Uncertain times: A short reflection on career progression

As part of the 10 year celebration of SAFRI – the Southern African FAIMER Regional Institute – I was asked to contribute short reflection to a chapter on Professional development: Post fellowship on a personal and professional level. This is what I submitted (click here for a higher res PDF).

altPhysio | Personal reflection on the series

As part of the altPhysio series I’ll be writing a few reflective posts where I think out loud about the process of writing the series. This is really for my own benefit of documenting the process, so you may not find it very interesting. Just saying…

Over the past 2 or 3 years I’ve been thinking about what it would take to set up a private physiotherapy school that looked and worked very differently to what we’ve come to expect in a mainstream programme. I started seeing how ineffective and inefficient the system is for student learning and realised that a lot of what we simply accept as being normal, is actually the basis for many of the problems we experience. For the most part I kept my thoughts to myself, sharing with those who I knew had a similar bent. It wasn’t much of anything besides a few of us bouncing around some ideas but it was enough to keep the concepts slowly evolving in the back of my mind.

But over the past few months I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much these ideas resonate with others. It’s mainly people I’ve connected with through the Critical Physiotherapy Network, so it’s clearly a certain kind of physio – one who would join the CPN – that finds these ideas interesting. I had no idea that there would be so much support for a newly imagined curriculum and the positive feedback has been wonderful. On that note, I’ve also realised that there are pockets of innovation in physiotherapy education where some of the ideas I’m writing about are being implemented. I’d love to hear more about those programmes in the comments.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that as I spend more time working on a post for an idea, the less novel it seems. I just published something on getting rid of modules and when I put it out there I had a moment where I thought how pedestrian the argument seems. It’s almost like I’ve convinced myself of the truth of it and now simply accept that it’s the way to go. I guess this is why it’s so important to me that others push back against these ideas and find reasons for why they might not work. Or, to tell me that your school has already been doing it for years and it’s really not that innovative at all.

To be clear, this is a thought experiment and many of these ideas might be terrible on closer inspection. I’m just wondering out loud what kinds of changes in the system might help us to address the problems that we currently experience in our curricula. I’m crash testing my own ideas, which is why feedback (and push back) is so important. I really do want to know all the ways that the concept doesn’t work. By reconsidering the things we accept as being inherently true, we may be able to figure out how to resolve some of our problems anyway.

