Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Australian midwives, Second Life, blogging and Twitter friends

I have just got back to Darwin after a wonderful week hanging out in Sydney and Adelaide. The main aim of the trip was to catch up with Deborah Davis and do some brain-storming about where we want to go in the future with the virtual birth unit. We were supposed to be writing papers to submit for publication, but we got too engrossed in our plotting and scheming.

Australian midwives and Second Life
The second aim of the trip was to attend the Australian College of Midwives conference in Adelaide, and facilitate a workshop looking at how Second Life can be used in midwifery education. We had a lot more interest in the virtual birth unit project than I thought we'd get, so it will be interesting to see if that enthusiasm and interest in both educators and clinicians translates into concrete collaboration.


I have to say that one of the highlights of the trip was meeting people I have become firm friends with via Twitter and blogs.
It was lovely to meet Moira Stephens, who is @moggy99 on Twitter. We have an joint interest in how Second Life can be used in healthcare education. I haven't known Moira for very long but we felt like old friends.

In Adelaide I met up with a mad bunch of people who I have known for some time via blogging and Twitter. I dragged Deborah along, and she couldn't believe that we hadn't met before because we had such a wonderful sense of camaraderie. I was particularly grateful to Kerry for organising things. Kerry, Rhys and Cheryl have been sharing my life for nearly two years and it was a real privilege to meet them face-to-face.

Midwifery bloggers
The other huge treat for me was to meet fellow midwifery bloggers Lisa Barrett (who has a fabulous homebirth blog) and Infomidwife (whose blogging interest is in legalities and professional practice).

I know there are a lot of nay-sayers who do not understand social networking, but I really felt the power of it when I caught up with all these wonderful people who have been such an important part of my life over the last two years.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Learning environment

I have been looking at learning theory again as part of the requirements of the course I am taking Learner Centered Learning. I have been looking at Constructivism because of my interest in reflective practice. And there's my continuing desire to get my head around Connectivism.

But it's really been my latest teaching experiences that have got me thinking about these two different theoretical approaches to teaching and learning.

Constructivism….. Structured learning?
My current short term contract is to work with the Charles Darwin University to write learning guidelines and design a BlackBoard template for online courses being developed by the School of Business. The school is taking a constructivist approach to online learning using structured learning outcomes, scaffolded formal and summative assessment, and learning activities that are based on case studies and students' work experience.

I understand why a structured approach is taken to online delivery. Educators who are new to eLearning feel safer when they have a detailed template to follow and students appreciate consistency and being shown the way to go. But I am concerned that this reduces teacher's ability to be innovative and 'experiment' with different approaches to delivery of content (Bogle, 2009). And that is reduces students' ability to 'connect' with learning communities and resources that exist beyond the walls of BlackBoard (Blackall, 2005).

The other teaching activity I am currently engaged with is facilitating the online course Facilitating Online. This course is delivered via wiki and blog, and uses a 'connectivist' approach to learning. Students are expected to connect with each other and wider online learning communities with blogs and online communication tools. Whilst there is structure and scaffolding of assessment the students have felt overwhelmed by the use of technology. They have found this approach to teaching and learning to be very time consuming and have felt that they require high levels of motivation to keep reading and commenting on each other's blogs.

I would say that I am not there as teacher or facilitator to hold students' hands, feed them information and 'make' them learn. At the same time I cannot ignore feedback from students that indicate they are struggling to make sense of what's going on because ultimately, that can impede their learning.

What is learning
I don't think we can categorize learning into one or two set theories...learning styles...learning management systems...personal learning environments....etc

Learning is individual, depending on context and needs. It ebbs and flows...changes over time with the person who is learning. Downes (2008) says in a blog post:

- learning it is not structured, controlled or processed. Learning is not produced (solely or reliably) through some set of pedagogical, behavioral, or cognitive processes.

- learners are not managed through some sort of motivating process, and the amount of learning is not (solely or reliably) influenced by motivating behaviours (such as reward and punishment, say, or social engagement)

- learners do not form memories through the storage of ‘facts’ or other propositional entities, and learning is not (solely or reliably) composed of mechanisms of ‘remembering’ or storing such facts

- learners do not ‘acquire’ of ‘receive’ knowledge; learning is not a process of ‘transfer’ at all, much less a transfer than can be caused or created by a single identifiable donor

- learning is not the acquisition of simple and durable ‘truths’; learners are they are expected to be able to manage complex and rapidly changing environment.

