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