T&L seminar with UCT Law Faculty

Earlier this year I was invited by Alan Rycroft at the UCT Law Faculty to give a presentation at a seminar on T&L. The seminar took place yesterday and I presented some research that I did in 2012 where we used Google Drive as an implementation platform for authentic learning. I’ve written about authentic learning before, so I won’t go into any more detail here.

I would however, like to share some of my thoughts and notes from the session. Unfortunately, I had to leave halfway through the presentations, so I missed the second half of the day.

Anton Fagan – The use of laptops in the classroom. Anton made a strong case for banning laptops in the classroom under certain conditions, specifically when students are taking notes during lectures. There seems to be evidence that, while using a laptop to take notes can result in higher fidelity (more notes and more accuracy) it also results in less understanding, probably as a result processing information differently depending on whether we type it or write it. However, we do need to be careful about conflating lecturing with learning. Most of the articles discussed seemed to posit that the ability to recall facts presented during a lecture was the same thing as learning. Coincidentally, I had recently read this article in the New Yorker, which discusses the same thing:

regardless of the kind or duration of the computer use, the disconnected students performed better on a post-lecture quiz. The message of the study aligns pretty well with the evidence that multitasking degrades task performance across the board.

There are other studies that present similar findings but should we really be surprised by this? We’re saying that distracted students score poorly on tests of recall and understanding. This doesn’t seem to be about laptop usage, but rather that there are two other issues present.

  1. Students are more likely to be distracted when using an internet connected device during lectures, and are more likely to distract others
  2. Even when they are trying to take notes during the lecture, the act of typing those notes can degrade their processing relative to hand writing them

It seems that these two issues are relatively simple to address. In the first instance, work on improving your lecture so that students are less likely to be distracted, and in the second, make students aware that typing notes leads to lower levels of recall and understanding, but allow them to choose the method that best suits them. For example, I prefer that my notes more accurately capture what the speaker is saying. Afterwards, I go through my notes again, adding additional thoughts, linking to additional resources, and therefore engaging with the content a second time around. This is what I have done with these notes.

Geo Quinot – The LLB between profession and higher education. Geo presented his perspective on a set of policy frameworks, including recent proposals by the Council on Higher Education Task Team on Undergraduate Curriculum Structure. He discussed the relationships between the Profession and Higher Education the Quality Enhancement Project (QEP).

I found the talk to be a really comprehensive overview of the relevant policies and frameworks that will be placed centre stage over in South African higher education over the next few years. Unfortunately, there was way too much that was covered for me to try and sum up what was presented. I’ve linked to some of the documents that Geo referred to in the list at the end of this post.

Jacqui Yeats – Student engagement in lectures and tutorials: an experiment. Jacqui shared some of her experiences of teaching large classes in the Law Faculty. I was impressed with her systematic approach to changing the way she lectures, and took away the following ideas:

  • When your class size exceeds a certain number (and no-one really knows what that number is) you move from being a lecturer to being a performer or public speaker. The Presentation Zen blog has some really great resources for lecturers who are intentional about how they present.
  • Lecturers rely a lot on student feedback and reaction. Even if they’re not actually saying anything, it makes a huge difference to at least see some nodding heads when you make eye contact. I’ve never thought much about students’ responsibilities in terms of giving something back to the lecturer. This comment made me think a bit about my own accountability when listening to others’ speak.
  • Use more “soft” breaks. Soft breaks are short breaks (2-3 minutes) where Jacqui presents students with “educationally useful” content that is still marginally relevant to them in order to keep them interested. In other words, the cognitive distance is not so close to the lecture content that it doesn’t count as a break, but not so far removed that students are distracted and find it difficult to get back into the topic when the break is over. The example she gave was giving students writing tips, which I thought was a great idea.
  • Encourage friendly competition between students or groups of students. Jacqui made it clear that aggressive competition and ranking students probably isn’t a great way to get them to engage but that friendly competition with low risk that wasn’t explicitly linked to module outcomes seemed to get them more motivated. This is something that we’re struggling with in our department…student motivation and engagement seems quite low. We’re trying to figure out ways to develop a community in our department and I think that this idea of friendly competition is worth exploring.

Thank you to the UCT Law Faculty for inviting to present some of my work. I appreciated the opportunity and also learned a lot from the experience.

Additional resources related to the post

Between Cape Town and Khartoum

Earlier this month I spent a week in Khartoum as part of an international exchange programme between the following organisations:

The project is an attempt to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and skills with specific reference to rehabilitation and physiotherapy education in Norway, Sudan, South Africa and Tanzania. Last year several lecturers in my department spent time in Khartoum, teaching courses at Ahfad University, while we had colleagues from CCBRT and Ahfad working with us in Cape Town. The goal is to develop the physiotherapy programme at Ahfad, as well as the quality of rehabilitation in the region.