Posted to Diigo 04/05/2012

  • Students working in small groups interact in a variety of ways and the teacher has an important role to play
  • Barriers, more often perceived than real, may impede the adoption of small group teaching
  • Small group learning is the learning that takes place when students work together usually in groups of 10 or less
  • What matters is that the group shows three characteristics.
  • Active participation: A key feature of small group work is that interaction should take place among all present.
  • A specific task: There should be a clearly defined task and objectives, and they should be understood by all members of the group.
  • Reflection: In small group learning, it is important to learn from an experience and to modify behaviour accordingly. Deep learning is a key feature of small group work: reflection is a key feature of deep learning.
  • It provides students with experience of working in a group, it helps them to acquire group skills. These include the ability to communicate effectively, the prioritising of tasks, the management of time and the exercise of interpersonal skills.
  • The introduction of small group work into a curriculum is frequently resisted. Various arguments are used
  • “Students do not like small group work”
  • Initial dissatisfaction with small group work may be expected and is natural. Barriers may be:
  • Perceptual
  • Cultural
  • Emotional
  • Intellectual
  • Environmental
  • “Staff do not know how to teach in small groups”
  • : Teachers may lack the skills necessary for running small group sessions. This may be seen as more of a problem by course or curriculum organisers than by teachers themselves. A staff development programme, however, is important.
  • : Staff shortage may be a real issue – or may be a misconception. The small group method adopted and the timetabling both have a significant impact. Identify all the staff who could be available for small group teaching.
  • “We do not have enough teachers for small group work”
  • “There are too few rooms”: Space is frequently a contentious issue. Creativity is usually the best solution. Do not be afraid to experiment – students are resilient.
  • “It is a waste of time – students do not learn anything”: It may take longer to cover a topic in small group work than in lectures. However, what really matters is if, and what, students learn and not just what is taught.
  • The following checklists have been generated for running small group work.
  • Consider the objectives of the session: Consider carefully the objectives of the session or course you are running and whether other teaching methods, eg lectures, independent learning, may be more appropriate
  • Determine your available physical resources: Accommodation availability may be a limiting factor. Small groups require suitable accommodation, which allows chairs to be set out in a circle to maximise interaction among the students, and space for appropriate audio-visual materials.
  • Determine the manpower availability: Small group teaching requires the participation of a larger number of teaching staff. Consider carefully how many teachers are available and their expertise as small group facilitators.
  • Does a facilitator have to be an expert? For small groups to function most effectively, the facilitator should have expertise in the content area and in small group facilitation.
  • Can different facilitators be used with the one group? Continuity of the facilitator is desirable. The facilitator can be considered as a member of the group and changing the composition of the group may disrupt the group dynamics.
  • Can a teacher facilitate several groups? A floating facilitator can be assigned responsibility for maintaining the task and function of more than one group. Success varies, frequently depending on the dynamics of the groups and the skill of the facilitator.
  • Can a student facilitate his or her own group? A student can successfully facilitate a peer group. This depends on the group’s dynamics, on the student’s ability and on the briefing given to the student.
  • Determine the group membership: Groups may be self selected, strategically determined, randomised, or selected alphabetically. It may be appropriate to change the membership of a group after a designated period of time, eg semester or year. Groups will work less productively if constantly changed, as they are less likely to reach a productive stage.
  • Ensure that the staff is prepared for the session: Staff must be given detailed briefings for the small group work. They should have prior opportunities to see small group work in action and to attend staff development sessions.
  • Select the most appropriate small group method: The educational objectives should determine the choice of small group method.
  • Develop stimulus material: Stimulus material might include problem-based scenarios, video clips, a set of questions, key articles for exploration, a real or simulated patient. The stimulus material required will be determined by the small group method adopted.
  • Inform students about the role of the small group work: Students should be informed why small group work is being adopted and how it relates to other activities and to the learning outcomes for the course.
  • During the Small Group Activity
  • Allow adequate introductions – use ice-breakers if necessary
  • Ensure that the students understand what to do, why they are doing it and how they should achieve it
  • Facilitate learning: The facilitator’s objective is to help the student become more self-reliant and independent by establishing a climate that is open, trustful and supportive. An educational facilitator’s role has two distinct areas: maintaining the functioning of the group and ensuring the task is completed. Facilitators must understand the changing dynamics of a group through four stages: forming, storming, norming, and performing
  • Debrief the group on the activity: Debriefing summarises or clarifies what has been learnt and may take as long as the activity itself. During debriefing, constructive feedback may be given
  • After the Small Group Activity
  • Evaluate the success of the session: There are two aspects – achievement and quality. Have the objectives been achieved? Was the educational experience of a high standard? Students may be asked to complete an evaluation questionnaire. Alternatively, the session can be peer reviewed. Teachers should consciously self-evaluate the session.
  • Reflect on the experience: Evaluation, formal or informal, is pointless if no change in practice results.
  • Small group methods have a valuable role to play in undergraduate medical curricula. The student-centred focus and active participation enhance the likelihood of deep rather than surface learning. Decisions to be made are how much time to schedule for small group work, and what kind of small group work to adopt. If small groups are used, they must be valued and must not be seen as isolated from other aspects of the curriculum – or from the culture of the medical school.
  • Staff development is important. Success of small group learning depends on good planning, effective facilitation and a movement away from teacher-centred learning. For a real and sustained shift in medical education, students must be encouraged to learn rather than merely catching the output of teachers.

Jan Herrington’s model of Authentic learning

A few days ago I met with my supervisor  to discuss my research plan for the year. She suggested I look into Jan Herrington’s work on authentic learning so I thought I’d make some notes here as I familiarize myself with it.

To begin with, there are 9 elements of authentic learning (I believe that in designing our blended module we’ve managed to cover most of these elements. I’ll write that process up another time):

  1. Provide authentic contexts that reflect the way the knowledge will be used in real life
  2. Provide authentic tasks and activities
  3. Provide access to expert performances and the modelling of processes
  4. Provide multiple roles and perspectives
  5. Support collaborative construction of knowledge
  6. Promote reflection to enable abstractions to be formed
  7. Promote articulation to enable tacit knowledge to be made explicit
  8. Provide coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times
  9. Provide for authentic assessment of learning within the tasks

The above elements are non-sequential.

“Authentic activities” don’t necessarily mean “real”, as in constructed in the real-world (e.g. internship), only that they are realistic tasks that enable students to behave as they would in the real-world.

