Archive for the ‘Teaching and Learning’ Category

Four traps that hinder student learning by Steve Mintz

Friday, June 12th, 2015

I like this.  It shines a spotlight on the cracks in our common, run of the mill, teaching practice.

This one you need to read.

File:Cracks in Mývatn region (2).jpg
By Chmee2 (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0]

Steven Mintz the Executive Director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning posted this on the Inside Higher Ed site.

The four traps are

  • The Lecture trap
  • the Memorization trap
  • The High Stakes Testing trap
  • The Coverage trap (more…)

Online student “happy sheets” not that valid – big surprise

Thursday, June 11th, 2015


Here’s an Inside Higher Ed article on a report from the American Association of University Professors based on a survey of 9,000 professors.  It confirms what we already know about Student Evaluations (which are really student satisfaction surveys).

Research demonstrates that student evaluations can be valuable among several sources of input on faculty teaching but need to be combined with other sources including peer observations, syllabus review, portfolio analysis and teaching philosophy and reflection, among other approaches,” she said. “Single metrics of teaching have not been found to provide a complete enough picture for improvement.”

In the training industry we called them happy sheets.   We produced them for the people paying the bills, knowing that the responses didn’t really mean that much in terms of changing behaviour, which is what you are really trying to achieve.

Respondents who said their institutions had adopted online evaluations reported much lower student return rates than those who stuck with paper evaluations: 20-40 percent versus 80 percent or higher.

“With such a rate of return, all pretensions to ‘validity’ are rendered dubious,” the paper says. “Faculty report that the comments coming in are from the students on either of the extremes: those very happy with their experience and/or their grade, and those very unhappy.”

We saw the same drop in response rates when we shifted from handed out paper surveys to online surveys.   There is a clash between cost efficiencies and functional efficiencies.

In reality we need to be doing something else.  We actually want to evaluate teaching effectiveness.   And for that it’s worth looking at Bill Goffe’s contribution in the comments.

A better way to evaluate undergraduate teaching effectiveness.

“method based on the notion that the teaching methods used by an instructor are a more accurate proxy for teaching effectiveness than anything else that is practical to measure”

Teaching practice inventory

This inventory can aid instructors and departments in reflecting on their teaching. It has been tested with several hundred university instructors and courses from mathematics and four science disciplines. Most instructors complete the inventory in 10 min or less, and the results allow meaningful comparisons of the teaching used for the different courses and instructors within a department and across different departments.

You could also have a look at Bill Thalheimer’s course review template.  It’s based on Workplace training but most of it applies to (or should apply to) Higher Ed teaching practice.

Top EdTech Trends of 2014 from someone who knows what they are talking about

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Audrey Watters (one of the sharpest observers and commentators in field)  has started her annual Top EdTech Trends of 2014.

She is starting with “Buzzwords”

audrey wattters

The main focus is on “Digital Disruption”, “Blended Learning” (a 1990’s term I personally think is redundant and unhelpful) and “Personalized Learning”.

She includes this statement about Personalized Learning which clarifies the term

On one hand, “personalized learning” sounds pretty good: a nod towards more student-centered learning perhaps, a move that honors the person learning not just the learning institution. But on the other hand, I do not think it means what you think it means. Often, what I see the term applied to gives me pause – “personalized learning” appears to be more focused on the scripting than on the student. Personalized learning isn’t personal learning. And often, it’s really “personalized instruction” – not focused on the person or the learning but on individualized delivery of standardized content and assessment. For some ed-tech industry folks, it’s indistinguishable from “targeted advertising” even. So that’s something to look forward to.”

