Technology: the wrong conversations

Technology is people. If we were saying (and doing) the right things technology would be embedded in teaching by now. You wouldn’t need people like me.  I have spent years encouraging and supporting staff to use technology in their teaching. I have delivered and watched others deliver ‘technology’ training, CPD, presentations etc. with varying success.  Something isn’t working. I would suggest our conversations are wrong.

In his latest post, It’s an extra, but does it need to be?James Clay questions the perception some staff have of technology being an extra rather than embedded part of their practice. He suggests that

Part of this has to be down to the way in which staff are introduced to or trained in the use of learning technologies. James Clay 2017

I think its important to acknowledge that there are a lot of complex issues that have limited the extent to which technology has been embedded in teaching practice. I agree with James that the way I, and people like me, present technology can be a barrier. Our conversations are wrong. So how should we speak to staff? What I have I learnt?

Technology is all about people!

Smarter people than me have been banging this drum for some time.

Digital is about people, it is about a set of behaviours; it is about a perception of others and self; it is another way of being present with those around us. Lawrie Phipps (2016) Presence, Digital, Well-Being, People

Donna Lanclos and Dave White discussed the humanity of technology in their keynote Being Human is Your Problem #altc at the Association of Learning Technology Conference in 2016.  To paraphrase technology is not the answer. Technology will not fix human practices. It will not fix problems. It will not solve everything. Watch their keynote here.

Technology is just a thing. It’s a piece of apparatus. We use it to meet our ends. If it has no use to us we do not use it. If people don’t use technology then it becomes another cool thing someone made. It is only useful when people are using it. If you do not consider the people in technology then you are doomed to failure.

Start with what they want to achieve

There was a time I would go and speak to academics and just list all the technologies they could use. That didn’t result in a great deal of success. So instead I began by asking questions.

  • Why were they speaking to me?
  • What was driving them to explore technology?
  • What was it they hoped technology would achieve for them?
  • What are the problems they are trying to resolve?
  • What are they hoping to improve?

The list goes on. I have found I am better able to make suggestions based on their answers. I am made aware of any prejudices, preconceived ideas, misinformation, attitudes and feelings that they have about technology. I understand their motives. I know if they are being realistic. I know what level of experience and skills they have. I know if its a mandate from above. I know if they’re receptive or resentful. At its most basic it shows staff that I am interested in their work and I respect them. I am interested in their opinion. I am interested in their ambitions and am here to help them achieve them. I am not here to shove technology down their throat and make them feel inferior. I am here to enable them to do want they want to do because that is my job.

Make it relevant (context)

There is a lot you need to understand before you can truly make good suggestions. Even the most basic application of technology to teaching should be considered carefully. There are a lot of variables to success, and if there is one thing you want to avoid, it’s failure.

I always like to understand how the module fits within a programme, how the students are taught, how the assessments measure learning, the skills and experience of the teaching team, what the students are like and how they teach their subject. There’s a lot more I could list but that gives you an idea. I try to know as much as I can. It’s impossible to know everything about the programmes you support, I am rubbish at maths but I don’t need to know anything about maths to help them. I need to know about learning and how to enhance that in ways that are relevant to their discipline. I am not there to comment on their content. We need to adapt everything to the particular context of the person we are speaking to. “Different strokes” and all that.

The more I know the better suggestions I can make and the more relevant they will be. If I can make relevant suggestions that will bring tangible benefits to the learning of their students they will listen. If I suggest something that worked somewhere else without taking in to account their unique needs I may as well prepare for failure.

Get to know them

Not everyone can use technology. If I had a pound for every time someone says “students/staff know how to do that” I would be a billionaire. That attitude is wrong. It’s a lazy and dangerous assumption. What do we say when designing a teaching session? We say we should leave time to get to know the students previous experience, their likes, dislikes, abilities and skills. Why are we not doing the same with our staff? If we know nothing about someone how can we adapt our conversations to most effectively reach them? We need to speak directly to them, to empathise with them and share in their aspirations and fears. Only once we know ‘who’ we are dealing with can we hope to truly enable and support them. Otherwise, we are speaking for the sake of it and it falls on deaf ears.

