Learning as meaning-making and the importance of learner choice

June 12, 2015

Reminded again about the debunking of the learning styles myth, which still creeps into conversations with teachers … this time by a blogpost by Cathy Moore.

Reflecting on my own experiences: I have to say that the aspect of learning styles that feels intuitively accurate for me is about preferences and acknowledging that we are different. For instance, I discovered the other day that a close colleague and I totally differ about whether we prefer to get information from a visual or from text. Another friend would prefer to listen to text, while I prefer to read. I see myself as valuing visual and kinaesthetic experiences. These are just my preferences rather than being ‘learning’ specific. Perhaps it’s more about having choices when we are faced with input or with activity? I remember an early website from a uni in the UK, where you could choose the ‘look’ of the website which included different fonts – that’s a personal preference which relates to my perceptions and is why I quite like Rothko and my husband doesn’t. It’s not about the way we learn!

So how do we give our learners choices? Choice of tasks? Choice of platform or tool? Choice of different access to resources? Give them what they need to support their own learning.Give opportunity for practice. Some of my colleagues did research with language learners listening to chunks of text where they could control the speed at which they listened. Learners’ results in a test after listening showed that it didn’t seem to make much difference what speed they listened at. However, it did make a difference to how they FELT about what they were doing, as they responded in questionnaires to their listening experience. Being able to listen at a slower speed made them feel more comfortable about what they were doing. Which comes back to supporting learners by giving them autonomy in what they do. There’s the rub for me – finding the balance between ‘Do it this way which I know is good for you!’ vs ‘Do it however works for you’.

How do we get learners to engage with concepts? We store information in terms of meaning rather than in different sensory modes (the latter often being discussed as central to learning styles). So learners need to make meaning from what they are doing, which is one of Phil Race’s precepts as well. We need to give opportunity for our students to make meaning in relation to the concepts we see as central to the disciplines/fields/course we are working/teaching in.

Just for reference, below are the resources for debunking that Cathy Moore suggests in her post (see link at top)


Web 2.0 creativity tools MOOC week 3

May 24, 2015

Consider this question: What is a creativity issue in your teaching environment that could be resolved by using new technologies?

Continuum of media for creativity – not sure how useful this is other than as a categorization.

word – visuword, tagxedo

visual – Bookr, graffiti creator, scratch

word, visual and sound – creating digital stories

Looked at some different tools – tried out Thinglink and found it quite useful for developing Moodle resources.


MOOC Web 2.0 tools

May 6, 2015

I’ve just started this MOOC. Although it seems mostly geared to K-12, I thought I would follow it and consider HOW it is constructed and what the experience is like for the learner (ie. me).

Week one is about using Web 2.0 tools to communicate.

Consider this question: What is a communication issue in your teaching environment that could be resolved by using new technologies?

I thought this was a useful question, starting from a problem that technology could be used to help address. One that springs to mind immediately is that of supporting students with learning to use technology. Screencasting tools are great for this, although I think it’s harder to create a good screencast than you might think.  Another problem I’m aware of for our teachers is where you have big class sizes and students can feel lost. Is this a communication issue? Certainly a social issue and connecting with the teacher. Probably need push technology eg. Twitter, email. How can you blend the best of online and face-to-face in a way that connects learners with each other and with the teacher? I’ve never wanted to use Twitter because of the feel of being available to students 24/7.

Just thinking of the format of the MOOC – the assignments etc. There is great value in writing a forum post reviewing a tool that is new to you – nice to get crowd productivity. I flicked through the first few pages of the forum looking at the kinds of tools that participants were posting about. And responded to someone who had a question about Jing. I got 2/5 in my initial go at the quiz – too lazy to go and check the material that I hadn’t read, so just guessed the answers! I liked having a self-report quiz too. I do like the way that Coursera ticks the resources that you’ve accessed already.


BlendKit MOOC wk 5 reading

March 27, 2015

Another week down and this MOOC is almost done.

  • How will you know whether your blended learning course is sound prior to teaching it? How will you know whether your teaching of the course was effective once it has concluded?

I like the idea of taking one of the rubrics (The BlendKit one looks good – saved on Diigo) and using it as backward design, ensuring that all the criteria are planned for anyway.  Peer review always works ie. getting someone else to give you feedback and then discussing. Reflective blogs while teaching a course are always useful for a longitudinal perspective.

  • With which of your trusted colleagues might you discuss effective teaching of blended learning courses? Is there someone you might ask to review your course materials prior to teaching your blended course? How will you make it easy for this colleague to provide helpful feedback?

I have amazing colleagues, but they do all have limited time. Best to be very specific about what you’d like feedback on…

  • How are “quality” and “success” in blended learning operationally defined by those whose opinions matter to you? Has your institution adopted standards to guide formal/informal evaluation?

