OU Innovating Pedagogy 2019 – notes from reading group

All read sections of the OU Innovating Pedagogies 2019 report

Learning with Robots (read by Naomi Beckett)

This short piece talked about how Robots are now being used for educational purposes and which ones are being used. The article talked a lot about how Robots can be used in a way that enhances learning by learning things themselves. Learners can teach something to the Robots as a process of showing they have accomplished a new skill and in turn the Robot is gaining new information.

The article also talked about how Robots can enable a passive approach to teaching. Robots won’t raise their voice or show (real) emotions in a session. Having this calm approach to teaching, it is argued, will now allow students to learn in a calmer environment. It also discusses how having a Robot as a learning tool may excite or motivate learners too. Although it only briefly mentions how a Robot would souly conduct a class full of students.

There were some aspects of the article that did make some sense on how Robots could aid learning, but these ideas didn’t go into much depth. It was discussed how Robots could talk in several languages so could be able to converse comfortably with a wider range of students. It also talked about how Robots could act as mediators to students, being able to check in, or provide advice at any time of the day. They could conduct the routine tasks and issues, freeing up teacher’s time so they can spend it with their learners.

As mentioned in the article ‘many people have an inherent distrust of advancing technologies.’ There are several questions to ask on how much a Robot is integrated into a learning environment, and when does it become too much. But there are a number of interesting points in the article about how Robots are making small steps to aid and enhance learning.

Reading this section got me thinking about the AV1 Robot. A robot created by NoIsolation. They created a robot to ‘reduce loneliness and social isolation through warm technology’. AVI was a Robot created for children who are too ill to go to school. The robot sits in the class and the child at home can connect through it. Using an app, the children can take part in the classroom. They can raise their hand to answer questions, talk to nearby students, ask questions, and just listen if they want to. A great use of technology to keep students engaged with their learning and classmates.

Decolonising learning (read by Sarah Davies)

This section was not about decolonising the curriculum – itself an important area for Bristol – but rather reflecting on how digital environments, tools and activities can be used in ways which invert power relationships and cultural and educational capital of the dominant culture, and support colonised or marginalised populations in education, sense-making and cultural development which is meaningful to them. It notes that decolonisation requires systematic unsettling change.

The article reminds us that we need to acknowledge the ways in which digital presence can contribute to colonisation – so digital environments created by a dominant culture may not create spaces for the kind of discussions, activities and issues which are meaningful to those of other cultures. It suggests that MOOCs can often be a form of digital colonisation – people from all over the world learn from massive courses produced in just a few countries.

In contrast, digital decolonisation considers how to support colonised, under-represented, uprooted or otherwise marginalised people with technology in order to:

  • connect them with a shared history,
  • support a critical perspective on their present,
  • provide tools for them to shape their futures.

But how to use the technology must be decided by the people themselves.

Critical pedagogies – in which students are expressly encouraged to question and challenge power structures, authority and the status quo – provide frameworks for the academic success of diverse students – eg by seeking to provide a way of maintaining their cultural integrity while achieving academic success, or to sustain the cultural competence of their community while gaining access to the dominant cultural competence.

Digital storytelling is an example of a pedagogical tool that can be used for decolonising purposes – empowering students to tell their own stories, turning a critical lens on settler colonialism, capturing stories of indigenous or marginalised people taking action on issues, critiques of colonial nations.

Two final messages from this article which resonated for me were that success in or after HE for some groups of students may be at odds with notions of success in the dominant society (as captured in things like Graduate Outcomes); and that education needs to be reimagined as an activity that serves the needs of local communities – though what that means for Bristol and the local, national and international communities it exists within, I’m not sure.

Virtual studios (read by Suzi Wells)

I found this a useful exercise in thinking about what a studio is and what it is for – and how much of that might be reimagined online. Studios are described in the report as collaborative, creative, social, communal spaces. They contain creative artefacts (sketches, models, objects). Learning in studios is by doing and is often peer-supported with tutors facilitating and guiding rather than instructing.

