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Unit 6: Methods and an example.

27 September 2011

As promised by Peter, here are his presentations from last week;

It was interesting to pull to pieces the questionnaire on teachers’ careers. Some of the points which emerged and are worth noting are:

  • the importance of context. The covering letter frames the whole thing in terms of how the respondent reacts to it.
  • instructions.  and their corollary; if anything can be misunderstood, it will be.
  • first impressions: what does it look like–does it inspire confidence?
  • the missing questions: those you fail to ask, thus jeopardising cross-tabulations and the like.
  • vagueness and precision; there’s always a trade-off.
  • ethical issues; being up-front about the purpose of the survey and its outcomes (and double standards between journalism and entertainment, and academic studies).
  • and the stats! See here for an introduction to Pearson’s chi-squared test.

We then looked at some of the issues around interviews (on the presentation) and the practicalities of recording, and selectivity of interpretation, and changing technique over time as a result of one’s own learning, etc.

But we also talked about the importance of combining, methods, sources and evidence, for triangulation of results.

In the process of this discussion we touched on a few side-issues (as ever!):

  • nowadays ethically impossible experiments; Milgram’s obedience and Zimbardo’s prison experiments in particular. But see here, too. And the BBC’s partial replication in 2002 here.
  • Kelly’s personal construct psychology is introduced here. Thomas and Harri-Augstein’s Self-Organised_Learning Conversations are not well served on the web–search for yourselves!
  • The stuff on fire-fighters’ decision-making can be traced from here.
  • And Wordle is here.

After the break, we revisited the action-research cycle, looking at how we could (more or less) plug in Merielle’s ideas to it, and provide a structure for her work:

14 May 2011

You might be interested in this new tool I review on my own blog here:

Odds and Ends from Tutorials

6 April 2011

These are fairly random links and thoughts arising from today’s tutorials; I’ll contact you by email with anything only likely to be of interest to you.

Admin issues

If you didn’t manage to fit in a tutorial today, let me know and we’ll see about next week.

Fairly common point; the “collaborative working” outcome is most clearly evidenced by the Reading Groups.

I currently have the Certificates of Attendance from the Study Days; I’ll return them to Peter H shortly, so do remember to pick up yours if you haven’t already done so.

All the outcomes need to be addressed, but not all the assessment criteria; it is almost impossible to produce a decent piece of work by focusing on that level of detail.

Layout of your submissions

Peter W and I have picked up some confusion among you about how to lay out your submissions. You will of course include your outcomes sheets with your submitted work (won’t you? Download them from, but it really helps the marker to identify where in your submission you have principally addressed each outcome. “Principally” because any part of your submission may well hit several outcomes.
There are two easy ways of doing this;

  • use the template from the downloads page (scroll down to the bottom); it’s fairly self-explanatory, or
  • simply put the number of the outcomes in parentheses at the end of the relevant paragraph [e.g. (2.2, 2.3)] You do not have to do that for every paragraph.

It just helps signpost where you think you have covered the outcome–and the more easily we can identify that, the more inclined we are to recognise it for credit!

Points of interest from individual discussions:

There is information on how to set up your own VLE from a Study Day to be found here:

In terms of developing practice suited to the demands of particular subjects and disciplines, Shulman’s idea of signature pedagogies is useful. Here is one of the most accessible ways of getting at it: Note that of course you can’t just apply it directly, of course; you need to look for the principles he talks about and then ask, “how might these apply to my own discipline?”

One approach we did not really discuss in class is Problem-Based Learning (PBL) or Enquiry-Based Learning. More about it here:

Scaffolding was mentioned several times. More about it here:

…and Vygotsky:

A couple of you posed questions about education and training, and I suggested this way of looking at them:

(as argued in Experience and Education, 1938. See here for more on Dewey.)

It’s possible to see these as two sides of the same coin.

The business of moving from exposition and discussion and opening-up in a session, to getting concrete closure at the end can be quite tricky, especially if you are trying to work in a humanistic way. (Some thoughts here–particularly the figure at the end–sorry about the overlap…)

Have a good Easter break if I don’t see you before then!

29 March: Loose ends

30 March 2011

Next week: tutorials

To book a tutorial, just enter your name in a blank cell on this listing and save it.

Please come with a draft of your submission proposal.

