Lego moments

lego bricks

Do you speak Lego?

Probably yes.

Lego is language without words. We can all do it.

The more I experience Lego the more I’m discovering its value as a creative approach to problem solving and change.

Lego is reminiscent of childhood and concepts of ‘play’. Academia still has snobby roots. For everyone willing to put preconceptions aside and engage in something a bit different, there’s those looking down their noses at what they see as a trivial, time wasting activity.

Last week Chrissi Nerantzi from CELT, MMU, came to Hull to run a Lego based workshop.  I’ve been exploring Lego for a while but but this session was different. Excuse the pun, but something clicked and it wasn’t just bricks fitting together. It was my snail.

two different snails made from lego bricks

It didn’t look like a snail. Lego does straight lines better curves but I knew it had snailness. My colleague next to me also built a snail. We didn’t consider the weirdness that of all the animals in all the world we’d chosen snails. Instead I was stuck by the difference. You couldn’t have had two snails less alike!

Up to that point I thought I’d understood. The build was the focus of attention (not the builder). I got the principles of connectivism, i.e. think with your hands. At my first workshop I’d sat next to Paul who built a snail (a theme here). We were talking about the weight of heavy workloads when I noticed the brick with a smile on the inner side of the snails leg (I know, snails don’t have legs but lego can involve some imagination!) There was something fundamentally reassuring about the hidden smile in the context of the conversation and I think about it often. Like a mantra. Smile on the inside. It’s going to be ok.

yellow lego snail with smile on bricks

So what can Lego teach you?

Well, its cumulative. No doubt, next time I’ll learn something different but for now, here’s my list

  • Lego is about creativity and imagination but without needing artistic skills like music or drawing; just the dexterity to click bricks together. This means it can be exclusive, Facilitators need to consider the experience for anyone with physical or sensory impairment.
  • A Lego workshop is structured; it uses a defined and facilitated process which involves a developmental set of activities where Lego models represent metaphors (literal and conceptual) as the basis for narrative.
  • Participants are encouraged to express themselves through the different bricks (colour, shape, size etc) Lego has been described as 3D printing your thoughts.
  • The focus of discussion is the bricks, not the person. Tell me what the pink brick represents. Why are those three bricks on the top. What does the wheel represent.

Models can be literal (a snail which looks like a snail) or conceptual. My model was about snailness.  I realised I’d worried too much about making my models literal rather than expressive.  You need to let go of some inhibitions for Lego is to work its real magic. Go with the flow. Trust your hands. Click the bricks together without a preconceived end point in mind. Your models will evolve as will your interpretations.

The model below shows three teaching styles. Each has a lecturer and students. Can you tell the difference?  It would be interesting to see how other people interpret them.

three lego models representing teaching styles

So what is it about Lego?

80% of our brain cells are supposedly connected to our hands and with an allegedly hundred million ways (102,981,500!) to combine just 6×8-stud bricks, the possibilities are extensive.

In a group its often the few who do the talking. With Lego everyone gets turn. The focus is on the bricks not the person and this can feel liberating. The models also reinforce diversity; everyone starts with similar brick-sets yet models are wildly dissimilar.

lego people standing in rows

However, Lego is not for everyone.

It’s a step into the unknown. Lego works on different levels from day-to-day custom and practice and facilitators need to anticipate emotional responses if the experience goes below the surface, triggering unexpected thoughts or reactions. Most of us have complexity in our lives and frequently cope by shutting down that particular part of the mind or memories. Lego is like a key, reaching the parts other methods don’t. I’ve seen tears and resistance but also how it’s been a revelation for the initially reluctant.

lego bricks from pixabay

It’s clear Lego has powerful potential but where does it fit in these difficult days where teaching excellence rules but no one is really sure what it means and the dominant discourse equates measurement with value. Does the current obsession with data signal the end for innovative approaches to teaching and learning?  Is there risk where those working with data lack pedagogic knowledge so are measuring what they don’t understand. The sector is shifting back to didactic transmission (e.g lecture recording) with assessment re-branded as digital exams. Those from the student-as-producer/student as partner days, when interactive, research-engaged teaching and learning was first explored, are now being swept along in a data tsunami which tells us more about our socially constructed systems than our students.

hundreds of lego people

What we shouldn’t do with Lego is dismiss it as a pile of childishness with no place in a university. The contrary. A university is where the new and the different can safely be explored using alternative approaches to problem solving.