Ahfad University for Women is a pioneer higher education institution in Sudan whose goal and philosophy is to prepare women to assume responsible roles in families, communities, and in the nation. AUW achieves this goal through offering high quality instruction with emphasis on strengthening women’s roles in national and rural development and achieving equity for women in Sudanese society using a combination of well-articulated academic courses, on-the-job training, individual research, and community extension and outreach activities.

My role in the project is to help with developing digital and information literacy among participants. We’re also trying to figure out ways to improve teaching and learning at Ahfad, possibly with the integration of technology but with the understanding that that is not the primary goal. In addition, we’re exploring research opportunities in teaching and learning practices. We’re  in the process of developing a collaborative module on ethics in physiotherapy practice where we’ll have students from UWC interacting with those in Ahfad.

We haven’t figured out the details, other than we won’t be able to use Drive, Dropbox, blogs, Google+ or anything else I’m used to using that relies on a solid internet connection. We’ll have to deal with intermittent connectivity, low levels of computer literacy (from both groups), structural impediments (limited access to computer labs) and cultural differences with regards the subject matter. Of course, these challenges make this collaboration a rich source of data and research opportunities. I’ll be sharing the details of the project as we iron them out.

Here are a few of the photos I took while in Khartoum:

UWC writing workshop

Image from Wikipedia article on writing

Last week UWC hosted a writing workshop for academics. I always enjoy writing workshops because there’s always something I find in them that makes me think about my own process a little bit more. I wasn’t able to attend the full sessions every day, but managed to make a few notes while I was there.

Writing an Introduction

CARS model – Create A Research Space (John Swales). Using the Introduction as a way of creating a space, or a context that the research will take place in. Publishing as a way of creating a conversation in a field. I write the Introduction last, as a roadmap for the reader rather than as a roadmap for my writing. I can’t change the Method and Results, so I use those sections as anchors and go back to the Introduction to make sure that there’s alignment between the major sections.

Genre – ways that members of a community agree that certain discourses within that community will be presented

Writing as a process of learning about what you’re writing about. The process changes you and changes itself as it moves forward. Sometimes you don’t really know where you’re going or how you’re going to get there, but the act of writing creates can create a pathway from where you are to where you need to be.

Try to avoid:

  • Repetition
  • Unnecessary background and context
  • Exaggerating the importance of the work
  • Weak statements
  • Assumption that the reader knows where the research is located i.e. context is lacking
  • Not focusing on a clear and compelling research question i.e. it is too broad

Establish a niche by showing that previous research is not complete (can be negative evaluation of other studies, or positive justification for your own)

Using the Introduction as a way to establish authority and situating yourself and your own work within a context.

Knowing the steps in this model can be used to give feedback to other people’s writing. The tacit understanding of good writing can be made explicit. Is also a good way to actually read articles.

Keeping track of sources and versions as part of the Literature Review

Three uses of sources

  1. Making notes: Help formulate the question; Quick read to spark interest; Recording general ideas
  2. Reading for an argument: Help to make a logical argument; Look for similar arguments to what you want to make i.e. a logic checklist; Use the literature to make points that you want to address; Turn major points into questions that you want to answer
  3. Reading for evidence: Most common reason but not necessarily the most important; Reporting evidence completely and accurately, cite source carefully; Try to locate the original source; Don’t try to collect everything (we often feel a need to gather and read as many sources as possible. Rather try to be selective about a few good sources)

Preserve what you find. Record bibliographic information and notes accurately. When taking notes from literature, summarise the main points, highlight issues/data/methods that are important. Identify when you quote, when you paraphrase and when your notes trigger a new thought.

Share you resources with colleagues. Discuss what you’re reading with others, and discuss why what you’re reading is useful (or not). How does your reading shift or shape your topic or questions. Use sources to revise your question and topic (check with your supervisor).

Saving versions

  • Understand the concept of versioning
  • Use file sharing rather than email e.g. Dropbox
  • Rename files with dates, supervisor names
  • Keep an archive folder with older drafts (don’t delete anything)

Imagination and writing creatively

I sometimes feel like not writing because it’s like I have nothing to say. Sometimes you  who don’t write because the ideas aren’t there but it’s important to understand that ideas don’t emerge from nothing. Being embedded within conversations is one way for the seeds of ideas to be planted. Over time, and over many conversations, the seeds begin to grow and you feel like you have all these ideas that came from nowhere, overnight. As a writer, it’s important to keep track of all of these seeds and add to them over time. For example, keeping drafts of blog posts with links back to original sources, or keeping notes of books being read, or just keeping a short audio note reminding yourself that “this is an interesting idea”.