This week

Two main but linked themes in the initial discussion around loose ends; the first arose from Paul C’s continuing concerns about behavioural theory. For a change we looked at how behavioural perspectives could be used to look at what is going on in a class or any learning situation, regardless of what should be going on. What behaviour is being reinforced, even if unintentionally…

(That of course tied in to Sue Cowley’s session, although she treated rather less formally.) Then the second theme came up mainly from Merielle, looking at motivation, and the failure of some of her learners to complete their assessable homework tasks. As we got further into this we began to consider the basic relationship issues in such classes, and the importance of what the teacher represents to the student, on the basis of the student’s prior experience–their baggage, as Alex expressed it. Merielle’s experience demonstrated that when students feel they can trust and respect the teacher, they may well be motivated simply by that, coming to want to work hard for the sake of the relationship. And we looked at the way that such a process could also work at the institutional level, sometimes getting disaffected learners back into learning on the basis of the messages conveyed by the hidden curriculum, represented by the teachers’ approach, the grown-up atmosphere, and so on (see the presentation below).

In passing I referred to Matthew Crawford’s brilliant book–in the States it’s called “Shopclass as Soulcraft”, but rather more mundanely titled here; see this post on another blog.


The outcomes bang on about  inclusivity and diversity–you asked what the terms and ideas actually mean–and I didn’t give any straight answers, because the principles are so stretched and diluted nowadays that what they mean varies according to whom you are talking to.

We looked at some links on to get an idea of the kind of ways in which the terms are used and Graham found some resources on the Ofsted site. There’s an interesting (no, that’s putting it too strongly!)paper here (Rustemeier, 1999), and the findings and recommendations of the original Tomlinson Report (1996) can be found here.

Note that Tomlinson was primarily about integrating people with learning difficulties and disabilities into education, but fifteen years on the agenda is much wider, and encompasses pretty well anything which may constitute a barrier to learning. “Inclusivity” is the heir to ideas such as “equal opportunities”, “anti-discriminatory practice”, “empowerment” which have been part of the rhetoric of social justice (that’s another one) for the past thirty years…

If that sounds a little sceptical, it’s because I am sceptical about all the talk and how it is sometimes hi-jacked by people who want a quick lift to the moral high ground for their own purposes.

I would go with William Blake:

He who would do good to others, must do it in minute particulars;
General good is the cry of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer.

William Blake (1804) Jerusalem pl.55 1.60

My own take is here.

Preparing your submission

I referred to

And of course to the Kolb cycle. I’m ambivalent about it as a description of how learning occurs, but a model of how to set it up, it’s not a bad prescription.

  • Start with Concrete Experience; tell me about your area of teaching, your setting (if it has any influence), your learners, their course… and what you do
  • Then reflect on it; draw on your experience to think about what is actually happening when you teach–especially to the learners. What do they take to/learn easily, and what poses problems? Whhat methods do you use, and why? What are their strengths and limitations?
  • It is at this point that you can bring in the theories (Abstract Conceptualisation); how does looking at practice through the lens of a particular theory draw attention to some aspects of it?
  • …and what does all that suggest about ways in which you might develop your practice further (Active Experimentation)?

All this reference to lenses and Paul G’s question about the nature of critical evaluation reminded me of this–hope it makes sense without the accompanying lecture:

Enough! See you next week.

Have you signed up for your tutorial? If not, do so here.

From Saturday

28 March 2011

Tools for e-learning

24 March 2011

If you are into this kind of stuff, Mark Bethelemey’s blog is a useful port of call. He doesn’t actually have anything very exciting to say in this particular post (, but he does list a number of tools which may be of use, and links to them. (I’ve already mentioned some).

22 March: E-learning etc.

23 March 2011

On reflection, I’m struck by the thought that this session around e-learning used no power-point or formal presentation at all–it was simple conversation, and thus, as several of you pointed out, and example in itself of a “flipped” session.

Indeed, the reading groups threw up so much material that I’m not going to separate them out this week.

