12 October 2009

On evaluating the one-off lecture

OK, it happened, and indirect feeedback via a colleague who could not attend but who spoke to people after the event was that it had been well-received, even remarked on as a "proper academic lecture" (not sure whether or not that is a compliment!)

There are of course standard procedures for evaluation, including the usual feedback sheets and the like. Such procedures are unsurprisingly not routine on this course, and it didn't seem appropriate to introduce them--after all, this was from the students' point of view just another session in a regular timetable. It was my decision to get all self-conscious about it.

So just a few remarks on practical aspects, and then a more general thought.
  • time-keeping and pacing is always tricky the first time around; I seem to have got it pretty well right, though.
  • The presentation? You can see it via the link on yesterday's post, but the version there has been annotated and expanded. I don't like too much content on the slides, and I tried to use them as headings to show the students where we were. That was OK with a heading like "fashions and fads", but not really satisfactory when I talked ever so briefly about a particular theorist; I was using slides cannibalised from another lecture including images which may not have been the very best choices. 
  • Delivery? A guy at the back said he couldn't hear me in the first few seconds. I thanked him and talked louder, but I didn't continue to check--which I could have done very easily with the traffic-light cards all the audience had. Specifically everyone had a red, a yellow and a green A5 card, with which they could signal answers to questions, like "If you have never heard of Skinner, show a red card. If you've heard of him but don't know much about his ideas, show yellow. If you know quite a bit about him show green..." It's clickers-lite, but a lot easier to manage spontaneously.
  • As to use of the cards; they were appreciated and commented on afterwards, and they are so easy to use. No downside, if you sort out the logistics of distribution. As ever, it is not merely the technical advantage they confer above a simple show of hands which makes the difference--it is what the very fact of issuing them and using them says about the kind of interaction the lecturer wants within the session. They send a message--"I want you to be able to communicate back to me".
  • And as for that great bug-bear of the lecture, attention-span, that little bit of activity every few minutes seemed to get the students re-engaged. Visual clues suggested they were still with me at the end of the session.
  • The two-minute buzz-group exercise came almost exactly half-way through; frankly it was as much about breaking the session up as it was about content, but some of the ideas were interesting enough to weave into the rest of the session. It also gave me a chance to nip out and buy an extortionately priced bottle of water--why no water-coolers?
More generally, though; did the session achieve its objective of providing an orientation to learning theories so students can engage with them on a fairly deep level? As ever, I think the argument was clearer to me than it was to them, and I perpetrated the sin I have been trying not to commit for years and years (and which I can avoid as a part of regular teaching); I elaborate arguments in the hope of making them clearer, but in practice I am obscuring and burying them in a mass of marginally relevant detail. Once I get into the swing of a lecture I can always think of more stuff to pile in. When it is something I do regularly, I can prune it and filter it so that what gets said is what needs to be said and no more, but I'm still not good at that on a one-off basis.

And is a lecture, at this stage in their programme, the appropriate means of communicating such a message? Probably not, but given the constraints it was a reasonable strategy to choose.

One comment my colleague heard was that I had rubbished some current fads, or even sacred cows. Indeed I had, and I now wonder whether or not I should have done. After all there was a team of about a dozen other colleagues attending, most of whom I don't know, and I may well have stepped clumsily on a few people's toes. I'm pretty sure the students enjoyed it, but that's not the point. Had I had more notice I could and should have circulated some of the proposed content in advance for comment; who knows, perhaps one of those colleagues will have to deliver a session next week advocating learning styles! An interesting and open question about the responsibilities one has to the rest of the team...

Still, I have to admit that I enjoyed myself thoroughly; not something to be aimed for, but a good spin-off if it happens.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

01 September 2009

On another overview of on-line education. Are the geeks backing off?

A few days ago I drew attention to a report from the US Department of Education on on-line learning.

I should have waited, because now there is an interesting parallel report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities / Sloan National Commission on On-line Learning.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Parry introduces his piece thus;
They worry about the quality of online courses, say teaching them takes more effort, and grouse about insufficient support. Yet large numbers of professors still put in the time to teach online. And despite the broad suspicion about quality, a majority of faculty members have recommended online courses to students.

That is the complicated picture that emerges in "The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences With Online Learning," part of a two-volume national study released today by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities—Sloan National Commission on Online Learning. ...

The major survey of public colleges and universities found that 70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared with face-to-face instruction.

Professors with online experience are less pessimistic. Among those who have taught or developed an online course, the majority rated the medium's effectiveness as being as good as or better than face to face. But in a potentially controversial finding, even among professors who have taught online, fully 48 percent feel it is either inferior or somewhat inferior.
And for those hooked on the hard stuff, here is a discussion of attending a virtual conference in Second Life.

Rather more polemically, Mark Bauerlein draws attention to the impoverished nature of on-line and mediated communication in the WSJ. Read the comments, too. (And incidentally he mentions the recent death of Edward T Hall, anthropologist and author of "The Hidden Dimension"--on cultural aspects of the management of physical space--and "The Silent Language", to which Bauerlein refers. Hall was 95; his website has not yet caught up with his death.*)

It's all interesting in its own right, but most encouraging is the more considered and balanced evaluation of technology-based teaching and learning which is emerging. The Second Life example particularly is a comment on the former geek rhetoric, "We can, therefore we should". Instead, there is a more realistic question about the added value of doing stuff on-line (and the added costs).

But there is also an issue about whether people like us are really equipped to comment on what the student experience might be. They, it is argued, are "digital natives" who have grown up with all this technology and to whom it is totally transparent and natural. We did not, so we shouldn't project our own reservations onto them...

* Oh dear--I can't resist. The question of who will up-date one's website with news of one's death is a new problem. But it is not as exotic as the question concerning, it appears, some American evangelicals who believe in the Rapture (Google it if you are not into eschatology), when Jesus will return and true believers will be taken into heaven, leaving the rest of us behind. The problem is, who is going to look after the dog? No worries! Rapture Pet Care has it sorted. A dedicated band of atheists will...

Labels: , , ,

18 July 2009

On being able to speak

I've no idea whether I can make this nuanced point. So--if you go no further, just watch this. It's President Obama's speech to the centenary conference of the NAACP.

It's 37 minutes long, so if you haven't got that much time start at 25 minutes. That is when he both makes his critical substantive points and displays his rhetorical genius which is amplified by his audience...

On that final twelve minutes: who else could say that? (That also goes for the Cairo speech, and the Ghana speech.)

This is not a political point (of course it is a political matter about which I have decided feelings, but that is not the angle from which I am addressing it). It is a variation on the old soap-opera line, "You tell him. He'll take it from you!" Never before has there been an unassailable figure who could make those points to that community. (Obama is not totally unassailable in the eyes of some hard-liners--he is not of slave-stock to put it crudely--so notice how he enlists Michelle in his argument.

I'm fascinated by multiple levels of communication and how they interact. Several years ago I wrote a brief note on this but my investigations ran into the sand.

A few days ago I came across a very indirect but potentially fruitful lead. If your thinking is twisted enough to make similar connections, do get in touch! If note, I hope that at least you have listened to a magnificent speech. (Apart from the sound/video sync, that is. How can state-of-the-art crews and kit get that wrong?)

Labels: , ,