There’s no point in spending any time curating content for students. Think of all the time you spend searching for, filtering, aggregating, and collating content for students. Then the time you need to spend keeping that list updated. Every year there’ll be new resources available, which means you need to start comparing what you have with what is new and pruning the list accordingly. All of this is done with the best of intentions; helping students spend less time on “admin” and more time on learning. But, what if the admin is actually a really important part of the learning?
As far as I can tell, there are two main approaches to curating content for students:
You can aggregate information from other people, which is easier and quicker but it means 1) you have to keep up to date with what everyone else is doing, and 2) the information is unlikely to be exactly what your students need.
You can create your own content using a variety of other sources, which is arguably better for your students (e.g. it’s context-specific) but it has a significant workload implication.
In both of the above cases, you are responsible for keeping the resources up to date for the foreseeable future. What is the long-term sustainability of this? In 5 years time will you still be aggregating content for your students? This approach – whether you’re finding other people’s content or creating your own – is only reasonable in a context of information scarcity. When it’s hard to find the appropriate content then it makes sense to point students in the right direction by curating a list. But we’re not in a context of information scarcity anymore and collecting words no longer has the same value as it used to.
I think it’s far more useful to teach students how to find the information they need at the time that it’s needed. This is how you prepare them for the future. This is how they learn what to do when there’s no-one there telling them what to do. It’s the difference between you telling students what is important and teaching them how to make their own choices about what is important. The first (curating content) creates a context where students are dependent, obedient, and under control. The second helps them learn how to be independent and personally empowered. So maybe we should stop finding and presenting the information that (we think) students need, and instead teach them how to find what they need, when they need it.
Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography, and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names boundaries, populations, and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot hope to keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
When the training is unchanged for immense periods of time, traditions are passed on intact to the next generation. But when what needs to be learned changes quickly, especially in the course of a single generation, it becomes much harder to know what to teach and how to teach it. Then, students complain about relevance; respect for their elders diminishes. Teachers despair at how education standards have deteriorated, and how lackadaisical students have become. In a world in transition, students and teachers both need to teach themselves one essential skill – learning how to learn.
The only way to prepare students for life is to prepare them to deal with change because the world is always changing – only now the rate of change is accelerating.
I just had a brief conversation with a colleague on the nature of the teaching method we’re using in my department. Earlier this year we shifted from a methodology premised on lectures, to the use of case-based learning. I’ve been saying for a while that content is not important, but I’ve realised that I haven’t been adding the most important part, which is that content is not important, relative to thinking.
Of course content is important, but we often forget why it’s important. Content doesn’t help students to manage patients (not much anyway). The example I often use is that a student can know many facts about TB, including, for example, its pathology. But, that won’t necessarily help them to manage a patient who has decreased air entry because of the TB.
What will help the student is the ability to link data obtained from the medical folder, patient interview and physical exam, with the patients signs and symptoms. By establishing relationships between those variables, the student develops an understanding of how to proceed with the patient management process, which includes treatment. There is very little content that the student needs in order to establish those relationships. In those situations, what the content does focus on is a recipe list of commonly used assessment and treatment interventions, which the student can memorise and apply to a patient who presents in a certain way. This is NOT what we want though. This approach doesn’t help students’ adapt and respond to changing conditions.
Knowing the pathology of TB may tell the student WHY there is decreased air entry to the basal aspect of the lungs, but not WHAT TO DO about it (unless you want students to follow recipes). Clinical reasoning is the important part, not content. This is what I’ve been missing when I tell people that content isn’t important. It’s not, but only relative to thinking.
“When I look around at the risk/reward curve for higher education it’s grim. We’ve really gone past the point where raising tuition higher than inflation and then financializing the payment system has become abusive. I certainly never intended for myself an academic career and, were the academy to suffer, I’d just go do something else. I don’t have a commitment to it or to really, frankly, almost any institution that assumes that it has to be stable forever.
Plainly, universities are the kind of institutions that are ripe for pretty radical reconsideration. Probably because the founding story of many institutions and particularly the ones that we think of as the kind of original avatars of American higher education was “notable gentlemen X donated their library.” Right? So literally just access to written material became an important enough gesture that you would organize a university around it. And whatever [laughs] — whatever it is people need more of today, it ain’t access to written material.”
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):
Construct an hypothesis
Test the hypothesis
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.
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?
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
Feedback from students
Peer review of teaching
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
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.
“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
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
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?
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
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
Make the problem compelling
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
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)
I came across this great video on YouTube today that looks at the direction the web is taking in terms of the separation of structure and content, as well the role of social networks in creating the semantic web. Strictly speaking, it’s not directly related to education or healthcare but it does have an indirect impact in that it gives us a hint of where we might be headed and of some of the ways in which we can use these tools.
The past year or so has seen a move towards more sophisticated uses of the so-called “Web 2.0” technologies, a term that’s thrown around a lot these days and a formal definition of which is proving elusive. Rather than trying to define and structure it, I prefer to think of “Web 2.0” as an organic approach to computing…a merging of the traditional desktop application and online services. At some point I think there’ll be no difference between “online” and “offline” and indeed the boundaries are already increasingly difficult to make out. Google Gears, Adobe’s Integrated Runtime (AIR) and Mozilla’s Prism project are all looking to further blur the lines between the Internet and your personal computer.
Two good examples of the integration between desktop application and a user’s online experience are Zotero and Scrapbook. Both are Firefox extensions that are easily installed and have a shallow learning curve.
Zotero is fully integrated with Firefox and is described as a “next-generation research tool” that allows a user to capture relevant data from sources while browsing and storing that information in a local database for offline use. It “recognises” the structure of content and “knows” where to store information like title, author, publication and other bibliographic data. With academics and researchers spending more time finding their sources online, a tool that facilitates the process of managing content is most certainly welcome.
Scrapbook is another Firefox extension that adds a significantly enhanced note-taking feature to the browser. Users are able to capture sections of webpages (or entire sites) while browsing, edit text, make notes and add comments. Again, this content is stored locally for offline use.
Both of these extensions are examples of how new technologies are blurring the lines between “online” and “offline” and creating tools that take advantage of new approaches to content management. With the huge volume of information available today, a new approach to the managment of that content is necessary. Gone are the days when renaming a document is enough. Together with desktop search and tagging, tools like Zotero and Scrapbook are essential for anyone with a vested interest in managing a large volume of content.
Edit (07/07/08): I can’t believe I left out PDF Download, another Firefox extension that makes managing PDF documents within the browser a lot easier and more flexible. Up until the latest release, my main use of it was the option to automatically download any PDF document, rather than open it in the browser, a process that’s really time consuming. With the newest version, PDF Download also offers the option of converting any webpage you’re reading into a PDF, which I find really useful as I prefer working with PDF’s instead of saved webpages.