How do we get students to think more deeply about learning in an academic context?
I’m giving a workshop later today. The idea is that we’ll get all of the facilitators who’ll be working on the module we’re designing (and which I’m evaluating for my PhD) and help them get a grip on the approach to facilitation that we’d like them to use. The objective of the workshop is to help them get an understanding of the conceptual basis for facilitation in this module. We’re going to use Laurillard’s “Conversational Framework” as a structure to guide how the facilitators should try and engage with their groups, both in the classroom and in the clinical context. The following notes have been taken from Laurillard’s “Rethinking University Teaching“.
Learning needs to be situated within a context and we can’t separate the knowledge to be learned from the context in which it has to be applied. Conceptual knowledge is not an abstract, intangible thing. It is a tool that can be used as part of an authentic learning activity. There is a unity between the problem, context and solution when the problem is experienced, that is absent when an answer is merely given.
Teaching is essentially an activity that tries to help students change the way the see the world by interpreting the insights of others.
Academic learning is different to everyday learning in the sense that it is the student learning through interpreting the symbols (i.e. language, images, diagrams) of someone else’s view of the world
The knowledge that students bring with them will impact on how they integrate the new knowledge that they learn. Remember the ZPD and how the MKO guides the student to higher cognitive levels by building on what they already know.
It makes no sense to correct a faulty procedure without also correcting the faulty conceptualisation that supported it (knowledge is situated in action, and action manifests knowledge). Correcting fundamental misconceptions automatically corrects all of the faulty procedures associated with it. Correcting the procedure corrects only one way of doing it incorrectly. This is one problem with merely demonstrating a technique. The student is forced to conceive a rationale for the technique, which may be incorrect. By taking them through an experience of solving a problem, the rationale for the technique is implicitly tied to its performance.
Before we can challenge the students’ fundamental misconceptions, we need to know what those misconceptions are. Again, this links back to the ZPD. Without knowing where the student is, we cannot help them get to where they want to be.
Researching the learning process (which is essentially what a facilitator is…a dynamic researcher into student learning) should include an observation of student performance on a task e.g. worked problems or written explanations, with a retrospective interview of the student looking back at the task and describing how they experienced it. The interviewer uses the task to provide cues to the student.
The learning process includes 5 interdependent aspects:
Using the above steps, we can see how learning something deeply is complex and difficult to facilitate. In short, the facilitator should try to conduct an interactive dialogue that supports the learning process. The following points describe the components of a teacher-student dialogue that promotes deep learning of a topic.
Interpreting forms of representation
Acting on descriptions
Reflecting on goal-action-feedback cycle
There should be a continuing, iterative dialogue between teacher and student, that reveals both parties conceptions and differences between the conceptions, which then determines the focus for continuing dialogue. However, it’s not just the process of conducting the dialogue that matters but HOW it is conducted e.g there must be an opportunity for the student to interpret forms of representation other than language.
A teaching strategy should be:
I just wanted to share a thought while preparing our case notes for the Applied Physiotherapy module we’re developing. One of the designers made a note of the “guideline answers” for facilitators to some of the questions that we might use to trigger students’ thinking. I wrote the following as a comment and didn’t want to lose it when the document is finalised, so I’m putting it here.
“I think we should make sure that, in addition to the ‘answers’, we should identify the main concepts we want students to understand. Remember that we’re using our paper patient (i.e. the case) as a framework for students to learn about concepts. Then, they apply those concepts in the real world to patients. They reflect on those real-world interactions and identify dissonance between their experienced reality (the patient contact) and their abstract conceptions of reality (how they originally conceived of the patient contact). After the patient contact, they feed back to their small groups and facilitators, who together help students create new relationships between concepts. So, in short, the clinical concepts are learned initially through the paper patient, tested in the real world with an actual patient, discussed online (maybe) and then brought back to the classroom for further reflection and refinement. The next week they are exposed to new concepts that build on their previous experiences, and then they get to test those abstractions in the real world again.”
I’m trying to take an intentional approach to using Laurillard’s conception of academic learning that I’m exploring in “Rethinking University Teaching”
Later this month we’ll be implementing a blended approach to teaching and learning in one module in our physiotherapy department. This was to form the main part of my research project, looking at the use of technology enhanced teaching and learning in clinical education. The idea was that I’d look at the process of developing and implementing a blended teaching strategy that integrated an online component, and which would be based on a series of smaller research projects I’ve been working on.
I was quite happy with this until I had a conversation with a colleague, who asked how I planned on determining whether or not the new teaching strategy had actually worked. This threw me a little bit. I thought that I had it figured out…do small research projects to develop understanding of the students and the teaching / learning environment, use those results to inform the development of an intervention, implement the intervention and evaluate the process. Simple, right?