In one strand, Paul C mentioned the expectations and characteristic approaches to learning of current students. (Paul referred to them as Generation X, but they were born between 1963 and 1978. Millennial students, also known as digital natives, are apparently Generation Y)

Here’s an interesting piece on this generation;

I tried (without much success, because the discussion fruitfully went in all directions simultaneously) to link this as the next stage in the argument I started in the recommended reading for this week. That paper is ten years old, and I think I have changed my views. It saw one of the greatest limitations of e-learning as the need to be confident with the technology, so that it does not come between the learner and the content. That transparency has been achieved for Generation Y students. (Or at least for most of them–we briefly mentioned those who remain excluded by their lack of access to the technology.) So perhaps more can be done that way, nowadays.

[If you are a real sucker for punishment, by the way, you can read my thoughts about struggling to learn on-line on my blog, starting with this post from January 2009, and followed by several more in February 2009 (click on the date listings in the right hand column). I’m clearly a “digital immigrant”.]

This discussion took us to a reference to Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows (2010) in which he argues that the internet is changing the ways in which we look at the world and relate to knowledge (he also has an intermittent blog). Such apocalyptic books crop up regularly in response to new technology, of course, but his argument led us briefly into a consideration of how the distribution and accessibility of sheer information changes the role of the teacher. Previously, to put it crudely, the knowledge belonged to us and we shared it, and we were in some measure respected for knowing a lot. Now we have lost that claim to respect, but it could be argued that our skills are needed more than ever to help people make sense of all the information that bombards them. In that case we may have to transform radically our approach to teaching…

…which thought leads neatly to the second major strand of the discussion–the other recommended article on “flipping”. Put simply, this is changing the relationship between homework and classwork. It’s one form of “blended learning”. The argument is that since information can be conveyed so much more efficiently and effectively on-line than through old-fashioned lecturing (although that is not entirely accepted), then students should acquire their knowledge for homework, and use the face-to-face sessions in class to consolidate it through exercises, activities and discussions.

[Actually, that is a principle we espouse on this programme. As it says in the Handbook; “taught sessions will be used only for those activities for which they are most appropriate.” (p.21)]

In short, let the technology take care of the lower levels of Bloom’s cognitive domain and keep the face-to-face time for the higher levels. That led into some discussion of what could and could not be taught on-line, and also of how intimate the connection may need to be between introducing new material and working with it. In some disciplines one might be dealing with several new items or practical moves within the space of a lesson…

The challenge for full resource-based learning (rather than the blended variant) is how the system can build in the learning conversation and mutual feedback between teacher and student. What’s involved is explored by Diana Laurillard in her “conversational model”. At the time she was writing RBL faced an enormous challenge. Has it met that challenge?

But then we looked at practical ways in which the technology could be used, and particularly referred to the phenomenon of Salman Khan (there’s a link to his own site from TED). Points made in discussion included how short Khan’s tutorials are, how easy it is to replay them or revisit particular points, and how amateur and improvised they are.

[That latter feature showed how e-learning–or at least blended learning–has not in practice come to be dominated by global commercial interests on a top-down basis as was generally feared a decade ago. Instead, the growth of social networking and its tools has promoted the “citizen educator” just as the blogosphere has created the “citizen journalist”. In both cases, of course, it happens at the cost of assurance of quality. Incidentally, to which I referred as an example of that top-down model, is, I can confirm, now defunct. However, perhaps sites like, which host lectures from various universities, are a form of successor.]

But that in turn led on to ideas about how you can make use of such ideas yourselves. This kind of blog is of course one example (although I have the luxury of time to bore you with a thousand words a week–but the secret is that much of it can be recycled each year, so as ever the first time around is the hardest). We talked about using smart-boards to record a class, so that students–perhaps including those who missed it–can re-view it.

And Caroline mentioned Adobe Capture for screen capture (no link because it has been discontinued! Its bigger brother Captivate is however available from Amazon for £465!). Always a cheapskate, I recommended Jing (free version from here) although I couldn’t get it to work in class! And Audacity for the sound…

The technical resources are less of an issue than ever. [Sort of. What we did not talk about was the difference between domestic-standard material–such as video up-loaded to YouTube or TeacherTube (try using it if computer access to YouTube on site is blocked)–and institutional-standard stuff. The latter tends to go on the VLE, which requires an extra log-in, and is invariably clunky compared with students’ normal on-line experience, and the technical stuff may have to be done by technical people…]

But what does matter is time. Here is the evidence from the Dearing Report of 14 years ago. Here is a recent report from the HE Academy which fudges the issue, as well it might. Don’t underestimate the time it takes…

Incidentally, at one stage we slipped into something of a grumble group bemoaning the state of British education–particularly the inability of students to compose literate sentences. This is a notorious minefield, and often misrepresented by the press; recent stories in this area do not seem to have got it very far wrong however. The linked report is from a site called –strapline “Promoting accuracy in public debate”–which is well worth following.

