A matter of feedback…⤴

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Feedback. We give it all the time. We receive it frequently; whether we ask for it or not. We know it makes a difference in our teaching. But, from experience, it’s definitely not an easy thing to get right. That is, if there even is a right way to do feedback. This blog post is a tentative first step into exploring how good our feedback as teachers really is, and how we can make it even better. I aim to explore different aspects of feedback over the next few posts and delve into specific, practical areas of feedback for use in the classroom.

Many areas of education create debate. But I’m hopeful that feedback might be one aspect that the majority of educators agree is vital as part of effective learning and teaching. Despite this commonality in realising the importance of feedback, the ways in which students receive feedback varies greatly. We need to recognise that various approaches are indeed needed to suit individual subject specialisms, ages, and stages as well as school context. Feedback in music, will look very different to feedback in maths. Yes there may be some common threads and key similarities in what makes both sets of feedback effective, but each will suit the specific subject and the learning taking place. It’s like exercise – we know we need to do it, we know it makes a difference but we all take our own approaches to making it work for us in terms of the where, when and how. Not everyone is a marathon runner. But that does not make the gymnast any less fit. If feedback across a school follows core key priorities in terms of its purpose and impact, there is room to manoeuvre the specifics of the feedback itself.

The first two aspects of Feedback which I will explore in this post, are not technically feedback at all. But I believe they lay the foundations for effective feedback, integrating beautifully with high quality learning and teaching as well as building strong relationships. And so it is, that feedback isn’t something which stands along, instead it forms part of an important loop.

Everyone needs feedback. It helps us get better. When I make a new recipe, I want feedback from my tasters. So that I can make it again even better. When I go for a run, I want to check strava for instant feedback on my pace and how it compares to previous runs. So that I can try and do even better next time. And when I read my son a bedtime story, it’s good to hear his feedback so I can make my voices and silly sounds much improved the following evening. Feedback helps us get better. And as teachers, we all want that for our young people. So why wouldn’t we spend big parts of every lesson giving individual feedback?

Well, Sometimes we will. Sometimes we need to and it helps move learners forward. But we also need time to teach. So it comes back to opportunity cost, which I touched upon here. If we are giving feedback, we are not doing something else. That’s why I think it’s important to minimise the need for feedback in the first place and find efficient ways to give meaningful feedback when time is tight. If lessons are taught well from the outset using clear learning intentions and success criteria; if teachers clearly explain and model the learning, if teachers guide the learning and then give opportunities for deliberate practice, the likelihood that learners get it wrong or need feedback to correct, is less likely. Of course feedback will always be necessary to move learners forward but if we can spend less time correcting common errors which might have been overridden by better instruction, then the time can be used to give really personalised and impactful feedback.

So we’ve established that feedback is a gift because it aids improvement. But it needs to be viewed in that way through the classroom and school culture. An ethos of continual improvement not because we are not good enough, but because we can be even better. In order to create that learning environment, there requires a strong relationship between giver and receiver. For feedback to land in a way which allows it it be used to propel forward, there needs to be a shared understanding of why the feedback is being given. Like so much of our work in the classroom, a positive relationship between teacher and pupil is vital in order for feedback to be listened to and acted upon. Pupils need to trust and respect their teacher, and understand that the feedback given is because the giver genuinely wants the young person to do well. A learning partnership, when both sides are working hard for the best outcome is desirable. When a relationship breaks down, young people are less likely to buy into the need to improve.

I don’t think any of the feedback foundations is ground-breaking, indeed good teachers do these almost without thinking about it. What becomes more tricky is implementing effective feedback, and sustaining it. Like the exercise analogy, we all know we should go to our gym class on a Monday night or get up early for a run before work, but when it’s dark and wet, our intentions can often be sidelined for ease and comfort.

How do we ensure that within a busy classroom, teachers racing through the curriculum don’t fall into the trap of feedback which is easy and comfortable? Instead, how do we make use of these optimal conditions for feedback which we have created, and that our practices really maximise the impact?

