December 09, 2010

CTF work

Writing about web page http://www.alisonlecornu.co.uk

This is an experimental page while I'm working with the CTF.


July 21, 2010

Post–session reflection on 'Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics'

Follow-up to Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics from Alison's blog

I changed things at the very last minute! As I was thinking through the session just before it was about to start, I decided that I needed to adhere to my principle of not asking participants to do something I needed to model beforehand. In this particular context, it was also important for me to provide input and content, not just elicit responses from the participants. So while originally I had planned to use the three case studies as material for individual participants, at the last moment I decided to demonstrate Biggs' stages of the reflective process myself, using one of my early PCAPP workshops as an example. That allowed me to model the process using Biggs' framework which seemed to work well. However, it left me with a problem, because doing that meant that I had no chance of getting through what I had planned in the allocated ten minutes! So a bit of quick thinking... I gave out the case studies, allocated each to individual participants, gave a minute for them to read them through and then decided I could just run with one of them, so asked for a volunteer to summarise the problem his/her case study articulated. Then I invited everybody to contribute to going through the reflective stages together, all focusing on that one case study. Of course, that meant that the other two case studies weren't actually used, although I guess just having them there served a purpose of inviting further reflection once the session was over. I got it all done with ten seconds to spare! But since here in this blog post my task is to monitor, fine tune and change things for future occasions, if necessary, then on another occasion I would just prepare one case study and everyone would look at the same one. Either that, or I would offer the three and we would come to a common concensus about which one to use (although just doing that is time consuming). I wonder too whether I allowed one of the participants to be slightly left out and could have worked harder at including this person and inviting their contributions.

I was pleased the participants contributed willingly and thoughtfully. In the question time afterwards it became apparent that these were, in fact, familiar scenarios to them, so that introducing a structured way of thinking about them should have been quite useful (given their 'newbie' status). One question struck me in particular, and I have mulled it over considerably since the session. A participant asked if I thought there was one, or maybe more than one, defining characteristic of a 'good' teacher or lecturer. Gosh. I've not been asked that before and it's fascinating. At one level, it's impossible to answer, but that's just not good enough. We must know what goes to make a good teacher, or the whole of our profession and my field of expertise is thrown into question. I said, thinking on my feet (again!) that I thought the awareness of the other was probably the most important thing for me. By that, I meant much more than simple consciousness, but an awareness of what's going on, that there are real live people in front of us when we teach, who have questions, get bored or tired, can't follow, need help... On reflection now, I wonder whether I meant something perhaps better articulated as 'connectedness'. I think the mark of a good teacher is someone who connects with his/her students, doesn't see them as bodies to perform to (as in theatre), doesn't see them as animate yet largely passive recipients of the 'gift' of content he/she has to bestow, but instead sees them as beings who are in the process of growing and developing, and the teacher's role in this is crucial. I guess I'm really trying to articulate the principles behind social constructivism, or behind student-centred learning. I shall go on thinking about that.

As always, comments are welcome. What does anyone else think about the hallmark(s) of a good teacher/lecturer?

Another topic that we touched on so briefly it wasn't possible to follow up was that of the use of games for learning. I have been looking at that a bit while I've been reading in preparation for writing the paper on Visitors and Residents with Dave White, as we challenge Prensky's Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Dave and I need to talk more about this. Prensky comes from a gaming background, but Dave reckons that the link between gaming and learning is very tenuous. Interesting, and something else to pursue.

Again, any comments from anyone?





July 18, 2010

Reflection on Practice with newly–appointed academics

I have to prepare and present a 10 minute session on the topic of 'Reflection on Practice'. Gosh. 10 minutes. The 'audience' will be small, but a group representing a variety of subject disciplines. So here I am, planning and reflecting on the session that I am gradually preparing.

I plan to use Case Studies, one for each participant, and each from a different subject discipline. Since these are newly-appointed academics, they may not have an enormous amount of experience to draw on, and I am reminded of Biggs' assertion that all reflection requires experience. I can see what he means but dislike the implication that the ability of new lecturers to reflect on their practice is therefore hampered! However, since this is the first time that I will have met this group, and as I have been assured that they really are 'newbies', providing case studies that I hope they can relate to may be a way of giving them something to reflect on.

