I recently took over the ResponseWare service at the University of Warwick, following the retirement of my colleague Chris Coe. Since we began introducing the hardware-based Turning Point personal response system (PRS) about eight years ago, I had been curious about its fit with Warwick’s research-based learning and student as producer ethos. At first I encountered resistance to the idea of using PRS in core academic teaching. As is often the case with innovations, it edged its way into peripheral applications. But more recently I have seen some convincing examples that prove its compatibility with a research intensive institution’s notion of student engagement.
For my PhD research I interviewed, and in some cases observed and taught along side, many of Warwick’s award winning teachers, as well as some of our many unrecognised teaching champions. One of my questions was: is there something about how they design learning and teaching that contributes to their success? Yes there is. Communication design proved to be especially significant. More specifically, I could see how great teachers are able to effectively communicate their learning designs to students, no matter how varied they are (the students and the designs). There were three categories of case where this seemed especially significant:
- working with students who were new to university learning – often this is expressed in terms of “getting them out of the A-Level mindset”;
- working with international students – I’ve always been especially impressed with the communication skills of my PhD supervisor Jonathan Vickery, especially with the multinational groups that his work attracts;
- when varying the techniques, tools and design patterns being used, especially when they are very different to the standard lecture/seminar method.
That third point is of especial significance to me as an Academic Technologist. The implications are obvious, if a teacher is able to introduce and justify (to the students) a different (technology enhanced) way of working, then there is a much greater chance of success. I have seen this happen many times. I’ve also seen the opposite: failure as a result of an inability to communicate and justify. And yes, learning design changes do need to be justified. We know that students will disengage from teaching if they cannot perceive its value to their own development, or more bluntly, exam success. They can be sharply strategic, filtering out what seems to be useful from what might be confusing. Fancy pedagogic methods and tech-enhanced wizziness is more likely to be perceived as potentially confusing. Human brains are attuned to managing cognitive load. We have an in built “can of worms” detector!
So, the message is: communicate your learning designs and their value well, that will increase student engagement and at the same time allow you to use a wider repertoire of learning design approaches. Your confidence will grow, your teaching will be more effective and able to respond to varying needs.
Here’s the slides from a session that I recently did on this topic. I started with this title image:
That’s my four year old son Alex peering out from two Roman shields. This image illustrates how learners can do amazing things if you make it clear to them what kind of activity they should engage in. The photo is from Colchester Museum (amazing place). The shields were set out with the obvious intention that children should play. And they got the message and engaged. Together, Alex and Lawrence (10) built themselves a mini testudo – the tortoise defence used by the Roman army. Museum designers are getting increasingly good at communicating their learning designs in an unobtrusive and engaging manner, often encoded into their designs as enabling constraints and affordances. That illustrates how communicating designs happens verbally, but can also be encoded into the designs themselves (something that professional product and service designers do – see Don Norman’s work on this, for example The Design of Everyday Things).
But in the classroom? The message is, be clear but be imaginative.
The next slide illustrates my own learning design for the session, communicated through a very different technique. Very explicitly stated. It uses the design for constructive alignment approach recommended by Biggs and Tang in Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2011). The intended learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities, and assessment tasks are clearly stated in a way that shows their interconnectivity, or “constructive alignment”. This seems to be common sensical, but certainly not a design principle shared by and achieved by every teacher. We can see evidence of this in the NUS Assessment and Feedback Benchmarking Tool. It classifies constructively aligned assessment at the higher level of “refining” practice (4th of the 5 levels):
“Assessment criteria are clear, easily accessible and linked to learning outcomes and referred to throughout the course. Students fully understand what is expected of them in order to achieve each grade.”
At the highest level of the framework, outstanding practice and partnership, they add to that:
“They are designed in partnership with students to ensure accessibility.”
This follows the approach to assessment design recommended in the framework:
“Students are empowered and given the tools and support to co-design their assessment methods in partnership with academic staff. Programmes are planned holistically to assess a broad range of skills and knowledge through a variety of forms of assessment. Students are able to articulate the skills they have developed through the various forms of assessment on their programme.”
And we can see how clearly the communication of learning design as constructively aligned would be essential to and enhanced by this co-designing.
I’ve added another useful dimension to the constructive alignment approach, taking a schema from Barnett and Coate’s book Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. This counters the claim that constructive alignment can tend towards spoon feeding and encouraging too much of an exam-grade orientation in students from the outset of a course. Barnett and Coate argue that we need to go further in specifying what we want to achieve with learning designs, further than just saying what the students should know and what they should be able to do. We need to talk about how they should be – learning is about change in what we know, how we act and what we are. This pushes students to go beyond more superficially performative behaviour, acting for the metaphorical camera that is assessment. We want a deeper level of engagement. And you can see below how I have been clear about that being in terms that align with the activities and assessment.
