Tag Archives: learning

The problem with curating

There was some kerfuffle this year over the issue of students designing posters. Students in a short case study I wrote on blended learning participated at a stage of the case study with multimodal poster design (Glogster.com), incorporating research data, classroom annotated notes, videos, images and frameworks of syllabus knowledge.

The activity ticked the ed-tech boxes: collaborative, active, creative – students were mobile: out of the classroom compiling data, returning to the PC workshop to put it together with an enthusiasm that was uncharacteristic of that group (who were resitting English GCSE students).  The tasks were authentic, as students made observational studies of language in ‘real world’ contexts, conducted Vox Pop interviews and surveys and posted the results on to ever-growing posters. At some point, a pause in this fervour was required where enough content was accumulated. Perhaps it came too late as the students surveyed their work with confusion.

Curating – a  buzzword born of the culture and transposed to the classroom – is fashionable and fits with ideas of educational technologies, whence a central inquiry (as in Sutra’s – misguided- SOLE theory) has a plethora of sources cloistered to it from distributed hubs. Unfortunately, when the fun stops and essays – threads of thought structured into balanced perspectives, summaries and conclusions – begin, synthesis of so much disseminated knowledge becomes complex and students can easily revert to complancency.

This is the problem with, say, Padlet, as I see it. Students happily suspend details in documents of pretty colours and fonts.So much copied text, so many links, random photos and screenshots – but …so what?

The pixel becomes a postage stamp, the stamp becomes a poster, the poster becomes a quilt; as the whole grows, so the fine-grained nuanced detail simultaneously shrinks.

Revisiting such documents reminds me of a drunken night in China when I was 22. Staying at a hostel, myself and some other travelers were invited by the owner (via a bottle of scotch and several cans of paints) to create a mural on his cafe wall. Earnestly and diligently we obliged, becoming fevered in our endeavour, thinking ourselves like Boticelli creating a timeless fresco, painting late into the night before retiring to bed. In the morning… woah, the results were …like regurgitated whisky graffitied in technicolour on a subway wall. I can still recall the owners crestfallen face as he walked in, before he saw the funny side. Then invited us to leave.

Image result for botticelli fresco creative commons

Yet I admire the watching the attention to detail and energy which students have spent in constructing posters and padlets, but there is often little purpose in process and content becomes extraneous. It’s difficult sometimes to still such enthusiasm. I’ve learned the hard way that cognitive dissonance is easily embedded in such content-heavy activities; students quickly become disorientated when trying to make sense of what has simply become a critical mass of information. This disorientation is (partly) what I call Social Media Fatigue, which has problematic consequences on self-esteem and sustained effort.

This is not to say there’s no point in curation activities. Representations of webs of information does not necessarily enable a schema, but can draw attention to salient detail where highlighted – selective curating. Mayer has written extensively of the cognitive impact of multimedia on memory, but a problem is Mayer takes a view of the learner as passive receptacle to multimedia information being presented to them as inducted. Mayer also frames his research entirely on long-term memory over other paradigms. Would the architecture involved in the active process of constructed content (by students) produce different results, especially where guided with proper signalling principles as instructed in a staged, rather than ‘throw-everything-at-the-wall’, process? Some recommendations for curating follow.

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Recommendations that follow the bit before

  • Curation is a method of archiving, but need to come with packaging instructions – as much for the signposting help of visitors as for those revisiting the collection at a later date and needing organisational pointers. A focused headline of what content is to be about will train the student’s attention of what to include.
  • This might include ‘think-aloud’ activity accompanying students curation: e.g.students recording voice-overs, explaining what they are posting and why as they post the content. Audio recording can be done with Padlet or Explain Everywhere, but is too often an underused feature. “I’m posting this link as it includes a helpful example of how to apply the prosodics framework in other examples of analysis. I can use this in my own essay” and so on.
  • Co-curation is another approach, where the teacher either posts first or guides what they want to see. This reduces redundant material, resulting in a specific structured approach, which reflects the desired ordering and organisation of content. For example, if the canvas is destined to support an essay, it may reflect a mapping of ideas, with systematic directions. “Open a dialogue box and show which quotes to include in paragraph 1 as Steinbeck characterising Lennie. Accompany with matching depictions of Lennie from stills of the film to illustrate your quote. Now open dialogue boxes containing alternative quotes representing Lennie.”
  • A poster that becomes a mindmap of curated knowledge, research and ideas can be reordered by students into an essay structure or presentation, like one of those old-fashioned toy puzzles. In Padlet, structure can be reorganised easily through slide manouevring. Making it look more like the finished article of a staid-old essay can help improve selection of content for the final product and mastery of editing.