I appreciated the comment in the reading that ‘it is the lived experiences of the students and teachers, their actual interactions, in which teaching and learning are made manifest‘. Evaluating has to have multiple perspectives of what’s happening in blended courses rather than just being about the design/structure. The proof of the pudding is very much in the eating! I am fortunate to have an institution that values the quality of learning and teaching and works to support these, as well as using other measures like success and retention. We created some standards of our own for teachers last year. And this comment reminded me that self-diagnosis might be more useful in terms of resulting action than a third party assessment. ‘Apart from institutional efforts to foster quality in online and blended courses, perhaps the best use of quality standards is by individual instructors in self-assessment and informal peer-reviews of teaching effectiveness.’ 

  • Which articulations of quality from existing course standards and course review forms might prove helpful to you and your colleagues as you prepare to teach blended learning courses?

I’m intrigued that often lists of quality criteria for blended learning only seem to have been mildly tweaked to make them any different to criteria for f2f classes. I can’t quite figure if this is a good thing or not! On the one hand, it emphasizes sound decision-making round the things that we know are important. However, designing blended courses is more complex and demanding because of the expectations of familiarity with technology. Often there seems not much acknowledgement of the importance of integrating the two environments – something which, the more I read, the more I am convinced is a central tenet of blended learning.

I thought the identification of the limitations of standard rubrics for course quality were useful – summarised below

  • standards rarely reference theory- or research-based frameworks
  • have overt instructional design emphasis – are informed by some theory or philosophy
  • atomistic
  • miss the people factor ie. evidence of students learning IN the space are as impt as the design of a course



BlendKit MOOC wk 4

March 19, 2015

I love the questions to ponder at the beginning of this week’s reading. I can well use these with staff to support learning design for new blended courses.

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course?

This distinction by Fink I found useful, but I thought the online part of the table was a bit limited, perhaps. There was no mention of creating a product, which I think is a very useful activity for processing. Producing is neither experiencing or reflecting. Maybe it relates to Race’s ripple of ‘teaching others’ as a way of learning – creating something that can inform others and having to go through evaluating and synthesizing processes seems to me one way to interact with material. But good to have in there scenarios, role plays and case studies as experiential learning – how can these be enhanced online? Obviously online games pick up on the strengths of these activities.

The reading also reminded me of Laurillard’s conversational model (from Littlejohn and Pegler’s (2007) five types of learning activities) with technologies to enhance each – assimilative, adaptive, communicative, productive and experiential. And this does include the idea of producing or creating something as a way of learning.

  • In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?

Everything is part of the assessment process! I like to get students to work on a large assignment, through scaffolded exercises where they get feedback along the way, with assessment for as well as of learning.

  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?

Integration is so crucial in designing activities and getting students engaged in content. I want to shout this from the rooftops!! I like the sentence in blue, and the fact that it works both ways. The trick is to contain content. How do you find a balance between allowing learners freedom to roam content but ensuring there is enough linearity to ensure progress is stepped rather than ‘hopped round’?

  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?

My experience suggests that creating patterns for students gives them a strong sense of security (whether f2f, online or blended modes). Knowing exactly what is expected, being given clear indications of time allocations and deadlines and supporting students through initial tasks are all crucial to successful learning experiences. Repeating processes over time (patterning) builds a staircase to deeper learning. Doing an exercise with one text and getting feedback and then doing it again every week with different texts will allow the teacher to extend criteria, and bring in additional demands and support round the same task.

  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

This is a useful question, and one that is only answerable as an individual. The problem is that often we only get round to doing something new when there is a deadline coming up, and then you never have enough time to create something polished, but once the deadline passes, there is little incentive/time to return back to item for polishing purposes! Solutions are two. a) Choose limited number of technologies and get to know them to the max, pushing boundaries of what might work for your context, rather than picking up every new tool that comes along. b) Use colleagues to help with this exploration process.


BlendKit MOOC wk 3 Reading

March 10, 2015

This week is about assessment. I hadn’t heard articulated the ‘transfer of learning to new contexts’ before. “The most crucial step needed in each unit of instruction is the preparation for students’ transfer of learning to new contexts. If learning is not transferred from the place of learning to practical application, there can be no positive return on investment of the time needed to create, implement, and evaluate instruction…Technology is useful in simplifying this task of transferring the learning strategy. Many times a lesson taught with the use of online instruction or with technology as its main tool provides a built-in application. Students see more clearly how the concepts are used in real life situations, and because the lesson was applied practically, the student retains the information and skills much longer.”

How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating? This is largely set at a programme/dept level in terms of what is ‘normal’. I prefer cumulative projects such as portfolios or creating an artefact where there is feedback along the way to support students’ learning in the process. The group podcast (30%) as a final assessment worked well and there was an appropriate balance between the individual and group mark.

