Can students be mistaken about the efficacy of teaching?

At the November meeting of our Bioscience Pedagogic Research group I led a discussion of the recent paper “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom“. The study, published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by Louis Deslauriers and was conducted on Physical Sciences programs at Harvard University.

Slides from my summary of the paper can be seen here

The principal take-home message from the study was that students learned more from active teaching sessions, despite feeling that they had gained more from passive lectures. It was a “cross-over study” (all participants experienced both teaching methods, but on different topics) and all had the same hand-outs and slides, in either the ‘active’ or the ‘passive’ sessions. As the authors point out “The crucial difference between the two groups was whether students were told directly how to solve each problem or were asked to try to solve the problems themselves in small groups before being given the solution” (p19252). Continue reading

Putting my concerns on the Table

[This article was first written as an editorial for  the August 2019 issue of The Biochemist, magazine of The Biochemical Society. The issue focused some of the elements that play a major role in the chemistry of life ]
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In the August 2019 issue of The Biochemist we join with other scientific communities in marking the International Year of The Periodic Table, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of Dmitiri Mendeleev’s groundbreaking systematic organisation of the elements. As our contribution to the celebration we have a collection of features describing facets of the contribution played by several of the elements most important to the chemistry of life.

A recent visit to MediaCity, home to parts of both the BBC and ITV networks, illustrated the reason why I have a love-hate relationship with the periodic table. In ways reminiscent of the cultural appropriation of the double-helix, wider society has taken and abused the notion of the periodic table for purposes that reveal a fundamental lack of understand about its power and significance. Many people are under the false impression that the periodic table is merely a convenient way to put vaguely related things into a series of boxes. The grid on display at MediaCity, for example, was serving to advertise different components of the BBC’s output. A quick Google search also throws up “periodic tables” for beer, cocktails, iPad apps, wrestling, horror movies and even meat. Whatever your interest, it seems, some wag had authored a “periodic table” for it.

There may or may not be an element (no pun intended) of rationality underpinning the clustering of components within such grids. However, even the most logical arrangements fail to recognise the crucial dimension of Mendeleev’s original and its descendants. As most readers of The Biochemist will, of course, be aware the elegance and power of the periodic table is the predictable progression in properties associated with moving across any row or down any column. The astonishing thing about Mendeleev’s table were the blank spaces—gaps left for as-yetundiscovered elements about whose properties he was able to make accurate predictions. Subsequent research not only confirmed their existence, but also Mendeleev’s description of their characteristics.

Random things put in boxes doth not a periodic table make. So, my churlish attitude towards these faux periodic tables largely derives from what is, in effect, their black and white appreciation of Mendeleev’s masterpiece where their ought to be wonder expressed in glorious technicolor.

Now the T-shirt emblazoned “Ah – the element of surprise”, however, that IS funny.

A copy of the original article can be found via this link

Where’s the flippin’ flipping?

There’s a lot of discussion at the moment around the notion of “flipped teaching” or the “flipped classroom”. The common thread is the requirement (or opportunity) for students to do some kind of course-related work on their own, away from the classroom setting.

LCnotFC

However, there’s a problem. Some people may think I’m being picky, but I believe that sloppy usage of the phrase “flipped teaching” is significantly muddying the waters. Specifically, I worry that the notions of flipped teaching and “lecture capture” are being conflated, to the detriment of careful examination of both.

In recent days I’ve had cause to read two different articles purporting to be about flipped teaching. In both cases, the work described a comparison of attendance at a live lecture versus watching a recording of the lecture. These are investigations of the potential impact of lecture capture, but they are NOT flipped teaching. Flipping the classroom requires that there is still some face-to-face classroom task. Advocates for this approach, of which I am one, would argue that the point of moving some of the activities out of the face-to-face session is to require (or at least encourage) students to have engaged in some preparatory work that makes the subsequent contact time richer and (probably) more interactive than a traditional lecture would have been. But there has still got to be some real world encounter between an academic and their students.