I have chosen three typical scenarios, ones which I have encountered quite regularly.

a) someone faced with lecturing to very large classes in a fairly straight-laced discipline, who finds the traditional lecture very restricting and one which presents challenges to his/her desire for student interaction, but whose attempts at opening up subjects for discussion fall flat on their face due to the class size and location.

b) someone who is excited about the potential Second Life has for their Art and Design class, but who has discovered that the time taken to induct students into its mysteries eats into class time. There is also a small section of the student body which has reacted quite unfavourably to using Second Life in class at all.

c) a newly-appointed Polish medic who, despite having studied and worked in the UK, has retained a strong accent. He/she has students in his/her class for whom English is their second, if not third or fourth language, and many never ask or answer questions. The medic is worried that they don't understand him/her, but the only way she can think of handling the situation is by providing photocopies of his/her powerpoint and hoping that they find a way of keeping up.

I will write out these Case Studies in advance and give one to each participant. They are very brief, so it should only take them a minute or two to read them. Then I plan to ask them to think of one more 'problem' or challenge that that academic might face in that particular situation. My intention is that this will help to personalise the learning.

I will then present Biggs' cycle of reflective practice:

    1. Defining the problem
    2. Implementing a change
    3. Monitoring the change
    4. Fine tuning
    5. Discussion with a critical friend

    I plan to ask each person to think of one way of addressing (implementing a change) one of the problems I have given them. What are the advantages and potential drawbacks? This will provide them with a way of monitoring the change (point 'c'). I also plan to give them a handout with Bigg's model of reflective practice as another reference point, and something which they can take away and think about (reflect on!).

    Lastly, I will ask the participants to discuss together their tentative 'solutions' to the problem, hence engaging them in discussion with a critical friend. I will make the point that peer observation and feedback is a very valuable way of enhancing their teaching, and I would recommend they find a group of 'buddies' who will function in this way for each other.

    So, my pre-session reflection...

    A big challenge is going to be to keep within the 10 minutes. However, I think I have achieved what I want to in the plan: I want the participants to be engaged and to interact with me and each other; I want to give them some solid content as well as a reference point if they choose to follow it up, so I have gone for Biggs; I also want to take my brief seriously. I mustn't ask or expect too much from these participants. They are new to the profession (although I guess some of them may simply be newly appointed to the university and come with extensive experience from elsewhere... help! In which case I will have to draw on that experience...) and come from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines.  Another challenge might be that they feel slightly uncomfortable role playing, and if they do, then I will feel uncomfortable about having asked them to role play! I must be prepared to come out of the role play situation if that seems appropriate, and certainly be prepared to allow the session to move out of the role play if that's the direction it moves in. Can I anticipate anything else that might go wrong? (One of the most valuable things I learnt when training to teach English as a Foreign Language was to focus on 'anticipated problems' in my lesson planning. In some senses, it is easier to do in an EFL context, but with some practice, it has proved a really useful tool in all my teaching and facilitating, both before and during a class or workshop.) For the moment, I can't think of anything. I will come back and add something later if it comes to mind.




    July 14, 2010

    The reflective teacher

    I have been refreshing my memory of John Bigg's book, Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2003, 2nd edition). I always find it helpful to copy out some of the content which I find most useful, thought-provoking, stimulating, etc. Below are some of the aspects I have picked out in relation to reflective practice.

    Biggs, John, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 2nd edition, Maidenhead: SRHE and Open University Press, 2003.

    P20. The 3P model draws attention to three sources that might affect the learning outcome: a direct effect from the student-based factors, another direct effect from the teaching-based factors, and an interactive effect from the system as a whole. Each of these ways of determining learning forms a theory of how teaching works.

    1. Learning is a function of individual differences between students.

    2. Learning is a function of teaching.

    3. Learning is the result of students’ learning-focused activities which are engaged by students as a result both of their own perceptions and inputs, and of the total teaching context.

    These different ‘theories’ of teaching are in order of complexity and sophistication, and so we refer to them as ‘levels’. They include what others call intentions or conceptions (Trigwell and Prosser 1996).

    Teachers tend to hold these theories at different points in their teaching career, some progressing to level 3, others staying at levels 1 or 2. They describe a sequence in the development of teaching skill: a route map towards reflective teaching, if you like, where the level at which you operate depends on what you focus on as most important.

    P20/21

    Level 1. Focus: what the student is

    At level 1, teaching is held constant—it is transmitting information, usually by lecturing—so differences in learning are due to differences between students in ability, motivation, what sort of school they went to. Ability is usually seen as the most important factor.

