Working with the universities we have, not the universities we wish we had.

This is partly prompted by Jesse Strommel’s post here warning against pedagogical models. 

Jesse has been a voice of reason and humanity in many debates about how we teach and how we relate to students in higher education – not just in situations where technology plays a part, but more generally. He works in North America and some of what he writes resonates very clearly with experiences in US universities. I have lots of friends and colleagues who work in US universities, and I read a lot of the research that comes from US-based education research, educational technology and learning sciences scholars. But all my direct experience of studying and working in higher education has been in Northern Ireland and England (1970s to 2003) and Australia (2003 onwards). There are important differences between countries in the ways higher education is organised, funded, described and experienced. There are significant terminological differences that can also cause confusion, undermine mutual understanding, or simply make our worlds seem strange and even alien. Some of these differences are obscured on Twitter (and in the terser forms of social media more generally), and can generate a bit of irritation. (“That may be how they do things in the US, but it’s not like that here.”)  

One of Jesse Strommel’s recurring pieces of wise advice is that we (teachers in higher education) should spend more time talking with our students, finding out about them, learning more about their real needs and desires, and about the lives they are leading before, outside and beyond university. He also talks about “teaching the students we have, not the students we wish we had.”   I have no trouble identifying with these sentiments, and I suspect that’s also the case with many of my colleagues, even though we’re not closely involved in the American HE discourse to which these words are a reaction. For example, some of the debates about ‘rigour’, grading, making allowances for students’ circumstances, the power of administrators and the cultural variations between universities take on different forms in the UK and Australia. Though we ‘get’ the main points being made, they can feel exotic and are expressed in ways that can cause us to feel well outside the worlds described. 

All that said, I’m trying to unpick what it is that Jesse is deprecating in his article. I’ve come up with the following possible readings:

1) Beware of ed tech companies, consultants, gurus and other snake-oil salesmen bearing gifts. They may be offering you a colourful diagram but their true motives could cause damage to you, your wallet and the people and things you care about.

2) Beware of any attempts to simplify and over-systematise what you do. One size does not fit all. Watch out for administrators and other powers-that-(would)-be who may weoponise rubrics, models, quality frameworks and other paraphernalia, in ways that stop you doing good work. Moreover, don’t do this to yourself: inflexible methods can be used to self-harm. 

3) Beware of specific models. They may be wrong, outdated, or prone to being misunderstood or misapplied. Among those listed in Jesse’s article are: learning styles, Bloom’s taxonomy (original and revised), ADDIE, scaffolding, design thinking, Quality Matters, andragogy and HyFlex. 

4) Beware of all and any models. Model-based action/thinking takes you in the wrong direction. Start by talking to your students.

5) There is also a cynical reading: that undermining the legitimacy of models undermines the credibility of other influencers and strengthens the position of those whose brand depends upon being understood as deeply and inherently good and wise. 

Taking these one at a time.

1) I am in full agreement. Caveat emptor. Especially when someone else is buying with your money. 

2) Absolutely. But pause for a moment to consider how we decide when something is as simple as possible, but not simpler.

3) For sure. But pause for another moment to consider that (a) the things referred to in the list are of quite diverse kinds – are they all actually models? And (b) we evaluate models of the world and models to guide action by different criteria. How, for example, should we think about scaffolding? Should we be testing the validity of the science, from Bernstein, Luria and Vygotsky through Wood, Bruner & Ross and on into the hundreds of studies across psychology, educational technology and the learning sciences? Or should we think about scaffolding (and fading) as designable elements in a learning environment that we have a responsibility to help create? How should we think about design thinking? As the infantilising pastime popularised by fans of IDEO? (Actually, that’s defamatory to infants, who could teach most of the Silicon Valley celebrities a thing or two about ideation and empathy.) Or as a set of resources for people to work together and construct more just and sustainable ways of living? (I’m thinking of Ezio Manzini and Hilary Cottam here, but pick your own.)

4) Cards on the table. One big part of my work has been to create frameworks for analysing and designing complex learning environments. Working with some very creative and industrious colleagues, I’ve helped construct some ways to help other people think about learning and design. We’ve done some of this by designing, some by analysing existing designs, and some by researching how design is done and what design tools and methods help teachers (and others) in higher education to design better. Skin in the game. If you’re interested, you can read more about the approaches we’ve taken by following up on other links from this site – some papers here; a good 3 minute video here

But the main point I want to try to make is the following. Yes, agreed, talk to students – early and often. But don’t kid yourself that this leads in any simple way to a plan of action. One of those subtle, unstated, differences that I pick up when I read some US-based commentators on good practice in higher education and compare what they say with the lived experiences of university teachers here in Sydney is that ‘talking to students’ is a more straightforward proposition when you have a class of 30 or 50 than is the case with Biology 101 or Psych 101 here – with one or two thousand students in the class. 

