Responses from attendees on Mentimeter
On Wednesday I ran two workshops for Edinburgh Napier staff on Minecraft. It was billed as a hands-on exploration with a view to thinking about how it could be used for learning and teaching. As it happened, it was an experience in how to manage vastly different skill levels where some participants jumped in confident in their ability to navigate a 3D world, while others struggled to orientate themselves. Feedback mentioned feeling quite uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. This was not accidental, as I was hoping for participants to experience what it is like as an inexpert learner in a wholly disorienting space. I was also hoping that they would collaborate in the world to do tasks together. I think I achieved the former, while the latter was less in evidence, although there was very lively conversations between participants in real life as they were sitting side-by-side in a computer lab.
I had designed the world with escape rooms where participants had to work together to
break free to an area where they could do unstructured building. Education Edition Minecraft includes Scratch-like coding plug-ins and in the afternoon workshop, one enthusiastic participant managed to overwrite the escape rooms with huge letters made out of grass and earth spelling out ‘Hello’. It was chaotic and yet another lesson that I can’t always control what learning happens.
Yesterday I spoke about the workshops during our Learning and Teaching conference. Here are the slides I used including responses from staff on some questions I posed about the conference.
Here is the blurb for my talk:
Drawing on the workshops during the research and teaching day, this session will explore how the ‘LEGO-like’ building functions of Minecraft can allow users to manipulate their environment, thereby developing skills in design and creativity. Doing so collaboratively necessitates communication and co-operation, enabling the building of social presence and relationships, an area notoriously difficult to achieve in distance and online learning. By working through tasks as novices, the workshop participants experienced what it is like to be a beginner learner and the dis-ease and emotional responses this can create in the individual. Mistakes are inevitable and wholly necessary to learn how to use the various tools in Minecraft. The 3D environment also prompts questions around accessibility and inaccessibility, including how some digital technologies can be disadvantageous for some while inclusive for others. Lessons from the workshops will be shared, including what it was like to learn, collaborate and ‘fail’ in an unfamiliar environment and how this could inform planning and design of learning for students. It will end with a short plenary discussing experiences, drawing on all the sessions during the day.
Sharples, M., De Roock, R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C.-K., Mcandrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M. and Wong, L. H. (2016) Innovating Pedagogy 2016 Exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20677.04325.
I tweeted this last week and it went proverbially viral.
At the time of writing it is heading towards 90,000 impressions on Twitter. It feels a bit odd that it’s got so much traction, but as a wise friend commented, people like a nice story. So here is a little more about it. I tweeted it because it brings together a number of things I’m think are important and I wanted to show the impact institutions, practices and tools can have on one child. I’m not an advocate for universal coding education, as I discuss here, but here’s what happened in the instance of this little boy.
When my twin sons were 6 we got them books on inventions and computers and coding. When we read through the inventions book together, I’ll admit, I editorialised a bit on why so many inventors seemed to be men. One of my sons took a lot of interest in binary code, unicode and algorithms. Underneath one of the lift-the-flaps in the computing book, was Ada Lovelace.
Later that year I attended a fantastic Ada Lovelace day at the University of Edinburgh and when I got home I showed my photos of the Lego Ada set to my children. This peaked their interest and they began to join the dots in the information they had. Meanwhile they were getting amazing support in learning to read at school and had been benefiting from the Scottish Book Trust’s Bookbug bags with free CDs and books since they were babies. Without reading skills as a foundation, none of this would have happened. To encourage my son who appeared to have interest in code, we got him a Raspberry Pi for Christmas. Our local library in Newington provided a supply of books on Scratch, drawn from libraries across Edinburgh and he worked his way through them. They have no overdue fines for children’s books, thankfully.
Then after Easter he was assigned a project at school to give a short Powerpoint presentation on someone who inspires him. He, quite logically, worked out that as he loves to code and coding exists because of Ada Lovelace, therefore she should be his person. He searched for some images and read up on her some more. He included screenshots (see image below) of Scratch, to demonstrate to his classmates how an algorithm works. He practised, standing tall with a clear voice – something he would never have been able to do a few years ago. I have to credit the school with this as he has consistently been given support to develop his confidence in public, even when this was difficult for him.
Afterwards he was happy with how it went and his classmates wanted to know more about Scratch. A day later when he came out of school, he whispered to me that at school assembly he’d been made ‘star of the week’. On further probing I discovered he had been asked to get up and speak more about his presentation and to explain what Twitter is – that Tweet had been around the world a few ten-thousand times by stage. The school has asked him to participate in the school fair showing other children how to use Scratch. He is learning that what started as a solitary pursuit is something he can share and even teach. For someone who has times where he struggles with the emotional ups and downs of life, this is a massive boost. It doesn’t solve everything, but it is something that is all his.
His twin brother has different pursuits and aptitudes, equally interesting and inspiring. Just different. He might explore coding more at another time, or maybe not. Interestingly, they get on better with each other the more they carve out their own niches. They are privileged to have access to the skills, support and tools so they can pursue these interests. While are still young enough to pay attention to me, I try to point this out to them and the responsibilities that go with that privilege. Just as one demonstrated that it is perfectly normal for a boy to have a role model who happens to be female, the other insisted his piano teacher edited a piece of music thus, to “make it fair”:
They continue to surprise me.
