Monday, November 28, 2022

From lecture to story-telling

Photo by Dom Fou on Unsplash

During my schooldays and even at university I believed that I would be assessed on how well I remembered what the teachers told us in class. We were lead to believe that anything the teacher "went through" in class could come up in the exam. What we read in our textbooks was supplementary knowledge. The teacher probably also felt obliged to cover all possible questions to avoid accusations after the exam that "you never mentioned that in class". I taught for many years using this model and tried to cram in as much useful information as possible into my lessons in the belief that this was how the students learned best. So we were all locked in this information transfer illusion of learning that is still very common in education all over the world. Even if active learning and flipped classroom have become accepted and widely used, the default is still the traditional lecture.

This is discussed in an article by Harald Liebich in the Norwegian higher education news site Khrono (just use a translation tool), Er forelesningen et ritual eller en læringsarena? (Is the lecture a ritual or a learning arena?). Whenever the media or popular culture want an image to represent higher education it is nearly always the lecture hall with the professor on stage. He describes how lectures simply repeat what is much better described in a textbook and that students remember very little of value. A method with such limited impact on students' learning must be questioned. 

The time invested by lecturers and students does not correspond to the intended outcome; the enhancement of learning. The limited impact of initiatives to implement innovative teaching methods can be linked to the lack of incentives for pedagogical development in the whole university sector. [My translation]

Forelesers og studentens tidsbruk står ikke i forhold til hovedintensjonen; læringsutbytte. Manglende drivkraft til å fornye undervisningsformene, kan ha sammenheng med at undervisningsarbeid gir begrenset merittering innen universitetsfeltet.

The lecture is indeed a ritual and should in most cases be transformed into an arena for group work and discussion. At the same time, I wonder if the ritual element still has relevance in terms of creating and cementing a sense of belonging. Attending a lecture every week reminds students that they are part of the university as an institution and reinforces a sense of pride and tradition that should not be underestimated. You may not learn so much but simply being there gives you a sense of identity just as walking about the campus or chatting in the cafeteria. I know that many people prefer to study in the library even if you could easily do so more comfortably at home. Somehow the library feels more academic, more inspiring, more serious. Also you can see lots of other people studying and you want to blend into the studious ambiance. This was transformed into an online setting during the pandemic with sites like StudyStream where you could join a silent video meeting, watching other students studying at their desks. 

Lectures have a role to play but only is used sparingly. Liebich quotes an article in the journal Health Professions EducationOn the Use and Misuse of Lectures in Higher Education, that reviews research in the value of the lecture and describes the methods limitations. However, there are times when a lecture can be valuable, especially as inspiration. The lecturer's role is not to provide content but to offer different perspectives and insights into their own research process. The vital element is to offer reflection, experience and inspiration - basically to tell an engaging story. 

Articles describe only the end product of a scientific endeavor and do so in a static and formal way. Students however deserve to hear the whole story; the story of how the researcher developed a particular hypothesis, the story of the difficulties the researcher encountered, and his or her emotions when a cherished hypothesis turned out to be false. Who can tell these stories better than the researcher him- or herself? These narratives should be told and the lecture is a good place to do just that, in particular if the lecturer knows how to tell a good story.

The lecture may be an academic ritual but if the speaker can offer this story-telling element and convey enthusiasm and commitment to the subject matter it can also play an important role in the students' development.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Do we really need to record this session?

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

There is a tendency to record webinars and online classes as a matter of course. A recording can increase the impact of a webinar and a recorded class session allows absent students to catch up and gives those who attended the chance to revise what was discussed. At the same time vast amounts of storage space are taken up with recordings that are seldom, if ever, viewed and the mountain just keeps growing. Often the red recording light discourages people from participating, cameras and microphones are switched off and the chat contributions are minimal. It's time to regularly ask ourselves whether we really need to record this session, who we might exclude if we record and what more inclusive practices we can replace it with.

A timely article by Per Axbom looks at the sensitive issue of permission to record, Consent for recording meetings. Too often we simply ask at the beginning of a meeting if it's ok to record and if no one objects within a few seconds then we press the button.

Asking if it is okay to record when everyone is already in the meeting does not provide basis for a well-founded consent. Requiring someone to raise their voice in a situation with a clear risk of peer pressure is not a context that gives power to those who need to opt out.

Always strive to request recording consent before a meeting takes place. This ensures that people who want to object do not risk ending up vulnerable in a situation where their position is judged or questioned by others.