Part 2 to follow.

LibSmart I⤴

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This introductory course provided by the University of Edinburgh’s library is structured in five modules.

Module 1: Getting Started with the Library

Accessing and using online library resources for your studies. This begins with the task of setting up a “Pebble Pad” blog (the reason for which isn’t apparent), which itself begins with a series of “helpful” videos.

I find video an extremely frustrating and patronising format and will always prefer to read a few well-chosen words that cut to the chase. Almost every instructional video I have ever seen seems to have been designed to meet a requirement to have video as part of the instruction tools. I have never seen one that was better than words on a page. I include the videos I have made in that.

How to access online library resources provides basic access information including how to set up the VPN, and how to navigate the menus in the MyEd university landing pages to find library search tools like DiscoverEd. The video for this section is available as a pdf: it’s as if someone’s listening! Understanding and Accessing Your Reading List isn’t at first sight relevant to PhD – because there are no reading lists for PhD – but it’s possible to look in on other courses or browse the Resource Lists. Start Searching DiscoverEd offers some practice with the university library search interface as well as again providing stats on how much stuff there is in the library. The module finishes with Making the Most of Library Resources which shows how to find help.

It’s been helpful to return to basics in this module and check that I’m not missing anything fundamentally useful in accessing the library. I have found the library interfaces generally quite self-explanatory and intuitive to use, especially if you take the time to read the interface carefully.

Resources

  • Study Skills Guides - a resource list for all students, covering general study skills, academic writing, referencing, critical thinking, reflective writing, literature reviews and so on.

Module 2: Your Information Landscape

Explore and use key library resources appropriate to your discipline. Useful areas here include the subject guide for Education and ITE and a video on literature search.

Modules 3 – 5

These address finding and retrieval; managing information and referencing. I went through these quickly to see what’s new or useful. From these…

Identifying source categories

Information sources can be broadly categorised into three types:

  • Primary or original sources
  • Secondary sources provide interpretation, commentary or analysis
  • Tertiary or reference sources are dictionaries, encyclopaedias or indexes of primary and secondary information

Evaluating information

A very useful stick-on-the-wall guide to selecting literature was published by the Meriam Library at California State University (Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test, 2015).

References

  1. Meriam Library - California State University Chico. (2015). Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test. 17. https://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf

Eight years on.⤴

from @ lenabellina

Eight years ago I was celebrating, having secured my first DHT 3 to 18 pupil support post, as I have been reminded by today’s Facebook memory.

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to speak at an event for the Scottish Learning Festival about leadership in education.

I referenced the fact that I am of an age where I sometimes catch myself saying “oh, we tried that in the nineties and it didn’t work” or “that’s just an old initiative re-invented”. The risk that comes with that is that we become grumpy, jaded or cynical about positive change and add to the problem, rather than being part of the solution.

In fact, every iteration of an attempt to bring about change, progress or improvement in either our personal or professional life can add new value to the previous iterations, as long as we pause to reflect on what has gone before.

Every experience we have is an opportunity to learn, from both the things that went well and the things that went less well.

The fact that I am now back in a job with the same title, opportunities and challenges that I took on eight years ago is an example of how this can work.
Far from seeing this as a backwards move, it is an excellent opportunity to approach the job with eight years’ worth of insight and experience that allow me to achieve even more than I could last time round.

At the end of my first formal full week in the new post, I am both exhausted and exhilarated. There is no denying that helping to run a school in an ongoing pandemic is tough, with the combination of staff and pupil absence and ongoing restrictions meaning that every day is a massive excercise in creative thinking, contingency planning and solution focussed decision making. But the incredible commitment, generosity and passion of the adults working in the teams around our children makes this possible, alongside the enthusiasm and joy shown by the children themselves.

This week, amongst other things, I have taught P1/2 for a morning and P6/7 for a morning, co-delivered PSE classes for S1,2,4 and 5/6, attended several meetings, made connections with several of our parents/carers and helped my colleagues to plan some exciting developments for the future of pupil support in the school.