Now there is clearly overlap between lecture capture technology and flipped teaching. Tools such as Panopto can be efficient ways to prepare short videos to be watched before the face-to-face session. But not all flipped classroom preparation is necessarily video based (it might, for example, involve reading something instead). Equally, giving students the opportunity to watch a recording of a lecture they missed is a valuable catch-up tool, but this is not flipped teaching per se.

 

Taking part in a Twitter-only conference: some reflections on #PressEDconf18

pressedED18

On 29th March 2018, I participated in the Twitter-based conference, #PressEDconf18. Those who follow me on Twitter (@cjrw) may know that I am an occasional contributor to the weekly Wednesday night #LTHEchat live discussion which has been running since 2014. I am also an enthusiastic live-tweeter at conferences, usually including the official Hashtag which allow for interested parties to follow what others are saying about the event as well as facilitating aggregation using the soon-to-be-sadly-missed Storify service.

This event was slightly different from a regular conference as there was no associated physical gathering. As keynote contributor Jim Groom noted, “I’ve been to conferences that used a hashtag, but this is my first conference that is a hashtag“.

JimGroomTweet

Although this was not the first event to take this format, it was certainly one of the first, and it was interesting to be part of a pioneering approach. #PressEDconf18 was the brainchild of Natalie Lafferty (@nlafferty) and Pat Lockley (@Pgogy). The theme was educational uses of WordPress blogs (for full schedule see here). I submitted two proposals; they were in the format of a tweet, so it wasn’t an especially onerous task. One related to my use of a WordPress blog to host Careers After Biological Sciences, a repository of careers awareness resources built up over the past decade. The second was more generic advice for anyone considering starting up an educational blog. It was the latter that was accepted. Continue reading

Some tips for developing online educational repositories

As part of my work enthusing about the use of broadcast media in teaching, I am in the process of writing a guide to the use of Learning on Screen’s Box of Broadcasts resource. However my reflections on this project, coupled with the development of other blog-based resources such as Careers After Biological Science, set me thinking about some more generic recommendations for anyone thinking of setting up an online collection of educational resources. These crystallised quite naturally into a series of questions to ask oneself about the purpose, scope and authorship of the materials.

On the advice of a couple of colleagues, I submitted this to the Association for Learning Technology blog. I was delighted when they accepted it, since members of that community are likely to be developing similar resources. My self-check questions can be found via this link.

altcblog

 

When technology models poor practice

Year1 assessmentOne of the difficulties in teaching first year students is to convey the importance of appropriate handling of data, both in terms of data display and degrees of significance. I’ve commented previously on this site about times when technology can produce utterly inappropriate graphic representation of results (see A bonus lesson in my data handling tutorial).

At the end of the first semester we conduct an online exam using the Blackboard quiz tool. The assessment is out of 200, marked automatically and scaled to a percentage. When the students submit their answers at the end of the test, they get  instant reporting of their result. The screenshot on the right shows a section from the gradebook where the results are recorded in exactly the detail each students gets, i.e. up to 5 decimal places! It is unfortunate that this inappropriate “accuracy” gets displayed to the students.

“Please send a photo”

streetrunning2

One recent email exchange related to someone else’s order for running shoes, sent to me in error

I’ve recently had cause to contact three different companies about inadequacies in their service. The reasons for doing so in each case were very different, but there was a common thread to their replies: “Please send a photo of the [relevant item]”. When the third request came in, I started to see a pattern and this set me ruminating on why they were adding this extra step to dealing with my query.

And then it struck me, that this was exactly the reason – it was an extra step. It is part of a filtering process. It is easy enough for all and sundry to fire off email requests willy-nilly. As a mechanism to weed out the serious appellant from the time-waster there needed to be an additional hurdle. [I have vague memories from school history lessons that monasteries used to offer a similar process. Potential novices were never admitted at their first attempt, they were required to return on several occasions before securing entry into the monastic life.]

I mention this here, on my education blog, because I actually operate a similar system when it comes to requests from students. If you are involved in academia I am sure you recognise emails, particularly as exams loom, that go something like: Continue reading

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