Friday, December 22, 2017

Lecture capture and attendance

CC0 Public domain by Nikolayhg on Pixabay
Despite considerable criticism over the years, the good old lecture is still the staple diet on most of the world's campuses and shows few signs of disappearing in the near future. It's quite simply so embedded into the culture of higher education that students would probably feel cheated if they didn't get the experience of sitting in a large hall listening to a professor's words of wisdom. Even students who have been to schools that have embraced collaborative learning and the pedagogical use of digital tools and devices somehow expect university to be different and the traditional image of the lecture is what they expect.

Lectures are easy to arrange and plan and seem to be an effective way of addressing a large group of first or second year students at the same time. They are also usually the first teaching method to be made digital since lecture capture is relatively simple to do and it doesn't really change the status quo except for the question of whether students will bother to come to the lectures if they know that a recording will be available. However a new study from the University of AberdeenTurn up, tune in, don’t drop out: The relationship between lecture attendance, use of lecture recordings, and achievement at different levels of study, shows that these fears are not justified and that recorded lectures have very little effect on student attendance and they have a positive effect on many students' learning (or at least their test scores). The study shows that the recordings are particularly helpful as study aids for first year students and that they are especially appreciated by non-native English speakers who get the chance to go through the lecture at their own pace.

Importantly, despite anecdotal fears,we find little evidence to substantiate the claim that providing recordings reduces attendance or negatively impacts achievement, instead, we find positive evidence that the recordings are seen as particularly helpful for non-native speakers in first year as they adjust to a new language environment.

Lecture recordings were of less importance to students in their third and fourth years, presumably because the focus there is not so much on learning fundamental principles and facts and more on deeper learning. The study will hopefully calm the fears that many teachers have about letting students have access to their lectures either in recorded form or at least as slideshows or text summaries. These are valuable to students' learning and more importantly are an essential accessibility feature, allowing students with special needs to review material in the form they prefer.

However the real issue here is the value of lectures as synchronous activities. One-way communication like this should be prerecorded and made available to students before the scheduled class activity. The classroom session should then be as interactive as possible, making the session effectively unmissable. First year students especially need more time for deeper discussion, inquiry and collaboration and valuable contact time should not be wasted on monologue, no matter how knowledgeable the teacher may be. Occasional traditional lectures can certainly be inspiring but only when the speaker is an excellent presenter. Otherwise let's provide good prerecorded input for students, preferably in short bite-sized chunks of around 10 minutes, together with quizzes or questions for discussion and free up classroom time for activity.

Read more on this in an article in The Learning Scientists blog, Lecture Attendance, Lecture Recordings, and Student Performance: A Complex, but Noteworthy Relationship.

Nordmann, E., Calder, C., Bishop, P., Irwin, A., & Comber, D. (2017, November 10). Turn up, tune in, don’t drop out: The relationship between lecture attendance, use of lecture recordings, and achievement at different levels of study. Retrieved from

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Put the social back in social media

CC0 Public domain on pxhere
What happens when fake news is exactly what you want to believe? How critical are we when we survey the daily news feeds and tips from friends in social media? Maybe the rise of so-called fake news is the result of our own shortcomings and not simply the fault of corporations, trolls and nebulous foreign powers. Confirmation bias has always been a factor in how we view the world; we have always chosen our friends according to how much we agree with them and we have always chosen news media who reflect our own opinions. Technology magnifies these tendencies and makes it easy for those who want to manipulate public opinion and often the views of a small minority can seem to be the voice of the masses.

I really enjoyed reading an article on this theme in Wired where Miranda Katz interviews Danah BoydThe Fake News Culprit No One Wants to Identify: You. Fake news is a cultural rather than a technological problem and it is a false trail to think that the solution lies solely with the social media corporations (though there is of course a lot they could do to help). We need to realise that our own behaviour is at the root of today's polarised and conflict-ridden society.

And, for the most part, we’re looking for something new to blame, which is why so much of the attention is focused on technology companies instead of politics, news media, or our economic incentives. We need to hold ourselves individually and collectively responsible, but that’s not where people are at.

Much of the communication in social media today is based on a culture of bullying and coercion that is now, possibly more than ever, increasingly acceptable and we're all part of it in some way. The internet was seen by many as an arena to bring us together and foster global understanding but we didn't foresee it being used to do the opposite.

