Archive for category personal

Risk-taking and risk-aversion in teaching

Happy 2014 to all! It seems I inadvertently took a blog break over summer holidays – a break from most things digital, in fact. I’m back in the swing of things now though, with a head full of ideas and energy stores replenished. Who knew I was so tired after 2013? Well OK, I did. Now you do too ;)

So, this is my fourth year at my job as a lecturer. How time flies eh? Reflecting on my time so far I can confidently say that I’ve continued the spirit of innovation I had as a high school teacher into my university teaching. I’ve pushed forward with using social networks to support student learning, with developing project-based learning pedagogies, and with developing blended learning experiences including wiki work and blog-based assessment.

But this week when I was offered a chance to trial a new technology with my class, I turned it down.

There are any number of reasons that teachers say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to trying something new. Watching this keynote by Sarah Howard from 2012 today gave me a chance to reflect on my own tendency to be a risk taker in my practice – I usually see the benefits of innovation as outweighing the costs:

…and boy last semester there were some costs. Some cyberbullying from a student really put a damper on my teaching with Twitter, and right at the end of last year I experienced a big delay in giving students assignment feedback after a swathe of electronic assignment files got deleted. Further technology fails ensued as I struggled to negotiate student assignment return via Blackboard, our university LMS. It was a nightmare, and a confidence shaker.  In a university teaching context where a whole semester of awesome learning can be overshadowed by a single student complaint to the wrong person, I ended 2013 wondering if all my efforts were ‘worth it’.

Fortunately I value innovation and creativity to such an extent that taking risks in pursuit of better practice is still worth it to me. In her keynote Howard explains that people are less likely to take a risk to pursue something they see no value in, which makes sense really.

I guess the shift for me will not be from being a risk-taker to being ‘risk-averse’ – I haven’t had the stuffing beat out of me quite hard enough yet to be averse to risk! For me the shift will be from high-stakes to more low-stakes risk; rather than pushing the boundaries with a wildly new practice I’ll be consolidating and refining my current pedagogies and taking stock of where I want to go with my teaching in 2015. Which will be nice timing, given the massive course changes we are implementing next year (PS. in six months if I disappear completely, somebody please come find me, I may be perishing under a mountain of new unit outlines…).

Do you see yourself as a risk-taker in your teaching? How risky are you planning to be in 2014?

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Guest Post: ‘Christopher Pyne, equity goals, and the p-word’

This week a former student of mine posted a link to a piece she had written for the University of Sydney student newspaper, Honi Soit. I read the story (feeling proud, impressed, and agreeing with her the whole time), and quickly asked if she would mind if I reposted the article here as a guest post on my blog.

Lauren checked with Honi, and Honi were fine with it (thanks editors!). Which makes me happy, because I think this story about the systematic exclusion of disadvantaged students from university is an important one to tell. As a ‘first in family’ university student from Sydney’s Southwest, I too have experienced the cultural and financial barriers to university success.

So here, with kind permission from the author, Lauren Pearce, and the original publisher, Honi Soit, is the article…

Christopher Pyne, equity goals, and the p-word

Lauren Pearce thinks those advocating to keep USYD “prestigious” often do little more than lock out the disadvantaged

by Lauren Pearce, published by Honi Soit on October 15, 2013.

I’m going to drop the p-word: prestigious. There’s really nothing wrong with that word. The only real issue is if you keep applying the word to yourself, justly or otherwise. Then you start to look like another p-word: pretentious.

On Thursday, 10 October Tony Abbott emerged in Melbourne to assure reporters the university reforms that Christopher Pyne announced earlier were to be put on a back-burner. These changes would mean a cap on university places as opposed to the “demand-driven system” currently in place and the axing of equity goals that encourage students from low-SES backgrounds to enroll, a move that Pyne stated would ensure quality but which had been criticised by the NTEU as detrimental to students from low-SES backgrounds and regional students.

Read the rest of this entry »

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It was a cyberbullying kind of day…

Most teachers have had some experience with cyberbullying. Whether your students are very young primary schoolers or adolescents, circumstances can arise when students post nasty comments about each other on social media, share embarrassing photos, or email hurtful letters. 

But what do you do when a student engages in bullying tactics online toward you, the teacher?

