Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Online resources designed for teaching development

Jane Tryrell and David Snell opened their presentation with a spotlight on teaching video, which featured teachers talking about how they feel students learn. They also shared a flyer, which comprise the online tools they have developed for staff at one Massey Campus.

The JISC publication that looks at Emerging practice in a digital age was used to highlight the question if there is a new paradigm for tertiary education. At Massey there is a new model of PD at Massey, which is a shift away from the generic workshop model. The new model looks to "fully exploit opportunities provided by new media and provides them with lifelong learning opportunities.

With this underpinning agenda there is a move to develop a range of different initiatives including formal f-2-f, formal online, informal f-2-f, and informal online.What was found was a shift from generic to customised, which can seem like a daunting job. Teaching issues tend to be similar across schools, and the 'solutions' are transferable between disciplines, and the shift in pedagogy applies to all.

A year ago the presenters were given a brief to develop a raft of online resources. The videos were to enable academic staff to access colleagues' philosophies, ideas and experiences. Selected Massey teaching staff were chosen to do this, although the process of identifying them were quite challenging. The aim of the content was to inspire, challenge preconceptions, motivate change, offer alternatives, and provide contacts and go-to people. The topics had to be genuine teaching and learning strategies in line with Massey expectations and desired outcomes. They also had to be demonstrable, specific acts of teaching that was linked to theory and practice.

The model is aligned with principles for sustainable change, which provides strong support at significant leadership levels.

Will try to find out if the resources are open and can be used by other institutions.

Twitter analytics in R...and using Twitter in teaching

For this presentation, Lyndon Walker started by asking the questions who uses Twitter (nearly everyone), and who uses Twitter in their teaching (not many). He then moved on to look at different ways Twitter can be used in teaching starting with 'transmission' (e.g. reminders that appear via Blackboard directly to a student's Twitter feed), and others such as class questioning, microblogging, interaction (such as debate and discussion), and sharing of social media links.

Learning analytics, Lyndon advised, is the application of statistical analysis to learning data to enhance learning. R is free (www.r-project.org), is widely used and is well supported.

One example that was presented were usage statistics, which is basically a tweet count by user, which can be shared back with the students in various forms to discuss what they felt was going on, and in a statistics class students could work with the raw data. Slightly more complex, are networks, which enable you to map followers across the world for example. Can be a conversation starter, and this can be complemented by network graphs (who is tweeting who for instance). A third example was sentiment analysis - in other words what students are tweeting. This can bring up emerging topics, concerns and ideas, and can be helped students to reflect on what they had set out to learn, but maybe got side-tracked.

Twitter has useful teaching applications, and the data can help learners engage with Twitter on a different level.

To be or not to be...student engagement?

Norm Vaughan was one of the key note speakers on the second day of the ASCILITE 2012 conference. The 3 Rs of engagement are relevance, rigour, and relationships (Dennis Littky, 2004 http://bigpicture.org). The student sense of wonder and inquiry are key to engagement, but with depth, and built around relationships and communities.

Optimal flow is the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus. Taken along side Daniel Pink's notions of autonomy, mastery and purpose, this can provide a powerful foundation for creating a series of instruments about what flow looks like. Social engagement, academic engagement and intellectual engagement are key - the move away from a sense of 'jumping through the hoops'.

Blended learning is the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches and technologies...and this is closely links to fundamental re-design. Blended learning in a weak sense is simply an additional layer to current teaching practices. Putting together various technologies, there are some great examples of the use of non-institutional social platforms, where the focus is on empowerment, collaboration and co-construction of knowledge.

Local mentors are paramount to support people on the ground when implementing blended learning to help address challenges. It is also about the networks that you develop. The five clusters to help shape blended learning are:

  • Active and collaborative learning,
  • student interactions with faculty members,
  • level of academic challenge,
  • enriching educational experiences 
  • supportive campus environment.
Workload (overwhelming), out of class time and inquiry based learning are linked to the least effective aspects of courses.

Blended learning using the guidelines that were introduced in this session, Norm advises, can provide the scaffolding that can support students in a move toward more autonomous  collaborative learning experience and skill-set.

