Earlier today the second year physiotherapy students at UWC completed the ALS ice bucket challenge as a way to raise awareness and a small charitable donation for ALS research. As part of the process, they challenged the students from UCT and Stellenbosch to take up their buckets as well. Well done guys, we’re proud of you.
Earlier this year I was invited by Alan Rycroft at the UCT Law Faculty to give a presentation at a seminar on T&L. The seminar took place yesterday and I presented some research that I did in 2012 where we used Google Drive as an implementation platform for authentic learning. I’ve written about authentic learning before, so I won’t go into any more detail here.
I would however, like to share some of my thoughts and notes from the session. Unfortunately, I had to leave halfway through the presentations, so I missed the second half of the day.
Anton Fagan – The use of laptops in the classroom. Anton made a strong case for banning laptops in the classroom under certain conditions, specifically when students are taking notes during lectures. There seems to be evidence that, while using a laptop to take notes can result in higher fidelity (more notes and more accuracy) it also results in less understanding, probably as a result processing information differently depending on whether we type it or write it. However, we do need to be careful about conflating lecturing with learning. Most of the articles discussed seemed to posit that the ability to recall facts presented during a lecture was the same thing as learning. Coincidentally, I had recently read this article in the New Yorker, which discusses the same thing:
regardless of the kind or duration of the computer use, the disconnected students performed better on a post-lecture quiz. The message of the study aligns pretty well with the evidence that multitasking degrades task performance across the board.
There are other studies that present similar findings but should we really be surprised by this? We’re saying that distracted students score poorly on tests of recall and understanding. This doesn’t seem to be about laptop usage, but rather that there are two other issues present.
- Students are more likely to be distracted when using an internet connected device during lectures, and are more likely to distract others
- Even when they are trying to take notes during the lecture, the act of typing those notes can degrade their processing relative to hand writing them
It seems that these two issues are relatively simple to address. In the first instance, work on improving your lecture so that students are less likely to be distracted, and in the second, make students aware that typing notes leads to lower levels of recall and understanding, but allow them to choose the method that best suits them. For example, I prefer that my notes more accurately capture what the speaker is saying. Afterwards, I go through my notes again, adding additional thoughts, linking to additional resources, and therefore engaging with the content a second time around. This is what I have done with these notes.
Geo Quinot – The LLB between profession and higher education. Geo presented his perspective on a set of policy frameworks, including recent proposals by the Council on Higher Education Task Team on Undergraduate Curriculum Structure. He discussed the relationships between the Profession and Higher Education the Quality Enhancement Project (QEP).
I found the talk to be a really comprehensive overview of the relevant policies and frameworks that will be placed centre stage over in South African higher education over the next few years. Unfortunately, there was way too much that was covered for me to try and sum up what was presented. I’ve linked to some of the documents that Geo referred to in the list at the end of this post.
Jacqui Yeats – Student engagement in lectures and tutorials: an experiment. Jacqui shared some of her experiences of teaching large classes in the Law Faculty. I was impressed with her systematic approach to changing the way she lectures, and took away the following ideas:
- When your class size exceeds a certain number (and no-one really knows what that number is) you move from being a lecturer to being a performer or public speaker. The Presentation Zen blog has some really great resources for lecturers who are intentional about how they present.
- Lecturers rely a lot on student feedback and reaction. Even if they’re not actually saying anything, it makes a huge difference to at least see some nodding heads when you make eye contact. I’ve never thought much about students’ responsibilities in terms of giving something back to the lecturer. This comment made me think a bit about my own accountability when listening to others’ speak.
- Use more “soft” breaks. Soft breaks are short breaks (2-3 minutes) where Jacqui presents students with “educationally useful” content that is still marginally relevant to them in order to keep them interested. In other words, the cognitive distance is not so close to the lecture content that it doesn’t count as a break, but not so far removed that students are distracted and find it difficult to get back into the topic when the break is over. The example she gave was giving students writing tips, which I thought was a great idea.
- Encourage friendly competition between students or groups of students. Jacqui made it clear that aggressive competition and ranking students probably isn’t a great way to get them to engage but that friendly competition with low risk that wasn’t explicitly linked to module outcomes seemed to get them more motivated. This is something that we’re struggling with in our department…student motivation and engagement seems quite low. We’re trying to figure out ways to develop a community in our department and I think that this idea of friendly competition is worth exploring.
Thank you to the UCT Law Faculty for inviting to present some of my work. I appreciated the opportunity and also learned a lot from the experience.
Additional resources related to the post
- Banning laptops in the classroom: Virtue or vice. Insight into the needs of students with disabilities.
- Videos of the QEP launch presentations
- Framework for Institutional Quality Enhancement in the Second Period of Quality Assurance
- A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure
Earlier today I was lucky enough to be able to attend a symposium on “the digital university” as part of a celebration of 20 years of the Cape Higher Education Consortium (CHEC). The event was hosted by the University of the Western Cape and included presentations from representatives at all four member institutions. Unfortunately I was not able to stay until the end. Here are the notes I took.
