Opening up my practice 5/5

“Only open journalism reveals the whole picture.” The Guardian

I spend a lot of classroom time talking about open journalism practices, discussing how digital technologies have changed forever the relationship between journalists and the “people formerly known as the audience.” (Rosen 2006). No longer can journalists lock themselves away in closed newsrooms, acting as gatekeepers of information. (UK PSF K1, K2, A1, A2)

But when it comes to my own educational practices, how open am I?

I certainly make use of other academics’ openness. For example, Mindy McAdams is a professor at the University of Florida, where she teaches courses about online journalism. A lot of what she teaches is cutting edge and there aren’t many academics qualified to cover it (eg multimedia journalism, coding) but she is generous enough to share her syllabi, materials and lots of blog posts about her teaching. That’s a great resource and helpful in achieving UKPSF A5, K1, K2, V3, V4.

I don’t feel I have enough that is of value to share in this way. However, I do want to be part of this Community of Practice, using social connections to collaborate rather than struggling to produce resources on my own (Tosato and Bodi 2011). So a first step is to engage in the comments section on key blogs, which I’ve already started doing in a small way. I also engage on twitter and note that it doesn’t take long for people with similar interests to find and follow me.

On December 10th, PBS’ MediaShift hosted the first #EdShift Twitter chat about how  students and teachers build collaborations and community in journalism classrooms. It’s been Storified and, again, is a great resource emerging from an open community of like-minded professionals. Next time, maybe I’ll join in!

I do share my teaching materials with other HPLs new to teaching at Salford. This feels a little awkward. I only have a few more years’ experience than they have so I explain that by sharing I’m not claiming to be the last word on the subject or to have the most stylish slides! But they might be a helpful starting point.

Are there opportunities to be more open at course or institutional level? I was interested in David Wiley’s experiment in creating a minimalist online course in parallel to his campus-based course (Hilton III, Graham, Rich & Wiley 2010). It made me think about what institutions can gain from opening up and sharing for non monetary gain. They might gain prestige and enhanced reputation from the wider recognition their teaching programme would get. They might also futureproof themselves from possible competition from MOOCs and other innovations (Weller and Anderson 2013). However, the study into Wiley’s experiment was very small-scale and responses from students were limited making it hard to draw useful generalisations.

As part of my research for this reflection, I came across a Data Journalism MOOC starting early 2014. I’ve signed up! (UK PSF A5) It’s taught by data journalism experts whose work I already know so I’m excited to be part of their project. It’s a whole new niche area of journalism so I need to skill up (and pass these skills on to students) but can’t afford the £100s normally charged for f2f courses in this subject. I’m also intrigued by the whole MOOC experience.

In 2007, Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York, came up with a new rule for journalists in his blog, Buzzmachine  – “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.” (Jarvis 2007) It’s a call for newspapers to stop replicating each other’s stories and instead concentrate dwindling resources on finding their unique value and producing something special. Perhaps this is applicable to universities too.

Maybe HE institutions have the resilience to use technology in a way which enables them to adapt their practices whilst still keeping their core function and surviving (Weller and Anderson 2013) – something which the newspaper industry has largely failed to do.

References

http://datadrivenjournalism.net/course/ Accessed 15.12.13.

Guardian Three Little Pigs advert retrieved 13.12.13. http://www.theguardiani.com/media/video/2012/feb/29/open-journalism-three-little-pigs-advert

Hilton III, J. L., Graham, C., Rich, P., & Wiley, D. (2010). Using online technologies to extend a classroom to learners at a distance. Distance Education31(1), 77-92.

Jarvis, J. (2007) Buzzmachine blog. Retrieved from http://buzzmachine.com/2007/02/22/new-rule-cover-what-you-do-best-link-to-the-rest/. Accessed on 13.12.13.

McAdams, M. Retrieved from http://www.macloo.com/syllabi/. Accessed on 13.12.13.

PBS MediaShift (2013). Collaborative Journalism Education: #EdShift. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/12/collaborative-journalism-education-edshift/ Accessed 15.12.13.

Rosen, J. (2006) Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-rosen/the-people-formerly-known_1_b_24113.html. Accessed on 13.12.13.

Tosato, P., & Bodi, G. (2011). Collaborative Environments to Foster Creativity, Reuse and Sharing of OER. European Journal of Open and Distance Learning (Special Edition OER) available electronically from: http://www. eurodl. org.

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from:  http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and Elearning (EURODL)2013(1).

How do I support my students and what are the opportunities for further improvement through digital technologies? 4/5

Supporting my students with CaKE

Supporting my students with CaKE after a successful newsroom simulation task

One of the most satisfying parts of my teaching role is supporting students through that tricky first semester in line with UKPSF A2, A4, K4 and V2. I’m very aware that students at university today are from many diverse backgrounds and many have difficult challenges to overcome in order to succeed in higher education (UKPSF V1, V4).

A key part of my support strategy is to make myself approachable. Although the courses I teach are conventional face-to-face courses, I do feel the need to adopt some distance learning practices because I’m an HPL and therefore not available on site outside teaching hours. I don’t want my students to feel abandoned in between the weekly sessions. As suggested by Coomey and Stephenson (2001), the need for support is a key part of online learning but the way this support is offered varies depending on the level of teacher control and formal structure of the course so I shall reflect on my own support strategy in this context.

I encourage my students to follow me on twitter and I have a # for each of my modules. I try to lead by example, using the # to RT relevant material and positive announcements. Gradually, some of the students join in and I make sure I engage in their comments and questions (UKPSF A3 and A4). For me, the beauty of twitter is that it enables me to create an accessible persona online with little additional effort.

I email students at least once during the week to remind them of preparation for the next class and comment on Good Things from the previous session.

Students email specific questions about assessments etc to me directly and I do my best to respond quickly to their individual needs.

In some ways, this strategy shares attributes with the PaMS strategy outlined by Simpson (2008) and certainly digital technologies – not discussed by Simpson – do facilitate this approach. However, I do find Simpson’s PaMS problematic since he does not refer to the number of students this approach is suitable for. Can tutors be expected to provide this level of support to large cohorts?

Certainly, this has become an issue for me. Having spent the first half of the semester working hard to develop my approachability, the second half of the semester is spent drowning under the weight of student emails!

So I’m starting to explore alternative ways of dealing with this such as an online forum, perhaps within the VLE. So instead of emailing me directly with a question about the assessment, students would be advised to post the question on the forum where I could respond publicly. I wonder, however, if some students would be reluctant to ask questions publicly for fear of looking foolish so perhaps I would need to find a way for them to do so anonomously?