I then covered some of the key points that my research revealed about why learning design comms is so important:
Time to tell some horror stories! I have a good one about a lecture I attended as a student. The lecturer, without warning (but for good reasons) flipped the classroom. Some of the students rebelled. It was all a bit nasty!
And then some good practice…
And finally a call to hear stories about people who do it really well. This photo features Carol Rutter (English) and Paul Raffield (Law) teaching together on their highly innovative Shakespeare and the Law module (read about it in the Open-space Learning book by Monk et al.). They do radical stuff. Amongst the most innovative. Way outside of the usual HE box. But they are also great communicators, and manage to bring the students with them confidently.
So finally, a call to tell us your stories. There’s a hashtag to tweet: #GreatLDComms.
The next step in the development of our Student Champions initiative will see us define a range of projects types, so as to answer the question “what can Student Champions do for us?”. We want to enable innovation, but at the same time engage a much broader portion of the University population in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). So, I am currently getting out and about looking for “remix” style projects – that is to say, cases in which a teacher (and their students) can easily adopt and implement a different learning design pattern or technology, without opening up a big scary can of worms. A remix should have an obvious application, easily appreciated value, simple configuration of options, and most of all, its workings should be clearly visible and understandable to the average person.
An example of a remix would be: “replace show of hands voting with anonymous PRS (clickers or online) so as to increase student risk taking and engagement”. It is, in effect, a design pattern with clear instructions on implementation. At Warwick, we would recommend using our centrally supported Turning Point system (either hardware clickers or the Responseware app).
Remixes are important from a diffusion of innovations perspective – they travel fast between people and different contexts, but they also have significant impact in each case. Remixes have the further benefit of increasing the confidence of teachers and students in TEL innovation. More successful remixing leads to a greater capability for design change and flexibility.
From a more developmental perspective, we can view remix projects as sitting on a continuum that describes the complexity/difficulty/regularity of TEL work – tweaks, remixes, sprints and marathons. We hope to have lots of remixes defined, but expect to find more complex projects (sprints, marathons) that might over time become simpler remixes. We are currently funding two projects with this in mind.
In Life Sciences, a team of talented undergraduates have been developing interactive online learning resources, and more importantly, developing a production approach (selecting technologies, designing workflows etc). They are on to their second round of production. Their approach has moved from the sprint/marathon end of the spectrum closer to the remix end.
In Classics, we are trying a different technique. We have two PhD students who are researching and designing an approach to the encoding of ancient texts (TEI). Importantly, they are working out how this can be integrated in the undergraduate curriculum, and how it can become a more common research practice across the department and beyond. They are in effect building a new kind of remix for us.
Here’s the definitions:
Tweaks: At the simplest, easiest end of the spectrum, below the level we would normally describe as a “project”, there are “tweaks” – simple changes to existing practices aimed at optimising without disrupting. Tweaks are typically suggested as a result of peer-to-peer or expert-to-peer teaching observations. We would like Student Champions to develop a capability for spotting and (diplomatically) suggesting tweaks. But that might be a more long term issue. We also need to recognise that in some cases a teacher might need to approach the adoption of a tweak into their habitual practice as a project in itself – change is harder than we imagine! Tweaks are rated low on the “can of worms index” – meaning we should be able to adopt them without too many unforeseen consequences.
Remixes: In which we replace a learning design – so for example going from a straightforward didactic lecture to an interactive lecture using clicker – as described above. Remixes score a little higher on the “can of worms index”.
Sprints: Tweaks and remixes are relatively straightforward and self-contained kinds of project, whereas sprints require more planning, adapting, problem solving, trying out alternatives and fitting things together – so for example tracking the performance of students in clicker-based tests over a whole module. Warning – this might open up a whole can of worms (but some people seem to like that kind of thing, and it is after all necessary for progress of any kind).
Marathons: In some cases, change has much wider implications and requires more people and systems to be coordinated together, and takes much longer with repeated periods of experimentation, reflection and adjustment, such cases can feel like marathons. This reminds me of the time I tried to fix a blown bulb in the dashboard of my motorcycle – £15k later and I had redesigned and refurbished the whole bike. Expect huge buckets of worms falling in a constant drizzle with the possibility of sunny spells and better weather next year.
I am currently working with undergraduates, postgrad research students, alumni and staff (of all kinds) on an investigation to answer the question: how can students become Extended Classroom Champions?
We have seen in the past that there are significant benefits for staff and students in working in partnership to enhance learning, teaching and the student experience (LTSE) through design and development work. Students get paid to do this work, but also access potentially life-changing opportunities. In return, enhancement projects benefit from the student perspective, energy, skills and creativity. We are now looking into how we can use this approach more extensively for the Extended Classroom initiative. In this article I report on progress so far, and outline the basis for a framework that describes how students can become, and make the most of being, Extended Classroom Champions.
