Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

To Improve Education – Focus on Pedagogy Not Technology

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

It’s an exciting time for technology in education. Global tech companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft are promoting adaptive teaching systems to give each student a personal tutor that responds to their personal needs and ability. Machine learning systems can analyze data from online learning platforms to predict a student’s future performance. Virtual reality offers alternative worlds of historical re-enactment and scientific wonder. Even drones have been recruited to the teaching of geography.

But technology alone won’t solve the deep problems of education. The reason is simple. What thrives in the lab rarely survives in the jungle of a school classroom or university lecture hall. Adaptive learning systems may work for a week or so, but students soon get bored with mechanised tutors and teachers struggle to cope with students progressing at different paces. Predicting future performance through machine learning is fine, but how do you use the results? What do you tell a student who is predicted to fail the next exam? Virtual reality is a cool device for an inspiring lesson, but how does a school or university cope with a cupboard full of virtual reality headsets, all needing to be untangled and charged ready for use? And how do you manage a class of students stumbling around with their heads in VR boxes, or waiting in line for their turn to view ancient Rome?

After 40 years of technologies for learning – educational television, language labs, classroom response systems, programmable robots – the only specifically educational technology that is widespread in schools is the electronic whiteboard. A review of evidence for interactive whiteboards (IWB) in schools found that they may alter how teaching happens in school classrooms and may increase the motivation of teachers and student, but the studies of IWB show “no significant or measurable impact on achievement”. The most important piece of technology for schools over the past decade is not improving students’ performance. However, the report concludes that “in the hands of a teacher who is interested in developing the independent, creative, thinking skills of their students, (the IWB) will be used to further these purposes … It’s not what you use, it’s how you use it.”

It’s not what you use, it’s how you use it. We need to focus on how teachers use technology, not just the technology alone. The key to this is pedagogy. By ‘pedagogy’, I mean the theory and practice of teaching, learning and assessment. A teacher with effective pedagogy can make a success from even the most mundane technology, or no technology at all.

We now know far more than we did even 10 years ago about which teaching and learning methods are successful. Here’s a quiz for you. Which of the following study approaches are effective (yes, all of them can work in some contexts, but which ones are generally useful)? The answer is at the end of this article (for the evidence, see ‘Learning the Smart Way’ by Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelan).

  • Learning spaced over time, instead of all at once
  • Questioning what you have learned
  • Using mnemonics (keys) to remember content
  • Highlighting and underlining key information
  • Letting study and practice of topics overlap

The ‘big four’ overarching pedagogies, with firm evidence from classrooms studies, are: feedback for learning, cooperative learning, visible learning and personalized learning. Giving a student immediate feedback on performance, especially in online learning, is one of the most effective ways of improving retention and exam scores. Cooperative learning – through group projects and collaborative research – is the great success story for education of the past fifty years. It works best when students have shared goals, know when and how to contribute, share rewards, and can reflect on their progress. Visible learning involves students setting explicit goals, the teacher seeing how each student is progressing, and each student understanding what the teacher requires. Personalized learning works best when students have group as well as personal tasks, the classroom is designed to support personalized acitivty, and students can discuss their performance.

Within these generally successful approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, there are many novel methods and techniques. I’ve compiled 40 of them into a new book: Practical Pedagogy: 40 New Ways to Teach and Learn. Some of these pedagogies will be familiar to every teacher, such as ‘learning to learn’ and ‘learning through storytelling’, but are being developed in new ways through technology. Others, such as ‘spaced learning’ and ‘teachback’ have been tried at small scale and now need more widespread use. And some, such as ‘translanguaging’, ‘stealth assessment’ and ‘rhizomatic learning’, offer ideas for the future.

Put innovative pedagogies together with new technologies and you have a powerful brew. Take, for example, flipped learning where students are introduced to a topic through instructional videos then explore the topic in more depth in the classroom. There’s now good evidence that flipped learning is effective, providing the classroom time is used for cooperative learning. Flipped learning combines two of the big four pedagogies – the students do personalized learning while watching, pausing and reviewing the video, then they engage in cooperative learning and problem solving for the classroom lessons.

What happens when the order of flipped learning is changed, so students start by exploring the topic in a group activity, thenwatch an instructional video? It turns out this is even more successful. Students who worked together to explore a complex new topic then watched a mini-lecture significantly out-performed those who watched the lecture before carrying out the hands-on group activity. One explanation is that the students who first watched the lecture were restricted to exploring what they had been taught, but those who explored first ranged more widely in their activity and discussion.