Here are 10 characteristics of authentic activities (Reeves, Herrington & Oliver, 2002). Again, I believe that we’ve designed learning activities and tasks that conform – in general – to these principles. It’s affirming to see that our design choices are being validated as we move forward. In short, authentic tasks:

  1. Have real-world relevance i.e. they match real-world tasks
  2. Are ill-defined (students must define tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the activity) i.e. there are multiple interpretations of both the problem and the solution
  3. Are complex and must be explored over a sustained period of time i.e. days, weeks and months, rather than minutes or hours
  4. Provide opportunities to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources i.e. there isn’t a single answer that is the “best” one. Multiple resources requires that students differentiate between relevant / irrelevant information
  5. Provide opportunities to collaborate should be inherent i.e. are integral to the task
  6. Provide opportunities to reflect i.e. students must be able to make choices and reflect on those choices
  7. Must be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes i.e. they encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable diverse roles and expertise
  8. Seamlessly integrated with assessment i.e. the assessment tasks reflect real-world assessment, rather than separate assessment removed from the task
  9. Result in a finished product, rather than as preparation for something else
  10. Allow for competing solutions and diversity of outcome i.e. the outcomes can have multiple solutions that are original, rather than a single “correct” response

Design principles for authentic e-learning (Herrington, 2006)

“Authentic learning” places the task as the central focus for authentic activity, and is grounded in part in the situated cognition model (Brown et al, 1989) i.e. meaningful learning will only occur when it happens in the social and physical context in which it is to be used.

“How can situated theories be operationalized?” (Brown & Duguid, 1993, 10). Herrington (2006) suggests that the “9 elements” framework can be used to design online, technology-based learning environments based on theories of situated learning.

The most successful online learning environments:

  • Emphasised education as a process, rather than a product
  • Did not seek to provide real experiences but to provide a “cognitive realism”
  • Accept the need to assist students to develop in a completely new way

There is a tendency when using online learning environments to focus on the information processing features of computers and the internet. There is rarely an understanding of the complex nature of learning in unfamiliar contexts in which tasks are “ill-defined”.

The “physical fidelity” (how real it is) of the material is less important than the extent to which the activity promotes “realistic problem-solving processes” i.e. it’s cognitive realism. “The physical reality of the learning situation is of less importance that the characteristics of the task design, and the engagement of students in the learning environment” (Herrington, Oliver, & Reeves, 2003a).

Learners may need to be assisted in coming to terms with the fact that the simulated reality of their task is in fact, an authentic learning environment. It may call for their “willing suspension of disbelief” (Herrington, 2006).

There is a need for design-based research into the efficacy of authentic learning to better understand the affordances and challenges of the approach.

An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments (Herrington & Oliver, 2000)
One of the difficulties with higher education is teaching concepts, etc. in a decontextualised situation, and then expecting the students / graduates to apply what they’ve learned in another situation. This is probably one of the biggest challenges in clinical education, with people being “unable to access relevant knowledge for solving problems”

“Information is stored as facts, rather than as tools (Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer & Williams, 1990). When knowledge and context are separated, knowledge is seen by learners as a product of education, rather than a tool to be used within dynamic, real-world situations. Situated learning is a model that encourages the learning of knowledge in contexts that reflect the way in which the knowledge is to be used (Collins, 1988).

Useful tables and checklists on pg. 4-6 and pg. 8-10 of Herrington & Oliver, 2000. An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments
An “ill-defined” problem isn’t prescriptive, lacks boundaries, doesn’t provide guiding questions and doesn’t break the global task into sub-tasks. Students are expected to figure out those components on their own. We’re beginning by providing boundaries and structure. As we move through subsequent cases, the facilitators will withdraw structure and guidance, until by the end of the module, students are setting their own, personal objectives. Students should define the pathway and the steps they need to take.

Situated learning seems to be an effective teaching model with trying to guide the learning of an appropriately complex task i.e. advanced knowledge acquisition

Students benefit from the opportunity to articulate, scaffold and reflect on activities with a partner. When these opportunities are not explicitly described, students may seek it covertly.

Students often perceive a void between theory and practice, viewing theory as relatively unimportant (jumping through hoops, in the case of our students…busy-work with no real benefit other than passing theory exams) and the practical component as all-important. They appreciate the blurring of boundaries between the two domains.

