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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 '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.



December 15, 2009

PCAPP Exploring Course Design workshop: post session reflection

Follow-up to PCAPP workshop: Exploring Course Design (pre session reflection) from Alison's blog

I was pleased with this workshop, although (predictably perhaps) it didnt go entirely according to plan. The mindmap activity took longer than I'd anticipated, but I realised as I circulated around the three groups that they were achieving exactly the purpose(s) I'd intended: it was proving an effective way of enabling us all to map the terrain and to benefit from the experience of all attending; it immediately put the whole group into 'collaborative' mode, setting the scene for the rest of the session; it engendered discussion about why people had included certain aspects and placed them were they had, when other groups had done something different (a very fruitful discussion since participants then started to dig deeper into issues of course and module design); and it was a good way of getting participants to get to know each other relatively quickly.

Using the Smart boards was less successful! For a previous workshop this had been a definite 'value added' aspect of the session. Lots of boys enjoyed playing with lots of toys! (Sorry chaps, am I being sexist?!) However, this time round the groups generally found the Smart boards more of a distraction than an attraction and before two long two of the three had abandoned their use in favour of flip chart and conventional whiteboard. I could entirely understand why, since the tablet gave too small a writing area for a mindmap, and one of the two others seemed really tricky to write on legibly. A lesson for me here: I don't use these Smart boards regularly and although I had a good hour (plus) playing with them a few months ago and getting to know some of their features, I had forgotten how to get them to do basic things like convert writing to typed fonts, or turn over a page. Had I had that information at my finger tips I might have been able to make the experience of using them more straightforward.

I often wrestle with how to balance my desire for sessions to be interactive and participative with the need for input of content and giving participants something meaty to chew on. In this workshop, the mindmaps did seem to meet that need, and it was augmented by Jenny Hughes's contribution which a) provided us all with an authoritative source of important and relevant information, and b) offered the opportunity for questions at a later point in the session. I think Jenny achieved just the right balance too between showing people where they could go to find information and highlighting aspects that were particularly relevant.

The practical application worked well, and each of the three groups quickly and effectively understood the task and went into action. Some excellent and well-thought-through examples of constructive alignment were developed.

I think I achieved what I wanted to achieve, therefore. I wonder whether I should consider designing some sort of way of testing that, but I guess that would be unpopular! But my sense following the workshop was that we had done what we could in 3 hours: introducing participants to the major aspects that needed to be taken into consideration, allowing plenty of space for contributions and questions, giving the opportunity for practical application, and generally equipping those attending with information and skills necessary to enhance their practice in the future. I hope I also achieved some of my deeper-level goals, modelling ways of teaching and facilitating sessions that might have been new, and engaging in reflective practice.


Participant feedback and comments from evaluation sheets

Feedback from the group was good, although with the predictable mix of preferences. Some would have liked more direct input, some even less; some found the contribution about the university's regulations the most useful part of the workshop, some the least. All found the teaching and learning methods either neutral (2 responses), effective (5 responses) or very effective (2 responses). The feedback comments included:

I just wanted to say thanks for today's workshop, it was the most useful and enjoyable pcapp workshop that I've been to!  Lots of useful information and it was really great to have Jenny there to answer the specific details.  This made our learning very tangible.

There was a lot of reflection and group work. I would have preferred this to have been integrated with some stand alone teaching eg via powerpoint.

I really enjoyed the mind-map / group activity. Very effective model.


I take the second comment seriously. It is something I have to work at thinking through. I shall start a new blogpost thread.

What would I do differently next time? I would re-think the use of the Smart boards. I will think through whether a more focused 'content delivery' would be appropriate, and if so, how I can do that without abandoning or upsetting some of the other more reflective dimensions of the workshop. That's a good challenge I relish getting my teeth into!



December 02, 2009

PCAPP workshop: Exploring Course Design (pre session reflection)

Follow-up to PCAPP workshops from Alison's blog

I have just finished planning the first of the two workshops on Dec 15th, Exploring Course Design. My workshop outline and plan can be accessed here. I think it would be helpful if I provided some sort of rationale about why I've planned it like this.

I had originally wanted to do something much more innovative, bringing in people from the Capital Centre and maybe others from different departments in the University. I may still do that the next time I run it, but this time there were particular circumstances that meant I needed to play a bit safer.

My major criteria continue to focus on my desire: a) to treat participants as adults, many of whom may well bring experience of course design to the session; b) to encourage, foster and model reflective practice; and c) to make the session as applied as possible, so that participants leave not only with an awareness of the issues embedded within the subject but also having had the opportunity to think about how they relate to their own practice and discipline.