How do you deal with having too many ideas?

Think of note-taking and reading as a critical conversation with the author, rather than just reading and making notes. Being critical of the writer / writing style open us to further avenues for thinking about the topic.

What is the purpose of the review? This influences how you approach it.

  • Find published research
  • Read and skim: identify major points, important contributors
  • Map the literature: outline the major topic with sub-topics, highlight themes, narrow the boundaries of what to focus on
  • Read and critique smaller portions to identify exemplars
  • Write a focused review that introduces the perspective you want to use

Writing is not a linear process.

Think about beginning locally and then moving globally. Usually we write to narrow the focus e.g. by beginning globally and moving locally.

Data analysis and reporting

What are some of the challenges you experience with data analysis and reporting of results? I find it difficult to only use the data. There are experiences that exist outside of the data, tacit knowledge, that I find difficult to integrate with the “formal” data.

Avoid simply listing quotes under categories, try to create links between the major concepts.

Data analysis is shaped by the research methods you choose.

Depending on whether the data is quantitative or qualitative, the presentation will be different.

Ensure that the discussion of the data goes further than simply repeating the results. The role of the author is to interpret the data in the context of the literature, to go further and unpack what can be inferred. Acknowledge that analysis is an act of creation, informed by personal beliefs and biases. We can try to reduce bias but should be aware that how we interpret the data can’t really be separated from ourselves.

Discussion of findings, conclusion, submission and peer review

Go back to the beginning. Review the research question. Remember that the process is not linear.

In quantitative research, it makes sense to separate out the results and discussion of those results. This isn’t the case in qualitative research where the discussion of the results are usually best done together.

Make sure that themes are logical and that they build on each other. These themes should also speak to the key questions and ideas that were presented in the Introduction.

Unpack the quotes and narratives clearly. In qualitative research, avoid using too many quotes to illustrate the same point.

The presentation of the findings should follow a logical flow. Guide the reader through the piece so that they feel like they are moving through a process. Try to integrate the results into a narrative.

Consider using pseudonyms rather than “Participant 1” in order to avoid objectifying them. You could even ask participants to provide their own pseudonyms.

Conclusion: Here is what I did, what I found, what it means and some things that might happen next.

Finalising the document: check on content and alignment. Is the context and rationale clearly outlined? Are the questions or problems clearly stated? Is appropriate and comprehensive literature reviewed? Are you joining the conversation with familiarity? Have you outlined your methodology clearly and in appropriate detail? Have you summarised, concluded and drawn out key contributions of your work? Are your references in the correct format? Do you need to acknowledge anyone? Is the work formatted according to the journal requirements?

Resources

Note: This was originally published at Unteaching.

Using Google Translate for international projects

Google-Translate-Icon

In preparation for the FAIMER residential session in Brazil, the coordinators spent months sharing documentation and ideas, and discussing every detail that goes into planning something like this…and they’ve been doing it in Portuguese. Initially I thought that this would mean I’d have no idea what was going on until I got there, but then I remembered that Google Translate is integrated into most, if not all of Google’s products and thought I’d see what was possible to follow in the planning process.

Google Groups and Gmail have built in translation services, which mean that whenever a message gets posted in a language that’s different to your default, Google offers to translate the page. And not only that, it offers to translate it every time you get a new message. Now, the translation isn’t perfect and the service will help you to understand the general content and context of a message but is not always accurate. Some words are not translated and some look like gibberish (this is probably because of how Google does the translation). But, as I say, it’s close enough to be very useful.

So that’s fine for Gmail in the browser but I also use Thunderbird as an offline mail client, which doesn’t have built-in translation. Luckily it supports extensions and I managed to find one that uses Google’s translation API, which I use to translate my offline messages as well.

So far so good. But what about documents and spreadsheets? With almost every email that came through there was an attached Word document or spreadsheet. Using Translate in Google Docs was easy enough. After opening the Word document in Drive, click on the Tools menu item and choose “Translate document” in the dropdown.

Sheets was bit trickier, requiring me to dig around for a bit in the scripts menu. However, once I figured out the process, it was simple enough to do it every time I needed to translate a document. Note that these instructions will become obsolete when Google changes how Sheets work, and that this process is assuming that you have a local spreadsheet you want to translate.

