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Posts Tagged ‘engage

This tweet triggered a thought, i.e., the importance of intrinsic motivation and empowerment.

The tweet summarised the research on what motivated workers to contribute to free or open source software. It concluded that intrinsic motivation was the “strongest and most pervasive” driver.

We might apply this finding in teaching and learning. To bring intrinsic motivation to the surface, we cannot just engage learners, we must empower them.

It might even be harmful to rely on engagement. This puts all the effort in the teacher’s court and lets the student say “engage me otherwise I do not pay attention and learn”.

If we are to nurture lifelong learners, we need to promote long-term skills and attitudes, e.g., reflection methods, independent thought, lateral reading, informed skepticism. These change the game from one of teaching to that of learning.

Teaching and learning might look the same to a layperson, but an educator should know the differences. It is learning that matters and effective teaching is one way to ensure that happens. The other ways that do not get as much air time are intrinsic motivation and empowerment.

A basic prerequisite of learning is attention. If the attention of students is not on an activity or an experience, they are unlikely to learn from it.

If they are not dedicating one or more sense-gathering processes, there is nothing to post-process. Put plainly, if students are not watching a video closely or listening carefully to instructions, they are unlikely to benefit from a learning activity.

Now that scenario presumes a teacher-led classroom. This is a fair assumption to make as most classrooms are designed for teaching. If they were designed for learning, students might be able to conduct independent work or use other resources to learn.

So back to attention.

When you want students to pay attention, you try your best to engage them. But if you want students to give attention, you need to empower them. Therein lies a fundamental difference between teaching that is largely delivery-oriented and facilitating from a meddler-in-the-middle.

As I was grading the work of future instructors, this saying came up a few times: A picture paints a thousand words.

What they meant: Go beyond text and provide richer media like photos or videos because these can say much more.

I concur, but I also commented: There are also a thousand different messages and interpretations of the same image.

If you take only a teacher’s perspective, you see the need to engage with media that attract and hold the attention of students. The rationale might be: I cannot say so much in so little time, so I want to let the medium do it for me.

I use the learner’s point of view. What would a learner think or say? How many variants are there from one expected answer? Which of the interpretations are creative, critical, both creative and critical, superficial, non-sensical, etc.?

I use this CC-licensed image in various ways. One is to illustrate the importance of communication during systemic or organisational change.

The image never fails to get a variety of responses. There are often as many different interpretations as there are people in the room. Some focus on individuals, others on two or all three. Yet others comment on the expressions, orientation, gender, or even the lack of colour in the photo.

An image can paint a thousand words. But whose words do they belong to? Only the teacher who seeks to engage or also the students who are empowered?

I am currently in London, but my learning does not stop.

One of the things I decided to do was take my family on a walking tour of Greenwich.

Greenwich was a lovely place. It was interesting to be in the part of the world that historically and geographically defines the western and eastern halves.

Our guide, a wily older lady with 37 years of experience, told fairly interesting stories and she was quite a character. However, her method of delivery reminded me of old school practices.

It was practically about all of us listening to her talk. There was almost no time for questions and photographs as we hustled and bustled from one place to another.

When we were stationary, it was to listen to stories. Humourous and informative as some of them were, they were nonetheless disjointed. The kids in the group fidgeted. I fidgeted.

Eventually some of us learnt to wander off slightly to discover things our own and to take photographs before our guide mentioned what was photogenic. My trusty phone helped me snap my Lego family series, and I could Google Map where I was or Google for information.

While the guide provided her own insights, she had obviously honed her delivery down to an art. There was little need to adjust. It was fine to go at one pace in any one place.

If all this sounds familiar, it reflects teaching like much of it still is today. That is not good enough because a teacher does not just offer insights that students do not have. It is not enough that a guide or teacher be funny, informative, or knowledgeable. An educator must also create the desire to learn.

I contrast the walking guide’s method with a much younger leader I met during an afternoon tea on a Routemaster bus.

The bus guide did not just serve us delectable treats and pepper us with factual tidbits. More often than not, he asked us questions about what we saw around us. A group of Middle Eastern women at a table near us would reach for their phones to Google for answers. The rest would rack our brains to recall something we heard on other tours or from memory.

This other guide made a game of things. We were challenged to think and we were simultaneously put at ease in a conducive social and physical environment. I felt like I could get into trouble with the older guide at any time; the younger one made us comfortable despite quizzing us.

The issue is not the age of the guide or teacher. The issue is being in touch with how people learn and what they learn with today. Learners need to be more involved and to use the tools they prefer. The learner has this message for any guide or teacher: Engage me or enrage me.

