Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Health Professionals learning Twitter

The new group of post-grad students I've been meeting today have reminded me how very different Health Service IT systems and administration are compared to those in Higher Education. Even trying to visit an online social network is met with a window announcing that this attempt has been blocked, logged and reported to the system administrator. How can health professionals become responsible professional participants online in the face of genuine risks and adverse, if not actively hostile, environments? I suspect the answer is that it's happening and will continue to happen. I only hope the collateral damage will be minimal.
For years now I've been challenging undergraduate nurses to get using Twitter for their professional development. I have an opportunity early in their 3rd and final year to suggest ways of engaging in networked learning. In recent months I have been delighted to see a real growth in engagement from a range of nursing and midwifery professionals and professional bodies, which gives newcomers an instant network to connect with (I began a list ages ago to help with this but it's had some significant additions recently).
In the first year, first week in fact, of the pre-registration Bachelor of Nursing programme, it seems only right to confront frivolous use of online social networking (see links at the foot of this post). I got a strong sense this year, at inductions in March, that, following a lecture on the subject, students were deleting their Facebook accounts, slamming the door to social media and throwing away the key. Suddenly, social networking was the enemy, as a single slip could prevent students from ever realising their cherished ambition of joining the registered ranks. Added to the risk of personally making a single simple costly mistake is the problem we all face when driving... How many of us have thought/said, 'It's not you I'm worried about, it's the [possibly insert the word "other" here] idiots on the road"? As much as this can be true in social media, it never stops us hopping right back into a car (because the destination and mode of travel is worth the risk).
As someone who has benefitted hugely from the networking Twitter enables, imagine my delight last week at finding this 'Nurses and Social Media' article, via Twitter, on the Department of Health's pages of the Chief Nursing Officer:

Emboldened by this article, I've been encouraged to mention Twitter more than ever. But the professionalism question is never far away. For example, what to do about undesirable followers? Those 'other idiots on the road'? Amidst all the messiness of using social media, learning to accept that, just like the more appalling type of spam email you have to somehow learn to deal with, keeping your public profile 'clean' enough to avoid 'bringing the profession into disrepute' by association, means learning to be vigilant about blocking and reporting vile spam followers. How many Health Service users who stumble across your profile understand that you dont choose your followers, in fact you have to 'un-choose' the nasty ones. And that could predictably include service users! This kind of insight is easily missed in the nervy path towards trying to reap the rewards of networked learning. In leading students to leverage social media rather than safely dismiss it, it's a hard balance to strike, knowing which aspects of the territory to treat, and how. Newcomers to Twitter have a tough time grappling with the concept of what Twitter is without also taking on a 'sufficient' number of specific techniques to ensure their nascent use is not strangled at birth. It's like plugging a PC into the Internet without any anti-virus protection. That computer may only last a few seconds before it's compromised.
If you have any thoughts about what those specific techniques are, please let me know, or start a list somewhere and point me to it. Thanks!

Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery's own guidance is here. It is based on The NMC Code, and the specific social networking advice page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two symposiums, two current debates

Gale's on disciplinarity (links to the papers) and Chris's on technology and networked learning. I will just say a tiny bit about the latter. If we want to say anything meaningful about technology and its relationship, not to say impact, on learning, what kind of a question is that? In days when very strong claims are being made about changes to people's brains etc., Chris Jones was arguing (link to the symposium papers), IMHO sensibly, that taking some kind of 'multiple realities' view, as Martin Oliver did, or even a clever critical realist perspective, as Walker and Creanor did, makes it pretty difficult to generalise. Indeed, taking an ontological route of enquiry isnt nice at all. I went off in that direction a while back and liken it to chasing a white rabbit into a black hole which I later discovered to be my own navel (I do have a picture but I'll spare you...)
Project: Alice in Wonderland
If, however, you embark on a 'ways of knowing' kind of inquiry, this is altogether more manageable and potentially productive. There has to be something 'everyday' about the terms we use and theory we generate (Wenger's point from the last post). Sadly, we may end up smelling of the 'snake oil' we would prefer to reprobate. Yes, I may even have to use words like e-learning occasionally.
OK then, you made me do it, I'll say something about disciplinarity in the field. Gale chaired this symposium. It started off predictably with the assertion that none of us would say we were native 'networked learning researchers', our backgrounds were in other disciplines.... er... all except me that is, as I mentally retraced my chequered academic history, before the PGCE that finally got me interested in learning, and then, a couple of years later with CSALT, where I grafted on to networked learning.
But the nature of the field IS interdisciplinary. That makes chasing down the literature very difficult and, as I'm finding with the worthy Mehlenbacher's book, no matter how hard you try, and he does try hard, you'll miss someone who said something 'off your radar'. The other thing it did is make me cynical: I'd marvel that new papers appear from disparate disciplines hailing the latest innovation that was more clearly explained in the 1980's. And that in spite of all the searching of databases and availability of the literature in such a young field. I've rolled up at previous conferences tutting as I wondered if anyone would bother to pick up the threads of networked learning from the past, or whether they'd even bother to cite a definition. This time I came a bit more relaxed because I felt that although a certain amount of fuzziness was likely, at least the conference was happening again, we were all back together again, and the networked learning community already has a golden seam of quality to tap into. It was delightful to become acquainted with Sheena Banks there. At one point we sidled up to Peter Goodyear and asked if he'd consider updating the Guidelines, to which he mumbled something about money... But that's ok, they're still one of the best things JISC sponsored. But the point of learning for me was that we can wallow and bemoan the messiness of the field or rejoice in the potential for boundary crossing and 'edge effects'.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Learning Styles are off the menu

