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I want to talk today about some of the terminological differences that we have across the English language teaching world, particularly the terms, evaluation, assessment, and feedback. In North America, the word evaluation is very often used to describe the way we measure students' performance. In United Kingdom, in Australia and New Zealand, we generally use the term assessment. So evaluation has a different meaning in parts of English-speaking world than it does in North America. Likewise, Assessment and evaluation are sometimes used more as synonyms in the North American context. And you need to be aware of that when you read literature, if you read any of the journals, you will find that sometimes those terms are used differently to perhaps your context. So, it's worth being aware of that.
There's also a distinction between evaluation and feedback, which is more conceptual rather than definitional. Which is that feedback is always what we give to the student. We should always be focusing on the feedback that's given to students on their learning and evaluation in the UK, Canada, Canada, to some extent, but certainly in Australia and New Zealand, is used to describe what they tell us about our own performances tutors, or about the course or the institution. So, they provide evaluative comment, and we provide them with feedback.
I think it's important that we try and stick to that use of language. If only because students need to value feedback in everything they do, and it's much easier to label things as feedback for the benefit of your students if you're consistent in the language that you use. So, feedback is given to students. Evaluation is provided by students, and evaluation in North America is sometimes synonymous with assessment. I hope that's of interest.
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Want to talk today about burnout. Being a teacher, being a lecturer, being an academic, very often leads to periods of intense pressure, and very often we see colleagues burning out. They leave the profession.
They literally just find the ongoing pressure too much to bear, and I think it's really important that we support each other, but we also have to preserve ourselves and avoid exhaustion. We do that by setting boundaries. You need to learn to say no. You need to learn that your responsibilities have a limit.
Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to, take on all of the pressures, all of the responsibilities that our students expect the entire institution to provide for them, and it's important that we make time for relationships, for relaxation, for recreation.
Education is a team game or a theatrical piece. It's not a single performance. It's not a solo game, nor are you actually a solo performer. You're not a stand-up comedian standing alone on your stage. It's a team effort. So if you do feel yourself under oppression. If you feel overly stressed, turn to a colleague and ask them for support. If those colleagues aren't available for you to lean on, then you need to learn to escalate because it's not your responsibility to run the entire college or the entire university or to run the entire school sector.
You need to be able to escalate your own stress just in order to avoid burnout. So if you feel the pressure lean on a colleague, if there's no colleague to lead on, escalate.
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Let's talk today about building professional relationships. Teaching can be quite a lonely experience. Depends a little bit on the organization that you teach in. You might be teaching in a very isolated part of the world, or you might be teaching a very specialist discipline. You might be the only person teaching that particular subject in your school, even in your area.
And having good connections with other practitioners that understand you, understand your context, definitely do serve to lower the level of anxiety that you might feel. There's evidence to suggest that well- connected educators do suffer less anxiety.
So reaching out now is much easier. There are any number of digital platforms that you can engage with and connect with other people. And in doing so you benefit not just that level of human connectivity, but you're also using them as a source of new ideas, new sources, new perspectives.
It's very important if you do get involved in any of these platforms that you do become a contributor, as well as a consumer. That's not just because that's fair. It's just, it's also that echoing your voice is really important, using your voice to mirror the practice of others is part of the process of building those relationships.
Even if it's just to go back to someone who's posted something, you found a value to just say "I've used what you suggested. It worked very well for me" or it didn't and I made this adjustment, and I did it this way. Having that level of feedback is really important.
So, I'm on a number of different platforms. I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter. I'm on Instagram. I'm on Tik Tok. I'm on YouTube and I've got my own website, but I think the two that everyone needs to start with are Twitter and LinkedIn. Build a profile on LinkedIn, doesn't have to be expansive, but at least something that gives people a sense of who you are as a person.
And then Twitter is a great way of just picking up ideas, sources, perspectives, re-tweeting things that you think are of interest, identifying things more widely, and posting them and share that community experience. You'd be surprised how quickly it does build and giving you a solid network to lean on will undoubtedly reduce your anxiety.
So you might want to try some of those platforms for yourself. See how it goes.
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Welcome all. Please feel free to share this with colleagues. If you think they'll find it of interest.
Let's talk today about how you handle a session that doesn't go so well. Any problems that crop up can be quite demoralizing. Sometimes you walk out of a session thinking either I dropped the ball or the students didn't respond. Something just didn't work in any given session.
Now not every session is going to go well. It could be something you have failed to plan for, it may be that you misjudged the receptivity of the students. It may be that they just were very resistant to what it was you're asking them to engage with in the session and how you manage that system dynamic is obviously very problematic.
