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RIDE 2020 – Part 4

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The afternoon parallel sessions were harder for me to select. In the end I opted for one being led by David Baume as I had met him earlier in the day and thought he seemed interesting and interested in other people’s ideas and thoughts. A good combination overall.

This was coupled with a session about teacher training which was well presented and seemed quite interesting on a few levels but I used the time to catch up with my work email and Twitter – sorry!

David Baume was presenting on course design and pedagogy – something I thought may be of use to me at work.

He began by listing things which we *know* about learning. While he rattled these off as if they were absolutely basic information I noted them down. Having begun MAODE from a setting outside of education and with an education which did not include teaching – I had found that often there was an assumption I knew things which I did not know. This kind of thing was typical of that:

  • Clear structure and framework, scaffolding, supports
  • High standards are expected
  • Learners acknowledge and use their prior learning
  • Learning is an active process
  • Learning takes lots of time – on task, in practice
  • Collaboration with other students and with the staff
  • Giving and receiving and using feedback

The vital connection between learning theory and teaching practice should be absolutely obvious but it was an image I had not previously visualized.

David then had a few strong things to say about the assumptions underpinning distance education as practiced and experienced by many:

Distance learning (wrongly?) assumes:
  • Students learn by watching recorded videos
  • Students learn from reading
  • Students learn from discussion in forums
  • Students demonstrate learning by writing essays
  • High level academic capabilities can be developed by, and tested by, MCQs

We then broke off into small groups to discuss what alterations we could make to our own teaching practice. This was less than ideal as I am not a teacher or a learning designer. In retrospect I realized that I could have applied some of the principles to a 90 day education program I manage at work, but hindsight is, as ever, unhelpful! I’m usually good at ‘blagging’ but feedback time was dreadfully awkward as I made up something a bit stupid!

The day ended with a quick insight into the back rooms of the London University and a couple of glasses of red wine with an OU colleague who has become a friend. There has been much theorized about the inferior quality of online learning vs ‘real’ learning but my OU experience has shown that to be a flawed position. Online learning has so much to recommend it – for flexibility and depth and breadth and so many things. Online friendship also has much to recommend it – the sniffy ‘not a real friend’ attitude entirely mistakes how well online communication – both synchronous and asynchronous – can foster real friendship with its associated support, and fun and laughter. Whilst I am enthusiastic in promoting the value and genuine friendship an online relationship can foster… it was very VERY nice to be across a table sharing a drink, a rant, a giggle and putting the world to rights. Sadly the virus mean the hug had to remain virtual for this time!


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RIDE 2020 - part 2

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Saturday, 14 Mar 2020, 16:39

I was extremely gratified to see the two parallel sessions I had been most interested in were happening consecutively in the same room!

The first was a 'last minute' choice. I had been speaking before the conference to Vicky Brown (@VickyBrownTLM) about my OU studies and how I was now 5/6 of the way through MAODE. I was telling her that I was already feeling somewhat bereft at the thought of my studies being over. I would probably have to self-fund anything further and I'm not sure that I can prioritise formal studying over the other expenses our family has. Vicky then immediately suggested 'microcredentials' which piqued my interest.

Interestingly this session took place mostly online. All three presenters were either 'self isolating' or unwell so all presented with their slides and a camera on the large screen. This did cause me to consider if we could do something similar at work.

Webinar screen with infographic and four screens of participants and presenters

The presenter was Professor Mary Bishop who seems to wear a plethora of hats meaning she is an accountant, an educator, an academic and an assessor! She made a lot of really interesting - and contextually relevant - points:

  • Free is great for democratisation and accessibility but it can lead to a perception of low value, or very generic themes (I can see how this happens. I am very on board, ideologically, with open education but I always have a nagging pragmatic concern about where the money comes from. I am sure there must be models which allow accessibility without compromising quality or the perception of quality - see next point.)
  • Potential model - learning is free but accreditation isn't. This seems a good idea. It begs the question of what is important - the learning or the badge. In principle the learning must be the most important thing as - if you had to choose one or the other - it's more valuable. However - I am certain that there is a cynical portion of society who would happily get the badge (accreditation, certificate, award) without doing the learning if they found a loophole which allowed such a thing. In this model you can do the course free of charge but would have to pay for the final assessment or even for the official badge.
  • Quality Assurance = critical The perception of low value or low quality must be refuted with high quality learning, qualifications and people.
The next half of the session was presented by Professor Kate Tatton-Jones and Luke Woodham and was about distance learning for healthcare professionals - my area of professional practice.

