Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Higher Learning Success by Design

Tom AngeloThe University of Canberra is having a Learning & Teaching Week, 9-12 September 2008. On Tuesday I attended the interactive workshops: "Seven Levers for Higher and Deeper Learning - Research-based Guidelines and Strategies for Improving Teaching, Assessment, and Learning" and "Successful Learning by Design - Making Courses Clear, Coherent, Connected, and Consequential" by Professor Tom Angelo, from La Trobe University.

ANU people, such as myself, where generously invited to attend by UoC. It looks like about one quarter of the twenty or so people at the workshops were from ANU. The day did not start well as I ended up in the wrong building facing a very large industrial fridge with a bio hazard warning on it (I was in building 3 of the university, not building 6). Then when I found a room full of familiar faces and sat down, nothing happened for several minutes. Eventually someone came in and directed us to the other end of the campus to where Tom was waiting, wondering where we all were.

With everyone in the right place we were handed a very useful set of workshop exercises and when through interactive sessions, with a few PowerPoint slides, Tom talking and getting us to work in groups and respond. This was a useful form of demonstration of how the techniques being talked about could be applied.

Tom hinted at how what was being discussed could be applied to e-learning (what I am particularly interested in) and the drivers for its increasing use. But these workshops were designed to be applicable broadly to university teaching, not any specific technology.

Some of the techinues I could see applying in my own efforts, were use of quizzes for assessing students knowledge (and preconceptions) and the beginning of courses, asking students about what they wanted to get out of a course, have students act on what they read in a course, the use of think/paid/share approach (applied to e-learning, the use of something like the NSF concepts tests and pyramid tests.

One thing I thought Tom could have addressed were issues with students where English is a second language and are from other cultures.

Tom used the analogy of an African Grey Parrot: if it could be suitably trained would be able to complete our exam questions? This was a way for us to consider if we were just testing rote learning. I wondered if he should have changed it to a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo for the Australian context. More seriously, computer scientists will be familiar with this as the Turing test: where a machine is used to mimic a person, as a test of intelligence. The problem with this idea is that in narrowly defined fields, computers now perform well on such tests, challenging or notions as to what intelligence is. So just because a Parrot, or a computer, could perform well in an examination does not necessarily indicate that the exam is trivial.

At the end of the second workshop Tom seemed to stray from the general to specific suggestions of new learning modes for university and how these would costs to the university. The approaches suggested appears to be similar to the MIT iCampus. In a way I felt I had come full circle, as it was a talk about the iCampus which sparked my interested in e-learning and learning techniques a year ago. I would have liked to hear more about how Tom would see these techniques applied in Australia, but that would be the topic of a whole extra workshop.

After announcing "My Last Lecture", I was invited to come along to the Wednesday 10:30am panel session on "The Lecture is not dead!", to make some controversial remarks. It should be interesting.

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