Category Archives: Theory of teaching and learning

Lectures versus active learning

Pickles, Matt (2016), ‘Shouldn’t lectures be obsolete by now?’, BBC News: Business, 23rd November 2016 (oneline) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38058477 [accessed 23.11.2016]

I read an article on the BBC News Business pages today.  The author, Matt Pickles, expresses surprise that the lecture format persists, despite demonstrable evidence that they’re often not the most effective way of teaching students, and that active learning works much better.  Some universities are catching on, but it seems others aren’t bothered, because they’re more concerned about their scholars’ research profile than their teaching skills.

That’s not true at my institution – for a start, we’re a conservatoire, so whether you “do research” or are an expert practitioner and perhaps don’t consider your practice as research, much of the work is practice-based in any case.  And secondly – we wouldn’t be studying for PGCerts if we didn’t think teaching was important!

I’m a bit atypical in being a musicologist, and although I like to get my research performed, my research isn’t actually in performance or composition.  I’m also atypical (oh, I love being a nonconformist!) in studying for a PGCert with the aim of improving my teaching for the librarianship side of my work first and foremost. My research takes place on one day a week, and any spare home time I can fling at it, but I only get rare opportunities to teach my research interest.

But what I can say is that I much prefer to speak to groups small enough to be able to converse with students rather than lecture them.  And if I’m teaching how to use e-resources, or bibliographic /referencing skills, it’s infinitely easier with a group or even a single student.  You can’t converse in a lecture, and my minor hearing impairment makes it even more difficult.  (Why would I pose a question to people at the back of a lecture theatre, when I probably couldn’t hear their reply?!)

Better Engagement = Better Results, by Michael Smalle (University of Limerick)

Panlibus 40 cover

A useful article in what is essentially our LMS (library management system) trade magazine, Panlibus.  Issue 40, Summer 2016, pp.4-5. The author has experience both as a teacher and a librarian and has recently been hired by the University of Limerick to a new role, Librarian: First Year Student Engagement and Success.

Interestingly, after hearing at one of yesterday’s ISME sessions that students welcome alumni advice about careers, and the importance of slightly older peer support, this article specifically mentions “peer advisors” in a library capacity, to help students learn what works best in their library and information searching activities.  An idea worth bearing in mind!

Read the article here.

Also saved in my Mendeley and Diigo accounts.

Is it really me? I’m attending ISME

Up until a couple of years ago, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to attend ISME – the big summer conference of the International Society for Music Education.  However, the music librarian-turned-musicologist is currently brushing up her pedagogical skills with a PGCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education.  Attendance at ISME (which happens to be in Glasgow this year) is thus nothing if not timely!

Today, I attended presentations concerning the education of the professional musician – that’s what we spend a lot of time doing at RCS, after all.  The first session was under the aegis of CEPROM (Commission of Education of the PROfessional Musician), about leadership in the education of professional musicians.  There had been a CEPROM pre-conference seminar, and five people gave us summaries of different aspects of that.

  •  Judith Brown (Australia) spoke of developing leadership skills in musicians, of community projects in this context, workplace placements, and autonomy in student learning. In my practice, only the latter is really applicable, but it does tie in with my concern to engage students in their own learning, rather than standing and lecturing them, wherever possible.
  • Pamela Pike (USA) spoke of transformative pedagogy: student-centred, flexible and explorative.  She reminded us that leadership could be facilitative, directive or integrative, depending on the cohort’s place in their learning journey; and that leadership is actually an attitude.  Above all, she said, we must “foster students’ ownership of their own learning.”  (A theme was beginning to come through loud and clear! )  To do this, we should “shift curricular paradigms; engage students in the reflective process; [help them to] begin their professional narrative; and the process should not be separated from the product.”
  • Annie Mitchell (Australia) spoke of leadership in large ensembles and community music.
  • Pamela Burnard (Cambridge, UK) talked about institutional change, and of a positive welcoming of change – the “we’ll find a way” approach, and of facilitating leadership.
  • Glen Carruthers (Canada) talked about the “responsive university”, and how, with declining applications to music courses in Ontario, his university started a degree in community music, in response to students’ need.

There were comments from the floor about mature students, recreational music-making, and an acknowledgement that portfolio careers are now a reality in”the real world”.

Making our way to the International Concert Hall for the main keynote of the day, we first heard Nick Elliott of ABRSM tell us how they try to support independent learning, provide resources, and seek to reconnect the performance and understanding of music.  There are new forms of assessment, accreditation and resources planned.

As with the Teaching Artist and PGCert courses, the ABRSM makes a blended offer of analogue and digital platforms, and Nick alluded to the recent “Classical 100” primary digital resource.

