Friday, September 6, 2013

Contextualising information fluency

It was time again to deliver my 'collaboration lecture' morning. I blogged about this previously in July 2011 in terms of the activity I set students upon as part of it. This time I went in with a discussion about digital literacies still buzzing around my mind. Joe was probing about the ways in which, for example, presentations, happen in clinical areas, giving the 'digital' practice a compelling context that students could see themselves participating in when joining the workforce. Conveniently, the students were just back off placement, returning for the final theory block of their second year - they were chatty, especially with each other!
The module assessment requires them to work in groups towards a summative group presentation (which has 10% of the marks awarded by their peers for their contributions towards the groupwork). In order to build a case for learning about and through collaboration I decided to ask them what had they seen of presentations, broadly defined, out in practice areas. Out of 80 or so students, I had about four or five responses. Here is a flavour:
  • Mufti-Disciplinary Team meetings, where the patient's notes and scans support case reviews.
  • A doctor leading a session for patients about their condition.
  • A nurse, leading a small group teaching session
That last example was the only one featuring a nurse actually doing the presenting. So I called upon the fact that nurses have a professional commitment to the continuing development of themselves and those around them. They could expect to be responsible for the practice-based learning of their own students one day. More than that, on qualification and registration, all nurses are duty-bound to act as 'Stage 1 Mentors', meeting the requirements set for that role by the national regulatory body, the NMC, "you must facilitate students and others to develop their competence" and that could well imply the development or use of an online resource.
In another context, it is a real possibility that they would deliver a conference presentation at some point in the future. I tell the students that working alone is 'easy'. You can be as lazy about the way you work as you like on your own. Once you involve others in a collaboration, it becomes vital that they make some key decisions about how they are going to work together. Part of that must include how the group will curate artifacts of the collaboration (agreed search strategies, articles found, summaries compiled, ideas noted, the presentation itself, etc.) and communication, including discussion, either face-to-face or online. Of course, these methods are useful when working alone but collaboration opens up the potential for a richer, perhaps riskier learning experience.
So the students get some ideas about how to manage the artifacts of collaboration, but little or nothing about the act of parleying with the knowledge acquired or presented by them or their collaborators. This is where epistemic fluency comes in, a key transferable skill - but a rare and shy 'animal'. Goodyear et al only capture a glimpse of it in their study... If it is so scarce, is it too difficult, too ambitious to expect to be able to conceptualise and present to students (or staff, come to that) as something really vital? And yet, have the students really got the most out of collaborative learning projects without actively trying to leverage the opportunity to maximise gains in epistemic fluency?

Goodyear P, Ellis R, Brew A and Sachs J (2007) The development of epistemic fluency: Learning to think for a living. In: Transforming a university: The scholarship of teaching and learning in practice. Sydney: Sydney University Press. Available at:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What motivates your students?

It's time for another cohort of students into the revised Bachelor of Nursing programme. The March intakes are always smaller - about 90 students. ECDL has been left out of this 'Cardiff Nursing Futures' curriculum and so I came up with the UniversIT Information Fluency Portfolio, launched it last October. What's brought me back to blog about it is the reflection that not many, if any, students from the September '12 cohort have engaged with the UIT portfolio. That's in spite of the fact that there are lots of ways we've embedded digital literacy into the curriculum. Students have to create a leaflet individually for one module, for another they work in groups to present a wiki-based health informational Website, we're doing D@SH.
This time it's different though.
Over the last years I have observed that students are motivated by various things. Assessment is of course the major one. But you cannot assess everything (unless you went to a type of 'Community Equity'ish way of assessing micro-contributions, as per my presentation at NLC2012 - link to blog entry ;).
CelebrationsOur students have to sign registers since the governing body requires them to study for a recorded 2300 theory hours. The tweak that I think has changed engagement this time, although it's quite early to be certain, started with a conversation with the programme manager. We agreed to dedicate one of the last days on the timetable for hours representing effort students expended completing their UIT portfolio. If they complete it to my satisfaction by then, they can get these 6 hours added to their total. If they do not, as you may have guessed, they have to make up the hours by completing their UIT portfolio, and there is a deadline for that. I'm laying on face-to-face sessions, notes of which are being posted in their group wiki (CampusPack) where I'm also listing the group names so that I can indicate which of them has finished their UIT portfolio. When they have all done that I will create a group-based certificate for them, I may even include a picture of the group if they can supply a suitable one. There is no deadline for the certificate, so that groups do not miss out if one member is late completing. In these ways I am keying into various types of motivation that stop short of the sharp stick compulsion of summative assessment but which will, I hope, reach deeply enough into the students' minds and lives to promote connections and build working knowledge. Did I mention that there's chocolate at my IT sessions? Strangely enough, the library's sessions with these students are also featuring chocolate this time around...