  1. Go to www.drive.google.com
  2. Click on the red icon with the “up” arrow to upload the spreadsheet
  3. Open the spreadsheet in Google Drive
  4. Click on Tools -> Script Gallery, and enter “translate” in the search box
  5. Install the “Translate sheet – any to English” script
  6. Click on Tools -> Script Manager, and Run both options
  7. There will now be a new menu item called Script
  8. After uploading new documents, you can click on Script -> Translate, and it will convert the document into English

For all of Google’s translation services, it’s important to remember that it’s not perfect, and will take some time before it’s seamless. The translation sometimes read as if it’s been done word-for-word without taking grammar into account, which means that while you can figure out what is being discussed, the conversation doesn’t flow naturally.

Besides becoming more familiar with Google Translate, there were few other things that I learned from this experience:

  1. Not everyone speaks English. Now, I obviously knew this on a cognitive level but when everyone around me speaks my own language all the time, I don’t really think about it.
  2. As more and more people use Google’s translation and voice services, their API is going to keep getting better, until eventually real-time translation with a decent Internet connection will be commonplace. Soon enough, we’ll get to a point where language isn’t a barrier to learning and commerce the way it is now. You’ll speak and write your language, and I’ll receive the message in mine – the translation will happen in real time.
  3. Understanding language is different to understanding culture. Just because I can understand what you’re writing doesn’t mean I’ll understand how you’re thinking.

Finally, I’ve just agreed to supervise a student from Libya who will be doing his Masters thesis in physiotherapy in my department. I’m interested to see if integrating his workflow into Google’s services and apps will help us to work together. Stay tuned.

FAIMER Brazil: Initial thoughts

IMG_20130224_170315I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest Faculty member for the FAIMER Brazil residential sessions in Beberibe (near Fortaleza, Brazil) from 23 February – 6 March. FAIMER is an international programme aimed at developing capacity in medical education and research around the world, and includes an institute in South Africa (SAFRI), where I am a Faculty member. One of the most interesting aspects of FAIMER (IMO) is the emphasis they place on the cross pollination of ideas and experiences between Faculty members from different regional institutes. I thought that since I’ve been here for a few days, it was time to post about my initial thoughts.

The most immediate challenge was the language barrier (see an upcoming post on using Google Translate in preparation for coming here). While most of the Brazilian Faculty members can speak English quite well, the sessions are obviously conducted in Portuguese. The few of us here who only speak English have been quite ably assisted by local Faculty members who helped us get a basic understanding of the context of presentations. However, today was the first day that the translator was back. He’d been given a few days break since the first group had already been working for a week before I got here, and as soon as the day began I realised how much I’d been missing. Having all of the sessions translated in real time makes an enormous difference and I can’t thank the organisers enough for this consideration.

The other thing that I noticed almost immediately was the cultural difference between the Brazilian group and African Fellows. While we’re quite conservative in how we conduct ourselves, both professionally and socially, the Brazilians are incredibly social. Every evening that Faculty and Fellows can be found relaxing by the pool after the daily sessions have ended. It makes me think that we’re quite a boring lot at SAFRI, since we tend to retire to our rooms after the day’s progress.

Today we had some feedback from the 2012 Fellows experiences in the distance learning modules. Each group takes it in turn to create and run a distance learning module on some aspect of teaching and learning, and the rest of the Fellows are the “students” who learn as part of the module. I made a few notes since this is an area that’s close to me, and it was interesting to note that many of these challenges are similar to those we face with our students.

  • There were significant challenges with using a wiki for collaborative work.
  • Careful planning among group members can’t be emphasised enough.
  • Almost all groups had a tendency to increase the complexity of their projects, mainly because everyone is really enthusiastic and they want to implement all of their ideas.
  • Real time conversation with Skype was essential to projects’ success. Email is great but for the more detailed planning, real time is essential. I noted that this group is way more sophisticated in their use of online tools for planning and implementing distance learning modules, compared to our SAFRI groups.
  • They emphasised the importance of agreeing on a universal “language” – ways of explaining and understanding topics, since often different people in the group had a different way of thinking about the content. They needed to ensure that everyone on the team was on the same page.
  • They noted different levels of technological skills within the “teaching” group, as well as the “student” groups. They suggested that designers pay attention to this to avoid leaving collaborators behind.
  • There was some discussion about who takes ownership of the the module, and the impact that has on implementation, leadership, and participation.
  • There was a concern about addressing non-participation among both “teachers” and “students” in the different groups?

So, those are a few notes on my initial impressions after the first few days here in Fortaleza. I expect that I’ll have more to add once I’m more involved in the projects of the second years, who only arrived yesterday. Here are a few pictures from my time here in Fortaleza.

[nggallery id=33]

Teaching and learning workshop at Mont Fleur

Photo taken while on a short walk during the retreat.

