Category Archives: pedagogic research

What’s your approach to learning and teaching?

For a series of VR workshops that we are running next week, we want the participants to give us a very brief view of their approach to learning and teaching. This is an example of the kind of thing we are looking for, to put their responses to VR into context. The prompting questions are:

Briefly explain what you aim to get out of the teaching and/or learning that you do. What matters most about the design and implementation of teaching and learning? What values are important in guiding the choices you make in what you do and how you do it?

And an example response (by me as a student, although it could easily be recast as being about my approach to teaching):

I study what might be called “the philosophy of design” and “designerly practices applied to everyday life”. I’m very much motivated by wanting to improve the world, through helping people to work more effectively together in understanding their collective interests and shaping the things that they do. So I’m not a particularly career-minded or instrumental kind of learner. But I carefully choose what I engage in, so as to use my precious time and energy to find ideas and practices that will help me with what I do. I like some lectures – but only when they are really engaging and social. I don’t really like seminars, as I have always found them to be too short and too contrived. I like to formulate my ideas through writing, but am increasingly experimenting with other media, including diagrams, photography and video.

What are the pedagogic challenges facing teachers in HE today?

Yesterday I wanted to run a simple demo of Turning Point ResponseWare in a drop-in session at our new Oculus teaching and learning building. I left a single question active for the whole session, and just invited anyone present to have a go. My aim was to illustrate the mechanics of the system, but also to show a useful technique – an open survey that could be used to trigger dialogue with a diverse range of participants.

Earlier in the week I had noticed this entirely unofficial sign appearing outside of many of our lecture theatres:


Clearly someone is having a bit of a struggle to hold their students’ attention. It is a divisive issue, with pro and anti phone views amongst staff and students – but also many who just don’t know what all the fuss is about. This got me wondering if my assumptions about the issues that staff worry about in HE teaching are accurate. So I started a simple list. And during the drop-in session I put that list on as a ResponseWare question, inviting participants to say which of the issues they want to address. This was very much a trial, not proper research, just to see who recognises these issues and the terms used to describe them. Here’s my list:

  1. Students using shallow learning strategies.
  2. Poor lecture attendance.
  3. Students inattentive in lectures.
  4. Disengaged students.
  5. Achieving a balance between coverage and depth.
  6. Inappropriate, misaligned, assessment methods.

And here’s the completely unrepresentative results:


I don’t think these results mean very much. More importantly, every respondent recognised the issues, and understood the meaning of the terms, with the exception of “shallow learning” – that was a surprise.

I had a few more suggestions for issues to add to the list, and no doubt it will grow much bigger as I dig deeper.

More issues to be added here:

  • Overcrowding.
  • Illness and exhaustion (teacher and student).
  • Too much time spend manicuring the VLE, too little time to spend engaging with students.
  • Too little contact time.
  • Risk averse students.
  • Risk averse teachers.
  • Seemingly good students not achieving as expected in assessments.
  • Lack of or poor access to learning materials and facilities.

Observations on avoiding skeuomorphic thinking (Will Self) and the post-MOOC paradigm shift

There’s been a couple of really useful articles in the Times Higher this week.

First is a two part piece by Will Self (the author and journalist) and his academic colleague William Watkin (Professor of Contemporary Literature) about adapting teaching and learning to the digital world. It shows how, if sufficiently brave and reflective, conventional academics can adopt radically different teaching methods (in this case assessed blogs and flipped classroom). The key idea from Self is that skeuomorphic thinking about learning technology (the idea that new media mirrors old media) might help ease people into new tech, but it is deceptive and misleading. The important thing is to understand how all of these new technologies, concepts and practices interact together to form an entirely different paradigm that cannot be safely represented through the concepts of the past (if you know about Foucault’s philosophy of history, that’s where he is coming from). Self and Watkin seem to have done a good job of doing this with the design of their course. Aside from the philosophical aspect, there’s some good practical advice in this as well.

“How a course about violence changed the way students are taught and assessed – A literature module developed at Brunel University London has moved away from the traditional essay format and embraced the digital age”

And secondly another good “MOOCS? the hype was wrong” article, but with a genuine recognition that teaching, learning and students are complex things, and that the real challenge for HE is to adapt to complexity and diversity:

“Moocs can transform education – but not yet – Whether or not Moocs live up to the hype, technology’s impact on universities is real and growing, Stanford University’s John Hennessy tells Ellie Bothwell”

Worth considering both of these in the Warwick Uni context – how can we move from a “transmission of content” paradigm (and the over abundance of teaching spaces designed for that model) to a “facilitated student as producer/researcher/designer/creator” approach that fits more effectively with the global, creative, agile, networked economy? And what part does digital infrastructure and capability play in that?

My argument (developed from my PhD) is that success in the new paradigm depends upon the provision of spaces that can be occupied by ad hoc associations of people to undertake projects together. However, they work best if they can occupy such spaces uninterrupted over longer periods of time (days, weeks, months and sometimes longer). It’s hard for a university of the scale of (for example) Warwick to provide such space for all students. We might use digital tools and spaces to compensate for that, but digital capability in that area is seriously underdeveloped in HE.

A horrible history of MOOCs

Here are some annotated slides from a presentation I gave at our Technology for Learning research network.

Some useful research papers on this topic:

Knox, Jeremy (2014) Digital culture clash: “massive” education in the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, Distance Education, 35:2, 164-177.

O’Toole, Robert (2013) Pedagogical strategies and technologies for peer assessment in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Discussion Paper. University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.