So the challenge for me as teacher is to recognize the complexity of learning and design learning environments that meet as many of the needs of learners as I can in any given time - an environment that supports learners, yet challenges students to keep learning even when the course is ended.

Blackall, L. (2005). Die LMS die! You too PLE! Retrieved 29 September, 2009, from http://teachandlearnonline.blogspot.com/2005/11/die-lms-die-you-too-ple.html

Bogle, M. (2009). Reflections on the LMS. Retrieved 29 September, 2009, from http://techticker.net/2009/04/14/reflections-on-the-lms/

Downes, S. (2008). Connectivism and its Critics: What Connectivism Is Not. Retrieved 29 September, 2009, from http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/connectivism/?p=105

Teaching students about Second Life

I have talked about the course I am doing Learner Centred Learning and how I have to carry out a teaching session that is observed and critiqued as an assignment. Originally I thought I would teach a 'class' in Elluminate...something about social media. But now I have decided to be very brave...or extremely full-hardy, depending on your perspective, and teach students how to use Second Life. This will be part of the Facilitating Online course which I am currently facilitating.

Here is my lesson plan.

The aim of the session will be to introduce students to Second Life as part of the "Looking at virtual worlds" segment of the Facilitating Online course. In this course, students are expected to explore Second Life and think how they can use it as a space for facilitating events and activities. The aim of my session will be to give the students some basic skills so they can get out and about in SL.

1. Be able to walk and fly in Second Life.
2. Be able to teleport from place to place.
3. Be able to 'make friends'.
4. Be able to search for landmarks and make landmarks.
5. Be able to talk and text.
6. Be able to change appearance.

Date and time
The date and time will be in the week of the 11th October – the lesson will be one hour long. The time will be in the evening, probably at 8pm...giving students time to put children to bed. This means students will have to be able to access Second Life from home. This may be problematic for some if they do not have adequate computers or Internet access. But if I lead the session in the day time, students may have even more problems accessing SL because of institutional Internet policies and firewalls.

We will start off in Elluminate because this is an environment that students are very familiar with, and if Second Life is down for some reason, we can continue discussions in Elluminate. Once I have connected with students in Elluminate, we’ll head off to Second Life. Once we’re in SL, I will show them the two SLENZ projects as examples of how SL can be used for education. Then, we’ll head off to Jokaydia because it has wonderful examples of community life in SL. I have asked Leigh Blackall if he will accompany me during the lesson. He will be the lesson facilitator and be a second helper just in case I have a large class and need extra help supporting students.

I will be able to record the part of the lesson that I hold in Elluminate but not the session in Second Life. However, I will offer students the opportunity to meet me in SL for a one-on-one orientation session for a period of a week following the lesson.

Students’ pre-lesson preparation
I will ask student to prepare themselves before the lesson by creating their own avatar and reading the orientation information developed by SLENZ. They will also be asked to add their avatar name to the course wiki so I can track them when they are in SL. I will have a couple of ‘spare’ avatars ready just in case some students have problems with developing their avatar. They will also need to have downloaded SL onto their computers prior to the lesson. The information about the lesson will be dissemination to students via my blog, the Facilitating Online blog and email group.

Students in this course are already familiar with online real-time meetings/lessons so they already have headsets with microphones. They also need computers that can handle SL. Students who do not have adequate access to SL will be unable to take part in this lesson. I will plan to run a session in Elluminate at another time for people who cannot access SL so we can discuss the requirements of the Facilitating Online course in regards to virtual worlds.

Learning style
The learning styles used mostly in this lesson will be kinaesthetic – student will learn by ‘doing’ and experimenting. The SL environment with its high-level graphics will also appeal to visual learners. People who are readers/writers will be catered for as I provide written instructions for using SL. Visual learners will be provided videos on how to use SL.

  • 00 – 10 Meet in Elluminate. Introduction to the lesson. Explanation about Second Life. What I aim to achieve – what students would like to achieve.
  • 10 – 30 Take students to SLENZ projects. Make friends. Teleport. How to communicate. Change appearance. Create landmarks.
  • 30-45 Jokaydia. Explore newbie gardens.
  • 45-50 Questions

Barriers to learning
The main barriers to learning will be lack of access to technology and Internet. Time constraints may also be a barrier. The lesson will be just an hour long which may not be long enough for students to really get a grip with SL. Thus, this lesson will be approached as an introduction to SL rather than and in-depth exploration.

