What is there to know about clickers?

As part of the experiment in presentations I’m planning for later in this month involves the use of alternate types of clickers or audience response systems. The aim of this part of the experiment is two-fold:

  1. Identify a technology that breaks the limitations of the current clickers provided by publishers.
    This includes the need for students to purchase them and being based on a technology that means you have to be in the room to participate.
  2. Identify sound strategies for using them.

This post is about the journey through the literature around clickers and what I’ve found.


I’m planning to/using the following resources:

  • EDUCAUSE resources on clickers/audience response systems.
    I’ve come across these in recent years and started here because of familiarity.
  • Scholar Google.
    Next strategy was to ,a href=”http://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?q=clickers&hl=en&btnG=Search”>search scholar google for papers on clickers and related topics.
  • Local experience and expertise.
    There’s been at least one staff member at my host institution that has used clickers. I’m hoping to chat with them about their experiences.

Misc. immediate thoughts

Prevalence in the sciences

Clickers seem to be most prevalent within the sciences. The top searches in scholar google for “clickers” included the following journals: Developmental Cell, Life Sciences Education, Journal of College Science Teaching, Astronomy Education Review, Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

I seem to remember a talk by Phil Long linking clickers to the work in the sciences of establishing rigorous pre/post tests for important concepts. Wonder how that will impact use in other areas? Both in terms of the absence of the pre/post tests but also the apparent observation that most usage of clickers is in the sciences? Does TPACK play a role?

There’s a long history

First introduced in the mid-1960s (Kay and LeSage, 2009)

Lit review

Kay and LeSage (2009) provide a recent lit review of “clickers”.

Typically used in large undergraduate classrooms in maths and science. Students like them, but clickers alone don’t improve learning, need appropriate strategies.

Student concerns include:

  • extra effort to discuss answers
  • wanting response to be anonymous
  • discomfort when responding incorrectly
  • distracted by use of ARS (audience response systems)
  • general resistance to new methods of learning

Generic strategy stuff:

  • Explain why ARS being used.
  • Have practice questions.
  • Question design.
    Question setting takes time, every question should have a pedagogical purpose. Various advice on what types of question to use them for. 2 to 5 questions per 50 minutes. Multi-choice. Questions take 5-10 minutes to display, discuss and resolve. Raises the fear of content coverage.
  • ARS used for attendance, participation and engagement.
  • Assessment strategies: formative, contingent teaching and summative.

Another one

Judson (2002) suggests four important findings from a lit review:

  1. Students will favor the use of electronic response systems no matter the nature of the underlying pedagogy.
  2. Academic achievement does not correlate to behaviorist use of electronic response systems, as highlighted by investigations of the 1960s and 1970s.
  3. Despite “high-tech” improvements, the use of electronic response systems within a behaviorist pedagogy has not produced gains in achievement.
  4. Interactive engagement has been shown to correlate to student conceptual gains in physics. Interactive engagement can be well facilitated in large lecture halls through the use of electronic response systems.

Another tack

Beatty and Gerace (2009) take another tack

In other words, don’t ask what the learning gain
from CRS use is; ask what pedagogical approaches a CRS
can aid or enable or magnify, and what the learning
impacts of those various approaches are.

They identify 3 separate efforts to develop a coherent pedagogy for clickers

  1. Mazur’s Peer Instruction
    Regularly insert multiple-choice conceptual questions about the material, if students answer incorrectly, get them to discuss it and answer again. Some empirical support for improvement.
  2. Assessing-to-learn or Question-Driven Instruction somewhat similar.
    Has a specific iterative pattern of question asking and answering that forms the basis for the learning activity, only mini-lectures given on the side.
  3. Another based on related questions and specific patterns.

They propose Technology-enhanced formative assessment (TEFA) which evolved from and supersedes, A2L


Need some more thought about just how this literature might inform my use of clickers in the presentation. Constraints on the presentation may limit this.


Beatty, I. and W. Gerace (2009). “Technology-enhanced formative assessment: A research-based pedagogy for teaching science with classroom response technology.” Journal of Science Education and Technology 18(2): 146-162.

Judson, E. (2002). “Learning from past and present: Electronic response systems in college lecture halls.” Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching 21(2): 167-181.

Kay, R. and A. LeSage (2009). “A strategic assessment of audience response systems used in higher education.” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 25(2): 235-249.