A few weeks ago I spent 3 days at Mont Fleur near Stellenbosch, on a teaching and learning retreat. Next year we’re going to be restructuring 2 of our modules as part of a curriculum review, and I’ll be studying the process as part of my PhD. That part of the project will also form a case study for an NRF-funded, inter-institutional study on the use of emerging technologies in South African higher education.

I used the workshop as an opportunity to develop some of the ideas for how the module will change (more on that in another post), and these are the notes I took during the workshop. Most of what I was writing was specific to the module I was working with, so these notes are the more generic ones that might be useful for others.

————————

Content determines what we teach, but not how we teach. But it should be the outcomes that determine the content?

“Planning” for learning

Teaching is intended to make learning possible / there is an intended relationship between teaching and learning

Learning = a recombination of old and new material in order to create personal meaning. Students bring their own experience from the world that we can use to create a scaffold upon which to add new knowledge

We teach what we usually believe is important for them to know

What (and how) we teach is often constrained by external factors:

  • Amount of content
  • Time in which to cover the content (this is not the same as “creating personal meaning”)

We think of content as a series of discrete chunks of an unspecified whole, without much thought given to the relative importance of each topic as it relates to other topics, or about the nature of the relationships between topics

How do we make choices between what to include and exclude?

  • Focus on knowledge structuring
  • What are the key concepts that are at the heart of the module?
  • What are the relationships between the concepts?
  • This marks a shift from dis-embedded facts to inter-related concepts
  • This is how we organise knowledge in the discipline

Task: map the knowledge structure of your module

“Organising knowledge” in the classroom is problematic because knowledge isn’t organised in our brains in the same way that we organise it for students / on a piece of paper. We assign content to discrete categories to make it easier for students to understand / add it to their pre-existing scaffolds, but that’s not how it exists in minds.

Scientific method (our students do a basic physics course in which this method is emphasised, yet they don’t transfer this knowledge to patient assessment):

  1. Observe something
  2. Construct an hypothesis
  3. Test the hypothesis
  4. Is the outcome new knowledge / expected?

Task: create a teaching activity (try to do something different) that is aligned with a major concept in the module, and also includes graduate attributes and learning outcomes. Can I do the poetry concept? What about gaming? Learners are in control of the environment, mastering the task is a symbol of valued status within the group, a game is a demarcated learning activity with set tasks that the learner has to master in order to proceed, feedback is built in, games can be time and resource constrained

The activity should include the following points:

  • Align assessment with outcomes and teaching and learning activities (SOLO taxonomy – Structured Observation of Learning Outcomes)
  • Select a range of assessment tools
  • Justify the choice of these tools
  • Explain and defend marks and weightings
  • Meet the criteria for reliability and validity
  • Create appropriate rubrics

Assessment must be aligned with learning outcomes and modular content. It provides students with opportunities to show that they can do what is expected of them. Assessment currently highlights what students don’t know, rather than emphasising what they can do, and looking for ways to build on that strength to fill in the gaps.

Learning is about what the student does, not what the teacher does.

How do you create observable outcomes?

The activity / doing of the activity is important

As a teacher:

  • What type of feedback do you give?
  • When do you give it?
  • What happens to it?
  • Does it lead to improved learning?

Graduate attributes ↔ Learning outcomes ↔ Assessment criteria ↔ T&L activities ↔ Assessment tasks ↔ Assessment strategy

Assessment defines what students regard as important, how they spend their time and how they come to see themselves as individuals (Brown, 2001; in Irons, 2008: 11)

Self-assessment is potentially useful, although it should be low-stakes

Use a range of well-designed assessment tasks to address all of the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for your module. This will help to provide evidence to teachers of the students competence / understanding

In general quantitative assessment uses marks while qualitative assessment uses rubrics

Checklist for a rubric:

  • Do the categories reflect the major learning objectives?
  • Are there distinct levels which are assigned names and mark values?
  • Are the descriptions clear? Are they on a continuum and allow for student growth?
  • Is the language clear and easy for students to understand?
  • Is it easy for the teacher to use?
  • Can the rubric be used to evaluate the work? Can it be used for assessing needs? Can students easily identify growth areas needed?

Evaluation:

  • What were you evaluating and why?
  • When was the evaluation conducted?
  • What was positive / negative about the evaluation?
  • What changes did you make as a result of the feedback you received?

