Posts Tagged pedagogy

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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Explaining theories of learning and pedagogy

I want to post here two excellent images that I have come across to explain the various theories and concepts that can be drawn on in relation to learning and pedagogy.

The first is an image that I found via TeachThought (an excellent website – set aside a good hour to go and browse):

A Diagram Of 21st Century Pedagogy

A Diagram Of 21st Century Pedagogy

The image originally came from a 2008 post by Andrew Churches on edorigami, which also features diagrams explaining thinking skills, assessment and ‘fluency’. You can check that post out here: http://edorigami.edublogs.org/2008/08/16/21st-century-pedagogy/

 

The second image I am sharing here is this maaassssssive map of Learning Theory produced by the HoTEL project in the EU:

Learning theories map by Richard Millwood

Learning theories map by Richard Millwood

While all of the links made in the maps above are open to challenge and discussion, I really value them as texts! Both maps do a great job of visualising some of the theoretical complexity that sits behind education practice and decision making. I’ll definitely be sharing them with my pre-service teachers next year.

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Which PBL?

Today I attended a whole-day symposium on ‘learning and teaching in collaborative environments’, aka the LATICE program at QUT.

At the start of the day I was really excited to hear some of the speakers referring to the new learning rooms in the uni as ‘PBL rooms’. I had previously known these rooms as ‘collaborative work spaces’, or ‘CWS rooms’, but I was all too happy to change my terminology – how handy, I thought, to suggest PBL as a recommended pedagogy for such rooms!

Unfortunately, as the day went on it became clear that most people using the term PBL were referring to ‘problem based learning’, not to ‘project based learning’ (which is my preferred teaching style). I say unfortunately not because I have any beef with problem based learning – I think it’s great, in fact. But PROBLEM based learning is just one way to organise learning experiences.

And the ‘which PBL do you mean?’ problem doesn’t stop there:

PBL varieties

 

I have written a little before about the nature of ‘play based learning’, and think it’s important to draw on ALL of the above PBL models in a balanced teaching approach. I’m open to hearing how this may not be the case in other disciplines/faculties, but in the Education sector we certainly have to be across all three approaches.

The issue of nomenclature here is far from trivial. As frustrating as it is, I think we may need to complicate the cute ‘PBL’ acronym to enable practitioners to distinguish between the approaches. I could suggest:

  • PmBL (problem based learning)
  • PjBL (project based learning)
  • PlBL (play based learning)

…fully realising that this just looks clumsy to some!

Any other suggestions for a way forward on this?

See, problem- and project- based learning differ importantly in the sense that a learning project should not have a pre-determined outcome, whereas a learning problem often does (imagine here a student working through a well-worn math problem). The difference between project- and play- based activities is also important, as learning projects do get assessed, whereas play is supposed to be low stakes and, well, playful.

One thing is for sure – we simply ought not go on giving presentations where we drop the ‘P’ term without qualifying which one we mean!

So…which PBL do you mean when you say PBL?

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Using social media to support FYE

Ah, “FYE” … the new acronym in my life!

It stands for First Year Experience, and now that I’m the FYE Coordinator for my Faculty, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

As a school teacher, the role reminds me a LOT of being a Year Advisor, but with one difference. Instead of staying with my year group and looking after them until they graduate, at the end of the year I send my group off to second year, and prepare to look after the FYE of a new cohort.

My FYE jobs

This is my first year in the role, and one of my ‘big jobs’ is to consult with unit coordinators to identify students in need of help with academic literacy. Students have a raft of assignments due around weeks 4-6 and using those we can make early recommendations for study skill support.

I’m also one of the main points of contact for first year students, and I get to go to many (very interesting, seriously) meetings about student engagement and improving campus life. My personal engagement project is a knitting club that I am launching for Education students in Week 5 of semester :)

Enter Twitter

Twitter stats March 2013

Something else I am trying this year is the establishment of a Twitter account (1styear_edu) to communicate messages relevant to students in first year Education. I’ve stated nice and clearly in the bio that I am behind the tweets, and the profile pic is a shot of our lovely main admin building at Kelvin Grove campus. I’m not following students back (yet), but am following things that I think they would like, or that I would want to retweet from.

So far I’m up to 93 followers, out of a potential 650 (ish). It’s Monday of week 4, out of 13 week semester, and on the whole, I am happy!

Yes, yes, some things I already know:

  • Almost all first year students use Facebook, with only about 10% entering our courses using Twitter. We know this from a student survey. I think this is great, because it means most of them are up to date with the digital literacy skill needed to use Twitter, and just need some guidance to transfer those practices.
  • Not many students like Twitter when they first join it. I know this anecdotally, but I don’t see this as a reason not to persist with the service. In fact, I think it’s good to put students out of their learning ‘comfort zone’ … especially students that are trying to become teachers!
  • Most students won’t go to Twitter regularly for announcements. That’s OK! They should be going to the institution’s ‘Blackboard’ (or other LMS) for essential announcements. Although I do repeat some key announcements on Twitter, it would be inequitable to announce important stuff there without also placing it on Blackboard. Twitter is for engagement, tips, and social study support.
  • Students don’t use their social media for learning. Well, I know that some already do, actually – you should meet them! But I sincerely hope that by the time the others graduate from a year (or four) at QUT that their attitude to Personal Learning Environments will have changed! Using Twitter is just one thing I can do to help them over this threshold.