But let’s not get hung up on scale. Bring in the constraints of a curriculum that can’t be changed till the year after next, a squad of casual tutors who don’t get paid to attend course planning meetings and who may not know they have a job till the week the course starts, a set of teaching spaces last renovated in the 1950s, a digital and regulatory infrastructure that changes every couple of years, QA regimes that don’t measure what really matters, time-poor students who need to satisfice course requirements in order to juggle work and carer responsibilities, worsening job prospects, a risk-averse business sector, an anti-intellectual government and a tycoon-owned media whose business model depends on fanning new fronts in the culture wars. And Covid. And climate change. And colonialism.

About 20 years ago, I made a conscious choice to work with and for the teachers we actually have, in the universities we actually have. I hope that part of my work helps them, and their students, tool up for collective action to create worlds worth living in:  ‘new normals’ worth fighting for. But my work also needs to provide resources – including ‘tools to think with’ – that can be used next Monday, or perhaps the Monday after.  And to help with the complex challenges of distinguishing between what can be changed this week, this year, next year, and maybe never. Finding the edges of what can be changed, and how, is not always simple. Nor is it always easy to discern what should be changed, and what consequences may flow.

So, I guess I’m left wanting to say that I believe in the value of tools and methods that can help groups of people understand complex situations, and come to an agreement on how to move onwards. Talk is good. Raw observation and experience are good. But I’m not sure they are sufficient unto the day – especially Monday.    

Oh yes. I almost forgot.

5) I am good and wise enough to deprecate cynicism.

Aligning education, digital and learning space strategies: an ecological approach

These are slides to accompany the presentation I made at ITaLI, University of Queensland, this morning.

Rob Ellis and I have a chapter on this in a new book edited by Ron Barnett and Norman Jackson.

Our book length treatment was published earlier this year by Routledge.

Tasks, activities and student learning

Talk at ITaLI, University of Queensland, 7th November 2019

The following references are cited in the slides/talk. Slides themselves are here: Goodyear UQ 2019-Nov-07 condensed.

Bearman, M., & Ajjawi, R. (2019). Can a rubric do more than be transparent? Invitation as a new metaphor for assessment criteria. Studies in Higher Education, 1-10.

Beckman, K., Apps, T., Bennett, S., Dalgarno, B., Kennedy, G., & Lockyer, L. (2019). Self-regulation in open-ended online assignment tasks: the importance of initial task interpretation and goal setting. Studies in Higher Education, 1-15.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university: what the student does (3rd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Carvalho, L., & Goodyear, P. (Eds.). (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Ellis, R., & Goodyear, P. (2010). Students’ experiences of e-learning in higher education: the ecology of sustainable innovation. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Forbes, D., & Gedera, D. (2019). From confounded to common ground: Misunderstandings between tertiary teachers and students in online discussions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 35(4). doi:10.14742/ajet.3595

Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching as design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, 27-50. Retrieved from http://www.herdsa.org.au/system/files/HERDSARHE2015v02p27.pdf

Hadwin, Allyson, and Philip Winne. 2012. “Promoting Learning Skills in Undergraduate Students.” In Enhancing the Quality of Learning, edited by John R. Kirby and Michael J. Lawson, 201–27. New York: Cambridge University Press

Krippendorff, K. (2006). The semantic turn: a new foundation for design. Boca Raton FL: CRC Press.

Laurillard, D., Kennedy, E., Charlton, P., Wild, J., & Dimakopoulos, D. (2018). Using technology to develop teachers as designers of TEL: Evaluating the learning designer. British Journal of Educational technology, 49(6), 1044-1058. doi:10.1111/bjet.12697

Shuell, T. (1986). Cognitive conceptions of learning. Review of Educational Research, 56(4), 411-436.

Suchman, L. (1987). Plans and situated actions: the problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sun, S. Y. H., & Goodyear, P. (2019). Social co-configuration in online language learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 13-26. doi:https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.5102

Wisner, A. (1995a). Understanding problem building: ergonomic work analysis. Ergonomics, 38(3), 595-605.

Wisner, A. (1995b). Situated cognition and action: implications for ergonomic work analysis and anthropotechnology. Ergonomics, 38(8), 1542-1557.