Teaching, academic staff development, mastery and separation

In a recent post reflecting on a presentation I referenced a TED talk by Dan Pink in which he proposed a new operating system for companies based on staff having:

  1. Autonomy;
  2. Mastery; and
  3. Purpose.

My focus is within the area of improving learning and teaching within a university. I want to pick up on the question of mastery.

A good teacher is going to feel a level of mastery over the tools and techniques they are using in their teaching. They are going to have to get this mastery from somewhere, which brings me to staff development. Most institutions aim to provide the knowledge/information to help academics develop their mastery through academic staff development.

I want to suggest that one of the biggest barriers to effectiveness of such staff development is a number of different separations. In the following I look at the ones I think exist.

Separation within academic staff development

The separation within academic staff development is talked about in a recent post by Steve Erhmann. In that post he identifies the separation between the IT and non-IT staff development. The IT development is performed by the IT department and the non-IT development is done by some other area. At my institution it’s the HR department.

It’s even worse at my institution since the folk with curriculum design knowledge and responsibility are in another unit all together and report to a different senior manager.

There are problems with this separation in terms of duplication or holes, since these separate departments rarely effectively collaborate. More problems arise because increasingly you can’t separate out the IT and non-IT knowledge. In our context, most collaborative learning is going to be implemented through some specific IT, you need to know both the technology and the principles of collaborative learning to do it well.

Separation of knowledge

Another separation I see in academic staff development is a separation between the knowledge an academic wants and the knowledge being provided by the staff developers.

In his post Erhmann uses the example of “Using collaborative learning in the classroom”. I’m yet to come across a “standard” academic (my belief is that most standard academics are not intrinsically interested in learning and teaching) that is asking for knowledge about how to use collaborative learning. The type of knowledge a “standard” academic wants is much more pragmatic and might include

  • How can I minimise my workload?
  • How do I reduce marking time?
  • How do I reduce the failure rate?

I agree that “using collaborative learning” (or some other learning theory or technique) may be, at least part of, the answer to these questions, but there is a separation in the level of abstraction.

While the trainer (IT, learning or otherwise) might be comfortable with the learning theory of technique, it generally won’t make sense to the standard academic. At best it will pull in the intrinsically motiviated teaching academics. A partial reason I suggest why Erhman makes this observation

I did notice that at most institutions the attendance was low at the workshops. Nor was there much sign that average faculty members used other forms of service (e.g., web sites, phone-in for help) unless they had to (for example, when using the course management system was required).

My suggestion is that because the people designing the training are separated from the people who need to develop the mastery. Consequently, what the two parties think is needed is different, is separated. The trainers are separated from the knowledge of the local context and of what is missing.

The educational literature tells use that staff development that is separated from or clashes with the conceptions of academics will only generate questions about validity, defense of the status quo or compliance and task corruption (Ho et al, 2001).

Then there is also the differing ideas about knowledge arising out of work around TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) that suggests that the knowledge required by a teacher to have mastery of technology integration is “complex, multifaceted and situated”. It’s discipline specific.

This suggests that the idea of a universal approach to the application of technology or pedagogy while arguably possible, will not provide an effective or the most effective outcome.

Separation of process

Part of the separation of knowledge comes from the separation of process. Staff development generally occurs outside of the normal process of teaching. It often occurs at the start of the end. Curriculum design tends to focus on re-design for the next offering of the course. It assumes that mastery can be effectively developed outside of teaching time. There are argument to the contrary.

Local context is important because memory is contextual. How we know and recollect stuff depends on the context. Take a look at #2 of Snowden’s 7 principles of knowledge management. People only really know/recall the complete detail of something within a realistic context.

Another perspective

Here’s what Bransford et al (2000, p27) had to say about staff development

Professional development programs for teachers, for example, frequently

  • Are not learner centered.
    Rather than ask teachers where they need help, they are simply expected to attend prearranged workshops.
  • Are not knowledge centered.
    Teachers are introduced to a new technique without an opportunity to understand why, when, where and how it might be valuable.
  • Are not assessment centered.
    They need to try things out in their classrooms and receive feedback. Focus on change in teaching practice as the goal but neglect to develop in teachers the capacity to judge successful transfer.
  • Are not community centered.
    Conducted in isolation. Limited opportunities for continued conteact and support as teachers incoroporate new ideas.


Tony Bates offers the following suggestion in the comments of Erhman’s post

This is a relatively easy thing to fix too – form an integrated Office of Teaching and Learning with secondments/guests from IT services and the faculties working with professional instructional designers.

