Friday, 6 May 2016

#LastRefuge: A Meditative Experiment

Much is being made in academia of the need for SLOW time – not least to combat the neo-liberal, marketised, rational, agile, flexible, measurable, inputs, outputs, tests, SATs, League Tables… that is education today. The whole glorious, messy business of fierce, joyous, struggling learning – the intensity – all is lost in our quality assurance, increased productivity, AWAM context. Higher Education is now all about corporatization and corporate culture. McChesney (1999 cited in Giroux 2002; 425): ‘Neoliberalism is the defining political paradigm of our time – it refers to the politics and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximise their personal profits’.
This ‘shadow’ learning and teaching has become the thing itself – and even thinking about our practice differently becomes ever harder…
And yet – at the same time, our students – our glorious messy struggling students – are typically ‘non-traditional’ with busy busy lives and multiple commitments. They need to feel that what they are struggling for and with has meaning and value – and they need some strategies to help them stay sane – and to help them to focus and to learn that which they want to learn.
To help – we have free writing and peer review time in class… We build in time for really SLOW reading: textmapping, annotating, illustrating, discussing and presenting… Where the reading may take two hours of class time or more if needed … (BUT – because each group can read and present a different article back to the class – lo – a literature review can be sketched in collegially).
But we wondered if we needed to directly address this thing of SLOW time – of repudiating the one touch – one skim read approach of the drive by degree – and help students to engage in more productive, focussed ways.
So – we have developed a one-and-a-half hour activity – that involves watching a half-hour ‘grounding’ meditation – plus one-hour of responses to follow up questions… And we wanted to engage in a collegiate evaluation.
We are inviting anyone who has 1.5 hours to spare to engage in the activity for themselves – and then to give us some feedback – along the lines of whether you thought the activity itself is well-conceived and has value – and perhaps whether you might use something similar yourself… or whether you already have something similar yourself that you would like to share.
Here is the Activity – please join in:
The SLOW activity:
For Higher Learning to take place all participants must:
* Be able to FOCUS – to be aware of and pay attention to that which is important on the course
* Set their own GOALS (and it is useful if your goals match our goals!) – and take ownership of the course itself
* ENGAGE ACTIVELY – with the material – with us – with other students – to promote dialogue and to help make the learning personally meaningful.
Typically this is a SLOW process – that requires us to still our over-active minds – to sto[p worrying about all the distractions in our lives – and to give real, meaningful time to one activity at a time.
When you are really busy juggling study – work – home – this all seems impossible – you want to ‘hit and run’ – you want one touch writing and one dip reading…
Not going to happen.
To help you slow down and focus, we want you to watch this half hour ‘grounding’ meditation designed to help you slow down, become settled and focussed… and positive. Then we want you to set your timer and spend one hour on the follow up activities. Afterwards, pause and reflect again: What was it like to slow down and focus in this way? How might you use what you have learned from all of this to help you become a more successful student?
ACTIVITY: total time 1.5 hours: Engage in half hour meditation via the video and spend one hour on the associated activities.
1: Prepare to watch the half hour video – link below. The point is to give a full half hour to this – without rushing off to do anything else. Without worrying about anything else. The goal is to learn to focus – and to realise that focussed time is more productive that multi-tasking and it is definitely more productive than worrying about everything that you are not doing!
2: After watching the video – please answer the following questions and engage in the following activities. In the interests of learning to enjoy SLOW time – be prepared to spend one whole hour (yes – a whole HOUR!!) – on the following activities…
* Why did we ask you to engage in the meditation and what if anything did you get from participating in it?
* Argue for or against using such meditations in educational settings.
* Find and share an ACTIVITY or a RESOURCE that would have an effect similar to that which we hoped the meditation would have (even if it did not work for you) giving your reasons for sharing.
* Afterwards, pause and reflect again: What was it like to slow down and focus in this way? How might you use what you have learned from all of this to help you become a more successful student?
3: NOW - follow the link and watch the half hour video (if this does not work Copy and Paste the URL/hyperlink below into a browser):

ENDS – Thank you so much for participating!!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

MAF #3: Inclusive assessment – and a little problem for the holidays

There are many reasons to consider alternative or inclusive assessments – from the push for more engaging and compelling assessment tasks and modes – you know – tasks that are more exciting than producing a recursive report that mainly regurgitates the course; to designing out or preventing plagiarism; to complying with the law on inclusive practice in re students with disability. This post focusses on the Disability Law in the UK – but the advice, guidance and thought processes provoked are designed to get us all thinking more about what assessment we are setting – and why… WHY do we set an essay or the production of a learning and teaching resource? Why do we require a group presentation or an exam? What are we looking for in both the FORM and CONTENT of the assignment? What knowledge and skills ado we want the students to harness and reveal?

to have considered a range of ways of supporting students (with disabilities) in achieving their potential
to have a clearer understanding of the value of supporting students (with disabilities) through alternative assessment approaches.

Activity: Begin thinking about 'inclusive assessment' - what are your first responses to the pharse: inclusive assessment? What is your understanding of that inclusive assessment? 
How would you define 'inclusive - or exclusive - assessment'?  Have you one or two examples from your own experience that you feel demonstrate either inclusive or exclusive assessment practice particularly well?

