more pertinent to real skills needed in the workplace and in life.

At the same time I had a worry that assessment methods were becoming a little unbalanced in our first year of the course with quite a strong leaning towards group work at the expense of individual assignments.

Group work is notoriously difficult to assess and often unpopular with students who may feel they are a) doing more than their fair share of work to make up for the loafers and b) missing out on good grades because of poor quality input from others.

Concerns about the quality of students' writing and referencing in years 2 and 3 also caused me to think about introducing more individual, essay-type assessment in the first year in order to try and improve these skills.

But the group that came to see me today, to discuss a first year group assignment I have set, really sold me the idea of group work - particularly for first year students. These four students have worked together in every module requiring a group project and have got to know one another well. One of their number had not studied the subject in college so she was benefiting from the knowledge of the others in getting to grips with the course. Another had come from a completely different education system in a different country so he was also learning from his fellow students - on the other hand, he had years of practical experience working in mental health so he was contributing that. A third student had recently completed an access to HE course so was confident with referencing and research skills and was teaching her friends!

All in all it's a combination that works beautifully and through their working together they have become friends, feel really engaged with the course and have grown in confidence. I realise that other students may be having different - less positive - experiences but if group work can help students engage and learn together, and if they can reap such enhanced benefits from working together across more than one module,  this assessment strategy may actually be the best one we have come up with yet!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Un-learning pt 2 - #FutureEd #digilit

We are coming to the end of the main phase of my Leading Teams module. The group projects have been completed, the peer feedback uploaded, the self and tutor assement is done and I am just about to release the groups' grades.

The group projects are presented using an online tool - such as Blogger, Wordpress, Wix - and the groups have  a free choice of leader to focus on. Usually a film is selected and its main characters analysed against the main leadership theories and models. This year we had 3 Coach Carters (I banned Toy Story on the grounds that it had been done to death in previous years, I may have to subject Samuel Jackson to the same cruel fate). The Iron Lady and Twelve Angry Men cropped up again but new choices included Mean Girls, Robin Hood, Remember the Titans and The Shawshank Redemption. One group chose to focus on Lord Alan Sugar.

Each presentation is completely different from every other - colourful, interactive, full of images and even humour. Working in groups seems to make the students a little more adventurous and I get very few questions about format, style or even technical issues as they tend to find the support they need from one another.

Stage 2 is a personal reflective assignment, completed individually. At this point I get an endless stream of queries via email. This tends to make me doubt my ability to give clear guidance, so I try giving more in the form of FAQs, but that's not enough either. The levels of anxiety seem to be particularly high amongst the more able students. They find the idea of writing from a personal perspective very challenging and they want instruction about what theories to use, what structure to use, which headings to use.....

Left to their own devices some of these students seem to get lost - or as one put it in an email to me yesterday (and she wasn't intending this as a Good Thing): "this way of writing is so different, it's really making me think". .

Well, that was the idea! In fact I'd hope that by the end of three years at University, thinking would be something students would be really good at. But maybe all we have done is made them really good at passing assignments.

In the History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education MOOC, led by Cathy Davison of Duke University, we have been looking this week at the way education got made over using "scientific" methods to ensure it was able to turn farm hands into factory workers. I don't have a problem with employability as a goal for university education, just with the idea that students who don't know how to be creative, thinking indivduals are actually employable, especially as they are no longer very likely to find themselves working on the factory floor (or at least not in the UK).

This MOOC and Prof Davidson's book Now You See It, is really making me think (and I do mean that in a good way!) about how I teach and why I teach the way I do, what I believe about education and what makes me sad about it, and helping me to understand how we got to where we are in the current education system, and about maybe being part of changing it.

At the same time as I am pondering ways of getting my students to think for themselves, my daughter is training to be a primary school teacher where the aim seems to be to prevent that at all costs. Six year olds are being trained for their SATS tests by learning how to write "Experts say..." and "It is a well known fact that...." when beginning a factual sentence. Next week they will be experiencing aboriginal art by colouring in a pre-printed outline, in the colours specified by the teacher. They are not allowed to go to the toilet except in break times. A "My Favourite Story" theme week has been cancelled so the children can begin work on the text they have to memorise for their SATS test.

I could go on but I think you get the picture. There is much for students entering University to unlearn if they are to become successful, independent, life-long learners. There is also much for me to unlearn about teaching.

As a footnote, I should add that I feel really guilty about having jumped off the Rhizo14 MOOC to join FutureEd. I feel a little capricious - or maybe I'm just being rhizomatic afterall! What I do I know is that I felt totally out of my depth in the Rhizo14 Facebook group and that this Coursera MOOC has come along at exactly the right moment for me, with exactly the stuff I need to learn about.