Well, as you may have noticed the posting here has fallen through the floor, though I’ve been sure to update my picture of the week. This has got me thinking about what the future of this blog might be. I was thinking about shuttering it, but then I thought about all that I’m learning now that I’m on the corporate side of learning. If I’ve noticed anything in my short exposure to this new world, it is that stories are even more important. It is also very much the case that technology is the essential agent through which those stories are stored and shared. I remember lamenting about technology adoption being slow in schools, but now in business, I’ve got sometimes the opposite problem. Every new tech is potentially a solution, the challenge is to filter all the solutions until they match a problem at hand. So based on that I think I’ll keep going. Posting, I hope at least once a month my reflections on corporate vs academic and the challenges that are faced to try to get organizations that need to teach their people/clients/stakeholders to adopt processes and cultures that will enable that transfer of knowledge to succeed.
Posts tagged: Teaching
I’d say this is proof that novelty teaches (yeah, I know I’m behind on this meme… but what can you do?). I guess the trick is – you have to make sure that even the novelty has novelty. You might have to do some really boring presentations now and again if all you ever do is dance. At the end of the day, you want people to pause for a second and pay attention to something that is a bit off of what they expected.
You can download the entire report here, but I’ll quickly put up the main findings.
To be an effective face to face instructor, students were looking for an instructor who is:
For distance education streams students looked for instructors who are:
The report concluded “the data clearly indicates that the characteristics of effective teaching transcend the mode of delivery.”
The report is lengthy at 69 pages plus the appendix, but it has some solid “common sensical” points that I think just about any instructor can take away.
Last week, in addition to the noise around Facebook, there was also another vanity URL oriented geek event. WordPress 2.8 was released and it was the first time since 2.7 that a full .X upgrade was available to users over the new automated update system. In typical WordPress fashion, everything generally went smooth (one install kept wanting to log in again and again, having stuck itself in some kind of loop) until it came to looking at what plugins were working or not. For this blog, having quite a few plugins running in the back (lots of plugins will be tried here for other projects), this stage is getting longer all the time. Thankfully, there are resources (WordPress, et al) for plugins, but not for themes as of yet. So one of the things that you might have noticed if you visit the blog, is that the theme has changed again. Even though Fusion the theme that I was running is one of the featured themes, it seems to not want to work properly for me. So I’ve changed my theme again. I’ve also changed the tagline for this blog.
This tagline change was motivated by part of an epiphany – I’ve been blogging more about teaching in general without regard for prefix than anything else over the last four year. Previously I was blogging under the tagline that touched on technology, teaching, photography and my journey in addition to whatever else I wanted to write about. But now, after thinking about what I’ve really been writing about since the start, I’ve changed it to “Thoughts on the technologies that help us tell stories“. The majority of my posts have been thoughts and I’m very much a believer in the idea that teaching is all about telling a story and that humanity has, since inception, used any technology available to try to tell stories with more umph and record them in some fashion to pass it on to others. This passing of stories is arguably the best way to teach and learn. Hopefully this new tagline (business plan or mission or whatever you might want to formalize it to) guides me well for the next four years. I don’t think things are going to change that much, but, for me, it will certainly free the thoughts that I put down here.
Thanks to @zirkazirka and @numerix for pointing me to this interesting book – On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, cognition and fiction that fits with this idea.
The lecture is becoming defunct… it’s a bad model of pedagogy – [the empty vessel idea] is a bad way of learning, we need a more sophiticated model… a hyperlinked stream of information is where we are going.
There are quite a few ideas there that hopefully I’ll be able to get to one day. But the comment on the lecture is something that I think is really important – a lecture as a single stream of information is going to become increasingly hard to sell to students who crave more than one voice.
BTW, he’s another one who believes that personal use is a precondition to understanding and that is how change will come.
A colleague brought this to my attention this morning and it certainly looks like a promising way to do at least documentation, if not more. Their ScreenSteps software looks fairly straight forward and perhaps easier to use than other systems like Camtasia (though that it pretty easy already) and if you want, the material can be hosted on their servers (not sure, but I think they are in the US).