The authentic activity should present a new situation for which the students have no answer, nor for which they have a set of procedures for obtaining an answer i.e. it should be complex and the solution uncertain.

Herrington & Reeves (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments

There seems to be an initial reluctance to immerse oneself in the online learning environment, possibly owing to the lack of realism from contexts that are not perfect simulations of the real-world. Students may need to be encouraged to suspend their disbelief  (pg. 2). They must agree to go along with an interpretation of the world that has been created.
Once the student has accepted the presented interpretation of the world, it is only internal inconsistency that causes dissonance. Other challenges occur when students perceive the environment as being non-academic, non-rigorous, a waste of time, and unnecessary for effective learning (which may well be the case if they perceive “effective learning” as sitting passively in a classroom trying to memorise content)
Be aware that the designer of the online space may present an interpretation of the world that is not shared with everyone i.e. it is one person’s view of what the real world is like.
A willing suspension of disbelief can be likened to engagement: “…when we are able to give ourselves over to a representational action, comfortably and unambiguously. It involves a kind of complexity” (Laurel, 1993, 115). It isn’t necessary to try and perfectly simulate the real-world, only that the representation is close enough to get students engaged e.g. the quality / realism  of images doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as it enables students to get the idea.
Many students find the shift to a new learning paradigm uncomfortable. If students are not self-motivated, if they are accustomed to teacher-centred modes of instruction and if they dislike the lack of direct supervision, they may resist. They may also be uncomfortable with the increased freedom they have i.e. there is less teacher-specified content, fewer teacher-constructed objectives, and almost no teacher-led activities. On some occasions, students may feel that they are not being taught, and may express this with anger and frustration.
The facilitator is vital in terms of presenting the representation in a way that encourages engagement, much like an actor in a play must convince the audience that what is happening on the stage is “real”. Without that acceptance, you would not enjoy the play, just as the student won’t perceive the value of the learning experience.
Students need to be given the time and space to make mistakes. They will begin by working inefficiently, but the expectation is that efficiency increases over time.
We need to “humanise” the online learning experience with compassion, empathy and open-mindedness.

References

  • Bransford, J.D., Sherwood, R.D., Hasselbring, T.S., Kinzer, C.K., & Williams, S.M. (1990). Anchored instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, education and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology (pp. 115-141). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
  • Brown, J.S., & Duguid, P. (1993). Stolen knowledge. Educational Technology, 33(3), 10-15
  • Brown, J.S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42
  • Collins, A. (1988). Cognitive apprenticeship and instructional technology (Technical Report 6899): BBN Labs Inc., Cambridge, MA
  • Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks, World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education, Chesapeake, Va
  • Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48
  • Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T.C. (2003a). ‘Cognitive realism’ in online authentic learning environments. In D. Lassner & C. McNaught (Eds.), EdMedia World Conference on Educational
  • Herrington, J., & Reeves, T. C. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(1), 59-71
  • Laurel, B. (1993). Computers as theatre. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
  • Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2002). Authentic activities and online learning. HERDSA (pp. 562-567)

Workshop on facilitation techniques using the Conversational Framework

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.

  • “Everyday learning” = a result of our experiences in the world i.e. we develop an implicit awareness of gravity by falling
  • “Academic learning” = a result of our reflections on others’ descriptions of the world i.e. we develop an understanding of a theory of gravity by reading about experiments conducted by other people

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:

  • Apprehending structure. Students often fail to apprehend the structure of a discourse (e.g. a body of text), and there is often meaning that is implicit in structure (e.g. headings, paragraphs, etc.). When students take a surface approach to studying a text they lose the structure of the arguments and end with a series of statements that are not related to each other. When they take a deep approach they preserve the structure was well as the original meaning.
  • Integrating parts. Students must learn how to interpret the discipline-specific representations if they are to make sense of them. The way that information is presented can lend itself to deep or surface approaches, as well as create potential “distractors” for the student. The idea is not to ensure that data representation is “easy” for the student to interpret but rather to prepare the student to handle the different representations. Complex scenarios provide opportunities to determine students’ ability to interpret the representations. For example, consider how students are confused when different clinicians advocate different management approaches for the same patient. The student who only comprehends the superficial structure of the interaction is stuck because they cannot perceive that interpretations can be different.
  • Acting on the world. Learning is an activity (classroom-based problem-solving), an imitation of practice (practical sessions in the classroom), or actual practice (seeing patients). The student must engage with the world (i.e. solving problems in the classroom, or treating patients) by performing an action that is based on their understanding of how the world works.
  • Using feedback. As we learn about the world by acting on it, we receive direct feedback and adjust the action in relation to the feedback. The feedback must be perceived as useful to the student (i.e. it must be meaningful). It must be given immediately (or soon) after the students’ action in order for the student to relate the feedback to the action. Helpful feedback also provides the student with specific information on how to adapt their performance.
  • Reflecting on goals. Reflection is about establishing conceptual links between the action, feedback, and integration of the two as they relate to the achievement of a goal (e.g. solving a problem). Students often interpret goals as being something required by the teacher and go through the steps necessary to reproduce an outcome, with little intention of understanding the task or the goal (i.e. the tasks are a series of hoops that they have to jump through). The same task is therefore perceived differently by the students and teacher, and therefore operationalised in different ways. For many students, what it means to achieve the objective / goal is different to what the teacher is trying to do.