ImageImage: 'February Dawnhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/16772638@N00/2262492872. Found on flickrcc.net

Using reward contingencies in online activities to facilitate engagement in a statistics class

This presentation was by Xochitl de la Piedad Garcia opened by introducing a definition for engagement which is the time, energy and resources that students devote to activities designed to enhance learning at university.

With statistics, the course and the knowledge-base is cumulative, so the question is how to facilitate students engagement in a first year statistics unit? Using behaviourism as a framework, the idea was to encourage those behaviours that was going to increase the likelihood of students developing specific bhaviours that are related to improved performance. The relationship is mediated by behavioural and emotional factors.

The aim was to use an online learning management system to deliver weekly online exercises to facilitate engagement in the unit, while also opening up opportunities for providing detailed feedback on performance so that students can track their progress and understanding. Two-hundred and thirty-two students enrolled and they had 10 weekly online exercises from week 3 to week 10 to complete - while they had their notes and text books beside them, and there was no time limit to the completion. After answering each question students were given detailed feedback. If students did not complete an exercise they could not complete the other exercises (this was not well-received by some people in the university).

The feedback from students (from 50) - 31 students provided positive comments, 19 were negative. The negative comments always made reference to the fact that this was an unfair system.

This felt like we weren't just staying still, but we were sliding backward into a time where learners were punished for not doing something that the teacher mandated was important. It was quite depressing...I had to ask 'why'? If students weren't engaging maybe the faculty needs to look at the design of their course design, and the form of assessments...just a thought.

Unsupervised online constructed-response tests

Genevieve Johnson started by looking at how new technologies are often used in the same way as the old technologies (horse-less carriage = car). Therefore the 'e' in assessment is just that - old assessments shifted online.

Diagnostic testing plays an important part in shaping a course, and formative assessment shapes the teaching. It is a way of enabling learners to see if they are ready to go on to the next step (although this worries me as it means that all the students in a class have to be at a specific point at a common time before they can move on).

In HE Johnson purports that technology is changing teaching, but the patterns are still really familiar.The grade that appears on a certificate has 'consequences' - for now that's what we're stuck with. Even when a course is online we need a grade. One of the re-occurring criticisms of technology and e-assessment is 'how do we know it's the student's work?' What are we to say? With the first cars there was no infrastructure, and people using the horse and buggy trotted past when cars broke down. There are some challenges.

E-assessment is fully online and there are all sorts of mechanisms of proctored exams - but is this just an assumption that we've carried over from the face-to-face environment. At the moment we take the tools we have and try to satisfy the requirements of the critics.

In this particular case-study, the students enrolled on an online course where they were required to complete 3 unsupervised constructed-response tests in Blackboard. The course was organised into weekly modules that included Elluminate Live, readings, discussion and activities. Each modules contained study questions which helped students focus on their learning efforts.

Test items were randomly drawn for a subset of questions corresponding with content covered during specified weeks. Test times were reduced across the three assessments.

Sustainable learning through formative assessment: Using quizzes to maintain engagement

The ideal is to move from a teacher-centered to student-centered education. There can be a trap where people can fall into a technology-centered education (rather than technology-enabled). The presenter, Lynette Nagel, talked about the Chartered Accountants course at the University of Pretoria, for which there is increased demand, a call for international accreditation, and challenges such as a set curriculum and inflexible standards.

Pass rates have been dropping over the last few years to less than 60% in 2010. More students have been allowed into this qualification even if they hadn't done accounting at school, and had a poor score in an aptitude test. In the supplemental groups - Q1 there were 12 lectures per week, and Q2-4 there were 8 lectures per week. The group knew that the students had been working with unskilled teachers with a focus on rote learning, and they have poor English, little vocabulary, and poor problem-solving skills.

The group started with focus group interviews with the students, and explored why the students did so poorly initially. Social commitments, poor time management, other subjects, and a large number of tests were big issues. Accounting was not seem as important and the students did not realise that the theory was important.

The initiative first addressed the issue of Accounting not being seen as important...and increased the scaffolding, so, for example, students realised that they had to study the theory before doing the practicals. The numbers grew in the supplemental teaching classes with students sitting in the aisles. One solution was to use the tutors. The tutors are second year, average students, and are closer to their students than the lecturers are. Technology was then used to create a Socratic environment drawing on a 3-step process. The Tutors were supported to create a good multiple choice quiz, and only focussed on the key concepts of a specific theory per week. Simple lay-language was used, and each question had to have feedback in ordinary language. Catches in the question were also explained, and calculations came with explanations. The questions were all uploaded into WebCT Vista.