For me, this is a much better solution than the separation of responsibility for helping academics develop the necessary mastery into separate organisational units. At my institution, we’re currently up to at least 4 separate units, and arguably that number is at least 6. With those separate units reporting to at least 5 or 6 different senior managers.

However, simply creating this integrated structure doesn’t necessarily solve the separation of knowledge and separation of process.

In terms of knowledge, too often integrated units, especially if they are large, can start to focus on the objective value of the knowledge (i.e. my theory/technology is good) rather than the value it can provide to a standard academic. Too often these units become the home for the technologists alliance.

In terms of process, integrated/centralised organisational units can have their involvement in the teaching process limited to at the beginning and the end. They often don’t actively work with and help academics during the teaching process. The idea of secondments for academic staff into these units is an example of this. The unit works with these staff in a setting divorced from their actual teaching.

My suggested solution is that such a unit needs to be embedded into the act of teaching and learning. It needs to be providing support, observing what is working and what is not and identifying/developing opportunities for increasing academic staff mastery via small changes that are contextually based.

Importantly, increasing academic staff mastery doesn’t necessarily mean improving the knowledge or capabilities within the head of the academic staff member. It can reside in the tools and systems that support the staff member in their teaching. This is a view based on the idea of connectivism and associated thoughts.

I need to think more about that last point.


Bransford, J., A. Brown, et al. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press.

Ho, A., D. Watkins, et al. (2001). “The conceptual change approach to improving teaching and learning: An evaluation of a Hong Kong staff development programme.” Higher Education 42(2): 143-169.

What’s the best route for improving your teaching (post-thesis)?

I’ve just been asked the following question via Twitter

as someone who wants to improve their teaching (post-thesis) what is the best route?

I was going to tweet a pithy and humourous response, but I’m not that good at pithy and humourous, especially in 140 characters. Also, it’s a more important question that that. 140 chars is not enough. So to the blog.

Also, 1 voice is not enough. I don’t have the answer, I’m not sure one exists. So while I might argue that the answer below is pretty good, what do you think? What would your advice be?

To some extent I think Wendy is using her blog to think about and implement what works for her.

The rest of this post is my advice. It’s what worked for me.


I used this quote recently and I think it sums up my long-term perspective

Master teachers are not born; they become. They become primarily by developing a habit of mind, a way of looking critically at the work they do, developing the courage to recognise faults, and struggling to improve (Common, 1989)

All the really good teachers I’ve known have been reflective. They find problems, develop solutions that are somewhat informed and appropriate to their context, try them, evaluate them and start all over again.

As part of doing this you need to pay attention to interesting and useful ways of evaluating what you are doing. Especially what the students are thinking of what you are doing. You have to value what they say and be seen to take action. This has to extend to during term, as well as after.

In a scholarly way

It’s not enough to reflect on your own. Even with the best of intentions you can get biased about what is going on. You have to build on the work or ideas of other people and contribute your work and ideas back to the community. Another quote I used recently (my emphasis)

The Boyer approach to
scholarship based on an understanding of the communal basis of all scholarly activity: that scholarship by its very nature is a public rather than private activity; that it is open to critique and evaluation by others; and that a field of study is progressed through the scholarly activity of building new ideas which are then open to the same processes of public scrutiny. (Wood and Friedel, 2008)

It’s really helpful to publish what you are doing. You get peer review and you get some kudos for publication – depending on your context. Plus if it’s a conference, you’ll usually see other ideas.

Be diverse

Don’t limit your reading or ideas to the usual or single areas of literature. Look broadly at lots of different areas. Purposely look at ideas that you disagree with or find less than interesting.

Ask for and provide help

No-one can do it all, though some of us kill ourselves trying to. Develop and build connections with other people. Get involved in a community, but not necessarily a tightly connected one. Social media is really starting to make this one easier.

Develop your extended tools

I’m taken with the idea of connectivism. One of the differences with other learning theories is that learning doesn’t just occur in the brain, learning/knowledge also resides in external devices and people. In recent times, I’ve found organising my PLE and leveraging many of the technical tools have helped improve my ability to both learn and know.

I can never remember in detail everything I learn or even think. But with my blog making my thinking visible and various other software tools (e.g. spotlight searching on my Mac) I’m able to expand what I can learn and know.

Be critical or cynical

Don’t take anything at face value. Question it. You can’t simply translate ideas from one context to another. You have to figure out if they will work in your context.

Find what works for you

In the end, however you do it, you have to find something that works for you. That you can maintain. The above works for me. It may not work for you.