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.

Apprehending structure

  • Students role: look for structure, discern topic goal (if the goal isn’t explicitly identified, the student lacks the structure to guide their thinking), relate goal to structure of discourse
  • Facilitators role: explain phenomena, clarify structure, negotiate topic goal, ask about internal relations (explain phenomena, make predictions, compare analogous situations)

Interpreting forms of representation

  • Students role: model events / systems in terms of forms of representation, interpret forms of representation to model systems / events
  • Facilitators role: set mapping tasks between forms of representation and systems / events, relate forms of representation to students’ view

Acting on descriptions

  • Students role: derive implications, solve problems, and test hypotheses to produce descriptions
  • Facilitators role: elicit descriptions, compare descriptions, highlight inconsistencies

Using feedback

  • Students role: link teachers redescription to relation between action and goal, to produce new action on description (student gives a description of something, teacher responds with a different viewpoint that demonstrates inconsistency, student must therefore reframe / describe it again)
  • Facilitators role: provide redescription, elicit new description, support linking process

Reflecting on goal-action-feedback cycle

  • Students role: engage with goal, relate to actions and feedback (this is why the goal of the dialogue must be explicit, to allow students to reflect its relationship to the action / description and feedback)
  • Facilitators role: prompt reflection, support reflection 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:

  • Discursive – the teachers and students conceptions should be continually accessible to each other; teacher and student must agree on the learning goals for the topic; the teacher must provide an environment for the discussion, within which the student can generate and receive feedback on descriptions appropriate to the topic goal; the teachers description must be meaningful to the student
  • Adaptive – the relationship between the teacher’s and student’s conceptions must serve as the focus for the continuing dialogue; it is the student’s responsibility to use the feedback from their work on the task and relate it to their conception
  • Interactive – the teacher must provide an environment in which the student can act on, generate and receive intrinsic feedback on actions appropriate to the task goal; the student must act to achieve the task goal; the teacher must provide meaningful feedback on their actions that relates to the nature of the task goal
  • Reflective – the teacher must support the process in which students link the feedback on their actions to the topic goal for every level of description within the topic structure; the student must reflect on the task goal, their action on it, and the intrinsic feedback they receive, and link this to their description of their conception to the topic goal

Using the Community of Inquiry in online learning environments

I’m in the process of putting together a workshop for the  facilitators of one of our modules that we’re restructuring in order to use a blended learning approach. Here are the notes that I’ve been putting together on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) for the workshop. Bear in mind that these notes are my attempt to get a better understanding of the CoI, and so lack academic rigor (i.e. there are no references). Finally, I apologise in advance for any errors or misinterpretation of the model, especially where I’ve given my own examples for our participants. Feedback, as always, is welcome.

The Community of Inquiry is a framework developed by Garrison and Archer (2001) as a way of describing favourable conditions to stimulate learning in online environments. Since a lot of the Applied Physiotherapy module will be conducted online, the CoI is a useful framework to guide our understanding of interactions in the social network we’ll be using. The CoI suggests that in order for meaningful learning to take place in online spaces, there needs to be evidence of 3 types of “presence”:

  • Social presence
  • Cognitive presence
  • Teaching presence

Social presence is about encouraging purposeful communication in a trusted setting, and developing interpersonal relationships by projecting personality. There are 3 categories of social presence;

  • Affective response: humour, emotional expression (e.g. emoticons, “lol”)
  • Open communication: recognition, interaction, reflection
  • Group cohesion: use names, greet students, use inclusive pronouns (e.g. “Hi Sue. This is a good question that we can all learn from”)
Social presence is an essential component in online learning, in that students who perceive that it is lacking (i.e. they don’t feel welcome and safe) demonstrate low levels of cognitive presence. Some of the ways in which social presence can be enhanced is by communicating in ways that are perceived by students to be “warm” (think; a caring attitude). Participate regularly, respond quickly, use chat when possible. In other words, create a sense of “being there”.