There are many people who do not want their names, faces or voices recorded for public viewing and few are brave enough to say so. Of course they can simply turn off their microphones and cameras and not contribute to the chat but then you are excluding them from the communication that is or should be the focus of  online meetings. The default should probably be not to record. If we do record there must be a clear reason for doing so and this must be communicated before the session. Axbom also suggests making it clear where the recording will be posted and how long it will be available.

One option is to only record the input from speakers (with permission of course) and edit out any comments from participants. If recording is in progress, the speaker and moderator should avoid referring to the names of people who have asked a question in the chat or the Q&A. Just say that we have an interesting question here in the chat and keep the name out of the discussion. It's maybe impersonal and I admit to using names in such situations but not revealing names may encourage more participants to speak or chat if that red button is on.

In online classes many teachers use collaborative note-taking as an alternative to recording. Nominate a couple of students to take notes for each session and let them do so on a shared document that the whole class has access to. At the end of the lesson the class can check the notes and add comments or links that may have been missed. In this way everyone is involved in the recording process and the skills of note-taking and summarising will be essential in their future careers.

Axbom concludes with the reason for not pressing the record button so often in future:

Consider and think through needs, power structures, vulnerability and inclusion before you risk normalizing something that can lead to people feeling uncomfortable, unwilling to participate or unwilling to contribute.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

The end of social media?

Photo by Dasha Urvachova on Unsplash

Are the social media platforms that have dominated our lives for the past 15 years or so nearing the end of their useful lives? As Meta/Facebook transforms itself into the so-called metaverse and the Bond villain lookalike Elon Musk takes over Twitter, these platforms are likely to be completely transformed and millions of users, like me, will choose to leave. An article by Ben Werdmuller, The end of Twitter, mourns the demise of a networking platform that has been so important to many in education over the years but is now drowning in the vitriolic hatred and disinformation that has polluted today's society and is likely to get even worse as Musk makes massive staff cuts and reinstates banned accounts, thereby removing the present inadequate controls against hate and threats. Indeed, since Musk's takeover the levels of hate content has risen steeply, according to an article in The Guardian. Community and collaboration are being sacrificed for whatever gives the best financial returns and today that means scandals, insults, lies and conflict.

I have benefited greatly from social media over the years, allowing me to build a global network of educators and friends who have inspired and encouraged me and I hope I have returned the favours. I would be so much poorer without access to this network but sadly I see the end of this era rapidly approaching. Facebook and Twitter will not disappear overnight but will either fade into irrelevance or drown in trash and hatred. They will no longer offer the social interaction and and sense of community that they pioneered and that we have all enjoyed. 

I have a Mastodon account, the multi-server platform that offers a safer alternative to Twitter, but have not really discovered how to make it work for me. I haven't found many of my Twitter contacts in there yet and have no appetite for building up a network from scratch - it took several years to build my Twitter network. It's not so easy to start all over again but there are, however, some useful tips by for example Martin Fowler, Exploring Mastodon. The same applies to alternatives to Facebook like MeWe (I'm sure there are many others out there). Ideally I'd like a social platform that is safe and where I can continue to interact with the people and groups I have built up over the last 15 years. If that doesn't work then I will have to rediscover what life was like back in the nineties.

Werdmuller sees a shift to a multitude of new social media channels and a more complex landscape.  

As big tech silos diminish in stature, the all-in-one town squares we’ve enjoyed on the internet are going to start to fade from view. In some ways, it’s akin to the decline of the broadcast television networks: whereas there used to be a handful of channels that entire nations tuned into together, we now enjoy content that’s fragmented over hundreds. The same will be true of our community hangouts and conversations. In the same way that broadcast television didn’t really capture the needs of the breadth of its audience but instead enjoyed its popularity because that’s what was there at the time, we’ll find that fragmented communities better fit the needs of the breadth of diverse society. It’s a natural evolution.
The main benefit of the major platforms was that everyone was there. If we all scatter into a multitude of closed communities we lose that global connectivity that was so empowering and fun. The embryo to this inter-connectivity already exists in the Fediverse concept, gathering a number of open source social media platforms like Mastodon and PeerTube and allowing people to connect across the platforms. I haven't dared to investigate this much but it seems rather complicated and I wonder how many of my contacts are out there.  

I deeply dislike both Twitter and Facebook and how they profit from the spread of lies, hatred and horror but I still appreciate the human contacts I have made through them. But I sense that very soon I will have to move out. I can maybe find another platform that offers some consolation but I fear that many contacts and groups will be lost forever. Very sad.