The students completed the quizzes, and the tutors were able to see where the issues were and help the students individually. The students reported that they found the quizzes useful, and particularly liked the immediate theory. There were also comments about being able to chunk up the learning and have a cumulative sense of learning. Eight-one percent of students repeating the course saw the quiz as generally useful, 84% saw the feedback generally useful, the first time students (86%) valued having a second attempt at the quiz, but only 38 to 50% saw the quizzes were useful for preparing for formal tests.

By 2012 the pass rate was 75%. This appears to be really strong support for a way of scaffolding students who are used to a teacher-centred, rote learning environment. These students may have found it quite tricky to transition to a less structured approach. While it wasn't a ground-breaking study, it did illustrate how a combination of online learning and a tutor-based approach can be effective.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Towards a sustainable support strategy for online students

English: Steph's Rol Model
English: Steph's Rol Model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This was a presentation given by Elizabeth Smith and Anne Lonie. The objective of the course is to introduce students to engineering, and the professional sustainable practice that goes alongside the engineering skills. Some of the personal attributes that are covered are effective teamwork. cross-cultural sensitivity, and effective presentations. There are 3 assessment tasks that are part of the course, including an individual report (15%), an individual development portfolios (35%), and engineers without borders group project (50%). These activities worked well on-campus, but did not translate well to the online environment. Commencement of teaching - 39 students, week 6 - 29, by week 13 - 26 were still enrolled...and only 6 passed the course.

A range of strategies were trialled around offering the students support in an effort to support students and help with retention and success.

Reflective practice was an issue, so to help students get started a video was put together, along with, for example, detailed hings and open ended sentences. This provided an opportunity for early formative feedback. Students struggled with the progressive nature of the course too. The discussion forums were quite successful with a high contribution rate. To support the early stages of teamwork there was an introductory forum for students to respond to, as well as the use of an ice breaker wiki, virtual helpdesk sessions, and a Belbin inventory. Out of 6 groups, only 1 group completed the assessment successfully. The successful group made regular use of the collaborative tools, the online forums, and had an obvious leader who was motivated.

To improve the course there are plans to reduce the scope of the group project, and students will be able to submit work progressively. Tutor training in providing efficient and effective feedback is important, and the re-structuring of the course so that support resources are obvious.

This was a refreshingly honest overview of something that didn't work, and where the presenters are going to use their findings to address the issues.
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Sustainability, creativity, innovation and inclusion

1986 Faroe postage stamp celebrating Amnesty's...
1986 Faroe postage stamp celebrating Amnesty's 25th anniversary – Painting by 11 year old Rannvá Kunoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Social inclusion versus social exclusion is a big area of continuing concern. Grainne Conole asserts that new approaches to design and learning analytics can help address the issues.

There are a number of facets including lack of access to earnings, education and support. Social exclusion is a process whereby individuals are pushed to the edge of society and prevented from participating fully. Inclusion is a process that ensures that those at risk of poverty and exclusion fain the opportunities and resources to participate.

Grainne showed an incredibly powerful Amnesty International video via Pambos Vrasida.

There are several forms of voluntary exclusion (such as choosing not to connect to the internet), versus involuntary exclusion. One way of combating social exclusion is by increased openness. How do institutions re-position themselves in an information rich world where tools and resources are freely available?

We know that there are now a wealth of technologies, free resources and tolls - but they are not being used effectively, as they are replicating old pedagogy. A group has come up with a framework for an alternative approach to design to that used in Instructional design. The tool is focused on guidance and support, communication and collaboration, and reflection and demonstration as opposed to content.

Learning analytics can also be used as a complementary aspect to the alternative approach to design. They can be used directly with students, as well as with teachers.

I wonder if it this alternative approach will have an effect...how will it be shared with educators and people involved in learning? Students? Will it be enough to make a difference?

