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A wonderful fried of mine in the navy once told me this story about the difference between driving a frigate and driving a supply ship. It related to how on straight lines they were as good as each other, but when it came to taking a corner the frigate can turn 180 degrees in seconds on itself. The supply ship takes hours and needs a turning circle kilometers wide. I think I’m exaggerating but you get the point. Both ships are really useful for their purpose. A frigate needs supplies and a ship to bring them out. And when all is said and done, a supply ship shouldn’t need to turn fast because the frigate is there to protect it. They are both fit for purpose.

What does this have to do with education? Today COAG released some reports. One on school education and one on tertiary. I’m yet to read them in detail but I will because it’s important. It’s important because the failings occurring in school education has a direct flow on to higher education. We are developing support modules for students in skill sets that used to be taken for granted. Education is not a frigate. It cannot change direction on itself in seconds. It’s a supply ship. It supplies the workforce of the future. But it also supplies the philosophers, the inventors, the agitators, the people who can think and then change the world.

Students are frigates. They change direction regularly, with apparent randomness and great speed. As I said, I’ve not read these reports in full, but I think the expectation of the supply ship to keep up with the frigate is too great. Education policy and management should have started changing direction a long time ago if it was to meet the demands of today. The issue is, what is that direction? And for that I have no answer other than, not the one we’re going.

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Today my boss outlined a concept that I thought was impossible. But he’s pretty, well, something. Maybe inspiring? Anyway, I just couldn’t bring myself to say he was crazy. So, I gave it a go. And it worked. I managed to get some content (not quality necessarily) into some documents that means heads greater than mine can now make it all work in the craziest time frame ever.

I then had the privilege of seeing an academic lecture. I was working with her on the flipping concept and she was saying that she needed the two hour lecture because her course is really content heavy. She’s right it is. And she was kind enough (brave enough?) to let me, a complete stranger come into her lecture with the prospect of receiving feedback. High school teachers have observations regularly* so we are used to people coming in with a view to feedback. Academics, not so much. Anyway, I digress.

She is incredible. Her content knowledge is amazing. We are asking her to lecture in a large theatre on technical, heavy, theoretical content to students who are incapable of manners. We ask too much. Her lecture style is seminar. She asks questions, she poses concepts and then explains them in detail. She uses multimedia and she would have loved it if just one student had said “Yeah – I can totally see where you’re going with this, how about this other thing though, how does that work?”. She is passionate.

Passion is palpable. We can teach that. What we can do is show academics options from the traditional style. I can suggest to this wonderful person that she use a flat room and intersperse group work into her lecture. That she ask students to stand up and point at her slides and ask questions. I can even see her be relaxed about a student taking the reigns. We can teach her to use PowerPoint and multimedia more effectively. We can teach her voice projection and pacing. We cannot, ever, teach her passion. Good thing she has it.

What does this all mean? It means that apparently my boss was right (again) and I can do more if he asks. It means that we need to ask less of our academics if we are not in a place to support/train/teach/inform them in how to teach with technology. It is not enough to ask academics to use technology without the support to do so. Quite frankly, we also need to ask more from the students. But I think that’s another post and relates heavily to horses and water…..

 

*Just before some of my teacher pals get carried away, in theory high school teachers are supposed to be observed regularly in line with the TQI process and standards. However, it is possible for it to never happen if the school culture doesn’t support that ideal. We learn best from one another. I know. It doesn’t happen……all the time……but it does happen. Promise!

I have no idea why but for some reason I’m thinking in quaint sayings about this project. The last post was carrots and sticks and horses and water and today I’m in the space of cart and horse.

The shear diversity and scale of this project is indescribable. In some part because I just know yet how big it is, but also in a way where if you start to think about it (even just the little I know) a sense of foreboding, or maybe panic, or maybe just oh, my, goodness, comes over you.

Universities are complicated. Like really complicated. One person will be doing their thing and then another will be doing theirs and the differences far outweigh the similarities. In fact I’m finding it so hard to grasp basics that the complexities may as well not exist. Wait – I’m onto something. I’m thinking in cliches because it’s my way of coping with the difficult. Hmmm….that sounds okay. I’m going to stick with that and think about how I might get slightly more sophisticated in my thinking.

I’ve been thinking the last couple of days of carrot and sticks and horses and water.

We have some teachers with 1300 students a year and others with 100. This is because of the topic of the content, core unit versus elective, undergraduate or postgraduate and so on. I think I’m discovering that the larger the volume of students the greater the incentive to get online because you can begin to automate a percentage of your marking.

So the carrot. Do we make units larger as an incentive or can I make the automation of marking a carrot for everyone?

