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Studying students studying

Posted on: August 26, 2015

It has been a year since I left NIE/NTU to be an independent education consultant. Last week I put myself back into an NTU tutorial room for the first of a series of workshops.

Participants in individual learning mode during a segment of the workshop.

The workshops are designed for teaching assistants and graduate students who wish to work on their teaching muscles. However, the overall course design promises to focus not primarily on teaching, but on understanding the learner of today and processes of learning. This design was what drew me in.

At the mass briefing for participants, I tweeted a question that one of them asked:

The question excited me simply because this instructor-to-be was already thinking like his learners.

As is my habit, I opted to break out of the institutional LMS whenever possible and provide resources more openly and logically in a Google Site (GS). The GS also allowed me to embed unsanctioned but simple and powerful tools like YouTube, Padlet, and AnswerGarden.

  • GS was simply a platform for organizing questions, resources, and tools logically.
  • Information was primarily delivered by YouTube videos.
  • Padlet provided spaces for individual and small group reflection.
  • AnswerGarden was useful for rising above and getting a sense of what was important to the group as a whole.

Participants in think-pair-share mode during the workshop.

As usual, I selected tools that were pedagogically neutral. For example, I used Padlet to present questions and resources, and then to collect responses for both individual reflective work and for think-pair-share.

However, a tool like AnswerGarden collects inputs and creates word clouds from them. It was better for rising above and whole-class discussions.

Note 1: I did not emphasize strongly enough to submit each idea individually. Some responses had two or more ideas despite the character limit. But it is quite obvious what the class thought about how student today learn: With Google, YouTube, online videos.

Note 2: AnswerGarden has 20-character responses that you can change to 40 characters. The tool is optimized for the desktop and not yet mobile friendly. I hope that its creators deliver on the promise it made (see tweets below).

I focused on putting my participants in their students’ shoes. For example, when watching a YouTube video together, I played the first eight-minute video at faster and faster speeds. This is what many students do because it saves time. As the video was old, speeding it up also mimicked the shorter, faster paced videos of today.

But I held back on modelling everything. For example, after the first video, I told my participants to watch the remaining two videos on their own and answer some questions. Their notes were to be transferred to a shared Padlet later.

Anyone who has watched videos and tried to take notes at the same time knows that this is not that straightforward. Here are two main strategies I observed. One was splitting the screen up based on function and purpose.

Only a handful did this as they needed systems, typically laptops, with high enough screen resolutions to do this.

The more common strategy was to watch the video in one tool, e.g., a device with a screen, and record notes in another, e.g., another device. Only one or two hand-wrote notes and at least two worked exclusively on their phones. Most of the participants opted to use two devices.

As with most learning opportunities, there are at least three elements that a facilitator can manipulate: Content, context, and connection.

Most instructors focus on content and its delivery. This does not necessarily take into account the readiness of the learner.

The context for the graduate students and teaching assistants is not immediate as they are unlikely to be teaching in a university in a full time position. Then the danger is that the concepts and experiences they had in the workshop seem theoretical.

However, it helps that the physical and social contexts are like the ones they would eventually teach in. A facilitator can toggle them between learner (current context) and instructor (future context) roles while reflecting in each state. The context strategy might be perspective-taking via these main questions:

  • How/When/Where do you learn best?
  • How were you taught?
  • How do students of today learn?
  • How might we teach?

The perspective-taking then helps participants connect with the concepts and principles that they process during the workshop. The thought process might be: This is what I do and how I was taught, but the learner of today is/is not like me. Therefore, this is how I might teach differently.

3 Responses to "Studying students studying"

Dr Ashley Tan: @CreativeHeroes I see. You’re welcome. Thank you for providing educators with one more tool & for being so responsive! #edsg via


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