I was going to tweet “I absolutely HATE how some videos auto play when you visit an @stcom page from a tweet” when I felt like a rant. But I cannot rant in 140 characters.

Does STonline need to make readers watch their videos only by auto playing them? Does it need to artificially inflate its video views?

The auto play videos piss me off. I must stop them, it makes me not want to watch them, and I get angry. Is STonline going to take the Stomp approach of “if you don’t like it, go elsewhere”?

I do not want to wake my sleeping my wife when I read in bed. I do not want to be startled while reading in a bus. I do not want to use up my data plan to load a video I did not ask to watch.

Is it too much to ask to read in peace and with peace of mind?

This sort of web page design reeks of old school “I know what is best” instead of addressing what readers need or want.

Speaking of old school, that is what some teachers do too. When one bright junior college student interviewed me, I interviewed her right back. She revealed that she would rather not be forced to attend lectures. “Just give us the lecture notes and let us read!” was her reply.

If the lecture does not add any value to students reading notes, I am inclined to agree. If you cannot engage the learner, do not enrage the learner.

Just like if you cannot engage the reader, do not enrage the reader with auto play videos.

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I have reflected several times about the issue of “engaging learners”.

I have said engagement is not enough. I have practically declared war on using technology simply to engage.

I forgot to mention something I curated a while ago: Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of students doing meaningful work.

That last one is probably the most impactful statement to translate into practice.

If you do this, you focus on educating, not entertaining. If you do this, you focus on what really works instead of fleeting gimmicks.

If you do this, you do not just tell your students things they can Google for themselves. You design meaningful un-Googleable tasks that rivet your learners to the process of learning, so much so that they forget that you are around.

You see engagement when it happens. It is less about what you do and more about what they do. It is less about how you teach and more about how they learn.

It is important to engage. But it is not enough simply to engage.

When you engage learners, you have their attention. You prime them for learning, but that does not guarantee they will learn. Engaging learners is like flicking a switch on. It can just as easily be switched off.

You need to build on engagement. To do that, you might:

  • Ask them to tell the rest of the story or to create something of value
  • Give them a difficult but meaningful problem to solve
  • Get them to test hypotheses
  • Connect them with other learners and knowledgeable others
  • Provide opportunities for them to perform and critique
  • Not give them all the answers

There are many other ways to build on engagement.

There is ONE key strategy that binds these strategies. The teacher should stop talking.

Telling is not teaching. Teaching is not learning. Only learning is learning.

We had a series of panel discussions for the ICT course last week. Representatives from schools gave two-hour talks, at least two of which started at 5.30pm, to bring a dose of reality into the course.

But the reality is that most teachers still believe lecturing works even when the evidence against it flies in their faces.

As I tweeted after one session, we should not call it a panel discussion if there is next to no discussion. Just how many questions did we get from the audience who had to sit through long lectures? How many of those questions were meaningful to the entire audience? And as much as I disliked how disrespectful some members of the audience were as they talked while a speaker was lecturing, I could not blame them entirely.

Look at it from the point of view of the student teacher. They were there outside of scheduled class time, the two sessions I attended with them were at dinner time, and the panel members lectured. Did the panel discussion give some insight into what happens in a few schools? Yes, but these are the same things our student teachers see or even experience before they enter NIE.

What the audience needed were deeper insights via quick video snippets which illustrate changes in pedagogy as mediated by various technologies. They did not need to see PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide on policies, models or catch phrases. No amount of talking can replace showing. Show them and sell to them; don’t lecture them or put them to sleep or send them to distraction!

Speaking of distraction, the audience was told to not use their laptops or other mobile computing devices. When I facilitated a session for another course last year, I told my groups to bring their mobile devices and switch them on because we had an online feedback and Q&A tool. If we had Twitter, i-SMS or some other similar tool running in the background this week, we would have had a back channel for timely comments, feedback and questions. Instead of being didactic, try this tactic!

Before this year’s session started, I had a short discussion with a few colleagues about this. While they wanted the computing devices off, I pointed out that they could be used for notetaking. I had brought my iPad along specifically for that purpose. It was not only a good way to stay focused, it also allowed me to peripherally monitor what else was going by way of email, Twitter feeds, etc.

If a talk is not engaging, the audience deserves to be distracted. Come on, we need to walk the talk! The teachers shared about how important it was to engage their students, so why should sharing in NIE be any different?

The teachers that we have nowadays grew up with the IT Masterplans in action. They know not encyclopedias; they know very well Wikipedia. They don’t like journalling but they enjoy updating their Facebook walls. Rather than than sit through a lecture, they would rather watch a series of YouTube videos.

I’m not saying anything new or saying it any better than what various online videos on digital youth say: Either we engage them or we enrage them.


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