Friday, July 30, 2010

ED6114 wrap-up

One final* post on the ED6114 - Using ICT in a Tertiary Setting course for which this blog was originally hand-stitched. (After this week, I will continue to post, but will broaden my scope from university teaching issues to all sorts of things that interest me. Which does include university teaching issues, though, I'm afraid.) I found the whole course fascinating, largely because there was a strong current of discussion throughout it about social & educational consequences of new technologies. Rather than just talking about how to use technologies beyond the blackboard, we considered what that use might signify.

Plus, I was lucky enough to do the course with a bunch of people from different backgrounds to me. Different courses lead to different needs from/uses of technology, just as surely as they require different teaching strategies. Who knew, for instance, that medicine students have to carry around several bricks' worth of notes for the entire length of their course? Aline touches on some matters for her students in that post that would never have occured to me regarding my own students, and that's one thing I was able to get out of ED6114.

Similarly, Ben scored almost the exact opposite of me on the VARK questionnaire (which may go some way to explaining why he's a proper doctor, and I'm only a fake one...). As he points out, though, not only do we need to avoid adopting a one-size-fits-all style of teaching, assuming that all our students learn in the same way (as I noted the other day), we also need to avoid the assumption that students will learn in the same way that we do.

One of my teaching evaluations from semester one told me that I "bored [one ungrateful student] to tears". So perhaps I need to remember that not everyone finds my teaching style as interesting as I do...

The final piece of assessment in ED6114 was to develop a course that would draw heavily on ICT. I made a course called 'Politics & the Media' more or less from scratch (a subject of that name does exist at Notre Dame, although I have no idea what it includes, and I also did tutor in Ian Ward's course on the topic at UQ for a few semesters - but this course was entirely of my own invention). I'm actually quite proud of it - I think it would be an interesting course to teach or study. That said, I do wonder if the ICT components were a bit tacked-on. They could work well, I think, but parts of them could work just as well in more traditional subject-delivery modes. (I'm being a little vague here, I know, but that's in case I ever do spend more time on this plan - don't want other people to pinch my brilliant ideas**.)

Anyway, it was all very interesting. And now that I have myself an Ipad, I've been trying desperately to think of ways of including such devices in my teaching. Because, well, it's pretty much the coolest thing ever...

* for now
** yes, I realise that the readership of this blog, such as it is, isn't terribly likely to suddenly start teaching university-level Politics & the Media.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

VARK me!

I've just completed the VARK test, which analyses your learning preferences. (The name stands for Visual, Aural, Reading, Kinesthetic.) My results show that I have a preference for Reading/Writing to understand new things. So, I guess anyone who's ever met me will agree that this test not completely baseless... (My lowest score was for visual, which is probably about right.)

While I found it interesting, several of the questions frustrated me by having the answers all be things I would do. Example:

You are going to choose food at a restaurant or cafe. You would:

I would - and do! - do all of those things. (And then I usually change my mind at the last minute anyway.)

On the other hand, some questions I struggled with in the other direction. Example:

You have to make an important speech at a conference or special occasion. You would:

None of those are really how I prepare for making a conference presentation. (For the record: obsessively edit my paper until every phrase is burned into my skull, then wait for the day before my presentation to write a one-page summary and/or powerpoint slideshow of what I want to talk about.)

Those quibles aside, questionnaires like VARK are actually quite useful. As we all know, everyone learns in different ways. But all too often we forget that - whether we're teachers or students - and expect everyone to learn the same things from the same experiences.

This semester I tried something new with my first-year Australian politics students, asking them to fill out a brief survey at the start of the first lecture. The idea was to get a quick snapshot of what they already knew, how interested they were (I told them it was okay to say that they were only there because they had to be), and what their biggest concerns about the course were. I got some quite interesting responses, but now I wonder... should I just have asked them all to do the VARK questionnaire?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Multimedia outside the classroom

Following on from my last post, on the challenges posed by the lecture format to what we know about teaching & learning, I want to spend a little bit of time thinking about uses of new technologies outside the classroom, but still for learning experiences.

Specifically, I'll be responding to some ideas & arguments put forward by Tara Brabazon in her article Socrates in Earpods?: The Ipodification of Education. Brabazon's article was written in response to the increasing (in 2006) trend for universities to promote themselves as forward-thinking by having lectures available in mp3 format for students to listen to at their own convenience, rather than at a specified lecture time that may not suit all students. Brabazon argues that this undercuts not just the purposes of learning (& teaching), but also that of the university as a whole.

For myself, in addition to those points, I believe that iLectures - however designed or enacted - can simply never be a substitute for an actual classroom experience. Even in the least interactive classes, there is something gained from merely being in the same room as the person imparting information. Listening to podcasts allows the listener's attention to stray to an even greater extent than it would in the classroom. (And this is entirely aside from the visual components of lectures such as videos/powerpoint slides etc.) This may be a consequence of my having finished my undergraduate degree before the release of the Ipod, but there is also a lesser sense of obligation to listen to podcast lectures than there would be to actually attend class. Nobody knows if you never listen to the podcast, but (at least in smaller classes) student absences from lectures are observable. But, again, perhaps that sort of thinking is less relevant to students who grew up with an Ipod.