It’s the fear of this happening that stops many teachers from engaging with students on public platforms. I’ve heard several teachers ask questions about this, including in every ‘teaching with technologies’ workshop I’ve ever held: what if a student acts out online? what if a student posts inappropriate comments that get linked to the school name, or mine?

Unfortunately, this has been the story of the past week for me.

The scenario: A student felt that I had not uploaded assessment criteria in a timely fashion. I differ on this opinion, but that is really besides the point! The student (or a group of them?) had created a fake twitter account, unlinked to their real name or photo, to post tweets about our class. They sent tweets addressed to the class twitter handle and using the unit hashtag to make, at first, a series of queries about unit materials in an aggressive tone. Yesterday these tweets became more critical, referring to university policy, slandering the education faculty, and linking the official university twitter handle into the tweets as well.

My response: It’s always hurtful, on a human level, when something like this happens. But as a teacher it’s probably easier than in many professions to let these kinds of criticisms roll right over you – “water off a duck’s back” style. Teachers face the wrath of student disappointment in many manifestations! After a while in the teaching game you learn what to take on board and what to turn a blind eye to. We try not to take things too personally. This is why, at first, I simply replied to the tweets in question with helpful advice and invitations to contact me via email or in person, out of the public domain. Once the tweets this week started to include references to the uni though, I knew I had to be firm – I used a couple of reply tweets to make it clear that cyberbulling was not tolerated in our institution and outline what constituted bullying behaviour.

Resolution: As well as public tweets I sent a series of three direct messages to the student/bogus account asking them to stop making public statements that critique my professionalism and letting them know that I wouldn’t be further engaging with public criticism. I asked someone higher up the food chain than me whether it would be OK to ‘report and block for spam’ the offending tweets and they advised YES. When I went to block the user this afternoon, I was relieved to see that the student had thought better of their actions and deleted the entire offending account.

PHEW!

The reason I want to share this story is to emphasise the strategies I used for dealing with this over the past week:

  • INFORM: Be polite online and try to diffuse critical questions with helpful information.
  • INVITE: Ask students that publicise critical views to contact you directly to discuss issues that are bothering them.
  • CAPTURE: Always take a screen capture of material that you suspect is, or may turn into, bullying. I did. This ensures you have a record of events even when/if the student deletes the material. This becomes vital down the track if the bullying is repeated elsewhere.
  • REPORT: Even though you will naturally want to avoid embarrassment and ‘bad press’ for your name/class/initiative, it’s important that your boss (e.g. Head Teacher of English in a school) knows what is happening and has a chance to help.

I’m going to try turning this into a very light and positive ‘teachable moment’ in our class lecture tomorrow – not by attacking the student but by highlighting good digital citizenship practices. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about cyberbullying, excellent material can be found on the ReachOut website here: http://au.reachout.com/Cyberbullying

The new Safe Schools Hub also has a useful Framework for building safety into the school culture: http://safeschoolshub.edu.au/safe-schools-toolkit/the-nine-elements

One last thing…

I won’t be closing down my twitter account or ceasing the use of twitter in my class learning environment or anything drastic like that! Although this is exactly the kind of thing that scares teachers away from online teaching spaces, I still think the value of positive exchanges via social media are ‘worth it’ for my class.

Although…I will be renewing my commitment to talking about digital citizenship with students in the first week of the semester. On reflection, this could probably all have been avoided if I did some explicit twitter teaching and set clear boundaries in weeks 1 or 2. D’oh!

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Ingress

Resistance is never futile.

Resistance is never futile.

There is a new game in town, and it’s called Ingress.

It’s an Augmented Reality Game (ARG) and it’s only available for Android – you get it from the Google Play store. But before you can play, you have to request an invite.

Once you have an invite, it is very important that you join the RESISTANCE team. Because that is the team I am on. And it is the best team. (You might think that I would go with the Enlightened, but oh no…I’ve seen the Terminator series. I know about Skynet.)

Click here for more information about factions in the game.

If you want to get an invite faster, you can join the Google+ community for Ingress and submit an artwork or other offering. Because the game is made by Google, this strategy actually does get your invite to come faster! Here is one of the art offerings I made to get my invite – a digital collage made using Polyvore:

Ingress invitation to play

Ingress invitation to play

After playing this game for a few months I am now up to level 6 and fairly active in protecting the portals in my university precinct.  It’s been a great game for learning about where historic landmarks and public art is in Brisbane, as well as for getting a lot of exercise walking around the city to find portals!

