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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy

I am fond of taking photos of my workshops and classes, but I can only do so during the learner-centric phases.

I often take panoramic shots of my sessions to capture the overall context and strategy. I share a few photos in order to highlight a theme.

Using collaborative learning stations to learn about collaborative learning.

Jigsaw peer instruction with SPED teachers.

Peer teaching by groups of future faculty/teaching assistants.

Station-based learning of ICT-mediated pedagogies.

Station-based uncovering of game-based learning principles.

Switching between student and teacher “hats” during my flipped learning workshop.

Military personnel decoding the differences between (and overlaps of) the flipped classroom and flipped learning.

The obvious similarity is learners working in small groups. Read the captions underneath the photos and you will realise that the contexts, pedagogy, and content differ.

My point is this: The physical environment is an important factor in shaping what an educator does, but it does not dictate or determine what happens. The important ingredients are creative thinking, reliable wifi, mobile devices (preferably owned by the learners), furniture that can be arranged to create stations, and elbow grease.

The elbow grease is one thing you do not see in the photos. Organisers who work with me realise how much time and effort I spend during preparation. This often involves site visits prior to workshops, liaising with administrative and technical folk, and physically setting things up just right.

While the elbow grease ensures that the articulating points move smoothly, it is the creative thinking and planning that brings the parts together in the first place. This sort of creativity is balanced with critical thinking that is a result of deep knowledge and experience with technological instruments, content, and pedagogy. These three elements are overruled by contextual design.

It is not pedagogy first and technology second. It is context that comes first and everything else in a very close second.

I had a few reactions to this tweet.

I see what it is getting at, but left critically unchecked, it can do more harm than good.

I disagree with the tweeted thought both at face value and after digging deeper. Learning technology is:

  • learning about technology
  • learning from the technology
  • learning with the technology
  • not just about the pedagogy

Compared with the other items on my list, learning about technology is the lowest order skillset teachers need. But it could also be the most important mindset barrier to breach because without it the rest are not likely to happen.

Learning from the technology is what teachers new to technology might expect. The technology use is relatively superficial and either augments or replaces what the teacher can already deliver. Vendors love delivering on delivering and teachers might appreciate being partly relieved of a burden. But this is still a low-hanging fruit because it does not shift the focus from teaching content to learning how to find and process it.

Learning with the technology is where change starts to happen. It is:

  • uncertain but authentic
  • less teacher or school-controlled but more student or  co-managed
  • not just about content but also about context

Such technologies include social media, augmented reality, and mobile games. They are not created by education companies but are co-opted by teachers and students to reach and teach, and to learn not only just-in-case, but also just-in-time.

Learning with technology necessitates a paradigm shift in mindsets. Technology is not just used, it is integrated. It becomes so essential as to become transparent because it just-works and it is practically impossible to learn when it is not present. Such technology is viewed less as a tool to be used sporadically and more like an instrument to be embraced constantly.

Learning with technology is not just about pedagogy, although that is important. The pedagogies, like problem, case, team, or game-based learning are mediated by technology. But pedagogy is not the only driver: There is the nature of content and the context of its use.

There is another reason why pedagogy cannot be the sole driver. Pedagogy tend to face backwards and changes very slowly; technology faces forward and changes very quickly. One of the slowest and least effective pedagogies is didactic teaching. A didactic-focused pedagogy can make technology improve or optimise what a teacher does, but it does not necessarily focus on learning nor guarantees it.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.

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


Video source

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


Video source

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.


Video source

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!”


Video source

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.

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