Then why haven’t I been able to shake the feeling that something was missing? I thought that I’d use a combination of outputs or “products of learning” (e.g. student reflective diaries, concept mapping assignments, semi-structured interviews, test results, focus groups, etc.) to evaluate my process and make a recommendation about whether others should consider taking a blended approach to clinical education. I’ve since begun to wonder if that method goes far enough in making a contribution to the field, and if there isn’t something more that I should be doing (my supervisor is convinced that I’ve got enough without having to change my plan at this late stage, and she may be right).
However, when I finally got around to reading Laurillard’s “Rethinking University Teaching”, I was quite taken with her suggested approach. It’s been quite an eye opener, not only in terms of articulating some of the problems that I see in clinical practice with our students, but also helping me to realize the difference between designing teaching activities (which is what I’ve been concentrating on), and evaluating learning (which I’ve ignored because this is hard to do). I also realized that, contrary to a good scientific approach, I didn’t have a working hypothesis, and was essentially just going to describe something without any idea of what would happen. Incidentally, there’s nothing wrong with descriptive research to evaluate a process, but if I can’t also describe the change in learning, isn’t that limiting the study?
I’m now wondering if, in addition to what I’d already planned, I need to conduct interviews with students using the phenomenological approach suggested by Laurillard i.e. the Conversational Framework. I don’t yet have a great understanding of it but I’m starting to see how merely aligning a curriculum can’t in itself make any assertions about changes in student learning. I need to be able to say that a blended approach does / does not appear to fundamentally change how students’ construct meaning and in order to do so I’m thinking of doing the following:
I hope that this will allow me to make a stronger statement about the impact of a blended approach to teaching and learning in clinical education, and to be able to demonstrate that it fundamentally changes students constructs from superficial to deep understanding. I’m just not sure if the Conversational Framework is the most appropriate model to evaluate students’ problem-solving ability, as it was initially designed to evaluate multimedia tools.
Explaining, naming and crossing border in Southern African higher education
Prof Piet Naude
This was one of the most challenging presentations I’ve ever listened to. I didn’t agree with a lot of what Prof Naude said, but he made me question my own beliefs and biases.
Ontology: language is the house of reality (language shapes reality)
In political discourse, language precedes actual violent acts. In Rwanda, people called each other “cockroaches”, and it’s much easier to kill a cockroach than to kill a human being.
Crossing interpretive borders in higher education:
If universities don’t exist for the public good, they become playgrounds for the rich. Commercial language can change the direction of education e.g. when a “vice chancellor” becomes a “CEO”
Crossing 5 metaphorical boundaries
Perceptions of PBL group effectiveness in a diverse pharmacy student population
Study set out to evaluate student perceptions of differences in plenary vs small group work in a PBL context
4th years have better experiences with groups than 3rd years
Some students prepare only what THEY need to present in plenary sessions, whereas small groups mean that students must prepare better and more broadly
Students generally feel that the plenary sessions aren’t a “good way of learning”
Most students agree that working in small groups helps develop tolerance for language and cultural difference
Most students agreed that small group working helped them to work effectively
Cases in small groups helped students to clarify areas of difficulty
PBL seemed to work well across a diverse student group, perceptions were generally positive
Confusing / difficult conceptual work required the development of certain attributes e.g. communication, self-directed learning, tolerance
Some students found the small groupwork sessions frustrating and challening
Groups demand a large investment in time and energy, from students and staff
Problems must be resolved very early on
Continuous monitoring and evaluation of the PBL process is essential
Facilitators must pay regular attention of the changing needs of the students (students change and develop as part of the process, as do their needs, so facilitators must be aware of the changes and change the programme accordingly)
Use the positive benefits of diversity, rather than merely work around it (how can student diversity actually feed into the programme, encourage students to bring themselves into the cases, share their own life experiences in order to enrich the module)
Supporting and enabling PG success: building strategies for empowerment, emotional resilience and conceptual critical work
What are the links between students’ development and experiences: ontology (their sense of being in the world) and epistemology (how they construct knowledge)
Why do students undertake doctorates and what happens during their studies to help / hinder them?
Conceptual threshold crossing (Meyer & Land): the moments when you know that you’re being cleverer than you thought you were 🙂
What can staff do to enhance and safeguard research student wellbeing and nudge conceptual threshold crossing?
Building emotional resilience and wellbeing
Students kept learning journals for a duration of 3 years and included interviews during that period
“Troublesome encounters” (Morris & Wisker, 2011)
Doctoral learning journeys are multi-dimensional:
How do doctoral students signify their awareness of working conceptually?
How do supervisors recognise students’ conceptual grasp of research (this applies equally well to UGs conceptual grasp of the discipline)
Conceptual crossing is evidenced by:
Ontological change: seeing the self and the world differently and you can’t go back
Epistemological contribution: making new contributions to understanding and meaning
You have to find your own way, otherwise it’s a mechanistic process
Threshold concepts are:
Learning moments that may indicate threshold crossings:
There needs to be a number of conceptual leaps, otherwise the thesis is a box-ticking exercise
Make sure that the doctoral project has boundaries. The work is part of a greater whole, and the more focused the work, the easier it is to define the boundaries
Research is a journey (risks, surprises, deviations, even though it looks mapped), but a thesis is a building (ordered, coherent, organised, linked)
Constructive, intellectually challenging relationships
Student wellbeing is essential for postgraduate success:
There are factors in the learning environment that pose challenges to student wellbeing
What are the wellbeing issues for our research students?
