Rationale for the learning activity
Helen Beetham of JISC (2012) has posed two questions for staff in Learning Development:
“how can learning developers make better use of digital technology to support their work with students?
How are digital technologies changing the context, nature and value of that work?”
I focused my learning activity design around the first of those questions, and in developing this came up with some answers to the second one.
First, the activity. It was designed for students who have specifically asked in consultations for suggestions to help them develop their spoken English. This request often occurs in the context of an appointment that might focus on assignment writing, group assessment or a forthcoming oral presentation. The students who request this are at a range of levels in terms of my informal assessment of English conversational ability – from limited ability to respond to simple social interaction to students who are very competent. Programmes they are on vary – Acting in Performing Arts, Business, Nursing, English language, Foundation, Design. Sometimes they’ll be very shy or self-conscious people – dying to interact but fearful of making mistakes or being laughed at.
We often talk through ideas, and I indicate that developing spoken English comes down to seeking and exploiting opportunities to practise more. In the past I’ve emailed links to students on an individual basis, so I’ve looked for a way to have a somewhat more readymade, more complete and certainly more interactive package to send out, that would still allow students to follow their own needs and interests. It is not really one learning activity, but a range of possibilities. In the past I’ve also offered feedback on student recordings in the past, via Vocaroo and recently Audioboo but not had students take me up on this, except if they return for an appointment which focuses on Speaking. I haven’t wanted them to feel that speaking with me was the solution to their problems – it’s better for them to speak to peers, in class and in the community. Speaking to me in a one-to-one session is too safe and cosy – I wanted to get students to step outside their comfort zone a bit. I wanted to encourage autonomous learning, proactivity and project my belief that they could .
The Storify ‘story’ I’ve put together is a result of looking at a huge number of sites and resources. There’s a lot more I could put there, and, depending on the feedback from students, I can now easily replace links and add or change the text comments that take students from one item to the next. I aimed to pull together some content but also a number of tools, and opted for tools that are easy to use and would enable students to take responsibility for developing skills, critique their own practice of speaking, and create their own resources. I focused it around presentation skills as this is most often how speaking is assessed at Unitec. Both digital/media and oral literacies are key skills for success on current courses, but more importantly for expansion of employment opportunities. They are also key ways in which we can express our personal and academic identities – these are not necessarily the same thing.
I’m interested that Storify seems mainly to have been used in Journalism and Media education – I haven’t found a lot of links to other uses, apart from its use for class newsletters. The web can be pretty disorganised to go and come back from, unless we are super-disciplined about bookmarking and folders for bookmarks – and let’s face it, who’s that disciplined? I think Storify is quite useful as a kind of easy access, how to teaching and learning tool for a specific topic, allowing teachers to include a range of options for students to consider – to potentially speak, read, listen, write, view – so a range of adult learning styles can be catered for – something I considered when I was working on my page. I like that students don’t have to login. Curation tools like Storify and Scoop It may help to break down the sense of overload that many students seem to project when we talk about doing web searches – yes, I know there are a lot of possibilities out there somewhere, but how long will it take me before they find the most useful and relevant ones? Helen Beetham (2012) talks about some students lacking ‘digital capital’ in the same way that Bourdieu and Passeron (2002) talk about cultural capital in relation to feeling like a legitimate participant in academic institutions. I see this Storify as providing scaffolding for the development of speaking skills and familiarity with web 2.0 tools to some extent.
Feedback from students? – not a lot as yet that would suggest they’ve actually had a go at doing working through one of the activities. Timing is a factor in this; some students have told me they’ll have a look when exams or assignments are done for the semester. Feedback options: I’ve suggested students use email or the wallwisher page I set up. I thought I would use Twitter but none of these students are using it. Some suggested they could use text but I didn’t want to give out my mobile number.
I feel as if I could take this further in terms of building in collaboration – perhaps by encouraging students to discuss the materials in the Storify with someone else in their course. Sharpe and Benfield (2005) noted that some students reported feeling strong emotions in relation to their e-learning experiences – frustration and vulnerability are the two examples they give. Because both these emotions are associated with feeling unable to speak confidently, I’ve started the Storify work in an individual way, with an individual focus. Ultimately I’d encourage students to put together their own collations of material, which include artefacts – reflective texts, recordings, videos etc they have created themselves. Wikis and blogs are undoubtedly ways that this could be done as well or better than on Storify, but I wouldn’t want use of the tool to take over, delay or prevent the work on language development. I may need to set up an opt in study group (‘Speaking out in class’ or similar title) to pursue the collaborative possibilities in greater depth. In that I’d perhaps send out Storify collations which are not identical in every aspect and ask pairs / groups of students to present a review of a Youtube video which has recommendations about speaking. I see reviewing as a useful tool – most of us seem to be quite motivated by the opportunity to critique and think about how things could be made better! Or is that just me?
Initially I had a narrative thread as text between the different links, but opted for questions because it was looking a bit wordy and didactic. I really wanted to students to think about their own needs and purposes, for the browsing and use of the materials not to be a form of inert learning, to use a term from Herrington, Reeves and Oliver (2010). I also wanted to ‘push’ performance – when we have to actually produce something or perform in some way we tend to step up. It’s hard to build this in when I’m not assessing students and this work is a potential distraction from their assessments. So key principles from E-learning pedagogy are autonomy; authenticity and connectivity. Until I have some feedback on how learners have used it I don’t think that I can claim that it’s constructivist; it’s intended to allow for student creation though.
Beetham, H. (2012, April). Strange encounters. Academic learning and digital know-how. Keynote presentation to the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education national conference. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/hbeetham/aldinhe-keynote-helen-beetham
Beetham, H., Littlejohn, A., & McGill, L. (2009). Thriving in the twenty-first century: Report of the Learning Literacies in a Digital Age (LLIDA) project. JISC. Retrieved from http://www.academy.gcal.ac.uk/llida/LLiDAReportJune2009.pdf
Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A guide to authentic e-learning. New York, NY: Routledge.
Sharpe, R., & Benfield, G. (2005). The student experience of e-learning in higher education: A review of the literature. Brookes E-journal of E-learning, 1(3), 1-10. Retrieved from http://bejlt.brookes.ac.uk/vol1/volume1issue3/academic/sharpe_benfield.pdf