Evaluation is an objective process in which data is collected, collated and analysed to produce information or judgements on which decisions for practice change can be based

Course evaluation can be:

  • Teacher focused – for improvement of teaching practice
  • Learner focused – determine whether the course outcomes were achieved

Evaluation be conducted at any time, depending on the purpose:

  • At the beginning to establish prior knowledge (diagnostic)
  • In the middle to check understanding (formative) e.g. think-pair-share, clickers, minute paper, blogs, reflective writing
  • At the end to determine the effectiveness of the course / to determine whether outcomes have been achieved (summative) e.g. questionnaires, interviews, debriefing sessions, tests

Obtaining information:

  • Feedback from students
  • Peer review of teaching
  • Self-evaluation

References

  • Knight (n.d.). A briefing on key concepts: Formative and summative, criterion and norm-referenced assessment
  • Morgan (2008). The Course Improvement Flowchart: A description of a tool and process for the evaluation of university teaching

Developing case studies for holistic clinical education

This is quite a long post. Basically I’ve been trying to situate my current research into a larger curriculum development project and this post is just a reflection of my progress so far. It’s probably going to have big gaps and be unclear in sections. I’m OK with that.

Earlier this week our department had a short workshop on developing the cases that we’re going to use next year in one of our modules. We’re going to try and use cases to develop a set of skills and attitudes that are lacking in our students. These include challenges with (text in brackets are stereotypical student perspectives):

  • Problem solving and clinical reasoning (Tell me what the answer is so that I can memorise it)
  • Critical analysis (Everything I read has the same value)
  • Empathy (The patient is an object I use to develop technical skills)
  • Communication (The use of appropriate professional terminology isn’t important)
  • Groupwork (Assessment is a zero sum game…if you score more than me it bumps me down the ranking in the class, therefore I don’t help you)
  • Knowing vs Understanding (It’s more important for me to know the answer than to understand the problem)
  • Integration of knowledge into practice (What I learn in class is separate to what I do with patients)
  • Integration of knowledge from different domains (I can’t examine a patient with a respiratory problem because I’m on an orthopaedic rotation)
  • Poor understanding of the use of technology to facilitate learning (social networks are for socialising, not learning)

I know it might seem like a bit much to think that merely moving to case-based learning is going to address all of the above, but we think it’ll help to develop these areas in which the students are struggling. The results of my ongoing PhD research project will be helping in the development of this module in the following ways:

  • The survey I began with in 2009 has given us an idea of digital literacy skills of this population, as well as some of the ways in which they learn.
  • The systematic review has helped us to understand some of the benefits and challenges of a blended approach to clinical education.
  • The Delphi study (currently in the second round) has already identified many of the difficulties that our clinicians and clinical supervisors experience in terms of developing the professional and personal attributes of capable and competent students. This study will attempt to highlight teaching strategies that could help to develop the above mentioned problems.
  • I’ve also just finished developing and testing the data capture sheet that I’ll be using for a document analysis of the curriculum in order to determine alignment.
  • Later next year I’ll be conducting an evaluation of the new module, using a variety of methods.

All of the above information is being fed into the curriculum development process that we’re using to shift our teaching strategy from a top-down, didactic approach to a blended approach to teaching and learning. Development of the cases is one of the first major steps we’re taking as part of this curriculum development process. I’ll try to summarise how the cases are being developed and how they’ll be used in the module. This module is called “Applied Physiotherapy” and it’s basically where students learn about the physiotherapy management of common conditions.

In the past, these conditions were divided into systems and taught within those categories e.g. all orthopaedic conditions were covered together. The problem is that this effectively silo’s the information and students see little crossover. In fact, reality is very rarely so conveniently categorised. Patients with orthopaedic conditions may develop respiratory complications as a result of prolonged bed rest. Patients with TB often also present with peripheral neuropathy, as a result of the association of TB with HIV. So, the purpose of the cases is also to integrate different conditions to help students understand the complexity of real-world cases.

In the first term we’ll use 2 very simple cases that each run for 3 weeks. The reason that the cases are simple is that we’re also going to be introducing many new ideas that the students may have little experience with and which are important for participation in the cases e.g. computer workshops for the online environment, concept mapping, group dynamics, presentation skills, etc. The cases will increase in complexity over time as the students feel more comfortable with the process.

Each case will have an overview that highlights the main concepts, learning outcomes, teaching activities, assessment tasks and evaluation components that the case encompasses. The case will be broken up into parts, the number of which will depend on the duration and complexity of the case. After the presentation of each part, the students (in their small groups) will go through this process:

  • What do I know that will help me to solve this problem?
  • What do I think I know that I’m uncertain of?
  • What don’t I know that I need to learn more about?

These questions should help the students develop a coherent understanding of the knowledge they already have that they can build on, as well as the gaps in understanding that they need to fill before they can move on with the case. Each part will involve students allocating tasks that need to be completed before the next session and role allocation is done by each group prior to the introduction of the case. During this process, facilitators will be present within the groups in order to make sure that students have not left out important concepts e.g. precautions and contraindications of conditions.

