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Teaching quality interventions are always a challenge for an Academic Developer, walking a thin line between sanction and support, between reassurance and patronizing. Yesterday I ran a small workshop with new classroom tutors teaching Statistics. The challenges of teaching a dozen international students new statistical concepts at 5pm on a wet windy Friday evening in London needs little unpacking.
I sought to provide some tools for staff to think about their role, to reflect on how they might meet discipline goals. We focussed not on 'tips and tricks' but on the fundamentals of space and voice, and how to develop engagement with both.
We explored some classroom layouts, including the one we were in, and identified the social conventions of space that determine the learning and teaching styles that are adopted. It's a nice activity which prompts participants to identify three different disciplines being taught in three layouts illustrated when in fact all three real examples are from the same course on the same day. It prompts the question 'am I using this learning space effectively or does it constrain, and indeed determine, how I teach?'
The tools available in the space, projector, whiteboard, PowerPoint, Prezi, etc were then discussed in relationship to this space. One of the questions I like to ask is how would you teach if the familiar tools fail you (in this case, the decorators say have removed the whiteboards). On this occasion I was walking the talk because my PowerPoint presentation had no means of being projected on rhe day and I had rearranged the seating to be able to run the session differently. Useful demonstration however unwelcome! It was a nice exploration of the nature of the whiteboard as a 'canvas'. I suggested students might be encouraged to photograph the whiteboard (the mobile phonecam being almost ubiquitous) to support the idea that this was a group creative process which rewarded engagement not simple the instruction from the board.
We then explored , with some amusing examples, the nature of the English language as a stressed language and the relationship, interplay, between intonation and connotation. This is always fun, not least because I get to remind myself why I never went into acting!
This combination of being more spatially aware, of using the tools with engagement as the intent not information delivery, and of simple appreciating the power of the human voice, will hopefully develop confidence and a sense of each tutors' unique abilities to communicate.
It was a fun session to run and one I hope I get to run again soon and I would love to run it overseas too.

Yesterday I posted some early thoughts on how visual rhetoric might be important to us in thinking about how we communicate in the teaching process, not just what we have to say but HOW we say it.

I said I'd have a crack at a PREZI presentation to illustrate my point - and here it is 🙂

I have begun writing a paper on visual rhetoric. I sat on the 7:31 commuter train to St.Pancras and watched to commuters, hunched over their laptops, working in PowerPoint. Their screens, filled with words, varieties of fonts, and formatting tricks in abundance. These comprehensive essays in landscape, perhaps to be printed and distributed but more likely projected illegibly for a bewildered business audience later that day reminded me again of the fundamental misuse of a very powerful and effective technology. The same day I showed my wife a Prezi presentation that I was preparing for a workshop the following day. Her comment was that it made her feel seasick as I moved fluidly, but somewhat distractedly, from one block of text to another. I suggested the term ‘see-sick’.

So I began to consider the power of these visual tools in our classrooms and the very superficial understanding that I, and I suspect the majority of my colleagues have, of their use. In such circumstances I often find it useful to turn to Merlot or Aristotle. Since I had no Merlot I turned to Aristotle.

Aristotle, identified three branches rhetoric: judicial, epideictic and deliberative.  Judicial rhetoric is concerned with justice and injustice, the defence or advocacy of charge or accusation. Epideictic rhetoric refers to speech or writing in praise or blame. Perhaps the most familiar notion of rhetoric is that of deliberative, in which speech or writing attempts to persuade others to take or not to take some defined action.

Much of our teaching is the incitement to learners to do something, to take an action. Teaching may in many circumstances be considered deliberative rhetoric, an invitation on the part of the student  (as reader, listener or participant) to pause and consider in response to a carefully timed performance and managed argument, the pace and rhythm control, the deliberate self interruption, punctuated silence, exclamations, questions, punctuating gestures. The teacher’s role is not simply to highlight an argument but to ensure that if a vote were cast the learner might make an appropriate judgment.