I am using an elaborated “diffusion of innovations” model as the basis of my strategy for the Extended Classroom initiative at Warwick. The model is called the “organisational learning and design loop” and emerged out of my PhD research. The loop illustrates an ideal pattern through which people come to integrate new practices and continually use them – with the emphasis on finding innovations that fit well and endure (stick) over time, in a context that helps them to spread as widely as possible. There is also an additional reflective dimension that leads at least some people into becoming “informed advocates” (spreading innovations) and “design participants” (growing our capability for further innovation). So it is both a design loop and a learning loop – creating and embedding design innovations, and creating fresh knowledge about people, the organisation and the world. Advocates help to spread the practice to more people and into more uses. Design participants feed back into the design process, thus growing our capability for effective designing and innovation.
Nomenclature-complexity alert! There are many alternative names and phrases used for some of the things talked about in this article. I have tended towards acronyms that cover all the bases – like LTSE. However, I acknowledge that they often seem quite awkward, and we really need snappier and more widely recognisable terminology. This is typical of a new field emerging from diverse academic and professional disciplines. And inevitably that causes problems. For example, I have found many areas of overlap with enterprise skills and entrepreneurship. In some disciplines, describing it in such terms is the natural way of thinking. In others, it is guaranteed to put people off. Even the word “partnership” might be contentious. There are already many kinds of partnership, and many people who may consider its cultivation to be within their own domain of stewardship.
This article is actually about a specific kind of staff-student partnership, for which different institutions have different names (Digichamps at Southampton; Student Ambassadors at Sheffield; E-Squad, FLAG Team and Digichamps at Warwick) none of which seem entirely accurate or very widely meaningful (I tested this out with a selection of people) . Within this sub-set of partnership types, I am especially concerned with partnership work that makes the most of, but is not dominated by, digital technologies. Part of the challenge is to find ways to make these approaches instantly recognisable across and beyond higher education – to students and staff of all kinds, to future students and their advisors, to funders and employers – a ubiquitous concept for all.
However, so as to avoid disappointment, I had better admit now that I haven’t yet found a perfect answer. But as set out in this article, I am getting closer to it, and I do have some strong contenders to be explored. An approach is emerging that relies upon more clearly defining the competencies that we expect students to have when working in these ways – what are they good at doing? how do they effectively contribute, and to what? We could answer those questions with an 80 page document full of fine-grained detail, but the aim instead is to identify a more distinctive concept, easily visualised and recognised, and getting to the essence of the approach.
This is my presentation for a design workshop at the University of Warwick, involving architects, the Learning and Development Centre (LDC), the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL), the Students’ Union, audio-visual services, Estates, Library and Academic Technology.
The point about ubiquitous computing being ubiquitous in everyday life, but still quite a challenge in university spaces, was reinforced by me having to physically plug my iPad into the projector using a very short VGA cable! Fun, but challenging. I used it to illustrate how, for many people today, the transition between working at home (with Apple TV etc) and operating in a university space, feels “jarring”.
The workshop covered a lot of ground, including the necessity of old fashioned blackboards. Good to hear that we’re not just thinking about official indoor teaching spaces. Warwick has always been a campus university, with teaching and learning happening in all kinds of places, especially outdoors in the summer. See this article by Sue Thomas for an intro to cyberparks. I’ve also added in a photo taken outside Senate House in the middle of the university, showing students using bean bags (on a sunny day) provided by the PGHub. An ad hoc library space.
Since its release on April 3rd 2010, iPad ownership and use has spread rapidly amongst all kinds of people and into all kinds of activities. The iPad has brought digital content and processes into our lives in seemingly unanticipated ways. It is a paradigm shift in how we use technology, and perhaps in the very nature of being human. Education has not been immune. However, the adoption of the iPad as a teaching tool has not yet lived up to the hype. This workshop addressed the question: what is “the pedagogy of the iPad”?
Did you know that the iPad concept was invented in the mid 80’s by a collaboration of anthropologists, designers and computer scientists at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre? The PARCPad was just one component in a much more revolutionary vision: ubiquitous computing. The PARC collaborators built the first ubiquitous computing environment, complete with wireless networking, cloud computing and a full range of mobile computing devices with various form factors and specialisations. It quickly became clear to the Xerox team that they were doing more than just inventing cool gadgets. They had started a revolution that would lead to a new approach to working and learning. We now know this as ubiquitous learning.