They have a lot to do

Academics have a lot to do. Their time is precious. Generally, they are looking for things that will bring maximum benefit with limited input. they do not want to spend 6 months learning how to use a piece of technology to only use it once. They also don’t want to be shown something that’s hard to access. I watched a presentation the other day where the speaker was evangelising a piece of technology that only had 2 licences for the whole school. Don’t waste their time by showing them something they can’t easily access. Show them things that will save them time, will bring tangible benefits, that they can easily access, that is easy to learn and that is easily reused. It’s better not to show people things that will take hours for them to edit every time they need to make a change.

Be sensible. Be considerate. Be realistic.

Tech vs pedagogy first

I am an advocate of the pedagogy first approach however, there is still a place for technology first. I believe pedagogy first is best because teachers don’t necessarily want their time wasted hearing about an awesome piece of technology that simply does nothing for them. I saw a presentation the other day where at no point did the person presenting say WHY you would use the software, they failed to show any examples or, even when asked directly, present any evidence of the benefits. This is technology first at its worst, “here’s a shiny thing I like, I hope you think it’s shiny too”.

I know the feeling of disappointment having spent time showing people something, because you know it will help, but then they don’t use it. If they don’t see why they should use it and how they apply it to their practice they won’t use it. A big weapon in our arsenal is our memory for examples, “I have seen X used like this”. Examples are real, they can visualise it, they can understand it and apply it to themselves. If you don’t keep it real technology is just an abstract, albeit very shiny, concept.

Technology first works if you want to show people what’s out there. People don’t know what they don’t know. Tech first is a great way to inspire people. It’s a way in. What must be avoided is the sales pitch. We’ve all been to sessions where promotion equates to “it can do this, and this, oh and it can do this which is cool”. No, no, no. Show examples. The finished articles. If people want to know how to use it then come to a session on that. If we take the tech first approach it should be to inspire, to show the wealth of possibilities technology affords and to help staff keep abreast of the ever-changing technological landscape.

Technology is not the destination

Good teaching is the destination. A quality, effective learning experience is the destination. To steal the words of the brilliant Peter Bryant

Technology is just ONE way to enhance, support and perhaps bring efficiency.  I know staff who do not use technology at all in their teaching. Their students don’t mind and module evaluations reflect that. Should we sack them?

It is interesting that in some institutions money is readily invested in the support for digital technologies whilst less is investment is made in the support and enhancement of fundamental skills that underpin teaching. In some instances this support has been totally removed. With TEF on the way should we not be ensuring we have a strong foundation of teaching before we push staff to include technology?Poor teaching practice will not be improved by the use of technology, usually it draws more attention to it.

We are here to teach. If that teaching can involve technology in a way that supports it, enhances it, brings efficiency and is done appropriately, then brilliant. Too often I see technology shoe-horned in for the sake of it. No. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s stop making people feel like they have to use technology and start making people want to!

Losing my ALTc virginity

I have just returned from my first Association of Learning Technologists conference, so I thought I’d write a little blog about the experience. There was a lot of choice and I saw a lot of presentations so forgive some of the vague descriptions.

As an aside, I loved ALTc. I genuinely enjoyed it. Although the amount of choice was baffling and I can’t say I learnt anything ‘revolutionary’. I met lots of lovely people, saw some interesting practice and listened to thought-provoking keynotes.

In the Valley of the Trolls

Josie Fraser

Josie started us off with a timely keynote about trolling. There is an increasing amount in the news about incidents of trolling and having spoken to a few attendees the talk reflected a number of personal experiences.

Josie showed us some recent examples. Take for example Microsoft Tay, the artificial intelligence Twitter robot, who was targeted by internet users and descended swiftly in to posting vile racist, homophobic and outrageous views. Josie cited the book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things by Whitney Phillips. Look at Tay and Boaty McBoatface, when we put stuff on the internet people love to ruin it. WE are the reason we can’t have nice things. The internet is not the problem. We are.

The media, Josie says, is part of the problem. They ‘feed the trolls’ by publishing articles about them, by paying them attention. They make light of something serious. They use it to fill their pages with sensationalism that makes, those of a certain generation, tut loudly at the ‘yoots’ (youths) of today. The media likes to make out that the internet or video games or music is the problem. It’s not. We are.

Josie talked about the motivations of the troll. Seemingly simple – power, notoriety and just plain old bigotry, but also somehow complex. A world of anonymity where lines are blurred and there are more shades of grey than black and white. James Clay asked whether there is a scale or spectrum of trolling. It’s definitely not simply you’re a troll or you’re not a troll. Like bullying and harassment it can be subtle, almost imperceptible. Who knows what is or isn’t trolling. I suppose it’s in the eye of the ‘trollee’.

