brought to you by the letter T

cartoon person pulling a yellow letter T
image from https://pixabay.com/en/t-letter-alphabet-alphabetically-1015548/

Restructure complete. For TEL read LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) For TEL Advisers read Teaching Enhancement Advisers.  T for Technology. T for Teaching.

What’s the difference or have they become one and the same? However you view learning and teaching in a digital age, the strength of our new team is how we can be both. We are all aspects of T, in varying degrees of experience and expertise.

I’ve written about the risk of TEL people not getting out and about enough Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People You know how it is. Like attracts like. It seems being badged with technology can make it harder to reach the late tech-adopters, those who tend to self- exclude from anything with a digital flavour. Yet once you get talking about teaching, the technology is usually in there – it just sometimes needs a different approach.

inger pointing at a white cloud on a blue background
image from https://pixabay.com/en/cloud-finger-touch-cloud-computing-2537658/

Design for Active Learning (D4AL) is our solution to TEL isolation.

Partly a response to TEF flags signalling areas to be addressed, D4AL emerged from conversations around adopting a pedagogy first-approach. Instead of going in with tech-first solutions, unlikely to resonate with the digitally shy and resistant, this is an approach to teaching enhancement which focuses on student learning activities. These might include technology, or might not. The plan is to open doors, get to the table and so far, it seems to be working.

D4AL has provenance.

One of the most enduring education development papers, Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, has us up there at Number 3 Good practice encourages active learning. 

lego bricks from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/lego-colors-toys-build-up-disorder-688154/

The D4AL Evidence Hub is looking like an education developers pic n’ mix. Primarily about brokering discussions, the first layer of contact is a @50 minute introductory session. A conversation around the table –  tea and biscuits – coffee and cake – with a question format similar to this.

Tell us…

  • What is the context?
    • Where are you now?
    • Where do you want to be?
  • Who are your students?
  • How can our evidence hub help?
  • How will you know success? What does it look like?

Take assessment.  Topics could be team approaches to marking, encouraging students to engage with feedback, alignment with learning outcomes, suggestions for feeding forward or the purposes of the assessment e.g. is it measuring performance or looking for evidence of learning.

In the words of educationalist Graham Gibb, the best way to enhance teaching can be to rethink assessment.

Our Evidence Hub is full of resources. We’re also developing a system for sharing practice. We want to be called on not only for problems but to discover and disseminate what works well too.

Technology has a place. Take assessment again. We can provide support with digital feedback; developing banks of comments or exploring audio or video. We’ll look at arguments for and against, time saved versus time spent. Sometimes investment in a new way of working might not seem worth it but X in Y did Z and are happy to talk to you.

Previous TEL identities and knowledge are still relevant, just not centre stage.

image of the rows of seating in a large empty theatre
image from https://pixabay.com/en/theatre-show-concert-stage-2617116/

After the introductory session comes the bespoke workshop and we’ve been busy here too. Over the last year, Liz Bennett and Sue Foley from the University of Huddersfield have delivered us a D4 Curriculum Design session and Ale Armellini from the University of Northampton ran us a half day CAIeRO taster. We’ve experience of  Carpe Diem and plans to develop discussion prompt cards like those used in UCL’s ABC Connected Curriculum. We’ve also spent two days Digital Storytelling with Chris Thompson from Jisc, definitely want to offer this again, while in November Chrissi Neranzti is introducing us to Lego Serious Play.

Our D4AL workshops will have a blended element so content can be front-loaded prior to face-to-face time. They’ll be hands on and experiential, based on connectionist approaches shown to enhance engagement. I’ve been a supporter of #creativeHE for several years ,as well as facilitator on their open online courses. and keen to explore some new ways of working, There could be post-it notes, story boards, lego, prompt cards, labyrinths and poetry alongside plain paper and pen plus ideas from this Activity book from the University of Stanford’s Reflect Imagine Try sessions.

page from activity book

None of this means TEL has gone away. We might be stepping out of our TEL Tribe, taking tentative footsteps away from our TEL Territory, but in doing so, we’re hoping to attract those who say they ‘don’t do technology’. The number of NAYs, those who are neither Residents nor Visitors but Not Yet Arriveds is higher than many TEL Tribes might realise or believe. The next blog post will be looking at digital disconnection in 2017 in more detail.


*   Chickering, A. W. and Gamson, Z. F. (1987) Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education Washington Center News Fall 1987

#lthechat next week (Wednesday 11th October 8.00-9.00pm) is on the topic of learning design 


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does learning design + TEL = the future?

typeset image from pixabay.com

Language matters. Whether its training or lecture capture instead of teaching or recording resources, the words we use and the ways we interpret them are full of unconscious bias. When designing learning, one of the first steps is to bust the jargon. Ask the questions. What are we saying here and what does it mean?

