It can be a challenge to design activities in which everyone feels engaged, but Liberating Structures has a number of great suggestions for format, invitations, and content that can ensure that everyone has a stake in the proceedings. Contributed: give the whole class a task that can only be accomplished by everyone fulfilling their assigned role. Another one: use ‘lecture reaction’ where students take on the roles of ‘questioners’, ‘example givers’, ‘divergent thinkers’ or ‘agreers’ and discuss in small groups accordingly. I also assign the role of ‘researchers’ who can google or search for interesting information and share it with the class.
2. Explain Yourself
Stating your purpose clearly, for the course, and for the learner, is an important first step in helping to establish a connection.
3. Make it Worth it
Accountability is important to helping learners engage. Using quizzes or surveys to gauge the level of knowledge without giving the impression of ‘judgement’ means keeping these low-stakes and fun. IFAT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) scratch cards encourage teams to arrive at consensus before answering.
4. Apply Knowledge
Asking learners to think about a situation, case, or example immediately after explaining a concept can help concretize the material and aids retention. Contributed variation: invite learners to attend a professional meeting or to interview a practitioner in the field of study. Use ‘finger signals’ instead of clickers for multiple choice or true or false questions (students hold up fingers against their chest so others can’t see, to indicate the correct choice).
5. Be Organized
It sounds trite, but having an agenda for the class and carefully signposting each activity shows respect for learners’ time. Include an opening, buildup and closing at the very least. Contributed variation: use a one-minute paper to have learners identify the ‘Muddiest Point’ and address next class.
6. Use Metaphors
Solving a tough problem can be like unravelling a ball of string. Metaphors help learners to connect the familiar with the unfamiliar. Contributed variation:use a ‘Snowball’ technique with this one.
7. Use Mystery
Don’t give away the ‘answers’ prematurely! Build up to the big reveal with hints and clues. Variation: Picture prompts, in which an image is presented without explanation, asks students to identify/explain, discuss and describe any structures or processes shown (can be written or discussion format).
8. Be Unexpected
Use incongruity, contrasts and comparisons to spur thinking. It doesn’t have to be flashy or shocking, just curious or odd. Contributed variation: use movement, have students move to different areas of the classroom for group work, writing comments on sticky notes, posting under categories, etc.
9. Use Visuals
A picture speaks volumes. Well, you knew that…but visual culture in the age of Instagram is even more vital. Contributed variation: give learners objects to ‘play with’ during long lectures (colouring, playdough). Use demonstrations.
10. Vary Your Voice
For most people, this requires increasing your volume and variability in a conscious way. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but listeners will thank you. Contributed variation: be enthusiastic and show your passion! Capture the emotional content in your subject to create a hook.
A few years ago, I visited the Mauritshuis Museum in Den Haag, Netherlands, where I learned about the famous Vermeer painting Girl With a Pearl Earring. With the painting before me, an app guided me through its history, stories of the painter, and offered comparative works to explore right on my phone. This is just one example of how the internet of things can assist with learning. The Internet of Things refers to the idea that everything becomes a node on a network. It is focused on the use of smart sensing for pervasive connectivity and ubiquitous computing (University of Wisconsin-Madison).
While estimates vary, it is expected that the expectation of internet connectivity for many everyday devices will begin to impact education within 4-5 years. Although opinions vary on the speed of roll out, many observers note the rapid development of sensor, miniaturization, mobile and wearable technology as key drivers. Business Insider predicts that “there will be 34 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, up from 10 billion in 2015. IoT devices will account for 24 billion, while traditional computing devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, etc.) will comprise 10 billion (Greenough and Camhi, 2016). “These developments emerge from outside the education sector, and to the extent they have implications for everyday life, work, consumption, decisionmaking and service provision, they will also impact the education sector. Specifically, the Internet of Things intersects with personalized learning and adaptive technologies by creating new opportunities for real-time data to impact learning. It may also impact blended learning, since connectivity creates “Hypersituational” (Educause) learning environments such as augmented reality.