What is to come?

I hope that students will increase their take-up of Twitter for crowdsourced note taking. I’ve attempted to lead some tweeting using the unit codes #EDB006 (for ‘Learning Networks’, the only core unit that first year students share) and #CLB320 (a unit on ‘Studies in Language’ that about half the cohort undertakes).

I also want to show other teachers the power of using tools such as Storify to collect tweets about a topic that can be used later as a teaching aid. For example, here is my collection of tweets from the start of EDB006:

http://storify.com/kmcg2375/edb006-tweets-and-media-weeks-1-and-2

Other than that, I think I’m just hoping for some more discussion between students … but I don’t mind if that doesn’t really kick in until later in their degrees. For now I’m just stoked to have seen any interaction at all!

93 followers, baby … how long will it take me to double it? I’ll be sure to report back when we hit 186 ;)

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A ‘rhizomatic’ take on Semester one so far

Last week I had the good fortune to hear Professor Diana Masny speak about her Deleuzian approach to researching multiliteracies theory (which she referred to as ‘MLT’). Masny is from Ottowa, Canada, and is an adjunct prof at QUT.

In this presentation I was returned to the idea of ‘the rhizome’, something that had interested me when I encountered the work of Deleuze and Guattari. The idea behind looking at things rhizomatically is that we can stop focussing on binary oppositions, or organising concepts into ordered taxonomies and such. Instead, rhizomatic analysis involves looking at things and ideas spread/propagate…and at where new possibilities ‘shoot off’ out of of what already exists.

A rhizome in plant form

A rhizome in plant form

This talk by Masny was interesting for a number of reasons to do with designing research methodology, as well as considering MLT from new angles. One thing that inspired me was the way that her presentation was organised around ‘entry points’ to her own topic as a rhizomatic collection of findings. This is in contrast to a presentation that tries to summarise ‘key findings’ or ‘ways forward’. Seeing as I most often use my blog to reflect on ‘findings’ and ‘planning’, I thought it might make a nice change to adopt Masny’s (after Deleuze’s) approach of exploring the ‘entry points’ into my practice so far this semester…

ENTRY POINT: Attendance

At QUT we have a policy that attendance is not to be counted in any way toward assessment, and that students choosing to catch up on their study from home are to be supported in that choice. I have heard some lecturers complain about this – they think students would learn better if they turned up to all the classes, and wish the university would enforce this. Most of us, however, respect the purpose of this arrangement, which is to provide flexible study options for the grown-up human beings that are our ‘students’, and cater for a range of learning styles. Personally I find it very motivating, as it forces me to think about HOW I can make my lessons “worth coming to”!

I’m really happy with the attendance rate in my classes at the moment. Out of the 110 students I have studying on campus, almost 100% turned up in Week one, and the students that were away mostly emailed in their apologies. In Week 2, attendance in tutorials and the lecture was down to about 85%, which is to be expected. What I am eager to see is that 85% attendance rate maintained for the rest of the 9-week semester, rather than drop of over time to 20-50%, as other lecturers often report. I’m pleased to say that in the past few years here, I haven’t noticed the same kind of drop of, and I like to think this reflects the usefulness of my classes.

ENTRY POINT: Engagement

As always it has been a slow start on Twitter…but as always, there are several students ‘coming around’ to the tool already and engaging with informal peer tutoring as well. Once again, I am glad I chose to persevere with introducing students to an unfamiliar (and for many of them, unloved) social media tool.

I had a really great out-of-context engagement moment as well last week, on Pinterest. I use Pinterest among other things to collect useful resources for English teachers, and one day I saw a collage about English teaching and ‘re-pinned it’ to my board. I thought (and commented) ‘wow…this is just like an activity I do in class!’. Then I realised that I was following one of my students already, and that it was her! Funniest bit was though, she had been following me too without realising who I was, or making any connection to out uni lives. Good times!

There has been a growth in socia media profiles and ‘chats’ that I can now connect my students to, and the most important of these is the #ozengchat that takes place on Twitter on Tuesday nights. Feeling like they are engaging with ‘real teachers’ seems to be helping with motivation in the class, but at the moment that’s just my anecdotal take on the situation.