Cognitive presence refers to an ability to construct meaning through sustained communication. There are 4 practical components to developing a sense of cognitive presence, which are similar to Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning:

  1. Provide a triggering event or problem that is indicated by a sense of puzzlement. The idea is to create a conflict between a students perceived understanding of reality (“This is how I believe the world to be”) and a realisation that the evidence doesn’t support their perception (“The world is not how I believed it to be”).
  2. Opportunities for exploration of the problem. This is achieved by creating an opportunity for students to understand the nature of the problem (“How or why isn’t the world the same as my mental construct of it?”), find relevant information (“What evidence can I find that will help me to understand this problem better?”), propose explanations (“If this is true, then it means that…”), and exchange information (“Hey guys, here’s some information that will help us understand this better”). You can see from these examples that this is similar to the process we want to stimulate in our cases.
  3. Students must try to integrate the new information through a focused construction of new meaning based on the new evidence. They do this by connecting new ideas and concepts to old knowledge that they already have. An understanding of the Zone of Proximal Development would be useful here.
  4. There must be a final resolution of the problem i.e. it must be solved.

There are 6 practical suggestions for how cognitive presence can be facilitated in online spaces. I’ve tried to explain each of these suggestions in terms of how we might implement them because it turns out the when facilitators model the behaviour we want to see in students e.g. critical discourse with each other and constructive critique, students tend to do similar things. The idea is that if we succeed in doing things like what is outlined below, we create the favourable conditions for cognitive presence in the online space:

  1. Discourse. We should aim to be active guides by posing questions that are relevant to emerging topics of discussion. Be aware of entering a discussion and “breaking it” by being an authority figure and / or using “academic” language that students may not be familiar with. There’s little point in students’ continuing a discussion when one of us comes in and provides a definitive resolution (i.e. an “answer”) to whatever problem they’re discussing, or when we say things that they don’t understand. Remember that we want to stimulate a conversation for them, not end one they’re already having.
  2. Collaboration. Groupwork should aim to involve generating, sharing, critiquing and prioritising solutions. There are 2 key elements; availability of the facilitator and the intellectual engagement of the student with the content.
  3. Management. Students begin to take increasing control of the learning activities e.g. suggesting and developing their own projects, with feedback from the larger group guiding their implementation.
  4. Reflection. Students tend to spend more time deliberating on their reflections when they know that what they write will be read and commented on by others. This is why we will use “public” reflections online and students will be expected to read and comment on each others’ reflections. Reflection, simply, is forming relationships between your abstract view of the world (i.e. how you believe the world to be) and how the world actually is (i.e. the congruence between your belief and what actually happens in the world). Try to use language to help students make connections between the cases and personal experiences.
  5. Monitoring (self-assessment). Rubrics can be used to help students grade their own progress and understanding. They take responsibility for making judgements about their work, which is what self-directed learning is. In the professional world, it is rare that we have someone else telling us what we don’t know. It’s up to us as professionals to evaluate our skillset and make decisions about where we’re lacking and what we need to do to fill gaps in our knowledge and skills. We need to enable students to make judgements about what they know and don’t know. Peer- and self-assessment is one way of doing this.
  6. Knowledge construction. Students must make personal meaning (i.e. “sense”) of the information they gather. They must identify the problem (“The patient can’t weightbear on the ankle”), collect data related to the problem (ROM, history of the incident, functional ability, etc.), create an hypothesis (“I believe that the lateral ankle ligament has a grade 2 sprain”), test the hypothesis (send patient for stress test under X-ray), confirm hypothesis or collect more data if necessary, make a conclusion. This process is more effective in terms of “deep learning” than memorising the signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle.