The highlight was probably getting the P1/2s to roleplay and perform the joke “Mrs Carter, my pen’s run out!!” “Why don’t you run after it then?”
(Don’t worry, there was a tenuous link to literacy).

When I asked a P1 the day after if he could remember what I’d taught him, he said “to laugh.”

I can assure you that the future of quality comedy in the West of Scotland is guaranteed.

What a blast. I love my job!

Making Hybrid Meetings Work⤴

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Last weekend I joined Wikimedia UK colleagues for our first in-person Board meeting and away day since 2019. I say joined, but I actually dialled in remotely, while the rest of the Board met in person in London.  Much as I would have loved to see everyone, the Board away day is always a really stimulating and inspiring event, I didn’t feel comfortable risking the 7 hour train journey from Glasgow to London. Thankfully Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid was more than happy to accommodate remote participation and to run both the Board meeting and the away day as hybrid events.  This wasn’t entirely straight forward because as interim Chair of Board, I was chairing the Board meeting on Friday evening, and we had lots of group working and breakout sessions planned for the away day on Saturday.  With a little patience and consideration from everyone involved we managed to make it work though.  

Since we’re all currently trying to get to grips with hybrid working, I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts and observations on how to make sure everyone can participate in hybrid meetings.   

Good Practice is Good Practice

We’ve all got used to online meetings but hybrid meetings require a little additional planning.  The good news is that, in keeping with the principles of universal design, a lot of the things that really make a difference in running successful hybrid meetings are good practice for any kind of meeting.  Specifically:

Remind everyone to speak slowly and clearly.  This is helpful not just for remote participants, but also for anyone whose hearing is impaired.

Don’t let people speak over each other.  It’s very hard to follow the conversation if multiple people are speaking at once, and this can also discourage people from participating.

Make sure everyone has a chance to speak. If you’re chairing the meeting, make sure you give all participants an opportunity to contribute.  Don’t forget remote participants!

Technology

You don’t need a room with built in conferencing technology to run a hybrid meeting, though it can help. We made it work perfectly adequately with a laptop and Zoom. 

If you’re going down the laptop route, make sure you have a backup machine or two, as audio and connection quality might vary.

Allow extra time to get set up.  It will always take longer than you think!

If remote participants are joining via a dedicated laptop, make sure someone is watching it to catch chat messages or in case the connection drops out.

Audio and Video

Audio quality is much more important than video, if you’ve got low bandwidth or the connection is spotty, turn off cameras.  You might want to turn cameras on for introductions and then turn them off again afterwards.  You can also turn cameras on at periodic points, perhaps during breaks, so people can see each other without disrupting the meeting.

Use an external microphone where possible.  Laptop mics tend to be directional so only pick up those sitting directly in front of the mic.

If you have a screen you can project remote participants onto it, but again, it’s not necessary to run a successful hybrid meeting. 

Background noise has a big impact on audio quality and can make it very hard for remote participants to hear in room discussions. Minimising background noise is particularly challenging as a result of the ongoing COVID pandemic which requires rooms to be well ventilated. Opening windows or turning on air conditioning can introduce so much background noise that remote participants may struggle to participate.  However, the safety of the people in the room has to be paramount, so if possible, try to find a room that you can ventilate safely, without having too much impact on audio quality.  

Facilitating Hybrid Meetings

It’s useful for the meeting facilitator or chair to use a separate laptop from the one remote participants are dialling in to, so they can project minutes, documents, etc., if necessary.  This also means that someone other than the facilitator can reinstate the connection if it drops out.

If you want to capture group discussions, use a shared document projected on to a screen, rather than a flipchart. This enables remote participants to contribute and to read points captured from others.

Photographing card sort activities, flip charts and notes, and sharing the pictures with remote participants works perfectly well if you don’t have shared docs, Padlets etc set up.

