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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, 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.



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