Teaching presence is about directing the social and cognitive processes (see above) to develop personally meaningful and worthwhile outcomes. There are 3 categories of teaching presence:

  • Design and organisation i.e. developing and structuring the learning experience and activities
  • Facilitating discourse by maintaining student and facilitator interest, motivation and engagement
  • Direct instruction through “injecting knowledge”, dealing with issues around content and summarising discussions
There is a significant relationship between teaching presence and perceived learning / satisfaction with online courses. In the absence of synchronous, moment by moment negotiation of meaning available in the classroom, high levels of teaching presence in the online space is even more important, as it has a greater relative impact on cognitive presence when compared to students in a physical interaction.

Socialcognitive and teaching presence all interact / are dependent on each other. Studies have found that “teaching and social presence play a major role in predicting online students’ ratings of cognitive presence, and that teaching presence is strongly correlated with students’ satisfaction with the online learning experience and their sense of community. Furthermore, comfort in online discussion was the most significant factor in students’ perceptions of cognitive presence i.e. in order to develop higher order critical thinking, students need to feel comfortable with online discussion. It may be useful to ask students to reflect on their levels of comfort with online discussion. If they report low levels of comfort, further reflection on their part might identify why they feel this way and what might be done to improve their comfort levels, allowing facilitators to modify their approaches and / or the environment.

Using a rubric for a blogging assignment

Earlier this year I gave my 3rd year students an assignment in which they needed to write a reflective blog post based on a clinical experience they’d experienced. I just thought I’d share the rubric I used to grade the assignments, as I’ve come across a few people have have had difficulty trying to assign grades to blog posts. This one below is the best that I could manage but would love to hear if you think there’s anything I could do differently.

HELTASA conference, 2011 – day 3

Today was the last day of the HELTASA 2011 conference. It was a challenging and stimulating exchange of ideas that I really enjoyed. Thank you to everyone who was there and who I learned from.

 

Crossing (some) traditional borders
Prof Delia Marshall

There needs to be wider social, historical, ethical and environmental dimensions of science

Students need to graduate not only with domain expertise but with broader attributes that contribute towards the public good

Start with “modern” physics, with an emphasis on new ideas and concepts, rather than an equations

Resist scientism: science as “a” way of knowing about the world, not the only way

Draw in wider cultural dimensions and interests e.g. students who play instruments come in when there is a discussion on vibration / sound, etc.

“Border crossing” inot the sub-culture of science

Learning as a process of identity formation through accessing a disciplinary discourse

Looking at interactive engagement in classroom communities e.g. SCALE-UP classrooms using “lec-torials” → short lecturer inputs, working in groups, extensive and immediate feedback, learning happens in class, you can’t pass by borrowing notes

University needs to be a place for the “difficult dialogues”

Conceptualise academic literacy, not as skills, but as the social practices of discipline communities

If learning is social, then commitment from the whole department is vital. You can’t have a marginalised programme within the department

 

Len Steenkamp
Students appreciate honesty from teachers, especially when we say “I don’t know, let’s find out together”

Teachers need to be compassionate, every student has their own story
Teachers need to be humble
Teachers need to change, but not for it’s own sake, must be driven by a need

Engage in research because you want answers, not because you have to

Be generous with your time

21st century teaching tales
Liezel Nel

Electronic worksheets before attending class, must answer questions to familiarise students with content, class is used for discussion, not covering content. Worksheets also used for self-assessment (what tools?)

Students can practice using the tools in a non-assessed environment, tools introduced gradually

Uses reflective activities mid-semester and end-of-semester, much more useful than official course evaluations at end of year

Lecture recordings in audio and video, posted afterwards, useful for students with language difficulties

Students submit digital assignments, feedback in same format

Uses SMS for regular communication with students, establish a sense of caring and trust (community) “I felt a little bit special”

Glogs: online, interactive posters, students add interactive elements to their posters (glogster

Scholarship not just about publications

 

Digital storytelling and reflection in higher education: a case of pre-service student teachers and a University of Technology
Eunice Ivala, Daniela Gachago, Janet Condy, Agnes Chigona

There is a focus on passing exams, rather than on the learning process
No research on digital storytelling in higher education in South Africa, as well as limited evidence that reflective opportunities are effective

Digital story: short, 5 minute first person video-narrative, created by combining voice, still and moving images, and music or other audio

Project took place over 8 weeks, with the intention of reflecting-on-action on 7 roles of a teacher, a seed story was created to demonstrate to students, had to be 500 words

Students could choose a paper-based portfolio, or to use the digital story (half chose either one → students made their own choices)

Students had to be shown how to write their stories, learn how to find relevant images or music. Some students asked colleagues to sing for them and recorded their own music, and also took their own pictures. Also needed training in digital manipulation tools.

