Grasping effective learning

A review of the past and future of learning from the Head of Open Learning at MIT

I like to read beyond the boundaries of the EAP discipline to gain insights into the way other disciplines (Learning Development in HE or Learning Technologies) are grappling with problems that I’ve experienced in syllabus design or teaching and learning. However, I don’t have time to read the primary research – there’s too much of it and it won’t be accessible to me as a non-specialist – so I’m always on the lookout for publications which digest the research for a general reader. I can then follow on from those with a more detailed look at specific aspects of interest. One such book came to my attention recently: Grasp by Sanjay Sarma, Head of Open Learning at MIT. The subtitle claims that the book explains the ‘science transforming how we learn’. I recommend this book for anyone grappling with the move to online learning.

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Asking the right questions

Designing feedback surveys to deliver evidence to drive or resist change

The summer Pre-sessional period is drawing to a close with institutions heaving a huge sigh of relief that they have managed more or less successfully to deliver their programmes online in the wake of Covid19 lockdown. Having written that last sentence, I realise it is full of dead metaphors (highlighted in italics) that writers often fall back on to connect with their audience. I’m not writing creative fiction here so these well-worn structures are useful to get us on the same page. (Now I can’t stop myself!) It got me thinking though about whether we aren’t guilty of doing the same thing when we craft feedback surveys for students and teachers at the end of Pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes. Do we fall back on the same questions without stopping to critically evaluate how appropriate or useful the responses will be?

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Reflections on flipped learning

Learning through interaction in synchronous and asynchronous modes.

The Heriot-Watt Pre-sessional English (PSE) Online programmes are almost finished for 2020 with materials delivery and assessment now complete. In migrating the campus-based programmes online, we used a flipped learning approach. Bishop & Verleger (2013) provide a working definition of this concept by contrasting activities which require human interaction with activities which can be automated using technology. (see image) For programmes delivered wholly online the contrast would be synchronous versus asynchronous activities.

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Authenticity – what does it mean to say a listening is authentic?

Reflecting on what counts as authentic listening in online teaching

In migrating Pre-sessional English (PSE) online, we’ve come up against the notion of authenticity and in particular what it means to say a listening is authentic. In the on-campus version of the programme, we had regular live lectures, delivered by PhD students sharing their research, together with a number of lessons formed around a video-recorded lecture, perhaps a TED Talk or an inaugural lecture given by a newly ‘enobled’ professor. In the online version of the programme, we’ve adhered more closely to the coursebook, Access EAP: Frameworks, which contains a variety of scripted audio lessons (no video), often divided into short preparatory extracts before a longer (5-10 minute) stretch of uninterrupted speech. To what extent can any of these listenings be considered to be authentic?

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Moving assessment online

Working in partnerhsip with students to enable them to show their performance through assessment.

Lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been in place for three weeks in the UK with no prospect of it ending anytime soon. At my institution, we are now planning to move our three summer pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes entirely online and to assess them there as well. In the early days of lockdown, there were many useful exchanges on the BALEAP Jiscmail discussion list with colleagues sharing their experience of delivering online teaching & assessment for pre-sessional programmes. At the same time my institution was going into overdrive to reformat end of semester degree-level assessments, for delivery in the May-June assessment diet. There was much sharing of good practice and principles for secure and reliable assessments that were fair to students and maintained the quality of degree qualifications. Last week Advance HE, the professional body that supports academic excellence in the UK, ran a webinar: Moving assessment on-line: Key principles for inclusion, pedagogy and practice. It was a model of good practice in hosting webinars and delivered clear messages about assessing online.

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How can we teach with methods we haven’t tried outselves?

This a guest post from Jenifer Spencer, co-author of EAP Essentials.

In January, I signed on to the Coventry University FutureLearn MOOC Understanding Dictionaries just as the corona storm started to develop. It has been an enriching experience to me as a teacher and a student of the language. The course was excellent and informative, but added to this, I gained first-hand experience of acquiring knowledge and developing my own skills through this mode of learning. As departments and staff join the rush to put courses online, this was a timely reminder of the potential value of online study, from a student perspective. Despite having researched, developed and delivered a range of online courses over my teaching career, I realised I had never actually undertaken a course of online study myself!

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Covid-19: threats and opportunities.

Opportunities and experiences of moving to online pre-sessional teaching.

The Covid-19 pandemic has the UK in lockdown with the cancellation of sporting and cultural events and the closure of schools, sports facilities, museums and art galleries. Those with desk-based jobs at the university have been asked to work from home, the library is shut and the campus may soon close completely. It would be easy to panic in these extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, supermarket shelves are empty of products such as toilet rolls and pasta, and shoppers are being restricted in the amount of some products they can buy. However frightening the situation feels, it is still possible to see opportunities that would not otherwise be available. Focusing on these helps me to stay positive and deal more easily with the prescribed social isolation.

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