The old problem of technology only being used to augment and supplement rather than being used to its full potential to revolutionise was revisited!

We were directed to The Topol Review about preparing healthcare workers for digital education.

A few individual programs and specific issues were referenced but few solutions. Kate acknowledged that high level online learning could not realistically be learned using MCQs and stressed that creating high level, high stakes, material was challenging. Her own area of expertise is genomic medicine which is data heavy which makes it easier but this is not the case for every area.

She did briefly refer to the idea that student engagement with online material could be better assessed than using metrics such as length of time logged in, or on a given screen. One off hand remark to retina scanning to assess eye tracks across a screen gave me a glimpse into a possible future.

At question time a few good points were raised and interesting thought journeys initiated:
  • Good courses are built around a narrative - with a beginning and middle and an end
  • Good courses should be 'provocative' (they should provoke interest, engagement)
  • Practitioners should accept there is a ceiling for social engagement - whatever you do some people will 'lurk' - watch but not contribute
  • Online learning can be very useful for formative assessment even if, for now, summative assessment is more problematic/ difficult
  • The Stella Artois principle - good things are reassuringly expensive. Low cost or free resources are often low quality but even more often perceived to be
  • A way in is 'microcredentialling' - small stakes, low risk
  • The Royal Colleges (medical bodies) are beginning accept short activities / online courses and assign CPD approval
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Weeks 8 and 9, slogging and misunderstanding

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Weeks 8/9 were actually spread out over 3 weeks. Week 8, a week off for Easter, and then week 9. Weeks 8 and 9 actually shared activities which I (numpty) had not realized. I slogged away to get through week 8 so I could enjoy a bit of a break (catch up!) and was still a whole activity from the end when week 9 was supposed to be beginning. I'd worked hard in week 8 and the week off so I was a bit fed up. Then I saw the activities for week 9 were the same as those for week 8. Hence the week 8/9 I suppose!

I'm not sure if it was this slog and misunderstanding but these weeks felt very much like a slog. The first block of H800 was what I expected - how do people use technology to help learning and how well does it work. These weeks fit in with the 'Technology Enhanced Learning' but in a way I hadn't thought about - using technology to design lesson plans, and learning plans more broadly. 

Of course I can see the benefit of this. Planning lessons on a sheet of paper must regularly result in a bit of a scribble as new ideas are inserted, difference activities swap places in the time line, things are crossed out. Planning lessons on a word processing document may result in a tidier plan but surely there is more scope for using technology that simply replacing a paper sheet for a laptop screen (which will likely be printed on a paper sheet). 

It's obvious when you think about it but, it seems, more complicated to enact than to imagine. 

We looked at a wide variety of 'learning design templates' which attempted to provide a base for learning design which encouraged designers to look at their overarching pedagogy, how balanced their program was and what resources would be needed - and then represent the lesson in a graphical and visual manner which could not only be used by the teacher but could also be shared for reuse and repurpose.

The templates we looked at seemed old. There was a few good ideas and some neat tricks but I felt like there must be versions of this which are newer and more streamlined. I asked the Facebook hive mind (I must have almost 100 teachers / educationalists on my friends list) and asked what they did. Some used online templates but after a little digging they were all simply online forms which they completed and then printed. None reported using a template to assist in their planning, simply to record it. Some of them reported 'downloading' complete lesson plans and such like from various (paid for) sites online. 

Later on we looked at 'schemas' (yeah - I had to google that!) which helped us map activities along three spectrums:

  1. Individual and Social
  2. Active and Passive
  3. Information and Experience

Despite our discussions about the value of participation and student centric learning - I am still convinced a variety of activities is the best way to learn - even including some passive, information and individual ones! (Such as reading a journal, watching a video or listening to a podcast alone!). 

I enjoyed this mapping as is was a more general and 'big picture' activity. I am finding the very specific 'nitty gritty' activities are harder for me to engage with. The bigger picture things I find I can apply to my experience - as learner and teacher - and also to my context. I find it harder to contextualize things from specific to general than from general to specific. 

Anyway - weeks 8/9 are done! (Thankfully). Week 10 beckons and looks interesting! 

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Narratives, representations and designs

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The beginning of week 8 has been building up to the concept of learning design. The first four activities have been very time consuming in terms of what was asked of us, and also of the thought space the ideas have occupied. 

I think I have arrived at something of an epiphany though.