There are many libraries with online reference generators so you can be sure to use proper formatting for your citations, but what if you need a one off? Check out the Citation Machine.
Common Craft is a great site for figuring out what the basic message is that you need to take home about this that or the other thing. They posted a “what they learned in 2007″ list this past month, and I’m thinking that it is something that is very similar to what you need to think about when teaching or preparing a course.
- Video works. Text, graphics, audio, they all have a place. But video is a different animal. Nothing engages people like the dynamics of a video. Ever read about a car chase? It’s not as fun.
- Simple is better. Approach an explanation by removing information instead of adding it. Remember Occam’s Razor.
- Production values and ideas are often at odds. Flashy graphics and cool music are sometimes a poor replacement for a good idea. Spend time focusing on the message.
- Constraints facilitate creativity. Jazz great Charles Mingus once said, “You can’t improvise on nothing, man.“ Bring focus to your work by creating rules or constraints that give your creativity a starting point.
- It’s not always about how it works – it’s about why anyone should care. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference (Elie Weisel). The path to a solid explanation is making people care as a first priority.
- We all need a little more levity. Unstuff your shirt and make people laugh. Look foolish. Defy convention and do not take yourself too seriously.
So what is my version for teaching?
- Multimodal works – Additional media help to create novelty and novelty is great for helping people to learn.
- Simple - There are more than enough ways to obfusticate a topic, cut out everything that you would not need to support an abstract. This way, questions from the class will fill out the time that you might have filled with things that are only going to confuse the students.
- Flash fizzles – Content is king, be sure to focus on the message and don’t get caught up in the media. If you are lucky, there are people available to help you out with that.
- Stick to the point – If you keep the the message that you want to deliver in class, then you will find creative ways to cover it more than once. This is often at odds with trying to get through curriculum, but with the resources available for moving content online, you can use face time with students to start conversations, this keeps things simple.
- Relax – Know that you are not the most important part of your student’s life, you don’t know everything that there is to know about any topic and even if the content is massively boring, there is aways something that you can find to be curious about. Reveal that to your students and that should help everyone enjoy the experience much more. Have fun with the content and don’t take yourself that seriously.
I came across “Big Think” as a YouTube like resource recently and watching this video, right around 1:00 to 1:42, Steve Pinker mentions one of the best ways to write about science, and indeed, perhaps how to teach it as well. Essentially, treat your audience as a colleague who is just as smart as you and whom you respect, but does something totally different and just needs to be brought up to speed.
Now in terms of writing, I totally agree with that. It’s a way to ensure you don’t talk down, but for teaching, I think it might… well… There are two thoughts there, the first is that you can really easily go over student heads if you treat your students like your college roomies, regardless of the age of your students, especially if they are significantly younger. Indeed, this downshift is often the most difficult thing to learn about teaching, but if you think about what Pinker said in another way, he’s hit the nail pretty close (in my mind) – talk to your audience as your college roomies. The difference? If you talk to the people you went through school with, there is a chance that they are all at your level now, but, if you talk to the level of your college that would have been your peers then, that is the sweet spot. By bringing this level up to speed, you have to be sure to include ideas that they can built on to be able to join the conversation, and in the end, so much of teaching is just about that, bringing people into the conversation.
This video certainly presents an interesting thought – what is even more interesting are the comments. People thinking that the students are whining, that the profs are too lazy and that nothing works or will ever change.
I think the place that we have to make the change is to allow students to have fewer external responsibilities when they come to
study – in the 1840s when the black board was the great invention, the demands on a university student were likely focused on class, not life as they are now. This is something that we all try to use technology to mitigate, but in the end, the majority of students likely don’t put the same priority on class that they do (because of needs) as there is on other parts of life.
It would be interesting to see what this idea of changing the class is like in countries that fund post secondary education.
Check out their blog to see the continuing conversation.