I've been reading some students work which included references to Learning Styles. Whenever I come across Learning Styles my 'reductionism alarm' goes off for some reason.
I took a while chasing back the citations and found my way to a firmer position. Unless I'm mistaken, the easiest way to getting at a journal article has to be through linking GoogleScholar with the University's electronic library (see the Scholar pages about it).
The references were easy enough to pull into Zotero for sharing with you below... Some are very good, others less so. I'll let you work out which is which.
There was something about what Ettiene Wenger said at the Networked Learning Conference last week which connected with the way I see Learning Styles used. He talked about making sure that when we are trying to develop theory or say anything about what we do, for that matter, we should try and use language that people can relate to. He puts the success of the Communities of Practice theory down to just that. People find it easy to relate to the core concepts.
With Learning Styles you get a nice questionnaire and it makes you feel you're being 'all scientific'. The fact is that to really pick the correct learning style AND then act on it you would have to get quite radical about it, separating the students into groups accordingly. Then you'd have to keep re-checking throughout your relationship with this group to make sure that they hadnt shifted, as they could do at any moment. In the end you would have been better of simply aiming for active learning, employing multiple approaches to supporting learning, using pictures, hands-on, words, etc. Is this such a revelation? I suppose it is if you merely expect to pitch up and drone for an hour or two and call that lecturing. Sorry if that describes you, by the way.
I did more backward chaining than the student, or the 'peer reviewed' author did, and came across 'the other' article by a (non-pointlessly abrasive) American version of Donald Clark. On one page he has a factual review of Learning Styles, which was used to support Learning Styles in the article. But, on a neighbouring page, 'Putting Learning Styles into Perspective', he has this brilliant paragraph which my student and the article author somehow missed and the student never bothered to check out:
First, it should be noted that no single measurement of style ensures that a learner's needs will be met. It is perhaps more important to build an adaptable learning environment that presents the material in a variety of methods than try to determine each learners' style. Likewise, recognizing your own style will help to ensure you do not unintentionally force one learning preference upon the learners. The more styles you address, the easier the instruction will be received by the learners. This is because you will be striving to reach their needs, rather than yours. Also, material presented in a variety of methods keeps the learners interested and reinforces itself. (Clark 2000)
So, yes, as a tool for reflection, useful. But as some kind of key to unlock the mysteries of how people learn? Not today thank you.

Beagley, L. (2011). Educating Patients: Understanding Barriers, Learning Styles, and Teaching Techniques. Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing, 26(5), 331–337. doi:10.1016/j.jopan.2011.06.002

Breckler, J., Joun, D., & Ngo, H. (2009). Learning Styles of Physiology Students Interested in the Health Professions. Advances in Physiology Education, 33(1), 30–36. doi:10.1152/advan.90118.2008
Cassidy, S. (2004). Learning styles: An overview of theories, models, and measures. Educational Psychology, 24(4), 419–444. doi:10.1080/0144341042000228834
Clark, D. (2000). Learning Styles. Putting Learning Styles into Context. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/styles/perspective.html
James, S., D’Amore, A., & Thomas, T. (2011). Learning preferences of first year nursing and midwifery students: Utilising VARK. Nurse Education Today, 31(4), 417–423. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2010.08.008
Kratzig, G. P., & Arbuthnott, K. D. (2006). Perceptual Learning Style and Learning Proficiency: A Test of the Hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology February 2006, 98(1), 238–246. Retrieved from http://ovidsp.ovid.com/ovidweb.cgi?T=JS&CSC=Y&NEWS=N&PAGE=fulltext&D=ovfth&AN=00004760-200602000-00020
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

