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Miscellaneous passages on educational ideas

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Jump to section on lecture styles.

The first sections are three different responses that were prompted by a 2014 blog piece by Terry Elliott.

Terry Elliott's 3 X 5 cards and OMPs.

Terry's use of 3 X 5 cards (Twitter on paper? brief, certainly), which his students have to fill in in class with their expectations and feedback on whether they were met or missed, are to me a significant extension of what I know as OMPs: One Minute Papers. Usually used to get feedback from students to the teacher.

Terry's usage advances OMPs by two important steps. First, by having them done in a joined up way: always done to a similar question every session; and with the content (expectations) carrying forward to link sessions together. Joined up OMPs, then. We could call them the "One Minute Paper Trail" (or "One Minute Paper Chain").

Furthermore Terry takes a second step beyond the usual OMP: by getting each student both to state their expectations at the start of a session, and then to review those same expectations for met/missed at the end, he is getting what we might call student self-evaluation (self-assessment; self-feedback) in as well: the solo version of discussion and critiquing. Definitely achieving an additional educational point.

The other / additional view: of course, we can if we wish notice the similarity to Twitter: enforced brevity, the way that can really help people to write, when otherwise they might spend minutes thinking and stalling. But it certainly opens up the Learner → Teacher channel in classes; and in a way that has every learner (not just a few) "speaking" and being heard.

Fluid / fluent switches of audience in online thinking

Terry self-criticises for a tendency to default back from social interaction to lone scholar mode. In the last two weeks I've had an epiphany (two visiting speakers on two successive days whose talks both implied what I'm about to say).

Under the new gospel we should:

BUT there is a further insight to add to this: that what we probably want is a fluid, fluent, and often very frequent switching between them: between solo writing/thinking, pairs, fours, class size groups, the whole internet as audience. We don't just need them all to cover some cases, but perhaps in every case. No current technology has grasped this, and been optimised to allow us to type once, and be able to re-use the text instantly to various sized audiences (including of course, withdrawing it: something the WWW is very, very bad at). On the other hand, some current tools aren't too bad at this. But the idea is to accept that (1) solo is good some of the time (90% of the time perhaps, in the light of some tiny studies a student of mine is running just now), and probably is ESSENTIAL. But (2) social interaction tends to add value in most cases. And (3) that the value depends on connecting these two modes, on relating the aspects of the ideas expressed with each audience.

So Terry shouldn't beat himself up about this, but ask when and how does social interaction help in learning and teaching. And still more: how do we support (and scaffold) frequent transitions, when we post something we wrote privately out to a larger group, .... So Twitter may let you cut and paste what you tweeted, but actually probably needs a post-tweet tool to collect your own tweets and thus recover solo material first written for a group. This latter is part of what Graeme Pate seemed to be suggesting. Students should write all their own lecture notes online; be able to (re-)use them for this solo purpose, but by having them visible to the rest of the class, have them also of some group (social) use.

Part of Graeme's insight is that, while it constitutes a strong critique of current ICT tool designs, it is also really what traditional students do in class internally. If you are learning in a class, you aren't just listening but processing; and that processing is solo and private, and must somehow be time-shared with attending to the teacher. We do a sophisticated job at switching from solo to social in class: it is somehow inherent in the business of listening and still more, of learning. (What does he mean? what does it mean to me? Without understanding both, you aren't getting it, and you aren't learning.)

Constructivism, not rhizotizm

Terry in his blog piece wants to interpret his use of 3 X 5 cards as a major step towards the rhizomatic in his teaching. But I want to argue that it can be interpreted entirely differently: as simple, classical, constructivist teaching: NOT social constructivism and NOT rhizomatic.

To start with: like Sarah, I'm impressed by his cards, I want to hear more, I'm thinking about whether I should adopt them, whether they are the same or complementary to Graeme's ideas, etc. They are clearly good teaching, better than what I have ever done. What they do is get effective feedback from learners to the teacher; and do this once a class (not once a semester like standard surveys).

But this is the move from instructivism to constructivism. One simple way to define constructivism is to say that learning is like a journey, and a journey is not defined by its destination but by that plus its start. There is no "thing" that is the journey to London: the journey there from NewYorkCity and from Watford (a satellite commuter town on London's northern fringe) are radically different because the starting points are different. The teacher tends to define the destination, but the learners define the starting point. The cards get some much needed information to the teacher on the latter; and major adaptation may be needed as a standard good practice implementation of "the syllabus" in any particular case.

This can be elaborated if we talk about deep and shallow learning objectives. So the syllabus (ILOs, intended learning objectives) define the destination but may do so in many different ways. Shallow but common would be to list the facts, skills, and if you are lucky the concepts, to be learned. But sometimes you may articulate much more general ILOs. I used to have a friend, Richard Thomas, who taught (among other things) an adult education course on basic IT skills. As everyone who has ever learned programming or similar knows, there is really just one thing a beginner (and an expert) needs to learn: that unlike some other subjects (dancing, or Adorno's critical theory for me; Chinese for Terry), which many learners come to see as unlearnable, anyone can learn IT / programming; BUT every exercise will take them much longer than they expect (3-10 times longer). [This is true of gifted and experienced programmers too: almost no-one can estimate it right.] This is the only important thing for a learner to get; and it is a deep ILO. Richard ran his class like a full-on version of Terry's cards. Or to put it another way, his single ILO was for students to learn how to teach themselves ICT skills. Each week, they went round the table and each student would, in discussion, set themselves their own quite different learning goals for the week (basic WORD for one, Excel for another); and next week they would report on how well they'd done, share their war stories, and re-set their objectives. The social probably helped them; but the essence is the single ILO and discussion with the teacher: this would work in a class of one as well as of 20. This is constructivism taken seriously, and implemented by a really good teacher. It isn't rhizomatic because they wouldn't change each other's learning goals usually; and the only truly important goal was fixed in advance by the teacher.

So to my mind, Terry's cards are not rhizomatic at all (but they are seriously good teaching). What perhaps counts as rhizomatic is me being inspired by Terry's cards (I didn't even know this was something I needed to know, and Terry didn't set out to teach me — or any of his imagined readers — to use 3 X 5 cards), and by Graeme Pate's twitterized class, and by another talk that got me thinking about fluid and fluent shifting in and out of solo-social and then seeing the application of this notion to other things.

Rhizomatic metaphor

  • The poster
  • The page
  • The blog

    Use of slides in lectures: a non-standard approach.

    Here is a style of video / talk / lecture, that is different overall because of:
    1. its length (not 50 but 7 min.s),
    2. the audio speech is at about 150% of normal speed (good because most of us listen much faster than we can talk).
    3. But it is its use of the slides which is very different: many more (very approximately, one slide per 30 seconds); many are cruder e.g. a cartoon sketch; above all, the slides are not summaries of what is said.
  • Tangential learning, video games
  • Bad writing (need for narrative)

    The video was a student project, mentioned by his supervisor: David Kaufman when he gave a talk to the VidGames group at GCal.

    (The content of this talk is learning from video games; the learning mode he calls "tangential learning".)

    See also PechaKucha: 20 slides each for 20 seconds. Pecha Kucha is Japanese for chit-chat.

    This style of visually spare and word-sparse slides is also used by Rohan Gunatillake, though with many fewer slides (almost all sparse): average of about 90 not 20 secs. per slide. See this set of slides (in PDF) for a 60 min. talk, often with many minutes of talk against one sparse slide.

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