Saturday, 30 June 2007

Learning styles

I came across two articles today discussing learning styles. One was on the blog of Clark Quinn, the other on the blog of Harold Jarche. It was good to see some healthy critisism of our hangup with learning styles.

Don't get me wrong, I do think there is some use in the idea of learning styles. When designing resources or activities, it is paramount that we look at the design from different angles and perspectives. Using learning styles can be a great way to do this. When used appropriately, this will help you create flexible and varied learning resources and activities, that have the potential to support rich learning for a wide variety of learners.

The problem arises when we give in to our innate need to categorize people. Learning styles seem like such a wonderful tool to slap a 'this is how you teach me' manual on people. I just don't think we can and should simplify personal learning in this way. Aside from the question of wether or not the categories used are the right ones, and the diagnostic tools accurate, there is a more fundamental problem: People don't learn best using a single style. Powerful learning occurs when people are stimulated an a varied and rich way, for instance by addressing multiple senses.

When linking in new concepts with existing ones, the question isn't what the best single link is we can make. The question is how we can make as many useful links as possible. That is what results in powerful long term and deep learning.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Student complaints

I had a chat with a colleague last week, as I was looking for some feedback on the e-assessment she had run this year. She told me about this student complaint, and how it was handled. In all honesty I still can't quite believe we can be this stupid.

Some of our lecturers are experimenting with feedback during summative exams. This means learners immediately know whether they answered a question right of wrong, and sometimes why. It also allows them to instantly view their result at the end of the exam. So far, results from the experiment have been quite good (except for learners who really haven't mastered any of the subject matter, who obviously get rather depressed by this whole affair).

A student that had previously taken part in one of these experimental exams, was now taking part in a regular exam; no feedback and no immediate score. The lecturer, as usual, had received the transcripts from us and, after a possible moderation, had published these to the learners. This learner however was apparently convinced that the lecturer had fiddled with the results. Why else would they not have published the results upon the exam finishing? Apparently the student made quite a scene, upon which the programme leader decided to adhere to the students demands and make the exam available again for his perusal for another week. He was then also granted a resit. I really don't understand the problem here.

Let's look at a normal exam. When you hand in the paper, do you get an immediate result? No, of course you don't; a lecturer takes it away, marks it, maybe a colleague moderates it, and the mark is published. It's the lecturer's job to fiddle with the results, that's what we are paying them for isn't it? They look at the answers provided, and make a judgment on the extent to which they satisfy the assessment criteria? Introducing (partial) marking by a computer can only make this process more objective, not less!

It's no wonder lecturers and teachers sometimes complain about the lack of respect learners give them. Because this isn't just about caving in to a student and giving them their way. This also sends a message that this lecturer was wrong. It sends the message that it is the lecturer who has to cater to the students every whim, as she has now been instructed to do. I understand this lecturer will not be teaching here next year, and if this story is true, I can understand why.

Saturday, 2 June 2007


This article in the New York Times caught my eye this evening. Not the smartest thing to do when you're a superintendent, to copy your speech of the internet. Then again, I feel we do sometimes loose perspective in these issues.

Only very rarely in our lives do we manage to be original. And in fact more often then not when we are, we are not as right or as effective as we could be. Perfection after all takes time, practice and experience. Our whole success as a species stems from our ability to copy each other.

So is it so bad to plagiarize? Sure, it is wrong to claim credit or ownership for something that is not your own. But when you are doing your job, isn't it perfectly normal to apply existing best practice to that job. In fact, aren't we all expected to do this? When doing this, we are not claiming ownership, or credit. We are merely utilizing the collective experience of our race to further our cause. In my opinion, that's the only thing this superintendent is really guilty of. Ok, maybe she could have made a bit more of an effort to rephrase some of the ideas and concepts she collected from the internet. Plagiarism however, is really not the issue here though, that is just taking things a tad too far.