Used Strampel and Oliver (2007) to determine levels of reflection and stages of cognitive processing

Structuraction theory (Giddens, 1984): material resources influence social practices through their incorporation

“I’ve always known what the 7 roles were but I didn’t know what they meant and what they meant to me, but now, after incorporating it into my story, I kind of understand what they are about” (paraphrased quote from student)

The Structure of digital storytelling enabled the Agents (students), whereas before students were not enabled

“Paper-based reflections lose the personality along the way. You lose the effect of you wating to show somebody what this reflection really means. In a digital story you get the tone and atmosphere across with your own voice”

Students reflected at descriptive, dialogic and critical levels (not all students though, some only at a descriptive level)

“We can use these stories for our future employers…this is who I am, this is what I am about”

Question: why did some students not reflect at the higher cognitive levels?

Focus should be on the content of the story, not the technology because technology does nothing, except as implicated in the actions of human beings (Giddens and Pierson, 1982:82)

 

Improving teaching and learning in higher education through practitioner self-enquiry action research (action research for professional development)
Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan, Mark Schofield, Lesley Wood, Omar Esau, Joan Conolly (panel discussion)

An approach to action research in which the object of the study is the self

Trust is important for encouraging “nervous and novice” researchers (“The speed of trust” – Stephen Covey)

Integrity and honesty builds trust

Courage and generosity (“Courage to teach” – Palmer Parker)
See also, Jack Whitehead (actionresearch.net)

Recognise the unique and situated nature of the novice researcher

Learning through direct experience is more valuable than being told about something

Emphasis on “critical friendship” as part of validation

Be more understanding of the “lived experiences” of others

“People get smarter by having conversations with people who are smart”

Action research is a paradigm i.e. more than a research method

In South Africa we need critical, emancipatory paradigms that promote social change and uphold the values of the constitution

There is a lack of participatory, learner-centred pedagogies

Action research gives rise to dynamic, personal and life changing theories that operationalise the values of inclusion, people-centredness, democracy, social justice, compassion, respect. It is critical, evaluative, participatory and collaborative. It holds people to be accountable, self-evaluative and focuses on lifelong learning.

It is difficult to validate action research i.e. it must be trustworthy

Action research has the potential to minimise the hard borders between curriculum design and its delivery. The academic operates simultaneously as a researcher, designer, practitioner, and evaluator, while following an iterative and systematic process that leads to continual improvement in the curriculum, as well as teaching and learning practices.

Finding a balance between support and challenge

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-09-12

  • @ryantracey they’re passages I highlight using diigo, they get pulled into the blog post so I can find them later #
  • @amcunningham Often use personal experience in class, never thought of them as stories. Maybe it’s the “telling” of the story that matters #
  • We learn from stories and experience http://t.co/zJP85x9. Been thinking how to integrate stories into my teaching but haven’t managed yet #
  • Study Highlights Superficiality of Digital Native Concept http://t.co/SqdCaLJ. Socio-economic background impacts digital sophistication #
  • Revisiting the Purpose of Higher Education http://t.co/N7Kx90G. There needs to be a shift away from knowledge and skills #
  • Are we missing reflection in learning? http://t.co/r42MuL5. We need to create formal space for reflection within the curriculum #
  • TED video: a next generation digital book http://t.co/fzHeqmw #
  • 5 Myths About Collaboration http://t.co/wviyQEU #
  • The Sad State of Educational Research http://t.co/MBazWuY. Educational researchers also responsible for spreading poorly developed ideas? #
  • @amcunningham nice…didn’t know about some of those tools. Been meaning to have a look at scoop.it but haven’t had the chance yet #
  • @amcunningham pretty cool…is it a list of all your tweets, or just those related to a specific theme? #
  • Video: Hands-on with Inkling 2.0, the iPad textbook — Tech News and Analysis http://t.co/ElaSztV #
  • The real cost of academic publishing http://t.co/P1S1HKo via @guardian #
  • So when does academic publishing get disrupted? http://t.co/lQD34Q9 #
  • Why the Impossible Happens More Often http://t.co/zn7cQMf #
  • Achieving substrate-independent minds: no, we cannot ‘copy’ brains http://t.co/TWKB6SE #

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)