Other notable education and ed-tech buzzwords

“: Efficiency. Efficacy. School choice. “Bite-sized lessons.” Adaptivity. “Everyone should learn to code.” Mastery-based learning (which is different from competency-based learning, a trend that I’ll explore in an upcoming post).
Learning outcomes – in which you really really want to demonstrate “deeper learning.” Duh.
Learning object repositories(one of last year’s “zombie ideas,” kept alive thanks in part by a renewed interest in them by LMSes. Thanks, team) which may or may not be related to “knowledge clouds.”
Interactive educational gadgets” – heck, anything “interactive.” That’ll probably boost “engagement,” whatever that means. “Open” (which I’ll explore in conjunction with MOOCs – stili a buzzword – and unMOOCs in an upcoming post).
The “sharing economy” (which let’s go ahead and make very, very clear is
utterly awful and exploitative and has little if anything to do with sharing). But hey, innovation!
“Social learning” (which seems to often be code for “
homework help” and “note-sharing” for students or “PD” for teachers).
Digital natives (yes, people still use this phrase.)
Behaviorism (okay, probably very few people call it “behaviorism.” They use some other coded language to describe it. “Classroom management” or something.
Except this guy who boldly argued that B. F. Skinner will save us all.) Related, of course, to behaviorism is gamification – not to be confused with game-based learning or Gamergate or game-changers. Then there’s grit. “Growth mindset.” Learning styles. Yes. Learning styles. Still.”

Save time when designing training

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

As someone who has been in the training and professional development field for quite a long time I think this article is gold.

Cathy Moore has a knack for clearly and succinctly explaining the common sense aspects of training that text books often gloss over.

3 ways to save gobs of time when designing training

My favorite is  – Don’t design training

“Does the client just want everyone to be “aware” of the hamster sharing policy? If so, your best bet might be to send everyone a link to the policy with the message, “Read this policy, and share hamsters according to its rules.”

In my experience, a short ‘pictures and arrows’ guide, or screen capture video will do the job for most people.  The rest (the strugglers and more advanced) I work with one on one.  It’s a much better use of my time and much more effective.

The other two ways to save time are, one, drilling down to the actual problem and just targeting that, and two, look for the simplest effective way to do the job, don’t get sucked into the media and technology.

I remember one of my Instructional Design lecturers telling me (in the 90’s) if a pencil can do the job, why wouldn’t you use a pencil.

Anyway go and read it for yourself.

Learning Theories cheat sheets for academics chasing teaching awards

Monday, August 4th, 2014


I have lamented to colleagues in the past that the only place in Australia that you can get a teaching job without an actual teaching qualification is in our universities.  Even an instructor on a factory floor needs a Cert IV in Training and Assessment.  We have various certificates and expectations after people start but let’s be honest, the culture in HE ranks research as significantly more important than teaching.

Those hardy global citizens who think the “teaching students” bit of universities is actually quite important often face an uphill battle.  That’s why I think teaching awards are important.

The place where academics sometime struggle when applying for awards is the theory bit.  Based  on attending workshops, discussions with peers, years of experience and watching a 100 YouTube videos, those with an interest in teaching often get quite good at it.  What they often don’t have is an understanding of  the underpinning theories.  In day to day teaching this is not a particularly big deal (although it probably would help them identify gaps in their practice and fast track improvements).  Where becomes an issue is when they apply for teaching awards.

So to help everyone out here are a some, not overwhelming, sites to get you started.

An overview of the 3 commonly held approaches to learning

General overview of the common theories
(I found this via Stephen Downes OL Daily)

A more detailed list, including the main proponent of the theory.

5 quick ways to pull learners into a course (according to Cathy Moore)

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Cathy’s focus is on workplace training and eLearning but all the items mentioned also apply to the way we put together our Higher Ed units.

It’s short and sharp and worth reading.  For me, the one statement that probably underpins the whole philosophy.

Briefly tell the learner what they’ll be able to do as a result of the course, and focus on what they care about.”

If you’re telling the student’s what they can do you are automatically focusing on real applied outcomes, which hopefully leads to a more problem based approach.  And by focusing on what they care about (and how that blends with the unit objectives) you are much more likely to design a course that students will engage with.

Cathy Moore

Brains and learning

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Edutopia is great site full of evidence based resources to help teachers.  It’s mainly K12 but well worth a look for anyone involved in teaching. They occasionally do focused resources roundups – here is their Brain Based Learning roundup

Edutopia’s list of resources, articles, videos, and links for exploring the connection between education and neuroscience

Zombie Brains wall poster from Think Geek

Learning Styles – what we should be doing instead

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The idea of learning styles has been fairly comprehensively debunked.   It’s origins come from the idea of multiple intelligences.

Here is a bit from Howard Gardner (who started the whole MI ball rolling) about Multiple Intelligences an why they are not  ‘learning styles’

“The basic idea is simplicity itself. A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and it determines how well we perform in every sector of life. In contrast, a belief in multiple intelligences assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on.”

