pedagogy

Impressions, feelings, and senses of things

 

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I recently had the pleasure to meet with Ceiren Bell from the Department of Media and Communications (Goldsmiths, University of London) to talk about the VLE space. Here I post my reflections about designing online learning spaces after our conversations.

Jesse Stommel says,

When we teach online, we have to build both the course and the classroom. A good learning management system is a tool that can help with this process; however, we should never let its design decisions — its architecture — dictate our pedagogies.

Indeed, teaching online requires good design thinking because the web architecture, the structure of the space, is more or less malleable. The space itself can change and should change with students, with their activities and with what they bring to the class, but at the very least, instructors should know how to create a welcoming and engaging living space. “It’s all about media and communications!” Ceiren said at one point in our conversation, and I couldn’t agree more.

Media, as Marshall McLuhan suggested, affects how we perceive the message. Imagine an instructor posting a welcome video on her site rather than text based content during the first week of class. The video will have a different feeling than text, even if the content is exactly the same. Or let’s say, even if the content appears the same because, as Ted Nelson explains,

“The character of what gets across is always dual; both the explicit structures, and feelings that go with them. These two aspects, exactness and connotation, are an inseparable whole; what is conveyed generally has both. The reader or viewer always gets feelings along with information, even when the creators of the information think that its “content” is much more restricted” (p. 319).

Nelson also talks about how technical manuals, for example, might carry with them an air of authority, non-imagination or competence depending on the readers’ perceptions of how the information is presented. Because, he says, “people receive not only cognitive structures, but impressions, feelings and senses of things.”

Yes! We need to think about content, resources, activities, assessments… but beyond all of that… beyond the “deliverables,” isn’t there a need to pay more attention to “impressions, feelings, and senses of things”? Decisions about media do matter in an online course, where visual clues and bodily experiences are limited by the two dimensional structure of the web.

If we are going to pay attention to the visceral experience, we may also ask, is the VLE a space of reflective (or social) engagement or is it a space of isolation and disengagement? As instructors, how can we make it a space for and of creativity, critical and radical thinking with our intentional choices? How can we make it a place where the whole person can exist? (By whole person I mean acknowledging students with all their complexities, as political and social beings – not just brains to be filled in with new knowledge.)

These are big questions but it may be surprisingly easy to create an engaging online space. Posting informal videos, asking students to post media on the site, allowing them to work on projects that personally matter to them, giving them choices and the agency to further shape the environment are all ways to achieve a vibrant learning environment. It’s, as Ceiren said, all about media and communications, understanding that the VLE is a space we can all co-construct together – for better and or worse.

Ending my post with a smiley face! Below on the left is my default profile picture on Dropbox. How would you compare it to my default profile picture on learn.gold (Goldsmith’s VLE)?

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Thinking about thinking

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You’re giving a 20 minute lecture and you don’t want your students to drift away while you’re passionately talking about your slides. What would you do? (Let’s say “I wouldn’t lecture my students for 20 min. in the first place” is not an option.) According to the University of Sussex, there is a lot you can do to win your listeners’ attention. You could ask your students to stretch their legs, for example. Or ask them to take notes and give them some time to check their notes with their classmates at some point during the presentation. You could ask them to write down a few questions about the lecture. Learners can discuss a question, take a short test, brainstorm keywords, watch a video clip-the list goes on. One final strategy is to ask learners to reflect on the lecture. For example, you can ask students to “take three minutes to think about what we have dealt with so far” while “stay[ing] quiet so as not to interfere with others’ reflection.”

Reflection is often thought of as a planned activity, a learning strategy, and the list by the University of Sussex clearly illustrates that. It is often an afterthought. The thing is.. all the strategies I mentioned above to engage students are a type of “reflection” as long as we consider students as thinking human beings, consciously or unconsciously. Our reflections could be formal (as in we may be asked to think about thinking) or they could be informal (like asking “are we there yet?” when stretching our poor legs).

I’m not really against the lecturing method, although it may sound like it because of the way I protest against how the University of Sussex frames student engagement during lectures (it all started with a simple search on student reflection in lectures). So after thinking about (reflecting on) the structure of assignments in #thoughtvectors, I am almost convinced that in formal schooling, what matters most is to encourage students to ask questions, get them excited about their learning, and help them see the world from a different perspective. Regardless of the pedagogical model–inquiry based, project-based, lecture, etc.–we need to design the learning activities in such a way that reflection should be understood as part of teaching and learning, at all times. So you might use an inquiry-based approach and but if you don’t really have time to attend to the learner experience and work with surprises, what is the point?

EDIT: I’m now thinking one thing that is missing in my post is metacognition or metacognitive reflection. I also slightly  edited the original post where I talk about reflection in class. I wanted to say something about reflection as a dialogic process, but that’ll probably be another post:)