When we use the word troll we legitimise bullying, harassment, threats, bigotry and racism and reduce it serious behaviours in to something seen as acceptable. It’s not as bad because it’s on the internet. It’s what you deserve if you put stuff on the internet. No. No-one deserves to be trolled. But let’s start calling it what it really is. Trolling is bullying and harassment and it should not be trivialised.

Open and flexible learning opportunities for all? Findings from the 2016 UCISA TEL Survey on learning technology developments across the UK higher education sector

Richard Walker, Julie Voce, Martin Jenkins, Jebar Ahmed, Elaine Swift, and Phil Vincent

UCISA released the findings from their 2016 Technology Enhanced Learning Survey to which 110 UK HEIs responded. The full report can be found here:

UCISA 2016 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK

From the discussion we had in the room uptake of open and flexible practices seem low, with limited increase in MOOCs and open badges, but I haven’t read the full report yet to fully understand the results.

Disruptive Technology Enhanced Learning

Michael Flavin

This was a fascinating talk. I wish it was recorded because I’d like to go over it again. Michael talked about disruptive innovation amongst other theories. To poorly paraphrase, sustaining technologies are those that improve the performance of existing technologies. Disruptive technologies bring something not seen before. Michaels talk showed how few disruptive technologies have, in reality, existed in educational technology. The VLE wasn’t despite what everyone said at the time. To be honest I think we’re using much the same technolgy as we always have done just lsightly differently or more than before.

Disruption is a feature of practice not product. So essentially, the reason educational technologies have not been disruptive is because, the underlying practuce of teaching, has not changed. Or at least that was my interpretation.

Can WordPress function as a VLE?

David Read

Short answer is yes it can. There are lots of things that can be used as a VLE. However, each comes with a list of challenges and limitations, just like our current VLEs. They are none of them perfect.

Some time ago we haled the death of the VLE. But oh look, they’re still alive and kicking. I’m going to do some work around ‘Why won’t the VLE die’.

Education and Neuroscience: Issues and Opportunities

Lia Commissar

Another brilliant end to the day. Lia talked about the fascinating field of neuroscience and, to everyones delight, blew apart some of the myths that surround how we learn. So you know how people will tell you your brain shrinks without enough water, well, nope that’s wrong. Only using 90% of our brains? Nope. Learning styles? Nope.

If incorrect beliefs were ice cream then this picture sums up Lias presentation nicely:

nope

Code Create Collaborate

Ian Livingstone

Another brilliant keynote. If you don’t know Ian he founded Games Workshop, had European distribution rights for Dungeon and Dragons, wrote the Fighting Fantasy role play book series and even founded the company that created Lara Croft. That is to name but a few of his accomplishments. There was lots of nostalgia watching old video games and remembering the fun we had as children.

Children should be enjoying themselves while they are learning – Ian Livingston

Ian’s keynote showed the power of games. Games are his passion and he champions them whenever he can. Video games get a lot of bad press but he espoused so many of their virtues in education. The problem solving, continuous assessment and contextualises the real world. He also talked about his horror at the marginalisation of the arts and creative industries. We should not underestimate their power he says, I couldn’t agree more.

Building digital capability through mapping and collaboration 

James Clay, and Lawrie Phipps

I could be described as a James and Lawrie groupie, for which I am not ashamed. James and Lawrie are incredibly generous with their time, expertise and advice in support of our work at Lincoln and I always feel I should return the favour. If I can contribute to their sessions then I will.

We began with their usual double act, explaining the work Jisc has been doing around digital capability. The framework,  discovery tool and their online offer. They talked about the importance of digital capability and how it underpins everything that we do. We all completed visitor and residents exercises that helps us to map, and better understand, our digital practice. There wasn’t really time in an hour to do that properly, which was a real shame. Here’s our V and R.

vandr

I will write a post about my digital capabilities journey soon.

Flipping heck! Be careful what you wish for

Andrew Raistrick, and Steven Bentley

Andrew and Steven talked about their approach to CPD. They flipped the classroom by asking participants to watch a video before attending the CPD session. By doing this they were able to shorten their sessions to an hour and run them over lunch time. The videos detailed the pedagogy of the TEL tool whilst the face to face session did all the ‘where to click stuff’.