Sticks are not a goer. With this scale of change management and culture shift, I don’t perceive a role for the stick. This might be obvious for people, but for me, who is used to legislative sticks, it’s plain weird. It’s an epiphany really. This job is about what I can do for others. Seriously. I’m from the faculty and I’m here to help you. Weird….

And lastly, I’m still thinking about students and engagement. I’m still stuck on horses and water…..suggestions welcome…….

 

At the end of last week I went to a presentation by Helen Lynch from CSU. There was some really great ideas relating to knowledge management and how to share the lesson content in support of teachers. But here I want to express how she clarified my thoughts about training. She talked about the training of staff in relation to ICT use. Not just the new products and processes that formed part of the knowledge management, but also basic ICT. The skills that most of us (who work with ICT) take for granted. This was simply something I hadn’t thought of. How can academics put their content online if they don’t know you can click and drag content in Word rather than cut and paste. They don’t know that Excel can sometimes be a better tool to use than Word for large data management. That they don’t know you can use cell referencing instead of just as a calculator. Basics.

What does this mean for me? It means that I think I need to do a little re-focussing of my priorities. Instead of focussing on making sure I get the right colour traffic light on my status list, I’m going to put together a training program. Helen runs her training every Wednesday afternoon. I like that idea. Not sure how she runs it, but I think I’ve got an idea.

Come, learn about whatever you want, but this week we’ll focus on “topic X”. Maybe the casual approach will help encourage everyone to learn some basics and then maybe they can teach me some advanced aspects! (I only know to do basics – perhaps that’s worth mentioning…..). Anyway, one more thing to think about!

A couple of conversations I’ve had this week have made me think seriously about the advantages of creation versus repurpose. It’s come up in relation to support material for students that the faculty is developing. This material is outside the core content of units but will support student success.

The example in my head is Excel. There is lots of excellent material on line for Excel training. I know, I’ve used it. However, I used the Microsoft tutorials as I was starting at a base level and students were toe demonstrate basic operational skills for summative assessment. Someone else was telling me about a different site they used and that was just two of us.

Given the faculty has a clear idea of what skills they want students to have in relation to Excel and they have the skills themselves and the ability to create content, isn’t it just quicker for them to create the content they want? What is the time cost of finding the right sort of content to repurpose versus just doing it yourself? I didn’t know about the Microsoft tutorials. Someone else told me. I had done searches but my brain went to YouTube (maybe it shows where I spend too much time!). I personally hadn’t thought to go elsewhere. I was pushed for time, it was only one of my five subjects, I had to research for other units, and I was in that scary place that teachers can get to, I knew it all so I was going to chalk and talk it. This approach in IT is deadly. Students can’t self-pace, they lose interest and in the high school context it leads to behaviour issues. So, I was saved by someone else.

All this leads me to the question of how how do we know what to repurpose? Who tells us about cool stuff we can use? Do we go to ‘commons‘ and see what people are doing? Do we search “Showme“? Do we search google? And then once we’ve found it, we have to consume it ourselves to work out what can be repurposed to meet our needs. I completed all the Microsoft tutorials before setting them for my students to make sure the content was useful, met my needs and didn’t have anything too outside the requirements I was seeking. This took time. Would it have been quicker for me to just create? Is this actually the age old issue of why delegate when I can just do it? Maybe because the answer is, if you do extra time today, tomorrow you won’t have to do it at all. Hmmm more stuff to think about.

I was asked today to do a task that required me to revamp my own position description. I had read this document some time ago (preparation for the interview) and had not revisited. So imagine my surprise when I found that well, I wasn’t doing my job.

I’ve been doing, what I think, some really important and interesting work in relationship building and identification of players in the eLearning space and some big thinking about what we can do to ensure longevity after the project is complete. All cool stuff (well, again, I think it’s cool).

More to the point I’ve had good feedback from the important people (the ones who can sack me) as well as from people that I’ve helped out along the way. So, the fine print. Now I’ve read it again I actually did what the first requirement of the position is today. I’ve emailed off the draft of the document and we’ll see what people think. I’m think it was a useful document to create and of course it’s a part of good project management – otherwise it wouldn’t have been required for the position. But in the grand scheme of what is trying to be achieved, does the fine print matter?

Someone said to me today (and I paraphrase), “MacDonald’s has a lot of processes and procedures because they have low expertise staff, the university traditionally has low level of processes and procedures (or not followed them) because the staff are amazingly competent and passionate about their work. The question is, what happens now where eLearning is a environment that requires good processes and procedures otherwise students and teachers can get left behind? In there lies the cultural shift.” Perhaps it is time to read the fine print.

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