Indeed, the problem with podcast lectures stems from the fact that they neatly combine all of the negatives of actual person-to-person lectures without any of the (potential) advantages of that format. They also are, as Barabazon notes, completely different experiences from the perspective of the lecturer:

Good lecturers have different skills to good broadcasters. Through professional development and training, teachers may develop sonic awareness and pedagogically-appropriate delivery. But good materials for the ear rarely emerge from a lecture theater. Lecturing is a different process from producing audio-only programming.

To be sure, the recording of lectures might serve the same purpose as the uploading of powerpoint slides onto your course's Blackboard site: to allow students who missed the lecture or who would like to re-visit it the chance to catch up with what was discussed. But I think that the other side of that use is the potential for students to decide that it's easiest to simply skip the lecture in favour of printing the slides & downloading the lecture's audio, and then not pay much attention to either.

From a teaching point of view, I find another problem with this: I am always disappointed when attendance at one of my lectures is smaller than it should be. The idea that students would prefer to stay away from my class & then listen to it when they felt like it would make me feel like I wasn't properly engaging their attention or interest. And, yes, that can be a spur to improve my lectures, but it can also be dispiriting if I think that I have prepared an interesting class.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Multimedia in the classroom

Something I intend to do a lot more in this coming semester than I did in semester one is make use of multimedia in my lectures. I learned in ED6111 (Introduction to Tertiary Teaching & Learning) that, aside from its other benefits, injecting some variety into your lectures can have positive effects on students' attention and learning. As I noted the other day, straight lectures can be uninteresting - regardless of subject matter - and that causes our attention to wander. Even on things that we're really interested in, like our favourite tv show or whatever, sustained attention for the best part of two hours is actually quite difficult.

One option, then, is to use some different presentation techniques, such as videos/cartoons/audio clips etc. I've decided to be quite determined and deliberate about this for semester two, and have already gone through my lecture schedule and jotted some notes about what videos or other interesting things I could use to help break up the lecture period into shorter chunks.

(In case it's not clear to everyone yet: my total number of semesters entirely in charge of a subject = 1. The likelihood of me overthinking & overplanning things = 1.)

Some of these videos will be serious, but mostly I've been thinking about using bits from comedy shows & so on. Partly that's because it's the sort of thing I like, but it's also because I think those sorts of things are the most likely to engage the students' attention, particularly in the middle of a relatively-serious thing like a lecture. Fortunately, in politics there's always something amusing just around the corner... Here's a clip I'll be using when I discuss parliament, from the incomparable Micallef P(r)ogram(me)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Did You Know 4.0

Here's a really interesting little video we watched in class yesterday, demonstrating the rapid shifts in communications technology over the last few years...

Digital Natives

In the second part of ED6114 -Using ICT in a Tertiary Setting, our discussion revolved around digital natives v. digital immigrants. Simply, the former are those for whom the use of technology (as we currently know it) is second nature; while the latter are those who may use current technologies, but who have not really assimilated it into their everyday lives. Digital immigrants may use many of the same technologies as their native counterparts, but they do not do so instinctively.

Often, this is a generational divide. I am lucky in that I grew up with (personal) technology - my family had a computer throughout my childhood (my father was interested at a relatively early point, I suppose - hardly a geek, but probably ahead of many other people), and then I got to witness the changes - using the internet in my late teens, emailing school friends when we were all at uni & so on, but still coping with a dial-up connexion. And during my time as a postgraduate student, Web 2.0 really took off - I remember discovering sites like & then Wikipedia, along with blogs (political and otherwise).

(Indeed, I have no reference for it to hand, but have read somewhere that the rise in political blogging can be closely matched with the presidency of George W Bush - particuarly around the time of his re-election in 2004 - as the American political discourse fragmented and intensified.)

However, I am also in some ways still a digital immigrant, or perhaps a digital skeptic. It took me a while to try this Facebook thing my friends were talking about - although I do now use it on a daily basis - and I've only just set up a Twitter profile for myself last night in response to discussions about it in class. And while I refer to Wikipedia almost every day, I've never contributed to it; nor do I regularly contribute to any blogs/discussion boards/forums (although I read a lot). Web 2.0 stuff is therefore something I've tended to approach in a fairly primitive way.

That said, for all that skepticism, I'm also really excited by some of the things open to us as teachers that weren't there even a few years ago. Sure, for most of us, most first-year undergrad courses are not going to be based around class-built wikis or whatever, but in time we will find practical uses for these things.

One only needs to remember that the developers of the home computer originally couldn't think of a better use for a computer in your home than as a device for organising recipes to recognise that communications technologies that digital immigrants currently view as unnecessary or pointless may one day be a fundamental assumption of both students and teachers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hello, world!

Welcome to Joel's Blog #1!

This blog has been created as a part of the course ED6114, which I am currently taking. Today was the first day, and we discussed ways in which Web 2.0 technologies could be used within tertiary education.

Students in 2010 are exposed to different sorts of information, presented in different ways, to how I was only a decade ago. Teachers therefore need to keep up with these formats if they want to continue engaging students.

There are both positives and negatives out of these changes. On the negative side, there is the very real fear that new methods of communication inhibit thought - particularly sustained critical thinking - and can also affect what students get out of their university experience (or life!) in general. Conversely, in some ways these methods of information dispersal do (or at least can) more closely align with how people actually think & learn - long lectures in which one person talks at a room full of other people are generally boring for most of us, and discourage deep engagement on the part of the audience.

Thus, teachers need to find ways to use new technologies to engage the attention and imagination of students, without falling prey to the shortcomings that can go along with such technologies.

In my next post, I'll explain exactly how that can be done.

(Just kidding!)