I would suggest this is the wrong way round. Andrew said doing the clicking training was both boring and tiring because the most interesting part was the pedagogical conversations. I would argue you should do the pedagogical exploration face to face and the click training via video. The pedagogy is, after all, the most important bit.

ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards

We were highly commended in the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Team Awards. We were very touched and honoured to have been recognised. There were very worthy winners and I was honoured to stand on the same stage us as.

Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms

Jane Secker

Jane talked to us about copyright. Yawn I hear you say? Well Jane made it very interesting. Copyright is important. It’s the law. It’s our responsibility to stick to it. Jane talked about its origins and the various types of copyright laws and exceptions. A very complex subject.

Technology causes us a problem as breaking copyright has become very easy. She described the sense of injustice that surrounds copyright, the feeling that we are somehow being limited by it. But at its essence copyright is about respect. Respecting other people’s ideas and hard work. Copyright is seen as someone elses problem.

Jane tells us to look at copyright from an emotional perspective. Consider the owners feelings. Imagine yourself in that position. Put yourself in their shoes. No-one likes to have their ideas stolen. So why is it OK just because you go it from the internet?

We insist students reference work in their assignments. Why should staff be the exception?

How best should a VLE be designed to enhance learners’ experience? 

Emmanuel Isibor

In short the research shows that students want to be able to adapt the VLE to their needs. Do VLEs allow that? Not really. They are controlled by the tutor and content is consumed as they see fit rather than how it will work best for the student.

Evaluating Webinars as a Tool for Delivering Lectures and Seminars at Distance in a Healthcare Setting 

Daniel Metcalfe

Some very useful tips here from Daniels research on students feelings on webinars as replacements for lectures and seminars. Students on the whole reacted positively and surprisingly, felt the level of interaction with staff was much the same as in face to face sessions. His advice on running online sessions:

  • Don’t run lectures as traditional lectures
  • Be interactive
  • Add activities
  • Familiarise the students with the technology as early as possible
  • Have a colleague to help

Designing for Flow

Leonard Houx

Clutter is a barrier to learning. Clutter makes your learning less attractive, less credible, and more difficult to engage. Clutter is a disruption to flow. Poor flow leads to students feeling distraction, discontinuation, disengagement, dissatisfaction, dislike, distrust & disputation. It leads to staff site hacking, jazzing up (poorly), tragic resignation and antagonism with IT. Leonard has rebuilt parts of his VLE and it looks fab. A shame we didn’t get to see more really.

Strategies for supporting effective student engagement with lecture recordings

Matt Cornock

Matt talked about his research in to the ways students connect live lectures with lecture capture content. Matt suggested one of the biggest barriers to the effective use of captures is the timetable. That students do not have the time between lectures to use the captures. He said students in lectures thought they were supposed to take notes, whilst staff felt they should listen and get a holistic overview of the content then use the capture to explore the detail. He questioned whether we should continue to see the lecture as central to everything. Another barrier to students embedding captures in their practice is that not all lecturers use captures, let alone use them in the same way.

An experiment in open-access, micro-learning for educational technology training

Kate Soper, Catherine Wasiuk, Colin Mcallister-Gibson, and Christopher Meadows

If you don’t follow @1minutcpd on Twitter or haven’t visited their website, then you should. Their approach to CPD is so refreshing. 1 minute  CPD videos tweeted out and hosted on their blog. It’s beauty is its simplicity. The number of participants, views etc.

Using Microlearning to Drive the Adoption and Mainstreaming of Technology Enhanced Learning Tools in Higher Education

Shane Cronin, Darragh Coakley, Roisin Garvey, and Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin

Here is another brilliant CPD resource you should check out: telu.me

TELU is a high quality collection of free online micro-courses designed to help staff use technology to support their teaching and learning.

Keynote: Donna Lanclos and David White – Being Human is Your Problem

I always love to see Donna and Dave present. (Although Dave wears awful shoes) I find their partnership very refreshing as they don’t always agree, so often we see presenters who, to borrow a phrase from Donna, spend the entire presentation blowing smoke up each others arses. Donna and Dave do not do that. In fact they quite openly bicker, disagree and argue with each other on stage. They are yet to draw blood but we all wait with bated breath.