This workload issue is addressed by MacDonald (2011) who recognises that the easy access afforded by email leads to students expecting “just in time” assistance and demanding more individual attention than was ever possible pre digitial technologies! (MacDonald 2011 p17).

The other implication of this kind of “just in time” support is that it could be too overbearing allowing little room for student autonomy. Am I creating a dependency which does not prepare students well for the world beyond university?! Certainly, my approach would put me in the NW quadrant of Coomey and Stephenson’s paradigm grid of online learning (Coomey and Stephenson 2001). Maybe I need to let go more?

Perhaps. But I do still feel that first term students do expect and require a high-level of support from their tutors whilst they develop their learning and collaborative skills. I do include lots of group activities in my sessions from the very start as a way of developing this and I’ve noticed – especially in my largest class – that students quickly learn to support each other. When it comes to the end-of-semester Newsday – a major collaborative project – the students supported each other via Facebook and I was pleasantly surprised how little they seemed to need me when they were working together.

References

Coomey, M. & Stephenson, J. 2001. Online learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – according to the research. In J. Stephenson (ed.) Teaching and learning online : pedagogies for new technologies. London: Kogan Page.

MacDonald, J. (2011). Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design. London: Gower.

Simpson, O. (2008) ‘Motivating Learners in Open and DIstance Learning: Do we Need a New Theory of Learner Support?’ Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning. 23:3, 159-170.

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from:  http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf

Extending collaborative learning using digital technologies 3/5

What is collaboration?

Collaborative learning has been defined in many ways in the literature but it usually simplifies to a description of a learning situation in which students exchange ideas and learn together as active participants in the acquisition of knowledge (Siemens 2002, Brindley et al 2009). But this doesn’t seem to go far enough to differentiate “collaborative learning” from the more general “social interaction” which we might expect from a group of likeminded individuals.  Instead, I’m inclined to think more in terms of working together for a common objective (Jarche 2012) which requires the social interactions described above but extend that to a situation whereby students are able to create something – tangible or theoretical – as a result of working together. I see collaboration as product-oriented because that creates the kind of behaviour many of our students will encounter in the work place.

“Media Production is an activity that is collaborative by its very nature, and degree programmes need to develop an effective group work strategy.” (Ireland, A. 2004; p2)

So in my subject area of journalism, collaborative learning is not simply a pedagogical choice but intrinsic to the subject and therefore essential if we are to incorporate UKPSF K1, K2, K3, K4 and V4. In fact, the University of Bournemouth co-ordinated a project  – Group Work & Assessment in Media Production (GWAMP) – in 2000-2004 as a means of sharing common problems and solutions.The project then went on to develop an online system called CASPAR which enabled students to peer assess each other’s performance in group work.

However, the Masters course in International Journalism has a less practical element and I am always keen to find ways of using digital technologies to encourage and support collaborative learning. The discussion board on Blackboard has not been popular whereas when I set collaborative, beyond-the-classroom tasks which require the students to produce something at the end of the process, the results have been far more encouraging.

I am using this approach for a unit on mobile reporting – using smart phones to create and share news (Bradshaw and Rohumaa 2011). Content is made available on Blackboard and discussed fairly briefly in class. But students are then required to work in small groups away from class and use their smart phones to create content – video, stills, audio and text. They will then use the Creative Hive platform to collate that into a news feature (the subject I’ve chosen is the Manchester Christmas Markets!) They can complete this final part of the collaborative task in class with my support. They will also use digital technologies to communicate with each other between classes. So the activity is designed to promote collaboration, use digital technologies in a creative way but all within an authentic task appropriate to the core subject in accordance with UKPSF A1-4, K4.

When designing this task, I find Siemens (2002) four-stage continuum of collaborative learning informative because of its defined order of occurrences.

  1. Communication (people talking, discussing)

  2. Collaboration (sharing ideas and working together, occasionally sharing resources, in a loose environment)

  3. Cooperation (doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose)

  4. Community (striving for a common purpose) (Siemens 2002)

No collaboration can take place without communication between students but by having a common purpose – the finished article – they are, I hope, motivated to collaborate.

There is opportunity to extend the collaboration still further since the Creative Hive platform itself is a web space designed to encourage collaboration across courses and disciplines at the University so it will be interesting to see how far the students take this.

Strategies for encouraging collaborative learning

References

Barkley, E., Cross, K. & Howell Major, C. (2005) Collaborative Learning Techniques.  A Handbook for College Faculty.  San Francisco: John WIley & Sons

Bradshaw, P. & Rohumaa, L. (2011). The Online Journalism Handbook: Skills to survive and thrive in the digital age. Harlow: Routledge.

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Ireland, A. (2004). Group Work and Assessment in Media Production-Resource Pack. Accessed on 20.10.13. http://www.cemp.ac.uk/themes/groupwork.php

Jarche, H. (2012). Principles for Collaborative Work. In Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT), 2012 IEEE 12th International Conference (pp. 1-2). IEEE.

Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (1986). Action Research: Cooperative Learning in the Science Classroom. Science and Children, 24(2), 31-32.

Lord, T. R. (2001). 101 reasons for using cooperative learning in biology teaching. The American Biology Teacher, 63(1), 30-38.

Siemens, G. (2002).  Interaction. E-Learning Course. Accessed 15 November 2013 http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/Interaction.htm

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf.

My digital teaching practice and opportunities for change 2/5

As a result of this module, I have been trying to find ways of using digital technologies to extend student learning beyond the classroom and create opportunities for students to exchange experiences online.

I teach a group of ten students on the MA International Journalism (not an online course). Because they come from so many different parts of the world and so many different journalistic backgrounds, I see the “group” as a valuable learning resource. To take advantage of this, I have set up discussion threads in Blackboard, encouraged them to share material on Twitter using our course hashtag and we also use a blogging platform, Creative Hive, for students to create and share content.

However, in spite of these different technologies being available to the students, I’ve been disappointed with the results, especially the Blackboard discussion.

Why wouldn’t they want to do this?

A few students do take part and make interesting contributions. But it is always the same few students. Once they’ve posted their comment, they tend not to return to that thread to enter into a discussion.

I have tried asking them to suggest a discussion topic but that didn’t lead to better participation rates.

It was not all negative. I realise that the students who are quietest in class are the most active in any online discussion I set up. The students who contribute most in class never participate in online discussion! Is this reason enough to continue? It would comply with UKPSF V1, V2, K4 and A4 in providing opportunities and learning environments for different learners.