    Level 2. Focus: what the teacher does

    This view of teaching is still based on transmission, but of concepts and understandings not jus of information. The responsibility for ‘getting it across’ now rests to a significant extent on what the teacher does. The possibility is entertained that there may be more effective ways of teaching than what one is currently doing. Learning is seen as more a function of what the teacher is doing than of what sort of student one has to deal with.

    Level 3. Focus: what the student does.

    Teachers at level 3 focus on all the components in the systems, in particular on what the student does at process and product, and how that relates to teaching. Level 3 sees teaching as supporting learning. No longer is it possible to say: ‘I taught them, but they didn’t learn.’ Expert teaching includes mastery over a variety of teaching techniques, but unless learning takes place, they are irrelevant: the focus is on what the student does, on what learning is or is not going on.

    P251

    A reflective teacher starts with three important components:

    1. Experience. You cannot reflect on a blank slate.

    2. Deep content knowledge. You cannot teach effectively if you don’t know your subject content very well indeed.

    3. A level 3 theory of teaching. As a level 3 teacher you say: ‘Why aren’t they learning? How can I get them to be relevantly active? That is the sort of theory we want here, one that focuses on what the student does. This is a cyclical process; you keep looking at what they do, what they achieve, and link that with what you are doing. You get to know your students as learners very well.

    There are several outcomes:

    1. Teaching is enhanced, eventually. You may need several goes at the problem.

    2. Experience is enriched. Each go at the problem adds to your store of experiences

    3. The teaching theory is enriched. Using the theory in action makes you realize which aspects of the theory work and which do not.

    P252.

    There are three questions that the teacher, to be reflective, needs to ask:

    1. What is my espoused theory of teaching?

    2. Is my current practice in keeping with my theory? How can my theory help me teach more effectively?

    3. What, within myself or in my context, is preventing me from teaching the way I should be teaching?

    P252.

    We are back at the two faces of good teaching:

    1. Promoting those factors that support the deep approach, which we now know to be about getting students to be relevantly active, and constructive alignment is a good way of doing that.

    2. Eliminating those factors that support the surface approach, which were discussed in Chapter 4.

    P252.

    Further steps. We will use an action learning structure to define and then attack your problem.

    1. Defining the problem. … The issue is what the students are doing: are they doing what you don’t want them to do, or not doing what you do want them to do?
      So the first step is to reflect on the problem, using the constructive alignment theory in Chapter 2, which addresses both students’ learning behaviour, and the design of your teaching. Examine your problem in these terms, hypothesize as to the possible reasons for it, and possible solutions. The process can be made much easier with the help of a ‘critical friend; (see below).

    2. Implementing a change

    3. Monitoring the change
      Before putting the change into effect, you need to decide how you are going to make sure that what you are proposing to do will be effective. It is necessary to observe systematically what is going on, to know where you and/or the student behaviour started from, and where it ends up after the change has been implemented.

    4. Fine tuning.
      Action learning recycles: you try something, see if it works, then try again with a slight variation. You will be unlikely to get something as complex as teaching right first time, so it is a matter of looking back over your observations, after you have implemented the change you had decided to make, and see how things are going. Did matters improve? If not, or if not enough, what might have been the problem?

    5. The role of critical friend
      Reflection is often not best carried out alone. You have been living with the problem possibly for some time and may be the last person to find out about it.

    I like Biggs' general approach, although sometimes I find him a little sweeping and over enthusiastic in the presentation of his position and views. He bases a lot of his argument on Marton and Saljo's notion of Deep and Surface level learning, which again I have a lot of respect for and, indeed, have turned to and used in my own publications (see elsewhere in this blog). However, I am surprised that Biggs appears to dismiss surface level learning altogether. It seems to me that both are important, and that Deep learning on its own, while almost certainly of a greater 'quality', however one would like to define that, is inadequate. We need to have a grasp of content, to be able to remember facts and figures, to store information and knowledge, and be able to reproduce it. The risk with a Deep approach to teaching and learning that Biggs advocates is that we sacrifice this dimension, or at least downplay it to the point of it no longer playing the role it should. I would favour an approach which emphasises both dimensions. (As I write this, I am reminded of a paper I think Biggs himself wrote about the 'Brainy Asian'. In it, he reported on a research project he and others had conducted which investigated why it was that a small group of Chinese learners appeared to do much better academically and intellectually than both their peers and most Westerners. His interest was spurred by the fact that Chinese education was principally by rote learning (and therefore tended to foster a surface approach to learning) while Western education systems valued and practised learning from experience and reflection (fostering a deep 'meaningful' approach). The 'Brainy Asians' somehow managed to bring both approaches together with the result that they were far better learners and developed in an exceptional manner. How ironic that this message doesn't come through in his book, even though he does explore aspects of it in his chapter on Teaching International Students! Unless, of course, I've got it wrong somewhere...)