And thanks to Paul C for circulating this;

He comments: “wonderful engagement, feedback and an excellent example of how to teach?” I’m not so sure. Certainly an impressive “performance” and no doubt honed through years of practice and repetition (back to the “deliberate practice” point we’ve discussed two or three times), but… would his manner have been acceptable if he were a real teacher? Some of it is patronising and not far off offensive to non-native English speakers–ceertainly not “inclusive”. Or am I just being po-faced and pompous? Discuss!

Natalie mentioned putting maths problems in a real-world context: see Dan Meyer’s dy/dan blog for some great ideas including WCYDWT; and this post of mine for when it all goes wrong (the course concerned is not this one).


I asked for it. Literally. What did you want to address in the final session next week? Practically everything!

But the recurring theme was application. What’s the use of theory? How can we use this stuff?

OK–but it’s not entirely my responsibility. You need to think how things might work. So instead of a reading task for next week, think of a question of the order of either;

  • if I approach teaching __x__ from the perspective of theory __y__, would it be a good idea to do __z__?


  • I’ve been teaching __a__ like this… What might theory __b__ suggest as a more effective way?


The dates for the Summer Term meetings (afternoons only) are:

10, 17, 24 May

7, 14, 21 June

A couple of those sessions will be about the “minimum core”, but that leaves scope for your own suggestions and requests for about four session. If you don’t ask you’ll get what you are given!

15 March; delayed notes

20 March 2011

Apologies for being late with this.

Reading groups:

Two main themes this week; the first arose from Jamie’s Dream School. Meriel discovered fuller and less selective versions of the lessons on YouTube; go here and scroll down until the number of views drops from about 30,000 to 5,000!

Even the more sensational incidents which appeared in the actual TV programmes have a lot to teach in terms of how these novice teachers got themselves into the messes they did.

The second theme was a discussion of how legitimate was Howard Becker’s article (see last week for the link). He came close to contending that (in respect of trades and skills at least) organised education is counter-productive.

That latter theme led to the idea of situated learning and communities of practice, introduced here. We looked at the far-from-straightforward relationship between practice-as-taught in class, and practice-in-the-real-world–and how that relates to occupational socialization, occupational sub-cultures (in the police, in nursing and social care, and in teaching) and informal mentoring. We talked about the NVQ revolution, and the problems of the “incompetent workplace”, and Amanda and Jackie (discreetly) brought that to life with some of their experiences of work placements. (I know the rambling discussion did not feel like we were “covering” such material, but my notes say we were…)

Threshold concepts

Much of what we discussed was simply an expansion of what I had already touched on in the reading recommended last week, but we did get a little into the implications of the idea for prioritising parts of the curriculum. Paul C mentioned the military approach of trying to break down skills into incremental steps, through which personnel could be systematically trained, and its limitations. This tied back into Gestalt leaps etc.

We also looked at how prescriptive curricula in what the Wolf report castigated as poor quality vocational programmes restricted the capacity to concentrate on what really matters… I might have mentioned it in passing, but my experience on Monday (no connection with this programme, incidentally) also touches on this point.

Next (this) week:

What with the briefing for the Study Day and Paul’s meeting to gather material for the consultative committee, it was all a bit messy organisationally and I didn’t gather the post-its in. Sorry!

But! It’s all about education and technology. Please read (and follow links from) this paper. BUT… I wasn’t really convinced by your denials of Becker’s case last week, but even I can see the holes in this ten-year-old paper of mine. What are they?

More up to date; there are some interesting thoughts here about blended learning and “flipping the classroom”.

See you Tuesday

Advance apology

16 March 2011

I’m afraid that the blog will be a little delayed this week because of other deadlines; I’ll try to do it by the weekend.

Error on download address

15 March 2011

Caroline has had difficulty getting at the Becker article–my fault, because I tranposed two letters in the url.

It should read