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Data mining interactions in a 3D immersive enviroment for real-time feedback during simulated surgery

An illustration of the sources and data types ...
An illustration of the sources and data types used in cyber analytics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The presenter, Gregor Kennedy, started by saying that this is a bit of an odd presentation. He was presenting on behalf of quite a big team, including a couple of data mining experts. Learning analytics are a hot topic..."and why not?" Kennedy said that it is a gold mine for providing information to identify students who are at risk, and promoting a shared understanding. Learning analytics looks at the micro level of what students do in virtual environments (which are usually 'hidden') to understand what they are doing. Academic analytics offers a much more macro view, and is more of managers and administrators rather than students and educators.

The intelligent tutoring system grew out of the 60s - you have an area of knowledge within a domain, and the model indicates what students are expected to do within a specific pedagogical model. There is a long history of educators being interested in learning analytics, although they weren't necessarily very sure what they were going to do with it. By the 1980s intelligent tutoring systems were discredited, in part because of the rigidity of the model and approach.

There are some concerns with learning analytics. They are often descriptive (useful), but do not complete the feedback loop for students. There is quite a rich body of research around how students use technology.

A demonstration of one of the simulations gave us an idea of what and how students can experience in this type of 3D environment and some of the benefits. The haptic controls mean that the students can 'feel' the different textures that they would if they were actually performing the surgery. Usually a surgeon will sit on the shoulder of a student to give feedback as the student performs surgery. In this trial there were 30 novices and 30 experts involved in simulator rums. Data was collected throughout and categorised (e.g. burr metrics, anatomical structure metrics, and bone specimen metrics). The idea was that by using the data they could gain a sophisticated understanding of what was 'going on'. Forty-five percent of the surgeries were completed, with an average force magnitude of less than 0.23 Newtons, when this was the case 78% of these were performed by novices.

The presentation was interesting and it was good to see an approach evaluated so rigorously. The patterns of behaviour demonstrated by a novice were identified, and this means that feedback can be given to assist students to improve their skills. There is a balance between providing feedback, and knowing about a particular student's behaviour. The way this was resolved was by looking at a surgeon's usual micro pauses, and then make decisions as to whether feedback was given. Making meaning from the data is tricky - and there needs to be a conceptual framework that you need to keep going back to to make sense of the data (in this case going back to the surgeons). There is a lot of data and a lot of 'noise' too, which makes this tricky.

Future steps include providing different types of feedback (not just around force), and finding different ways of providing feedback to users who are concentrating on a task in a virtual world.
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Conducting and reporting on educational technology research for institutional impact

The Prentice School Educational Assistive Tech...
The Prentice School Educational Assistive Technology Classroom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This was an international initiative. The team consists of 2 mentors, who mentored the educationalists from 5 institutions across 3 countries. Harriet Ridolfo gave an overview of the team, and the experience that the members of the team brought to the group. Some of the people involved did not have 'acknowledged' time to conduct research, but this was something that they were doing as part of their roles.

The ARCS framework (Heller) was used as a design tool to evaluate and report on educational technology research. Several approaches were adopted different institutions and these were shared and considered as to whether they have been effective. Some of the approaches for 'drawing attention' included book clubs, announcements, road-shows, and general updates. Around 'demonstrating relevance', strategies included sharing examples, committee meetings, champions, and group sessions. Developing confidence included workshops, drop in sessions, and developing satisfaction, mini grants, innovation awards, and a professional development portfolio for promotion.

We need to target audiences for maximum effect. The researchers divided their audience into 3 categories: leaders, educators, and academics, which were related to implementation, support and users. Timing was a key point, which was emphasised.

I felt this was a positive example of a group working together, sharing practice and ideas from geographically disparate locations, and using a strong base of mentoring. These factors appear to be something of a theme in the conference so far, and maybe indicative that groups are using the affordances of technology to help with their own professional learning, rather than focussing on the technology itself.

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Designing evaluation and research into edcational initiatives

College of Health Sciences Summer Research Program
College of Health Sciences Summer Research Program (Photo credit: Marquette University)
Jo-Anne Kelder, Juliette Sondermyer, Rob Phillips and Anne Rothwell presented this session where they introduced the Global Perspectives programme and the associated case study design and findings. The project was based around developing a programme that would be embedded into the first year units offered by the Faculty of Health Science.

The pilot programme was used to inform the research design. The programme is not yet online, and the first 2 phases have provided quite a lot of data, and they are ready with phase 3 where they will be working with 2013 students.

