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Posts Tagged ‘reflection

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I am slow blogging my thoughts on e-pedagogy for a possible workshop later this year.

I have already reflected on Martin Weller’s excellent offerings on group work [reflection] and asynchronicity [reflection]. I recorded some scattered thoughts on e-pedagogy in general and on anticipation as an intentional learning design element.

Today I jot down some notes on how to link some questions with answers from research on teaching and learning. For example, when designing intentional learning, one might consider: 

  • so wow: hook/activation of schema (Piaget, Ausubel)
  • so what/why/how: social negotiation of meaning (Vygotsky)
  • so what is this to me: resolution of cognitive dissonance (Festinger)

My plan is to link to what teachers (should) already know. This should serve as a hook or activate schemata. We would negotiate a few strategies or principles of e-pedagogy by leveraging on homogenous and heterogeneous group work. Then we ensure takeaways by resolving current and future design practices.

I have even more thoughts in a growing document my Notes app. My worry is that there is too much to uncover. This is like trying to distill a Masters programme into one or more workshops. It might be a case of too much too fast.

My third takeaway from the Build For Tomorrow podcast about forecasters was preventing false consensus.

Spotify source

The original context for this was that forecasters need to pool information. They did this by sharing and gaining access. 

Katy Milkman, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of How to Change, said: 

There’s really great research showing that in general, we think other people have more similar cognitions and knowledge to us than they actually do. So if you, like me live in a city, and think living in a city is the best, you probably think everyone you see must agree with that. So it’s the false consensus effect is a name for it.

I shorten this insight to sailing with a ship of fools instead of leveraging on the wisdom of crowds. To get information of value and meaning, we to fulfil four criteria identified by James Surowiecki: Diversity of opinion, independence, decentralisation, and aggregation. Assuming that everyone else thinks the way you do fails the first criterion.

Milkman provided an example of students approaching her in class for advice on how to do better. When she asked them if they asked their peers who were doing well what worked for them, she got “a lot of blank stares”. Her students did not think others did any different and/or did not ask others for their strategies.

When applied to the instructional design of learning activities, preventing such false consensus might being with a complex problem that has no single correct answer. The design might continue with heterogenous groupings of three to five students. Each group might be given a scaffold that leads them through divergent thought processes before converging on one or more solutions.

I had more than one takeaway from my reflection of a Build For Tomorrow podcast. My two other reminders relevant to teaching and learning were about noise and false consensus. I focus on noise today.

Spotify source

Near the end of the podcast, one interviewed expert shared how forecasting noise could take the form of too much information and opinion. Both are barriers to asking good questions and getting meaningful answers.

The expert’s suggestion was to write a pros and cons list that you could revisit every week to examine your thinking. That could help in forecasting and a variation might help in education. 

I am thinking of a journal or blog. This is a place where learners can record their thoughts about what they are learning that week and write another entry after revisiting the previous entry.

This is not a new idea. I discovered this when I was writing the literature review of my Ph.D. dissertation 17 years ago. It was popular when students were required to journal regularly and when blogs took off. Thankfully, this is a core practice for an academic subject like Design and Technology where students need to maintain ideation journals or records.

Journalling requires the discipline of slowing down and metacognitive ability to reflect effectively (I have suggested a framework that I call a Reflective Compass). Sadly, reflection as a discipined practice does not seem to be a priority in our schooling system. I wish that more educators would help students reduce noise that interferes with learning.

Why did the author of this blog entry, Joshua Perry, suggest that we boycott a large education conference? It is linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He explained that BETT is operated by the Hyve Group which also happens to organise Russian-based events. He cited a Reuters article and claimed that 27% of their revenue comes from the latter events. The company also did not seem to strongly condemn the invasion by describing it merely as a “conflict”.

I have no stake in BETT as the last and only time I attended was as a guest speaker in 2015 [my presentation, Righting the Wrong Flipping Ideas] [my reflections] [someone else’s reflections]. 

Back then I spoke to other attendees who gave me a brief but critical history of the conference. Long story made short: It was heavy on the tech and light on the ed for an edtech conference. But it had improved somewhat by 2015.

That description (sans improvement) could fit just about any edtech conference or even education conferences, particularly the ones held here. How do I know? I have been consulted on their design and invites. 

All those conference are also funded largely by the usual suspects of edtech companies. You need only look at the list of platinum and gold sponsors at the conference websites to see what I mean.

Money talks because it determines who gets invited to speak. I recall being invited to a small conference overseas and I warned the organiser that I was critical of a sponsor’s platform. The organiser was brave (or perhaps foolhardy) and put me and the sponsor’s spokesperson in the same session. We probably gave the participants mental indigestion!