At the next session, each member of the small groups present to each other within the small groups. The purpose of this is to consolidate what has been learned, clarify important concepts and identify how they’re going to move forward. At the end of each week each small group presents to the larger group. This gives them the opportunity to evaluate their own work in relation to the work of others, make sure that all of the major concepts are included in their case notes, as well as opportunities to learn and practice presentation skills. Students will also be expected to evaluate other groups’ work.

There will be a significant online component to the cases in the form of a social network built on WordPress and Buddypress. We will begin by providing students with appropriate sources that they can consult at each stage of the process. Over time we’ll help them develop skills in the critical analysis of sources so that they begin to identify credibility and authority and choose their own sources. They will also use the social network for collaborative groupwork, communication, and the sharing of resources.

Finally, here are some of the tasks we’re going to include as part of the cases, as well as the outcomes they’re going to measure (I’ve left out citations because this has been a long post and I’m tired, but all of these are backed by research):

  • Concept mapping – determine students’ understanding of the relationships between complex concepts
  • Poetry analysis – development of personal and professional values e.g. compassion, empathy
  • Reflective blogging – development of self-awareness, critical evaluation of their own understanding, behaviours and professional practices
  • Peer evaluation – critical analysis of own and others’ work
  • Case notes – development of documentation skills
  • Presentations – ability to choose important ideas and convey them concisely using appropriate language

This is about where we are at the moment. During the next few months we’ll refine these ideas, as well as the cases, and begin with implementation next year. During my evaluation of the module, I’ll be using the results of the student tasks listed above, as well as interviews and focus groups with students and staff. We’ll review the process in June and make changes based on the results of my, and 2 other, research projects that will be running. We want the curriculum to be responsive to student needs and so we need to build in the flexibility that this requires.

After reading through this post, I think that what I’m saying is that this forms a basic outline of how we’re defining “blended learning” for this particular module. If you’ve managed to make it this far and can see any gaping holes, I’d love to hear your suggestions on how we can improve our approach.

Notes on academic writing

Earlier this year (January in fact) I spent a few days away on a writing retreat to help develop academic writing skills for new academics. I made a few short notes during that process that for some reason didn’t make it onto the blog. Here they are…

Completed the following articles:

  • Wikis and collaborative learning in a South African physiotherapy department
  • Developing reflection and research skills through blogging in an evidence-based practice postgraduate physiotherapy module

Observations on personal development re. writing skills:

  • Keep track of references (including page number) from the outset. I wasted a lot of time having to go back and read through articles just to find the point I was checking.
  • Know what journal you’re going to write for, so that you can begin using their formatting. I also wasted a lot of time because I wrote the entire article using APA Style, then realised that the journal I was submitting to required Chicago Manual Style.
  • Begin the article with clear aims and objectives. Write the article with the aims and objectives next to you. Don’t include anything that isn’t directly relevant to the achievement of those aims and objectives. I spent a lot of time exploring ideas that were eventually culled because they weren’t relevant to the article’s aims and objectives.
  • Keep your writing “tight”, meaning simple and concise. Ask how you can get your point across with as few words as possible. Einstein said that everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. Seems like good advice.
  • As much as I like to believe that I can do everything using just a computer, sometimes it’s good to print out a draft and go through it with a pen. Oddly enough, things can look different when it’s in a physical form.
  • Applying a theoretical framework in the beginning and building around it is easier than trying to manhandle it into the article at the end.

Problem based learning: transitioning to an online / hybrid learning environment

A few weeks ago I attended a short presentation by Prof. Meena Iyer from Missouri University. Prof. Iyer spoke about how she moved her PBL module from using a traditional, mainly face-to-face approach, to an online / hybrid approach. Here are my notes.

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“All life is problem solving” – Karl Popper

How do we get students to think like professionals in the field?
How do we foster group interaction in online spaces?
How do I assess learning in online spaces?

PBL addresses the content issue, as well as enhancing critical thinking through the collaborative solving of authentic, real-world problems

Mismatch:

  • PBL → solving problems is the tool, learning is the goal
  • Traditional → content is the tool, problem solving is the goal

PBL is all unstructured (but it can be scaffolded), and there’s not necessarily a right/wrong answer

Six steps to problem solving (IDEALS):

  • Identify the problem (What is the real question we are facing?)
  • Define the context (What are the facts that frame this problem?)
  • Enumerate the choices (What are the plausible actions?)
  • Analyse the options (What is the best course of action?)
  • List reasons explicitly (why is this the best course of action?)
  • Self-correct (What did we miss?)

