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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy

LEGO: Chill-axing at home.

Building with LEGO can be both creatively constrictive and constructive.

If you limit yourself to the manual, you follow the prescribed recipe to recreate exactly what is on the box and what everyone else has. If you do not, you might create a mess or something truly your own or both.

Many kids start with free form building, and when they get older, end up following the manual to get identical copies. The parallel to schooling could not be more obvious.

My son has just about grown out of LEGO. He still tinkers with it, but not as religiously as he used to. We recently put piles of dusty bricks away in storage and not a tear was shed.

Yesterday I asked my son if he could help me with some adult LEGO. We had purchased two IKEA storage units and I wanted to cut down the assembly time.

Our near simultaneous build reminded me of something I might now call IKEA pedagogy.

IKEA assembly iconography.

I am not referring to the iconographic or visuals-only instructions in IKEA manuals. These are very much like LEGO manuals. There is little room for error and there is no latitude for free-building unless you are doing an IKEA hack.

No, I am referring to the pedagogy of a lead learner.

As I was assembling something new, I remained just one step ahead of my son. This meant that if I made a mistake, I had the option of warning him or letting him make the same mistake.

While I tried to remain ahead by virtue of my greater experience and strength, there was also a chance that my son could have overtaken me.

The pedagogy of being a lead learner is one of teaching while learning yourself, but the learning always comes first. Both lead learner and students learn by trying, making mistakes, getting immediate feedback, and remediating.

The mindset of a lead learner is one of humility. One or more learners might be better or faster at some things. A lead learner needs to balance free exploration and providing close guidance.

Being a lead learner is harder than being a conventional teacher because the learner and learning come first, not the curriculum and tests. However, with enough practice and building of trust, students learn to think and do for themselves. There is no LEGO or IKEA manual for this, but the results are greatly satisfying.

We assembled two sturdy storage units in the same amount of time it would have taken to make just one. My son gained some confidence and contributed to a household effort. I also have the confidence that I can rely on him in the next build. Maybe he should be the lead learner in future.

I was taught a lot as an undergraduate majoring in biology. Not all of it was true.
 

 
One thing that a lecturer taught me was this factoid: Human DNA is almost 99% identical to chimpanzee. That has stuck with me because it was so jarring.

The lesson then was that it took just 1% of evolutionary tweaking and protein-making difference to have a human. Back then I just took an expert’s word for it.

Today I have YouTube condensing the work and critique of several experts. The video below was built from five published references.


Video source

The main takeaway from the video is that the absolute number (99%) is misleading. The number was derived under conditions like ignoring portions of genomes and arbitrary rules so that the number is neither valid nor reliable. Change the rules and the number changes.

The larger issue is how students today might still be taught: From old textbooks, with outdated pedagogy, and without access to more than one source of information.

The biggest sin of any teacher is focusing just on content. This means the delivery of information and the testing by regurgitation of it.

Content is (or it should be) a means to an end. The end is not to reproduce that content in a test because information can be challenged and knowledge can change. Content should be a way to teach thinking.

The teaching of content today should not just be learning-about. It should focus on learning-to-be. In the chimpanzee and human DNA example, it is not just learning about the 99% factoid. It is about asking critical questions about it and knowing how to find valid and reliable answers to those questions.

Rising above, the teaching of a juicy factoid like human DNA is 99% chimpanzee stems from the pedagogy of answers and the attempt to engage students with interesting nuggets. The critique of such a factoid starts with the pedagogy of questions and continues with the empowerment of students to think and act critically.

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.


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