Common, D. (1989). “Master teachers in higher education: A matter of settings.” The Review of Higher Education 12(4): 375-387.

Wood, D. and M. Friedel (2008). Peer review of online learning and teaching: New technologies, new challenges. ASCILITE’2008. Melbourne: 1126-1135.

e&i report #4 – 15th to 29th September, 2009

The next in a series of reports summarising work in my current position.

What I’ve done

The last couple of weeks have mainly been spent on the herding cats presentation

As expected in the last report I have:

  • Completed and given the herding cats presentation.
    The video and slides are available from the presentation page. Some initial reflection on how the presentation went down is summarised here. The talk resonated with the few folk there. Something may come of it in terms of connections with other parts of CQU.

    Even if it doesn’t. The presentation has helped me frame the arguments and principles to underpin my work.

  • BAM support.
    Provided some BAM support, problems arose mostly due to a combination of human error and unique technical issues (i.e. 1 in 2500+ students over 3 years having the problem).
  • Discussions with ITD about ustream.
    I’ve talked with a couple of folk from ITD about using ustream in the upcoming EDUCAUSE presentation practice. This seems quite possible. Some details of the plan outlined here.
  • Indicators project.
    There has been on-going discussions about the indicators project and how it might move forward. This involves both research and organisational issues.

There has been little or no work on BIM, the PhD or the curriculum mapping project over the last fortnight.

What I plan to do

Over the next fortnight, the plan is to work on

  • The EDUCAUSE presentation.
    This embodies two separate objectives
    1. Prepare and practice the presentation for EDUCAUSE
    2. Undertake experiments in broadening the spread/impact/interaction of presentations given in the current CQU ISL theatres.

    I’m organising with LTERC to give the presentation as part of the research centre and with ITD to have the technology in place (mostly ustream).

    I expect most of my work in the next 2 weeks to be focused on this task.

  • BIM.
    I may get a small amount of work done on this. It will become the next major priority.
  • PhD.
    I will be spending more of my own time on this to make progress. The EDUCAUSE presentation is itself based on the PhD.
  • Curriculum mapping.
    I will work on this if contacted by SEH.
  • On-going discussions about quality.
    Appears the herding cats presentation will encourage some on-going discussion.
  • BAM support.
    As one term closes and another starts, the need for BAM support will slowly increase over the next couple of weeks. One of the more problematic courses using BAM will not be using it in T3. This should reduce workload.
  • Indicators project.
    There is a meeting scheduled in the next couple of weeks with quality and LTERC to talk about future avenues for funding the indicators project.

Small changes in “Lectures” – ustream, votapedia

Sometime in the next month I have to develop the presentation I’ll be giving at EDUCAUSE’09. The plan is to give this presentation at my host institution before EDUCAUSE and also to try some new technologies to make the spread of the presentation greater in terms of breadth and interaction. This is the start of some reflection and planning for that event.

I’d love to hear from folk their experience or suggestions.

A Problem

My current institution is spread across many physical campuses – 100s and 1000s of kilometers apart – that are connected via networks and some are serviced by a video-conference system. Most of the original campuses have rooms specifically designed to support and deliver presentations/lectures between groups spread across campuses. But there’s a problem, the number of rooms available for these activities is now limited, it’s becoming a bottleneck.

In addition, a significant portion of our student body are distance education students. That is, they never set foot on a campus. These students cannot currently (in general) participate in these video-conference sessions. They can eventually view a recording, but they can’t participate in the live session – both viewing and responding.

In my current role, I want to play around with some technologies and practices that might help solve those problems.

Don’t deny another’s reality

In this TED talk Emily Levine talks about many interesting things, but one of the points that resonated with me was the following idea taken from theatresports

You can’t deny another person’s reality, only build on it

It resonates with me because I’m a firm believe in agile, emergent of ateleological design. i.e. you make small, meaningful changes, think about what happened and then try another small, meaningful change.

Radical change that requires long term planning, a lot of money and significant complexity strikes me as high risk, high expense and as closing off the possibility of learning (i.e. if you’ve spent so much money doing this, it can’t possibly be wrong).

It’s not a technology job

I can hear some that this is a job for the IT department. It it is the job of the IT department to evaluate new technologies, judge their appropriateness, select the appropriate approach and then implement it effectively.

Ahh, no.

Such approaches are generally radical, high risk, expensive and tend to be used minimaly and usually inappropriately. The important point about any new technology for learning and teaching is how much and how well it is used. Such considerations need much broader consideration and insight than typically held by most IT departments.