After I completed my PhD I took a six-month contract in a large, well-resourced university doing ‘e-learning support’. The work was very similar to parts of my previous learning technologist roles elsewhere, but the scale of everything was much bigger. Additionally, it was my first time working within a department with no academic or teaching remit and the culture and language around the use of technology reflected that.
The university provides and supports an impressive array of digital products for teaching and learning: VLEs (more than one), assessment tools (including text matching and peer assessment), classroom polling, digital exams, lecture capture, video streaming, virtual classrooms, digital reading lists and eportfolios, to name a few. For each tool there was a named individual in my team with the expertise and vendor relationship to deal with unusual problems. I was impressed with the commitment my colleagues showed for providing the best possible service to the end users. Requests for support came to me through the call management software, so all my communication with people who needed help was through typed messages. It functioned as a very efficient, transparent system where the busy-ness of the queue could be seen at a glance and calls passed between individuals as needed.
I can’t put an accurate figure on it, but would appear that the majority of lecturers were using these tools by rote. Courses were rolled over from semester to semester, assessment dropboxes set up as they were previously and, if there were discussions about why certain tools were being used, there weren’t happening within my earshot. What’s more, courses all had named secretaries who were responsible for student enrolments and administration of assessments. So, for example, a course secretary would follow a checklist of how to set-up a Turnitin dropbox. Again, a highly efficient process which frees up the time of the academic, but for every box ticked or not ticked within the set-up screen there are pedagogical implications, yet the lecturer has no input and probably little or no awareness that there are such choices available. And this is before any discussions take place about whether Turnitin is actually an appropriate tool to be using for assessment.
The increasing ease-of-use of software makes it more accessible and efficient to use if there is little or no learning curve. However, this very ease-of-use means that we don’t have to think about it much and this can be a problem. Teaching with digital technologies should be a considered and constantly re-evaluated process. Indeed, my PhD research found that the majority of lecturers were constantly balancing the costs and benefits to them and their students when they used digital tools. But if the the tools are practically friction-free to use, or someone else is there to do the legwork of setting things up or solve the problems, then the educator is at a remove from the consequences of using them, and therefore from thinking about deeper implications.
I believe that education in all disciplines should explicitly incorporate pedagogy into the curriculum. I also believe that this should include directly addressing digital citizenship, starting with educators role-modelling appropriate digital citizenship. This can be a simple as an announcement outlining why they made choices to use (or not to use) certain digital tools for teaching and learning. In doing so, they would be encouraging their learners to think about the choices that we make about technology every day. It could even be the first step to becoming an open education practitioner.
As a technologist, I’m always on the look out for tools to make my life easier. I particularly like using ‘dead time’ like travelling productive. Before starting the PhD I looked at how I worked best and tried to eliminate excuses for getting on with things. With me excuses like “This chair isn’t comfortable” or “I can’t find information fast enough to hold an idea in my head” can be destructive to productivity.
- Evernote premium: no limit on uploads, offline notes, search with PDFs and no distracting flashing ads. £35 per year
- Scrivener: Writing tool for structuring, writing and revising. I haven’t used it that much yet, but I know I’m going to need this for a thesis. £29
- ezPDF Reader: A very flexible PDF reader for Android with good annotating functionality, night mode and voice reading. £2.50
- Simplemind Pro: A mindmapping (desktop and Android app) which can sync to Dropbox. £3.76 (app) £31.55 (desktop software)
- Curriculum design for online learning – How can lecturers design, develop, teach and assess fully online courses? How can theory and research inform instructional design?
- Supporting student reflection and independent learning – How can TEL help students become reflective learners and can social networking support this? (By the way, I haven’t come across the term “independent learning” in a while – is it out of fashion?)
- Social tools for researchers – Has the uptake of social networking increased at all for researchers and research students? Can these tools help increase collaboration, sharing and impact on isolation?
- Institutions’ responses to disruptive innovations such as MOOCs – Can this breakdown of higher education’s “marketplace” be an opportunity to reassess and refocus the purpose of university education?
I’m reading Contemporary Theories of Learning (2009), edited by Knud Illeris which is a series of essays about learning by theorists. As usual with a stimulating book like this I have to put it down every few pages and sort out my own thoughts.
In Illeris’ own chapter, he talks about barriers to learning which break-down essentially into those barriers which are a defence and those which are resistance. It is the latter that I am most interested in i.e those which is caused by the learning situation itself because “often when one does not just accept something, the possibility of learning something significantly new emerges.”
As an advisor to lecturing staff on the use of technology-enhanced learning, I have had experiences where colleagues have resisted or even rejected changing their approach to teaching. But now I come to think of it, some of those who had the most defensive reactions are the ones who have travelled furthest in adopting technology. I know the theory that involving emotions can aid learning, but negative emotions? I had only thought before that antithetical reactions to my training or advice would lead to entrenched views but maybe together with staff who react badly we can create, synthesise, something new?
So would it be possible to deliberately manufacture resistance in, say, a staff training session and what would that look like? How about asking them to discuss a provocative statement such as “In the future teachers will be obsolete”. Perhaps this is a bit loose but it has a challenging emotion connection for most lecturers.