    Secondly, although I think I concur with Biggs' statement that experience is indispensible to the process of reflection, it does beg the question of what that means for new and inexperienced teachers and lecturers. I suppose everyone has the experience of being at the 'learning' end of the teacher-learner relationship and so has that experience to draw on, but I really can't agree with the implication of his assertion for 'beginners'.

    I guess I would place myself as a Level 3 teacher, in Biggs' hierarchy. I am very much a facilitator, someone who does focus on what the student does, yet I am aware too of weaknesses that I want to strengthen. Maybe my comments about surface learning relate to these, since I don't have a good memory, can find it hard to recall facts and content, and can be unconfident about my 'deep knowledge' of the subject matter (although in reality that is not the case). For me, the biggest challenge to come out of this reading is Biggs' assertion that teachers need to be:

    ...clear about:

    1. What it means to 'understand' content in the way we want it to be understood';

    2. What kind of teaching/learning activities are required to reach those kinds of understandings.

    Now I have a lot to go and reflect on!


    July 07, 2010

    New idea

    Follow-up to PCAPP Assessment Practice and Strategies workshop, June 24th; post–workshop reflection from Alison's blog

    I have continued to ponder on this session in the couple of weeks since it took place. I have been wrestling with the fact that such a great variety of needs, expectations, preferences, subject disciplines, backgrounds, nationalities, ages... are generally represented in these workshops that it is a huge challenge to get positive feedback from everyone and indeed, a huge challenge to organise a session in which everyone will benefit to the maximum for themselves. Yet this is a challenge I want to rise to and I'm not content simply to shrug my shoulders and say 'Win some, lose some', or 'I can't please everyone'.

    I recently did a Return to Teaching course organised by the Training and Development Agency. It's a course intended to get erstwhile but qualified school teachers back into the classroom after a lengthy period out. It attracts women who want to get back to teaching after raising their children, people seeking to return to the classroom after redundancy, or a career break, or various other things. I found it really useful. One complete morning was spent on 'differentiation'. Geoff Petty (http://www.geoffpetty.com/differentiation.html) states that:

    Differentiation is the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning. We used to teach subjects and classes - now we teach students.

    I was intrigued and inspired by some of the ways in which some of the teachers I observed managed to keep all the children in their classes motivated and stretched, often without having to put significant extra effort in, or providing a huge number of additional resources.

    I wonder whether the same idea could, even should, be applied to PCAPP. Can I 'differentiate' between the participants so that all of them are stretched and motivated, learning the maximum they can by attending the session. It's a tall order, and I need to do quite a lot more reading about differentiation in order to see what I might be able to put into place.

    One idea that I am playing with now, though, is the idea of using Problem Based Learning PBL) for my Assessment session. Wikipedia actually provides quite a good introductory summary to PBL, as follows:

    Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered instructional strategy in which students collaboratively solve problems and reflect on their experiences. It was pioneered and used extensively at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada as well as the Monterrey Institute of Technology ITESM. The Materials department at Queen Mary, University of London was the first Materials department in the UK to introduce PBL.[1]

    PBL is based on the educational theories of Vygotsky, Dewey, and others, and is related to social-cultural constructivist theories of learning and instructional design.

    Characteristics of PBL are:

    • Learning is driven by challenging, open-ended, ill-defined and ill-structured, practical problems.

    • Students generally work in collaborative groups. Problem based learning environments may be designed for individual learning.

    • Teachers take on the role as "facilitators" of learning.

    • Instructional activities are based on learning strategies involving semantic reasoning, case based reasoning, analogical reasoning, causal reasoning, and inquiry reasoning, These activities include creating stories; reasoning about cases; concept mapping; causal mapping; cognitive hypertext crisscrossing; reason analysis unredoing; analogy making; and question generating;

    In PBL, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their group and organize and direct the learning process with support from a tutor or instructor. Advocates of PBL claim it can be used to enhance content knowledge and foster the development of communication, problem-solving, and self-directed learning skill.

