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.


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.


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

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.


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? 🙂


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
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.


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.

Pre-Observation form for 09.11.12.

Pre-observation Form

Form for recording details for your teaching observation 

Observer’s Name Dave Randles

Date & Time 09.11.12.  10.00-11.00 

Location Room 3.19 MediaCity 

Module & Session title Radio News  – Building a Bulletin 

Number of learners – 20 ish 


These are first year BA Journalism students.  They hand in their first assessment on Friday 9th. 

Learning outcomes to be achieved during the session

  • Analyse different radio bulletin styles
  • Explain the purpose of radio bulletins
  • Create running orders in iNews
  • Design a radio bulletin
  • Prepare for the first Newsday!

Brief session outline

We’ll start by discussing their experiences recording interviews for use in their 1st assessment task.  Last week, most had said they were nervous about interviewing so I’m keen to share their thoughts about how the interviews went and what they learnt.

In groups – discuss a radio news bulletin I’ve recorded for them.  Each group has different one from a variety of stations (eg R4, Key 103, World Service).  They need to think about target audience, stories used, style, format.  Each group presents to the class.  Discussion.

Neil Salmon explains how to create running orders for bulletins in iNews.

Students play Fantasy News Bulletins – they design a bespoke news bulletin for a radio station they’ve invented (including designing a logo!)

We plan their 1st Newsday when they will be producing live bulletins.

Rationale for session

I’m trying to use constructive alignment here whereby “all components – intended learning outcomes, teaching/learning activities, assessment tasks and their grading – support each other, so the learner is enveloped within a supportive learning system.”

Are there any aspects of the session you would like the observer to focus on?

I would like you to focus on the constructive alignment – the learning outcomes, the activities I designed to achieve these and how I know that they have learned (assessment).

Remember to send this to your observer as far in advance of the session as possible.


Storytelling in higher education

Stories are a big part of my life.  In my professional career as a radio news journalist, I wrote stories constantly (and rewrote other people’s!)  And at home, my two young daughters love listening to stories, reading stories and writing stories.

Stories are how we make sense of the world.  They help us to formulate our thoughts and rationalise them to ourselves.  They’re how we relate experiences and events to other people.  We’re usually very good at storytelling in conversations, but we’re often less keen to write them down!

Stories have structure – a beginning, middle and an end – not necessarily in that order.  There’s some kind of a journey or process or transformation.  There are characters with different viewpoints.

My natural milieu for storytelling is the spoken word – very flat, black and white, non-visual, low-tech.  Julia’s form of storytelling is all about images and action.  Rob’s stories come to life through music and movement.  But what would happen if we all swapped?  How would that affect our stories?  Would they end up in the same place?

Now, thanks to the abundance of (mostly free) online tools for digital storytelling we can all try different, unfamiliar media for telling our stories.  I’m not arty or techy but digital technology helps me at least have a go at using images, video, animation and explore a whole new, richer side of storytelling.

It enables me to reach out to a whole new audience.

In the last year or so, Iv’e become a big fan of curation.  I use Storify which allows you to pull together all the content (text, images, video, audio) about a certain subject which people have shared on social media.  I can then choose the bits that interest me most and incorporate them into my own story in a way which acknowledges the original photographer or commenter.  I add background, context, narrative.  When you publish, Storify gives you the option to share your Storify with the people whose contributions you used – which can start a whole new conversation!

Curating appeals to me because it enables me to see an event through the eyes of lots of different people with first hand experience of it.  So much better than just using my own memory and a couple of photos I took.

And that is probably the most important aspect of storytelling and why it could be so useful in teaching.  Storytelling enables us to see a situation from a different character’s viewpoint.  Perhaps they could help us see situations from our students’ perspective…..

In a couple of weeks’ time, my 1st year students have their first Newsdays – a simulation of an actual newsroom where they have to output live news bulletins.  They are usually nervous, unsure, reluctant to volunteer and the first one usually goes a bit wrong because they haven’t prepared enough.  But they end up loving it and usually tell us the news days are the highpoint of the whole module!  “I finally get radio now,” one student told me.

How can I convey this to my students?  Well, I’m a teacher and the way university teachers communicate with their students is through bullet points, right?  I should write a list of bullet points:-

  1. Thou shalt do this…..
  2. Thou shalt not do this….

But maybe there’s another way.  Bullet points are all about how I see the Newsdays rather than how the students see them.  Perhaps I should turn things around and try to get inside the head of a student facing their first Newsday?  So this is how I ended up doing it…

What do you think?  Too cheesy?
I don’t know but I’m glad I gave it a go.  It’s up on Blackboard for the students to see.
And once they’ve done their Newsdays, I’m going to suggest they produce their own Strips of how they saw the experience.

How do you fill a 4 hour lecture? – or is there another way of thinking about it…

So, here’s the problem.  Next week, I have to deliver a 4 hr lecture to MA students (International and Online Journalism).  I’m used to 3hr sessions which were daunting enough at the beginning.  But 4hrs?  That’s impossible, right?

Julia will sympathise since she is teaching on the same course…

How do we fill that time?  But now I’m trying to think of it another way – from the students’ perspective.  They don’t want their time “filled.”  They want to learn something during the session.  They want to feel motivated to learn more when they finish the session.  I’ve got a few ideas I’m going to try out on them (poor guinea pigs!) but in terms of helping the time to pass less tortuously, here’s something I posted earlier on the discussion board

I too have to teach this 4 hr class for the first time on Monday 12th!  I’m thinking of picking up on a neat suggestion made by David and Chrissi after they observed me teaching.  They asked if I’d considered getting my students to use the sofa areas dotted around the MediaCity building during class rather than confining them to the classroom which is not an ideal teaching space anyway.

I had not considered that!  I’m sure they use them when I give them a break during the 3 hour session I teach but I’d not thought about using it as a teaching space.
Now I’m thinking that idea could work brilliantly for the MA class since there are only about 6 of them.  We could go anywhere!  In Biggs and Tang p165, the authors talk about group work and the need to get away from awkward lecture theatres with fixed seating.  “Outside under the trees is preferable, weather permitting.”  (Biggs and Tang 2011, p165).
Well, we haven’t got many trees at MediaCity and weather rarely permits, but the comfy sofas are a good second best, I reckon.  I’m going to get them to BYOD, although there are freely available computers dotted around anyway.  Quite a bit of my first session on the future of journalism involves them reading and analysing different forms of “citizen journalism” (Storify, Reddit) so that could easily be done curled up on a sofa rather than sitting bolt upright in a chair in front of a giant screen.  I can wander round and chat with them.  Then after a while we all get together and talk about what we’ve found.
I think a change of scene and time spent away from each other could help break up the 4 hours.
Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University.

So what do you think ? Will a change of scene help keep their energy levels (and mine) up? Chrissi even suggests going beyond MediaCity and using the Lowry. Hmmm, interesting suggestion. Do they have wifi? If not, it could be a problem but I like the idea of us carrying on our reflections and discussions in the fresh air as we walk between venues.  It could be seen as “wasting time” but it could also be seen as a way of preventing me trying to cram too much stuff into my sessions leaving the students with no hope of making sense of what they’ve been told and using it.
Have any of you tried this kind of thing?