Students will be invited to complete a brief online evaluation form, and leave comments on my blog.
  • What did you learn in this lesson?
  • What did you feel went well in this lesson?
  • What would you recommend for a similar session in the future?
Can you see anything I missed? Any tips or hints for me about teaching newbies in Second Life?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Using A Virtual Birth Unit To Teach Midwifery Students

This is part of a workshop I ran with Dr Deborah Davis on Second Life and midwifery education at the Australian College of Midwives conference, Adelaide, September 2009. The presentation is about the work we have been doing with the virtual birthing unit in Second Life as part of the Second Life Education New Zealand project.

NB: I have to clarify that the BUD research was carried out by the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), not the University of Sydney.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fighting old age

It's no good...I am afraid I am going to have to admit defeat!

I am going to have to get reading glasses.

I went out for supper last night and had to borrow some glasses so I could read the menu!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Top End

I have just spent two weeks in Darwin working at the Charles Darwin University, developing eLearning guidelines and template for the School of Business. I am taking a week off now to go to the Australian College of Midwives 2009 conference, and then I'm back to Darwin for another two weeks.

First impressions
When I first arrived In Darwin I was a little disappointed. It seemed like a down-market Cairns or Gold Coast. I was just about the oldest person walking the streets - everyone else appeared to be backpackers under the age of 30. There are heaps of pubs and if you walk down the street early in the morning, you have to pick your way over drunk kids who have fallen asleep on the pavement...well, I hope they were sleeping off their hangovers...they could be dead, but I never stop to check. Oh goodness...now I'm feeling guilty......what if they were dead!!?!

But I rapidly got over my disappointment about being in The Top End, as Darwin and The Northern Territories are known. The weather is fabulous at the moment. It's just coming to the end of The Dry, where daily temperatures are consistently about 30 - 33 degrees C. Soon the weather will get hotter and a lot more humid as Darwin goes into The Build-Up, and then The Wet starts in about November.

Living the outdoor life
What I love about Darwin is that you can live your whole life out of doors, or at least you can at the moment - a lot of the activities available now cease during the wet season. I have watched "Samson and Delilah" at the Deckchair Cinema and had my Tarot cards read at the Mindlh Beach market. The sunsets are amazing every night, so there's nothing better than taking a picnic down to the beach and watching the sun go down. And if you're into seafood, the best place to go is the wharf where you can eat the biggest prawns and selection of seafood until your heart's content.

I haven't got rid of my 'Dunedin' head yet - I am still in the habit of taking my cardigan with me when I go for a walk at night just in case there is a chill in the air, but of course there never is :)

Second World War
It was the film 'Australia' that brought to my attention the fact that Darwin was heavily bombed by the Japanese during the Second World War. This obviously had a huge effect of the psyche of Darwin, and you can see a number of war memorials around the place.

Working holiday
I haven't seen any wild life yet...no crocodiles walking down the main street. In fact, I'm really pleased. I expected to have been eaten alive by mosquitoes, but I've only had one or two bites. But before I go home to Dunedin, I'm going to be a tourist for a couple of days and have a look in-land at a couple of major tourist attractions: Katherine Gorge and Kakadu Park. Hopefully, I'll get to see some crocodiles and maybe even a wallaby or two.

Australian College of Midwives National Conference 2009

I am off to Adelaide this afternoon for the Australian College of Midwives Conference. I am running a workshop with Deborah Davis, presenting our experiences with the Second Life Education New Zealand virtual birthing unit project.

Our session is the last session of the three day conference, on Friday afternoon... so we're guessing that we won't have a large audience. But just in case we run out of handouts, here are the links that we will be talking about.

Using Second Life to teach students about normal birth

Literature review "Engaging with Second Life: Real education in a virtual world"

Joining Second Life: http://secondlife.com

Orientation to Second Life:

An introduction to Second Life and how it can be used in health education.
Second Life and Public Health:

Virtual Birthing Unit Project

Second Life Education New Zealand Project Blog: http://slenz.wordpress.com

How to get to the virtual birthing unit:

Virtual birthing unit resources, including all instructions and lesson plans:

Story of the development of the birthing unit and the normal birth scenario:

Video. Te Wāhi Whānau - The Birth Place:

Video. The SLENZ Project Te Wahi Whanau:

Please feel free to get in touch if you have any further questions.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some ideas about how I see myself as a teacher

One of the assessments I have to do for the course Learner Centered Learning is to explain my teaching philosophy, tease out a concept and explore it in depth with critique and analysis.