The digital university: A place for the communication and circulation of thought?
Prof. Laura Czerniewicz (UCT) (@czernie)
John Henry Newman (1824) – The idea of a university.
“Technology is not neutral”, it comes with affordances that shape practice
Technology influences the language of learning
- Numerical representation: everything becomes data
- Modularity: everything can be broken down
- Automation: can feedback and teaching be automated?
- Variability: multiple versions
- Transcoding: computer logic influences how we understand and represent ourselves
- Dynamic: how do you reference dynamic content. Read-write content
- Communication becomes visible, it is a form of content
- Sharing is frictionless and leads to multiplication of content, not division
- Social media
How is scholarship changed with technology (from the perspective of a research paradigm)?
- Conceptualisation of research is public and shareable (previously was private), enables communication and dialogue around the process, including other potential participants – being public has many advantages, including transparency
- Research products available from early on e.g. research proposal becomes a resource for others
- Massive changes in data sharing (previously data was not digital and so difficult to share), digital data can be linked to and reconfigured in different ways
- Data can be created outside of academia (e.g. citizen science)
- Findings (used to be shared in stable and authoritative formats e.g. journals) can now be shared in different ways and in different formats e.g. the concept of the “journal article” is changing
- Authors can see engagement in knowledge output (e.g. sharing, comments, discussion, citations, saved -> altmetrics change the conception of “impact”
- New kinds of outputs e.g audio files, photographic exhibitions, map and location data
- New types of journals: those that actually show the research process, rather than simply describing the process
- Engagement and translation: used to be expensive and static, one to many relationship, online sources limited to those registered. Rise of OERs, open textbooks, lectures, etc.
No longer clearly demarcated audiences, which enable new kinds of relationships in academia. Can take academics and scholarship outside the academy.
Digital does not necessarily mean Open. We are seeing the rise of Open Scholarship
- Products to services (tangible to intangible, control no longer with customer when purchased)
- From ownership to access / license (buyer can not own, control or lend content)
- Has profound impact on relationship to students
We need to think more carefully about rights that are affected in the move towards digital. You buy access to the platform but not the content, so the content is free (open access) but it’s presented in a platform that is not.
Are MOOCs open or closed?
- They are (usually) free but that is not the same as open
- You may be able to register for free, but you may have to purchase resources e.g. textbooks
- Assessment and indicators of competence (i.e. a certificate of completion) may not be free
- MOOCs not available under open licenses
Digital universities must exploit the affordances of digital technology to enhance the university as a system of communication and thought, rather than simply as a way of being more efficient.
Enable the global, networked scholar
- Reward and incentives for creating and sharing content
- Support for online presence for academics, as part of the professional profile
Emerging technologies and changing teaching and learning practices
Prof. Vivienne Bozalek (UWC) & Daniela Gachago (CPUT)
The local contexts of “emerging technologies” are different, which changes how they are understood and used.
Challenges across higher education and digital universities:
- Digital media literacy has been highlighted as an essential aspect of moving higher education forward.
- Economic challenges
“Universities are preparing students for jobs that no longer exist”
Teachers need to be become facilitators, guides, etc. and students must begin work collaboratively, and to communicate in more and different ways.
Discussion of a range of innovations in higher education and their potential impact on students’ learning, including MOOCs, badges, learning analytics, etc.
Asked the question: “In what ways are emerging technologies used in innovative pedagogical practices to transform teaching and learning across South African higher education institutions?
Used Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation curve / technology adoption cycle to analyse the results.
Saw significant difference when comparing SA educators to international educators e.g. with the adoption of Twitter, which is prevalent overseas but not yet very common here. “What is emerging in Paris may not yet be emerging in Parys”
There is a lot of innovation happening in SA with “low-key” technologies. The biggest indicator of the use of technology was the passion of the individual. The biggest barrier to use was the institution they worked at.
People in SA who are using emerging technologies at a very high level are also those who are thinking most carefully about teaching and learning in authentic contexts (only a limited sample of 21 case studies, but the correlation was evident)
- Context matters – an LMS may be “emerging” in certain contexts
- Passionate educators use agency to overcome institutional barriers to still implement transformative changes in practice
- We are learning differently, there is a focus on meaning learning in authentic contexts
- Must give power and control to learners and community
Repositories: Benefits and challenges in changing scholarly communication
Ina Smith (Stellenbosch University)
Universities generate a diverse range of outputs (e.g. patents, articles, datasets) that are published elsewhere. They also invest a lot of money and time in faculty and need to determine their return on investment.
They need to keep track of the outputs of scholars, even when those scholars retire or move on. An institutional repository allows this to happen, even when individual’s profile pages are removed.
What is Open Access?
Two routes to open access:
- Green: Institutional repositories offer “green access” (self-archiving) to scholarly research. Using DSpace open source software to manage the repository at US.
- Gold: Access through open access journals. Author or institution may need to pay for publication but anyone can read for free. Usually peer-reviewed papers.