This week I attended a workshop on Marking and Feedback with Prof Lin Norton. Lin spoke about final vocabulary, a term used by philosopher Richard Rorty which refers to words containing deeply held beliefs and assumptions without the necessary explanations. For example feedback comments like good, excellent, exactly what I’m looking for. The marker knows what they mean but it isn’t clear to the recipient. Lin says final vocabulary leaves students no room to manoeuvre. Markers need to make comments which open up conversations rather than close them down. Like active listening or going back to Socratic questioning. Those ancient Greeks really knew their stuff.

question mark from pixabay

The tendency to make uncritical use of language is common. We’re often more subjective than we realise. I think I’m a critical reflector but there’s always something new to learn.  I don’t have a data driven approach to practice. A bit dyscalculic as well as suspicious of quantitative data sets. No matter how the figures are presented, I want to know the stories behind them. But – I’m also an action researcher and promoter of experiential learning. I like critical reflection loops which take you on a journey of change.

data image from pixabay

Recently I’ve come to realise I do have a data driven approach; it’s my interpretation of what data represents which is skewed. Phrases like Big Data or Learning Analytics made me think randomized controlled trials or NSS scores and VLE dashboards. I knew data didn’t  have to be numbers – I’m doing qualitative research for heavens sake (Doh!) but my subjective interpretation was linking the two together. It’s only by developing a learning design approach to TEL with an expert data-king colleague which has uncovered a bias I wasn’t consciously aware of.

scrabble tiles from pixabay.com

How often do we act without questioning that we do? Last week I blogged about the impact of research on TEL and the literature TEL people use to inform their practice. I’m still searching for answers. Let’s broaden it out. Where’s the evidence base for learning and teaching? Is there a contemporary equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1987)

  • encourages contact between students and faculty,
  • develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  • encourages active learning,
  • gives prompt feedback,
  • emphasizes time on task,
  • communicates high expectations, and
  • respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

The authors claim these support ‘six powerful forces in education’

  • activity,
  • expectations,
  • cooperation,
  • interaction,
  • diversity,
  • responsibility.

Spot the gaps. It would make a useful online activity. I’d add the need for critical thinking, reflection and creativity as well as having an evidence base. Let’s put scholarship in there. Being research informed and engaged.  This week my colleague and I have scoured the UK literature  around L&T in HE (e.g. Knight, Biggs, Prosser, Trigwell, Trowler, Race, Baud, Nicol, Moon, Brookfield etc) but can’t find anything so succinct or contemporary.

Maybe the subject is too complex to be reduced to bullet points. Maybe it reflects its late arrival. In many ways pedagogic research in HE is still the new kid on the block. It’s not a happy partner to the REF and HE staff having an ‘appropriate teaching qualification’ is a relatively recent requirement. The HESA returns for data on academic teaching qualifications was only introduced in 2012/13 with many  institutions still returning a percentage of ‘not known‘.

opening slide from lin Norton assessment workshop

Events like Lin Nortons are welcome opportunities to ask questions and discuss answers, as in the slide image above. I think they’re useful for TEL people. Marking and feedback are foundation elements of the student experience. Sometimes it can help to separate them out from the technology – which in itself risks becoming a distraction – in order to examine more closely the fundamental principles of assessment practice. Not all TEL people come from a teaching background so it helps to make TEL about learning as well technology. The problem is the language. Again, language matters. Too often when you say you work with TEL or in a TEL Team you’re instantly categorised into a techie box.  This is one of the reasons I believe TEL needs to be reversed. Less of the T and more L please Bob.

There’s a phrase associated with the early days. RTFM stood for read the ******** manual.  All computers came packed with a doorstop of an instruction book. RTFM soon came to mean don’t ask me how the bloody thing works, go and look it up yourself.

Today the technology has (allegedly) changed to a more intuitive click and play  approach – as well as being introduced almost from birth – and the internet has replaced the manual. Today we know how it works. We need to be asking where it’s being used and why. What do we know about how people learn? What is the equivalent to Chickering and Gamson’s principles for 21st century TEL? If we’re promoting digital feedback then lets look at Lin Norton’s research or have a TEL Team discussion around the HEA’s Marked Improvement or visit outputs from the Oxford Brookes ASKe project or REAP.

I believe the design of learning is an essential part of TEL and we should adopt a scholarly approach to our practice by being more research informed and engaged. In which case maybe RTFM is not redundant but needs updating to RTFL. Read the ******** literature.

Now the HEA Subject Centres have closed and the HEFCE funded CETLs have come to an end who is promoting research into learning and teaching practice? Students are paying huge amounts of money for their time at universities where traditional teaching methods are still evident and VLE resemble repositories. Lets take a fresh look at the TEL people what we do because it looks a lot like learning design + TEL = the future.