These developments emerge from outside the education sector, and to the extent they have implications for everyday life, work, consumption, decisionmaking and service provision, they will also impact the education sector.
These new blended learning environments allow for wider exploration of the physical and virtual worlds in synchronous and asynchronous formats. For example, students can tour physical spaces with supplementary sound, text, video, or interactive elements (QR codes or Google Glass). Students can create projects that integrate crowd-sourced or networked data from physical systems in real-time. Similarly, redesigned learning spaces may be affected by the IofT because of the integration of physical and virtual worlds that is made possible by interconnectivity. As well, IofT may boost a focus on place-based education by localizing some aspects of the learning experience and making use of the environment in innovative ways. Another area of potential high impact is environmental, economic, and social sustainability, as the IofT has the potential to make every institutional operation more efficient by more closely integrating systems, from building temperatures to classroom scheduling and parking.
The power and appeal of the IofT lies in its flexibility and convenience. For learners, great benefits arise from improved efficiency and responsiveness of systems to real-time demands. On the other hand, hesitations are widespread and may slow the adoption of IofT in the education sector. Chief among these concerns are privacy, security, automation of decision making, and information overload (Pew Research Centre). Networked systems are vulnerable to hacking or infiltration by phishing or scam artists. Personal information is more vulnerable on a network, and algorithms are imperfect sources of analysis for decision making. The ability to collect data on physical and emotional states has severe implications for personal security and privacy. At the same time, if the IofT grows as many predict it will, students will need to acquire new technical and social skills for employability. IofT will require people to manage data, interpret and apply information, make ethical judgements, and effectively share and contextualize information. How might you put the Internet of Things to use in your classroom?
This is a talk I gave for Okanagan College’s employee get-together Connections on August 23rd, 2016. In this session the group learned how to identify and think about potential disruptive innovations in higher education and what we can do about it in both the short term and the long term. The session also outlined the work of OC’s Disruptors Group.
Trying to balance accountability with accessibility is one of the key problems of leadership in any organization, but in educational institutions the challenges are unique in that the fundamental purpose of the organization requires engagement and collaboration from all those part of the enterprise. This model makes sense of the challenges of designing an institution that supports learning and teaching, but which balances two sometimes conflicting goals: creating a culture of learning while achieving excellence in learning and teaching.
No single model is representative, each has its strengths and problems – the idea is to visualize the contrasts in some way. The range of ‘less focus’ and ‘more focus’ is meant to refer to the central purposes of the organization. So, if the central purpose leans more toward ‘excellence’ or ‘quality improvement’ that is one direction, while if it leans more toward ‘learning culture’ or ‘organizational development’ then that is another purpose.
Each model utilizes elements of the others and no model is exclusive, it is only in the degree to which the model leans in that direction that determines its position. The description of each model refers to a series of metrics, including ‘who’ carries out the functions, the direction and type of learning and service provision, whether it is focused on goals or process, and whether it is competitive.
Ultimately, the purpose serves the organization by creating the conditions for its operation, as well as by shaping expectations for performance. Like any good classroom, the function and purpose that underlie the enterprise should closely align with the structure. At the same time, purposes should be flexible and, to my mind, not neglect the processes that allow people to be people, and to realize their best selves in any organization.
Institutional centres for learning and teaching serve vitally important functions in higher education. They focus on core educational activities. However, across the country, for a variety of reasons, these offices are at a crossroads. I’d like to consider at least some of the factors creating change as we move ahead to a 21st century learning and teaching environment.
The impetus to create centres for learning and teaching in the 1970s and 1980s arose from three main developments.
First, there was an explosive growth in literature in the educational field that could inform teaching and contribute to better learning outcomes.
Second, governments increased pressure on higher education institutions to make use of resources more efficiently and effectively.
Third, there was a growing unrest among students concerning the quality of instruction (understandably, given the rising cost of tuition and the declining relative value of a degree in an increasingly competitive job market).
