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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy

It is post-Christmas, so how sick are you of this now classic song?

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Perhaps James Corden and his carpool karaoke gang will turn a bah-humbug moment into a smile.

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People with keen and critical ears have probably been deconstructing music since the first note was played. So this deconstruction and analysis of Mariah Carey’s now iconic All I Want for Christmas should be ordinarily wonderful.

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Reduced to a core, deconstruction is essentially pattern spotting and analysis. When applied to something as complex as music, the patterns of what makes a Christmas song catchy and successful might be identified and replicated.

So why do we not do this with pedagogy?

Make no mistake: I am not suggesting so-called “best practices” of teaching because contexts are different. But surely some practices are better than others.

Music can be analysed, critiqued, and modelled because it is shared openly and discussed widely. Practically anyone can appreciate music and could develop some form of expertise in it.

Pedagogy, on the other hand, is more mysterious and poorly understood. The science and art of teaching practices tend to be closed-off affairs. Teachers, instructors, lecturers, and professors do not generally welcome their peers to their classrooms unless it is appraisal time. Appraisals are to judge and value, not to deconstruct, reconstruct, and learn from.

With the exception of some places, most teachers do not need to renew their licenses to teach. As a result, there is little impetus to be challenged, to stay up-to-date, and to change.

We know what we have to change, but we resist because tradition, ego, policies, and whatever we can throw in the way gets in the way.

A university website claims that bookending lectures is innovative learning. It is neither innovative nor does it focus on learning.

The first bookend is providing an advance organiser and the other bookend is summarising. In between is a series of lecturing and activities that I call pedagogical ping-pong.

Pedagogical ping-pong is an iterative process: Deliver-practice-repeat. In layperson’s lingo, it is often “I tell you first, then you give it back to me”. This is often repeated cycles of just-in-case delivery followed by practice or testing.

What is wrong with this design? The presenting of information first is providing a solution before a problem is obvious. It reflects an expert’s deconstruction of a problem and the retelling of a solution. This makes no sense and does not reflect the logical or authentic problems in the wider world.

Pedagogical ping-pong encourages short-term use of recently provided information. For example, you provide a formula and you get students to practice using it. They will seem to understand and even apply it because of recency, not long-term learning.

An alternative approach is to put the problem first. This presents an issue in all its complexity by dealing with a puzzle or phenomenon first. Where lectures are a must, the design of the lesson could start with a wider world issue as captured in a video, followed by questions to clarify and scaffold, and then by providing just-in-time information.

The alternative approach makes visible expert and novice thinking behind problem-solving. It focuses not just on content but also on thinking processes. Taking this approach requires a shift in mindset: Content is not an end in itself; it is a means of teaching learners to master new thinking skills, change attitudes, and/or adopt different values.

While at a university campus recently, I decided to get lunch from a canteen food stall that I had not visited in about two years. The tenants were no longer there, but there was a replacement.

I decided to try their fish and chips. That is all I got: Some overcooked breaded fish and a few potato wedges. I guess I expected too much given what the previous tenant offered.

I asked if they could give me some coleslaw. The server looked offended, plonked a teaspoonful on my plate, and mumbled, “Normally we don’t give!”

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This clip of Oliver asking for more came immediately came to my mind.

I quickly forgot the clip as the food not only cost more, it also tasted terrible.

It was not just me. A group of undergraduate students sat at my table and one who opted for another dish from the same stall complained about the cost, the taste, and the unpleasant service.

As I returned my plate and cutlery, I remembered what the server said: “Normally we don’t give!” Normally, I would expect better service and food.

However, what is “normal” can change. When new management takes over, they can prioritise quantity instead of quality. When they do, they go for the biggest bang for their buck. It makes the most sense on paper and it can be profitable. If the tenant gets bad reviews, they leave, and someone else runs through the revolving door to take their place.

While I ruminate on the food experience, this is really about university education. I was on campus to conduct a series of workshops to change the teaching mindsets, expectations, and behaviours of future faculty.

By sheer coincidence, one future professor/lecturer gave a blunt assessment when I asked the group what they would build on from the previous sessions:

Teaching methods at {university name removed} are TERRIBLE!! Lecturers have no interesting [sic] in eliciting an emotional response from the students.

Perhaps this was that person’s way of saying “Normally we don’t give… a damn about teaching.”

Not everyone is as candid. However, just about anyone with a current experience as a university student can probably relate.

There are a few very good university educators who stay up to date with technology and the latest developments in pedagogy. However, this is not norm.

This is why I like being part of a small group of educators that is trying to change what is normal. If we cannot change existing faculty who are too set in their ways, we will work with future faculty who are more in touch with learner expectations. When they become professors in their own right whether here or elsewhere, they might bring their new insights with them.

There is no guarantee that all will change for the better. Whatever changes that happen will also take at least a generation of instructors to turn over. However, we play the long game and we hedge our bets.

If we do nothing, nothing will happen. If we do something, something might.

I tweeted this because I had read several tweets from ICTLT 2016 that proclaimed that pedagogy should be the driver.

Pedagogy-as-driver might be news to some. This is normally linked to technology-as-accelerator. All this should not be news but “olds” because:

  • it has made its rounds in the edu-blogosphere and edu-Twitterverse for a while
  • the model is emotionally appealing and descriptive, but is not practised widely and prescriptive

If pedagogy-as-driver must be a rallying call, at least recognise that pedagogy itself is not neutral. There are good and bad practices. There are better and terrible ones.