The concept I have chosen to look at in greater depth is that of the networked teacher using the theory of connectivism as a framework for my analysis.


I would love to hear your comments. What is your teaching philosophy? What do you think are the key things teachers need to consider these days? What advice would you give a new teacher about developing his/her teaching practice?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Assessment and student feedback

One of the main underpinning functions of assessment is to give students feedback about their progress. As part of the Assessing and Evaluating course I am taking, I have been asked to consider the part feedback plays in the assessment process.

What feedback models or processes do you prefer?
It's been my experience over the years, as both teacher and student, that feedback is a double edged sword. I tend not to take any notice of summative feedback - all I am interested in is whether I have passed or not. As a teacher, in the past the only time I heard from students about the feedback I gave them was when they wanted me to increase their grades. Very rarely have I heard from students who have wanted to discuss my feedback so they can learn how to improve their 'performance'.

The process for giving feedback I use is an open feedback model, especially when I teach in online courses. I give frequent formal feedback often as I can as a way of scaffolding students to their summative assessments. As much as possible I prefer to give feedback in a way that everyone can learn from it, not just the individual student.

Why is feedback important?

However, as I have become to understand more about how students learn, the more I have come to realise that the feedback I give students is as important as the assessment itself. Receiving feedback is a vital part of the learning process so it is vital that I spend time to give constructive feedback that students can use to achieve learning outcomes in the future. Quality feedback is also an acknowledgment of the work that students have put into their assessments.

Here are a few points about feedback (University of Technology Sydney, 2007).
  • Feedback can be used to ensure that students improve the quality of their work and do not make the same mistakes in their next assessment.
  • Feedback should not be given right at the end of their course - this will be of no use for the students' learning.
  • There needs to be a clear framework that guides lecturers, and which students can compare feedback against.
  • Comments should be specific rather than vague, broad sweeping statements.
  • Feedback should be constructive, focusing on how students can improve as opposed to emphasizing what students did wrong.
What are the challenges or issues with assessment feedback?
The lecturer has to be mindful of the effect that power has on the process of feedback, both in terms of giving and receiving it (Higgins, 2000). Students will have different preferences and needs, and lecturers need to make feedback a learning process, not one of confrontation or defensiveness.

To my mind, one of the challenges is how to get students to look at their feedback and take heed of it. Today, it seems that we concentrate so much on grades that we neglect the learning process that takes us to the point we get our grades, yet this is as important as the final marks (Nichol, 2006).

How do you balance how much feedback to give?
From a pragmatic point of view, the amount of feedback you are able to give depends on time constraints. I find I give far more feedback to students who have areas to improve than about work that is very good. I also find that feedback is a lot easier to give when you have a clear marking rubric - it allows you to be accurate and objective, and not to distracted into subjective opinions.

If you are a student, do you read your feedback? What do you think makes good feedback? If you are a teacher, how do you like to give students feedback?

Higgins, R. (2000). Be more critical: rethinking assessment feedback. Retrieved 18 September, 2009, from http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00001548.doc

Nicol, D. J., McFarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education. 31, (2), 199-219. Retrieved 11th September, 2009, from http://www.reap.ac.uk/public/Papers/DN_SHE_Final.pdf

University of Technology Sydney. (2007). Formative feedback. Retrieved 18 September, 2009, from http://www.iml.uts.edu.au/assessment/feedback/

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Teaching...where I am and where to from here?

Another thing I have been asked to do for the Learner Centred Learning course I am taking is to reflect on my own teaching context. We spend a lot of time considering the students' context but often do not take time out to think about our own context and how that can affect our teaching, and ultimately the learning experience of students.

Where I am today
This is a timely activity for me because I am at a bit of a cross road as far as my teaching career is concerned. I am no longer employed full time by one educational institution. Indeed, I am doing very little direct teaching at the moment other than facilitating the Facilitation Online course, which I am contracted to work 50 hours until November.

I have made a decision this year that I do not want to teach undergraduate midwifery students any more. After 10 years I am ready to take on other challenges. What I am really interested in is professional development, facilitating and supporting life-long learning in a wider sense.