Technology is a central to flipped learning. The instructional material is delivered through online video and the group activity for the ‘explore first’ study was carried out on an interactive tabletop display. But the technology is in the service of pedagogy. Also, the key technology for flipped learning – instructional video – is controlled by the learner, not the teacher. Flipped learning is just one example of an effective pedagogy. If we first understand how students learn and how to teach effectively through practical pedagogy, then we can make good choices about which technologies to adopt.

by Mike Sharples.

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    Pedagogical Knowledge: Three Worlds Apart

    Saturday, April 18th, 2015

    We know a lot about teaching and learning, but our knowledge is scattered across three separate domains.

    Educational research

    The first knowledge domain is centered on the world of educational research that’s been advancing what we know about teaching and learning for more than a hundred years. There’s hardly an educational issue that hasn’t been studied in education or its associated subfields, like educational psychology, adult learning, and higher education. On this large empirical foundation we could rest a more evidence-based instructional practice.

    But educational research remains largely unexplored by those who teach, partly because there aren’t strong norms expecting college teachers to grow and develop their instructional knowledge, but mostly because the journal articles describing these studies and their findings aren’t written for practitioners. They’re written to inform the next round of research. That makes them tough for outsiders to read and often researchers aren’t focused on the practical implications of their work. Then there’s the disdain for educational research held by some faculty. “Why should we bother with those who theorize, hypothesize, and ‘study’ what we do every day in the classroom?” I was asked recently. So, there’s nothing we can learn from this work? How naïve is that? I admit that not all educational research is great scholarship, but is all the work done in any discipline flawless?

    Discipline-based pedagogy

    Then there’s the world of pedagogical knowledge that exists within our disciplines. An increasing amount of it is empirical, and it is practitioner scholarship that makes it more applied and with clearer implications. Some faculty read this type of scholarship (not many), and still fewer contribute to it. The work is based in the disciplines because that’s where it often gets counted. And although this scholarship still doesn’t get counted as often as it should, it’s valued and rewarded today way more often than it used to be.

    by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

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    The Power of Teachers’ Questions Lies in Their Ability to Generate Students’ Questions.

    Sunday, March 1st, 2015

    I was looking at one of my old teaching and learning books, Kenneth Eble’s 1988 book The Craft of Teaching. Some parts are now a bit dated, but many are not. It was one of those books that greatly influenced how a lot of us thought about teaching and learning back then.

    But I found something in the book that was even older. Eble includes a discussion of and several quotes from an 1879 book (actually the ninth edition) by Josiah Fitch titled The Art of Questioning. Eble writes that it’s a small book and was originally aimed at British Sunday school teachers. Here’s the quote that caught my attention.

    For indeed, the whole sum of what may be said about questioning is comprised in this: It ought to set the learners thinking, to promote activity and energy on their part, and to arouse the whole mental faculty into action, instead of blindly cultivating the memory at the expense of higher intellectual powers. That is the best questioning which best stimulates action on the part of the learner; which gives him a habit of thinking and inquiring for himself; which tends in a great measure to render him independent of his teacher; which makes him, in fact, a rather skillful finder than a patient receiver of the truth. (Quoted on p. 91 in Eble’s book, pp. 138–39 in Fitch’s book.)

    by Maryellen Weimer, PhD

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    Learner-Centered Pedagogy and the Fear of Losing Control.

    Sunday, March 1st, 2015

    In the spring of 1991, I returned to teaching after more than five years as a Benedictine monk. The monastery had been founded in China in the 1920s, and when exiled after the Chinese Revolution, the community had relocated to the Mojave Desert in California. During my novitiate, I had taken up a private study of modern Chinese history, even though my research and academic formation at Cambridge University had been in early modern English puritan studies. When my community sent me to study theology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, I also studied the history of missiology and continued to read about the modern emergence of Christianity in China. So when the history department of a small liberal arts college in Santa Barbara asked me to teach a non-Western course after I left monastic life, I suggested Modern Chinese History.

    I recall my fear, walking into class that first day. Twenty-five eager students greeted me expectantly. My plan for the first two weeks filled me with uncertainty. I explained that they needed to divide up into teams of two or three, do research on a Chinese province, and come into class with handouts and a report on what they had learned. These were bright students and eager to learn. They enthused about the prospect of the project and returned the next several sessions with excellent presentations and dynamic discussion about the interconnectedness of a region of the world that had previously been a mystery to them. Their engagement in the work reassured me, as we moved on to the next stage of the course: my lectures.