What I love most about their talks is that they always challenge me,they always say something that blows my mind and yesterday was no exception.

Digital technologies will no more solve the ‘crisis in education’ than airbags will stop drivers from having accidents. David Price – OPEN

In a sense I feel ALTc can sometimes support the kind of thinking described above. Let’s be frank here, ALTc is full of people whose jobs rely on such nonsensical thinking. I am going to write a blog post on what will happen to us when the technology bubble bursts. Donna and Dave do not believe in this rhetoric and I am so glad they don’t. Technology will not fix anything. It can support, it can create efficiency and it can sometimes enhance but it is not a panacea for all ills. It is not a sticky plaster to cover the cracks. As Peter Bryant says:

There simply isn’t a single out of the box solution for the challenges we face. We can’t rely on growth through systems support and development. There are significant and intractable tensions between the dynamic epistemological shifts that are fundamentally changing the way media is consumed, knowledge is constructed and learning engaged with. Peter Bryant ‘I don’t want to change the world’ – a call for a personal revolution’

They talked about responsibility. It is EVERYONE’S responsibility to talk and think about teaching and learning. I still find it ridiculous that teaching and learning is at the bottom of priority lists in HEIs. It is fundamental to what we do.

Digital is people. Digital is not a salvation from our problems as humans. Donna Lanclos

There was a strong link to the earlier trolling keynote. In that our behaviours online are simply an amplification of offline behaviours. We need to fix people. Technology won’t fix anything.

They won’t let us is not legitimate. Donna Lanclos

That sentence came like a metaphorical kick in the balls. We find it easier, to channel all of our challenges in to an ‘other’, a shadowy figure who stops us from doing all the things we want to do. ALTc was full of lamentations along these lines. As Dave and Donna said, there’s nothing stopping us really. We can do what we need to do, and as a community, should stop making excuses. It was a wonderful call to arms to end the day on.

Venue

warwick

University of Warwick is beautiful, miles away from anywhere but full of lush green spaces. I was quite enamoured. Everything basic need you have is catered for there are banks, a cinema, hairdressers and eateries and cafés off all kinds. The accommodation, eatery’s and main venue were all in easy distance of one another. It all flowed really well and didn’t feel stilted or hard work moving around.

Food

The make or break of some conferences, the food, was not great. Fine if you like brown food, bad, if you like vegetation or green food. The Pimms at the drinks reception was fab though!

Stop moaning, start doing.

We spend a lot of time moaning about what our staff can’t do. We spend just as much time asking why they aren’t doing something about it. So what can we do? Well how about we stop moaning and start doing something? How about we start supporting our staff instead of bringing them down.

I have written a post on the issue of employing staff without, what has been described as, the “skills to work in a digital age” titled Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills? If you want to read the whole thing please do. If not, to cut a long story short, I believe we should. I believe we have a duty, as we do to students, to make sure that staff leave us having benefited from their time with us. I feel very strongly about this.

Dangerous assumptions

If you genuinely operate on the belief that all your staff are digitally capable then you are naive. They’re not. Shock horror not even all of our students are. We make a lot of assumptions about technology and people’s exposure to it. We assume everyone can, and most worryingly for me, we assume that they SHOULD come to us with existing skills.

Take email for example. We think this a basic skill everyone has. Sorry but it’s not. I spoke to a postgraduate student who found email baffling. I have heard from staff who used a different email service at another institution and found Outlook incredibly difficult to pick up. Staff do not need to be shown how to send an email. Most people can feel their way to that task. They need to be taught how to manage mail. They need tips on efficiencies, short-cuts and features they otherwise wouldn’t discover.

Imagine how much time and money we would save if we taught something as basic as email. Our assumptions are costing us and we can’t see it.

Moving goal posts

“For the vast majority of human existence, it was safe to assume that the world in which you died would look pretty much the same as the one in which you were born.” Big Idea: Technology Grows Exponentially

Technology is constantly changing. I wrote a post, a while ago, about Exponential growth, technology and higher education. In short our challenge is only going to increase. Technological developments are not slowing, they are increasing exponentially. Imagine our learning curve as a roller-coaster. At the moment we are leaving the station and slowly inclining. We are staring upward, pressed to the back of the seat, all we can see is the track and the sky. We can’t see the peak. That is our learning curve. We are constantly moving towards the peak but it just keeps getting higher and steeper.