He has 2 problems with learning styles.

“the notion of  ”learning styles”’ is itself not coherent. Those who use this term do not define the criteria for a style, nor where styles come from, how they are recognized/assessed/exploited.”

“there is not persuasive evidence that the learning style analysis produces more effective outcomes than a “one size fits all approach.”

“As an educator, I draw three primary lessons for educators:

1.       Individualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead of “one size fits all,” learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively. Of course this is easier to accomplish with smaller classes. But ‘apps’ make it possible to individualize for everyone.

2.        Pluralize your teaching. Teach important materials in several ways, not just one (e.g. through stories, works of art, diagrams, role play). In this way you can reach students who learn in different ways. Also, by presenting materials in various ways, you convey what it means to understand something well. If you can only teach in one way, your own understanding is likely to be thin.

3.       Drop the term “styles.” It will confuse others and it won’t help either you or your students.


Annie Murphy Paul has looked at a range of papers and in her article, ‘Forget about learning Styles, here is something better’,  has this to say.

The lesson here: The “learning style” that teachers and parents should focus on is the universal learning style of the human mind, and two characteristics of it in particular.

First, students benefit from encountering information in multiple forms. They learn more, for example, from flashcards that incorporate both text and images—charts, graphs, etc.—than from cards that display text alone.

Second, students’ interest is kept alive by novelty and variety, so regularly turning away from textbooks and blackboards is key. As long as the new activity genuinely informs the students about the academic subject at hand, clapping a math lesson—or sketching in science class, or acting during story time—can help every student to learn better.

My problem with learning styles relates to Gardner’s point 3.  It comes from an experience with a student who claimed that she didn’t like like the way I was teaching and assessing because it didn’t suit her learning style.  I had overhauled an old flash card based prac and assessment (which she was familiar with) and replaced it with a simulation that fairly closely mimicked the the actual activity the student would be required to undertake in the workplace.  I didn’t get rid of flash cards in the program they just no longer reflected the assessment.

The assessment and pracs were higher pressure, there was less time for reflection and mistakes had consequences that had to be dealt with.   Student’s had to prove they could achieve the task, regardless of their personal comfort level or notions of a preferred learning style.

Of course not all programs are as vocationally focused as this example, but for me the desired outcome still drives the design, resources and assessment.  What do we want the student to walk out the door knowing and what skills are they going to need.  Then we sit down and look at all our options decide how are we’re going to help students get to that outcome.

FutureLearn the Monash MOOC

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Given this is a Monash blog I thought I’d put a bit of time into FutureLearn which the xMOOC platform we have aligned ourselves with.

This wasn’t a FOMO decision which I think fueled the, slightly unseemly, Coursdacity gold rush.  Other platforms were looked, at including, Open2Study, the Open Universities Australia option.


I have had a play, and the initial structure looks much the same as the other xMOOCs – text content, video content, comments sections and a multi-choice quiz.  A Basic MMOOCw (moderated courseware).

The structure could lend itself to the lowest common denominator model of just dumping f2f material online, which appears to be what’s happening in most Coursdacity MOOCs, although this is more a reflection on the learning designers than the platforms.

Doug Clow has a more detailed review, and provides a bit of background.  It’s worth a read.

The big plus

The major point of difference they are selling is  a greater social aspect, which sounds interesting and may address one of the major failings of the current batch of platforms, but this appears to be an upcoming feature, so we’ll have to wait to see how it works.

It looks like we’ll have a few Monash courses in the pipeline soon.  If you are a Monash person and you are interested in developing a MOOC the proposal information is here.

A guide for flipped classroom videos – Explain it like I’m five.

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

There a couple of things I’ll say about this ongoing series of videos.

  • Complex ideas can be explained simply (if you are prepared to put in the effort).
  • There is value in recording not just content, but interactions as well.
  • Explaining just one aspect of a complex idea in a simple manner isn’t enough, you have to have a plan to explain all the related issues simply as well.
  • Students need to be encouraged to interrogate additional resources so they challenge and expand the message being delivered from the front of the class.
  • Some parents need to have a discussion with their kids about the use of violence to resolve conflicts

explain like im five