Despite their prominence, these three sets of priorites (dissemination of knowledge, the need for cost savings, and response to demands) represent very different, often conflicting, pathways for institutions. The need for cost savings conflicts with the desire for student access to quality teaching, and student demands sometimes conflict with the best practices of teaching. As well, there has been an incomplete fit between the growth in teaching-oriented professional development and improved student learning outcomes overall.
The ‘Place’ of Teaching
In research universities, teaching has often been considered a ‘lower tier’ of academic activities . This is not without reason if the focus is on graduate education, since on average only 30% of PhDs actually go on to academic positions in which teaching is a primary activity. Given this, it makes little sense to ask graduate students to devote a lot of time to prepare to be teachers. In addition, the universities’ focus on research as a source of funding means fewer expenditures on other initiatives with less potential for return. As a result, despite the fact that teaching occupies a considerable amount of professors’ time and energy, professional recognition or institutional support for teaching remains comparatively low. While less apparent in teaching-oriented universities and colleges, the same dynamics are at work driving teaching-oriented professional development at other institutions.
Despite their prominence, these three sets of priorites (dissemination of knowledge, the need for cost savings, and response to demands) represent very different, often conflicting, pathways for institutions.
The Great Acceleration
All three of the conditions that contributed to the creation of learning and teaching offices in higher education still persist. The growth in knowledge about learning, student expectations, and governmental belt-tightening are still at work. However, almost everything else about the environment has changed, creating a sense of flux and transition, opening up new opportunities and choices.
The crossroads confronting education is at least in part, a function of the wave of disruptive technology, including mobile and online options, which has upended education. New technologies diffuse power, eroding the monopoly of knowledge and expertise. This is evident in the boardroom as well as the classroom. In response, managing technological transition has become a key focus for centres for learning and teaching. The technological imperative is accompanied by the perception among administators (although not necessarily the reality) that new technologies will create cost savings and that students will demand them. The drive to incorporate and disseminate new educational technologies and to encourage their adoption by faculty has become central.
The fear of being overtaken by competitors is almost overwhelming. As W.D. Smith pointed out in Maclean’s a few years ago, the drive to be competitive (which incurs increasing costs for recruitment advertising and change management) are causing ballooning administrative costs. CBC news reports that “non-academic full-time salaries at Ontario universities, adjusted for inflation, rose 78 per cent from 2000/01 to 2013/14, from $934 million to nearly $1.7 billion (Davison, March 16 2015).”
The 2012 removal of Teresa Sullivan as President of the University of Virginia was motivated largely by concerns over “competition, technology and scarce resources.” Her subsequent reinstatement after an outcry from students and faculty vindicated her view that “corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university (Sampson, Aug 27 2012).”
The pressure to compete and for cost control also accelerates a focus on superficial measurement of professional development activities. As Broad and Evans point out in their summary of the PD literature, “evaluation connected to professional development tends to consist of “counting” or recording activities or outlining the activities undertaken with no analysis of their impact on learning or practice (25).”
Growth in Knowledge
The second big change is around the literature on learning and teaching. There is little agreement on what kinds of professional development actually lead educators to improve their teaching practice. The result is a cacophony of conflicting advice and forces. Approaches veer between the extremes of standardized delivery models on the one hand, and collaborative peer-led models of professional development on the other.
The complexity and ambiguity of learning and teaching, as evidenced by the trends in the literature, defies an easy fit into the ‘one size fits all’ model of delivery. Together with the trend toward knowledge sharing facilitated by network technologies, the need for a collaborative model of professional development is increasingly apparent.
The benefit of a collaborative approach is its recognition and respect for diversities of opinion and for the knowledge and experience of teaching practitioners. This philosophy prioritizes bottom-up expertise, dialogue, exchange of knowledge, problem-solving, realistic expectations, caring for the teacher and learner, and, at its core, a recognition of the ambiguity of the practice of teaching and learning. It prioritizes a consultative, open, and mutually supportive culture that recognizes disciplinary knowledge and respects differences while working to improve student learning outcomes by building relationships.
