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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy

The last year has seen the rise of Zoom for teaching and learning. It has also seen proponents of faceless Zoom.

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Faceless Zoom is allowing students to not have their cameras on. A teacher might do this is to respect the privacy of his/her students. 

Zoom captures what happens in the students’ backgrounds. Since some students might not have conducive learning environments outside the classroom, what happens in the background could become distracting to everyone. These backgrounds also provide insights on the students’ socioeconomic statuses and these can heighten divides.

One way to mitigate this issue is for students to use artificial backgrounds or to blur their backgrounds in Zoom. However, these backgrounds interfere with movements or demonstrations on camera. Video algorithms attempt to hide anything that is not a relatively still head and shoulder, so anything that you or your students hold up will get blurred or hidden.

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This is another reason for faceless Zoom. Stanford reported four factors that could contribute to Zoom fatigue (my summary). One possible contributing factor was seeing so many faces so much of the time. The same article went into why this might be psychologically and physiologically tiring.

But I counter with this: If you are only conducting classes online where faces are optional, you might be doing it wrong. 

When are faces optional? When you do not really need them, e.g., teacher-centred and non-interrupted lectures. What is wrong with such lectures? See the image quote below.

The danger of lectures is that they create the illusion of teaching for teachers, and the illusion of learning for learners.

Zoom need not and should not be faceless. As educators, we should create the need and desire to see and work with others. 

This goes beyond the technological mitigation of replacing real backgrounds with digital ones. Such a strategy is quick and convenient — some old-school folks might call this technical savvy — but it does not address the desire to remain faceless.

Students can remain faceless in a large Zoom class or lecture. They have no incentive to show their faces because they are talked to but not listened to. They are not asked for comments, questions, or feedback. If they are, such interventions are so sporadic as to not require constant face time.

Lectures are not just teacher-centric because they focus on the one-way flow of information. They can be teacher-centric in Zoom if the teacher insists on seeing student faces just to get affirmation, e.g., nodding heads.

But even the best lecturer will subject students to Zoom fatigue of a different sort — one lecture after another. You might as well rely on a playlist YouTube videos instead. Then students can watch asynchronously at least.

We can avoid lectures and faceless Zoom with pedagogical redesign. I do not mean lesson designs that require students to show presence. This is administrative attendance taking or gamified being-there. I am about lessons that are designed for being present.

What circumstances require students to be present? Lessons that value their queries and inputs. Classes that are dominated by cooperation or collaboration. Sessions that are driven by problem-seeking, problem-solving, peer teaching, and meaningful project work.

The easiest thing to do is identifying sessions where these approaches can lead lesson design. The most difficult is changing teacher mindsets towards taking that first easy step.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Today I reflect on the rumination of two edubloggers far wiser than me.

I quoted earlier from Martin Weller who wrote:

We decry the tendency to simply replicate lectures online, but then do the same with meetings. We call for educators to use technology to its advantage to realise new pedagogies, and then recreate face to face conferences in Zoom. We stress the need to rethink your teaching approach to ensure learners are not adversely affected and then conduct line management via Teams.

Weller described how many seem to default to old and ineffective methods because these seem safe. One might think that such behaviour is collectively enforced in teaching.

When Larry Cuban observed his grand-daughter experiencing remote lessons during the pandemic, he opined that: 

…teachers teach at a distance unintentionally encouraging the dominant mode of classroom instruction in the U.S., that is, teacher-directed… For those teachers who want student-directed learning, that is, for children to participate more in lessons, to make decisions, and to work with class-mates in small groups, well, the screen medium makes that especially difficult, if not impossible.

Cuban went a step further by highlighting how the affordances of edtech shape how much a teacher can do. Such affordances are encoded in the technology and they limit what a progressive educator might do.

As I review documents and provide advice to agencies on online course redesign, I find the elements of social enforcement and encoded affordances bubbling to the surface. In all cases, the edtech is far behind in terms of what we need. Human behaviours can be reshaped, but this will take time that we can ill afford. I wonder which aspect will catch up first.

The tweet below reminded me about some email attachments that I receive.

Not only can computer viruses masquerade as Microsoft Office attachments, they are also a statement of privilege.

The Office suites used to be one-time purchases but have been subscription-based for a while now. The cost for both systems are prohibitive unless you work for an institute that pays for site licences. If you leave that organisation, you lose access unless you cough up for a personal subscription.