Some reading and listening:
First, a blog post from our very own Sandra Sinfield, following her experience of the Discourse, Power and Resistance conference in 2013 – which all variously tackled inclusion: 
Second, chapter 8 of our University Assessment Framework on 'Assessment for Students with Disabilities', pp. 38-42, covering the legislative context, concepts of 'reasonable adjustments' and 'preventing substantial disadvantage', examples of adjustments for different types of assessment, and the role of the DDS – or the relevant chapter in your own institution’s framework.
Third, do listen to this Hybrid Pedagogy podcast on the role of compassion in assessment:

Disability equality duty
All public sector bodies have the following ‘general duties’:
promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and other
eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010
eliminate harassment of disabled people that is related to their disability
promote positive attitudes towards disabled people
encourage participation by disabled people in public life
take steps to take account of disabled people's disabilities, even where that involves treating a disabled person more favourably than other people.

Maintaining academic standards
The Disability Rights Commission DDA part 4, Examinations, pp 6-7:
“The purpose of assessment, whether it is formative or summative, is to determine a student’s academic achievement and skills.  To do this, examinations and assessments must be rigorous regarding standards so that all students are genuinely tested against an academic benchmark. 
But, similarly, if they are to fulfil their purpose, they must also be flexible regarding the model of measurement so that each student has an equal opportunity to demonstrate their [sic] achievement.  In some cases this may mean changing the existing examinations or assessment practices within an institution. 
In all cases it will mean being clear about precisely what is being assessed so that modifications may be made without compromising academic standards…The aim, wherever possible, is to change the delivery or mode of assessment, not to change the way the assessment is marked.”

Assessments fair – but still rigorous!

We need to modify assessments without compromising academic standards:
“the aim is wherever possible to change the delivery or mode of assessment, not to change the way the assessment is marked...”:

all students should be tested against an academic benchmark
assessments must be flexible regarding the mode of measurement - this may mean changing existing assessment practices
what is being assessed must be clear.

Amendment to DDA, 2005
Introduced the concept of ‘competence standards’ – defined as: an academic, medical, or other standard applied by or on behalf of an education provider for the purpose of determining whether or not a person has a particular level of competence or ability...
Competence standards are, effectively, entry and assessment criteria. They must be reviewed from a disability discrimination perspective and must describe relevant and genuine competences that are strictly necessary for programme completion. This will ensure that all students can demonstrate their particular competence or ability in a particular area.

What would be considered to be a competence standard?
For example, the personal ability to perform a particular skill or technique e.g. in:
dentistry or other clinical field...
counselling psychology...
There can’t be any adjustments made here, either in the form of, say, extra time or permitting the task to be undertaken by a practical assistant at the student’s direction

What would not be considered to be a competence standard?
Under the terms of the DDA, the following examples are unlikely, in most cases, to amount to competence standards:
being able to cope with the demands of a programme (which might be relevant to some students who have anxiety conditions)
having good health and/or fitness (rather than sufficient health)
specific levels of attendance (although attendance is linked to learning, particularly with reference to practical skills; students need to show how they can “catch up” on such skills following non-attendance)
speaking or writing clearly (unless it is essential to the nature of the work).

Setting a competence standard – a guide:
Identify the specific purpose of the standard.   Apply these questions to the standard:
Does the standard apply to all students?
Does the standard have a legitimate aim?
Does the standard meet the specific purpose?
Does the setting of this standard impact negatively on disabled people? If so, is the application of this standard absolutely necessary?
Is this the only way the purpose can be achieved?
Have you taken account of any changes that may affect this standard (such as changes in technology)
If, after considering all of these questions, the standard is still the only method of achieving the aim set, then it is likely to be objectively justifiable and therefore lawful.

Helping students - setting a task providing:
information about how the task contributes towards the overall objectives for the module
transparent success criteria
clear written instructions
where appropriate, the opportunity to discuss the instructions
prioritised reading lists.

Helping students - completion of task
be pro-active in supporting students...
be approachable and ensure that the student knows who they should contact for assistance
where possible, ensure the student has the opportunity to submit a draft for comment
be aware of the issues faced by the student and be patient.

Useful support materials
clearly written course objectives
assessment criteria for tasks
clear and explicit guidelines to help students achieve success
concise and explicit reading lists
glossaries of key terms (simple, straightforward explanations)
provide diagrammatical models/representations whenever possible.

Types of alternative assessment
option to produce another piece of coursework instead of exam
oral presentations and defences
portfolio development
project development
video diaries
viva voce.

Inclusive learning, teaching and assessment website at Plymouth University:
Guidance on how to foster inclusive and engaging teaching and learning
Video case studies of academic and professional staff talking about successful inclusivity initiatives
Videos of our students talking about their study experiences and how they might be improved
Guidance on developing inclusive assessment
Links to key debates, research and resources about inclusive practice in Higher Education.

MAF and the alternative assessment
In our case – we have asked for a multimodal or digital artefact as an alternative to the traditional group presentation…
Activity: and our vacation ‘problem’ is – what specific criteria would you generate for grading the artefact – taking into consideration:
The generic MALTHE grading criteria
The MAF Learning Outcomes
The ‘affordances’ of a multimodal or digital presentation.

Examples of multimodal resources
From #edcmooc:
#EDCMOOC – here’s a short artefact that Andy made in GoAnimate of some of my text:
Here’s the artefact that I made myself when I did the MOOC again (this time as a CTA):
Fran Monaghan’s VoiceThread – beautiful, gentle and a sort of low-tech, high-tech:
And Ess Garland’s timeline – and now for something completely different!
Terry Elliot’s Zeega: and our
Collaborative poem:
Writing ones – scroll down:
First year Becoming an Educationalist students - 2015/16:
Transition to uni – comic strip:
Digital ME (studying and creating in a digital age):
2014/2015: Welcome to LondonMet (livescribe):