    This proved a challenging task, as I spent my days outside of the classroom writing detailed notes that constructed a narrative of China’s nineteenth-century encounter with Western powers, and the Chinese Empire’s struggles to resist their aggression. I then moved on to the twentieth century miseries of war, revolution, radical social changes, and the trauma of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Without formal training, Chinese words, important Chinese figures and places proved challenging to pronounce, and so I filled the chalkboard with them as I lectured, and stuck close to my notes. Students were reduced to silence—except for the sound of pens on paper and periodic sighs or requests for me to repeat a line I had said. Students walked out of my classroom with fingers cramped, but notebooks filled with information. I recall the sense of satisfaction I had. I was doing my job.

    by Kenneth L. Parker, PhD

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    New Evidence on Cooperative Learning

    Friday, November 1st, 2013

    The body of evidence documenting the effectiveness of cooperative learning is already impressive. The large and regularly cited meta-analysis of Johnson and Johnson published in 1987 reviews 378 studies that explore the use of cooperative learning groups in a wide range of settings. More than half of the studies reviewed favored cooperation in groups compared with only 10 percent favoring individual effort.

    The new research highlighted here looked at a small but important variable not controlled in much of the previous work: time on task. Cooperative learning occurs in groups that typically meet in class or in controlled settings outside of class. But what if the members of those learning groups decide to study on their own without the aid of their group members? If they and others in their cooperative learning group do better than those exclusively studying alone, then it’s possible that individual study plus the group work is what’s making the difference. As the researcher describes it, “the present study argues that the learning method [in this case cooperative learning] and the time on task should be carefully monitored both in the classroom and during the students’ out-of-class studies to identify the true academic benefits of cooperative learning. Accordingly, the students participating in this study were randomly assigned to a cooperative learning condition or an individualistic learning condition and were compelled to remain in their assigned conditions for both the regular classroom sessions and a series of homework sessions scheduled on a weekly basis.” (pp. 100-101)

    The procedures for ensuring that students in the cooperative learning groups did not study alone and studied about the same amount of time as those studying individually were elaborate and are described in detail in the article. The three-person cooperative learning groups were assembled using average test scores from the previous semester, and each group contained students with a range of test scores. Their learning of the content in this engineering course was assessed via seven homework tests and four unit exams.


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    Storytelling a good way to learn English

    Sunday, July 7th, 2013

    EVERY effort by the Education Ministry to improve the English proficiency of our students and teachers alike, must be lauded.

    Storytelling is a common activity used in teaching English to primary as well as secondary students.

    Storytelling competitions with attractive prizes are held to encourage students to develop their oratory skills in the language.

    But then again, let us ask who are those telling the stories? More often than not, they are the average or above average students who get to participate.

    What about the below average and “no-hopers” in English?

    Do they get a chance to tell their stories? Most teachers will be quick to point out that since these students can’t even construct a simple sentence correctly, how can they be expected to tell a story in English?

    When I was a secondary school principal, I often took on certain relief periods for the “last” classes in the lower forms.

    Students in these classes were branded as low achievers, uninspired and unteachable.

    Most of them were from vernacular primary schools; they had little or no grasp of the English language. In fact, they felt shy and embarrassed to speak the language.

    I went into these classes to “teach” them English! At times I chose the “story-telling” approach.

    In order to do that, I had to first encourage them and to make them feel easy and relaxed.

    They needed to understand that the principal standing before them was now a teacher just like any other.

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    Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

    Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

    Many of us who teach in higher education do not have a teaching background, nor do we have experience in curriculum development. We know our content areas and are experts in our fields, but structuring learning experiences for students may or may not be our strong suit. We’ve written a syllabus (or were handed one to use) and have developed some pretty impressive assessments, projects, and papers in order to evaluate our students’ progress through the content. Sometimes we discover that students either don’t perform well on the learning experiences we’ve designed or they experience a great deal of frustration with what they consider high stakes assignments. Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) proposes that it’s important to determine the area (zone) between what a student can accomplish unaided and what that same student can accomplish with assistance. This provides for consistent structural support, when required (Hogan & Pressley, 1997).

    If there is one major paper in the course and 80% of their final grade depends on their ability to meet the high expectations of that paper, they better be able to produce a quality piece right out of the gate. However, often they’ve not had any preparation to meet these high expectations and no opportunity to revise and resubmit their work. Whether your students are “grade-focused” or “learning-focused,” they will benefit from the energy you put providing scaffolding opportunities for each major or key assignment in a course. A good rule of thumb is the higher the stakes, the more scaffolding you need to include. In other words, the heavier the weight, the stronger the support.