Dialogue has to have purpose

The literature confirms this is not easy. Students cannot be relied upon to participate and the tutor/moderator needs to work hard and devote time if it is to reap benefits (Wozniak and Silveira 2004)

Wozniak and Silveira (2004) describe highly structured online discussions which are embedded into the design of the module and the assessment. As an HPL, I’m not in a position to change module design but I can feedback my suggestions and look at the design of my own sessions.

Dialogue has to have a purpose, otherwise we cannot expect students to participate (Coomey & Stephenson 2001). So how can I help my students see the purpose of these online discussions?

Bringing online discussions into the classroom

Having reflected and investigated, I now think I need to give students more support (scaffolding) to help them see the value of and participate in online discussions. I tend to assume they are all happy in the online world but I’m increasingly coming to doubt that. So I need to be clearer about how the discussion forum is used, perhaps with some taster discussions in class (UKPSF K3)

I should explain very clearly the purpose and value of engaging in the discussions. I am already working to bring the discussions into the classroom to integrate them into our face-to-face time so they become a “near-synchronous activity” (Macdonald 2008 p.60). I also make sure I actively participate and respond to students’ posts.

Perhaps students in a traditional face-to-face course don’t see any value in discussing online.

So why do I see value in it? I see it as a way of collecting and sharing practice in a way that produces an online archive of experience. I think that complements the discussions in class which leave no digital trace and can be superficial because students don’t have time to think through answers before speaking (Garrison and Kanuka 2004).

Increasingly, we’re going to need to make use of these online interactions as socio-economic changes mean more students will seek distance/flexible alternatives to traditional higher education provision (Mahieu and Wolming 2013).

Looking at my own profession in accordance with UKPSF V3 and V4, there is a growing demand for training in digital journalism skills and, according to a report just published by the Knight Foundation, an increasing number of journalists are willing to have that training online because their own news organisations are unable/unwilling to provide it. (McLellan and Newton 2013)

Creelman notes that online courses with active discussion forums have better completion rates so investigating ways to motivate students to participate is both important and timely (Creelman 2013)

However, my investigation suggests there are no easy answers.

References

COOMEY, M. & STEPHENSON, J. 2001. “Online learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – according to the research.” In J. Stephenson (ed.) Teaching and learning online : pedagogies for new technologies. London: Kogan Page.

Creelman, A. and Reneland-Forsman, L. (2013) Completion Rates – A False Trail to Measuring Course Quality?: Let’s Call in the HEROEs Instead. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, v. 16, n. 2, p. 40,

Garrison, D. R. and Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The internet and higher education,7(2), 95-105.

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf.

Macdonald, J. (2008) Blended learning and online tutoring : planning learner support and activity design.  Aldershot: Aldershot : Gower

Mahieu, R., & Wolming, S. (2013). Motives for Lifelong Learners to Choose Web-based Courses. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning,16(1), 1-10.

McLellan, M. and Newton, E. (2013) Digital Training comes of Age. Knight Foundation   Retrieved from http://knightfoundation.org/media/uploads/publication_pdfs/KFTrainingFieldReportWEB.pdf

Wozniak, H., & Silveira, S. (2004). Online discussions: Promoting effective student to student interaction. In Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 956-960).

PBL, group work and ME

Maybe I’m not cut out for group work?

This was how I was feeling at the start of our first group online PBL project. I found the whole process of getting in touch with people I didn’t know, had never met and starting to produce work together very stressful and surprisingly time-consuming. There were so many barriers to success – synchronising times, finding technologies that worked, agreeing common goals.

At the same time, my attempts to engage in the OpenFDOL group work failed when my group collapsed and was disbanded by the facilitator!

It was getting hard not to take it personally…

“Distributing the cognitive load…..”

I like the idea of group work and felt I had the technological skills and tools to succeed. Constructing knowledge through social interaction is an important part of the learning process (Chernobilsky, Nagarajan, Hmelo-Silver 2005) and I was definitely pleased with our finished product – the beautiful images created by Nadine. We worked asynchronously on google docs and synchronously on google hangouts and old-fashioned telephone. I found the sharing of information and solving problems together rewarding and enjoyable because of the shared responsibility. (Busfield and Peijs 2003)

But flexible…..?

So why was I finding it so frustrating and time-consuming? Reflecting back on the process I found that my frustration came from two directions. I felt I had to work immediately to complete the work needed by my group because I worried that others would be waiting for me. That led to work overload at times and resentment of the task. Secondly, I found sometimes I couldn’t progress when I did have time because I was dependent on others. Those two factors combined meant my work felt totally dependent on other people’s timeframes and I did not have any control over it. So all flexibility was lost!

This would, presumably, be the same for everyone in the group – although I accept I probably worry about it more than most sensible people would!

So are online group work and flexibility mutually exclusive? Or do I need to find different strategies for making it work? Certainly work carried out by Chernobilsky et al in 2005 suggests that collaborative, asynchronous learning does require more dependence on others which would seem to go against the flexiblility usually associated with online courses  (Anderson & Simpson 2012; Creelman & Reneland Forsman 2013)

Making it work

The group work definitely improved by the second task as we learnt from our experiences and, importantly, I think, got to know each other. Was our face-to-face meeting the trigger for this? I felt it removed a lot of my fears and helped to foster trust and confidence in each other.

We started to establish mutually agreed working practices but I think we need to work even more on this. “I will do this task by this date” allows other people to build their work around you and start to reclaim that flexibility.

For me, that helps me regain some control over my time and manage my expectations.

The support of the facilitator was also a key factor although I envisage we will need that less and less as we become more used to this type of collaborative work.

So I shall continue to reflect on this as the module progresses not only because of its implications for me as a learner but also as a teacher who wants to foster these collaborative practices in students.

References

BUSFIELD, J.; PEIJS, T. Learning materials in a problem based course. Materials Education, v. 12,  2003.

CHERNOBILSKY, E.; NAGARAJAN, A.; HMELO-SILVER, C. E. Problem-based learning online: multiple perspectives on collaborative knowledge construction. Proceedings of the 2005 conference on Computer support for collaborative learning: learning 2005: the next 10 years!, 2005,   International Society of the Learning Sciences. p.53-62.

CREELMAN, A.; RENELAND-FORSMAN, L. Completion Rates–A False Trail to Measuring Course Quality?: Let’s Call in the HEROEs Instead. European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, v. 16, n. 2, p. 40,  2013.

Online Learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – according to the research (Coomey, M. and Stephenson, J. 2012)

SIMPSON, M.; ANDERSON, B. History and heritage in open, flexible and distance education. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, v. 16, n. 2, p. 1-10,  2012. ISSN 1179-7673.

