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HCI matters but does HE teaching skill?

Title: HCI matters but does HE teaching skill? A search for common lessons, and a selection of big and surprising effects in teaching innovations
Date/time: Monday 14 June 2010. (my own slot: 12:30 - 1pm).
Occasion: Festschrift for Phil Gray. 9:30 - 5pm or later. Programme PDF
Place: Top floor (level 5), Sir Alwyn Williams Building (Computing Science)
How to get there: Instructions
Presenter Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Slides: PDF
Related material:
Short page on the 3 roles of teaching
Student wiki (you may login as "guest") with references etc. covering material in this talk, and many other interesting issues in the area.


The minor theme of this talk is my own transition in research from HCI to learning and teaching in HE, and I mention some common themes. One of these is how, where the functionality has large utility, better interface design is appreciated by users but is not a determining factor. On the other hand, where users are not already committed, then tiny features of initial usability have huge effects on adoption. Thus web page design for retail purchases (2.5 mouse clicks as the average length of a visit to a site) and inducing students into new habits (dropout in the first year) may have mutual lessons. More importantly, I will argue that an old programming lesson has a parallel in how we should be thinking about improvements to teaching in HE. They say that 10% of the code in a typical program accounts for 90% of the execution time, so there will be little benefit from applying optimisations in most places: you need to focus on that 10% of the code where it will make a big difference. In HE, the question is: what kinds of improvements in what university teachers do, actually make a large impact in learning outcomes?

This is the major theme of my talk. I will review a few of the biggest impacts recorded in the literature. A preliminary categorisation, I will argue, suggests that delivery skill has little impact, improved learning activities can have a major impact (e.g. Mazur nearly tripled the amount first year MIT students learned on his course by changing what they did in his lectures from listening to peer discussion), but the single largest published gain I have found (something like a 26,000 fold speed up in learning) involved the better articulation of the hidden "content": identifying and making explicit what it was that learners had to learn. Academics are full of defensive arguments for why this is bad: ("just spoon-feeding", "they just lack the aptitude to read my mind and do what I do", ....) Is it my imagination, or do these arguments resemble those used to defend a failure to improve the user interface ("I only want technically competent, intelligent people to use my wonderful software ...", "It's my job to create this leading edge functionality, it's someone else's problem to make it accessible to the riff-raff", ...)?

There is no need to book: just turn up.

Organised by Chris Johnson, Muffy Calder, Steve Brewster; Computing Science.

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