Review of Ingress: November 2012, Android Police

If anyone in Brisbane starts playing, let me know!

Ditto friends in Sydney – we can go for an Ingress run next time I’m down south :)

BUT ONLY IF YOU JOIN THE RESISTANCE!

 

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To be recognised as a poet

Wouldn’t it be something to be recognised as a poet?

I mean, not just to be a poet – many of us write poetry, and are already poets.

But to actually be recognised for it!

To have people read your pieces and like them enough to want to share them, by giving them an award, or publishing them in a book…

Now that would be something!

Fun with Poetry in SL

Fun with Poetry in SL – by Anyaka CC-BY-2.0

Links of interest:

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Evaluating the HSC: An interview

Last year I was interviewed by Melissa Wilson, a Journalism student from the University of Newcastle, about my views on the Higher School Certificate (HSC).

Melissa was in contact again recently, and this prompted me to ask if I could reproduce the interview here on my blog. She kindly obliged, and so here it is!

I was careful to read back over my answers, to make sure I still felt the same way about these issues. I do. I wish I could say that things were vastly different up here in Queensland. They’re not. When a Queenslander tells you there is no external exam for Year 12 in their state, they’re misleading you at best. Here is a bit of information from the QSA website about the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) test:

Preparing for the test

The Common Curriculum Elements are generic skills that students work with across their subjects; therefore the real preparation for the test goes on all the time and in every subject. The QSA also makes available a variety of test preparation resources, including Retrospectives and past testpapers (see QCS Test publications and Retrospectives and MC response sheets). Most schools provide some focused preparation for the test.

Hmm, sounds familiar.

But, I digress…

Here are my responses to the interview by Melissa Wilson:

Interview answers for Melissa Wilson (University of Newcastle, 2011)
Interviewee: Kelli McGraw (Lecturer, QUT)

  • How do you feel about how the HSC is structured in 2011?

When I think about the HSC structure in 2011, the main things that leap to mind are the fact that studying English is mandatory, that half of the student assessment is based on a timetabled external examinations, and that a no more than of 30% of your school assessment is supposed to be ‘exam-type’. I think it’s really important for English to remain compulsory right up to the end of school, but I’d like to see more room for students to choose electives within the course, not just different levels i.e. Standard or Advanced English. At the moment I think the HSC is still structured in a way that is too rigid for students to feel like they have a lot of choice over their learning.

  • Many people say that the HSC is focused on teaching students a whole lot of information that isn’t exactly relevant to them later in life – but instead they just regurgitate it in an exam and then discard it – how do you feel about that statement?

Personally, I can think of countless things that I learned in my HSC year (1998). In those days the emphasis on exams was just as great, but I am often surprised by the things I remember from senior high school and have found a lot of what I learned to be very relevant in life. Having to finish ‘major works’ for Visual Art and Drama also taught me valuable lessons about project management and self-directed learning, which I didn’t get from participating in written exams, so in that sense I guess I was lucky to be an ‘art-sy’ student.
I think the real problem with exams is not that students have to cram ‘irrelevant’ information – I think that all learning can be made relevant, depending on what you choose to do in life. The problem I find is that the examination system has too much of an effect on what happens inside the classroom. The constant pressure to cover content is a strain on students and teachers, and even though school-based assessment is supposed to involve deep learning and reflection, many schools I know of set far more than 30% of their assessments in an exam style in order to condition students in preparation for the external exam. So I think there is a ‘hidden curriculum’ in the HSC, which can dilute learning experiences based on the official subject syllabuses.

  • And from this, what would you personally change about the HSC? 

I think that the only assessment that students should have to do under exam conditions is the Trial. If more student work was assessed through project work, or using collaborative group tasks, or using portfolios, I think that students would feel more connected to the learning, and be motivated to achieve. Even though the HSC now uses criteria-based assessment, students are acutely aware that the HSC places them in competition with one another as in-class assessment ranks still play a role in determining a student’s final subject results, and the year culminates for most students in receiving a ranked national placement through the UAI. With only about 30% of students moving from school to university after Year 12, it seems like we compromise a lot of educational values for the sake of a privileged minority.

  • How do you feel about the pressure and emotional stress that students endure throughout their HSC?