So if I receive a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet to complete, I know that the senders are out of touch with their students. Why? Because they do not empathise with how many more people do not have access to the tools that they take for granted. 

A little empathy can inform technology-mediated pedagogy. As the tweet above implores, educators can use free and open tools for course documents and student-led content creation spaces. These tools force a change in approach to teaching from centralised delivery to distributed discourse and discovery.

Microsoft Word and Google Docs are not just different word processing tools. They are come with different costs and have different philosophies of use. The former was dominant but still embedded firmly in the past. The latter is more common now and meets the needs of the present and near future. Mark my words: Which you choose to use reflects your mindset and expectations.

 
I do not leave home as much as I use to given the current pandemic. But almost every time I do, someone stops me to ask for directions. This happens whether I am on familiar ground or not.

So I have started to wonder if I look like I belong or somehow know the surroundings even if I do not. Either that or more people now get lost and do not know how to use a map app.

Perhaps I am thinking too much about a non-issue. It might just be faster and more social to just ask someone. This is despite the fact that a) you might get the wrong information because you cannot verify the expertise of the person you are asking, and b) you remain dependent on someone else instead of learning how to use an app.

Now consider this. I know that some in schooling and education are lost or directionless with regard to technology-mediated pedagogies. Yet they do not ask someone like me or learn from expert others via social media. They choose instead to follow their internal compass and muddle along.

They might be heading in the right direction. They might not. The problem with schooling and education is that the journeys are long and the landscape sometimes changes so slowly and subtly that folks think they are on the right track. That is until someone point this out. Then they ignore the call, shoot the messenger, or take the warning seriously. Sadly, not many belong to the last group. I wish more of these people would stop me and ask for directions.

Zoom fatigue might be real, but the term is a misnomer. What might actually contribute more to teacher and student fatigue is poor pedagogy.

Such is the pedagogy of uncritical and uninformed transfer — the attempt to simply recreate a classroom dominated by teacher talk and constant monitoring. This focuses on what a teacher needs to do. It does not necessarily focus on the learner and learning.

Learning is what matters, often takes place outside the classroom, and is difficult to measure. There is a long tail of learning and what happens in a classroom — a physical or an online one — might only be the start. So why put all your eggs in one basket only to see them crack?

 
The best bit of this article might have been left for last. People still conflate (and confuse) modality with pedagogy.

To quote the article: “…online learning is often accused of being passive, and face-to-face learning is described as being dynamic. However, large, lecture-based, on-campus courses can also be passive, and small, online seminar courses can be dynamic and engaging”.

Much depends on the pedagogical design and implementation of each modality. The author advised readers to consider flexible learning, flipped learning, and inquiry-based learning (IBL) from a pedagogical point of view instead of a modal one. She dedicated a paragraph on the brief history of each approach.

My critiques: Having researched and practiced them, I found the flipped and inquiry approaches lacking in detail.

  • The “flipped learning” description focused on the early iterations of flipping classroom practice (where things happen) instead of actually flipping the learning (who does what).
  • The IBL paragraph did not explore its roots in science education and the thinking that drives it, i.e., learning-to-be and learning-about.

That said, I found the brief review on open pedagogy, open educational practices, OER, and the like useful. There is just as much confusion about what these as the previous issues on modality.

I liked that the author avoided defending one term over another and instead stuck to basic principles: Define every term you use so that others understand you. This is not about sounding high and mighty. It is about basic communication.

 
Today I continue with my notes on yesterday’s article.

The other half of the article started with a rather optimistic “shifts from old-fashioned binary thinking” of face-to-face vs online. IMHO, reality bites hard and people still operate by that binary, e.g., face-to-face is better.

Thankfully, it focused on more nuanced terms like emergency remote teaching (my reflection) as something that resulted from an urgent situation (COVID-19 lockdowns) and unprepared teachers (low digital literacy). This distinction is important — emergency remote teaching is not the same as online learning which had decades of practice and research to back it up.

The author then returned to redefining “online learning”. She used three previously described design elements — modality, pedagogy, and course access — as defining blocks of online learning.

Building on an example she cited, a more precise description of an “online” course might read:

  • Modality: A synchronous, video-enabled seminars…
  • Pedagogy: …based on existing lecture series…
  • Access: … available only by registration on XYZ learning management system.

The author warned of vague terms like online, blended, and hybrid. These should raise alarms in anyone reading these in course descriptions because these terms can immediately be followed with the question “What do you mean by…?” (I would add a few more equally vague but commonly used terms like interactive, engage, and lifelong.)