Handouts – Beware the sell by date

As we were discussing digital literacies in our PBL group recently, we started talking about what teachers of online/distant courses can do to improve students’ digital literacy. We agreed that digital literacy greatly enhances online learning such as enabling students to access resources and collaborate beyond the classroom (Keegan, H. et al 2009).

But how do teachers of online courses get all their students up to scratch so that nobody feels left behind, isolated, frustrated and eventually drops out? How do you teach digital literacies?

One suggestion was to use handouts. Give students handouts about how to use Twitter, G+, Hangouts, Collaborate, Google docs, Storify etc and they’ll become digitally literate.

This took me back to my student days. I used to love it when lecturers gave us handouts. It meant we didn’t have to take notes. Or concentrate. Or think. We had the handout which solidified All I Need to Know About This in a once-and-for-all format. The subject was closed. The handout was the last word.

This led me to think that such a static form of teaching content was probably inappropriate in an environment where the very meaning of literacy is changing so rapidly (Belshaw 2012). Today’s handout will be obsolete so quickly – but how’s the student to know that? It won’t send a notification to the student’s inbox alerting him that paragraph 3 of the handout is no longer valid! How will the student update their understanding and skills if they are used to waiting for handouts?

We create a dependency and that’s not going to enable them to become digitally literate for life rather than for yesterday.

If I reflect on how I have worked to develop my own digital literacy in recent years, I find it  is always self-directed and usually starts with an online search for the latest tutorials (always check the dates though!). If I encounter a problem, I’ll go online to find an answer. For example, I discovered at the start of this course that Collaborate no longer worked on my Mac because of various secret updates it didn’t tell me about. It wasn’t a problem Salford’s IT helpdesk had come across so they couldn’t help. But I did find the answer on the San Jose University website in their Blackboard Collaborate recently-updated FAQs!

Similarly, I’ve used G+ and hangouts a lot since starting this course. I’d never used them before. As it happens, I was a fairly early adopter of G+ but lost interest because nobody I knew was using it so it was pretty lonely and I couldn’t get a feel for how it could help me. I went back to twitter which was where I felt comfortable.

I always promised myself I’d look into Google Hangouts because they sounded pretty cool but I was just too busy to invest the time into doing that.

Then suddenly I find myself having to organise group discussions online and G+ and Hangouts now seem the answer to all my needs! As a result, I am suddenly no longer too busy and I have invested time into finding tutorials online, looking at forums etc to answer all the questions I have. I’ve updated my digital literacy with the new knowledge I need for the latest task.

So I think it’s not simply a case of “teaching” our students digital literacies with a set of handouts or similar static information. I think we need to create the motivation that makes them want to learn this new stuff (Belshaw 2013) otherwise they’ll just see it as another time suck.

Then we need to foster in students the ability to Google their way out of any situation. The knowledge they need doesn’t sit on a handout waiting for them to look at it. The knowledge is being created, updated, remixed and shared every second online all around the world.

I now need to think how we might actually foster those behaviours and whether there is anything in my current practice which encourages or discourages this.

References

Belshaw, D. (2012). What is’ digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation(Doctoral dissertation, Durham University).

Belshaw, Douglas Tedx Talk YouTube. Available TEDxWarwick – Doug Belshaw – The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies Accessed 13.10.13.

Keegan, H et al (2009) ‘Mentoring For 21st Century Skills – It’s all about the Learning’ University of Salford

The Digital Me – Past, Present and Future 1/5

My PiA couple of years ago, I had an epiphany. I came across a quotation from Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist in New York.

On Thursday night I gave a talk at NYU Poly and in the Q&A a young man asked me for advice for “those who aren’t technical”. I said he should try to get technical.

(Wilson 2011)

This really made me stop and reflect. I’ve always described myself as “not technical.” But I began to think – what if this is just a state of mind? What if it’s just laziness on my part? I started an experiment on myself. Was it possible for a non-techy journalist to get technical by sheer force of will? You can read about some of my efforts on my other blog and judge for yourself.

But by then I’d already become very interested in social media and have been an early adopter with a few tools such as Pinterest.

My Pinterest Board - Coding for Beginners

 They’ve become indispensable to journalism so I needed to keep up-to-date with how my profession was changing. I’m by no means an expert but I am comfortable in that environment and enjoy exploring new tools and developments, the challenges and the opportunities. So Prensky’s (2001) assertion that we are either digital natives or digital immigrants – depending on our birth date – seems totally outmoded. Rather the “Digital Me” is surely defined by our attitude and feelings towards the digital world. So I define myself more as a Digital Resident (White and Le Cornu 2011), valuing relationships as well as knowledge acquisition online.

I’m also very aware that social media and digital technology have had a hugely disruptive impact on my industry with news organisations struggling to find an economic model to fit the Web 2.0 era. The same is true of Higher Education and both institutions need to find a raison d’etre in an information-rich world. So although I use technology in my classes and beyond – primarily for engagement with students – I do not feel I use technology for learning and teaching, as such, and I need to learn more about the pedagogy for this.  I’m aware there’s a danger of using “warmed-over” traditional approaches rather than using Web 2.0 technologies to their true potential to design and create student-centric learning environments (Barnes and Tynan 2007). Failure to do this will leave students looking elsewhere for their education.

As I develop, I would like to help students use technology to construct knowledge collaboratively, since in the digital era this is a more valuable skill than simple information recall. New technologies offer exciting ways of doing this (Conole 2013). However, this does not take into account the relatively small number of students who may not have access to smart phones and other tools. Higher Education is increasingly diverse and we need to respect the equality of opportunities for learners as defined in the UK PSF (HEA 2011)

Laurillard (2012, p 199) stresses that “technology enables, it does not drive, or ensure success.” The success of any technology-dependent task is still dependent on the teacher who designs the task. So I want to learn more about what my role as teacher should be in a technology enhanced learning environment in keeping with UKPSF (HEA 2011)

If I reflect on how I have worked to develop my own digital literacies in recent years, I find it  is always self-directed and usually starts with an online search for the latest tutorials, for instance on Google hangouts which I hadn’t used before this course.

So this experience has led me to conclude that rather than teaching a particular “digital literacy” to our students, we need to create the motivation that makes them want to integrate perpetual learning into their lives (Belshaw 2013).

References

Barnes, C. and Tynan, B. (2007) ‘The Adventures of Miranda in the Brave New World: Learning in a Web 2.0.’ ALT-J, 15:3, 189 – 200.

Belshaw, Douglas Tedx Talk YouTube. Available TEDxWarwick – Doug Belshaw – The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies Accessed 13.10.13.