Image result for slide puzzle game creative commons image

  • Size is important, so students vote-up what they perceive as the more important content and reflect this in larger boxes, or by use of colours to highlight significance. However, use of space and continguity on the curation canvas is highly important for navigation, so care must be exercised that the visual organisation is not disorientating where different sizes and colours are used. Arrows and/or numbering linking content should also help with ordering.
  • Scale-back and edit: revisit the padlet or poster and be judicious of what is extraneous, what can be treated to the magic bin symbol. This can result in a healthy debate of ownership of purposeful over pointless content.
  • Navigating rich textual information is not straightforward, so summaries of highlighted information (while superficial to undertones) are helpful for curated content, with links to further information provided that explain (in audio recordings) what can be found and used in those sources.
  • For long-term memory fanatics, testing of what was embedded as content into the poster or padlet is a feasible means of reinforcement, sort of like those old games where you put objects on a table and remove one and test observation and recall, but digital. As a starter: “Let’s recall what we have on our padlet so far.” Again, it would be worthwhile focusing students’ attention to ‘why’ certain content was on the poster – what is the link to the central question?
  • Finally, one of the affordances of such technologies as Padlet is it’s collaborative functioning, so named labels of curators contributions will enable some analytics of who did what. I tend to think smaller groups help, rather than whole class creations which can be messier.

I think there is something in this post of overcoming other aspects of Social Media Fatigue – that of the ‘copy-and-paste’ approaches that students take, which sees a lack of interaction with ideas and knowledge where ‘content’ is separated from process (both practical and internalised definitions of the word). Better understanding of how students use and respond to content is the key to successful learning (and teaching), rather than simply churning information over like topsoil. Clearly, there are more undertones to this, involving questioning and rich discussion. This post hasn’t sought to address that, which requires a more complex dialogue.

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Filed under Curating, education, English re-sit, FE, Learning technologies, Padlet, Uncategorized

Such Great Heights

31 degree heat, and suncream and sweat sting your eye blind. A fairly inopportune moment to become more disorientated.

I’m, say, 7500ft up in the Tyrolean Alps, my heel is at 90 degrees to a 300ft drop. I’m squatted, moving backwards, hand over hand, foot by foot; my neck twists back to check that the corner I’m edging towards is closer.
My palms, sweat-greased and copper-stained, grip a horizontal 50metre long cable hammered into the wall of Ellmauer Halt, the highest peak in the Wilder Kaisser range.

I’ve no karabiner or other equipment, I’m nauseous, and giving myself a profanity-loaded pep talk constantly and I’m heading down, alone, because I already lost my head to vertigo 300ft from the summit. My brother and nephew are up near the top, some place where you scale huge slabs of limestone rock to ascend to 2344m, which we’d decided, impulsively, to climb when at the col below.

To compound the drastic situation I’m in, as I wriggle backwards across a cliff face along this dangerously narrow fissure, others – coming up – wait at the far side for me. They’re a patient, calm Austrian team, bedecked in the full catalogue and – when I reach the relative safety of their slightly wider ledge – they chide my lack of a helmet.
“You may be hit by a rolling stone.”
I’m too breathless to laugh at the idea of getting jumped by Charlie Watts. I move on down, exhausted and shaking.

Besides Alpine anxiety at dizzying heights, in this last week my mind has mainly been trained on two things:
1. Notions of thresholds, momentum and purposeful motivation
2. Intrinsic pleasures.

I draw on these in this post about my experiences on this trip.