This is not to suggest that IT departments aren’t knowledgeable about technology. It is to suggest that they typically don’t know much about learning and teaching and getting academics to improve/change their learning and teaching.

E-learning is not a job for IT.

Some early plans

My current plans are essentially to experiment with

  • a live streaming service,
  • an alternate clicker service, and perhaps
  • a back channel.

Versions of these services that require very little change from current practice on the part of the organisation, the presenters and the other participants.

The intent is to allow anyone, from anywhere (assuming they have an internet connection) to participate meaningfully in the presentation. To watch it and also answer questions, make suggestions and comments.

A live streaming service

The plan is to use something like ustream.tv to stream the presentation. This means anyone, anywhere should be able to watch the presentation. Importantly, the aim is to have this ustream be generated by the existing infrastructure within the video-conference rooms on-campus.

This minimises the need for change in what I do. I don’t have to play with my laptop and get it configured for ustream. It also means that the class, whiteboard and document cameras that are available in these rooms can also be automatically included in the ustream. For academic staff who have spent time developing skills in using these rooms this is important. It also broadens the experience the student can have, not just the talking head of the presenter.

As it turns out the local IT department think this is quite straight forward and are actively helping with the experiment. Thanks Dave and Chris.

Alternate clicker service

I don’t like the idea of clickers from publishers. Especially because they need all the students to be in the one room. I’m hoping to use an alternate service that enables anyone, anywhere to “use the clicker”. At the moment, I’m thinking of using Votapedia as talked about on this earlier post.

Currently, I’m seeing the clicker as the formal way I can encourage audience interaction during the presentation.

Back channel

I also want to have some other mechanism to provide an informal method for audience participation. One that I – as presenter – don’t control but one that I can benefit from by seeing comments and thoughts from a broad array of folk.

Twitter is currently looking like the front-runner here.

To do

Tasks to do:

  • Catch up on my RSS feeds as I think some folk I follow have done work in this area recently.
  • Search out literature on clickers, in particular the design of activities using clickers.
  • Experiment with votapedia and twitter mechanisms for formal and informal interaction.
  • Work with the IT department on getting ustream working.
  • Write the presentation.

Reflection and moving on – herding cats and losing weight

For the last couple of weeks I have been focused on developing and giving a presentation titled Herding cats and losing weight: How to improve learning and teaching. The abstract, slides and video of the talk are all available on the presentation page. The following is an attempt to reflect on the talk, how it went and some recent readings/events which may influence how it goes moving forward.

What was the point

The basic point of the presentation was to argue that universities seem to be focusing their efforts on improving the quality of learning and teaching on approaches that are like “herding cats”. I argued that such approaches are destined to fail to make any widespread, significant change and are more likely to result in slavish faddism, task corruption and wasted time and effort. Instead, I suggested that universities needed to borrow more from what we know about losing weight in order to make long term change that is more sustainable.

I used the following quote as an eventual basis for what I was suggesting

Master teachers are not born; they become. They become primarily by developing a habit of mind, a way of looking critically at the work they do, developing the courage to recognise faults, and struggling to improve (Common, 1989)

My argument was that management should forget about focusing on the next great fad – blended learning, authentic learning, open source learning management systems, e-portfolios, OERs etc….. – the introduction of that fad and the herding of academics to use that fad appropriately. Instead they should focus on creating an environment that encourages, enables and (in a small “r” kind of way) requires academics to become master teachers.

How did it go?

There were probably up to 20 people at the talk. Discussion afterwards, both f-t-f and online, was encouraging. People mentioned words and phrases such as: scholarly, confronting etc. However, if I were to be practising what I preached, then I would reject such comments as being more like smile sheets or happiness indicators. Somewhat like this quote I used in the talk

Participants’ reactions to instructional development do not contribute to a clear picture of its real impact (Weimer & Lenze, 1998)

As expected, the people the talk was aimed at, were not there. Quite understandably, they probably couldn’t be there. But given the nature of the talk, without them engaging, there is little that can be done at a significant level. That does not mean it’s time to give up. It just means that the work will be harder and have less chance of success.

Perhaps more of a worry for me, is the observation that I’m not sure that some of the participants really understood exactly what I meant. Exactly how different I think this suggestion is from what is going on at the moment. There were a couple of folk who talked with me after the presentation who seemed not to get it. That the basic premises they were making went against what I was arguing.

