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.

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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

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-24

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-01

  • Revisiting the Purpose of Higher Education and Courses. Why teaching content isn’t enough http://tinyurl.com/yg7ttj8 #
  • First two weeks of OpenContent at UCT http://tinyurl.com/ygtm9wx #
  • The Open Source Way: Creating and Nurturing Communities of Contributors http://bit.ly/bTDcGp #
  • Why technology is not disrupting the university sector http://tinyurl.com/yhk3boy #
  • @weblearning I like it, thanks for the heads up 🙂 #
  • RT @weblearning: “key difference between informal and formal learning is .. permeable classroom walls” writes @bfchirpy http://bit.ly/90f17e #
  • Establish Authority by Creating Value. A few suggestions on ways to better establish yourself within your field http://tinyurl.com/ygv2nfl #
  • Highlighting E-Readers. Short comment by Downes on a post highlighting issues with e-readers for scholarship http://tinyurl.com/yghqbnf #
  • Short post on the predominantly content focused nature of course planning http://tinyurl.com/y9v4u64 #
  • RT @melaniemcbride: one of the downsides of fewer [bloggers] is a preference for the shotgun-share over [hard work & analysis/commentary] #
  • @KEC83 #Diigo ed. acc? Been trying on/off for 6 months with not even a single response from them. Very disappointing #
  • @RonaldArendse looks interesting, but I think it’s going to be a while before we’ll see anything like that locally 🙂 #
  • Policing YouTube: Medical Students, Social Media and Digita Identity http://bit.ly/crA5yi #
  • Sunset at Mont Flour in Stellenbosch is beautiful #
  • apophenia » Blog Archive » ChatRoulette, from my perspective. Thoughts on the video service by danah boyd http://bit.ly/9TU4O3 #
  • Johannes Cronje: Wendren’s PPC Bag. Cool example of South African innovation http://bit.ly/aKdy3O #
  • @meganbur welcome to the revolution 🙂 #
  • At http://montfleur.co.za/ for UWC writing retreat. There are worse places to be. Some good insight into the writing process #
  • @sbestbier Thanks for the suggest, much appreciated 🙂 #
  • Science in the Open » Blog Archive » Peer review: What is it good for? http://bit.ly/cxzR6o #
  • It’s not peer review if you aren’t familiar with the subject « Connectivism http://bit.ly/1PIqDK #
  • elearnspace. everything elearning: Scholarship in an age of participation (Siemens) http://bit.ly/bigAMm #

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UWC writing for publication retreat

I’m just finishing up the first day of a 3 day “writing for publication” retreat, hosted at the Mont Fleur conference centre just outside of Stellenbosch. We spent the first half of today covering some of the underlying ideas and concepts around the first sections of an article, which was useful for me because I write what I think sounds good, rather than having a more nuanced understanding of what exactly it is that I’m writing.

After this we spent a few hours getting everyone signed up to Google Docs and sharing the articles we’re currently busy with among our respective group members. We’ll be using Docs over the next few days to provide feedback to the other participants. Even though I’ve done this at a few workshops now, I’m still amazed at how there are always a few more complex cases that take up the bulk of the total time spent.

I’ll be writing an article based on a presentation given at the HELTASA conference in December last year, which was based on a survey I conducted of my fourth year students following a wiki based assignment I’d given to them earlier on in the year.

Here are my notes from the day’s session.

Identify a journal

Identify your journal early on in the process of writing, rather than trying to force an article into a journal

Publication = joining the conversation

  • Who is already participating in the journal (reviewers, editors)?
  • Who decides who can join in?
  • Do you know anyone who is participating?
  • Who has been excluded and on what grounds?
  • What is under discussion?
  • Who do you need to know in order to join

Know the aims and scope of the journal. Does your material suit the journal’s agenda

Email the editor to ask what the interests of the journal are

Finding an argument could involve responding to another publication by another author

Genre = type of expression which has features that all examples of this type share, they shape the thoughts we form and the communications by which we interact

Browsing articles in different publications may give you an idea that’s more creative than you might be used to

Argument = trying to convince your readers of a particular point that you’re trying to make

Abstracts

This was a short exercise where we were asked to “Write your abstract as a bedtime story”. Here’s mine (the underlined sections were provided as cues):

Once upon a time researchers believed that the use of emerging technologies in clinical education would magically create better teaching and learning practices.

But I began to wonder what this magical process was, and if it was as simple as everyone made it out to be.

So what I did was to conduct a small experiment in one of the classes I teach, where students used a wiki to collaboratively construct articles on paediatric conditions.

I discovered that there was little difference in student behaviour as a result of using the wiki, and that the technology wasn’t the problem.

This changed the way I think about integrating technology into my teaching practice.

It was just an idea to begin thinking about the abstract in a different, slightly more creative way.

Make your abstract, concrete. It’s an advertisement for the rest of the work. Is it going to make your reader follow through?

Your work isn’t only about the content and form, it’s also about establishing your identity as an academic. What does this work say about who I am?

Questions to ask about the abstract:

  • What conversation is the researcher in?
  • What is the researcher’s stance?
  • Does the voice sound “expert” enough?
  • Is the research clear?
  • What is the argument? Can it be made stronger?
  • Is the “so what/now what?” question answered?
  • Will the reader want to read the rest of the article?

Begin by establishing a context and / or a conventional idea, and then challenging it.

Identify areas where you should be tentative, and areas where you can be definite.

Some characteristics of an abstract:

  • Locate – what is the relation of this paper to the bigger picture
  • Focus – what questions or problems that will be explored
  • Report – summarise the major findings
  • Argue – open out the argument and indicate a point of view, returning to the angle e.g. the theoretical framework → closing the circle

Introduction

Introductions tend to follow a set pattern, regardless of the discipline. But, be careful of sticking too closely to any one formula or pattern

Create-a-research-space (CARS) model:

  • Establish a territory → highlight work already done in the field
    • Claim centrality
    • Make topic generalisations
    • Review previous research
  • Establish a niche → what are my questions / comments on the topic?
    • Counter claim
    • Indicating a gap
    • Identifying a gap
    • Continuing a tradition
  • Occupy the niche →
    • Announcing present research
    • Outlining the purpose of the present research
    • Announcing principal findings
    • Stating the value of the present research
    • Indicating research article structure

Peer review

A critical friends asks provocative questions and takes time to fully understand the context

Giving feedback:

  • Provides an audience
  • Direct and explicit questions and comments
  • Constructive, rather than destructive
  • Look for meanings, but don’t take over