Yes Peermark

Since my involvement with the Evidence Based Practice theme for the new Bachelor of Nursing began I have been disappointed that we've been pretty conservative with some of our assignments. But I now think there is a serious danger of missed opportunity here when we could do something more innovative and engaging, better for students and staff.
I'm thinking of http://submit.ac.uk/en_gb/products/peermark
We already have this at Cardiff University, it is an extension of Grademark and Turnitin. We are in process of rolling Grademark out to all our programmes following the biggest UK pilot of the system. I want students to anonymously mark one (or more) their peers' assignments, with a right of appeal to the academic who would normally perform the 1st marker role. I am asking for this because, for the first time in about ten years, I have been engaged in 'proper' marking (for our PGCE programme). You probably think I want to avoid the task. Actually I have realised again what a powerfully generative learning experience it is. I find myself incredibly motivated to check my own understanding, root about in the literature, and come to a conclusion I feel I can defend. This is why markers are able to stay current with the topic they teach and assess. It seems immoral we should continue to keep all that intrinsic motivation to ourselves. Since we have already adopted Grademark, Peermark is within easy reach. If we can find a way to do this for merely the students' first assignment, we should.
The workflow would only need to be adjusted slightly. Bring the deadline for submission a week forward, giving students a week to mark one of their peers papers. Peermark has a sophisticated answer to the issue of non-engagement by the students (see their FAQs):
Reviews written for papers in a PeerMark assignment can be graded after the PeerMark assignment's due date. To grade an individual review click on "Edit Grades" at the expanded student's list of reviews. Then enter a score on a scale of 0-10 for the individual review. The average score (as a percentage) for all the reviews a student has written will be calculated and applied to the total point value for the assignment (e.g. if a student was assigned two reviews and received a 5/10 for one review and a 7/10 for the second review, the student would receive 60% of the total points possible for the assignment as a default final grade). Click "Save Grades" to save the review scores that have been entered. To edit the final grade for a student's PeerMark assignment after entering grades for individual reviews, enter the preferred score in the Grade column to the right of the student's name before clicking "Save Grades".
University of Glamorgan have been here already (of course!): see this poster. I love the quote, 'sometimes I feel I do not have enough knowledge to mark my mates'. That is the critical moment of realisation which should prompt the individual into active learning. It is not a negative, as presented in the findings, but a major positive. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Networked Learning Conference 2012

The Networked Learning Conference has come around and gone again and I have been greatly privileged to attend. It is an excellent conference from many perspectives, being research-based, bi-annual (gives time for fresh ideas to be reported on), top-quality venues, well designed programme, broad minded, while retaining the core theoretical focus, I could go on... This year I have another reason to be thankful since the opening plenary was a 3-some between researchers involved in sustainability, especially Tara Fenwick and Judi Marshall. I remember being struck by this at the Fifth conference in Lancaster, when Vera SolĂ­s, one of the speakers from Latin America, told of how broadband for a month costed many people the same as a week's earnings. I think the conference this time were profoundly challenged by the complexity of how to make a positive impact. There were interesting points from the floor too: someone lamented the commercialisation of higher education as somehow domesticating students into consumers, dulling their radical edge.
It was also a privilege to chair one of the parallel sessions which just meant keeping the four presenters to time and they were all well behaved so that was easy. 
Later we were taken the short hop to the The Gouvernement (Province House) of Limburg, where the Maastricht Treaty was signed after a civic welcome from Mark Verheijen and the Rector of Maastricht University. With the recurring threat of financial melt-down, we still live in these 'good days', while they last: just to be so comfortably off that we can spend days discussing networked learning is worth pausing to reflect upon.
My presentation went ok - see below for the slides (the paper will appear on the conference website as usual before long). I was sad not to have any data to report but there has been a serious hold-up with piloting Community Equity at Cardiff University (failed JISC bid attempt in 2011, competing priorities, etc.). Information Services are trying to roll-out IBM Connections in May and this is soaking up any spare capacity for trying out something in the name of educational research...
Other memories: Peter Goodyear up to mischief again, John Dron and Terry Anderson touting https://landing.athabascau.ca to a fairly non-plussed audience (seems like an academic attempt at Google Circles). Personal chats with so many: especially valuable were those with Sheena Banks and Hillary Thomas. Ettiene Wenger was there for most of the conference and he was concerned that we were in danger of losing the 'human' in learning, as an experience of meaningfulness, personhood and becoming. He said that his theories had gained wide acceptance because it talks to people in a way that they could recognise themselves within. He worried that talk of 'agency in the network' and 'de-centering the person' which is important to understand and true at some level but not necessarily the most useful way of thinking. He asked if he was just being 'quaint', the tensions between old and new are real but to what extent does it still matter to focus on the experience of being in a network, of learning as a human experience, of meaningfulness, of engaging, being alive, over relationships, time and space. The danger of talking about networks is to analyse them to the extent that we privilege our position and begin to feel we know more than the people we are accountable to.
In spite of this, Chris Jones' symposium focusing on the role of technology in networked learning was, for me, one of the more substantial and significant contributions to networked learning theory. Was it possible to say something, even something fairly general, about the effects of technology without falling into technological determinism...?
Apart from the academic activity, I spoiled myself on camping, rambling, cycling, and stopping over in Brussels via AirBnB on Wednesday night on the way home: photos from my adventures are on Flickr.