Negative impacts cripples creativity and encourages you to take the path of least resistance, where the project is more about a qualification and less about innovation
Important to switch off from the process and engage in the world in different ways, as a coping strategy when experiencing difficulty
Crossing borders between face-to-face and online learning: the evaluation of an online tutoring initiative
Collaborative learning has as its main feature a structure that encourages students to talk
Created an online module because student numbers increased, shortages of venues and tutors, timetable clashes, changing student profile and needs
Blended approach could help with logistical problems, expose students to a new way of learning, more challenging activities, develop wide variety of skills
Uses Gilly Salmon’s model for teaching and learning online as a point of departure, provides scaffolding to take students through a process of familiarising students with the environment
Students’ perceptions of online components were generally positive. However, students reported challenges with effective textual communication and typing, time management (which seems odd, since blended learning seeks to help with time issues), self-expression, understanding of concepts that are read rather than heard, poor familiarity with computers and the internet → disadvantage, feedback is immediate with face-to-face, relationships → face-to-face is a more personal interaction
Used Community of Inquiry framework to develop good online teaching practices (see Kleimola & Leppisaari, 2008 for breakdown of different “presences”)
Was there integration of online and offline activities? Used real-world examples to develop conversation around activities
Students’ learning satisfaction from a blended learning environment for physiology
What aspects of technology provide benefits / advantages to the learning process. NOT whether technology is inherently good or bad
How collaborative groupwork affects students’ writing
Shena Lamb-du Plessis, Laetitia Radder
Aim was to get the students to write in as many different ways, and as regularly as possible during the course
Used group journal reflections and group progress reports
Peer feedback is valuable when students know from the start that they will be sharing their work with others
Developing a writing identity means pushing students to think for themselves and to imagine themselves as writers
A process of developing and clarifying thoughts by sharing them with an audience
Groupwork can shape the meaning of the work
Group dialogue helped to define / outline the writing requirements
Students felt that personal expression validated their viewpoints
Helped to develop self-confidence when they realised that others shared their experiences
Must introduce conflict management strategies, orient students to role allocation, discuss writing tasks to restructure meaning
Exploring the tension between institutional learning management systems and emergent technologies: staff perspectives at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Daniela Gachago, Eunice Ivala, Agne Chigona
What are “emerging technologies” and can they disrupt teaching practice?
The impact of technologies in education falls short of the rhetoric:
Need to redefine e-learning: “can no longer be viewed as a purely institutionally based or narrowly defined set of activities” (HEFCE paper, 2009, 5). Difficult because institutions are reluctant to give up their power and control
There is a shift of the locus on control:
Type I technologies replicate existing practices, Type II technologies allow students and lecturers to do things that they couldn’t do before
In complex-adaptive domains, knowledge doesn’t provide prospective predictability but rather, retrospective coherence. Learning should be self-organised and collaborative (Williams, Karousou, Macness, 2011)
“Hard” technologies: constraining and limiting, stifles creativity e.g. LMS
“Soft” technologies: freedom to play
Soft technologies require skill and artistry. It’s not just what you do but how you do it.
Qualities of disruptive technologies (Meyer, 2010):
Laurillard (2002, 141): We’re playing with digital tools but with an approach still born in the transmission model. There is no progress therefore, in how we teach, despite what is possible with the new technology
Laurillard’s conversational framework: there’s no escape from the need for dialogue, there is a constant exchange between teacher and student:
Laurillard (2002). Rethinking university teaching.
No one approach is better than the other. We need to have a mix of approaches to get the maximum benefit of using different tools
“It’s a way of doing life. It’s not about computers. It’s not about mobile learning. It’s just learning – it’s just life”
Analysing teaching and learning at five comprehensive universities
What are the mechanisms in the world that exist in order for us to have the experiences that we do?
Move beyond the statistics of higher education, and ask what must the institution be like in order for this to be (im)possible?
What is the role of Culture (ideas), Structure (process), and Agency (people)?
Most institutions continue to reflect their individual histories as rural/urban, disadvantaged/advantaged, traditional/university of technology. There seemed to be little cohesion in terms of what it means to be a comprehensive university.
Comprehensive universities emphasise the management discourse that focuses on the “complexity to be managed” rather than a “knowledge discourse” i.e. what is knowledge / research, etc.
There are implications for academic identify and research output
“Powerful ways of knowing”
Often students are constructed as deficits i.e. they are deficit in language, life skills, motivation, etc.