What does that mean for us? It means technology is going to be changing quickly and we need to keep staff skills in line with that change. It means we can’t make a tick list of things they need to know, force them on some training , dust off our hands and reward a job well done with a cuppa. We need to be anticipating the changes and making sure the opportunities are there for staff when they need them.

The dreaded TEF

The TEF is going to put increasing pressure on staff to be experimental and innovative. It’s all well and good for those with confidence. For the majority it’s a daunting prospect. We need staff to have a strong foundation of digital skills. We need them to be able to walk before they are forced to run. That is why addressing the gaps in digital capabilities is so important.

Taking ownership

What we really need is to foster a culture of ownership around development. You can lead a horse to water…

Institutions need to show staff that taking part in development activities is an expectation, not an option. That those who do are recognised and rewarded. That trying to better yourself will be noticed.

Staff need to realise that the only person who can improve their digital capabilities is them. It’s their responsibility. They have to make it a priority. They have to seek out opportunities. Be curious. Nothing in life is handed to us.

Get on with it

Stop moaning about what they can’t do. If we’d spent the same amount of time doing something about what they can’t do we might have made some progress by now.

Show staff they are cared about. Support them. Invest time and money in them. Don’t just talk about it. Do it.

Make staff feel that their development is important. That you want them to develop and succeed.

 

But what about staff that won’t or don’t want to engage in CPD?

computer classroom

I have received a number of follow up questions to my earlier post “Should we employ staff who don’t have digital skills?“. I will answer them in a little more detail than 140 characters allows.

This is an incredibly difficult but important issue. One that I don’t think I am qualified, or intelligent, enough to answer. So I shall talk solely from my experience and detail some of the things I find work best.

Getting people to turn up

Stop calling it CPD or training. There are fewer more off-putting words in the world of work. I find targeted training/CPD is best. Even better, is when you can identify a need and deliver something that meets that need directly. They’ll turn up if they know something needs improving.

Reward is a vital part of success. Or at least recognising efforts. I have seen many people do good works that go unnoticed and inevitably they lose interest. I don’t know what we can do about it. There is some hope that ‘badgeing’, giving staff a badge on successful completion of a session, will entice them to participate more. I’m sceptical.

What will be really help is if staff were given a reward in time or funding. For example they are given a small monetary reward that they can use on equipment, CPD or conference expenses. Or they could be given time back. I know that both of these options are complex and very unlikely to happen.

Measures

@KerryPinny But how much time, and how do we measure success?

Do we need to measure success? What is it we’re measuring? Learning or attendance? At the moment success seems to be measured by ‘bums on seats’. This is an incredibly simplistic measure. Plus who are we measuring it for? Do they want it as yet another stick to beat staff with? Hardly a developmental or supportive approach.  How do we measure student learning? We make them complete an assessment. Perhaps we could introduce that in to CPD. Although, that strikes me as a way to guarantee a drop in attendance.

I like the example in our law school. They have invited staff to participate in a Digital Week. The week aims to get staff to explore new ways of teaching with digital tools. Here the staff are being supported and encouraged with the space and time they need to explore.

Attitudes

@KerryPinny should we employ people who don’t want to gain the skills and capabilities that they don’t have, but need for the job?

— James Clay (@jamesclay) June 16, 2016

I believe engagement in the digital is a matter of relevance not attitudes. Attitudes can be changed and I have found they are changed most successfully by showing how technology is relevant to that individual or discipline. There’s nothing to be gained from showing up and saying “oooh look how shiny this new thing is”. You have to show them why they should engage in the first place. People first, tech second.

Now let’s pose an even more difficult question. How do we measure willingness? I can tell you I’m willing and give every assurance that I’ll do it. But what if I don’t? What if I tell you exactly what you want to hear. You gonna sack me? Even if I’m a top-notch teacher and researcher. Even if there are no complaints from my students? I think you wouldn’t.

So what can we do? Yes let’s put willingness to learn in the job specification. We could even get them to do a test. Perhaps we should hook people up to a lie detector? I’m sure that breaches a policy or human right or something. Or maybe, I might be crazy, we show prospective staff that learning is an expectation that will be supported and rewarded.