    PBL positions students in simulated real world working and professional contexts which involve policy, process, and ethical problems that will need to be understood and resolved to some outcome. By working through a combination of learning strategies to discover the nature of a problem, understanding the constraints and options to its resolution, defining the input variables, and understanding the viewpoints involved, students learn to negotiate the complex sociological nature of the problem and how competing resolutions may inform decision-making.

    Support systems, which include resources germane to the problem domain as well as instructional staff, are provided to scaffold students skills "just in time" and within their learning comfort zone (Vygotsky's Zone of Proximity)

    Could I adopt a PBL approach for my workshop? How would it work... I would need to think about how to set up the problem itself, or probably have two or three problems so that participants do actually encounter thinking about a range of assessment-related issues. But it would mean that those who prefer a more formal 'lecture-style' session could possibly get that through video-casts, podcasts, and even a specialist lecturer who comes in for a short time; while others could get immersed in group work, finding the answer to their problem through engagement with a diverse range of resources that I could provide, including myself. Something to think about. If anyone has an observation or comment, please do contribute!


    June 25, 2010

    PCAPP Assessment Practice and Strategies workshop, June 24th; post–workshop reflection

    Follow-up to PCAPP workshop, Curriculum and Course Design, June 24th 2010 from Alison's blog

    There are various things to comment on about this workshop. I shall start with the participants' feedback.

    • The most useful aspect that was almost unanimously identified was the discussion with peers throughout the session but particularly in the last part which made use of the clickers in a whole-group setting.
    • The clickers were generally liked, although one participant felt the activity had gone on too long and that more specific input about how to use them for increased interaction would have been useful.
    • The opening activity where participants circulated and initialed the sheets with a variety of assessment methods on was liked, but a number of people felt it should have been built on and developed.
    • The Deliberations website was appreciated and a number said they would refer to it again after the workshop.
    • The areas not covered in the workshop which they would like to have been addressed were:
    • More practical examples, and discussion of how to use the more unusual examples
    • How to design questions for exams and essays
    • Which assessment methods are appropriate for assessing what kind of knowledge
    • More practical ideas of how to improve assessment
    • Too much articulated consideration of the teaching method I had adopted (which also overlapped with the morning Exploring Course Design session)

    It was also clear that the workshop had not met the needs of one participant who stated that he/she had found 'nothing' ('nil') the most useful, and that the session had 'not been his/her expectation at all, sorry'. Oh dear... But how disappointing not to get any constructive feedback to accompany this observation.

    I was specifically interested and appreciative to receive feedback about the Deliberations exercise since that had been my experiment that I was unsure about. My own experience of it had been mixed as I moved between the groups. (Interestingly, everyone chose to work in a group and no one opted for an individual laptop.) I think I had done well to design a series of questions to direct and give a purpose to the reading but the questions also seemed to be a bit of a hindrance. There were probably too many (something confirmed in a conversation with a participant at the end) so on a future occasion I need to cut them down to two or three. Some groups seemed to feel pressured to find the answers in the time allowed (whoops, inadvertently, I slipped into the 'surface learning' format), and some seemed to think it was very important to obey the task to the letter, looking for the answer to each question, when I think I had anticipated that they would use them as guides and prompts, skipping any they weren't particularly interested in and/or couldn't find the answer to quickly enough. So if I adopt this approach again I need to think about all these dimensions. Some of it can be easily addressed by clearer instructions at the beginning, of course.

    I have done the individual assessment sheets that opened the session before, and have never really engaged with the participants' felt need to follow it up. I have received this feedback before. I must now give it some concrete thought. I wonder what would be most appropriate. Options include:

    • Asking the individuals who were the only ones to use a particular type to talk about it (if I do this activity early, might they feel intimidated?)
    • Link the activity to ways of evaluating assessment and to constructive alignment, finding some way of equipping people to do this for themselves (an important and relevant skill for their own practice, in fact)
    • What else??? I will go on thinking...

    Lastly, I wonder if I do try to articulate my own thinking about the session structure and pedagogy too much. Maybe I overdid it, especially for those who had attended the morning workshop. However, I think it is important, especially in a PCAPP context, for participants to engage not only with the focus of the specific content, but also the 'how' of the workshop. After all, that's what we're asking them to do in their own practice, and I want to explore how that might be modelled, especially for those for whom it doesn't come naturally. More to think about.

    The clickers seemed to work well, and I liked the opportunity to refresh my own use of them. I think I need to work at thinking how they can be made to work harder in my workshops.