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reaping what we sow

I've been reflecting on the kinds of learning that are actually possible in different scenarios. Take a fairly generic breakdown of types of learning as described by Illeris (2009):
  1. Cumulative - low-level conditioning
  2. Assimulative - learning by addition
  3. Accommodative - learning that includes an element of unlearning or reformation
  4. Transformative - restructuring of a fundamental nature, e.g. of the personality
Mandatory training is an area that has seen increasing use of 'e-learning'. The kinds of subjects involved are fairly momentous, for example, equality and diversity. We would all like to live in a society that values difference and where people can get on with their jobs enjoying the sense of dignity and respect that helps keep them well motivated to function optimally in an organisation. But what kind of learning is required to move an individual from a position of 'hardened bigot' to 'respectful admirer of difference'? That would surely require accommodative or transformative learning. Is that possible in an 'e-learning' package? Let's say this is hard, but perhaps not impossible. Then add in the situation, the context, within which that 'e-learning' package is used: e.g. where 'learners' are time-poor, the main motive is one of compulsion and monitoring by 'big brother'; the materials themselves are electronic 'page-turners' and their assessment is aimed at ensuring you've read through, not that you have become a 'better person'.
Train Crash at Montparnasse 1895 It is precisely because of these kinds of scenarios that networked learning needs to stand up and get promoted as an alternative vision for how learning and learners can benefit. Anyone involved in the educational enterprise has a duty to take a critical stance in respect to what is being passed off as 'e-learning'. A good place to begin in order to inform that critique would be the Manifesto written by Beaty et al. I know that is wishful thinking, especially in the face of assertive managerialist and cost/benefit-driven cultures. These cultures undermine education that aspires to learning that is more effective, not to say profound. But what will the real cost to society, organisations and individuals be if all the really important things we are supposed to be and know are 'learned' in such an impoverished way? How do people learn? Can we really load people with 'quick fix' or 'tick-box' learning and expect the same outcomes as we would from when we participate in "learning and teaching environments...  that seek to encourage dialogue, exchange of ideas, intrinsic approaches to study and engagement." (Beaty et al 2002, p6)? I cant put a price on that.

Beaty L, Hodgson V, Mann S and McConnell D (2002) Towards e-quality in networked e-learning in higher education. [Online] Available at:
Illeris K (2009) A comprehensive understanding of human learning. In: K. Illeris ed. Contemporary Theories of Learning. London; New York: Routledge. 7–20.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Finding I need to think more about sharable representations of practice

Well this was going to be a tweet but even the quote was too long. Having had one student volunteer a complex flowchart to demonstrate a technique they'd developed, and which caused another student to balk at it, gave me the urge to send a Peter Goodyear's (2005,p120) quote into the ether:
'much of what is worth learning in a rapidly changing field of practice already exists as 'working knowledge' embedded in the working practices of professionals in the field.'
The trick is, how to facilitate that, especially at a distance. There are 'tool' and 'training' issues, some of which are explored in

Goodyear P (2005) Emergence of a Networked Learning Community. In: G. Kearsley ed. Online Learning: Personal Reflections On The Transformation Of Education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. Available at:

Goodyear P and Steeples C (1998) Creating shareable representations of practice. Research in Learning Technology. 6 (3). Available at:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shared Paths Blog

Finding the right picture to serve as a positive image for a learning design can be a laborious process. When you strike upon just the right one it all seems worthwhile. Blogging is one of the foundation informational forms of the current era and it is important for knowledge workers of all ilks to be gain a reasonable level skill with it. I am introducing students on a medical education course to blogging and here's what I found:
Selly Oak Park - sign - Shared paths - Please Slow Down & Keep Left
This is perfect in several ways. It hints at the variety of people who are on this learning trajectory (or path) at the same time, with different reasons, ages, speeds, technologies and opportunities. There is even something in there about the benefits of resting a while and having a good old-fashioned conversation. The text, 'Please slow down and keep left', hints at a kind of highway code - bloggers also need to be aware of each other as they participate, even if their peers are not co-located.
There is probably even more to this metaphor than I have sketched here but, for now, I just say thank you to Elliot for sharing and to whoever it was in Birmingham that designed and erected the sign!