Repositories play a role in the dissemination and preservation aspects of the research life cycle.
What is the institution’s Open Access policy?
- Increase access to outputs for a diverse audience
- Increase visibility of outputs for academics
- Create high quality metadata to enhance visibility
- Preserve research output
- Contribute to the body of literature
- Able to maintain relationship between data and final output e.g. video and audio clips
Benefits of open access institutional repositories
- Increase international exposure
- Contribute to research success
- Contribute to teaching and learning
- Connect academics
- Social responsibility by giving the public access to research
Yesterday’s CHEC session was presented by Jeff Jawitz from UCT, who looked at tools for addressing diversity in the South African university classroom. I’ve seen Jeff present before at conferences and he’s got a really relaxed way of introducing and working with often highly controversial topics, like race and gender. I was especially excited to have the opportunity to learn more from him during this session. Here are my notes.
In what ways are students diverse? Which of these matters?
There are many different differences, and any one of these might be highly significant for one person, but insignificant for everyone else → we can’t take all of these into account when we’re working with groups. Yet, we must be aware of all of the differences nonetheless
No single aspect of diversity addresses all of the issues
What does diversity mean in a South African context?
Diversity enriches the classroom
Learning styles (e.g. Felder-Silverman) can be used to change teaching practice to take diversity into account, rather than categorising students. Bear in mind that the most aspects of diversity in education deal with the issue of cognitive diversity i.e. ways of learning, but there are others e.g. language
Language can be used to communicate effectively, but also to engage deeply with the academic discipline. These are two different things and can be developed in different ways (See Cummins, 1996)
“Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the particular ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding and arguing that define the discourse of our community. He must learn to speak our language. Or he must dare to speak it or to carry off the bluff, since speaking and writing will most certainly be required long beofre the skill is learned” – Bartholomae, 1985, 134-135
Discourses are ways of being in the world, which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities, as well as gestures, glances, body positions and clothes…a sort of identify kit” – James Gee
Where do discourses come from (Gee, 1996, p.137)?
- Primary – acquired early in life within the socio-cultural setting of the family
- Secondary – learned / taught as part of socialisations within schools, religious communities and other local, state and national groups
How do discourses cause discomfort among others?
Socio-cultural dimensions of diversity:
- Class (“income diversity”)
What resources do students need in order to complete a task?
How comfortable are you using race as a descriptor?
What are the problems with using race as a descriptor?
What is the value of using race as a descriptor?
“Am I a racist if I think about race in my courses? Shouldn’t I treat all my students equally?” – Milner, 2003, p.176
How does one address the significant difference in retention and graduation rates between black and white students at university in South Africa without reference to race?
When discussing diversity in the classroom, it’s as much about who we are (i.e. teachers) in that discussion
Authority doesn’t only come from what you know, but also from what you look like. The notion of authority has huge racial overtones in South Africa
“Knowledge in the blood” – Jansen
“Race reflection” – Milner, 2003
- How might my race influence my work as a teacher?
- How might my students’ racial experiences influence their work with me? What does it mean for a young black student who has never even had a conversation with an adult white male, to be told to come and see the teacher anytime, when that teacher is an adult white male?
- How do I negotiate the power structure around race in my class to allow students to feel a sense of worth?
- Am I willing to speak about the injustice of racism in conservative spaces?
“We are a nation struggling to come out of our history”
- Bartholomae, D (1985). “Inventing the university”, in Rose M (ed), When a writer can’t write: studies in writer’s block and other composing precess problems.
- Cummins J (1996). Negotiating identities: education for empowerment in a diverse society
- Felder, RM (1993). Reaching the second tier – learning and teaching styles in college science education. Journal of college science teaching, 23(5):286-290
- Gee J (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: ideology in discourse
- Milner HR (2003). Teacher reflection and race in cultural contexts: history, meaning and methods of teaching. Theory into practice, 42(3):174-180
Yesterday I registered to attend the 10th annual conference on World Wide Web applications being held at the University of Cape Town from the 3-5 September. It’ll look at the impact of the web on our daily lives, focusing on four tracks or themes, namely; e-commerce, e-learning, e-government and e-society. Some of the presentations I’m interested in include:
- Trends in student use of ICTs in higher education in South Africa (Prof L Czerniewicz, University of Cape Town)
- To opensource or not to opensource – the case for e-learning (Mr HS Oliver, African Online Scientific Informations Systems (Pty) Ltd – (AOSIS)
- Electronic abuse in Web 2.0 based social networks: responsibilities for students, educational institutions and online intermediaries in South Africa (Prof M Kyobe, University of Cape Town)
- A study about the use of Facebook for social encouragement among citizens within a community on the Cape Flats (Mr D Minani, Cape Peninsula University of Technology)
- Assessing researchers’ performance in developing countries: Is Google Scholar an alternative? (Dr OB Onyancha, UNISA)
I’m really looking forward to the conference and will be posting here about my experiences.