Teaching in face-to-face contexts supported by presentational technologies, the ubiquitous PowerPoint or some more contemporary form of visual media, requires a new mastery of rhetoric - that of visual rhetoric. This branch of rhetorical studies that concerns itself with the persuasive use of images, in isolation or in harmony with words, is a powerful tool in the classroom.

We live in an intensely visual world, surrounded by images in advertising, music, news information and educational media. Arrangements of words, in tag clouds, Wordle (http://www.wordle.net),  or PowerPoint arrangements are visual objects. Text projected on the wall is either a visual representation, discursive, provocative, motivating or informative, or it is ‘just words’. Not every projected arrangement of light and dark on the classroom wall is easily inferred as a visual object, as visual rhetoric, “(W)hat turns a visual object into a communicative artifact--a symbol that communicates and can be studied as rhetoric--is the presence of three characteristics. In other words, three markers must be evident for a visual image to qualify as visual rhetoric. The image must be symbolic, involve human intervention, and be presented to an audience for the purpose of communicating with that audience." (Smith, 2005, p. 144)

Kostelnick and Roberts in “Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communicators”, detail six canonical criteria through which to interpret the rhetorical impact, primarily of written text. These six are: arrangement, emphasis, clarity, conciseness, tone and ethos.

  • Arrangement – is the organisation of visual elements to demonstrate structure (and relationships)
  • Emphasis – differentiates elements giving some prominence through changes in size, shape and colour.
  • Clarity – avoiding unnecessary elements to assist the reader in ‘decoding’ quickly and completely the ‘message’
  • Conciseness –appropriately succinct designs that serve a specific audience need
  • Tone – the writer/presenter/designer’s tone provides evidence of their attitude to the subject
  • Ethos – developing the trust of the audience

These six visual criteria provide a helpful starting point in beginning to see images as objects for visual rhetoric and appropriate interpretation.  (Kostelnick & Roberts, 2010)

Since Zaltman suggests that thoughts occur as images, which are essentially visual, there is a direct inverse relationship between the power of the visual to provoke an emotional non-verbal reaction, a thought. Research by Joy and colleagues using the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique suggest a range of interesting relationships between viewers sense of space and depth, related directly to the positioning of objects, to the juxtaposition (overlapping, transparency, distortion) of images in support of a narrative. They conclude, “(U)ltimately, images and words are separate building blocks in the telling of stories but the two amplify each other. Researchers need to enrich and supplement the abstractions that accompany visuals with the details and particulars that accompany the verbal.” (Joy, Sherry Jr., Venkatesh, & Deschenes, 2009, p. 566)

Back in 2001 I did (what I still think was ) some interesting work with Nicola Durbridge at the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology looking at how to overcome some of the restrictions of text based discussion boards, the ‘drudgery’ of CMC (Computer Mediated Conferencing). I explored a simple ‘visual metaphor’ of a classroom so that individuals posting items to a forum did so ‘spatially’ as icons rather than simply adding the posting to list. (Atkinson, 2001). I have just scanned the resulting conference paper and it is work I would be keen to extend now in looking at Prezi and its use of visual rhetoric.

A Prezi that explores visual rhetoric is on its way.

......

Atkinson, S. (2001). Re-Tooling Online. In Book of Abstracts (pp. 154-156). Presented at the Online Educa Berlin 2001, Berlin: ICEF Berlin GMBH.

Joy, A., Sherry Jr., J., Venkatesh, A., & Deschenes, J. (2009). Perceiving images and telling tales: A visual and verbal analysis of the meaning of the internet. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 19(3), 556-566. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2009.05.013

Kostelnick, C., & Roberts, D. D. (2010). Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communicators. Longman Publishing Group.

Smith, K. L. (2005). Handbook of visual communication: theory, methods, and media. Routledge.

Version 1.2 of the SOLE 'Toolkit' has been uploaded today and a number of support videos (linked to from within the workbook) have been loaded onto www.YouTube.com/theSOLEmodel channel.

The original intention of the SOLE Learning Design model and its associated toolkit was, and remains, to embed academic professional development support 'inside' a learning development 'tool' and to embody good practice.