Don’t forget to include remote participants!

And if you’re participating remotely…

Test your set up before hand if necessary.

Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues to speak up or to speak more clearly if you can’t hear them.

You may have to interrupt people in order to contribute to group discussions, as participants in the room won’t have the visual cues that you want to speak.

It’s much easier to participate remotely if you’re not the only one dialling in.  If you have multiple people participating remotely you can work together in breakout groups and use shared documents to capture discussions.

Hybrid meetings can really tiring if you’re joining remotely, as you may have to listen really closely to follow discussions in the room.

It might sound like a lot to think about, but with a little preparation, care and consideration it’s not difficult to run successful hybrid meetings were everyone has a chance to participate.

Quality, nudges and the need for IRL experiences⤴

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Warning, this post might not make much sense – no change there I hear you mutter, dear reader. Anyway there is something that has been niggling at the back of my mind for quite a while. It’s edging closer to the front, but I can’t quite articulate it yet. But I think I’m getting closer.

Like many, I have been equally dismayed/saddened/shouting at the radio/paper/tv irately, at at some of the wider narratives around universities during lockdown and now in this not quite post pandemic, not quite “new normal” phase we are in just now.

Last week Simon Horrocks posed this valid question in response to a tweet from an MP questioning why all universities weren’t providing “quality education”

There seems to be a very common misconception that “quality education ” equates with face to face teaching, large lectures and of course end of year exams. Of course this isn’t always the case.

I have had huge sympathy with students over the past 18 months. They have had to cope with so much. There is no doubt that their educational and wider life experience has been disrupted. I also have huge sympathy with lecturers, researchers and all university support staff for much the same reasons.

There is no doubt that everyone wants to get back on campus. That is now happening to some extent in most unis. In the work I have been involved in over the summer with staff and students in the UK and Ireland, there has been a clear desire to be together again. We have all missed each other. It’s also been clear that the actual teaching and learning experience over the past 18 months, has actually been ok. It’s not been perfect – but then again was it ever? The main issues for students have been around the wider student experience, the impacts of lockdown on wider society, digital poverty and mental health issues. It was hard not having anywhere to go and not being able to meet and mix with people.

On the other hand having recorded lectures and open book exams appear to have been overwhelming popular with students providing greater flexibility and accessibility, and in many cases a reduction of stress. However, students have undoubtedly missed the collective experience of being at uni IRL. They’ve missed the spaces that campuses provide for formal and informal learning. They’ve missed the reassurance of being, as one student said to me, “confused together”, informal sharing and working things out and just being together.

Staff have missed students too. They’ve missed that human connection, they missed not being able to see their students, they’ve missed not being able to “feel”the atmosphere, understanding and confusion in online teaching spaces. They want to be with their students and colleagues again IRL.

And this is where my niggle starts niggling. As well as the overwhelming political and societal pressures to get “back to normal” and that have a quite outdated vision of smiling students in huge lecture theatres, there is now even louder pressure from the ed tech sector around data, datafication and increased personalisation of learning. The personalised experience seems to have greater urgency and weight as, of course, only through “data insights” can online learning provide the personalised experience that will improve . . . well everything and save the world, blah, blah – you know the marketing speak.

The recent merger/acquisition of Blackboard is a case in point. Ben Williamson has written an excellent post on the wider data, and ethical implications of this and the power of “nudging”. Is “nudging” going to be accepted as valid pedagogical approach? Or doesn’t that matter if it provides desired “achievement” levels? And will those levels automagically equate with a “quality” learning experience?

Anyway my niggle isn’t well formed enough to answer that. But it does seem to me that there is a growing contradiction between the drive for technology being focused on personalised learning when what we all (staff and students) want and actually need, are safe, meaningful, collective in person and online learning experiences. Ideally combined with more flexible, authentic assessments that are designed to ensure knowledge and understanding are at the fore, and so don’t need invasive surveillance.