I take the lunatic part of my tweet back because bad pedagogy is not just a careless, blind, or unquestioning driver. A common and bad pedagogy is also a driver that goes only at one speed, on a single lane, and only straight ahead.

In teaching terms, this looks like classroom instruction that only happens at one pace, in one place, and only in one direction. There is little or no attempt to adjust to the circumstances, take pitstops, or make detours. Such teaching is driven largely by curricula and tests instead of the learner and learning.

Bad pedagogy can drive technology use. Such use is harmful because it does not change the way teachers and students behave in class. The signs are obvious:

  • Technology is largely in the hands of the teacher
  • The teacher is doing most, if not all, of the talking
  • The teacher does the teaching and the learning
  • Students only do what the teacher tells them to do
  • The students do not explore, connect, or create

In such a scenario, technology use accelerates you back to the past. Its use is actually redundant because the practice was already embedded in the past. So much time and money gets spent doing the same old thing.

Unfortunately, such “accelerated” pedagogy can look good. It can feel good to teachers because they are in their comfort zone. It seems good to the students initially due to the novelty. But is does no good over the long haul.

For technology integration to be effective, it must also be in the hands of learners, there must be multiple drivers, and different destinations. Ultimately, the single driver and accelerator analogy ceases to be relevant. I share an alternative tomorrow.


Good grades may help you look smart. Good questions help you get smart.

This is not one of my better image quotes. It has been sitting in a Google Slide deck for a while. But the words are more important than the image.

I got the quote partly off a tweet from my Twitter stream a while ago. Unfortunately, I did not take note of the URL.

But I did keep track of the original CC-licensed image.

Reunion dinners during the Lunar New Year are ripe for conversations that are inane and mundane.

Two people at my table started talking about how my son inherited my flat feet. As if to go one up, my wife worried that she might have passed her thalassaemia to him.

Forget the inane and mundane, we were downright depressing!

At that point, my now ancient Biology background kicked into gear. I almost shared how some scientists have postulated that blood-related conditions like thalassaemia and sickle cell anaemia might be evolutionary survival strategies.

These states are not life-threatening to people under non-extreme circumstances. They also happen to provide unfavourable conditions for agents of disease. For example, sickle cell tends to be endemically high in populations in malarial hotspots because the condition affords some resistance to malaria.

I almost shared it. I decided not to because very few appreciate unsolicited information.

Then I asked myself: When does a teaching moment become a learning one?

A teachable moment is one that good teachers recognise and grab intuitively. But just because a teacher senses a moment does not mean the learner shares the same head space.

What makes a teachable moment a learning one?

Not attention, the over-cited engagement, or even juicy information nuggets. These are what the teacher thinks is important and tries to create.

Questions matter. Not questions from the teacher, but questions from the learner. Questions that come right before the teachable moment and questions that follow. These show that the learner is vested in the problem or process.

Need an example? I think that @genrwong’s recent reflection on the butterfly effect is an excellent one. It illustrates perfectly how the context and questions come first and that the teachable moment is a response to these elements.

More teachers need to take advantage or create such teachable moments. They remind us what the best forms of teaching take: A question-based pedagogy, not an answer-based one.

Terry Heick shared five things Minecraft can teach us about pedagogy.

I share and suggest five more.

1. Play is powerful
Play is the most instinctive way we learn and it is not wrong to have fun. The problem is that school teaches us otherwise. Both adults and kids need to unlearn that we stop playing as we get older.

2. Not starting with objectives, not ending with assessments
The objectives and outcomes in Minecraft are not fixed. The player defines his or her own. While objectives and outcomes can be set by someone else other than the player, this might be an obstacle to learning about, with, and from the game.

Learning is not always a function or result of teaching. It does not have to start with a teacher’s objectives, nor must it always end with a traditional assessment. Authentic problems are defined and solved by people and players. They define outcomes and they determine success or failure.

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Game-based learning guru, James Paul Gee, is fond of pointing out that games flip the instructional process by putting tests or assessments first. The problems (not the objectives) define learning needs and the learners fill these needs with the help of more knowledgeable others.

3. Just-in-time and just-for-me learning
Learning without restrictive, externally-imposed objectives is more natural because the player defines what is important or meaningful. The processes of play include problem-seeking, learning on-the-run, and problem-solving.

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For example, when trying to figure out how to tame a horse (the outcome), a player might seek game forums, Minecraft wikis, YouTube videos, or each other as sources of information (the content). The evidence is a tamed, rideable horse that does not escape (the evidence of learning, a key purpose of assessment).

4. Curriculum agnostic
Minecraft has been used to teach an assortment of academic subjects simply because it is not designed for any particular one.

The best educational technologies are content and curriculum neutral. They are blank slates, extremely flexible tools, or regularly used instruments with which both teachers and students can create.

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5. Communicating and collaborating in context
Even though Minecraft does not favour any particular content area, it provides context for the expression of issues and ideas for them. That is why it is often described as being LEGO-like or a sandbox.

Expression by creating with bricks or shaping with sand can be by an individual or a group. The power of Minecraft is that it enables both. But if you think that what individuals create is amazing, then collaborative efforts will floor you.

Any good game can be used for game-based learning as long as teachers realise that content is not the end in itself. Content is not king and it is a means to ends.

Context is king and where content is applied. It is then evaluated, reused, revised, or discarded. That is how the world works because that is how our brains work. To deny that is to deny reality and a more meaningful and powerful way to learn.

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