Conole, G. (2012). Designing for learning in an open world (Vol. 4). Springer

HEA. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education   Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/ukpsf/ukpsf.pdf

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. Florence, Kentucky: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

Prensky, M. (2001) “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1”, On the Horizon, Vol. 9 Iss: 5, pp.1 – 6

White, D. and Le Cornu, A. (2011) “Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement.” First Monday, 16 (9).

Wilson, F. (2011) AVC Musings of a VC in NYC. Program or be Programmed. Retrieved from http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/10/program-or-be-programmed.html. Accessed 19.09.13.

Observation by Tutor – 6/6

“Can it be, Ischomachus, that asking questions is teaching? I am just beginning to see what is behind all your questions. You lead me on by means of things I know, point to things that resemble them, and persuade me that I know things that I thought I had no knowledge of. “
Socrates (Quoted in Xenophon’s “Economics”)

“To question well is to teach well.”  Henry Barnard, American Journal of Education, 1860

Chrissi Nerantzi observed me on 26th October when I was teaching a three-hour Radio News session to first year undergraduates on the Journalism BA.  There’s a maximum of twenty students in the class.  The session was about finding news stories so the first part of the session involved them getting together in small groups to discuss ways and places they could look for original story ideas.  They then fed back to the class and I asked questions.

This class of students is very engaged and their discussions are always well-focused.  They feed back to the class with confidence and are happy to question and challenge each other so this approach, I think, works well with them.  It’s also fair to say that I enjoy this kind of approach because it usually produces something unexpected!  It also enables me to get to know the students much better.

However, the feedback with Chrissi a few days later has really made me think about the way I handle these discussions and group exercises.  She observed that after I have asked a question, I don’t give students enough time to answer before providing the answer.  This was quite a surprise!  Obviously, in my head I DO give them plenty of time to answer but it seems this doesn’t actually happen in reality.

So since this conversation with Chrissi, I’ve started “observing” myself in class (and other situations!).  And it turns out she’s right!!  I do indeed have a tendency to leap in when I don’t get an immediate answer.

Why do I do this?  Hmmm, let me think about that for a moment.  (See what I did there?!)  I think it’s because I don’t like the silence of the pause.  I feel that, as the teacher, I should keep the session moving and waiting for students to find the answer to my question wastes time for everyone.  I also worry that the student is embarrassed and I’m just prolonging their agony if they don’t know how to answer.  It seems fairer to put them out of their misery and move on rather than keeping the whole class STARING at them expectantly, waiting for the answer.

So why do I ask questions in the first place?  I’m trying to tease out the information or an analysis of a problem.  I want them to draw on their existing knowledge and use it to construct the next level.  In an ideal situation, I want them to realise that they already have a lot of the skills and experience they need to solve a problem but they need to apply it differently.  I want the students listening to the discussion to benefit from the Q&A too.  How would they have answered the question?  I also want to keep the students engaged and alert rather than passive receiving information.  By asking them questions, I’m also assessing their knowledge.

So I see it as a really important part of my classes – which is why it’s important for me to ensure I’m getting the most out of the process.  I suspect I’m squandering a lot of very good learning opportunities by leaping in too soon with my own response to the question.

What type of questions do I put to students?  Whatever pops into my head, usually!  But perhaps I should think about this question more seriously.  There are different types of questioning.  Convergent questions are asked with a correct answer in mind.  Divergent questions are more explorative.  For example, how can a student use the experience of an exercise she’s just done to explain a particular concept.  This sort of questioning is trickier because it needs to be properly guided by the teacher.  How long do you let the student ramble before jumping in to do it yourself?!  (Biggs and Tang 2011)

But there are other ways of categorising questions – high-level and low-level questions – and this ties in with Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives.  High-level questions require students to analyse and hypothesise.  Low-level questions require the students to recall answers.  (Biggs and Tang 2011)

I think all types of questions are valid in different situations.  When teaching students how to use a particular piece of technology, I need to question them to make sure they can recall the correct sample rate to use when recording audio.  It may be a low-level question but it is extremely important!  However, when they are debating the newsworthiness of a particular story, they are required to perform activities from the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and so higher-level questioning becomes natural in this situation.

HOW am I asking questions?  Ah, it feels like we’re getting to the nub of the problem here.

“Wait time” is a concept explored by Mary Budd Rowe initially in the seventies.  She carried out extensive research on “wait time” and found that typically teachers wait between 0.7″ and 1.4″ for an answer (this is reassuring!  I’m not the only impatient teacher out there) whereas leaving just 3″ of silence after asking a question led to students answering more successfully and more deeply and, interestingly, more confidently.  Perhaps that’s because the student feels that by giving her time you really, really want to hear what SHE thinks rather than asking her to come up with the answer that’s already in the teacher’s head.

Unfortunately, there is little immediate help for those of us who find the optimum wait time so hard to achieve.  Rowe even describes using an electronic device to flash a green light at a teacher when she’s waited long enough for an answer!  This, apparently, had limited success in changing entrenched habits.
Biggs and Tang are similarly unhelpful.  They suggest waiting up to 30″ for a student to answer a divergent question (citing Ellsworth et al. 1991).
If you might feel embarrassed by 30 seconds of silence, work out ways of not being embarrassed.” (Biggs, J & Tang, C 2011 p150)
I think my students would feel more embarrassed than I would, to be honest!  I think working up to 3″ of wait time is a more realistic goal for me at the moment.
I’ve not tried doing this consciously in class yet and I think it would require a very conscious effort to achieve this.  I think it would have an impact on the whole pace of my teaching.  I know I talk too fast (again, something which came up in my post-observation feedback with Chrissi but which I was aware of myself) so perhaps lengthening out the wait time would influence other areas of my speaking.  I’m going to continue to “observe” myself teaching – and perhaps in other areas too – to see if I can make myself wait 3″.  I will then reflect on how the extended wait time influenced the discussion and the pace of the class as a whole.  How will I feel about that terrifying silence?  I don’t know.  But having read the research which supports the value of an extended wait time, I think I will have more confidence to accept the silence.

What about Socratic questioning?  Socratic questioning is a process whereby students are guided towards a solution by answering questions posed by the teacher.  The questions are designed to enable the student to build on existing knowledge and/or experience in order to reach the required conclusion/answer.  The role of the teacher is to keep the discussion focused, follow up on the students’ answers and invite elaboration.  Socratic questioning is used to develop students’ critical thinking skills through active interaction between students and between the student and teacher. (Paul 1993 cited in Yang, Newby & Bill 2005).  Whilst the literature and case studies are fascinating, Socratic questioning seems to impose a purist structure on the classroom, an orthodoxy which can become an end in itself.  Does it elevate the art of debate above the need to ensure students are able to apply, analyse or explain new skills and concepts?