So after any session, educators really need to sit back and reflect if it, even if it just takes a few minutes, even if they're just doing it in their heads, they need to be thinking about what went well, what didn't go so well. If it doesn't go well, there's a particular problem in any given session, it's a really good idea to journal it, write something down, even just a few notes on the back of your notes are fine, but to write something down as soon as possible after the session. To discuss it with colleagues, just to literally go back to the, whatever the virtual coffee room is, or the staff room and talk to your colleagues about why something didn't go well and be open about that. You won't be judged for it if you're honest about it.
And thirdly, to reflect, and how deeply you reflect will depend a little bit on whether it was a serious issue or, or relatively minor issue. You maybe want to think about, from a positive perspective what you would do differently if you had it again.
And if you were faced with those similar circumstances in the future, how you might plan to do it differently. So it's really important that you do reflect at some level, either using notes, conversation or indeed just thinking about it. I always try and make some notes after a session, particularly if it hasn't gone well, but even if it's gone well, I might want to make a note as to why I think it might've gone well.
I think it's really important, and I would encourage you to do that. So do try something like that, try something similar.
In recent weeks as the war in Ukraine has unfolded I have watched educators trying, with significant success, to use events as teachable moments. The intricacies of shifting boundaries and conflicts used to fuel debates about historical context. Economics teachers use economic interdependences between countries, evidenced through oil and gas supplies, phosphates and grains to great effect. Exploring ethnic identities form a core part of anthropological and social sciences conversations. What I see, are teachers in the English-speaking liberal democracies, the ‘West’ (where I have sight), teaching this war as not being ‘over there’, as some distant disconnected experience. Rather it is being taught in the context of ‘it is happening here’ or at the very least ‘could it happen here?’
Very often teachers are struggling to answer questions from students and still ‘getting through’ the prescribed content, predetermined in curriculum structures and resources imposed from outside. The best national, regional and institutional systems empower teachers to leverage events that are affecting their students. The worst amongst them have rigid content requirements. These later are written by bureaucrats not by teachers. Concepts are more powerful than content, ideas more enduring than facts. Giving students a framework for critical thought using ideas and concepts allows them to seek out and identify facts and content. Importantly, it empowers the student to make connections between disparate thoughts, across time and geographies.
I think education should be radical, it should be focused on change, not on maintaining the status quo; it should be focused on transformation not normalising; it should be focused on the individual as a member of diverse and overlapping communities, not as unique cogs in a machine. Radical education should be innovating not perpetuating, enriching not sustaining, challenging not confirming.
Oscar Wilde said that
“The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”
True. So little has changed since the 19th century despite the dawning of a digital Information age. In my view, we are still too committed to a curriculum of content rather of concepts.
Courageous teachers across the world are navigating troubling times with creativity and insight. They are often forced to bend and circumvent an imposed curriculum to make the learning effective and real. Why teach about supply and demand to business students using Californian almond production when you can explore the impact of disrupted wheat exports from Ukraine? Why explore the English Reformation when a contemporary example of religious disaggregation is happening today in the Orthodox Churches. Ideally, teachers should have the flexibility to compare and contrast established (predetermined resources) with students' own contemporary comparators.
Welcome all. Please feel free to share this with colleagues. If you think it would be of interest to them. So, today I want to talk a little bit about why it's important to plan your sessions. This is particularly pertinent if you're delivering a stand-up lecture, that's expected to keep students engaged for 40 minutes, 45 minutes, but even in a normal session, a normal seminar session, it's still really important that you plan. Down your session. It's really important that you don't plan around the content. And rather you plan around the learning experiences. We can almost take them as synonyms. We would almost say content and experiences are the same, but it's really important that you think about how the student is hearing that content, how they're engaging with that content rather than just delivering them raw content.
I think it's also really important as you plan out those linkages, those connections between the experiences in your lecture, that you don't use a hundred percent of the time, certainly lecturers when they start their careers, if they're not particularly confident, they will walk into a lecture theater, start delivering, keep talking and leave at the end, in order to possibly avoid confrontation, avoid questions.
And once you've found your feet, you will be able to use the time really effectively. And I think it's important that you plan possibly for up to 80% of the session to be around the learning experiences, the guided experiences that you were expecting to share with students, and leave 20%. at the end. Sometimes people say, what do I do if people don't have questions, if students don't ask anything, how do I use that time?
There, there are a number of ways that you can use that, but it is important to have a, almost an Encore in the way that a musician is expecting to come back onto the stage and perform again. we don't usually get, rounds of standing ovations for our teaching, but very often having an Encore is really important.
It's almost the most important thing because it's the last thing that the student is going to experience. So it can't be something that is core. Can't be core content or core content experience because you might not get your opportunity. The session might go long and it's dangerous to leave the best to the end, but it has to be something that's reinforcing something that's empowering and it's worth actually concentrating really on what that Encore is going to look like.
And then build the session back. If the session does go a little bit long, that Encore needs to be able to be prepared either as a short video interaction to go up on the website on your, virtual learning environment, or possibly. Yeah, featuring featured in a handout, but it's really important that you plan out the experiences for 80% of the session, and link them together, conceptually through good planning.