In this increasingly digital age, Lego offers time to put devices aside and do something as old as humanity itself;  building with our hands. This has the potential to tap into what Jung called the collective unconscious, the shared memory which stirs whenever we look up at the stars or sit around a fire at night. Even more, Lego offer structured opportunities to stop and think and these are rare. We live in increasingly frenetic times with fundamental challenges to truth and knowledge. I’d suggest moments with Lego are needed more than ever before.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Lego images from pixabay or my own

 

Advertisements

avalanches, golden eggs and yellow brick roads

avalanche image from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/waterfall-avalanche-volcano-cascade-2757596/

Have you read An Avalanche is Coming my DoS asks. It should be a must-read now Michael Barber is head of the Office for Students (OfS) – replacing the Office for Fair Access and HEFCE.

I’d just looked at the Securing student success: risk-based regulation for teaching excellence, social mobility and informed choice in higher education Government consultation on behalf of the Office for Students which was also a a DoS recommend. Like this. ‘Whether you are a student, work in HE, or intend to work in HE after graduation, the consultation matters to you. Have a look at it, see what changes are planned.’ So I did.

magnifying glass and fingerprints
image from https://pixabay.com/en/detective-clues-find-finger-152085/

My approach with chunky digital docs is the Find function. First off the search is for digital, online, virtual, technology – this indicates if it might be relevant to my research topic of digital shifts – next up are pedagogy, teaching and learning.  So, relatively painlessly I discovered the government in the consultation document is still using the language of revolution and transformation by technology. ‘Artificial intelligence and other technology might revolutionise assessment, educational research might transform pedagogy.’ (2017: 48)

At least they’re using the word ‘might’ but still cause for concern. Technology was bestowed with transformative potential back in the 1990s. Has it happened? There’s little evidence it has and much to the contrary. Other than widen access for some (and create barriers for others) alongside the mass digitisation of resources, policy and processes, the literature suggests technology has neither revolutionised nor transformed student learning.

The lecture is not yet dead!

large empty lecture theatre with rows of empty seats
image from https://pixabay.com/en/room-lecture-hall-assembly-hall-2775439/

Instead, a trail of rejected, unfulfilled promises litter the ed-tech landscape; VLE, Web 2.0, MOOC, mobile –  picking up stuff like Second Life and Oculus Rift along the way – toward Learning Analytics, more virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Each one a technology-first approach. All with technology determinist foundations. Each with scant evidence of critical questioning around who creates and develops it, markets, purchases, controls access etc (apart from the overall critiques from the likes of Neil Selwyn, Sian Bayne, Audrey Watters et. al. of course)

With this thinking in mind I approached An Avalanche is Coming, published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) with three authors (Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly, Saad Rizvi) affiliated with Pearson Publishing Corporation. They refer to learners as “customers” and discuss six change factors, claiming these could challenge the university as we know it and set off the avalanche of change.

  • changing global economy,
  • crisis-ridden global economy,
  • rising costs of higher education,
  • declining value of a traditional degree,
  • ubiquity of content,
  • quickening intensity of competition in the educational marketplace.

The authors also introduce the concept of unbundling and rebundling which is the inclusion and exclusion of traditional university components – thereby potentially separating out aspects of HE provision to third party providers.

I hang on the adage where there’s change there’s also opportunity.

avalanche control fences image from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/avalanche-protection-1001284/

What did the Find button reveal?

References to technology, e.g. increased global access, expansion of competition, greater choices etc are all familiar, as is the need for students to shift from consuming knowledge towards evidencing a diversity of creative and innovative learning experiences and abilities. Put together, all this constitutes the need for digital shifts on institutional, pedagogical and personal levels. None of which is new. The problem has always been technology as the answer when it’s not the T for Technology in TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) but the T for teaching in LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) which needs attention.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift persuasively argue (to those in favour of market-oriented reforms of education) that reconstructing students as consumers ‘does not necessarily yield improved outcomes in student learning.’ (2011, p. 137)

fairy shadows in transparent brown hearts
image from https://pixabay.com/en/elves-fee-on-wood-romantic-2769599/

Ok – this is the crux. We’re chasing the chasing the golden egg, looking for the rainbow’s end, each Yellow Brick Road contains echoes of the emperors new clothes. The fairy tale analogies are deliberate because FT are stories imbued with universal truths. They survive because we recognise their message. They have resonance. So it is with the quest for learning improvement. The secret is under our noses. It’s been there all along. Where there is widening participation, support for transition needs to be addressed. Where technology is promoted the necessary philosophical and pedagogic changes in practice need to be supported.

cartoon rainbow
image from https://pixabay.com/en/buy-me-a-coffee-natural-cloud-field-2757467/

So when it comes to the enhancement of learning and teaching, what is needed is inquiry of the pedagogical rather than technological kind. This doesn’t need revolution or even transformation. The roots are already in place. The majority of students learn best through discussion, dialogue, sharing, questioning, comparing, contrasting, getting out of their comfort zone in supportive collegial environments alongside the processes of critical thinking and reflection. Addressing questions such as these:

  • What worked well and why?
  • What worked less well and why?
  • What should I do again?
  • What should I do differently?