I think it is more useful as a background philosophy to inform an individual’s use of classroom discussion.  The art of questioning is such an individual process, dependent on personality, subject matter, student experience and interest that an over-reliance on a rigid structure could prove disastrous.

So this observation and the feedback with Chrissi afterwards has really made me reflect on the way I lead discussions in class.  But it’s also helped me find some interesting research into the subject so I can better understand the use of questioning and the importance of “wait time.”  There are lots of useful tips for teachers on questioning out there which I’m going to explore and I’ll try incorporating some of the more appropriate ones into my teaching next semester in keeping with UK PSF A3-A5.

References

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning at University.  Maidenhead. Open University Press

McComas, W.F. & Abraham, L. (2004) Asking More Effective Questions. USC Centre for Excellence in Teaching.  http://cet.usc.edu/resources/teaching_learning/material_docs/Asking_Better_Questions.pdf

Rowe, M. (1986) Wait Time: Slowing Down May Be A Way of Speeding Up!   Journal of Teacher Education 1986; 37(43) DOI: 10.1177/002248718603700110

Yang, Y., Newby, T., Bill, R. (2005) Using Socratic Questioning to Promote Critical Thinking Skills Through Asynchronous Discussion Forums in Distance Learning Environments.  The American Journal of Distance education, 19(3), pp163-181

Using Socratic Questioning (2012). Retrieved 10.12.12. from http://tfsc.uark.edu/180.php

Reflections before Professional Discussion

Well, I’m sitting in my local cafe trying to keep warm because my boiler’s been broken since Wednesday and it’s really quite chilly working from home. Do you think I should apply for a PMC on this assessment? 🙂

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I’m looking back through my notes from the webinar and the session last week when I got together with my PGCAP peers to prepare for the professional discussion. I’m rereading my educational autobiography to see the journey that I’ve been on. I think I’ve found inspiration for my Lego model, at least! In my portfolio, I described being thrown in at the deep end when I started teaching last year. I felt isolated and unsupported. So I might make a model of myself at the bottom of a pit! There are no windows so I can’t see what other teachers are doing. I’m very much on my own. There are no resources down there so I have to rely on my own past experiences of learning and my own preconceptions. There isn’t much space down there and it’s dark so I can’t see what I’m doing to reflect on it! I coped and I like to think my students learnt something but I knew I was very
Iimited.
The PGCAP has enabled me to climb out of the pit and into the wide open spaces! It took a while for my eyes to grow accustomed to the light. But out here in the open I can see things much more clearly and I can engage with other teachers and learn from them. I can access lots of useful resources and learning. The light means I can be far more creative in my teaching. The extra space inspires me to experiment and take risks. I am now part of the wider university rather than being on my own, working in isolation.

Looking back at the goals you had set at the beginning of this module, would you say that you have achieved these and to what extent?
1. Become more reflective. I had very limited reflection at the start. I was often tempted to blame the students rather than reflect on my own practice. I’m much more able to reflect now – evaluate my practice and identify ways to move forward. Eg So much of what I did last year was standing at the front talking. I’ve been able to reflect on this from a student centric point of view, understand more about diverse learning communities, how students learn, and think about how I can put this into practice. I realised I needed to increase students’ active engagement with the subject – get them to do more stuff in class. Why should I write stuff on the board? They can come up and tell me what they know and between them they’ll get it.
2. Evaluate my teaching in the light of huge changes to my core subject – journalism. I’m getting involved in online communities to exchange ideas and learn more about developments in pedagogy in my area in keeping with UKPSF.
3. Using learning technologies. I’ve definitely embraced this because it’s also such an important part of journalism these days. It’s a vital part of lifelong learning that’ll part of institutions-wide ILOs. So I loved the fact that the PGCAP used so many different tools to engage students. I’ve been applying that in my own course with varying degrees of success. Some students like it more than others and I need to find ways of making it more appealing. I’m making much more use of the VLE than I ever used to and I think it helps engage different students in different ways. Eg wiki.
4. Create appropriate Leaning Outcomes aligned to the assessments. Through my wider reading, I’ve learnt so much about the importance of trapping students into a circle of learning! Now instead of just telling them what I’m gong to do in each lesson, I give them ILOs which are focused on their activities and give them guide to what is expected from them. My teaching activities are aligned to these. Eg a big part of the module is developing the students’ news judgement. Through a better understanding of learning outcomes and alignment, I thought about different ways of getting students to APPLY news judgement – rather than just listening to me take about it! Eg I got them to listen to a bulletin and discuss the news value of each item, why each story was in that bulletin, should it be. The students didn’t necessarily agree and so had to defend their positions. In fact, it sounded like a real life editorial meeting! I hadn’t expected that so I was really pleased and I can now develop this for next time. Reflection in action. The was also a strong level of assessment including peer assessment as they listened and challenged and reassessed their understanding.
5. Need to learn more from relevant literature on teaching/learning in HE. This is an ongoing process but the more I engage, the more confidence I have to experiment and explore because what I’m doing is informed by evidence. Usually….!

What does achieving these things mean to me?
It means I’m out of that deep pit and feel part of the university’s learning environment. I feel I’m doing the best I possibly can for my students.

What challenges did I encounter and how did I overcome them?

This has all been very new to me. I had felt very isolated from the university community. My peers have helped enormously.

What have I learnt about myself as a practitioner in HE?</strong

I can talk spontaneously so I can let go a bit. I used to think I had to script every minute of the 3hr sessions because I was terrified of running out of material – a broadcaster’s nightmare. But I’m not a broadcaster, I’m a teacher and it’s OK to observe, reflect in action how things are going and just go with the flow.

I do reflect in and on action. See above! I’m always making notes of things to do differently next time – more of this, less of this, what about this.

I’m impatient and need to think more about how I use questioning in class. This came about from a post observation conversation with Chrissi. I was initially surprised but I’ve “observed” myself since then and she’s right. I need to reflect more on this. I think it’s because I can’t bear the silence, the thought of losing time whilst somebody thinks. So I need to find strategies for dealing with the waiting time, encouraging students to take time to answer. I need to read some relevant literature on Socratic questioning and think about how I could apply this. I shall rite a reflective post on this – perhaps in the form of Socratic questioning?!

I’m approachable. I care about my students. I’ve out a lot of effort into getting to know them, not just their names but also a few facts about what they’re interested in, what experience they bring to the class. My students know they can come to me in breaks and after class, they often email questions or ideas asking for feedback. It’s time consuming but feels important.