In the Pedagogy of the iPad workshop we looked at how the iPad (and its broader ecosystem of apps and clouds) is an imperfect but powerful implementation of the ubiquitous computing model, enabling an equally imperfect implementation of ubiquitous learning. Students are already working out ways to make the most of these new affordances. The implications for teaching are significant.
The workshop slides include suggestions for apps which can significantly enhance academic capabilities, as well as diagramatic representations of the Apple system (and its restrictions).
Watch an insightful presentation by Sara Hattersley (CLL) on Collaborative Approaches to Teaching Using iPads from the 2013 Warwick Teaching and Learning Showcase (2nd item on the page).
Find out about Allan Carrington’s Pedagogy Wheel, a diagram for mapping between pedagogy and iPad apps.
On Thursday I’m presenting a set of scenarios on the theme of The Extended Classroom. This is for a mixed meeting of academic technologists, architects, AV, teaching development specialists, teachers and students, at the Students’ Union.
My job is to push them to consider how radical things might change, and to get them being imaginative and practical about how we can implement these ideas.
Here’s an example, exploring how lectures will become multi-modal:
The traditional lecture takes place synchronously, at the same time and in the same room, for all participants. Lectures can become multi-modal in various ways, for a range of good reasons. For example:
A quarter of the lecture’s participants are in a traditional lecture theatre, watching and listening to the lecturer in a recognisably conventional manner.
The lecturer is aware of, and occasionally shifts focus to, a feedback stream (Twitter-style messages from the students). She is able to match the portrait image next to each message with a face in the lecture theatre. At one point she breaks-off from the lecture to respond to a student directly, clarifying a point. The student had tagged their message with the “hands-up please clarify” icon. The lecturer could have waited until after the end of the lecture to respond, once she would review the messages and other data on the lecture timeline. But in this case she had pre-marked the timeline with an icon indicating that “this concept might be tricky”.
A little later, there is another message that can’t be ignored. This time, the item on the timeline is highlighted as coming from a “telepresence student”. Some of the students are participating through telepresence from other locations on campus and even in France. In this case, the message has not come from a student, but from a local facilitator in the telepresence room in France. She would like some terminology clarified, as there are translation difficulties. The local facilitator’s role is to help the students in their room to understand and make the most of the lecture. Some of the telepresence rooms are in other countries, some of them are actually in the same building as the lecture – in this case, students have opted to attend the lecture as a smaller group of students, with a facilitator, and followed-up with a seminar in which they can review the recording of the lecture and the timeline of events.
In some of the overseas telepresence rooms, the lecture is also being simultaneously translated into other languages.
Some other students are participating live but dispersed at home and in offices around the world.
As well as the feedback channel, at points in the lecture the students are asked to answer questions. All of the participants, wherever they are, respond using a simple interface on their mobile devices, laptops or desktop computers. At the end of the lecture, the recording is bundled with the event timeline, to allow students to watch again, or (if they couldn’t attend the event) to watch for the first time. This is embedded into a VLE, with access to appropriate resources, discussion forums, and further activities.
I have developed these concepts and definitions for use within my design research and consultancy work (mostly concerning academic technologies and academic practice):
Your operational capabilities are the means that you can readily call upon to reliably and repeatedly achieve desired results in your work or studies. For example, I can find relevant articles on journal web sites, download PDF files to my filestore, and annotate them using my iPad. This capability is an important part of my “resource capabilities”.
Your dynamic capabilities are the means through which you improve your operational capabilities, addressing deficiencies, or adapting to changing circumstances and new opportunities. For example, I can identify a need, search for, find, evaluate and adopt new software to help me with my work.
My interviews and observations start with an exploration of seven operational capabilities, as they are implemented in the practices of individuals and groups. The capabilities overlap. The relationships between capabilities are important. We consider how and why these capabilities are constrained, and the effects of those constraints. We look to identify what aspects are essential (considering the context in which they are used) or especially effective (in terms of fit, stick, spread and grow). This then provides a starting point for exploring the dynamic capabilities employed to develop those operational capabilities:
Resource capabilities provide you with an ability to find, process, store, use, share and create physical and informational resources.
Project capabilities provide you with an ability to coordinate activities over time to achieve a desired goal, working coherently on different aspects of a project.
Evaluative capabilities provide you with an ability to make and communicate accurate and appropriate qualitative and quantitative evaluations of work, people, systems etc.
Theoretical capabilities provide you with an ability to find/create and evaluate theories that can help you to understand your work, people, events etc.
Social capabilities provide you with an ability to benefit from the help of others, and in turn to benefit others.
Physical capabilities provide you with an ability to get the most out of and look after your own body and mind.
Ethical capabilities provide you with an ability to create, evaluate and apply values, concerns, virtues, principles, priorities etc – to know what is right and good.
Motivational capabilities provide you with an ability to keep yourself and others engaged and productive.