The problem should be authentic and appealing (a mystery to solve)
Clearly outline expectations for each step of the process

Why move from face-to-face to online?

  • In F2F, you can only move forward at the speed of the slowest learner
  • Significant time requirements for F2F
  • Identify…can be anonymous online → fewer preconceived biases among students

Challenges:

  • How do you transition F2F to online
  • What tools are appropriate / feasible / viable / affordable?
  • How do you do collaborative work when everyone is online at different times?

Format:

  • Cases are presented in multiple formats / media
  • Introductory week to familiarise students with online environment. In addition to learning the content and critical thinking, students also have to learn about PBL
  • Scenarios are released in 2 stages over a 2 week period
  • Scenarios are accompanied by a set of probing questions to stimulate discussion
  • Teacher provides support during the discussions
  • Students must also design their own case
  • Assessment is based on content and depth
  • Wiki used for question / answer. Each student must answer each of the questions, each answer must be different i.e. must add to what has already been added (this means that the question can’t just be a knowledge question)
  • Discussion boards are used for students to dissect the cases (All and Group)
  • Each group assesses their own knowledge base, and define what the gaps are, and therefore what they need to find out (who provides the links to the resources, or can students use any resources?)
  • At least 3 posts per student, including: Summarise and question one citation; Answer another students’ question; Follow up any discussion on their own posts
  • Reading assignment: written, critial appraisal of a published article relevant to the case study. This summary must be posted online.

Important for students to learn how to share information in supportive environments

Assessment:

  • What parts of the process need to be assessed?
  • What parts can be graded as a group?
  • What needs to be submitted for individual assessment?
  • What are the time constraints for the grading?
  • How do you balance grading workload with the need to externally motivate student performance?
  • There is also a syllabus quiz to ensure the students actually know the content

Design:

  • Make the problem compelling
  • Outline expectations
  • The problem analysis should relate to the professoinal field
  • As student proficiency develops, withdraw support
  • Use learning issues to encourage EBP
  • Ensure that solution development is based on critical appraisal

Resources

  • Barrows, HS (1996). Problem based learning in medicine and beyond: a brief overview. New directions for teaching and learning
  • Barrows HS & Tamblyn, RM (1980). Problem based learning: an approach to medicla education. New York, Springer Pub. Co.
  • Hmelo-Silver, C (2004). Problem based learning: what and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3)
  • www.criticalthinking.org

 

CHEC course: teaching and learning (day 4)

Yesterday was the final day of the CHEC short courses on teaching and learning. While the whole module was useful, I found each day to be difficult in the sense that we were trying to cover some really big topics (e.g. reflection, educational theory, etc.) in a very limited set of time. I think that the course would be more valuable if we could set aside 2 or 3 full days to have some time to grapple with these ideas. Anyway, the workshops are over now and it’s just the assignment to complete. I’ll blog about that later. In the meantime, here are the notes I took today.

The reflective practitioner

Difference among teachers allows you to benchmark yourself against others, you can situate yourself, there’s no one “right” way to “be” a teacher

“Teaching is a science”…but it’s also an art

Teaching is about creating a space where students can learn, but we can’t make anyone learn anything

“The teacher, as the speaker of the specialist discourse, is able to “lend” students the capacity to frame meanings they cannot yet produce independently” – Northedge, 2003

Teachers can’t “make meaning” for students

Dimensions of tertiary teaching (Kane, Sandretto & Heath, 2004):

  • Reflective practice
  • Subject knowledge
  • Peronality
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Research / teaching nexus

What evidence can we provide for the quality of our teaching?
How can this evidence be presented?

What is my philosophy of teaching?

After a lecture, ask:

  • Was I on time?
  • Was I prepared?
  • Was I compassionate when dealing with students?
  • Was I trying to do the best for the students?

Reflection is “active, persistent and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” – Dewey, 1933 (there are many other definitions of reflection)

Reflective practice needs to be systematic, built into your workflow

Content reflection: description of the problem / context / situation (what happened?)
Process reflection: strategies and procedures (how did it happen?)
Premise (critical) reflection: question the merit and functional relevance of the issue (why did it happen?)
(Mezirow, 1991)

When our belief systems are challenged, it forces us to reconsider our understanding of how the world works → new understandings and meanings → change in behaviour and practice

“Reflection is what allows us to learn from our experiences; it is an assessment of where we have been and where we want to go next” – Kenneth Wolf

Everyday reflective teacher → Reflective practitioner → scholarly teacher → teaching scholar (van Schalkwyk, Cilliers, Adendorff, Cattell & Herman, in press)