A little while after the presentation, I was chatting to another colleague who was complaining about the lack of engagement from other staff members in terms of innovation around learning and teaching. There was a long list of activities and resources development by this colleague, followed by a long period of other colleagues not using or engaging with those activities and resources.

This is exactly the point I was trying to make. It doesn’t matter what I do, if what I do doesn’t connect or help academics staff to become master teachers. This isn’t to imply that I should find a better thing to do, or do that thing better, or punish the academics for not doing the thing I had identified. Instead, I should work on developing an in-depth understanding of what they are doing and work out a small change I can suggest and help make to what they do or to the environment in which they work. A change that doesn’t take a lot of effort, but gives them or the organisation more experience and encourages a slight change in conceptions.

More herding cats?

The University I work for has recently seen the commencement of a new Vice-Chancellor. I think there is almost universal agreement at the coal face about him being a much needed breath of fresh air. He’s even started keeping a blog that is hosted by an external provider, not by on-campus IT!.

The blog is a great way to get some insight into what the VC is thinking. For both good and bad reasons. In his most recent post I’m a little fearful that I may potentially be seeing an emphasis on more herding of cats. Here’s where I start to get a little bit fearful (my emphasis)

We need to start to track down the “blended” leaders and make them professional academic managers. These should be our Heads of School. They should be given autonomy to become empire builders and be allowed to grow their schools to teach more students and undertake more research. They should be developed so that they can safeguard the welfare of the school staff and develop them into the leaders they want to be. I think they should be seen as senior managers within the university and placed on management contracts.

In my talk I draw on Robert Birnbaum’s book Management fads in higher education: where they come from, what they do, why they fail. In particular I drew on the chapter that identified 6 biases of mangers:

  1. Role bias – Managers take charge.
  2. Cognitive bias – Managers as intuitive scientists.
  3. Normative bias – Managers act appropriately.
  4. Self-efficacy bias – The illusion of control.
  5. Commitment bias – The trapped manager.
  6. Expectancy bias – The placebo effect.

It’s my position that management contracts – especially contracts that last for 5 years at which stage the manager is out of a job unless they can impress someone – are a major contributing factor to the over-emphasis on “herding cats” within universities and their attempts to improve learning and teaching. It’s one of the major factors for the role bias – that the manager has to take control.

If you only have a few years to make an impression, you have to be seen to do something. Something that has a pay off. Real improvement in L&T is not something that can be achieved this quickly. Remember, I mean improvement by more than 50% of the institution. Hence the bias towards herding cats and hence the problem that the vast majority of teaching at universities tends not to improve.

Dan Pink to the rescue?

One of the drawbacks of the written word is that my fears could be driven by a misunderstanding of what the VC thinks. He may having something entirely different in mind. The benefit of the doubt in this case is increased somewhat by the fact that his blog post links to this one on the Atlassian site that talks about this TED talk by Dan Pink.

Recommending this talk shows some promise. Saying he’s taken by the ideas shows more. Though it will be interesting to see how and if those ideas are applied to learning and teaching at this institution. Especially given that those ideas apply very much to the points I was trying to make in the talk.

The Atlassian blog post summarises Pink’s new “operating system” for businesses as:

  1. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives (like Atlassian’s FedEx days or 20% time).
  2. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  3. Purpose: yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

In the context of my talk and the aim of improving learning and teaching, I’d suggest some of the following ideas:

  1. Autonomy.
    Have a system/processes that encourage academics to believe that they are in charge of their learning and teaching. That they are not driven by management and its checklists and minimum standards.

    This is not to suggest that they should be left to do their own thing. There should be some “controls”. But it should be in the form of evaluations and scholarly activity not a knee-jerk reaction driven by the need to have good pass rates and satisfied students. This last sentence is driven by the following quote I used in the presentation

    Well-organised subjects, with high pass rates and light to reasonable workloads, are likely to score well with students even though they may not have encouraged or even required deep learning. Yet these are the current measures used to gauge quality in learning and teaching and to allocate funding to institutions. (Tutty, Sheard et al, 2008)

  2. Mastery.
    Have a system/processes that help academics develop mastery of TPACK in a contextualised, informed way that respects their reality and seeks only to build on it. Not to destroy it.

    This is based on the well-known criticisms of widespread forms of staff development that infect higher education and do little to change conceptions or respond to the reality of academics lives. It draws on the resonance I have with the Theatre Sports maxim “Don’t ignore another’s reality, only build on it”. Rather than replace – and subsequently give the impression that you don’t value – a person’s reality you seek to work with them to improve their reality. To build on it.

