Our eyes are bigger than our capacity

We had an age old conversation at lunch the other day: what training do we think people need, what potential participants say they want (will they really come?), what can we realistically teach them in the time we have, how can we get them to commit for longer, more intensive training, and what are the costs and how much will people pay. We want training that is evidence based, and many (most?) participants want something practical that they can implement and see results from.

I’ve got even more opinions about the presenters that are available; the balance of content and presentation style. If we have access to an abundance of excellent speakers (some of the TED talks, for example), then why are presenters still so often stilted, with crowded PowerPoint slides and an inability to understand their audience. So adding to the list of questions we ask to deliver effective learning opportunities: how do we train presenters to be more effective presenters.

So it comes to: motivation, time and money. If you can figure out that trinity, you’ve got it made.

Video record this!

Recording workshops or speakers is pretty easy these days, and sometimes it seems like an easy fix. Digital video is very accessible and doable by novices. Video cameras are cheaper than ever, and getting better at dealing with low light, so that you need less setup and materials. Recording is also simpler than ever, with far fewer settings and no dangerous chemicals, so that an educated novice can set up and record. My MacBook has the software for video editing, and sites like YouTube make video omnipresent in our online surfing.

There is still lots of room for experts in recording and editing, but the point is that it’s easy for a confident novice to do a basic job.

The advantages to providing online video are tempting. The videos are accessible to a distributed population. This is particularly tempting in a country with vast spaces between urban centres and long winters that make travel expensive, dangerous or at least uncomfortable. They’re accessible to people who have difficulty getting child care (this is particularly important to my users, many of whom have children with autism), or people for whom English is not their first language. The ability to stop, rewind and watch again is invaluable to any one who gets interrupted on an ongoing basis, or needs to review to make sure they understand.

Easy, right?

I have just a few questions, however. I want the videos to be useful and engaging. I want our viewers to learn from the videos, to recommend them to their friends, to provoke new ideas and actions. And my job, in part is to ask questions:

  • What can I add to a recording to make it more engaging?
  • How do we measure success? How do we know it’s helpful for users?
  • How long should the blocks of video be?
  • What do we cut, and what do we keep in the editing stage?
  • How do we frame the shot? How many different views or angles to we need?
  • What are the potential technological limitations of our users that we have to account for?
  • How do we prevent people from downloading and sharing the videos?

How much will all this cost?

These are questions that won’t have a definitive answer and so I’ve volunteered to host a discussion about these questions and more in an online community. I was honest with the organizer, and told her that I was volunteering so that *I* could learn (grin).

The assignment process gives me cognitive overload

I was reading about cognitive overload yesterday as relates to problem solving, and consequently, why sometimes it doesn’t result in learning. Research seems to suggest that our working memory can handle five to seven items in our head at a time, which is why telephone numbers are seven digits, and why you have to write down a longer grocery list. However, how often do we use our brains to memorize numbers or a simple list? And so really, our minds can only grapple with two or three ideas at a time. If we can’t access some of the information we need from our long term memory, we move back and forth from, for example, written documents (hence one difference from novice and experts). And then….

I’m taking a couple of courses right now at the post-secondary level. The instructor is deviating from the course outline at times, which he admits is part historical document* and part updated by himself. The consequence is that last night, we were assigned three different things, two of which were moved up a week (just the assignment information, not the due dates). There was an online discussion question assigned, a small individual assignment, and part one of a major project. The verbal instructions are modifications from the outline, and the assignment handouts we were given didn’t quite match the assignment titles on the course outline. Result? Confusion.

When I would work with faculty on the development of an online space to supplement their face to face teaching, I would harp a bit about easy navigation. I told them that the students should be using their little grey cells to evaluate and apply the course content, *not* trying to remember where things are posted, or which assignment is due when.

This combination of reading and experience yesterday made me consider my working memory, and what I *want* to be thinking about, and my expected outcomes. I’d rather use my attention to consider discourse communities, clarity in communications, creating unique learning experiences or mobile learning.

* “why is assignment two due in hardcopy, when assignment one was due via email”. “I’m not sure. Because it’s always been done that way. Would you prefer to email it?” “yes!”

Clickers in the classroom

A round-up of some recent (and not so recent) postings and musing on clickers in the classroom.

Clickers are multiple choice question: how do you use them to encourage critical thinking? From the same author, more thoughts on using clickers in a statistics course.

This posting is short and with some very specific hints and tricks to using clickers. It offers opinions (but not lots of discussion) on topics such as how many questions you should ask per class, what to do if students forget their clickers, and aligning questions with specific learning goals.

Why using clickers just for attendance is not the ideal.

It comes down to writing effective questions for different situations or objectives.