But I digress. Like Perry, I support the boycott of most conferences. I do not wish to support powerful companies by giving them a platform, voice, and one more to their attendance numbers. I am against tech that has little or no ed, or is driven by profit instead of pedagogy.

I would rather be part of something I used to attend and organise — unconferences [example]. I miss those days of meeting up informally with like-minded folk who had a passion for progressive education and a curiosity to learn more.

Instructing recruits circa 1989.

I unearthed a photograph taken in 1989 of me when I was an infantry officer. It had decolourised so much that I converted it to greyscale so that it looks less terrible.

That year marked my first official stint as an instructor. My corporals and I were teaching recruits how to dig shell scrapes and use them as cover.

Several memories flooded back, but two in particular are lessons that I have remembered since that time. The first was how objective data can become subjective according to the whims of higher-ups. The second was that doing nothing sometimes is doing something.

To give me something to write about, I reflect on these lessons over the next two days.

In about a week, I start work on an international project spanning ten countries. I might be the sole representative from Asia.

I had an on-boarding video conference call yesterday and I reflect on how that experience has lessons or reminders for educators today.

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The first was how we used a video conferencing tool that was not the property of the sponsoring company. I do not think that company would raise a fuss, which says a lot good about it, but it would have been the polite thing to do.

However, callers were already comfortable with another platform for an hour-long chat, so we used what we were competent with. The takeaway or reminder: Start from the learners are if you have no preparation time. 

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The second reminder was about basic communication. I do not adopt another person’s accent when I speak with them. I did not do this when I studied in the USA nor do I do this when helping a lost tourist here. 

This takeaway or reminder is about balancing the need to be comfortable in your own skin while being empathetic enough to make adjustments (e.g., not speaking so fast) so that you are understood. You can stay where you are while stretching enough to reach someone.

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The third reminder was about staying humble. While we were experienced in our own fields, we took pains to acknowledge each other’s roles while recognising the enormity of the task before us. We need each other as we explore new territory over the next several months. Personal ego trips will stumble the group.

I have been consistent about my stance against end-of-course student feedback on teaching (SFTs). Today my reflection was prompted by this tweet.

I am confident that, like me, this professor and others like him, do not get bad reviews. We are against a data collection method that is flawed. 

I caution administrators against using SFTs as the only measure of faculty teaching because SFTs are:

  • not valid in if they do not measure if effective learning took place
  • used for purposes other than to improve instruction
  • summative in that they do not allow teaching faculty to make changes that semester
  • reliant on student self-reports as a single data source

The tweet highlighted how invalid SFTs can be. No matter the questions asked, students might bias their answers because of non-teaching or superficial traits of their instructor/facilitator. The questions in an SFT are also likely to focus on teaching-related aspects of a course (e.g., the LMS) instead of how much or how well they learnt.

SFTs designed to measure traditional and face-to-face teaching methods also might not align to online methods or facilitative approaches. For example, SFTs rarely (if ever) focus on the design of effective asynchronous learning resources or personalised online coaching.

Administrators use SFTs to rank faculty during promotion and retention exercises. This is clear to any full-time university faculty with a significant teaching load. I know of ex-colleagues who would game the system by currying favour with their students so that they would get good SFTs. 

These folk needed the most help improving their instruction, but since they got good enough SFTs, they did not reflect and improve on their practice. They just got better at gaming the system.

If SFTs are primarily for improving the quality of courses and instruction, they cannot be implemented at the end of a course. Good teachers collect feedback constantly so they can make adjustments on the run.

Insisting that data from the end of one course should inform the design and implementation for the next one misses the point — teaching is dynamic and complex. You can take the same instructor, design, and content, but different batches of students will react differently.

SFTs also rely on self-reports by students. These are equivalent to the Kirkpatrick Level 1 “smiley sheets” that seek opinion rather than fact. If students like you, they will rate you higher than you serve. The opposite is also true.

So what else can we do in addition to or as alternatives to SFTs? In my reflection earlier this year, I suggested “multiple methods, e.g., observations, artefact analysis, informal polling of students, critical reflection”. 

Today I would add that faculty portfolios capture these methods. Remarks from casual observations by fellow faculty, marked up video recordings, key takeaways from brief but regular student polls, and faculty reflections can be collated on online platforms like a blog or Google Site.

Portfolios have another plus: They put the ownership of the design, implementation, and evaluation of courses in the hands of teaching faculty. If these instructors carefully maintain their portfolios outside university, they can take them wherever they go. 

That said, portfolios do not resolve the biggest problem with SFTs. They might still be about teaching. What matters is whether students learnt, what they learnt, how much and how well they learnt it, etc. 