ENTRY POINT: Assessment

In my class students undertake THREE assessment tasks:

  1. Personal essay on teaching philosophy and resource analysis (individual, 30%)
  2. Lessons plans for a junior English class (in pairs, 40%)
  3. Portfolio of completed learning ‘challenge tasks’ (individual, 30%)

What I like about what I have achieved with this set of assessments is that there is a balance of individual and group work, that there is a variety of tasks, and that no task is worth more that 40%.

At this point I’ll put myself out there to say I am disappointed to see how many uni coordinators choose to use just TWO assessment piece in their own classes. This is not good practice imo! Having less assignments does mean a smaller marking load for the lecturer, and less due dates for the student, but at what cost?

I really do believe that students in uni should not have assessments that are worth 50% or over, as this is too high-stakes to promote good learning. To do this, you must have more than two assessments for a unit in a semester.

FINAL WORDS: The CLB018 ‘assemblage’

In the theory of Deleuze and Guattari, the context of my CLB018 class provides an assemblage of bodies and things that can produce any number of effects. I hoe to keep reporting throughout the semester on the effects (and affects) of our assemblage!

In the meantime, any comments on these POINTS OF ENTRY are most welcome.

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Classes start tomorrow!

The week we’ve all been waiting for, week one of the university semester, is finally here!

This semester, I will be focussing on the following areas of my English Curriculum Studies unit for development:

  • Building in more support for student reflective writing. The design of my lesson planning assignment last year included a tutorial presentation of the key teaching strategies, but it didn’t really work that well. So I plan to change this element of the assessment to a written reflection, and add two targeted activities to tutorials in mid-semester to more constructively scaffold the task.
  • Finding places to make connections between English curriculum studies content knowledge and other professional frameworks. In particular I want to ensure that students understand how the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers can be used to self-diagnose areas of strength and directions for further learning, and are knowledgable about the Productive Pedgagogies framework that is advocated by Education Queensland.
  • Registration. After three years of running this unit it will be time to write up the final unit design, as well as a ‘scope and sequence’, so that the unit is ready to be passed on. At school we called this ‘registration’ – when the Head Teacher would check out your unit plans at the end of the semester and ensure you met your learning objectives. Here at uni there are other other mechanisms in place, but the Head Teacher check isn’t one of them. And official changes are made so sllllloooowwwlyyyy. So, for my own piece of mind, I’m going to put my own unit through a final tick-and-flick, then prepare my reflections and field notes for scholarly publication and sharing.

I’ve included below another classroom poster I’ve made, a visual resource to support my students’ engagement with the Productive Pedagogies – feel free to use and share (though note that the values/opinions expressed on it about alignment with ‘prac’ are only my own POV!).

Now…deep breath!

And once more into the breach!

Productive Pedagogies for Prac (image by Kelli, CC-BY-SA)

Productive Pedagogies for Prac (image by Kelli, CC-BY-SA)

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Making content posters for my classroom walls

Over the years I have seen many creative and high utility wall displays in other people’s classrooms. Imelda Judge for example is wizard with cardboard and hot glue – sharing a classroom with her in 2009 was a wild apprenticeship in classroom decoration!

I say ‘other people’s classrooms’ because I haven’t had a lot of success with this kind of thing!

2008: One time, I thought I had made a pretty successful poster of quotes from King Lear for my Year 12s…but they never seemed to look at it:

king lear quotes

2009: Far more successful displays have tended to come out of students’ own work being put up, such as this display of lines of poetry after a lesson with Year 10:

10G epic poetry

2011: And the ‘tree of knowledge’ inspired display I’ve had in my uni teaching for the past 18 months was wrongly positioned at the back of the room, and a little haphazard to boot:

learning environment - blender board IMAG0501

Today: When I saw Bianca’s tweet today with a picture of her classroom wall painted with blackboard paint, I thought ‘how cool is that!?’

…which motivated me to start designing some posters to add to my classroom this semester.

I’m going for a digital look, rather than getting all crafty with the glitter and paint. I plan to print them out in colour A3 and get the students to decide where they think they should be put up in the room. Here is the first one – two of the key concepts I focus on in my English Curriculum Studies unit:

by me, Kelli McGraw (CC-BY-SA) free-to-use

by me, Kelli McGraw (CC-BY-SA) free-to-use

Mind you, the room I teach in has been a blu-tak free zone for the past two years, because it got a new paint job. This has been severely limiting. While it’s lovely on one hand to teach in a clean and modern space, it’s hard to use a room when you can’t put things up where you want. Teachers who don’t have a ‘home room’ will know the feeling!

The display I have been using so far, however, has been taking up one of the big green write-on groupwork boards in the room (to avoid having to blu-tak the wall). I don’t think I can keep using that board – I need it in my class, and other teachers must too.

So walls, you’ve had two years…the blu-tak is now a-comin ;)

If anyone else has electronic copies of pedagogy-inspired posters that they would be happy to share, I would love to see some more designs. And if you have any ideas for what else you think I should be flagging for 2nd year preservice English teachers, tell me all about that too!

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