Being a self-employed consultant
It looks as if I am heading toward being a self-employed consultant or education contractor, although the next few months will tell if that is a viable plan for me. The advantage of being self-employed is that I am not tied to institutional educational policies and procedures that I have a philosophical objection to - I can pick and choose what I want to teach and the environment I teach in. On the other hand I may be out of work for periods of time, and my long term career may suffer, especially if I want to be an academic researcher...but then again, I'm not sure that that is what I want to do in the long run.

Systems approach
Using a systems approach, here is a look at the environment I currently work in.

Where does the learner sit in relation to this?
At a local and national level in New Zealand, one of the main impacts on students is access (or lack of) to resources...access to decent Internet bandwidth...and access to flexible courses that suit needs of life style and so on.

At a wider level, the desire and drive of educators and educational institutions to communicate and collaboration, share and research will either open up many doors to learners or restrict all opportunities to just their local area. This is one of the reasons I endorse the open education resources movement - the more we are willing to open up our resources and courses, the more resources learners have access to and opportunities for flexible learning.

How does awareness of this knowledge impact upon creating a learner centred environment for the students/learners that you work with?
The main things this makes me think of how I overcome barriers of technology and access. Here's a couple of previous posts that discuss this.
Where are issues of gender, race and diversity placed in your consideration of your context?
The main issue is how people of different ethnicities, especially in the international context, are able to access the Internet and thus the opportunities of accessing educational resources and joining communities of learning. Here are a couple of posts that consider this further.
How are you going to use this information to create positive, challenging and supported learning environments?
To my mind, it keeps coming back to openness and flexibility in terms of myself and my teaching. This is not easy to achieve when you're working in educational institutions that do not support these approaches to education. However, by continuing to model, network with like-minded educators, develop, reflect, experiment and push boundaries, and strive to improve my teaching I hope to create as as supportive learning environment as I possibly can for students.

Developing a lesson plan

One of the things I have been asked to think about in my course Learner Centred Learning is how to plan a lesson.

Planning a lesson
When I was a new educator I used to plan just about every breath I took and meticulously document everything. Now, I am a little more relaxed and don't necessarily write everything down, but I still find it very useful to have a plan or outline for the session. If you don't have a plan, you'll find that your aim lacks structure, does not achieve it's aim and is likely to be boring for the students. My other big problem with teaching in real time is time management, so a plan helps me to keep to time.

What should you think about in a lesson plan?
1. Aim of the session - what do you want to achieve overall in your session?
2. Learning outcomes - what should the student be able to demonstrate at the end of the session?
3. The plan for the session - needs to take into account who your students are and their style of learning, context/environment, equipment, barriers that may impede learning, learning activities, method of delivery, how you will motivate students to engage with the content and each other.
4. Evaluation - how will you get feedback from the students about the session and how you give them feedback.

Planning a lesson for Facilitating Online
One of the assignments I have for this course is to teach a session that will be observed and critiqued - so I am going to 'teach' an informal session for the course that I am currently facilitating...Facilitating Online.

I haven't got a subject at yet to plan because I have just asked the students what they would like me to present...I'll give them a week to get back to me. If no one comes up with a subject, I'll come up with something related to the course...maybe about online communication and community.

Here are a few thoughts I've had about my lesson plan so far - obviously it will need to be updated once we have a topic confirmed.

Reflective practice

I have blogged extensively about reflective practice, both as a teacher and clinical midwife. It is one of the reasons I blog...because my blog encourages me to think about and articulate what I have done, said or thought or something that has happened to me...explore it using a reflective practice framework and come up with a plan or outcome for the future. The extra element that open blogging adds to reflective practice is that others can read what I have said and contribute to my thinking...either to support me or challenge me to think further.

Here are some of my posts and resources that I have developed about reflection and reflective practice:
How do you use reflection and reflective practice as a teacher or midwife?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Learning styles

The next thing I have been asked to think about in the Learner Centered Learning course is learning styles. The relevance of knowing about learning styles is that the more you know about how your students learn, the more you are able to tailor learning activities and assessment to maximize their learning.

One way you can work out what your learning style is to work your way the VARK questionnaire which will tell you if you are a visual, read/write, aural or kinetic learner. When I first learned about VARK 10 years ago as a new educator my score showed that I was strongly a read/write learner. 10 year on, my score shows that I am equally a read/write and aural learner.

