They are just not that into you
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More ‘yeah buts’ … and more solutions.

“I’d love to give students more personal feedback, but it’s impossible! I have 900 students!” … “there’s no way I could deal with 900 students in on online discussion!” … “if I put my lecture online, half the students stop showing up!”. So, here we go, let’s find some solutions …

Student concerns about linear learning approaches

From the student perspective, they are often critical of the ‘entry’ event into learning – too much information, too little information, lack of consistency etc., and just as critical of the exit point – lack of feedback – “I put my heart into the essay and all I got was a grade, not even a comment!”, “I don’t know what I need to do to get a better grade?”,”why is this 18/20 not 19/20?”.

Technology as the middle ground

I have to think that what happens in the middle is best supported by a discourse community, and in fact attaining large numbers of participants is a great thing, not a bad one. We all know that group activities suffer the long-tail. In a group of 900 students, realistically 90 will be active voices. Not all of them will be ‘creators’ of conversations, some will join existing ones, some will be critics – the vast majority will be spectators – they will read lots, but often contribute almost nothing. They are however influenced by the behaviors and views of the group.

Renewing Motivation and Participation in learning

It all comes down to motivation – intrinsic or extrinsic, whether they are interested in deep or surface learning in the context of the topic. So in reality a teacher will not be dealing with 900 individual conversations, more like 10% of that, and not at the same time, nor do all posts and replies need addressing. The teacher is a mediator who threads together ideas that steer students in the right direction and occasionally ‘jump start’ the conversations. The value of participation is in the feedback and shared learning experiences of the community itself, not because that is where the ‘answer’ is.

Renewing Pedagogy

Imagine a year 12 HSC Advanced Mathematics class, with 24 students and 1 teacher. They are successful learners, deep knowledge seekers, intrinsically motivated and hungry to solve advanced problems to attain sufficient knowledge to ‘ace’ the exam. Now imagine the same class – but with 240 students and 10 experienced mathematicians. The class has a set of problems to solve and can do so whenever they feel like it. They can work with each other, or work alone – but whatever they do, they solve it in an open space online. Does each teacher need to spend as much time ‘teaching’, will more students mean less or more learning? Can students learn – without the presence of a teacher? Can they learn from more than one teacher after the end of the school day? Would they want to?

The point to me is that it is not a 900:1 ratio unless that is how you perceive it. Lectures could be more engaging on the personal level if some of the ideas the discourse community generates are addressed. If a lecture is merely a monologue, then I have to say, I probably would not show up either. What if a lecture was a hybrid – live conversation and online discussion? What if it was perfectly acceptable to do both. What if the lecture was ‘live blogged’ – and driving questions asked online and in the theatre.

Renewing Delivery

Web2.0 makes it easy to deliver a lecture online – live. Let’s say there is an hour ‘lecture’. Rather than present yet another killer PowerPoint (which is debate in itself), break up the time into delivery, challenge and reflection. Bring in the ‘online’ learners – allow them (and encourage them) to form sub-groups to answer questions and drive further discussion online later or at the time. Get a volunteer to ‘live blog’ the hour with a laptop.

Renewing Work Practices

The idea that there are tutorial discussions, lecture monologues and ‘online’ is not the preference of many students. By being flexible in delivery and support, we can accommodate students better. Sure it means changing the way, when and where we work, but not necessarily how long or how hard. Going ‘digital’ does not mean ‘more work’ at all – yet this is a continual argument to avoid change.

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Has your curriculum expired?

4576395_e360bb5439_oOne of the projects I am undertaking at Macquarie Univeristy is ‘curriculum renewal’. It taken me a week to read all the planning and research into this – and I’m not done yet.

In K12 speak, this is looking at ’21st Century Skills’, those things that have previously fallen outside summative performance testing, yet recognised as critical skills to be a lifelong learner. Having the ability to collaborate, participate etc., to act out a role in society as an ethical, productive and reflective individual.

At Macquarie, student capabilities are an embeded part of the curriculum, with the ‘curriculum renewal’ project – specifically addressing the wider issues in the 21C discourses.

The questions being asked are very similar to those that K12 is asking (or perhaps those which I’ve been focusing on before last week).

How do we teach institution-wide graduate attributes?  How can we measure the capabilities of our graduates?   How can universities bridge the gap between institutional rhetoric and the reality of the student learning experiences?

The process of beginning to do this involves, as we know, mapping the curriculum to these capabilities.This I think is where K12 Curriculum Leaders need to, well, lead.

Identifying and being clear about these in a school – and articulating that to parents and staff providing the opportunity to explore and select technology tools with pedagogical approaches towards change.

It is not going to be something that can be done quickly, but then since when have schools worried about ‘speed’ in relation to adoption of technology. It has been a long, slow process in schools – not a revolution, but a consistent evolution since the 1980s.

The last few years have seen change like never before – and perhaps as technology has become cheaper and easier to access – we notice it more than once we did – when Computing was a Science – not a fact of life.

We can’t ignore or deny that social networks and our ability to create, share and publish – is something that students can do – easily.

What skills and capabilities do we need to provide learners beyond content related learning?

The challenges in doing this in such a large institution as Macquarie, with thousands of staff and distributed students are very similar to school systems. There is a need to develop capacity in both teachers and learners to develop these skills – over time.

In a discussion today, the Ed Development team could identify lots of opportunities to introduce blogs, wikis, second life, virtual classrooms etc., but the challenge remains – how to develop ‘teacher’ technology-savvyness to see where in a unit of work, or classroom that these are best deployed. We accept that we will need to help, support and probably ‘do’ it for a while – but the goal is independency.

We can’t expect to ‘sit’ on skill levels as we once could – new ideas, new tools and new opportiunities appear daily. We can’t know everything … but at the same time, we do know we can’t sit still as we have done in the past.

I wonder if in the rush to see read/write, collaboration in K12, spearheaded by innovative teachers – how many ‘curriculum co-ordinators’ are actively seeking to define and build school policy around these student capabilities? Do teachers find curriculum leaders a barrier or a gateway to what they are trying to provide students?

Given we are in ‘exam’ and ‘A to E’ reporting, how do we convince parents that these skills are just as important as exam grades. How many schools have clearly identified them in the current curriculum and mapped them against outcomes – so that teachers know exactly what they need to learn in order to meet these using ICTs. Curriculum and Technology are not exclusive anymore, one needs the other to survive and remain relevant to learning into the immediate future.

Change starts with curriculum leadership by identifying 21C capabilities and making firm committments to staff and students that if the process is started, then it will be supported and maintained.

Will the curriculum you have simply expire and become less and less relevant to what students really need – be that K12, TAFE or University. How long is the expiry date on it? 1 year, 5 years a decade?