  3. Purpose.
    Have a system that drives to continually improve learning and teaching. Not to achieve the latest fad or buzz-word (e.g. blended learning, authentic learning, e-portfolios….), but is forever seeking ways to improve on what they do now and move forward. The purpose is to get better. To further contribution to the knowledge of what works.

The problem I was trying to get at in the talk, is that most of the environment, systems and processes within universities are actively working against academics generating a feeling that they have autonomy, mastery and purpose around learning and teaching.


I was going to use the candle problem in some up coming presentations. If the problem has gotten publicity through Pink’s presentation, it will have ruined the effect. Bugger.


Common, D. (1989). “Master teachers in higher education: A matter of settings.” The Review of Higher Education 12(4): 375-387.

Tutty, J., J. Sheard, et al. (2008). “Teaching in the current higher education environment: perceptions of IT academics.” Computer Science Education 18(3): 171-185.

Weimer, M. (2007). “Intriguing connections but not with the past.” International Journal for Academic Development 12(1): 5-8.

e&i report #3 – 1st-15th September

This is the third in a continuing series of reports summarising what I am doing in my current position

What I’ve done

Increasingly, the last couple of weeks have been spent preparing for the presentation I’m giving next Thursday. More on this below.

In the last update I planned to work on the following:

  • Work on BIM
    I spent two days working on BIM (amongst dealing with other work) the work is reported here and here. The first day was spent learning a bit more about Moodle and how it works and resulted in the first steps to a working prototype. The second extended work into using the database to change behaviour in the code and further extended the prototype.

    Progress at this stage appears slow as I’m still becoming familiar with the specifics of Moodle’s operation. However, most of the basics are just about covered and development should speed up significantly in coming weeks.

  • Research presentation.
    So far I’ve spent a couple of days actively working on the thesis, however, much of my thinking has been around the presentation and how to make the argument.

    I have started discussions with ITD about whether or not they can connect the ISL stream to ustream as a start towards innovation around presentations. I’ve also created a page on the blog which will store all the resources associated with the presentation.

  • Scholarship of L&T.
    This was originally intended to include taking some work from the indicators paper and turn it into resources to help with publishing. This has not happened.
  • Curriculum mapping.
    I posted a query about this on the blog. No responses. I have done some more tweaking on the report. This has resulted in the proposal approved at ECAB with FSEH that will continue over coming weeks.
  • Indicators project.
    Some more work has been done on the research side of this project. This post is an early start on thinking for the next stage of the project.
  • PhD
    Chapter 2 hasn’t been completed. There are two small sections to complete which will be left for now. Completed work has included: lessons from product for e-learning, the centrality of the pedagogue, and Dede’s sleeping, eating, bonding metaphor.

    A fair bit of reading about learning theory has also been conducted that contributes to one of the last sections of chapter 2 and also to some of the ideas for the coming presentation.

There has also been some additional work that was explicitly stated in the last post:

  • Support for BAM.
    BAM is being used by 632 students in 5 courses this term. The support load is currently about an hour each Tuesday and Thursday. Most of it is coming from a small number of students or academic staff who aren’t really sufficiently prepared for the use of blogs.
  • CCK09
    This week also saw the commencement of the CCK09 course – Connectivism and Connective Knowledge – run by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. I’m planning/hoping to engage in this course in order to broaden and deepen my understanding of connectivism. As a theory it resonates with a number of my espoused theories/theories in use and offers some interesting ways forward. I listed participation in this course in my PRPD.
  • interaction with colleagues.
    There have also been various discussions and other interactions with CDDU staff about various issues.

What I plan to do

For the next fortnight, the plan is to:

  • Complete and give the two presentations I have due between now and the end of November.
    This will be my main focus. Completing the herding cats presentation and also the EDUCAUSE presentation.

    While these remain hanging over my head it will effect my work. I’m hoping I can get them out of the way and then focus on other work.

  • Curriculum mapping
    At some stage I believe I may have to talk with program heads in FSEH and/or start work on the scoping document for the project. Exactly when and how much work this will involve is currently uncertain.
  • BIM
    Work on BIM in the next two weeks will be minimal due to other duties.
  • PhD
    Ditto, work on the PhD will also go to the back seat until the presentations are finished. At least, the EDUCAUSE presentation is based on the PhD.
  • BAM support
    It’s coming to towards the end of term so work on BAM will taper off somewhat. Early November may see a peak as T2 is completed and T3 is configured.