Does our learning style change over time?
So one of my questions is: does our learning style change as we get older? Is our learning style influenced by our life experience? Is our learning style influenced by our learning? The reason I ask the last questions is because I think my learning style has been influenced by what I have learned about the Internet over the years. In other words, 10 years ago I learned by going to journals and books. Now I go to YouTube, Twitter, Slideshare etc. What comes first...learning style or learning resource/delivery?

Learning styles and eLearning
I have become and lot more conscious of learning styles since I started designing and teaching online courses. It is very tempting to make an online course text-based. I am sure many of us have seen courses like this...courses that are made up of Word documents and PowerPoint presentations put into BlackBoard or other such learning management systems, and called an online course. That's all well and good for people who are read/write learners, but what about everyone else?

eLearning Australia has made the following suggestions of online activities to sit the different learning styles.

Trainer speaks narrates workbook with extra explanations where necessary.

Textbooks and completed workbooks available for students to read through audibly.

Forums available for students to discuss their ideas.

Diagrams throughout slideshows and workbooks.

Photographic representations of the topic in slideshows.

Workbooks include sections for notes, and encourage students to ‘fill in the blanks’ in the material.

Practical tasks and assignments for students to participate in.

Practical examples that students can replicate in their own workplaces (under supervision).

eLearning is set up that students can take breaks when it suits them, and use external objects like stress balls to stay motivated without dis

Is learning styles a load of old rubbish?
I have heard it said that learning styles is rubbish...that there is no such thing. Atherton (2008) argues that catering to individual learning styles is a luxury educators cannot afford, whilst Jarche (2007) believes that all you have to do is present content in multiple modes to maintain student interest and motivation...it's as simple as that.

What do you think? How do you addresses issue of learning styles in your teaching? As a student, what style of content delivery do you prefer?

Atherton, J. (2008) Doceo; Learning styles don't matter. Retrieved var mydate=new Date() var year=mydate.getYear() if (year < day="mydate.getDay()" month="mydate.getMonth()" montharray="new" daym="mydate.getDate()">12 September, 2009, from http://www.doceo.co.uk/heterodoxy/styles.htm

eLearning Australia. (2009). Catering for all Learning Styles in eLearning. Retrieved 11 September, 2009, from http://elearningaustralia.net.au/2009/07/30/catering-for-all-learning-styles-in-elearning/

Jarche, H. Designing Learning for Any Style. Retrieved 12 September, 2009, from http://www.jarche.com/2007/06/designing-learning-for-any-style/

Willems, J. (2007). Does style matter? Considering the impact of learning styles in e-learning.
In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007.

Strategic learning

Yes...I'm being a glutton for punishment at the moment and am taking two papers in the Otago Polytechnic Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching (GCTLT), so be prepared a series of posts that you may not be interested in but are requirements for the course: Learner Centered Learning.

Having said that, I am doing this in a very flexible way.... in other words, I am doing this course in my own time...on my own...so I'd appreciate any comments or feedback from you as I go to increase my learning and understanding.

Level of learning
Week one requires me to consider levels of learning: surface, deep and strategic. I have always been aware of the difference between surface and deep learning. As an educator I have aimed to design learning activities and assessment that encourages deep learning. In midwifery education it is vital that learners not only know facts, but also understand how to apply them in clinical practice...to assess...make decisions...and apply knowledge. After all the lives of woman and babies rely on this integration and application of knowledge.

Strategic learning
It is recently that I have become more aware of strategic learning as I have watched my two children work their way through New Zealand's education system, NCEA Levels 1-3. They chose what to study and what assessment to do according to the units they wanted or needed to achieve. I was very critical of this approach to education because I believed it focused learning on assessment and reduced their exposure to wider learning opportunities.

My own use of strategic learning
But I have to be honest and admit that I have been using a similar approach to my own learning over the years, especially as I have been completing the GCTLT. I am incredibly busy at the moment, involved with a number of projects. So I have made pragmatic decisions to focus on what I require for my work and assessment...ensuring that what I have 'learned' is of practical use to me, not such 'nice to know' stuff...and that doesn't sound like such a silly idea...does it?

Implications for educators
So if we as educators accept that strategic learning is becoming more and more prevalent in tertiary education as students are primed into it by NCEA, life-style and workload, we have to accept the challenge of how to deliver assessment that encourages deep learning.

