Slow Creep and Revolution: Bringing about actual change

The more I go to education conferences, days, read journals and otherwise engage in the ephemerous activity of scholarship, the more cynical I start to become. There seem to be a couple of processes at work, both of which can be overall positive and appropriate responses to specific circumstances, but neither of which actually bring something new to teaching and learning. On one hand there is the slow creep of a good teaching innovation, winding its way through the communities, passed on through conferences, word of mouth and the odd publication (or blog post?). On the other hand there is the endless cycle of revolution where things fall in and out of fashion, never truly solving the issues they were tasked to address but rather amplifying the bits they don’t address until that becomes the focus of a revolution to bring back the thing before and change something.

A perfect example of slow creep is lecture recordings. As more and more institutions are taking up the technology, and more and more individual activities are giving it a go, there are lots of entry level studies being carried out. The general questions these ask are whether the recorded lectures helped students learn or just made them feel better about everything. The unspoken questions tend to be about specific activities in specific courses and places – did my students in my class like my recordings? Perhaps the question we should be asking revolves more around whether lecture recordings are an adequate crutch to justify the continued existence of traditional lectures. And then there is the argument that lecture recordings are some kind of gateway activity, do it and the world of flipped teaching will open up before you. Yes, and don’t forget to tell the students how to generate a decent set of note for revision while you try the new shiny style. We probably don’t need more presentations on how student feedback was really positive about lecture capture, access stats are a bit iffy (because it could have been a few students constantly reloading the page out of mischief or some computer glitch) but they show that they were used a lot in revision periods, but we can’t really decide whether there is any impact on performance because other stuff changed too. We do need people to critically consider recorded lectures and the behaviours they provoke in staff and students, and figure out whether this is something we want more of or not.

As for revolution (and the reason for this post), I stumbled across a publication by a couple of colleagues charting our change from assessed problems to seen class tests. We’ve now moved to unseen but heavily cued class tests (e.g. I email the cohort and tell them I’ll test them on topics A, B and C but not D – G, or they can expect questions ‘like’ questions 2 – 6 in problem sheet 2), but there is a subtle push back to submitting problem sheets and sooner or later someone’s going to pipe up that if we’re asking the students to submit them anyway, why not give some marks. Well the reason we got rid of them 10 years ago was apparently the level of collusion that was noted in the submissions. The fine line between collaborative learning and good old fashioned collusion strikes again.

What does new look like in teaching? Not learning and teaching, just the bit I can do, the teaching bit. I have no idea.




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