In the last two weeks I have attended two teaching related conferences. This is quite rare for me, partly because I am often too busy teaching to attend, but also because these events are rarer that the ubiquitous research conference. During this period I have also been working on a collaborative project as part of my MA in Online and Distance Education with the Open University and drafting some module materials for the OU. These events have consolidated for me the belief that the best educational experiences arises from team work and that this team must include an effective manager and I wanted to use this space to explain why:
Why teams create the best educational experience?
I remember my first experience on module production at the Open University, the module SDK228 - it was a baptism of fire. I drafted my chapters and sat in a meeting while they were systematically torn apart by my colleagues - and then I re-drafted them, and braced for some more tearing apart, which came in a slightly smaller dose...and so on until the final product emerged. It was far better than my first efforts. With every production that followed over the next six years, I grew in ability and confidence as I learnt the OU craft for top quality teaching materials. That is not to say I mastered it, but just that the critique was less savage as time went on and I began to appreciate it for what it was - the route to developing resources that supported students in learning to the highest possible degree.
Fast forward a few more years and the need for team teaching has again emerged from the MA project where six of us have had six weeks to create a teaching resource for reflective learning in postgraduate medical fellowships. The best ideas appear to have emerged from the team rather than any one individual.
In my day job, I am now based at a conventional university where formal team teaching does not exist (at least in my programme). I draft my resources and finalise them alone - no one checks my learning outcomes and my assessment tally up and no one checks my resources are inclusive or appropriate for the level and context. This gives me an immense amount of freedom and, of course, I do talk to colleagues, informally bat ideas around and pick up interesting ideas at conferences that sometimes these cause me to change a plan or tweak things here and there but the level of team work is less and, I suspect, the quality of teaching is less. I think there are several reasons for this.
The role of programme/course managers?
In my recent MA project, I took on the role of Project Manager. I did this partly because I have never experienced useful project managers (they just tick boxes, right?) and I wanted to prove to myself it was possible - that said, I think it should be up to the rest of my team to decide! Nonetheless, I think I made two useful contributions to the process. The first was purely organisational with appropriate chasing when deadlines approached and the second was ensuring consistency of learning resources and checking for accessibility, language use and standardisation of the VLE etc. At the Open University, these functions can come under the remit of the curriculum manager (CM) rather than a project manager. When I went left the OU to join King's, no such role existed. We did have some administrative support but this was not combined with expertise in the discipline and the in depth knowledge of the curriculum, assessment and university processes that curriculum managers have. I tried to explain the role to a colleague at King's only for them to refer to the CM role as an academic's minion - I politely pointed out that the reverse would probably be more appropriate but actually nobody is the minion here - this is a very much about two roles of equal importance. A module cannot run without academic input - we have the expert knowledge of the discipline and the pedagogy to know what and how to teach but, without contextualising this in our institutional policies, programmes, systems and style, the module will fail. So what does this all have to do with herding cats? Well I sometimes think being a CM requires you to herd cats both in the sense of gathering together disparate information to create a whole but also because you have to manage a team of academics that come with the curriculum and I suspect that can be quite a challenge a times.
So going forward, when I think about effective teaching, I know I am going to thinking about how I can work more in a team to produce quality teaching and learning experiences. I am also going to remember, and keep reminding others, that there are crucial roles beyond that of the academic, that make effective teaching work and that as a sector, we should be investing more in those roles and recognising the value they bring.
I was invited to speak at the Echo360 conference this week about some research I have conducted into the use of lecture capture. The research is yet to be published so I don't want to say too much about it yet but I think that there are two things I can give away which are not likely to surprise anyone:
1. The availability of online resources for a lecture (including but not limited to lecture capture) was one of two significant predictors of lecture attendance.
2. Students had some pretty sophisticated ways of using lecture capture and in many cases this was even where they had attended the live lecture.
These findings are quite consistent with previous research which has looked at both attendance and types of use. The literature on attendance shows that whilst some students will maintain attendance, there can be a significant drop with the availability of lecture capture. This is not surprising to those of us who lecture, especially if we have the 9am on a Monday slot!
The issue of attendance has been a sticky one since lecture capture first materialised with many academics expressing concern about the decrease in attendance. Given some research has shown attendance predicts attainment, this is not necessarily surprising because we do want our students to do well so we can rightly be annoyed if we perceive that they are 'not helping themselves'. The experience of the live lecture is also likely to be diminished for those who do attend when 13 out of the 140 taking the module turn up and sit at the back of a 400-seat lecture theatre (it is also embarrassing when it is a guest lecturer). However, somewhere in the conversations around lecture capture some quite polarised views have emerged where some academics see lecture capture as only being used by those who don't attend. My own research, and that of others shows that even those who do attend the live session often use the lecture capture to i) make better notes, often combining sources e.g. lecture and textbook and ii) to revisit difficult parts. It may be clear from what I have written so far that I am quite pro lecture capture - yes it can decrease attendance but on balance I think it can be beneficial to all students - provided they know how to use it effectively. And this is a big if - one we don't have room to discuss today.
However, after the Echo360 conference I started to reflect a bit more on the extreme views this technology provokes. If lecture capture is used how I, as an academic, want to see it used, then every student would attend the lecture and listen and participate and then use lecture capture only to consolidate their notes or revisit tricky parts. They could also use it as a substitute for attendance if they are at death's door and cannot make the live lecture. Wouldn't that be perfect if all students behaved that way?
Wouldn't it also be perfect if every lecture was revised and improved upon year on year for example, revisiting slides, revising them having reviewed module feedback and watching the lecture capture to see if some explanations could be made clearer. Oh and of course all lecturers should also do a comprehensive literature search for all their lectures to provide updated reading lists and everything must be on the VLE 48 hours in advance. Now I like to think I am quite a dedicated teacher and I do revisit all my slides and tweak them (with module feedback in mind but I have never watched my own capture in full - I find it cringe-worthy). I update my reading list sometimes depending on the topic and I definitely get everything on the VLE in advance so I manage around 75% of perfect and I work long hours to achieve this.
And this is where I get to my point. As an academic I expect students to be perfect, to never take short cuts and always be dedicated. But even if I strive for this myself, I never really attain it so why do I think they should. In the case of lecture capture I am 100% certain that there are some students exhibiting that perfect behaviour I outlined above, maybe only 5-10% but I wonder how many of us academics are achieving the perfect behaviour too - again I suspect around 5-10% in most universities. Add into this the fact thatmost academics have received some kind of teacher training whilst students have often not received any help in understanding how they can learn effectively from lectures,and I cannot help but think we are being a little bit harsh on them when some choose to take short cuts that are clearly available.
No one is perfect, including academics, and whilst we should all strive for perfection and praise it when it occurs, we might also accept that it is human nature to take short cuts sometimes. If we don't want students to take them there are several ways we can support them in making the right learning choices (as we see them) rather than just taking away lecture capture. Most of these ways involve training them in learning effectively and making our lectures so engaging and interactive that they see true worth in attending live. But until we do that, perhaps it is time to cut them, and lecture capture, some slack.