This isn't as simple as it sounds but I have to say I'm enjoying the attempt. The SOLE Model (Student-Owned Learning-Engagement Model) was first mooted at the end of 2009 and previewed at DEANZ in Wellington, NZ in April 2010. In July 2010 it was presented as a work in progress at the LAMS European Learning Design conference and a cloud floated on www.Cloudworks.ac.uk.

The response has been interesting, such a simple tool (Excel!) but an easy one to use, and for some, well suited to their approach. For me, the issue has been about producing a tangible product that the student will see, and potentially manipulate. That the student can see, and engage with the learning design is, I think, significant.

Screenshot
Comments within the Worksheets provide advice and guidance

Version 1.2 of the SOLE 'Toolkit' has been uploaded today and a number of support videos (linked to from within the workbook) have been loaded onto www.YouTube.com/theSOLEmodel channel. The inclusion student feedback on time spent, the inclusion of Intended Learning Outcomes on each student view, and the development of significant guidance and advice on each element of the model makes me feel Version 1.2 is ready! But, there is more work to be done on the advice and guidance in particular and I am considering how that may link in time to pages here on WordPress. I would like if possible to keep it very much 'self-contained' within the toolkit but user feedback may change that.

See the SOLE Model pages for Version1.2

Why is it that whenever we want to reward academic staff, the incentive is to "buy yourself out of teaching” and at the very least “offload some marking”. Of course the answer is often that the alternatives are to remove yourself from service or administration (and the place grinds to a halt) or, God Forbid, let up on the research outputs. So teaching it is that is the malleable element and assessment all the more so.

Shame. How do you really know if your teaching is effective if you don't see the results? How can you revise and improve your paper if you don;t complete that feedback loop for students?

Of course marking can be a fairly tedious process, even a favourite movie gets tiresome after the twentieth viewing, but it's a necessary process and anything that makes it a little easier has to be a good thing.

So I picked up this application here at Massey University called Lightwork. a development project led by Dr. Eva Heinrich, the desktop client intergrates with Moodle and its gradebook. Once 'paired' the Lightwork downloads student details and allows the creation of marking rubrics and assigned markers, these are then synchronised back to Moodle so the end result is that approved grades in Lightwork are uploaded into the gradebook along with a PDF of the completed marking rubric. Well worth a look. I confess I'm playing in a paper with only 10 students, but just the admin time saved not having to save feedback forms under different student names etc, must be worth it.

Screenshots of Lightwork Assessment Tool
Lightwork: Rubrics and Student PDF Feedback form generated in Moodle

How is VoiceThread changing our ideas about communication?

Kevin Burden and I gave a short paper at ASCILITE in Melbourne Dec08 called "Evaluating Pedagogical ‘Affordances’ of Media Sharing Web 2.0 Technologies: a case study". In the paper we looked particulalry at how the DiAL-e Framework might be used to explore the opportunities of a particular tool, in this case Voicethread. Off the back of that we bagan to get rather interested in how the various Web 2.0 technologies are actually chnaging the way people think about communication. We're writing that up now and part of the process is to use the tool to talk about the tool! So Kevin has created a VoiceThread called "How is VoiceThread changing our ideas about communication? "

I've embedded the VoiceThread below. It's free to sign up and make contributions. Although we're looking for people to share their existing expereinces, the novice perspective is also welcome. Making comments is really simple and you can delete and re-record as many times as you like.
If you didn't know already......
A VoiceThread is an online media album that allows a group of people to make comments on images, videos, and documents, really simply. You can participate 5 different ways - using your voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam). It's easy to control who can access and comment on a VoiceThread, which makes it a secure place to talk about almost anything: business and academic presentations, travelogues, family history, art critiques, language study, tutorials, book clubs and digital storytelling. A VoiceThread allows an entire group conversation to be collected from anywhere in the world and then shared in one simple place.

So here's our invitation to a dialogue ! How is VoiceThread changing our ideas about communication?

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