The report describes virtual studios as being focused on digital artefacts. “Virtual studios are all about online exchange of ideas, rapid feedback from tutors and peers, checks on progress against learning outcomes, and collaboration”

The first benefit of virtual studios given is scale: a studio can be for 100s of learners. This left me wondering if this is in conflict with the idea of studios as a community.

Virtual studios are also described as “hubs”, an idea I would have liked to explore further. I wanted to know how a hub is different from a community. What are we trying to achieve when we make something hub-like? I suppose a hub is a place which provides a starting point or a loose join between disparate activities or organisations. It’s not just a community, but has other communities floating around it.

Virtual studios can be a way to give more people (fully open even) access to experts and facilities. Example given was the (oft cited, so fairly unique?) ds106 Digital Storytelling.

Areas to explore further:

  • Could e-portfolios benefit from being grounded in something more virtual-studio-like (how much are they doing that already)?
  • How big can a virtual studio be before it loses the community feeling? Is there a way to scale community?

Place Based Learning (read by Michael Marcinkowski)

While the article on place based learning only provided a surface view of the approach, I found it very interesting in two distinct ways.

First, it focused on place based learning as not being solely the province of lessons conducted in the field, away from the classroom. What was highlighted in the article was the way that place based learning could just as easily take place in the classroom with students studying their local communities or local histories from their desks. Whether in the classroom or the field, the focus is on how students are able to make robust connections between their personal situation and their learning.

This kind of connection between the learner and their local community provides the foundation for the second point of interest in the article: that place-based learning can easily incorporate aspects of critical pedagogy. As students explore their local communities, they can both explore critical issues facing the community and build on their own experiences in order to support their learning. One example that was noted was having students explore the function of public transportation networks in their community, looking at questions of availability, accommodation, and planning.

An important development in place based learning has been the rise in the ubiquity of smartphones and other location-aware devices. By tapping into GPS and other forms of location networks, it becomes possible to develop applications that allow learners to dynamically access information about their surroundings. The article mentions one project that allows language learners to access vocabulary specific to the locations in which it is used, for instance, having transit based vocabulary guides triggered near bus stops. The idea is that such systems allow for the in-situ acquisition of vocabulary in a way which is both useful in the moment and that reinforces learning.

There are already a number of good examples of place based learning that have been developed out of the University of Bristol, including the Bristol Futures Course which encourages students to explore and engage with the wider city of Bristol and the Romantic Bristol smartphone app which highlights places of historic and literary importance around the city.

Particularly as the University begins to confront its legacy of involvement with the slave trade, there look to be a number of ways in which place based education can continue to be fostered among the University community.

Roots of Empathy (read by Chrysanthi Tseloudi)

This section describes a classroom programme that aims to teach children empathy, so they can have healthy and constructive social interactions.

In this programme, children between 5-13 years old get visits in their school class every 3 weeks from a local baby, their parent and a Roots of Empathy instructor. The children observe how the baby and its feelings develop and its interactions with the parent. With the guidance of the instructor, the children learn about infant development and identify the baby’s feelings, their own and those of others; they then reflect on them, describe and explain them. There are opportunities for discussion and other activities, including the children recording songs for their baby and reflecting on what they would like the baby’s future to be like. The curriculum is broken down into themes, which are then broken down further into age ranges. While the activities focus on feelings, some use knowledge and skills from school subjects, e.g. mathematics. Research on the programme has shown positive results in decreasing aggression and increasing positive social behaviours.

It was interesting to read about this approach. Something that stood out for me was that while the learners identifying their own feelings is mentioned, it is not obvious if this is an explicit aim of this programme. That made me wonder whether it is assumed that a person that is able to identify others’ feelings is definitely able to identify their own (in which case this programme addresses this skill implicitly), whether it is assumed that the children are able to do this already or whether knowing one’s own feelings is not considered an important skill in healthy social interactions. I also wondered how children that have significant difficulties identifying their own or others’ feelings fare in this programme and if/ how they are further supported.