I’m prepared to take risks and experiment. The PGCAP has given me permission to do this! I love trying new things eg the Dragon’s Den game which I’ve now “sold” to Julia! I was even brave enough to ask for feedback from the students and will incorporate that into my reflection on the game and how I could improve it.

I need to learn how to critically engage with literature. This is important in terms of my broader academic development since I am involved in a research paper! I’m booked onto Victoria’s writing course and I’m going to seek advice from some ex radio journalists I know who are making a similar transition from journalistic to academic writing.

I enjoy using technology.. I’m quite evangelical about this. Venture capitalist, Fred Wilson, writes about giving a talk at NYU Poly and being asked what advice he had for someone “who isn’t technical.” “They should try to get technical, ” he replied. This has been my inspiration this year! I’ve made myself try all sorts of new stuff I’d always avoided on the grounds of not being technical. I started to learn JavaScript and have set p a coding club at school. More importantly, I’m trying to incorporate different technology into my teaching and encourage students to embrace different ways of engaging this way eg wiki where they can add any information about useful digital tools they come across. I love the way the PGCAP uses different technology which has helped to push me further in this direction. I’d love to pursue it further and prove that ANYONE can get technical if they make that decision. It’s part of lifelong learning which I’m trying to pass on to my students. It also helps to engage students in different ways.

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What impact did your engagement with the module have on your thinking and practice?
I’ve become more creative in my teaching. The module taught me the importance of creativity and gave me confidence. I’m particularly interested in the importance of creative play to that students are able actively engage with the learning. I’ve also realised that I’m much more visual than I thought and I can utilise that in my storytelling, for example.
In fact, storytelling itself has been another revelation. I’d not really that of that as a teaching tool before. But being asked to give a presentation to my peers about storytelling helped me to look at it in a whole new light. Storytelling enables us to see situations from multiple viewpoints. I’ve used this to help students prepare for their Newsdays by producing a strip cartoon! Without the PGCAP, I would never have considered doing this!
My relationship with the students has changed. I reflected on this a great deal in the early weeks of the PGCAP. I realised I’d allowed a barrier to come between us. It felt wrong but I think I was just trying to replicate how I’d been taught. Through discussions with peers, observations and engagement with the literature, I’ve been able to evaluate my actions through the students’ eyes and come up with a very different approach which actually feels more natural, more me. I’ve done really simple things like name badges in week 1 and 2. I also took a leaf out of Chrissi’s book and got students to take photos of themselves holding up their names and unaided them to our Flickr account. I can now have that set of photos on my iPad at the start of the session so I’m able to greet each student by name. That just feels nice! I encourage interaction online and in class. I really care about my students and I think that enables them to do the best they can because they are perhaps less anxious about assessments, for example. I tell them I’m looking forward to seeing their work!
I’ve helped students catch up when they’ve been off sick and asked for help. Apparently, I was the only tutor who did this which shocks me.
This relationship is important because it creates a positive learning environment. They know I’m on their side.

What further development plans linked to teaching and learning to y have for the near future?
I’m going to think more about how I use questioning in class with my students. This came to light following an observation discussion with Chrissi. See above.
Academic writing
I’m going to continue to engage in CPD by accessing more literature on teaching/learning in general and specifically n my subject area. I’m going to continue to connect with fellow journalism teachers.
I’m going to develop different approaches to feedback and assessment to evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching. Eg I created a fairly realistic newsroom activity in class whereby students had to listen to an interview from the Today programme and find a 20″ clip they could use in the next news bulletin. They did this individually and my plan had been to go round the class talking to them individually about what they’d chosen and why. But as the session developed, I had an idea for doing it very differently because it would take ages to go round to everyone and boring for the others who were waiting. So I got them to stand up and find other people who’d chosen the same clip as them so we’d eventually have several groups of students. It meant they had to discuss the exercise with each other. I also meant we could see immediately that different students had chosen different clips it one had been much more popular. One poor student found herself in a group of one but was brave enough to stick to her guns! So there was lots to talk about and reflect on and it was a great way of us all giving feedback in different collaborative ways. I actually agreed with the solitary student, btw!! We then found ways to develop the task further.

Observation by mentor – constructive alignment 5/6

The final observation of the module was when my PGCAP mentor, Dave Randles, came to watch my session on Building a Radio Bulletin on 09.11.12.  Dave lectures in online, sport and digital journalism amongst other things.

As I wrote in my pre-observation form, I was mainly interested in discussing constructive alignment – whether Dave felt that the teaching/learning activities I introduced in class where aligned with the intended learning outcomes I’d written for the session and with the assessment (which I hadn’t written).  The assessment (the second one they do this module) comes in two parts:-

1) They participate in two Newsdays during which they run a newsroom and produce bulletins of radio news to a specified length at specified times.

2) They individually produce and submit a recording of a 3.5 minute radio news bulletin they’ve made which must include at least one story they have originated themselves.  They also write a commentary in which they reflect on how they went about the task, what they learnt, what they need to work on to improve.

Were my students ‘entrapped’ in a web of consistency? (Biggs and Tang 2011)

I thought it would be interesting to look back to how I’d planned this session with last year’s students (i.e. my first year teaching).  This was my introductory slide then:-

Not many verbs there.  I was simply listing the topics to be covered.  I wasn’t thinking about what and how I wanted students to learn, to what level and how that related to the assessment.  As a result, I suspect my students weren’t thinking about these things either.  I’d basically just given them my timetable for the next three hours!  It was a teacher-centric, Level 1 approach.

This year, I started from scratch and tried to think in a more student-centric way in keeping with UKPSF K3.  This is what I came up with:-

I’m not saying these are perfect but I can see an improvement.  I used Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) and the revised version (Anderson and Krathwohl 2001) to devise ILOs using verbs appropriate to the kind of “understanding” I wanted students to achieve.  I also made reference to the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs and Collis 1982 cited in Biggs and Tang 2011) to help me define the level of understanding I wanted the students to achieve.  Most of the verbs I chose would suggest I’m seeking a relational approach – can students compare and contrast different bulletin styles to draw conclusions about how they could produce their own bulletin for a target audience?

In this way, I think my learning outcomes, teaching/learning activities and assessment were aligned in this session.

The other element comes from “constructivism” whereby students construct meaning from what they do to learn.  I definitely did not do this last year.  I cringe as I write this!  In order to get students to understand (NB vague verb) that there are different kinds of news and bulletin styles for different audiences and networks, I played the students a series of examples and after each one gave them information about the station’s target audience etc.  No wonder their eyes glazed over!