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You’re training, physically, for Kilimanjaro in December. It’s alarming, then, to discover that your mental capacity needs more training. I grew up climbing mountains and have been up them all over the world. Whence this new vertigo, then? Suddenly spontaneous, unexpected and shatteringly terrifying.

It happened three times inside a four-day hike. The first you overcame with calm deep breaths and approaching the 90 degree ladder disappearing into the clouds with some kind of steeled determination before the panic could really stick. The second was just sheer panic for about thirty minutes, up and down Ellmauer.

You endured it. The hyperventilating. The choked sobs. Your brain floating and careering in a dizzying spin, vision unable to fix on detail, thumping headaches, nerves crumbling. A perpetually nauseating compulsion to look down. Horrific.

Amidst this turmoil, like a nut, your mind flips to educational theory, to research, to students’ experiences. Some reflexive engineering.

Meyer and Land’s proposal is of problematic knowledge and overcoming liminal thresholds to emerge anew. There’s little grounding of this empirically; it appears phenomenological, but it resonates.

At the bottom of Ellmauer Halt was a plateau of boulders, basic obstacles to get to the ascent. The plateau is used as a metaphor for progress flatlining.

You see symbols in everything. Navigation, contours, landscape. Inner psychology mirrored to the map, or the lack of one.

Since attitude is socially effected by the affective, how can you manipulate student mindset to encourage determination? I’m not sure you can. In your third bout of vertigo you uncovered a new low: a horrible rage at other people, a blame game, that others had misled you about the height, the danger, the landscape. You projected your lack of confidence onto others. If there had been a team, some support, some encouragement, this may not have happened.

You must learn to scan the horizon, to anticipate challenges, to draw strategies from what you already know. But vertigo is irrational, so logic like this goes absent.

You thought about how you may need to get some counselling to handle if this happens in Tanzania, but you don’t want to ‘learn to cope’ with vertigo. You don’t want it at all. The worry is that you have created new physiological memories from failing to achieve the summit, and of the anxious experience of vertigo. Will you look for the symptoms next time you climb? Will you imagine them, confuse adrenaline with panic? How do you approach a problem with different methods? It requires much confidence. How do I convince next years resit students to try a new approach, to keep an open mind, to avoid repeating mistakes?

Meyer and Land was like alchemy when I first read it. They describe overcoming thresholds as epistemologically transformative, as ontological integration, that it is irreversible. Learning theory framed like music.

My notion is that momentum (purposeful actions) occurs when motivation is intrinsically situated through visible objectives. The culture is vital to this: an accessible community, a range of means to communicate, a continual network in which to distribute these expressions, perpetual challenges and opportunities to create momentum. Without these elements, fatigue sets in. Fatigue is engagement atrophied.

While in Austria, you overcame thresholds. So why the repetitive vertigo? Because you had no choice but to carry on? The third vertigo was sustained, going unexpectedly higher and higher when you expected to descend. The way took in a prolonged ridge, dramatic drops, sudden ledges. No goals or end in sight. Without targets, progress can’t be tracked. You’d reached the saturation point of panic.

The abyss stared back at you.

And then I suddenly became weary of vertigo. I’d simply had enough of feeling anxious. It was as if I’d made a choice. I sat down among some trees and reflected. I listened to the perfect stillness you receive at altitude. A silence in which my fears had screamed. The silence is a void. There’s nothing there. We feel compelled to fill it with noise, because the emptiness is profound and terrifying. I started noticing details again: a leaf quivering of its own accord studied closer revealed an ant, struggling to cope with the load, but persisting, getting it to the nest, past a train of marching brothers all moving intently. I noticed my breathing had regulated, my heart had slowed. The sun’s warmth poured into me.

Ascension used to be a high. Now it’s a bind. What’s the pleasure in this? Gruelling heat, lightning and downpours, heart smashing at my rib cage.
What is it for?
What is the intrinsic value of enduring this?

Acceptance.

People talk about overcoming fears, but I feel I’ve embodied them, and ultimately accepted them, because when there’s only one direction to go – onward, upward – you just have to keep going.

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Filed under Educational theory, Philosophy, place, Uncategorized, Vertigo