In response to the first criterion, the first aspect I know I must do is not put a 'teacher-student' relationship and dynamic in place. I think some of the metaphors for teaching and learning are very powerful, and in this case I do not want to cultivate a culture of 'sage on the stage' transmitting wisdom to those who know little; the mug and jug metaphor, where the jug 'pours' knowledge into 'mugs' (in more than one sense of the word!). Instead, I want to be a facilitator, a guide to fellow journeyers who has as much to learn from those I am guiding than they have from me; the 'guide on the side' metaphor. The obvious way in which this can be put into place is by preparing activities in which there is a significant amount of peer-to-peer interaction and learning, and I draw alongside to contribute expertise at times when needed or it would be beneficial. The opening task of my workshop will work to that principle. I hope that by asking participants to develop a mind-map using the early prompts I provide a  number of things will be achieved. Those who have experience in course design will be able to use it as well as teach their less-experienced peers. Those who might be reluctant to ask questions in public will hopefully be more willing to ask, or at least learn by osmosis, through the group discussion. The mind-maps which the groups  produce will undoubtedly differ from the one I prepared earlier (Blue Peter- or Delia Smith-like!) which should then give rise to a good number of questions that we can pick up and discuss in the plenary following. It's at that point that I can monitor and check what content needs to be formally introduced, but rather than present it in a 'you need to know this so please sit quietly and listen' fashion, I hope that having created the need to know, participants will be more ready to actively listen and engage. I will have a range of photocopies ready to give out so that they can go away with something as well as see its relevance for their own purposes.

This is one way in which I also hope to address the criticism that my previous workshop on assessment was 'content-lite'.It's quite a delicate balance to get this right: delivery of too much content makes PCAPP participants feel diminished and inferior; too little, on the other hand, makes them wonder why they needed to attend at all, and they leave frustrated because most of the time they actually did want to go away confident that they had a reasonable overview of the terrain. I think this is a balance that many of my academic colleagues also face in their own lectures, so I hope that maybe this workshop will offer at least one way of handling the dilemma.

Which brings me to my second criterion: the desire to foster and encourage reflective practice. I am trying something new in deliberately pausing the workshop and asking participants to reflect, privately, on the way I am running it, its structure, its plan, the rationale behind it, and its outworking. I can't afford to allow this to open up into a public discussion (and even I might find that a bit too close to the bone if they are highly critical!) but I would like them to realise that there are two dimensions to any class: content and pedagogy, and that the purpose of PCAPP is to focus their attention on the latter. I also want them to realise that there are few rights and wrongs in this arena, and that even the so-called experts can try things out which fall flat on their face, or be highly successful for one class and a flop in the next. Teaching, learning and assessment is like that: territory which, although well explored and mapped, is nonetheless often unpredictable. So I'm going to ask them to make notes, just bullet points, but something that focuses their attention on the pedagogical side of the workshop as well as on its content, in the hope that they will develop a sensitivity to thinking about their own practice. If they chose to, though, they could put some of their comments onto this blog...

Lastly, I want the session to be applied, relevant, and useful to participants. My original idea was to get everyone to design a new PCAPP module or programme. It is the only thing we all have in common, and I might still offer that as a possibility. Participants often comment on (complain about?) the fact that the PCAPP approach seems to be 'one size fits all' when in fact each subject discipline functions very differently from all the others. It would be a bold move to ask them to redesign PCAPP, but it would have a number of advantages, not least providing the PCAPP team with valuable feedback about what participants would value, and how they would go about providing it. We could then incorporate it into our own revisions of the programme. I shall play that by ear on the day though, and also go with a neutral module that most of them could hopefully relate to, as well as give them the option of designing their own. Jenny Hughes from the Academic (something) office(!) will be coming in half way through to talk about many of the university's policies and regulations regarding course design and validation. I am toying with the idea of asking her to stay, or maybe return, so that when the groups have prepared their modules or courses, she and I and the remainder of the class can act as a validation panel. This should be a reasonably effective way both of revising content and of bringing home to the participants the experience of a mock validation and the need to take a wide range of issues into consideration when designing a course.

So that's what I'm planning. The next thing is to conduct the workshop. I've got my photocopies prepared for the class, and will need to confer with the Teaching Grid staff to see how best to set up the space. But for the moment, I'm done. :-)



November 12, 2009

PCAPP workshops

I am thinking ahead to the two PCAPP workshops I am due to deliver in December. I delivered them both last year, for the first time, soon after I arrived at Warwick. I quickly realised that all was not plain sailing and that I needed to take quick and effective action (see previous blogpost) and one of the measures I took was to move the next session into the Teaching Grid. It made a huge improvement, partly because of the added value of having the technology to play with, partly because it was much more effective at respecting the 'adultness' of participants, and partly because it allowed me to experiment with a different approach to the session.

One of the regulations that the Teaching Grid requires in order for people to use it, is that facilitators/teachers should be trying something out that is innovative. It doesn't need to be innovative within the whole teaching profession, but it does need to be new for the individual concerned, who should be trying out something that he/she hasn't done before. That was clearly the case for me at that workshop. The success of the workshop meant that I wanted to continue having it in the Teaching Grid, which in turn provided me with the opportunity to continue reflecting on my practice and exploring new ways of conducting these workshops.