This year I used the same exercise (with updated examples, obviously) but flipped it round.  I put the bulletins on Blackboard and divided the students into groups.  Each group listened to one bulletin, analysed it (I gave them some suggested questions to think about) and did a bit of research about the radio station to set it all in context.  They then presented to the class so I could assess their understanding, question them and get the whole class to further explore the issues raised.  This teaching/learning activity, I hoped, would help them to to build their understanding of how bulletins vary considerably depending on a station’s news values and target audience.  I feel this approach more closely fits in to UKPSF A3, A4, K3, K4.  However, in order to improve, I need to think more about K5.  How can I evaluate this approach?  Do I note the quality and depth of the students’ analysis?  Do I look at the quality of work in their assessment?

Dave and I discussed this constructive alignment approach and he said he could see clearly how my ILOs and TLAs fitted into the finished product – the assessment.  He observed how well the students engaged with the activity beyond what he would expect from a first year group.  He noted that every single member of each group spoke up during the feedback to class – something which I hadn’t explicitly required of them.  This felt very positive and suggested that the students were motivated to learn in this scenario, possibly because they could see the link between the TLAs and the assessment.

As we discussed constructive alignment, we found it hard to think how you could avoid it in a journalism course!  To adapt Biggs and Tang (2011)’s driving instructor analogy – the intention is that students learn how to be journalists, the teaching focuses on doing journalism while the assessment provides feedback and grades a piece of journalism they produce and how they went about the task.

Having said that, I managed to avoid it last year by focusing far too much on TLAs which were not aligned to the assessment and led to student passivity although at the time I thought I was giving them the appropriate knowledge to complete the assessments.  Engagement with the theory and practice of Constructive Alignment has enabled me to reflect on my previous teaching, identify teacher-centric approaches which discouraged deep learning, explore new ways of teaching, apply them and then evaluate how it went.  Thus I feel I have evidence to support my claim that I am thinking about and utilising UKPSF V3.

Dave then added that he too found himself doing too much of the work in classes instead of getting the students to construct their knowledge from their own activities.   So even though we agreed that constructive alignment was common sense, we were forced to admit that it was all too easy to slip back into traditional, teacher-centric roles and a level 1 approach to teaching during the actual sessions.

So although constructive alignment can seem like the golden bullet to solve all our problems – such as student passivity, surface learning – it still provides only a framework for our teaching.  It does not automatically make us better, more student-focused teachers.  Teachers still need to reflect in-action on their engagement with students and their use of questioning.

For example, Dave spotted a few occasions where I could have further questioned students as they were feeding back their analysis of bulletins.  I’m going to look in more detail at the use of questioning in a separate post because I think it’s something I do need to work on.  But in the context of this post, I’d like to suggest that although we agreed my TLAs were aligned well, I didn’t maximise their potential to construct student knowledge.  I find this very frustrating and wish I could go back and do it again!

I’m reassured (and challenged) by Dr Warren Houghton who was commissioned by the HEA Engineering Subject Centre to explore constructive alignment, its advantages and misinterpretations.

Constructive alignment is actually extremely difficult to achieve: it is virtually impossible to get it right first time, through so-called rational top-down course design. That is why the ILTHE, for example, emphasises the importance of the reflective practitioner; the teacher who constantly modifies course design and delivery, constantly trying to work closer to the unattainable perfect constructive alignment. (Houghton, W. 2004)

He continues by saying constructive alignment is only possible in an institutional system which allows “frequent modification of module descriptors.”  This is because the inevitable unintended but desirable learning outcomes should always inform course and assessment design in a constant process of reflection and evaluation.  Sadly, as a lowly, hourly-paid member of the teaching team, my input to module design may be minimal.  I may never get to achieve perfect constructive alignment!

But I do have control over how I design my learning sessions and how I check that the students have achieved the learning outcomes I designed.  So I disagree with the somewhat pessimistic powerlessness of Houghton’s predictions.  Instead of focusing on what I can’t change, I should ensure I’m making the most of my opportunities within the “delivery” of the module.

Assessment is the key part of ensuring the success of delivery because it has such a profound effect on student learning (Biggs & Tang 2011, Gibbs 2004 and others).  I grade and provide summative feedback on the two assessments but I’m also assessing how they perform specific journalistic tasks during the newsday simulations so I can observe and give feedback on a whole range of skills.  I provide formative feedback at several points during the news days too which they can then incorporate into their learning in order to continue improving their performance.  At the same time, peer-assessment is built in to the process because students are working as a team to produce the best on-air news bulletins they can.  They critique and select each other’s work.

In fact, exploring the literature on this subject and applying it to my module, I can see numerous ways in which I do give formative assessment throughout the module and opportunities where I could increase this.  I can see how assessment, properly done alongside teaching,  supports learning rather than being a separate entity especially when it fulfils key conditions such as timeliness, frequency, quantity.  Crucially it needs to focus on aspects the student can work on rather than personal characteristics which they have no hope of changing. (Gibbs 2004).

Formative feedback is built into the delivery of the module in informal ways too.  Students discuss their assignments with me, face to face or by email.  This enables me to see what conceptual changes have taken place during the module as a result of learning. Eg do they have a stronger sense of what makes a news story now?  If I see a problem, I can pose a question to encourage the student to go deeper or look again at a particular issue.  On several occasions, I’ve found this informal feedback has had a very positive effect on student learning.

I understand what you mean now, it will be coming from the wrong angle. To make this newsworthy I need to interview a local business near by to see how it’s affected.  (Extract from student email)

It also enables me to assess my own teaching – what difficulties can I see and how can I address those?  (Nicol et al 2004)

In most cases, it seems they start planning their assessment task quite early on – looking for a story, checking in with me for formative feedback.  So the assessment and learning take place simultaneously rather than rushed into the final few days before it has to be handed in.

However, in spite of the obvious benefits of formative feedback, I still find difficulties in providing it fairly to all students.  The students who put themselves forward receive more feedback than those who shyly hide at the back.  There are still one or two students who haven’t asked for any feedback at all during the preparation of their first assessment.  The first time they will get detailed feedback from me will be on their first assessment which they’ll receive very close to the end of their module.  I’m still considering ways in which I can assess these students earlier in the course but it’s difficult when they participate less in group work and discussions.

References

Biggs, J, & Tang, C (2011)  Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed).  Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Society for research into higher Education/Open University

Houghton, Warren (2004) Engineering Subject Centre Guide: Learning and Teaching Theory for Engineering Academics. Loughborough: HEA Engineering Subject Centre.  Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/engineering/constructive-alignment

Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2004) Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 1. pp.1-31

Juwah, C., Macfarlane-Dick, D., Matthew, B., Nicol, D., Ross, D. and Smith, B. (2004) Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback. HEA. At http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id353_senlef_guide.pdf