More time and resource on transition into HE, in particular the differences between the learning and teaching culture and expectations of school, college and university, would enable students to hit the ground running.

pink and green direction arrows
image from https://pixabay.com/en/one-way-street-decisions-opportunity-1991865/

Giving those who teach and support learning the time allocation – plus reward and recognition – to become research informed and engaged with regard to their own teaching practice – would enable them to develop the active learning environments which the literature shows students perform best in.

I’d also suggest rethinking curriculums to embody learning development at both generic and subject knowledge levels, alongside digital graduate attributes, internationalisation, employability, and inclusive practices.

A three pronged approach – students, staff, curriculum…

and they all learned happily ever after.

Written on a research day…

Everything is related…

 

 

Warning; may or may not include technology #lthechat

We interrupt this blog schedule to bring you some post #lthechat thoughts.

There was a lot of chatter!

Put Wednesdays at 8.00 on Twitter in your calendar. #lthechat is a synchronous discussion around selected learning and teaching in higher education topics. Check out the hashtag #lthechat or the accompanying blog https://lthechat.com/ and Twitter page @lthechat.  #lthechat even has its own bird!

Started by Chrissi Neranszi @chrissinerantzi and Sue Beckingham @suebecks  in 2014, the discussion has become part of the working week for hundreds of tweeters and  I’ve been lucky enough to facilitate a couple of sessions. This weeks followed on from last week’s blogpost  Bought to you by the Letter T which reflected on the similarities between Technology and Teaching brought about by our recent restructure at the University of Hull.

The letters TEL (past team) and LTE (current team) are T for technology and T for teaching. This weeks chat looked at using LTE to talk about TEL. Confused? Stay with me…

Warning, May or may not include Technology asked 6 questions:

  1. Please share your understanding of the term learning design
  2. Where do aspects of learning design fit in your role?
  3. Which models, tools, authors, have informed your thinking about LD?
  4.  How have you evaluated the effectiveness of your LD interventions?
  5. How do you introduce the concept of LD to academics/how would you not talk about it?
  6. Name one thing you’ll take away from this #lthechat tonight.

With ten minutes on each one, the session kicked off a debate on the phrase ‘learning design’ – an example of the discussions we hoped to generate.

At Hull we’re developing an approach to teaching enhancement which we’ve called Design for Active Learning (D4AL).  The approach is based on curriculum alignment; you have the learning outcomes and assessments – D4AL is about the activities students do. Conversations tend to be initially about teaching rather than technology and this chat aimed to provide opportunities for sharing LD/D4AL practices.

With over 800 tweets in total you could say #lthechat is becoming a victim of its own success. While you’re trying to keep up with multiple ‘live’  conversations, and swapping tweets between them, the rest of the chat is continuing. It’s becoming a case of continual catch-up and I’m still working my way through the Storify which can be accessed here https://storify.com/LTHEchat/lthe-chat-no-92 

image of Storify front page

This is where I must say thanks to the ‘behind-the-scenes’ team this semester – Jenny Lewin-Jones @JennyLewinJone  Rebecca Sellers @becksell2001 and Scott Turner @scottturneruon  without whom the coordination and dissemination of #lthechat would not be possible.  

thabk you image from oixabay

No other hour of the week flies by so fast!

I followed Ale Armellini’s contribution with interest. With the University of Northampton adopting institution wide Active Blended Learning (ABL) there’s much to learn from their  approach, outline in this report Overcoming barriers to student engagement with Active Blended Learning and the video explaining ABL to students.

However, it’s rare to find true pedagogical innovation e.g. flipped learning which was in all the media a few years ago is not so different to setting homework or seminar reading. The #lthechat showed is that for everyone who is new to the principles of activity based  learning, there are those who’ve been doing it for years

What the chat also revealed was how much good practice is already happening. It’s all out there but often in pockets, but not disseminated outside teaching teams or even sometimes beyond individual practice. The scholarship of teaching and learning in HE remains a niche area with work to be done around the sharing of practice, knowledge and experiences.

Speaking of niches, #lthechat assumes an internet connection and a Twitter account for contributing. All that vital but virtual energy is restricted to the participants who in themselves demonstrate high levels of digital fluency making digital differences in practice another key area to be addressed.

One further question is should academics take courses on LD/D4AL or should teaching teams include LD/D4AL specialists to work in tandem?

As the tweets below indicate, there may be other opportunities to continue the discussions around these topics.

In the meantime, there’ll be another #lthehat next week so don’t forget – tut Wednesdays at 8.00 on Twitter in your calendar.