The complexity and ambiguity of learning and teaching, as evidenced by the trends in the literature, defies an easy fit into the ‘one size fits all’ model of delivery.
This approach, while true to the state of the literature on learning and teaching, is at odds with the third driver, that of improved cost-effectiveness. It is also at odds with the increasing pressures to be competitive and cutting-edge in an era of shifting technologies. Managing change under this philosophy is slow, incremental, and consensus-driven.
The future of learning and teaching will be shaped by many conflicting forces. Shifting student demand, changing technologies, and a focus on organizational efficiency and measurable outcomes will continue to influence decisions. Proceeding as if all options are possible (and compatible) only deepens the cacophony and reduces effectiveness. Managing change in this transition means going beyond superficial forms of consultation to create new, more inclusive and open forms of collaboration. This is in line with the levelling influence of technology, and is a good fit with the dominant philosophies of education, which increasingly recognize the need to acknowledge and include the learner in all dimensions of the educational process.
In my companion post (ahem) a few weeks ago, I mused about the potential for higher education to be vulnerable to the kinds of disruptive innovations occurring in other industries, like newspapers, music, and movies. This time, I’ll explore a bit more how I see disruptive innovation affecting Arts education, which some see as particularly vulnerable to disruption. Although it’s sometimes easy to miss, Arts education is much more than attending lectures, writing essays and acquiring transferable and marketable skills. Indeed, as this recent survey indicates, Arts educators would be remiss not to respond to the demands of their ‘clients’ for a greater and more meaningful experience animated by passion, curiosity, and depth.
It’s this complexity that makes Arts education less, rather than more, vulnerable to ‘MOOC-ification’. The study of Humanities and Social Sciences requires an immersive and sometimes life-changing configuration of influences. The expression of complex ideas in simple language, the organization and prioritization of research, and the exploration of the human experience from a range of viewpoints requires a commitment much larger than a given delivery system. Arts education is larger than the acquisition of skills, indeed, referring to the complex processes of critical and creative thought as ‘skill acquisition’ devalues it, and is in many ways beside the point.
None of this is to deny that the institutional mechanisms of Arts education haven’t done some damage to the cultivation of critical and creative thinking. Large lecture-style classes, cookie-cutter tests and formulaic essay-writing are convenient for educators concerned with conveying mass credentials, and have played their part in the past in reducing costs. To the extent that Arts education conforms to the industrial practices of other subjects, it remains vulnerable. However, new means of conveyance cannot yet accomplish the kinds of personal, individualized experience that Arts education aspires to (see the Culture lab as an example of this changing philosophy).
To the extent that Arts education conforms to the industrial practices of other subjects, it remains vulnerable.
In addition, it matters that learners experience different Arts subjects in a manner that allows comparisons of their content. Most Arts undergrads take a few different subjects each term, offering the opportunity for cross-fertilization and meta-learning that can’t be accomplished by taking each subject in isolation, or ‘mixing’ and ‘matching’. For example, my subject of Political Science emerged from a time when the arrival of mass warfare, revolutionary movements, totalitarian governments, and economic dislocations prompted an interest in cultivating citizens capable of making critical judgements based on historical knowledge. This contextual knowledge of the origins of one’s society was believed to be a social good as well as an individual good.
Can Arts education evolve to meet the challenge of new technologies and disruptive innovations? There is alot of synergy between the distributed model of online learning, and the more concentrated model of the classroom. These two learning settings can be complementary. With individual practice, testing and writing done in a distributed or individual setting, blended learning means making more time for group discussion, interactive question and answer sessions, and customized coaching in a personal or group setting. Technologies can aid this process by enabling more time for intensive learning experiences when they are most effective, leaving educators the ability to collaborate and customize courses of study to suit their learners. This can shorten the time necessary to learn. However, making the most of disruptive innovation for the Arts means rejecting the temptation to reduce and narrow the purposes of Arts education to a specific and transferable set of measurable criteria. Self-development and intellectual growth do take time, and for many, these experiences should not be rushed. Blended learning, coupled with open educational resources, can also improve accessibility and bring experiences to new learners who may not otherwise have the opportunity, by reducing the price without compromising the value of the experience.