Priorities

Who’s going to remove their ‘choice’? “By executive order of the Vice Chancellor all staff are expected to complete x hours of CPD a week. Non-compliance will be met with punishment”. Sorry, I’m being facetious again. Our choices are dictated by the priorities of others. I am certain that if staff had the time, and there was something available that was worth their time, they’d want to work on their development. Let’s face it if your boss has asked you to do something you generally can’t say no. If there is work to be marked or students to support you can’t just drop it. I’m not sure 300 students would accept having their work returned late because their tutor fancied learning how to use Twitter.

Risk

For some staff trying new things and experimenting is incredibly risky. The evaluative, metric driven processes in HE make staff risk averse. “I better not try that in case it doesn’t work”. We are very reluctant to upset students. Rightly so, there’s nothing more frustrating or damaging to learning than a poor session. We need to make it clear that risk taking is encouraged. That trying new things is an expectation not something to be avoided. We need to stop punishing staff when things don’t quite go as planned.

My worst teaching experience (so far)

I have had a number of bad experiences in teaching, difficult students, technical failures, a students nodding off, but this blog is an account of my worst experience in teaching. I emphasise the so far part. Teaching is a fickle mistress possessed of mood swings envied by even the most hormonal teens. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how much you plan, sometimes it just goes badly.

I’ve been writing an essay on student support this weekend and it reminded me of an episode in my teaching that I will not soon forget. the reason I describe this episode as the worst experience was because it was an emotionally challenging event. I have never before, or since, had a student cry in one of my sessions.

I was delivering a 3.5 hour long session on using Gmail. 3.5 hours?! you say. I know, that’s a long time but you left knowing everything you needed to know about Gmail. Incidentally this puts me in mind of the time a member of ICT attended one of our sessions and told my colleague that what was taught could be done in an hour. It’s safe to assume we ignored their advice. Anyway, a student, lets call the student Anne, attended this session and was profoundly deaf choosing not to use hearing aids. So I couldn’t rely on technology to save me.

Anne and I spoke before the session began about what she needed me to do. Face her at all times and speak slowly so she could read my lips. Easy enough I thought and began with gusto. I had no idea how hard it is to modify behaviour that has become completely unconscious. I realised I had delivered that session so many times every gesture and phrase was so natural I barely thought about it. At the end of the session I noticed she looked upset.

Once alone I approached her, at which point she cried, and told me she had found the whole session overwhelming. Trying to read my lips and perform the tasks on the computer was too much for her. This was the point at which I wanted the ground to open and swallow me whole.

In retrospect I should have slowed my delivery, ensured she was looking at me before speaking and avoided speaking whilst asking them to perform a task.

I should have checked on her during the break, I could have intervened earlier and modified my behaviour. I also didn’t want her to feel that I was checking up on her, that I was treating her differently to everyone else.

I should have talked more slowly, ensured I didn’t ask her to do something on the computer whilst I was talking and that I had her eye contact whilst I was speaking. It’s very difficult. Teaching had become so unconscious it was hard to get out of old habits.

I tried to reassure her that it was not admitting defeat and that she should do whatever helped her learn. We discussed what we should do at length and decided that in future she would learn best when taught by me on her own.

It was by far my worst experience. I felt so guilty. She had come on my course and left feeling awful. I’ve never been under the illusion that people left like this:

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But to have a student leave having been so upset was devastating.

What is inclusive practice?

Inclusive practice is an approach to teaching that seeks to ensure that all students are able to participate in learning and demonstrate their abilities in assessment. Students should not be disadvantaged by culture, religion, disability or previous educational background.

Reflecting on your teaching practice You can increase the effectiveness of your teaching practice by reflecting on diversity, being aware of how your own background and identity are expressed in course design and teaching style, and understanding your reactions to particular individuals and communities to recognise your affinities and prejudices and consider how they affect students’ experiences of your course.

  • Plan teaching to include opportunities to encouraging interaction between students of different backgrounds. This could be done by allocating groups for tasks.
  • Use accessible language. Try to avoid colloquialisms that may not be understood by all.
  • Use examples that speak to the diversity of the student group. By acknowledging as many voices as possible you will engage more of the student group.
  • Use a variety of teaching and assessment methods. As long as the learning objectives are met you can be flexible about how students are assessed.
  • Try to open dialogue with disable students, they know best what adjustments they may need to learn effectively.
  • Be flexible about how you teach, the materials you use and the formats you provide.
  • Be open to the use of assistive technologies.