The Sydney Business School ACAD video (3 mins) is here: https://player.vimeo.com/video/302378219

Impact and engagement

A few notes to accompany a panel session at Deakin, organised by CRADLE 14th October 2019.

Although my publications are reasonably well-cited and I can say that some of my work is taken up by other academics, my impact on policy and practice is quite marginal. There are claims I could make about specific areas of change in curricula or in how teams approach the design of learning environments. But these claims feel patchy to me: important in a specific program or university, but nothing that would count as credible evidence of impact at scale.

However – and this is an example of shiftily switching a practical into an academic problem – I am very interested in the pathways from research to policy and practice change. So, for example, I’ve been carrying out research on:

  • how university leaders construe the challenges of integrating educational, IT and physical infrastructure planning,
  • how to make educational design experience and design ideas easier to share and re-use,
  • how teams of academics and educational developers collaboratively design for students’ learning, and
  • what counts as ‘actionable knowledge’ in/for the design of programs of professional education.

I’ve also worked with AARE and other organisations, in Australia and elsewhere, on aspects of research policy: including approaches to the evaluation of research quality and impact and strategies for research capacity-building and engagement with ‘non-academic’ users of research.

At the panel session today, I summarised three ways that researchers in (higher) education tackle the challenges of ‘impact and engagement’. These descriptions are very broad brush, and not meant to offend. I’m calling them ‘thoughts and prayers’, ‘branding innovations’ and ‘research-practice partnerships’.

‘Thoughts and prayers’ is the default. A researcher writes up a study, an educational innovation or whatever, publishes a paper in a higher education journal and hopes that someone will read it, and be inspired to change what they do.

Much more noisy and visible is the work that goes on when a person or team coins a persuasive term and markets it hard. I will try not to be too cynical about this. Education is prone to fads and fashions and a set of research-based ideas can be taken up quite readily if they are presented as a discrete and coherent whole. I’m sure we can all think of some examples where a pithy phrase transforms into something that can be trade-marked, branded and/or sold as a commodity. Epistemic fluency,  teaching-as-design, design thinking, evaluative judgement, feedback literacy, visible learning, productive failure, flipped classrooms; even such large and hairy mammoths as PBL.

Only a small proportion of these get a breakthrough into the mass market. However:

  • those that do make it big tend to be used to set the mould (or expectations, or standards) for what educational impact should look like and
  • educational practices and educational systems have shown they are capable of radically reinterpreting research-based interventions and actually realising something very different from what was tested in the original research, and
  • what is easy to pick up as a package is easy to drop as a package.

A recent article in the ‘Fairfax’ papers illustrates this, with Deanna Kuhn’s work on ‘growth mindset’ as the example. The original research was deep, painstaking and insightful. The educational take-up, around the world, has been widespread and enthusiastic. But implementations are many and varied and some have moved a long way from anything Kuhn would recognise.  In other words ‘implementation fidelity’ is far from guaranteed in educational systems, so the connections between research, practice and outcomes can be very tenuous.

This brings me to the third approach, which I’ll subsume under the heading of ‘research practice partnerships’. There’s an excellent book on this by Bill Penuel and Daniel Gallagher. Rob Ellis and I summarised some of the ideas, customised for higher education, in the second half of our most recent book. The organising theme here is engagement, with impact on practice as one of the benefits – accompanied by a stronger, reciprocal, role for practitioners to shape research. The RPP idea has shaped some of our work in setting up the Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation at Sydney University, though we have a long way to go yet.

Such partnerships have also influenced a strand in my own research – such that I’ve chosen to research educational practices in which there’s a reasonable chance that research-based knowledge will prove useful. For example, common sense and good evidence suggest that teachers are much better placed to consult research when they are designing for learning (‘upstream’ of a learning activity) than when they are in the middle of a live teaching-learning event. In addition, when the right materials, tools or spaces become available at the right time, they are likely to become part of prevailing practices and have beneficial and sustainable effects. Research-based ideas that take on a material form, such that they can become entangled in – and reshape – existing practices, live a different life from those that sit silently in the literature. Hence, I’ve researched the dynamics of design teams’ working practices and have experimented with rendering research-based insights in readily materializable forms (such as design patterns).