When I think about the stories that students have told me over the years – about how they feel inadequate, or like a failure in the face of HSC assessment tasks – it makes me really upset. I have seen a lot of students in Year 12 lose a lot of weight, with girls in particular showing signs of early and advanced eating disorders. Senior school is also a time when increased numbers of students pick up casual and part-time employment, in many cases out of a necessity to contribute to household finances. I think the HSC creates an environment where students are given too many adult responsibilities without being given the corresponding rights.

While schools play a vital role in developing students’ resilience and capacity for work, the emotional stress endured during the HSC year is too much, in my opinion. I read a study awhile back where Year 11 and 12 students reported symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress that fell outside the ‘normal’ range. We know that when this happens, students stop focussing on ‘mastering’ the material, instead focussing on performance; they stop believing in themselves, stop seeing the learning as a worthwhile goal, and switch to performance-oriented goals. Some of my own school friends took years to recover from the emotional damage of the HSC year, especially those whose final results didn’t meet expectations.

Good riddance to my English notes.

Good riddance to my English notes. Flickr image by Jean-Rene Vauzelle CC-BY-2.0

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Coming up for air

Hi folks – it’s been a bit quiet here on the blog, I know.
All I can say is … omg MARKING!

I have always had an interest in assessment, but this semester has made really clear to me how dire the situation is with our current practices.

I don’t want to ‘buy out’ my marking (i.e.pay someone else to do it for me) but I feel like I am wasting so much of my time at the grindstone, like a machine, writing the same lines over and over in delightful pink pen in the margins of my students’ work.

“Check the APA style guide for rules about how to format this”
“Formal essays require shorter paragraphs than this”
“Avoid rhetorical questions – make strong statements instead”
“Use your introduction to tell me what your main points will actually be, not to explain the structure of your work”
“Don’t use a quote as a sentence on it’s own – introduce it i.e. ‘Sawyer (year) explains that…’”
“You have not included reference to any unit readings in this rationale”

I worry about RSI. I worry about carpal tunnel! Marking more tasks electronically next semester will hopefully fix the hand ache, but what about the mind ache??

I’m not alone – every teacher reading this knows what I mean.

What are we going to do about it?

Portland Oregon & VA exam 46 – CC-BY-2.0 Flickr image by Parker Knight

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Literature v literature

I always spell literature with a lower case ‘l’. Unless having to use title case forces me to do otherwise, and even then I only do it grudgingly, preferring to write the whole word in CAPS. ‘Literature’ is not a proper noun, no more than the words ‘music’ or ‘drama’ or ‘visual art’ or ‘sociology’ are. No, ‘literature’ is a field of study, as vulnerable to attack, redundancy and dissolution as any other. ‘Literature’ is not like ‘The Bible’, it is not one definable thing. It is not like ‘Shakespeare’, it does not have a personality nor is it an old friend. It is a field, a part of the landscape that is identifiable, but that can also shift and erode or be crowded out, given enough time. It is important, oh yes, like an atomic bomb, or a legacy – but it is not a proper noun.

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I give a Gonski

The Federal Government commissioned David Gonski to conduct a comprehensive review of school funding in Australia - the final report was released in February 2012.

I wanted to post here the series of tweets that I sent out yesterday, when Peter Garrett was in Brisbane:

What comments would you make in relation to the Gonski recommendations?

Are you a public school supporter? A public school teacher?

What do you think it will take to close the gap?

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Tell me why (I don’t like writing)

Obviously this is not an ideal situation for an academic to find themselves in.

However, I suspect it might be true.

I think it was my PhD thesis that killed it for me…I think…I don’t like writing.

I tried to rejoin my Daily Writing Group but this time it didn’t help.  I did co-write an Editorial for a journal = big success story!  (Editing other people’s writing was much easier than writing my own work.)

*le sigh

Luckily it is teaching time now, less expectation to write.  Brief, brief reprieve.

Definitely time to make good friends with my blog again.  I like it here best.  And people tell me they read it! (I hope people will be glad to know that they are not the only ones who don’t like writing.)

Other things I have been doing instead of writing:

  • reading fiction
  • organising multiple conference papers
  • answering emails
  • playing MW3

All worthy occupations!

Maybe I’m just in thesis ‘recovery’.  I mean, surely.

Just have to find the right motivation…

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