    PCAPP Exploring Course Design June 4th; post–workshop reflection

    Follow-up to PCAPP workshop, Curriculum and Course Design, June 24th 2010 from Alison's blog

    Teaching is a funny business! I had somewhat naively anticipated that because my approach and structure to this workshop had been successful the last time I ran it, it would be equally successful this time. It was different, which of course is to be expected simply because the participants were different, but some parts, most notably the mind map exercise was less successful. Only 7 of the 9 people registered turned up, so I divided the class into 2 groups rather than 3, one of which found the mind map activity easier and more fruitful than the other. Feedback confirmed that it hadn't scratched where all of them were itching, with some identifying it as the 'least useful' aspect of the workshop. Others, however, indicated that it had been the 'most useful', so I suspect this was as much a case of group dynamics and, in one case, an articulated dislike of groupwork as a teaching method. However, there was also the comment that 'there was not enough knowledge in the group to be able to do this exercise, especially re policy', which I need to think about for future occasions. The experience has not put me off doing the activity again, but next time I might try to prepare a more formal approach to offer alongside the mindmap, offering participants the choice of which they would prefer to do. I am reminded of the 'differentiated' teaching I needed to incorporate into school classrooms when doing my Return to Teaching course, catering for people of different levels, as well as the need to meet a variety of learning styles.

    The discrepancy between the expectations and learning styles of individual participants was also evident when it came to the design of a hypothetical module. One participant stated 'The workshop-based construction of a hypothetical new module was excellent. This is the best way (for me) to understand some of the issues involved. I especially liked and appreciated the feedback at the end from everyone else. I think more time for this would be appropriate (as a % of the session)', while another wrote: 'I don't find 'unreal' examples useful in workshops'. I had suggested that the groups might like to focus on PCAPP itself as the one common denominator between them, and also as a 'real' example rather than hypothetical, and one group took that option up. However, on a future occasion I might actually take a PCAPP (or other) module descriptor in and ask participants to choose between constructing a hypothetical module, or critiquing a real life one. That might meet the variety of likes and dislikes better. In general, the practical module design was given the thumbs up, with most participants citing it, and Katherine Gray's input and feedback, as the 'most useful' part of the workshop.

    Feedback apart, my own experience of the workshop was positive, and I appreciated the willingness of participants to throw themselves into activities which needed them to do that, or things would have fallen pretty flat. I have a developing awareness of the fact that I adopt a high-risk approach, and perhaps need to develop some specific risk-management strategies. I think differentiated learning activities might be a useful thing to explore, although it's quite demanding both in preparation and in execution. I like the idea of the challenge, though, and maybe this will provide me with my next 'innovation' to try out in the Teaching Grid, hence honouring the spirit of the TG.


    June 23, 2010

    PCAPP workshop 'Assessment Practice and Strategies' June 24th 2010: pre–workshop reflection

    I have completely transformed this workshop following the last time I ran it when I felt that I had provided too little content for participants to engage with and reflect on. (For my pre- and post-workshop blog reflection, please see: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/alisonlecornu/entry/pcapp_workshop_assessment/) How to provide content in an appropriate, stimulating, motivating yet appropriate way is my big challenge of the moment. It is, I think, the biggest challenge that relates to my having adopted a largely reflective approach that invites participants to contribute their own experience. While all the feedback to my sessions indicates that this is a welcome approach which participants find effective and 'dignified' (they don't feel like students!), I am aware that many, even most, actually do come wanting to leave having learnt something concrete that they can take away and put into practice. While this can, of course, come from their peers (and is often all the richer for that), I also sense a desire for the 'expert' to convey what contemporary scholarship considers important and convey too what some of the principles of good practice are.

    My challenge is that in general I have experienced quite a strong resistance to the approach which means I, as the expert, prepare a powerpoint presentation and stand or sit in front of the class and deliver it. Even if (as I always would) I built in plenty of opportunity for discussion, group work, etc., there still seemed to be a sense of resentment that (I think) may have been linked with the fact that this approach finds it very difficult to adapt if someone comes with significant experience and feels they are being talked down to. The PCAPP context is unlike most teaching situations, since although there is some continuity of participants (we see most people for all 10 obligatory workshops) there is no continuity of content and it is impossible for those of us in the LDC to ascertain in a meaningful way who will benefit from what degree of input at what level, and equally impossible for us to know who comes with what level of experience.

    So I changed my approach to a primarily participant-driven model, structuring my sessions in such a way that participants' experience provides a significant degree of content, but I am left with the above conundrum!