What are you - a surface, deep or strategic learner? What drives your learning? What do you think of NCEA - as a student, parent or teacher?


I hate exams...I would leave it right until the last minute to revise and the minute I walked out of the exam room I felt as if I had forgotten everything. I would never look at the returned exam papers so would have no idea what the feedback was...and I was only ever interested in the mark.

As a mature learner I refuse to take part in any course that involves exams. I do not feel they support my learning...I much prefer to take a project or case study approach to assessment, especially one that scaffolds my learning.

So what place do exams play in higher education today?

Assessing knowledge
In the past, as an midwifery educator, I have used exams to test knowledge retention. How valid exams are as a means to do remains to be seen. We know that some people do very well with exams - they remember facts and get high grades because of this...but does it tell us how well these students integrate this knowledge into practice? At the same time, students can do very poorly with exams because of the pressure they are under, yet they preform very well in clinical practice.

Philosophically, I am against exams...I do not feel they truly test how well students integrate midwifery knowledge into practice. But in practice...and this is where I'm going to get myself into very hot water... exams have been a very effective way of "weeding" out students who are border-line 'fails'.

It has been my experience that students can fudge their way through essay, presentation and demonstration assessment. But exams are different. The answers are black and white...you either get them right or wrong...no questions asked...you're in or out!

National exams
OK. You can very rightly criticize me for taking this stance...using exams to fail people rather than provide positive learning experiences......shame on me!

I'd love to hear what you think about using exams in education...do exams have a place in education today? What about professions such as midwifery where knowledge is critical to the safety of the general public... should we continue to administer a national exam at the end of a three year program...does a national exam prove that the student will be a safe practitioner?

Image: 'Para darse cabezazos contra la pared' sergis blog

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cultural diversity and assessment

For the course I am taking "Assessing and Evaluating for Learning", I have been asked to consider the implications of cultural diversity and assessment.

What factors need to be considered?
I grew up as a student and educator in a culture that prized reading and writing, and where assessment revolved (and still does) around written essays and exams. As a midwifery educator I have carried on this approach - a midwife's role depends and relies heavily on the ability to document decisions, assessments and actions thus I have used written assessment as a means of developing students' skills in writing.

One of the challenges midwifery education has faced in New Zealand is how to recruit and retain Maori women. Keeping in mind what Lesley Remaka (2007) has said about how Maori children learn ie in an oral and community environment, the question has to be: does education fail people of other cultures in how we assess them? Should we not be looking at alternative ways of assessing people who have ways of learning that do not 'fit' in with the reading/writing approach to learning? If cultural groups learn together as communities, should they not be assessed in the same way? If their culture of an oral one...again, should not assessment be carried out in a similar way?

At the same time, we also need to ensure that student of different cultures are prepared by the education system to work in the dominant culture of New Zealand. In other words, the student has to be able to function as a midwife who can document extensively in English. A tension I think that I would like to hear more about from you.

Assessing people of cultural diversity?
I have made mention of Maori students, but the fact in New Zealand is that we are a multi-cultural society rather than bi-cultural, and as educators we are faced with many learning styles and needs so how much of an 'ask' is it for educators to consider all cultires when designing assessment? Sure, be flexible and indiviudal but how does that work in reality?

Being aware of cultural diversity has become even more important for me to consider as I facilitate my first open online course, Facilitating Online. There are a range of informal students in the course who not only live in other parts of the world, but have languages other than English as their first language. Time zones and language differences will disadvantage them when it comes to assessment. They may also suffer more subtle disadvantages because of the lack of understanding that teachers in New Zealand may have of their cultural context in their home land.

Benefits to the learner
As an educator having an awareness of cultural diversity and cultural attitudes to learning has got to ultimately benefit the learner. Whilst you may not be able to angle every piece of assessment to individual students and learning styles, a greater awareness of differences should underpin your development of assessment.

One example I can think of is Asian students' attitudes to plagiarism. I have been told that Asian students copy people's because they honor the words of older, wiser people - they think it is disrespectful to question. However, as the educator, I would mark this copying down...severely. Therefore, it is my responsibility to support students to turn around their attitude to plagiarism and develop their skills of critical thinking. Another strategy may be to mix students of different cultural groups so they start to understand each others' different perspectives and support each other through assessment processes.

What strategies do you use when developing assessment for students who come from different cultures?