    Getting Started with Scaffolding
    Take some time to evaluate how you’ve designed the learning experiences in your courses. Identify what your major assignments/assessments are and then create a scaffold for each. One unintended outcome of this exercise is that you may discover that either you have an assignment that is no longer relevant or you are missing something that might even be a more meaningful gauge of student learning. Consider these tips to scaffolding a major assignment or assessment.

    • Write a brief description of each major assignment/assessment which should include the necessary skills you intend to evaluate using the assignment/assessment.
    • Ponder what prerequisite skills are necessary for students to have in order to be successful on this assignment/assessment and list them.
    • Determine whether these prerequisite skills are reasonable for students to have already mastered prior to beginning your course.
      • If not, these are the skills you will want to scaffold into your current course in order to better prepare learners to be successful on the major assignments/assessments.
    • Look at the scope of the course and come up with mini assignments or learning experiences that can be purposefully introduced throughout the schedule of sessions in a way that offers learners time to learn and practice these prerequisite skills.

    by Vicki Caruana.

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    Techno wizardry enlivens classes

    Sunday, August 5th, 2012

    The clever use of technology in the classroom is a sure-fire way to increase interest in learning among today’s tech-savvy students.

    AS an educator, I have always been a great believer in John Dewey’s famous quote: If we teach today as we taught yesterday, then we rob our children of tomorrow.

    So it is our duty to teach our students in such a way that we prepare them for a better tomorrow.

    Our students have already beaten us when it comes to technology.

    My teenage son has taught me loads about technology and is still my biggest and quickest source of information when it comes to technology; what’s new, what works best, installation, and all about the social media out there. Now, we teachers need to catch up with our students on technology.

    It is crucial to acknowledge the importance of technology integration in classrooms these days. Let’s look at the benefits of technology integration in the classroom, the technological content knowledge teachers should have, and most importantly the implication for teachers.

    Classroom technology

    Technology integration in the classroom brings about a more student-centred approach. When teachers use technology in the classroom, their approaches seem to be more student-centred.

    Students tend to work together more while using technology; for example, to search the web and create multimedia presentations.

    Hypermedia and hypertext increase their understanding. Hypermedia environments are dynamic and interactive and create a non-linear collection of information.

    by Dr. Termit Kaur Ranjit Singh.

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    An Exemplar of Pedagogical Scholarship Takes on Student Reading

    Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

    I read lots of articles on teaching and learning. Most are solid pieces of pedagogical scholarship; a few are exceptional and I found one of those here lately. I prepared a long and detailed summary of it for the August/September issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. For this post I’d like to identify several features that make this such an outstanding exemplar of pedagogical scholarship.

    For years I’ve been trying to make the point that scholarly work on teaching and learning shouldn’t look like research in our disciplines or educational research. Most of the work teachers do on teaching and learning doesn’t advance knowledge the same way research does. It is work that asks questions related to practice and answers them using a range of pragmatic approaches and methods. Articles don’t focus on the next areas of inquiry. They’re written for practitioners interested in how the findings might be relevant to what, how and who they teach.

    This particular article illustrates what pedagogical scholarship looks like when it is unique. The article reports on the reading strategies of undergraduates taking a required writing and reading course. The author, an English professor, has the usual concerns about students not reading well. She thinks the place to start is by identifying what strategies they use when they do read. She wonders if they define reading the same way she does and she sets out to answer these questions with an interesting study design.

    But unlike so much research where the authors are absent in the interest of objectivity, this faculty researcher uses the research questions to challenge her own assumptions about students and reading. Should she be expecting students to read texts as she reads them? She’s a “professional” reader; her students are not. She’s not excusing her students from reading or developing their reading skills but exploring whether her expectations for students are realistic.

    She looks at relevant educational research and finds a useful typology of reading strategies that she shares with students and that become part of the criteria she uses to identify the strategies they’re using. Her study involves a reflective reading log assignment in which students regularly respond to assigned readings. They write about how they read the assignment and what they thought about the reading strategies they used. She includes quotations from their logs showing that students, too, are learning about how they read, discovering there are alternatives, and they are beginning to understand that reading is a skill they can develop.

    by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

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    Teaching methods slant towards females

    Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

    Kuala Lumpur: Teaching methods in schools are more in favour of female students.

    Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) deputy vice-chancellor Professor Dr Noraini Idris said teaching methodologies have to cater to both genders to avoid disparity once they reach tertiary education.

    “The government must implement a variety of teaching techniques which entails more practical education rather than theoretical.

    “The boys are more inclined towards visuals and graphics and our education system is focused more on rote-learning,” she said.

    She said that most teachers are also females, and their teaching styles also tend to be more effective for the female students.

    “Teachers should understand the psychology of male students and include teaching methods that are more appealing to them.

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