    For this session, I have done something quite different, and I have designed the workshop around the Deliberations website hosted at London Met University. There are some excellent resources there on Assessment, and the advantage of using the website in the session is that I am introducing participants to a really useful resource that I hope they will get to know well enough to be able to refer to in their subsequent practice. It also means they hear new and different voices to my own, as well as being provided with and having the opportunity to engage with a good degree of content. My decision to use the website provoked new challenges, though. Does the Teaching Grid have enough PCs for each participant to work alone? Do I want them to work alone? Can they work in pairs or small groups around a laptop? Some of the articles are quite long. Will they all read at the same speed? Do I (or they) want long periods of silence while everyone is reading? Will they consider this any better than listening to me with my powerpoint?! Would it be any better?!

    I found a way forward through these questions by deciding to direct the participants' reading. I have prepared a short set of questions which are designed to focus on the most significant dimensions of the content, the answers to which they will need to find by surfing the site. The TG has promised about 12 laptops, which means the best course of action is almost certainly for people to work in pairs or small groups (there are 15 attending). I hope that by making the questions the focus of the activity, rather than the text, the reading will be more fun and less intense, allowing for discussion and conversation as they hunt for the information as well as once they've found it. There is a great paper on the site called 'Changing Assessment to Improve Learning'. It is the summary of an interactive keynote session led by Prof Phil Race at the 1st Northumbria Assessment Conference UK in 1996. However, it's very long, so I've decided to mimic the original session, using some of the questions Race used to initiate thought and discussion. In order to introduce some added value, I have prepared these using Clickers (hand held voting remote controls), so I will be asking participants to vote on a range of issues to do with assessment. This is the only paper from the website that I have photocopied so that once we have engaged with its content, small groups can go and discuss, comparing their own responses with those of the people who attended the original session.

    Will it work? I can only try it and see. But that's what teaching is, evaluating my practice, seeing if I can find ways of addressing the issues that I think need(ed) attention and then evaluating again. Feedback from participants is therefore crucial. Hence this blog.


    PCAPP workshop, Curriculum and Course Design, June 24th 2010

    Writing about web page Pre-workshop reflection

    The last time I ran this workshop the feedback was very positive. Some of it (together with my pre- and post-workshop reflections) is posted into this blog, so check back to my previous entry at: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/alisonlecornu/entry/pcapp_workshop_exploring/ if you're interested. For that reason, I think I will adopt a pretty similar approach for this session. My workshop plan is available here. Looking at the list of participants I see that there are 8 people attending, and with the exception of one person from Engineering, everyone else is from either the Business School or the Medical School. That has its pros and cons. One Pro will be that there will be there will be a 'critical mass' of people there to provide a common experience (although with the one exception) which might help address the frequent feedback that PCAPP workshops struggle to meet the specific needs of individual Schools and Departments. Another Pro might be that people come with friends and colleagues who are already known to them, and there is less need to ice-break. A Con, however, could be that the session becomes 'cliquey' if people from individual Schools band together. For that reason, I anticipate splitting the group up, although I will also go with the flow at the time. Close colleagues attending together has occasionally presented quite a challenge if there is a sense of reluctance to attend which is expressed in lack of cooperation or motivation. I have worked hard at finding ways of addressing this, many of which once again are recorded in this blog, and I have been gratified to have ever-increasing levels of enthusiasm during sessions. Roughly summarised, I have moved towards implementing a new approach which has been characterised by:

    • A move to the Teaching Grid which gives all sorts of 'added value' to sessions, including allowing participants to try out technologies such as Smart Boards, Clickers and Digital Imaging thingies(!!!). The TG also lessens the sense that people are coming to be 'instructed' and allows them to behave like adults, moving around the space without inhibition, helping themselves to coffee or tea when they would like, and generally owning the experience in a way that is far more difficult in a conventional classroom. This raises, for me, real questions about the use of space, and as I write I make a mental resolution to engage more with the work of the Reinvention Centre. How lucky we are at Warwick to have the Teaching Grid, Reinvention Centre, CAPITAL Centre, and so many more resources that contribute to excellence in teaching and learning.
    • A move away from adopting a 'formal instruction' approach towards a 'reflective practitioner' approach which embraces and makes use of participants' existing experience.
    • A willingness to make myself vulnerable in letting participants know that/if I am uncertain about an approach that I am going to adopt with them, and asking them to work with me and feed back so that we can all learn together.
    • The use of this blog in which I can record my own reflections and invite others to dialogue with me (thanks to those who have!)