Teaching to the Six

In my wanders in the internet today, I came across a 2002 article called Teaching to the Six*. In, Michael Berube discuss’ his acceptance of the fact that he cannot reach all his student. That “for half or more of the than half of the students in an undergraduate-survey classroom, you are a node in their lives just as they are nodes in yours.” It’s a delicate balance that I think he plays with. Some instructors who accept that they teach to their six can be dismissive or angry at the other 12 to 18 – how do you find an acceptance of who your students are, and what you are to your students?

*from the journal: Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. Volume 2, Number 1. Available from the SFU library

Engaging students in larger classes

Clickers have slowly been introduced in large (and medium sized) classes in the last two years. We asked one of our early adopters to do a presentation and talk on clicker use in her classroom. I pulled a few key ideas from her talk and my interpretation on them:

Types of questions
“Read studies in your field of common student misconceptions, and address these questions. “
In class questions and feedback demonstrate the faulty logic and give you the change to immediately dismantle the misconceptions and assumptions. These misconceptions can become enormous road blocks to students future learning.

“Write knowledge questions: based on information from readings, a past lecture or a few slides ago”
This ties in with keeping your questions aligned with your teaching objectives – while it may be fun to ask a off-beat or simply interesting question, your students may lose interest and faith in this technique if it does not relate to the learning and assessment described in your objectives and outline.

“Write predictive questions: show a slide with some facts or information, and ask a if/then question”
If you choose to describe an experiment or series of events, students will be far more interested in the result if they’ve used the clickers to predict the outcome. You can present a series of facts on one slide, and the ask – what was the outcome. If X were applied, what would the outcome be? This engages students in the material in a complex manner – they are shifting through knowledge and evidence to analyze the facts and apply their learning to a problem.

Students
“If you register your clicker as an instructor iclicker, and then lend it to a student, mysterious things will happen”
If you use the iClicker technology, you’ll receive one or two blue iClickers. They’re blue to remind you that they’re yours, not your students (who get a white clicker). You can program this clicker to advance PowerPoint slides, start and stop a clicker question, and display or hide the responses. If you do choose to program this iClicker, and lend it to a student, they won’t be able to answer the clicker questions, but will inadvertently create havoc with your presentation.

“The student – instructor dynamic will change”
If you use clickers, you can expect more office hours. Students are being shown misconceptions or gaps in knowledge before the midterm or final, and some will use the knowledge to seek you out for answers (or with more questions!).

In addition, if the clickers are increasing your attendance (due to grades being assigned for answers), your student evaluations may go down initially. The students who would normally be reluctant or resistant are more likely to be in the classroom on the day you hand out the evaluation forms, and may express this opinion on the forms. That being said, the majority of the students do like the clickers and think that they improve their learning.

For more information on clicker use and implementation at SFU, go to this information page or email Amy Severson at ajs {at} sfu.ca.

Engaging students in larger classes

Clickers have slowly been introduced in large (and medium sized) classes in the last two years. We asked one of our early adopters to do a presentation and talk on clicker use in her classroom. I pulled a few key ideas from her talk and my interpretation on them:

Types of questions
“Read studies in your field of common student misconceptions, and address these questions. “
In class questions and feedback demonstrate the faulty logic and give you the change to immediately dismantle the misconceptions and assumptions. These misconceptions can become enormous road blocks to students future learning.

“Write knowledge questions: based on information from readings, a past lecture or a few slides ago”
This ties in with keeping your questions aligned with your teaching objectives – while it may be fun to ask a off-beat or simply interesting question, your students may lose interest and faith in this technique if it does not relate to the learning and assessment described in your objectives and outline.

“Write predictive questions: show a slide with some facts or information, and ask a if/then question”
If you choose to describe an experiment or series of events, students will be far more interested in the result if they’ve used the clickers to predict the outcome. You can present a series of facts on one slide, and the ask – what was the outcome. If X were applied, what would the outcome be? This engages students in the material in a complex manner – they are shifting through knowledge and evidence to analyze the facts and apply their learning to a problem.

Students
“If you register your clicker as an instructor iclicker, and then lend it to a student, mysterious things will happen”
If you use the iClicker technology, you’ll receive one or two blue iClickers. They’re blue to remind you that they’re yours, not your students (who get a white clicker). You can program this clicker to advance PowerPoint slides, start and stop a clicker question, and display or hide the responses. If you do choose to program this iClicker, and lend it to a student, they won’t be able to answer the clicker questions, but will inadvertently create havoc with your presentation.

“The student – instructor dynamic will change”
If you use clickers, you can expect more office hours. Students are being shown misconceptions or gaps in knowledge before the midterm or final, and some will use the knowledge to seek you out for answers (or with more questions!).

In addition, if the clickers are increasing your attendance (due to grades being assigned for answers), your student evaluations may go down initially. The students who would normally be reluctant or resistant are more likely to be in the classroom on the day you hand out the evaluation forms, and may express this opinion on the forms. That being said, the majority of the students do like the clickers and think that they improve their learning.

cross posting at Education.Building