Before focusing on pedagogy, the author reminded the reader of the importance of shared meanings. If we use the same terms but mean different things, we risk creating misunderstandings professionally as researchers and practitioners.

I save the focus on pedagogy in my next reflection.

The age of COVID-19 has pushed us to rely on technologies for remote teaching and learning. But how far have we pushed ourselves pedagogically? How have we actually changed the way we assess learning?

This Times Higher Education (THE) article started with the premise that the assessment of learning in higher education is often an afterthought that still takes the form of pen and paper examinations.

Traditional mainstays of assessment have failed in the age of COVID-19. This was evidenced by remote proctoring debacles and the abandoning of IB and GCE/GCSE exams.

According to the article, such dated assessment design is down to bureaucracy, i.e., administrative needs prioritised over student and learning needs. Students and faculty have little power (if any) to question the status quo.

A professor, Dr Jesse Stommel, who was interviewed for the article declared:

He and other interviewees were effectively suggesting what I like to call the pedagogy of trust (PoT). PoT is built on a foundation that students have varied life experiences, diverse needs, and a broad spectrum of goals.

Part of the PoT in assessment design might include more authentic assessments that are based on real-world issues, perhaps shaped by students themselves, and require meaningful opportunities for cooperation.

The article did not suggest how we might implement PoT in detail. To do so, faculty need to answer this question: Is trust mostly earned or created?

If educators think that students need to show that they are trustworthy first, nothing will change. There will always be some students who will cheat and take shortcuts. Ironically, they might do so because of university rules and procedures that assume that they are not trustworthy in the first place.

For example, students typically need to take an anti-plagiarism/cheating module and quiz that are both online because the university prefers an efficient and hands-off mode. Students soon discover that they can use more than one device and/or cooperate with one another to clear this administrative hurdle.

PoT starts with the educator: Opportunities for trust need to be created. This could mean taking the time and effort to be assessment literate, explaining the design and purpose of assessments to students, and counselling students who make mistakes.

Two days ago, I mentioned that I attended a Zoom-based meeting to celebrate the graduation of a few Masters students. I opted not to use an artificially generated background and relied on what I had in my study instead.

Obviously not all will agree with that choice. They might wish to embellish or hide natural backgrounds as a matter of personal choice.

Zoom, with natural background.

I choose to use a natural background in part because it suits my purpose — it is a study, it looks studious, and I teach via video conference if it is necessary.

It is also for pedagogogial and technical reasons that I opt for a natural background. An artificially replaced background requires software algorithms to work hard to keep track of where the person is. This creates artefacts when the person moves.

At the latest Zoom meeting, a participant with an artificial background tried to show an item by holding it up. But since the Zoom algorithm is optimised for people, it removed the object from view. If a teacher did the same, her students would not be able to see what she was trying to illustrate.

The choice of a tool is not straightforward. Once chosen, its usage is not fixed because its designers and creators cannot foresee every contextual use. This is why the choice and use should not be left only to vendors and administrators. The actual users need to weigh in as well.

One aspect of the pedagogy of questions is asking good questions. This is something teachers need to learn to do and something that students need to be taught.

While some teacher preparation or professional development might address this, e.g., Socratic questioning, it might not be a priority. So I use the video below to illustrate how good questions create a wealth of answers.


Video source

My blogged “crash course” offers one principle-as-practice: Crowdsource your questions. This operates on the principle that that many is smarter than one. Here is an example of the principle in practice:

One educator reached out on edu-Twitter to fellow educators for questions he could post to his mayor.

His question led to clarifications about his request and a few key questions. His explanations likely clarified his goals and purpose for his meeting. He could have thought up the questions himself, but he can how say that others have the same concerns.

Bonus round: Asking good questions is not a sign of weakness. It is a skillset that provides opportunities for critical dialogue and varied perspectives. But those outcomes are not guaranteed if these conditions are not met:

  • Both teachers and students are comfortable with uncomfortable questions
  • The answers are not fixed, i.e., they are shades of grey instead of pure black or white
  • All participants have learnt to respect the process, e.g., they listen and clarify first
  • They expect that the process is sometimes the product, i.e., they might not have clear answers or agreement
  • The classroom walls are porous enough to include a variety of voices and expertise

Do you need a workshop or an online course on the pedagogy of questions? Enquire within.


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