What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases? I guess I imagine that online assessments will be easier to mark, but reality has proved this is not always true. I liked the point made by Walker (2014) that “non-credit, online practice exams can actually benefit student performance on in-class, graded exams.” Talked recently to a colleague who gives her students a task to do collaboratively and then immediately afterwards they have to do it the same task as part of the individual exam. They get a group mark as well as an individual mark. (NB. this is not online, but is the same principle).

What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your blended learning course? Online quizzes are marked automatically and so are less work. They can be taken multiple times by students. You have to set up feedback carefully to support learning. Project based assessments afford more targeted feedback to the learner because it is done on a one-to-one basis, rather than automatic. It is possible to write good multiple choice questions for higher order thinking skills – lots of examples given in the reading links. However, I would probably err on the project-based assessment side, especially for a final, high-stakes assessment. Depends on discipline too eg. nursing registration is multiple-choice exam, so good for students to have practice in this.

How will you implement formal and informal assessments of learning into your blended learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination? In one course for which I designed assessments, students had 3 weeks doing trad homework (marked by T) and f2f classroom discussions about answers, expectations etc. Then for the rest of the semester the same process/task occurred in an online forum with students working in groups. Students were marked on their online work – so the f2f/homework aspect was informal. The rest of the course assessment was a f2f speaking task.


BlendKit MOOC week 2 reading

March 6, 2015

This week’s reading was all about interaction and planning for it to occur in blended environments.

Dziuban, Hartman, and Mehaffy (2014) observe that

Blended learning, in all its various representations, has as its fundamental premise a simple idea: link the best technological solutions for teaching and learning with the best human resources…. encourag[ing] the development of highly interactive and collaborative activities that can be accomplished only by a faculty member in a mediated setting. (p. 332)

The four models below all blend the expertise of the educator with the learner as doer. But how much do learners actually need to be taught?

  • John Seely Brown’s notion of studio or atelier learning
  • Clarence Fischer’s notion of educator as network administrator
  • Curtis Bonk’s notion of educator as concierge
  • George Siemens’ notion of educator as curator

Questions to ponder from this week’s reading

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?

Yes, I think so. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development identifies the support that peers offer for learning.

  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level) or, similarly, in courses that cultivate procedural knowledge (e.g., technical courses requiring the working of problem sets)?

Complex conversations can occur round the application of declarative knowledge and exploring possibilities/boundaries in procedural knowledge. Get learners’ reactions to material. Ask them to apply what they’ve learned to real scenarios. Explore different ways of doing processes. Talk about values and feelings associated with factual material.

  • As you consider designing a blended learning course, what kinds of interactions can you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for interactions? What opportunities are there for you to explore different instructional strategies in the blended course than you have in the past?

Learners interact with input sources eg. text as well as with each other round input sources. Learners interaction with teachers can be more active eg. consider more self-assessment, where conversations can develop about their perceptions of development.

  • What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?

Time is definitely an issue to be addressed actively. Robust asynchronous conversations are sustained over consecutive days rather than a weekly injection of time.

Teachers online interactions are hard to sustain on an individual basis the more learners are enrolled in a course. However, interacting with groups can reduce teacher input.

Willingness of learners to engage because they don’t see value in the time taken for interaction. Or because they struggle with communication. Students need to be supported in becoming a learning community. Model appropriate interactions – nice example given in the reading of getting students to read (aloud?) a piece of interactive discourse from previous course and asking them to describe what they heard. Suggestions for building community include

  • assign community roles
  • assign rotating facilitation
  • incorporate assignments that ask students to engage in experiences offline and then to report back to the instructor or the class.

I like the notion of ‘techno-expression’ as being part of course design. Although I like the idea of giving opportunity to use different media for this, I do wonder if there is a danger of the technology getting in the way of the expression. This is based on my own slow learnings of how to use new visual tools like piktochart for instance. I also like authentic learning to underpin techno-expression – so it is about useful outputs as much as it is just expression.  When creating assignments that encourage expression think about 1) audience 2) match tool to task appropriately 3) give clear guidelines 4) include models 5) acknowledge students’ perspectives.

The reading raised the question of how learners make sense of material they have found themselves which is not organised neatly by experts into textbooks. I think structure can be built into courses through task. So asking learners to find material that will help answer their questions and then sharing that with a group, whether it is through a wiki or forum or blog, is one way of giving them outlines of structure. As well, monitoring the peer interactions will hopefully weed out inappropriate ideas or tangents that aren’t worth following. More learning happens through student-brought material than teacher-given.

Dziuban, C.D., Hartman, J.L., and Mehaffy, G.L. (2014). Blending it all together, In A. Picciano, C. Dziuban, and C. Graham (Eds.), Blended learning: Research perspectives, volume 2. NY: Routledge.