We do need to have more nuanced conversations around quality in education (not just HE), but to do that we also need ensure that there is far greater understanding in wider society about just what a contemporary university learning experience is, and can be. It doesn’t need to be about “solutions” based on data, nudges and “personalisation”. It can must be one that understands and values the power of collective learning, of communities of practice, of trust and care, and developing learners who question and critique and don’t respond to homogenised nudges in the way that algorithms expect.

Into the city⤴

from @ Ruby on Wheels

For the first time in AGES I took the bus into Edinburgh. Actually, I hardly ever take the bus, but since getting my free bus pass it seems that it would be sensible to use that mode of transport. Besides, parking in Edinburgh is a real pain.

I had forgotten the sound of “tarum-bump … tarum-bump …” as we went over the joins in the Forth Road Bridge. Since the new bridge opened several years ago, that’s always been the way we cross the river. The view from the bus windows was also just that little bit different from the car window on the new bridge. I forgot that I was wearing a mask.

When I first moved out of the city to relocate in Fife, I remember that quite a few friends point blank refused to come and visit. It was too far. But I could come in to visit them, and meet up, and do “things”. It seemed a bit churlish to point out that it was exactly the same distance, and visiting me was easier for parking. However, more often than not I decided to just travel in. It was easy in the evening when we decided to go to listen to live jazz. The roads were quiet, and it took no more than 30 minutes door to door, sometimes just 20 minutes. There was always a sense of escape as we crossed back over the bridge. Although we still had a few miles to go, the crossing of the Forth symbolised escaping from the city. Was it just imagination that the air cleared as well?

Edinburgh was looking spectacular. I walked along the Gardens underneath the Castle, and even the local drunks looked as if they were enjoying the fresher air and being outdoors. I had a moment of anxiety as I climbed the stairs out of the gardens – quite a few people were walking along that bit of pavement and it looked difficult to negotiate a “social distance” safely. So I looked straight ahead and just kept going to cross the road. The idea that I looked too serious and un-friendly briefly crossed my mind, but it seemed more important to get across to the quieter pavement safely.

I met some lovely friends for coffee and we chatted about what we’d managed to achieve with venturing into the world again, and visits to family, and little outings. It was good to share the balance we’re trying to get in our lives as retirees and in the “vulnerable” group. We parted with promises to do it again very soon, and I expect we might just manage to make this a regular meetup, if we can even manage to find a time when we’re all free.

Lines of Thought for ALT21⤴

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Last week Wendy and I gave a presentation about the collaborative poem written for a DS106 Daily Create and some of the remixes that came from it. Here’s the recording and a link to the slides.

Finding joy in ethics and criticality: reflections on #altc21⤴

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I have to admit I at the start of the conference, I felt pretty jaded. It’s been a long year. I haven’t had a proper break – that’s my own fault – not blaming anyone but me for that. And like everyone else I’ve had, and continue to have, my fair share of challenges this year. Another online conference wasn’t exactly filling me with eager anticipation.

There’s always something of the start of the new term feel about the ALT annual conferences, which is one of its strengths. That is also historically why it’s been a challenge for some people to attend the physical conferences. One positive thing about the move to is a lot more flexible, and accessible for many. Anyway, like I said, I wasn’t really feeling any excitement for anything at the start of the week – online or in the “real” world! I knew I would be dipping in and out of the conference due to work commitments, but as is so often the way with ALT conferences, it and more importantly the ALT community, slowly drew me in.

The keynotes were, as ever, very strong this year. Sonia Livingston’s “the datafication of education: in whose interests?”, focused on her research with in schools around the use and understanding of data (particularly children’s understanding of data and how it is used). The give and take of data in schools (and throughout education) is quite unbalanced. The ‘system’ takes data, often without any really questioning from students or wider society. Schools/colleges/universities, are generally trusted entities, with a (at least here in the UK ) a legal duty of care for their students. However, as more 3rd party systems are integrated in education, and more data is being given to companies, the balance is changing. They take the data and offer it back in ways that they choose. Sonia highlighted that adults often give children a false sense of trust about managing data, without highlighting that once a company has your data, despite GDPR, there is a lot it can do with it without you realising. Just what is Google/Zoom/Microsoft etc actually doing with all the extra data they have collected over lockdown for example? The need for data literacy for us all, not just kids, is increasingly important.