There are some templates that you can use for planning sessions, a search on the web would find any number of them. I've also got one on my website as well. If you do want to access that.
Just give it a go. See how it goes. Let me know. Be well.
Welcome, all. Please feel free to share this with your colleagues, if you think it would be of value to them.
I want to talk today about passion. It's really important that your passion for your subject is conveyed to your students. Even if there is something about your subject that you don't particularly find interesting, you might find it a little bit dull, even, it's really important that you look deep inside and find the nugget of passion for that particular topic or that particular lesson because if you don't, you risk losing your students' engagement with you.
So, think back to a situation where you have yourself had a teacher tutor, or lecturer, that you thought was exceptional. You may remember everything that happened in this session. You may have looked forward to going to those particular sessions. What was it about that particular lecturer, or tutor, sis that proved so effective? When I've done this exercise with, academics as part of academic professional development, almost without exception, they would say, actually it was the passion. It was the passion of the teacher for that particular discipline. Sometimes that specific lecture, sometimes that series of lectures, that course.
And so I think it's really important that you do look to find that moment of passion within anything that you're teaching. So, sometimes that can be quite difficult, and you may need to about, sometimes a very small, aspect of the entire topic that you think is a point of passion, and you build from that. Because it's your passion for the subject that will allow you to get your students engaged. It will allow them to be more receptive to the enlightenment that you are going to share with them, and it's also going to mean that you are more likely to be able to give them the empowerment, to go forward, to think about what they're going to do with that learning later.
So your learning needs to engage, enlighten and empower. And, I personally found it quite hard on occasion to find that point of passion and it's worth literally thinking, just before the session, "what's the one thing that I'm going to share with my students in this session?" That sparks other people's passions. What other researchers, other academics, whatever thinkers have spun off that particular point?. And if you don't have anything, particularly that, you find passionate, you can convey the passion of others, but it's really important that there is passion in any teaching session.
So you might want to try that. Let me know how it goes.
Welcome all. Please feel free to share this with any of your colleagues who you think might benefit from it. Let's talk today about complexity and simplicity. So, I think you can save yourself an enormous amount of time by carefully planning a session based on the complexity or simplicity of the argument that you're trying to convey to your students.
It's really important that we don't stress the content of what we're delivering. Rather the interrelationships of what it is we're talking about or teaching about. Whether that's a conceptual relationship, it might be a timeline. It might be a cause and effect, relationship, whatever the relationship is, whatever conceptually encapsulates the knowledge that's being shared.
So, if you plan your lesson, it'll depend a little bit on the nature of the discipline and the level which you're teaching. But I think generally it's quite a good idea to outline the complex picture as briefly as possible as a target that students are going to aim for, but rather than then try and make that your starting point and try and explore that you basically want to go right back to the beginning to the most simple building blocks of that complexity and build your way forward.
I think the reason to do that is it's very easy sometimes to make assumptions that students have had the same life experiences you, or that they actually have the same linguistic ability, terminologies. That they understand the jargon, and there's a real danger that you can trip over yourself.
If you start from a complex try and go to simple, you need to basically start with simple and build up. It's really important to make sure that if you do think there is discipline jargon to be shared, that has to be unpicked and built into the session, put up definitions alongside any jargon that you're using.
So, I think it's really important just to situate the complexity of the topic in their, in the student’s, landscape of learning, not in your own. And it's very often, the case is that we almost, it's not about showing off, but sometimes we literally just kind of feel that we need to start with what we’re most comfortable with, which is sometimes a very advanced level of knowledge.
So, it's really important to just plan out your session in advance. I use a mind map to do that. I usually have a map sometimes on paper, sometimes using a bit of software that allows me. Map out the journey from simplicity to complexity. And when I do that, I can share that with my students as well.
You might want to try that, see how it goes. Please share like, and follow be well.
I have never believed in social-constructivism. At least not the way the educational anthropologists' definition of the phenomena has been distorted and contorted into current practice. Social-constructivists justifiably argue that knowledge is often constructed through social interaction. Further, they state that the social and cultural context in which that learning occurs is significant. I just don’t believe that it necessarily requires in-person encounters. And I don’t think it applies to all forms of learning and disciplines.
The fetishism of ‘group-work’, which has continued to grow since the 1980s on the back of skimming the literature about social constructivism, and further enabled through digital tools in developed economies, has been applied to nearly all disciplines and all levels. This simply doesn’t make sense. Socialisation matters for children in K-12 as they learn diverse social skills through subject-based curriculum; at least in theory. Group-work, applied to much of the University curriculum has been poorly conceived. Rich courseware should provide atransparent socio-cultural context for its learning. It rarely does. Unless the intention is to refine and extend the processes of socialisation for University students, students can, and should, be empowered to mediate the knowledge through their own socio-cultural reality.