Near future teaching – notes from reading group

For our latest reading group, following Sian Bayne’s fascinating Near Future Teaching seminar for BILT, we wanted to look in more depth at the project materials and related reading.

Michael read ‘Using learning analytics to scale the provision of personalized feedback,’ a paper by Abelardo Pardo, Jelena Jovanovic, Shane Dawson, Dragan Gasevic and Negin Mirriahi. Responding to the need to be able to provide individual feedback to large classes of students, this study presented and tested a novel system for utilizing learning analytic data generated by student activity within a learning management system in order to deliver what the authors called ‘personalized’ feedback to students. As it was designed, the system allowed instructors to create small, one or two sentence pieces of feedback for each activity within a course. Based on these, each week students would be able to receive a set of ‘personalized’ feedback that responded to their level of participation. In the study, the authors found an improvement in student satisfaction with the feedback they received, but only a marginal improvement in performance, as compared to previous years. There were limits to the methodology — the study only made use of at most three years of student data for comparison — and the author’s definition of ‘personalized feedback’ seemed in practice to be little more than a kind of customized boilerplate feedback, but nevertheless the study did have a few interesting points. First, it was admirable in the way that it sought to use learning analytics techniques to improve feedback in large courses. Second, the authors took the well thought out step to not make the feedback given to be about the content of the course, but instead it focused on providing feedback on student study habits. That is, the feedback might encourage students to make sure they did all the reading that week if they weren’t doing well, or might encourage them to be sure to review the material if they had already reviewed it all once. Third, the article offered an interesting recounting of the history of the concept of feedback as it moved from focusing only on addressing the gap between targets and actual performance to a more wholistic and continuous relationship between mentor and student.

Suzi read Higher education, unbundling, and the end of the university as we know it by Tristran McCowan. This paper starts with a thorough guide to the language of unbundling and the kinds of things that we talk about when we talk about unbundling, followed by an extensive discussion of what this means for higher education. My impression from the article was that “unbundling” may be slightly unhelpful terminology, partly because it covers a very wide range of things, and partly because – if the article is to be believed – it’s a fairly neutral term for activities which seem to include asset-stripping and declawing universities. As an exploration of the (possible) changing face of universities it’s well worth a read. You can decide for yourself whether students are better off buying an album than creating their own educational mixtape.

Roger read “Future practices”.   For world 1 , human led and closed, I was concerned that lots was only available to “higher paying students” and there was no mention at all of collaborative learning. For world 2, human led and open, I liked the the idea of the new field of “compassion analytics”, which would be good to explore further, lots of challenge based learning and open content. World 3, tech led and closed, was appealing in its emphasis on wellbeing in relation to technology, and a move away from traditional assessment, with failure recognised more as an opportunity to learn, and reflection and the ability to analyse and synthesise prioritised. From world 4 I liked the emphasis on lifelong learning and individual flexibility for students eg to choose their own blocks of learning.

Chrysanthi read Future Teaching trends: Science and Technology. The review analyzes 5 trends:

  • datafication – e.g. monitoring students’ attendance, location, engagement, real-time attention levels,
  • artificial intelligence – e.g. AI tutoring, giving feedback, summarizing discussions and scanning for misconceptions, identifying human emotions and generating its own responses rather than relying only on past experience and data,
  • neuroscience and cognitive enhancement – e.g. brain-computer interfaces, enhancement tools like tech that sends currents to the brain to help with reading and memory or drugs that improve creativity and motivation,
  • virtual and augmented realities – e.g. that help to acquire medical skills for high-risk scenarios without real risk, or explore life as someone else to develop empathy, and
  • new forms of value – enabling e.g. the recording and verification of all educational achievements and accumulation of credit over one’s lifetime, or the creation of direct contracts between student-academic.

I liked it because it gave both pros and cons in a concise way. It allows you to understand why these trends would be useful and could be adopted widely, at the same time as you are getting a glimpse of the dystopian learning environment they could create if used before ethical and other implications have been considered.

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