    There are, of course, challenges to this approach. The one I am most conscious of is how to ensure solid and appropriate content is communicated so that participants really do leave the session with an enhanced knowledge and understanding of the subject. I guess my response to that is (a) to make sure I am well prepared and can play the role of 'expert' if required; (b) to assume the role of facilitator who engages with the experience and content that individuals bring in the same way as other participants; (c) to continue working hard on finding ways of providing solid content which doesn't necessarily mean people simply sit and listen to me and watch a set of powerpoint slides! I have got quite a lot further to go in this area, and am trying out something new in my Assessment workshop which follows this one.

    So this workshop will be highly interactive. I have tried to design it in such a way that I provide a structured framework that will allow participants' experience to play a significant role. I am, of course, dependent on their cooperation, and there may always be a time when my approach doesn't quite work for someone. However, my experience thus far suggests that for the majority this is a successful technique and I am looking forward to the session.



    February 17, 2010

    Post session reflection

    Follow-up to Increasing Student Interaction in Class from Alison's blog

    I enjoyed this workshop. Thankfully, I got to the Teaching Grid about an hour before it kicked off and the wonderful TG staff helped me check through the questions I had set up using Turning Point and clickers. I was pleased that I had basically got it sorted out myself, which (equally pleasing) meant that I could legitimately tell the participants that getting to grips with clickers and the necessary software was pretty straightforward if they were familiar with powerpoint.

    Nine people attended, and were quite happy to be used as guinea pigs as well as to throw themselves into a range of interactive activities. It *was* a bit rushed, and very frequently I had to cut an activity short before it had really got going because otherwise we wouldn't have got through the material. However, the point was primarily to give participants ideas which they could try out there and then, albeit briefly, and then take away to mull over and explore whether they could be of use in any of their own teaching contexts.

    Feedback indicated that this had worked. One person wrote that the most useful aspect of the workshop had been the 'demonstration of each method' so he/she could 'see how [I] felt' about it, and another said in response to the same prompt that 'we practised ourselves the different methods of increasing interaction'. Interaction in the classroom *is* very personal and I wanted to stress to those present that they would undoubtedly feel that some of the approaches would work for them and others wouldn't. A lot depends on one's own personality and confidence, as well as the class dynamics, and the relationship that a lecturer has, or hasn't, built up with students. A lot depends too on class size and on the layout of the venue and on the facilities available. I did try to introduce activities which could pretty easily be done in a traditional classroom or lecture theatre layout, with seats arranged in rows all looking forwards, and I think that worked, although it was a bit odd for me to arrange 9 chairs in two forward-looking rows in the Teaching Grid, which begs for a very different style!

    The clickers seemed to work well too. Again, feedback was positive with a number stating that their introduction (and to Turning Point)  had been the most useful aspect of the workshop. As I have noted previously, it was *my* first time using them too, so I was a bit nervous about it and very aware that I probably hadn't composed questions which demonstrated or modeled the real potential clickers have for enhancing learning. I did quite a lot of hunting around on YouTube to see if I could find something suitable and did see a couple of excerpts which indicated that, used well, they potentially have a huge role to play. I need to do more work on that in preparation for the next time the workshop runs. Nonetheless, I think everyone in today's workshop could see the benefit of them even in the rather simple way I introduced them.

    What else would I change for the next workshop? Feedback raised a couple of things participants would have liked 'covered' and/or provided: how to manage class control, especially when using clickers; a greater theoretical and/or research introduction to the benefits of interaction in class; more technical information on how to set up and use clickers; and a comprehensive 'ideas' handout which listed a wide range of ways in which student participation can be increased. Some of those aspects really can't be fitted into a short 1hr workshop which might mean we need to think about increasing it to 1hr30m (for example). Or put on another, connected, workshop on, for example, 'Best practice in using clickers' or 'Getting to know Turning Point'. Some aspects, on the other hand (eg the 'ideas' handout) would be easy to compile and provide. I must do that. Anyone reading this blog: why don't you start contributing your own ideas? I'm not sure that I would specifically target any aspect of the workshop to change. However, I will keep my eyes open perhaps for a more challenging reading, or an alternative reading so that two groups can read different texts and interact with their content between them. I also want to get more ideas about the best use of clickers and what makes a 'good' clicker question, and then perhaps revise those slides.

    Anyone who attended the workshop, please do use the 'comment' facility with this blog to leave any more reflections, observations, etc. It's an open forum. Thanks!


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