Data literacy was central to Mutale Nkonde’s keynote, based on her 2019 paper “Advancing racial literacy in tech” , Mutale expertly took us through the bias of AI and algorithms, highlighting in particular the racial basis in social platforms (Tiktok was cited here) with their implementation of data proxies for popularity, that clearly have historical racial bias “baked in”. Mutale encouraged us all to question and have more conversations about data, AI, algorithms. To participate in projects such a AI for the people which aims to develop and support the ethical use of data. Mutale also reminded us that algorithms are IP and so have commercial confidentiality on their side. Companies do not need to share the algorithms they use. I for one think that should be challenged more, particularly in education. If we use a AI or any 3rd party company and it is harvesting data, then part of the contract should be full disclosure around how that data is being used, so that there can be informed discussions around what patterns, historical trends, etc algorithms are being built on.

Starting these conversations can be tricky. That’s where the (launched at the conference) ALT Framework for Ethical Learning Technology might come into play too. During its launch John Traxler asked if we need to decolonise educational technology. This sparked off a bit of a debate on the ALT mailing list, so I think the answer is a clear yes! Adapting the statements in the framework to questions would be a good starting point, imho around conversations about the ethics of technology, the ethical use of data, what that actually means in context.

The highlight of the conference for me was the final keynote from Lou Mycroft. Lou is one of the founders of #JoyFE. This really did bring back my #joy. I loved Lou’s explanation of: joy as an intentional practice, of the power of being affirmingly critical, but not cynical, of quiet resistance, of the joyful militancy of embracing “the power of giving away power”. I loved the wave Lou weaved ideas around leadership, around transformation being a start not an end point, of turning values into questions. For example what would assessment look like as a practice of hope? What would timetabling look like as a practice of care? I would encourage you, dear reader to watch all the keynotes, as well as the other sessions.

For me the ALT-C conferences have always been places and spaces of joy, for sharing of ideas, for getting re-energised, and also for getting confidence from the community to continue (or start) some bits of quiet resistance. Lou proposed leadership as being more about co-ordination, not control. On reflection, I think that is strength of ALT too, it can, and does provide co-ordination for the community. The range of special interest/member groups are a living example of that.

The conference also saw the launch of the ALT/ITN co production “The Future of Learning “. Lots of “shiny” tech stuff there and worth a watch not to see the future, but to see what is happening now. Not a lot of critique of technology/AI/ data so I wonder if there were to be another episode if a theme of the ethical use of technology would be apt? That would give a space for the new framework and the work of the ALT community in this area to be highlighted. It could help raise wider awareness of the need to question how, where, why, when and with/by whom data is collected and shared. That might provide a way to show some joyful resistance and coordinated leadership can allow for more equitable, ethical, caring and joyful future for learning.

Many thanks to the conference co-chairs, the conference committee, the ALT team, and everyone who participated in the conference.

ALTC delegate open badge image

Bob Ross Godzilla⤴

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Sometimes I see a Daily Create that makes me wish I had a lot of time to spend on it. Friday was one of those days. The prompt was to make a Bob Ross style voice over.

I only had a few minutes, so I grabbed a pic of Godzilla from Flickr and ran it through a few filters in LunaPic. My big find was a Bob Ross soundboard with lots of very short clips of his voice. I’d recently noticed that Windows 10 has an inbuilt video editor, so I thought I’d try it out. Luckily it was very easy to use – I just dragged and dropped the images in and played some of Ross’s sayings till I found some that fitted. A quick save and upload to YouTube and I was done.

I wish I’d had more time to line up the audio better, but I am quite pleased with my quick Create