That problem is not an easy one to solve. Students might view courses merely as stepping stones to paper qualifications. There is the long tail of learning, i.e., their ah-ha moments might occur outside the course and these are not captured. Their in-course learning might not be intentional but still desirable, e.g., they learnt how to manage their time, but these too are not measured.

The biggest problem is that both administrators and faculty might be content with measuring the low-hanging fruit. After all, it is easy to hide behind the rock called It Has Always Been Done This Way.

I have returned to my local library in earnest. I had to avoid all our public libraries for over a year because the COVID-19 pandemic required that they be closed or operate at much reduced capacities.

When they first opened up, there was an online queue system that required me to reserve one or two-hour long slots at least the night before. These were snapped up before I could hit the enter key.

Video source

Now that we are entering an endemic phase (i.e., trying to live with SARS-CoV2), libraries have opened up. Literally. There is more space between tables and chairs in the library and this should be the norm.

I am drafting this blog entry in the study area of my local library. In front of me are masked-up students mugging for their year-end examinations. Like me, they benefit from the well-lit, air-conditioned, and quiet surrounds. With the improved distancing, we can study and work safely.

Library display about air travel.

But now I think my local library is trolling us. Here is one photo I took of an extensive display of “travelling the world”. This is something most of us cannot do even with a few special air travel lanes.

Perhaps the display is aspirational. It is an attempt to help us look forward to better days. And that is what they should be. Better, not normal. 

Normal is a crowded library. Normal is congested streets as people make their way to work. Normal is sub-optimal and even sub-human treatment of people. We can, and must, do better.

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Reflection is a form of metacognition — it is thinking about thinking. Superficially, reflection is slowing down and taking stock of what happened.

Being inherently reflective might be a character trait. Being effectively reflective is a skill. I would like to offer a framework that suggests factors that develop effective reflection.

A little over 15 years ago, I conducted research and wrote a doctoral dissertation on reflective blogging by preservice teachers [link to dissertation maintained by IU]. References and research on reflection were hard to come by then. I doubt they are more common today.

I offer a reflective framework borne of my own reflection. I call it the Reflective Compass. 

The west and east points of this framework are critical and creative thinking. You need both to keep cognition in balance. Creative thinking sans critical thinking is like building castles in the air without ever planting your feet on the ground. Relying only on critical thinking — and confusing that with cynical thinking — cuts down everything before anything can grow.

The south point is evaluative retrospection. It is important to look back and process what happened in the past. Why? I offer this image quote.

We do not learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experiences. -- John Dewey

Looking back is not enough. You need to analyse and evaluate an experience: What was it worth? Why? Whether you succeeded or failed, what did you learn from it? If you got nothing from it, again, why?

If introspection is not accompanied by creative solution-seeking and critical analysis of such solutions, the process devolves into stagnant nostalgia. Reflection should provide direction for moving forward. This is the north point — forward-thinking — which entails planning, anticipating, and strategising.

Like any other framework, my Reflection Compass is only a model. Models try represent complexity but do not capture every facet of it. My model is not tested, critiqued, or researched. But I fling it into the ether just in case it helps someone looking for some some ideas on reflection.

This is not another one of my usual “focus on the processes behind the product” bits. But I still draw inspiration from a behind-the-scenes (BTS) video and an actual video to highlight something else.

I started watching Drive Tribe and Food Tribe videos recently. These are the intellectual property of the former Top Gear guys but James May seems to feature more heavily in them.

May has a small production team and one of his key hires is a person named Lucy Brown. It is Brown’s efforts to document her thoughts BTS that I am inspired by.

Video source

The video above was her BTS look at her product — a remote instruction by May on how to prepare a simple meal over a video conference.

Video source

This was the product. It was not slick-looking as it was a relatively simple recording of an interaction during their pandemic lockdown.

Together the videos are good examples of my usual call to examine the processes behind products. But they also reveal two other principles we should rely on more in education.

The first is critical reflection. It is important to analyse and evaluate the processes that resulted in the product. Brown reflected on her setups, the experiences, and her takeaways.

The second is the importance of a good mentor. May was encouraging without being overbearing. He often listened and responded to Brown’s questions or prompts, i.e., he did not just offer unsolicited advice.

There is another aspect of mentoring that the next video reveals.

Video source

Call it what you will — disciplining, admonishing, chastising — a mentor needs to occasionally do this too. It is important to let mentees make mistakes, but it is also important to maintain standards and set some rules.

May led by example by coming in early and doing some of the cleaning up. But he also let his young charges know what he expected when they fell short. This is not a pleasant part of mentoring, but it is still necessary. I take this long term view of mentoring: It is important to be cruel in order to be kind.


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