When I read, listen, or watch something I am engaged in learning from another human being. Often this learning is asynchronous, sometimes time-displaced to an extreme degree, but there is still evidence of a voice. How well crafted the learning is, will depend on the coherent nature of that voice, but there is always a voice. At the Open University in the early 2000s Course Teams worked hard to ensure that no matter how many course authors might contribute to a course, there was a consistent 'voice'. I just don't believe that it is appropriate to assume that an individual’s learning is enhanced somehow by having 'horizontal' conversations with others who are at the same level of learning as themselves. I agree that one can learn from others. That is not the same as saying one necessarily learns with peers.
Personally, I believe we should be designing learning experiences, and courseware, that the individual student can deploy in their own context. If learners 'want' to learn with others, with whānua (family/community) or colleagues, they can do so. We may want to encourage them to mobilise people around their own learning, and to build networks to support their learning journey. This would be a truer representation of their lifelong learning experience going forward.
I don't believe we should force students to 'come and learn with us'. To do so is to perpetuate an arcanemodel of learning that reinforces notions of power and privilege. It's a model of learning that centralises access to knowledge, and maintains the notion of gatekeepers to learning. We should empower and enable learners through our courseware, not enslave them through it.
Let’s talk about the skills required of learning designers, or instructional designers.
Context makes all the difference. Learning design in a face-to-face University context looks very different from an online instructional designer working in a government department or commercial enterprise.
Roles using generic job titles can differ significantly. There are learning designers who guide academics in their practice (in the way ‘educational developers’ do), and others who interpret how-to notes into a short visually rich interactive screen based experience (more like a UX ‘user experience’ designer). And all points in between.
Job descriptions can be fairly meaningless.
Knowing the needs of the organisation is the best place to start. Knowing the difference between designing a series of courses as part of a University programme that is going to amount to 3,600 hours of student learning differs greatly from taking a manual and putting it into an e-learning unit that takes an hour to work through.
The nature of the organisation also determines the degree of autonomy and responsibility the designer is likely to be given. Turning a manual into e-learning may require no content knowledge at all. Just convert what’s there and you’re good. A course as part of a formal qualification either requires the designer to have some foundation in the discipline or the ability to research, corroborate, validate and extract knowledge, and establish how best to ‘teach’ that.
The only commonality across these roles and contexts is the ability to see things through learner’s eyes, whoever that learner is.
That means empathy is the first key skill.
In the contexts in which I have worked in the last 25 years, the ability to overcome the ‘Curse of Knowledge’, the inability to remember what it means to be a beginner in any area of learning has been key. That means that for me, it has never been about building a team of discipline specialists. It has meant looking to build course teams that include those who possess knowledge and practical experience, and those who act as the ‘first learners’. These first learners, as designers, need to ask the simple questions, the ‘dumb’ questions, to make sure that the level at which we pitch the learning is appropriate.
This may seem obvious to you, but it’s remarkable how many designers are intimidated by specialist knowledge. Faced with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is 'cursed with knowledge' and who cannot express learning intentions at the appropriate level, a good designer has to cajole, persuade and chorale the learning from the SME.
This means that the ability to listen and ask questions as though a 'first learner' is the second key skill.
Designing learning that works within a specific context, say a three hour face-to-face workshop, is unlikely to work in an online form without modification. This means designers need to combine their skills of empathy and listening, of understanding the institutional purpose and the perceptions of the learner, and adapt courseware accordingly.
In the last 18 months many organisations have been forced to learn this lesson the hard way. Faced with the challenge of sustaining learning under pandemic conditions, most have made a reasonable effort of getting it right. Those that held to their core values and listened to the needs of their students and teachers have done better than those that reached for process and systems driven approaches.
A good classroom teacher, with practice, can adapt their delivery from workshop to seminar, from lecture to discussion fora, when timetabling assigns them a different teaching space, learning designers need to adapt the ‘tools’ they use to suit the learning need. Digital tools come and go, upgrades can change the way tools behave significantly. A designer who is an expert at using Rise 360 may move into a role where that tool is not available, or they may use H5P like a pro only to find that their organisation prohibits its use on their platform. A good designer looks past the tool (or space) and can identify the essence of the learning experience and make it engaging.
Being adaptable to the means of communication and associated toolset is the third key skill.
You notice that there is nothing about intellectual skills or the ability to use any particular tool. I am making an assumption that you have at least a bare minimum of digital-literacy, that you have used more than one tool, and that you know what appropriate use looks like in a given context. I am also making the assumption that you are intellectually capable of some level of judgement and analysis.
Most importantly, I am going to assume that you are, because you have read to the end of this post, sufficiently self-reflective to consider what your skill set is, and what it should or could be. That’s a great start.