A learning narrative is simply telling the story of learning. All of us have learned and all of us have taught - even if only in a very informal sense. Any parent has taught their child simple things such as the names of colours, types of food, species of animal, different vehicles and so on. None of them write this down as a formal plan. No mum wakes up thinking 'I will teach my toddler about cows today and therefore we shall go to a farm' but if their activities take them past a field of cows and the child takes an interest then she may stop and point to the animals. Explain that they are eating the grass and that we get milk for our cereal from the cows. They may talk about how the cows are black and white and how they're bigger than a dog but not as big as a horse. This is all very informal and responsive to both the environment and the interests of the learner.

If the same mother was asked 'How did you teach your child about farm animals?' she may write down:

  1.  We went for a walk past a field of cows and my child pointed at the animals
  2. We stopped to look at the cows and I asked my child what colour the cows were. My child said the cows were black and white. The child then remarked that the cows were big.
  3. I pointed to a dog walking by and said the cows were bigger than the dog and asked if the child could think of any animals the cows were smaller than. The child thought and then said that a horse was bigger than a cow.
  4. I asked the child what the cows were doing (they were grazing) and the child didn't know. I explained that the cows were eating grass. I told the child that the cows turned the grass into milk and asked when they ate milk. The child said they'd had milk on their cornflakes in the morning. 
  5. The child then lost interest so we continued with our walk.

This list represents the encounter. It describes what happened, some of the thought processes and some of the ways the teacher (parent) directed the learning of the child by answering questions and offering new information. This is more of a report than a lesson plan but the same information is conveyed and the learning experience has been represented in a way which could be analysed, reproduced or repurposed by someone else.

If this encounter were to be 'planned' then the lesson plan may look like this:

  1. Take the child for a walk close to a field of cows
  2. Assess the child's interest in the cows. If the child seems interested encourage them to speak about the cows. The child may remark on the size, colour or physical characteristics of the animal
  3. Ask the child if they have any ideas about the behavior of the animal - what does it eat, where does it sleep, what does it do?
  4. If the child seems interested tell them about milk production and see if they can associate milk with their day to day lives.
  5. Continue chatting until the child has lost interest and then move on. 

This lesson 'plan' is still very learner focused and is in-keeping with a constructivist theory of education - allowing the learner to build on their existing knowledge and learn that which engages their interest. 

A learning design is the next step and may take a broader approach. It may involve planning for any necessary resources, extension activities, and have a more formal plan for setting a learning objective and assessing learning outcomes. It may be more generally worded so that the same lesson idea could be used for other animals! 

I am finding it easier to grasp these concepts when I apply them to the education of young children. I think this may be because it is a setting I am familiar with even though I have never been a school-teacher. I have had four children, I have 'taught' in many mother and toddler / playgroup settings, I have taught Sunday school lessons for my entire adult life. I can easily see how informal, formal and specifically designed learning both differentiates and converges. 

Applying this to classroom learning for adults (or lecture theatre, online tutor group) is more straightforward than applying it to my own setting where our e-learning platform essentially has no interaction between student and teacher. I am having to mentally separate interactive e-learning from online revision. What we actually provide is the latter. This is challenging but I hope that H800 will allow me to develop our services to be more broadly helpful to our learners.  

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Block 2 and this gets real-er

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We are now a week and a bit into Block 2 and it feels different. I had my doubts in Block 1 but I did, at least, feel like I was understanding the material. I may have been interpreting it wrongly but I was understanding it on a level! 

Block 2 has started in a very different manner! Firstly I have not yet received a mark for my first TMA and am feeling mildly insecure about that. I really want a mark.... but I really don't want a bad mark! 

Our first few activities were to do with Learning Design (which I think means lesson planning!) and I have been confused! It took me a while to realize that all eight lesson plans were for the same lesson and it was the actual lesson planning design template which we were assessing. This, once it became clear, was actually interesting. I have asked my Facebook friends (loads of teachers there!) how they plan lessons. I have had a number of responses but they've mainly been to do with sticking to the curriculum than with the template they use. I need to find a way of asking the same question in a less ambiguous way. I can see that a good lesson plan may make the process of teaching, and learning, more satisfying even if the essential elements of the lesson were unchanged. 

I've also decided to go back to basics and become a bit more familiar with some of the basic theories of learning. The words 'behaviourist' and 'constructivist' are being used as if we should know what they mean... so maybe I should! Early on in H800 someone linked to a marvelous website which gives concise and easy to understand definitions so I plan to read them, blog about them and refer to them as I move forward. 

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