Disruptive innovations are those that open up new markets by creating a demand using a simpler or different package of attributes from those available in existing markets. Such disruptions tend to emerge in contexts remote from the immediate concerns of an established industry, but ultimately have wide and deep effects that can cause radical shifts. Disruptive innovation is often less about the product and more about the delivery system or point of access to the product. For example, most of us still watch movies or tv shows, but tend to download or stream the content rather than visit a Blockbuster. Most of us listen to music and follow the news, but tend to download or stream music and use the internet to follow the headlines. In the past, we may have opened up our morning newspaper or put a record on a turntable. One of the lessons is that it is not sufficient to rely on demand for the product to drive a given mode of delivery.
While it is difficult to identify industries and firms ripe for disruption, the tendency is to point to large-scale concerns with overpriced products and stilted business models based on industrial-era formats. Higher education has been in the sights of those writing about disruptive innovation for precisely this reason. Its reliance on mass delivery of material through face-to-face lectures, the credit system which offers degrees based on time investment rather than competency, and its increasingly overpriced credential system has the hallmarks of an industry ripe for innovation.
I would argue that higher education is not a perfect fit, however, for the types of analysis offered by Clayton Christiansen and Sebastian Thrun and others concerned with disrupting education and encouraging more radical innovations.
In the case of higher ed, the product is less like a song or a movie or even a news article than it is like an extended experience.
In the case of higher ed, the product is less like a song or a movie or even a news article than it is like an extended experience. A better comparison might be with the travel industry, similarly engaged in delivering what might be termed an ‘experience’, and one which operates on the basis of time as an investment [or, in the case of a vacation or an education, a reward for effort].
Experience or even time is a more complex commodity than a book or a song. Although web-based booking has almost completely replaced travel agencies, professors are not like travel agents in that teaching involves a more complex and involved relationship than simply the ‘delivery’ of the material and the ‘reception’ in the mind of the learner. Music and movies are still ‘mass produced’ and streaming a movie or song is virtually the same experience as playing the song on a record or watching a VHS. In those industries, innovation was more disruptive because the experience the products offered were interchangeable. In education as in travel, the experiences are more differentiated and uniqueness is the stock in trade, and increasingly, it is the singular and unique interaction between the ‘consumer’ and the ‘product’ that creates and adds value.
it is for this broad reason that I hesitate to apply the frame of disruptive innovation to higher education. Yes, there are problems with the mass delivery model based on lectures and textbooks and tutorials. Yes, there will be challenges to the delivery model through MOOCs and even peer-led educational models as found on Redditt and other sites. However, a more likely outcome than a full rupture may be a disaggregation of the educational functions of accreditation, time in class, competencies, and resources. In my next blog post, I’ll explore a bit more how I see disruptive innovation affecting Arts education, which some see as particularly vulnerable to disruption. In fact, I will further argue that Arts education is actually less vulnerable to disruptive innovation than the STEM subjects precisely because of its unique character as an experience created by the organic relationship between teacher and student. Education is as much process as product.
This is (finally!) my second post in this series. My goal remains to advocate a dialogue between conservatives and reformers, and in my first post I noted the continuing relevance of ‘old school’ teaching methods and philosophies. Since then, I’ve seen a number of other interventions along the same lines. This study based on student preferences sparked a storm by suggesting that students preferred good lectures over the latest technology, and led to not a few qualifications on the part of the authors. This rejoinder reminded us all of the body of literature showing the ineffectiveness of lecturing under any circumstances. And This one in the Atlantic takes an eminently reasonable middle ground in its agnostic advocacy of ‘lecturing’ as one tool in the kit of varied methods, that is most successful when used purposefully and skillfully.