One of the recommendations was to have a supportive system in place when designing research, especially when using an existing framework. In this case, the author mentored the researchers through the process. There were some issues about applying the framework from a book, including an alternative focus, and idealised versus actual phases of research. The mentoring role was extremely important.

It was an interesting paper, especially the way that the presenters identified some of the positives and issues around their approach, but the real bonus about having the author as a mentor. I would have really liked to have seem some of the emerging themes and findings, and will watch with interest.
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The future is new - the future is now!

Wikisource logo, no text variant
Wikisource logo, no text variant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
At the opening of the Ascilite conference 2012 (Te Papa, Wellington), Neil Selwyn opened by explaining that his aim was to make the audience feel uncomfortable - to ask questions about some of our assumptions. Ed-tech is often seen as a positive project. There is little doubt between the inherent connection between learning and technology. The default role of the ed-tech person is making decisions and trialling things that will make things better. There is also the issue of the 'allure of the new'. We are desperate to find out what the new, and this is closely allied to the allure of speed. Technology promises speed, as well as the promise of substantial change - social, political and economic.

Neil is concerned that we are continually looking toward the future, The stuff at the moment really isn't working very well- we are just stuck in a cycle of hype and hope, and then things don't work out. Why are we stuck in this cheerleading cycle. The future and the new have become a weakness in this area of academic research. This focus limits our questions and what we have done so far. We have a tendency to be limited to small case studies. We are interested in 'what if scenarios', looking for a way to support the statement that ed-tech makes things better.

The idea of history is one of the most important things we should be looking at was posed - the historical perspective can give us a long view for the technologies we currently have. There is a tendency to over-estimate the short-term impacts of ed-tech. The future is incredibly difficult to predict, and we often get it wrong. Both pessimists and the optimist have got the future wrong. There are lots of examples of this. Even when we get the technology 'right' we often get the 'education' wrong.

We pretty much know what the technology is going to be, but how can we do better around how they are used. We need to tell the stories around these that have depth and richness. Nick Zepke (2008) talks about the science of the probably, the art of the possible, and the politics of the preferable. And Nick argues that ed-technologists tend to focus on the third one, but should rather be looking at the first two. "The basic premise is that what happened in the past is no longer a highly reliable guide to the future - Nick however, believes that this should be turned on its head. He is not sure how disruptive or tranformative the technology and approaches in the conference actually are.Is technology just doing old things in different ways...has it been used to re-enforce old practice? There is a big concern that formal education is being made ubiquitous, with its focus on assessments and qualifications. Technology is also exacerbating the provision of education via corporations and big business.George Simens and Stephen Downes' connectivism ideas that captured in the MOOC focus, have now been adopted by big business to make a profit.

Digital divides remain. There are big disparities in terms of social class and backgrounds, and there are big gaps.

Technology is likely to make individual much more responsible for their own education, and whether they succeed or fail. Where does education as a collective 'good' then become placed?

Beware anyone who says they are certain about the future. Deep down, we are not looking at things being really different, but things staying the same. The question to ask is 'what is technology doing that is making things truly different' here?
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Monday, November 5, 2012

Practical strategies to help you think deeply at work

Another gem from The Learning Wave blog, this article gives a brief overview of how we can make sure we can maximise our thinking. The article offers an insight into 'why' (how brains work), as well as some practical ideas around how to make use of your understanding of the why, such as using a short distractor task to help refocus your mind, scheduling four-hour blocks of time to focus on key tasks, tackling demanding tasks first thing in the morning, and, chunking your ideas when you are heading toward overload.
Here is a taster:
A study of 6,000 people conducted by the NeuroLeadership Groupin collaboration with a large healthcare firm asked respondents questions about where, when, and how people did their best thinking. Only 10 percent said it happened at work. At the NeuroLeadership Institute, we've been looking at ways to bring more of that deep thinking into the workplace. More specifically, we've been conducting research into what brain science shows us about how leaders think, develop, and perform, and recently we've been studying the role of the unconscious mind.
We've identified three particularly promising techniques, backed up by research, than can help you think more deeply
(Click here to access the original post in full: Three Ways to Think Deeply at Work, by David Rock, Harvard Business Review, September 28, 2012)
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