Herding cats, losing weight and how to improve learning and teaching

On the 24th of September, 2009 I gave a presentation at CQUniversity entitled “Herding cats, losing weight and how to improve learning and teaching”. The resources that arose from that presentation are included below. At the moment, that includes:


The environment within which Universities operate has changed significantly over recent years. Two of the biggest changes have been a reduction in state funding for universities and, at the same time, an increased need for universities to demonstrate the quality and appropriateness of their services, especially learning and teaching.

Consequently, most universities have developed a range of strategies, policies, structures and systems with the intent of improving and demonstrating the quality of their learning and teaching. This presentation will draw on the metaphors of herding cats and losing weight to examine the underlying assumptions of these attempts, the resulting outcomes, question whether or not they are the best we can hope for, and present some alternatives.

Time and place

Date: Thursday, 24th September 2009
Time: 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (GMT+10)
Venues: CQUniversity campuses at Bundaberg : BVC1 (1/g.27)
Gladstone : GISL2 (3/g.27)
Emerald : EVC1 (1/A.205)
Mackay : MVC1 (1/G.11)
Rockhampton: RISL1(33/G.14)

If everything falls into place, there may well be a ustream of the presentation.

Related resources

This blog post outlines some early thinking on the structure and purpose of the presentation.


Getting started with CCK09

Last year I planned to participate in CCK08 – Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’2008 – “a rather large online course” organised by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Then various things, including a nastly little organisational restructure got in the way and I piked out.

Well CCK09 – the 2009 version of the course – has commenced and I’m trying to make the time to engage. I’m guessing there will be similar time pressures, however, this year I think the course, its content and method connect directly with my current position. A position which is essentially aimed at trying to improve the quality of learning and teaching at the host institution.

I’ve encountered connectivism and its associated ideas over the last couple of years and have only recently started to read a bit deeper (as I work on finishing the thesis). From the start the concepts have been attractive to me because of an existing prejudice/preference/belief in agile development, complex adaptive systems and a range of related theories and perspectives. As part of that I think the primarily teleological approaches used at universities are completely inappropriate. Connectivism and CCK09 look like they provide additional theory and insight for making that argument and identifying more appropriate ways to move forward.

In my introduction on the CCK09 discussion forum, I identified two main benefits I think participation in CCK09 will bring for me:

  1. 1. allow me to see and engage with the perspectives of a broad and diverse collection of people; and
  2. encourage me to better engage and reflect on the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and how they might help.

Both seem to be about expanding the breadth, depth and number of connections in the knowledge networks I have to draw upon to inform my work.

I guess another potential benefit will be that my contributions may help others in similar ways (or they may not).

Let the games begin.

Dede’s “sleeping, eating and bonding” metaphor and the diversity of learning and its impacts for e-learning

Earlier this year I posted on Disruption and the “mythic” technologies of education and my views about consistency and diversity when applied to learning, especially e-learning within universities.

That post was sparked by a presentation by Gardner Campbell. Of the many things I found striking was the video of Chris Dede using “eating, sleeping and bonding” as a framework to understand the diversity inherent in learning.

As it happens, I’m currently working on the “pedagogy” component of my thesis. In particular, I’m working on the section I’m calling “Learning theories, research and advice for pedagogues”. A key point I’m looking to make is that diversity is inherent in learning. Hence the connection to Dede’s metaphor/framework.

The main driver for this post is that I’ve found a publication (Dede, 2008) in which Dede writes about the metaphor/framework and expands beyond the bit I heard in the video. I know it has its issues, but you have to love Google Books, without it I would not have found this book chapter. Nor could I link you to the page on which the metaphor/framework is discussed (it starts under the heading “Reconceptualizing media as empowering diversity in learning”).

The following are some other quotes from the book chapter that I found useful for my purposes

from an instrumental perspective, the history of tool making shows that the best strategy is to have simultaneously available a variety of specialized tools, rather than a single device that attempts to accomplish everything…

No educational ICT is universally good; and the best way to invest in instructional technologies is an instrumental approach that analyzes the natures of the curriculum, students, and teachers to select the appropriate tools, applications, media and environments..

To progress, the field of instructional design must recognize that learning is a human activity quite diverse in its manifestations from person to person, and even from day to day. The emphasis can then shift to developing pedagogical media that provide many alternative ways of teaching, which learners select as they engage in their educational experiences


Dede, C. (2008). Theoretical perspectives influencing the use of information technology in teaching and learning. International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education. J. Voogt and G. Knezek. New York, Springer: 43-59.