Some of this healthy debate arises from the ongoing backlash against MOOCs and the Silicon Valley startup philosophy that underwrote the idea of online mass education. This backlash was facilitated by Sebastian Thrun’s about face and his public confessions of over-optimism for technology. I want to reiterate that it’s important to separate out the question of technology from the question of teaching techniques. Neither side of the debate should be reduced to ‘either-or’ options.
As an advocate of learner-centred teaching, I think it’s possible to believe BOTH that lecturing is a less effective strategy over all for achieving learning goals AND that ‘good’ lecturing can make learning more engaging if done consciously and well. In some ways, it’s unfortunate that ‘lecturing’ has become emblematic of conservatism, since I would argue that conservatism is actually much bigger than lecturing. Conservatism is a whole approach to teaching and learning, and so it encompasses lecturing, but it also encompasses ‘tried and true’ methods like Socratic questioning, drills and memorization. So, the focus should be on conservatism as a teaching philosophy and less on any particular teaching technique or strategy.
it’s possible to believe BOTH that lecturing is a less effective strategy over all for achieving learning goals AND that ‘good’ lecturing can make learning more engaging if done consciously and well.
What is the argument for ‘old school’ instruction as we experience it today? I think it draws from 5 main premises. In my previous post, I discussed two of those premises: 1) the focus on standards and 2) the need for mastery. In this post, I’ll turn to the 3 remaining premises of conservatism:
3. Self-discipline is a necessary goal of education. Joanne Lipman’s article notes the work of Anders Ericsson, whose work was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. She quotes: “true expertise requires teachers who give “constructive, even painful, feedback”‘.
4. Failure is instructive. A strict teacher will enable students to fail, to try again, and to learn ‘grit’ and persistence pay off. Studies show that students with more persistence are more likely to succeed.
5. Rote learning and drills can be a means to enhance creativity, improve performance in basic skills, and encourage independence. Therefore learning must be somewhat stressful and even uncomfortable and boring, to be effective.
Let’s take each of these premises in turn:
3. On self-discipline: I am still waiting for the evidence that externally-imposed punishment is a more effective way to learn. Much depends on determining what students know, what they are able to know, and what they can know with supports. This means knowing the learner well, and committing to their learning, not to the teachers’ idea of an acceptable standard. I suspect that the ‘toughest’ teachers also know their learners extremely well, and know how far they can push successfully. Self-discipline is cultured by offering supports and timely corrections when needed. It means paying attention to what learners need and not necessarily what they want.
4. Failure is instructive. A recent study by Viktor Venkatesh sparked a storm by suggesting that ‘productive failure’ leads to deeper and more meaningful learning. I would venture that a distinction be made between ‘punishment’ and the ‘natural’ consequences of failure. Punishment, or failure for failure’s sake, is not the way that we get the best performance. Imagine if we coached our Olympic athletes only using strict punishments for failure. Athletes know the stakes, and they therefore seek out coaches who encourage them and support them through those failures and trials. This usually does not mean blanket praise, but a judicious use of supports to get the most out of one’s failure. Failure without supports is like throwing someone into a river and expecting them to learn how to swim. Such an experience may indeed make one persistent in the moment, but will that help them learn better, and will that persistence carry over to other tasks?
4. On rote learning: Lipman states of reformers: “Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as “drill and kill”—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.” Indeed, there is a certain hostility to lecturing and to ‘drilling’ among advocates of constructivist techniques. However, this unease is well-founded in the scientific literature, which in comparative studies has found that lecturing is relatively ineffective on a variety of measures of learning, including recall as well as understanding. On this question, I would argue that there is a place for rote learning and memorization in education, and this place will likely remain for some time to come. As the Atlantic points out, lecturing has the upper hand in institutions of higher learning around the world. However, if the goals of learning are deeper, if they involve mastery, the development of thinking, and the ability to problem-solve, then lecturing and drilling are less likely to achieve their stated goals on their own, when compared with alternative strategies. Learning outcomes should be the measure of effectiveness, rather than whether the process is stressful or difficult.