Next, we heard a stunning presentation from Evelyn Glennie, who told us about the philosophy of her own old school, “Every child has a story to tell”, and her first percussion teacher’s openness to creativity.  Delegates were urged to keep creativity and imagination alive in their pupils and themselves, at any stage in life.

As a downpour overwhelmed Glasgow, I went to the Piping Centre for a lunchtime concert which turned out to have been cancelled, then instead went to a five-piano concert, spending some time after that networking over lunch before the afternoon sessions.

Frank Abrahams spoke engagingly about musical literacy and sight-reading, pointing out that the use of folksongs for sight-reading over the years was now becoming outdated as being an idiom far-removed from students’ everyday experience.  He talked about an experiment he’d run with two teachers getting students to pick repertoire for sight-reading, from pop music and hiphop, which the teachers would then grade and transcribe for them. In terms of engagement, meeting students “where they are” definitely has its benefits – though I am left wondering how I could best do this, when I introduce historic Scottish tunebooks to first/second-year students, or demonstrate databases etc.  The “parachute lecturer” (dropping in to deliver single seminars) doesn’t have the opportunity to allow students to collaborate in deciding what they’d like to learn over a period of weeks.

Frank said that getting students to collaborate empowers them. Have them feel the rhythm by moving their feet and counting, and get them to brainstorm what the possible difficulties of different songs might be.  There were challenges in choosing music that wasn’t too difficult rhythmically, and in teachers being willing to shift the power and responsibility to the students.  It means being willing to let go, to an extent.

I attended a talk by Brit Aagot Broeske Danielson about students being involved in a collaborative student project, but unfortunately, moving between sessions meant I missed the beginning of her paper, and struggled to understand what the powerpoint slides were actually about, though the project itself sounded as though it had been highly beneficial for the students.

Karen Burland (Leeds) spoke about research projects she had done and was about to continue, regarding career information for students, what different levels of student found helpful, and how engaged they were in different kinds of training provided.  It seemed as though it was just about as hard to get students to attend careers seminars as it is to get them to attend any library training that is perceived as voluntary or extra.  It has to be timetabled, particularly to get first years to attend, when they are still not really thinking about future careers.  The other strong message was that students welcomed the chance to speak to someone who knew them and their strengths, or alternatively was just a few years further along the same path so that they could see what was possible and achievable (“Idols in touching distance”).  Alumni links are actually vital.

Karen reminded us that not all students became performers or music teachers, so students need other “employability activities”, but perhaps they don’t realise when they’re acquiring some of these – eg networking skills.  Portfolio careers require entrepreneurial skills, too, but students need to be taught them or given opportunities to develop them.

The final session I attended was about programme music, specifically, Rachmaninov’s “Faust” sonata.  This was probably the session I gained least from.  I had expected a presentation about the benefits of understanding the ‘programme’ behind particular pieces of music.  Instead, it was a blow-by-blow account of the programme behind one specific sonata.  There was nothing relating to pedagogical skills or student development, and the presenter would have had an easier time had there been a colleague either running the powerpoint, and/or reading prepared excerpts from Goethe’s Faust so that he could concentrate on talking and playing musical examples.  Additionally, at times I struggled with the assertion that particular musical passages were directly related to specific passages in Goethe’s text.

Tomorrow, I’ll be in the library, but I’ll attend more sessions of ISME later this week.

Shared Thinking

Yesterday, I saw on my Twitter feed that royal_york_hotelUniversity of South Wales librarian Sue House (whom I don’t know, apart from following her on Twitter!) was attending a conference about student induction, in York, run by a company called Shared Thinking.

When I realised she was sharing lots of references to names I’d never heard of, about things that might be relevant to my teaching practice, I decided I’d need to keep a note of them.  After all, she mentioned buzzwords like experiential learning, and student engagement and so on.

I decided I needed to hoover up as many relevant tweets from that conference as possible. I don’t know if others there were tweeting, but I think I have enough information to be going on with!   Bits of paper get lost, even saved Word documents can be forgotten. So this time I saved the whole thing to Storify and can go back to it relatively easily, as well as sharing with other people.  (I also looked up most of Sue’s citations and posted links to them. Might save time for me or someone else later on!)  Here it is:-

Shared Thinking: Student Induction Event (mainly as reported by Sue House)

(I might add that this actually validates much of my social media activity, because I am often thinking about quite serious professional issues as I tweet or react to tweets!)

 

ONWARD AND UPWARDS

I passed my Teaching Artist module! Big relief.

However, I’m not finished yet.  Now I must think about the project.  Friends, if you know of a music library – anywhere *In The World* – where their user education is excellent and firmly grounded on good pedagogical principles – please let me know.  I need examples of good practice – not just ‘fun stuff’, but sessions where goals, methodology and outcomes are thoroughly thought through.  Preferably in the context of a music library!

Learning Overdose! I need an Intervention!

