First session of the new semester was the odd one that has me teaching on it. The first part was delivered by the module leader and covered cognitive load theory and what implications this has on the use and design of digital learning materials. Cognitive load theory states that as learning involves effort, there are therefore limits on how much information can be processed at any one time. Sweller identified three types of effort – intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Intrinsic load is that which has to be learned, extraneous load is additional information that distracts somehow (e.g. the overuse of footnotes which requires people to flick between the body and the footnotes), and germane load which front loads some additional effort with the intention of making learning easier and more efficient in the long term. Well-designed learning materials should aim to reduce extraneous load to increase intrinsic or germane load.
My session followed this by demonstrating some content creation tools and giving examples on how they can be used to create good materials. My time was very limited so it had to be a demonstration rather than a guided hands-on session, and I included Storyline, Prezi, ThingLink, Pictochart and PowToon. Each one of these could easily have warranted a half-day session to really get into detail and this is something that we’re thinking about for next year, as the programme leader for the PG Cert and my team will both be part of a new CELT which the university is in the process of forming now. The programme leader was also in this session, primarily with their student hat on, but they were also informally observing me to give me some feedback. That was all pretty positive, saying that I was able to answer all the questions that came up calmly and confidently, which is reassuring, as I personally felt like I fluffed the PowToon part. The application has changed a lot since I last used it in earnest and I hadn’t given myself sufficient time to get used to the new version in my session preparation. I followed up the session by publishing a comprehensive range of further information and self-help resources on the module’s SunSpace site which I pointed people towards.
A very interesting morning session for the technology module, EDPM08, covering uses of technology to support self and peer assessment. The great thing about the tutor on this module is that they don’t just know their stuff, they back everything up with research proving that what they’re talking about works. That’s definitely something to keep in mind and aspire to in my own teaching.
First there was a discussion about peer marking, and research that shows that it only takes a surprisingly small number of peer grades to be averaged for it to approximate the grade of a tutor. That’s something that could prove very useful in the assessment for the ArtWorks MOOC that I’ve been assisting to develop. Then we covered the value of real-time formative feedback assisted by quiz tools such as Socrative and Poll Everywhere. And finally, not strictly supported by technology, there was a discussion about comparative marking, giving tutors two papers and deciding which of the two should get a higher mark, but without actually grading them. An interesting idea that I would like to look into further to find out more about how it works.
There was also a nice, almost throwaway remark about the concept of ‘desirable difficulties’, and anecdotal evidence that students learn more from bad lecturers as it makes them have to work harder to make sense of what is being taught. A kind of unintended experiential learning!
The afternoon session was back to the core module, EDPM05, and the use of reflection on teaching and learning. This was facilitated through an iterative exercise where we discussed where and how reflection takes place, wrote down ideas on sticky card and then worked the cards round on a board to reach some conclusions as a group.
The morning session picked up EDPM05 where it left off the week before, discussing curriculum design and setting learning outcomes. There was a discussion on the distinction between learning outcomes which are for students, and learning objectives which are more of a tool for staff when designing the curriculum. Advice given for writing good learning outcomes was to phrase them in the future tense, and make them achievable, assessable and easy for students to understand. It was recommended to build each outcome around a measurable verb, e.g. reflect, hypothesis and solve for high level outcomes, and describe, identify and measure for low level. Bloom’s taxonomy was cited as a source of inspiration in looking for these. In terms of practical considerations and UK HE culture, we were advised not to set too many learning outcomes as they need to be assessed, and too many learning outcomes can quickly lead to assessment overload.
To put this into practice we were given an example from a real-world module which, when inherited by the current programme leader, had 24 learning outcomes, and we were asked to find ways to reduce these. The programme leader actually got these down to 9 by clustering a number of them. Removing any of the outcomes wasn’t a possibility because that would have constituted a major change and triggered a re-validation.
The afternoon session was for EDPM08, the optional module on Digital Learning which I am teaching on, so I was there not as a participant but as a teaching assistant to support the discussions that were taking place. Today’s session utilised an audience response system so there was a discussion about the merits of using dedicated handsets over newer app and text based systems such as Socrative and PollEverywhere. Research was cited showing that such systems increased student enjoyment and engagement.
There followed a live application to get learner’s feedback on a discussion of Marc Prensky’s argument that today’s learners can be classified into digital natives or digital immigrants, depending on whether or not they have grown up with the internet. Critiques of this argument that we discussed included evidence that the multitasking Prensky claims digital natives are capable of is actually detrimental to performance, that he creates an artificial barrier between generations, and that the ability to manage the types of non-linear and non-hierarchical leaning spaces generated by the use of hyperlinking is more a matter of a person’s working memory capacity and pre-existing knowledge than any skills they may have gained by growing up with modern digital technologies.