The TG has requested now that for each booking we articulate, albeit in draft and semi-formed form, the innovative nature of each session we conduct there, so I need to think about the sessions I am running on Dec 15th. I have already changed a few things. I am running 'Exploring Course Design' and 'Assessment Practice and Strategies', which last year were put on as two separate workshops on different days. However, there is a clear overlap between them, and so this year I have arranged for them to take place on the same day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, with a lunch break between. This follows the format of the Teaching Large Groups and Teaching Small Groups workshops, so there is already a precedent. I anticipate (and hope) that the participants will be largely the same for both sessions, although I can obviously not make this a requirement and it may be that some come for the afternoon that did not attend in the morning, and the reverse. I have reworked the workshop outline for each of them (these can be found here and here) and have put an emphasis on reflection and reflective practice, hopefully balancing that alongside input of content.

So what am I going to do that is innovative?

I have a number of innovative ideas that I want to put into place, but this time round I am going to hold back. It may be that I can't conduct the workshops in December; for private and personal reasons I may be absent, and so I need to think about someone standing in for me would feel comfortable doing.  However, I think that the major underlying premise of developing reflective practitioners may serve the purpose. I am planning sessions in which participants collaborate and contribute expertise and knowledge to construct something together, reflecting as they progress and as new knowledge and information becomes available. This is quite different from the traditional lead and transmit content from the front approach, and will be quite different for me in this situation, although in some senses it is an approach I am familiar with through my background in distance learning. Face-to-face and DL operate quite differently, though, so I think it is legitimate to claim this is innovative for me, especially in the context of PCAPP which has a unique group of participants.

Secondly, although I can't make too much of this, I think the idea of holding two separate workshops and integrating them into a bigger whole is also innovative. It will potentially mean that 'experts' from the morning have the opportunity (if I build this in) to 'teach' newcomers any essential information in the afternoon, which is a different approach in its own right. It means I can allow a greater degree of flexibility and follow leads and questions as they come up to a greater extent, although I must also make sure that important and necessary content is introduced and engaged with.

So what can I write for the Teaching Grid? Let's have a go...

I am requesting to book the Experimental Teaching Space in the Teaching Grid all day on Tuesday December 15th in order to hold two PCAPP workshops there: Exploring Course Design, and Assessment Practice and Strategies. It is the first time that these two workshops have been held on the same day (and therefore also in the same venue) and one of the opportunities that this offers and which I would like to explore is a different use of time, with corresponding different 'use of' or participation from those attending. I plan to use a constructivist approach in which the experience of those attending is built on and used right from the start, probably using case studies and/or the only shared programme that everyone has in common, the PCAPP programme itself, in order to encourage participants to identify and engage with the challenges, first of designing a course or module, and secondly of setting assessment for it. Because it is impossible to anticipate in what order questions, issues, ways of responding to challenges etc will arise, this necessitates a very flexible approach which is quite different from anything I have done before. It will require me to adapt my role and take on an identity with participants that they may not be expecting or be familiar with: that of an expert whom they can consult and a person who asks pertinent questions they need to wrestle with, rather than someone who delivers information they need to absorb and take away. Another innovative feature I might include (this needs further thought and/or organisation) is to invite three or four outside experts who will form a panel to scrutinise the design of the module or course that participants have drawn up, and who will therefore provide authoritative content.

In the afternoon session, the expertise of those who attended in the morning will be used in order to do a quick brief of newcomers. This again is not something I have regularly built into my workshops, but I feel it will contribute enormously to the dynamic of the session. In the past, a (small) proportion of participants have clearly had considerable experience in the area that the workshop tackles, but since it is core to the programme they have not been able to gain exemption. Rather than ask them to sit and be 'informed' about things they feel they already know, I intend to exploit (and value) this wealth of experience and knowledge by asking them to lead, mentor and contribute. All of the participants will come with some experience of assessing students, and I plan to use this for discussion leading to a critical evaluation once again of the PCAPP programme.

Lastly, one of my goals is to develop participants as reflective practitioners. Before the session I will direct them to this blog and from time to time during the session I will ask them to pause and reflect on how it's going, what is making it a success and what needs to be rethought for next time, as well as what they might be able to incorporate into their own practice. This will include the use of space, something which will direct their attention to the attributes of the Teaching Grid. I have never incorporated a deliberate reflection on the dynamics of my class as it is progressing into my teaching. I will feel somewhat vulnerable, but think it is important to model externally what I hope they will take away and put into practice internally.

For all these reasons, I feel that my sessions are enabling me to try out some innovative teaching practices that are new to me, and which I hope will develop my own practice.





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