My final point: I’ve had a close involvement in setting up and/or running four research centres in the last 30 years. I’ve been drawn to this mode of working for a number of reasons. But one of them is a realisation that the intensification of pressures on academic researchers means it’s not sensible to try to be outstanding at all aspects/phases of the research lifecycle. For one person to be energetically forming new ideas for projects, securing funding, recruiting and guiding research teams, writing for academic and practitioner audiences, overseeing a suite of dissemination activities, liaising closely with practitioner communities and policy-makers, making cases for internal resources, etc etc – that’s a recipe for burnout and disaster. We can’t all be good at all these things all of the time. Also, some of them really benefit from specialist skills. Hence: if you want to engage in a sustainable way in processes that are likely to improve the impact of your research, you are best advised to work closely with kindred spirits.

See also:

Recent articles on the LSE Impact Blog by John Burgoyne and Toby Green.

The UK REF Impact case studies from Durham on Threshold Concepts and Lancaster on Evaluative research improving policy and practice.

The DETYA report on The Impact of Educational Research – published in 2000, but thorough and full of insights.

 

Our new paper on helping students prepare for the workplace

 

TITLE: PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE WORKPLACE THROUGH DESIGNING PRODUCTIVE ASSESSMENT TASKS: AN ACTIONABLE KNOWLEDGE PERSPECTIVE
Lina Markauskaite & Peter Goodyear
ABSTRACT

Preparing students for the workplace and assessing their readiness are often major challenges for university teachers. What kinds of concrete tasks help students develop professional capacities needed for situated knowledgeable action in a broad range of possible future workplace settings?

Our research examined assessment tasks that university teachers set for students in courses that were preparing them for work placements in five professions: nursing, pharmacy, teaching, social work, and school counselling. We combined ‘actionable knowledge’ and ‘objectual practice’ perspectives and investigated what students were asked to do, what they were expected to learn and how. Specifically, we analysed the nature of the objects that teachers selected for assessment tasks and the nature of the concrete artefacts that students were asked to produce.

Our results show some fundamental differences in teachers’ choices of objects. They ranged from basic and very specific aspects of professional work to some of the hardest and most broad-ranging challenges in the profession. The tasks also required students to engage in the production of a wide range of artefacts. We classified these as ‘cultural artefacts’, ‘conceptual artefacts’ and ‘epistemic artefacts’. Our discussion draws parallels between these three kinds of artefacts and the notions of ‘work ready’, ‘work knowledgeable’ and ‘work-capable’ graduates, respectively. We argue that teachers, through task designs, shape ways in which students learn to link action (skill) with meaning (knowledge). Our findings raise some important questions about the kinds of authentic tasks that help prepare work-capable graduates for future learning.

Keywords: Objectual practice, knowledge artefacts, assessment

The full paper is available in the HERDSA proceedings here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the underling ideas, see our book on Epistemic fluency in professional education and our Epistemic Fluency website.

Deakin University, Learning and Teaching Conference

The slides and notes for my lecture at the Deakin University Learning and Teaching conference last week – Thriving in higher education: how does good design help? – can be found here.

On the day after the lecture, Lina Markauskaite and I led two workshops.

Morning: Assessment as boundary work: between the discipline and the profession

Summary: This workshop is for academics, learning designers and academic leaders who work with developing assessment tasks across the spectrum of work integrated learning initiatives. Participants are asked to come with an assessment task that they have used, or plan to use, for students preparing for, or reflecting on, a work placement, practicum or simulated work experience. The workshop will explore how these types of assessment tasks create a dialogue at the boundary between academic discipline knowledge and the reflexive knowledge of a skilled practitioner. Peter and Lina will draw on their recent work on epistemic fluency to introduce the workshop. They have analysed a range of assessment task designs in a variety of professional education contexts to try to identify the multiple forms of knowledge and ways of knowing with which students have to become fluent in preparing for professional practice. Many aspects of professional work involve the creation of new understandings – such as in inter-professional dialogues or client consultations. Often this epistemic work goes unnoticed, though sometimes it involves conscious problem-solving and innovation. The workshop will be a hands-on investigation of how these ideas about epistemic fluency, knowledge work and actionable knowledge can be applied in designing better assessment tasks.

Afternoon: Working in the third space: how do we explain and strengthen what we do?

Summary: ‘Design for learning’ is still not a widely or deeply understood concept in universities, even though most universities employ a variety of people with titles like “Learning designer”.
The capabilities that underpin good design work are rarely articulated and have little institutional visibility. This workshop is for learning designers, academics and academic leaders who need to explain the role of design in learning and teaching. The workshop will explore the following questions: How do we articulate what we have to offer in and through design? How can we further strengthen the university’s design capabilities – given what we can see about the future of learning and teaching and new insights emerging from research across the learning sciences?

Some of these issues are being pursued, at a national level, in the ascilite TELedvisors SIG.