Fatal conflict: Teacher 2.0 and Student 1.0


Issue: Incompatible integration of module Teacher 2.0 with multiple versions of Student 1.x

Type: Bug

Priority: Major


Since September I’ve been working with first-year nursing students on a series of language tasks to improve their professional knowledge of English. I used our online platform moodle.hz.nl as an interactive learning space to present new material in the form of texts, videos and audio files, and to practise the target language in a range of interactive activities, including discussion forums, collaborative glossaries and group wikis. Each week, I had four one-hour sessions with four groups of 25 students in order to clarify issues, highlight key learning points and give individual feedback and coaching.

All well and good.

When I reviewed the online analytics, I was often impressed by the amount of activity, especially during times that are typically non-learning moments, that is, after 10 pm and during the weekends. The final language products were generally satisfactory — students showed they had mastered new language and could use it in a realistic setting (presentations, brochures, guides).

However, there was some discontent about having to come to class for the one-hour coaching session. Very few students wanted to come after 3 pm. Their primary concern was to get home earlier. This is a local issue because most students still live at home, and many have to travel over 90 minutes to get to university. This combination means that students are overly concerned with being at home, and university is literally second place; hence the desire to leave for home as soon as possible.

Flipped classroom infographicAs a result of the unpopularity of the “late” afternoon classes from 3 – 5 pm, I accepted a student proposal to have two one-hour plenary sessions from 1 – 3 pm, which would take the form of a traditional lecture, followed by two one-hour coaching sessions, where students would work on the language tasks, following the idea of flipping the classroom (see infographic left).

To make the lecture a little more dynamic, I displayed a tweetstream with a custom hashtag for the session. We started with a short pop quiz to review what they had learned previously. I tweeted on their progress — “Which is the hardest question?”, “Who will get the highest result??” — and watched my own tweets cycle round … in the two hours only one student tweeted, and that was only the hashtag, no text!

I asked how many students actually used twitter — fewer than a third raised a hand. Maybe they don’t associate learning with tweeting?

I wish I had taken a picture of the lecture: one student had her head on the table, another was texting under the table, and three other groups had formed chat circles. Everyone laughed when I pointed this out. At the end of the session, I also highlighted how little interaction there had been: I had spoken directly to maybe ten students, and most of the time it was a short question and answer. How much English had they used in the hour? Almost nothing.

After the lecture I had the first coaching session. Three of the fifty students turned up. One had to resolve an administrative issue due to missing classes last year, and then left immediately, so that she could make the train(!). The other two were pleased to show they had already started work on their language task, but instead of looking at the preparation material — step-by-step building blocks — they had gone straight to the end product. The mindset was still: “What do we have to do to pass the assessment?” Not “How can I learn new language and use it in an authentic situation?”

Empty classroomFor the second coaching session at 4 pm, I was totally alone with Fred, the anatomical dummy (see right).

Does this mean that everyone has just gone home early? Maybe they studied the background reading on the train? Yet according to the online reports, almost half of the students have not even visited the online course this week.

So what’s the problem? On one side we have an educational approach that promotes flexibility in learning time and place; learner-centred activities; authentic materials and realistic outputs; promotion of collaborative projects; and interactive learning tools.

I have the sinking feeling that many students would actually just prefer the old-school approach of a teacher-centred lesson, verb gap-filling exercises, memorizing vocab lists and mock tests.

Just so long as they can get a C grade and be home before 4 pm.




Content still counts

Graph illustrating the Law of diminishing content
The law of diminishing content

First off, a disclaimer: I love discovering and using new Web 2.0 technology and tricks. However, it sometimes seems that the people I would most like to share with are the least likely to use the technology; worse still, the people who tend to dominate new media are the least interesting to me.

Take twitter, for example. I find that I use it almost exclusively to get immediate alerts of breaking news (Another reactor blows in Fukushima!), although most of my incoming tweets are from colleagues who seem to think that they should share every thought that occurs to them, from the most interesting work developments to their most personal experiences. I resent that they are unable to filter their stream of consciousness to separate different content for different audiences. I do not find it normal to include a link in your email signature that takes me to photos of your children in the bath, for example.

Even after making a distinction between public and private information, there remain a number of colleagues who flood my tweetdeck with impressive-sounding messages about seminars led, students coached or bridges built. But it is soon apparent that these are nothing more than descriptions of routine duties dressed up as new initiatives. Not surprisingly, these kinds of tweets come from people specialized in marketing, communication or life coaching — all pseudo-academic subjects that are sustained only through their own self-promotion.

These same people, the audience myopics and fluff meisters, are always present at the coffee and cake gatherings, or at the meet-and-greet lunches, always looking for ways to increase their network, although between their frenetic tweeting and hobnobbing, one wonders when they actually do any real work. I rarely attend these social gatherings, not because I’m a misanthrope (OK, not completely), but because I’m busy producing content: solid course material that draws on Web 2.0 eLearning possibilities as a means for student-centred, collaborative, flexible learning.

When my contract comes up for renewal at the end of the academic year, I’ll have an impressive portfolio of innovative training material to back me up … and not one tweet will be included. In a wider context, whether content will win out over appearance is hard to guess; however, in my case, contract renewal will come down to a place being vacated by a retiring colleague, and will have nothing to do with my own contribution (despite management and HR protestations to the contrary).

Maybe I should just go eat more cake.

Hiatus interruptus

Since the start of classes in September, I’ve had very little time to blog. In addition to teaching and its concomitant demands, I’ve been getting busy with developing a learning management system (LMS) for the modern languages department. It’s based on Moodle, one of the most popular LMSs around, and offers almost infinite possibilities of combining different learning modules to make flexible, interactive and collaborative courses. I’ve got most of my colleagues signed up and we have a total of 17 courses running wholly or in part on my Moodle site.

It keeps my grey matter ticking over, but other activities have fallen by the way, sadly. I haven’t had time to work on photography, for example, although even without active developing and promoting, I have got another photo published, this time in Jamaica. More later. Class in five minutes. Last of the week.