Studious SundayI’ve spent the morning looking at our PGCert Moodle pages, and viewing  DVDs of the Thursday evening online sessions that I haven’t been able to “attend” in person.  (There were actually seven sessions. I’ve reached the fifth one so far.)  And I’ve taken a closer look at the course reading-list with all the online links.  That was quite informative.  Although my absence of “click-throughs” suggests I may not have engaged with the materials provided, in actual fact I viewed quite a few of them when I did the first part of the course two years ago, and they’re listed in my bibliography as evidence of that.  But of course, the click-throughs would have registered on the 2014 Moodle rather than the 2015-16 Moodle pages.  Confused?  Please don’t be!

I had made up my mind that I’d be on the lookout for information about assessment and feedback today.  Going through our course-materials, I soon realised that the subject can be looked at in two ways because we, the students, have to undergo assessment and receive feedback, every bit as much as we have to know the best way (a) to ascertain whether our students have learned what we set out to teach them, and (b) to give them effective feedback.  Jamie Mackay talked to us about assessment modes and criteria in our second online Teaching Artist session, but obviously this is a topic that is interwoven throughout the course.  Thus, in the third session, we learned about assessment in teaching that has been designed using constructive alignment principles: the intended learning experiences should be measurable against the learning outcomes, so that the teacher can assess whether the ‘alignment’ has effectively led to the desired outcomes.

In the fourth online session (28th January 2016), Rachel reminded us that the teacher should review results in an ongoing process so that he/she can determine whether the teaching has been effective and whether modifications or adjustments are required in subsequent lesssons – this is also part of practice-based research, so we’ll need to consider it when we design our projects.  Already, I have tried to elicit feedback, whether from the course-leader, the students, or both, in training sessions that I have given, because my research project will focus on how performing arts students can best be engaged in library/information type instruction sessions. Clearly, if I can identify best practice, then it will give me the best chance of designing learning that students will benefit from.

In the same session, Jamie led a discussion about grading compared to appreciation or guidance, and participants were encouraged to consider occasions when they had received bad, or good feedback, also discussing when each form of feedback was most useful – grading against criteria, showing appreciation to give support and encouragement, or (possibly a little while later), going on to give guidance to help establish the way forward, or the next steps a student might take in their learning journey.  After giving a grading, a student might need guidance as to how they can go on to improve their performance. After a performance, a student might initially just need appreciation and a bit of praise, followed by guidance about aspects that merited further work.

It was noted that there was no point in praising if praise was not merited, if the student was showing a poor or disrespectful attitude, or if improvement was obviously needed.  The important thing is to focus on the work not the person. The work may have been poor – but the student shouldn’t be demolished in the telling.

The same evening, Mary talked about evaluating teaching using the ‘critical incident questionnaire’, and recommended Stephen Brookfield’s book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher – again, it’s in the Whittaker Library.  Brookfield suggests that when reflecting on one’s practice, one can use four ‘lenses’ – ie, four different sources of information, to evaluate one’s teaching: one’s own observation, peer feedback, student feedback, or by reading the ‘scholarly literature’. (Mary’s Powerpoint slide 2).  It is crucial to find out if your teaching is effective, and what the students feel about your teaching – good points and bad.  For that, you need feedback.

I devised a very simple feedback form for my Scottish music sessions just before Christmas, as I had done for the postgrads when I did a bibliographic referencing session a year or two ago.  In this, I just asked what they liked; disliked; and would have liked more of.  My analysis of the Scottish music class results can be read in my Portfolio for 2015-16.  Brookfield’s critical incident questionnaire asks five questions compared to my three (Mary’s Powerpoint slide 7):-

  1. When in the session did the student feel most and/or least engaged? (a bit like my first and second questions, except that I used the word “enjoyed”)
  2. What action did anyone take that was most helpful/affirming?
  3. Similarly, what was least helpful/affirming?
  4. What was the most important information learned? (this is subtly different from my question about what was most enjoyed!)
  5. Were there any questions/suggestions about the class?  (similar to my “what would you like more of?” question)

Mary explained that an analysis of the answers would help us identify major themes felt by several students, and would help us plan future sessions.  I certainly found this to be the case in my own analysis.

The question of assessment and its purpose was continued in the fifth online session (19th February 2016), when participants were reminded that assessment is also important to learners,  so that they can see themselves making progress – this supports the learning process and lets them see where improvements or other readjustments might need to be made.  Students need to know what was good, but also where there might be gaps, or what needs to be done next or followed up. This is formative assessment, whilst a mark or grade is summative, sets standards, and might be necessary before moving on to a higher level, for example.

PGCert blog books 1I would like to look at the Brookfield book that Mary recommended, but I have also borrowed Race, Brown and Smith’s 500 Tips on Assessment, which looks an approachable book and might give me some more ideas:-