We're not seeing something that is brand new. We're just distraught because hatred, prejudice, and polarization are now extraordinarily visible, and that the people who have power in this moment are not the actors that some of us believe should have power. And, of course, technology mirrors and magnifies the good, bad, and ugly of everyday life. There’s a peculiar contradiction and challenge of what we’ve built [with these platforms]. So many early internet creators hoped to build a decentralized system that would allow anybody to have power. We didn't account for the fact that the class of people who might leverage this strategically may do so for nefarious, adversarial, or destructive purposes.

I would like to see Facebook, Twitter and Instagram revert to being forums for personal communication rather than soapboxes and propaganda channels; putting the social back in social media. Please show me what you had for breakfast or a photo of a beautiful garden rather than links to news that confirm your own beliefs. Stop trying to persuade others to think like you and instead share glimpses of your life, small insights and try to build relationships. Stop blaming and scapegoating and try to find solutions to the problems we face. Polarisation only leads to conflict and that solves nothing.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Innovating pedagogy - new report

CC BY Some rights reserved by Open University (Photo Chris Valentine)
In case you haven't already found it, I'd like to point you in the direction of the latest edition of the Open University's excellent report, Innovating pedagogy 2017. This is the sixth edition of the report and the aim is to provide a pedagogical balance to the annual NMC Horizon reports on trends in educational technology. Each year they identify and describe ten emerging pedagogies that are of course influenced by technology but are relevant to all forms of teaching and learning. Each trend is described with theoretical background and practical examples and, as in the NMC Horizon reports, there are numerous links to reports, articles and examples of these ideas in practice.

This year's report raises the following phenomena:
  • Spaced learning - dividing class time into short modules of input, recall and application with social activity breaks in between. 
  • Learners making science - citizen science activities gathering data and actively analysing.
  • Open textbooks - teachers, and even students, writing and continuously updating course literature openly on the net.
  • Navigating post-truth societies - strategies for dealing with false news, biased reporting and propaganda.
  • Intergroup empathy - methods for fostering inter-cultural understanding and diversity.
  • Immersive learning - using simulations, virtual and augmented reality in education to provide realistic practical experience of situations that are hard to replicate physically.
  • Student-led analytics - letting students access their own data to help them set objectives for and monitor their studies.
  • Big-data inquiry - learning to harness the power of big data and applying it to solve real problems.
  • Learning with internal values - greater freedom for learners to choose own focus areas within the wider curriculum, thus adding internal motivation.
  • Humanistic knowledge-building communities - combining the need for learner autonomy, creativity and self-direction with the the need to build the collective knowledge of the community.
What all of these have in common is developing a more rounded and holistic view of education and trying to integrate the sometimes conflicting perspectives of learning for employment, learning for personal development and learning to be an active citizen and part of a wider community. Today there is an increasing focus, especially from governments and industry, on learning for employment and many of the most popular uses of technology in education have been related to this. We use technology to monitor learner progress, test, set grades and facilitate knowledge transfer through recorded lectures and online resources.

The trends in this report offer a human balance to the the current obsession with tangible results and league tables. They stress participation, internal motivation, balance and active involvement. Instead of looking at how universities and schools can use big data and learning analytics to monitor students we should see how students can make use of this data to help them learn. We all need to learn how to harness the power of the data revolution instead of being passive victims. We need to learn to question and filter the information torrent in an informed and scientific way instead of feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Basically we all (teachers and students) need to relearn how to learn in today's new media landscape.

The report is fascinating reading but, like all such reports, is simply an indication of possible future developments. In a year's time things could look very different and who knows what new phenomenon can come out of the blue. What the last few years have taught us all is that predicting the future has never been so difficult. If you want to read more about this report have a look at these two: Martin Weller's blog post, Innovating Pedagogy 2017 and an article in 
Times Higher Education, Post-truth teaching: coming to a lecture theatre near you?

Ferguson, R., Barzilai, S., Ben-Zvi, D., Chinn, C.A., Herodotou, C., Hod, Y., Kali, Y., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Kupermintz, H., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Sagy, O., Scanlon, E., Sharples, M., Weller, M., & Whitelock, D. (2017). Innovating Pedagogy 2017: Open University Innovation Report 6. Milton Keynes: The Open University, UK.