Friday, 1 March 2013

Work focused learning

This is the first of a set of Blog posts adapted from a presentation at the Inside Government School Standards event February 28 2013


ULTRAversity Project

Ultralab Learning Technology Research Anglia...versity

BA  Learning Technology Research

Fully Online - Work Focused Learning - Patchwork Media and Text

Applied problem solving - Reflective practice - Action inquiry - Creative use of technologies - Rich media portfolios.

In the final year the students have to plan, arrange and deliver a research dissemination event to a work based audience.

A few years ago one of our students, a TA in a fairly large school, Skyped me the day before she was due to deliver her dissemination event. She was shaky and in need of reassurance to say the least. As well as the nerves there was a deep conviction that this move well beyond her comfort zone was going to be a significant step on her learning journey and she was determined to face up to it.
The evening after the event she told me she had watched her Head teacher giving a presentation to senior staff just before she was due to give a presentation on her undergraduate work based research findings. He stood in front of a screen full of poorly punctuated words and read them off the screen with his back to the audience casting occasional glances at the audience.

She Trembled during the Head's presentation and as she walked up to give hers.

She was well prepared:
Detailed event planning in the previous semester.
Slides that conveyed simple but deep messages.
Images that reinforced the messages.
Audio that enhanced the messages.
Audience interaction to ensure the messages were understood.

She shone Senior management and other staff were all impressed.

Over the next few weeks her findings were taken on board and used to enhance school procedure.

She trained the head and other staff how to design / deliver good presentations.
This cascaded
                 enhanced staff meetings
                                             better classroom display
                                                                                improved lesson delivery
                                                                                                                  new school website.
A once timid TA changed her school and became a proud graduate.

That was a situation that happened in 2009. As I write this post we are at the same point in the curriculum; most students have done their dissemination presentation and are analyzing audience feedback and reflecting on the experience.

Emma, a current final year student posted to our online community today, as you can see from her informal summary below; the dissemination event included two other BA LTT students who are also working in the same location. Senior management were impressed and want to make more use of the presentations, Emma was also invited to work with a member of senior management to improve existing presentation material.

1) It was interesting that although using the same technology all 3 presentations were unique. From the slide styles and themes to the way we all presented.

2) The technology chosen was effective in sharing the information and X had the added bonus of having to revert to backup when the internet decided to not work. She was calm and was prepared for that eventuality and her presentation ran just as smooth as if all had been well.

3) Reading through the feedback forms but also speaking with the staff on the night was a real confidence boost. The head teacher would like all 3 of us to share our work with all the staff. She said it was a shame that more had not been there to see all of the work we had done but also that she felt all 3 presentations would have an impact on the workplace and individual if the school and staff saw fit to act on the research.

4) The feedback forms have highlighted things that I would not have probably thought of. A few staff members have commented that it has really made them think and has had a knock on effect within their current practice already. They have used it as a chance to reflect on what they have been doing and a deeper knowledge has impacted the way they work.

5) I found that doing the presentations on the same night was beneficial to me. Setting up together and feeding off of the reassurance from colleagues really helped with my nerves and we were able to build each others confidence with the presentations we were about to deliver.

6) I learnt a lot from my colleagues’ research and I enjoyed taking part in the feedback process for them. Their forms were good and gave good opportunities to reflect and really think about what I had heard and seen. Y’s use of feedback half way through worked really well and was an original idea that I have not seen before. X presented her research in the form of a quiz and I really enjoyed actively participating in the presentation. It has helped me to remember lots of the information she shared too.
Emma, March 2013.

Such experiences are an accolade to our course and to the developing skills of our undergraduates, it is clear that the work focused learning strategies we require our students to explore can be valuable tools to help TAs meet personal development targets and can provoke significant change within their workplaces by contributing to wider organisational learning.

One of those small world coincidences brought me to live in a little village nestled on the edge of Bodmin moor where I met Phil, a student who had graduated from BA LTR then gone on through PGCE to become the reception class teacher in the village school. St Neot school is doing well being rated outstanding and 2nd in Cornwall in the league tables. That was one of the things that drew us to the village. As tutors and students never meet during the course I had no idea what Phil looked like but I remembered talking to Phil years ago about various corners of Cornwall and it felt like meeting an old friend ...for the first time.

What did Phil have to say about the course? Quite a lot and all positive - here is a little snippet.

"Lots of hard work but it was brilliant, I found the PGCE so easy afterwards. On day 1 I felt a little worried about technology..."

Julian was another star student, he is now making his way through GTP, we had a chat via mail in Feb 2013:
"BA LTR has opened up a spirit of inquiry within the cohort and made individuals challenge their use of technology.
It is curiosity and a willingness to experiment that will lead to change. If teachers do not experiment with, or try and work with, technology then they will never ever get close to being in a position to grasp its fitness for purpose and therefore the potential to add value to learning using technology in and outside the classroom.
Training is an issue (a big one) but it also needs an inquiring mind to be continually evaluating and amending because otherwise we become stagnant once more."
What I hear from the chalkface, via people like Phil and Julian, is that technology skills are essential for every practitioner  in today's classroom.  To get the most out of technology teachers need the space and the confidence to experiment. They need to join their students on a learning adventure and not worry too much about failing. Failure is just another opportunity for learning; it is only a problem if it leads to giving up on the quest for success or improvement.

Training is a complex area, it is not unusual for some people to perceive that they need lots of training and others to complain about too much training. The phrases 'not user friendly' and 'help guide' have cased to pervade conversations; software and hardware usually comes with a help guide and there are usually associated forums discussing tech problems or interesting things that can be done. They should be the first starting point in many cases. As it moves towards more natural interfaces technology is becoming something that can be explored using deduction, intuition and other natural applied problem solving strategies. Even with very young children most manage to work out how to interact with tablets fairly quickly even if mostly left to construct their own understanding. Where a new complex technology is implemented, such as a school wide learning platform, there may well be a need for in house training to speed up adoption and the development of expertise.

Technology is not yet a magical solution to achieving raised standards of achievement, it is an inescapable, wonderful and complex part of future learning for every pupil and every teacher.

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