ACTION. (2009). Assessment an cultrual diversity. Retrieved 10th September, 2009, from http://www.action.ncca.ie/en/intercultural-education/intercultural-education-in-the-primary-school/assessment-and-cultural-diversity

Remaka, L. (2007). Maroi approaches to assessment. Canadian Journal of Native Education. 30, 1: 126-144.

University of Melbourne. (2006). Encouraging Inclusive Practice in Teaching, Learning and Assessment. retrieved 10 September, 2009, from http://www.unimelb.edu.au/diversity/downloads/inclusive%20practice.pdf

Image: 'untitled' starlights_

Moderation and assessment

Moderation of assessment is a system of checking assessment in terms of fairness, clarity, appropriateness and alignment with learning outcomes in other words, it is a quality control process. The Commonwealth of Australia defines moderation as a:

process which involves assessors discussing and reaching agreement about assessment processes and assessment outcomes.

This aspect of moderation usually comes before an assessment is developed and delivered. Post-assessment moderation involves checking out how the assessment was received and carried out by students and looking at individual marking to ensure it is as objective as possible.

My experience of moderation
As a midwifery educator I have been involved in moderation both as educator and member of committees that have carried out pre- and-post moderation.

At times the process of moderation has felt confrontational and nit-picking. But in the long-run, I have always found the process to be one of support and learning. Even as an experienced educator I have found that I have learned new things about assessment, both in process and delivery. The thing that I have always valued moderation for is the feedback I have received about how I have aligned assessment with learning outcomes. At times I have got carried away with grandiose plans for assessment activities, and have needed to be reminded to keep a tight rein on my imagination :)

Benefits for educator and learner
To have a second eye (or third or fourth) cast over one's processes and marking reduces errors. The flow on effect is that students are more likely to find the assessment to be fair and learn from it, and less likely to appeal which causes more work for the educator.

My experience of moderation has always been that there is some sort of student input which I also think is invaluable. Student involvement in moderation allows a two-way flow of information: it keep educators' mindful of student workload and expectations, and it shows students what goes on behind the scenes..what drives assessment and how it is developed and marked.

What process of moderation do you use as an educator? If you are a student, do you know what process of moderation is used in your courses?


Australian Catholic University. (2008). Principles for moderation of assessment. Retrieved 9 September, 2009, from: http://www.acu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/108791/Moderation_principles-final.pdf

Image: 'img_1146.jpg' yish

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Assessment and evaluation of learning

I have just started another paper called Assessing and Evaluating for Learning, which is part of the Otago Polytechnic Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching.

What is assessment about?
During the years I taught in the midwifery program (undergraduate and postgraduate) I was involved in assessing theoretical knowledge, practical application and clinical skills. Assessment was driven by course requirements, which themselves have been driven by midwifery professional standards and competencies.

In the back of my mind has been the mantra of not just 'producing' a student who is knowledgeable, but also a student who is 'safe'...one that will 'harm' a mother and/or baby in her care. I have asked myself at times of assessment..."would I want this student looking after my daughter and grandchild?".

So assessment has been a way of ensuring we produce safe and knowledgeable midwives, and "weeding out" the students who do not meet that criteria.

How do you assess reflective writing?
The last couple of courses I have worked in have been postgraduate midwifery and non-midwifery courses.

These have been interesting in that I have not been assessing 'black and white' knowledge but rather more nebulous things eg personal reflection and learning. I have found this difficult to deal with in terms of assessment...I mean...how can I say what people have learned...what right do I have to put a 'mark' on personal learning?

Devising assessment
What I want to do when I devise an assessment is to ensure it is relevant to the student...that it has meaning and relevance, and enhances the student's learning, rather than being another hurdle for the student to cross.

If it is just another hurdle, then it should not be an assessment. Students are notorious (and I do it myself) for focusing on summative assessment...so as educators I feel we need to ensure that the assessment in itself is a form of learning, not just a means of ticking off boxes.

What has been the most effective assessment you have ever been involved with as a student...that has 'taught' you the most? If you are an educator, what do you feel is an effective assessment strategy?

Image: 'final exams' sashamd

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Off to Darwin

I am off to Darwin today for four weeks. I am going to be working with the Charles Darwin University to develop some online postgraduate courses for the Business department. I am also going to be in Sydney from the 19th - 22nd September, and Adelaide 22nd-25th September. So if you live in either of those areas, let me know so we can arrange a meet-up.

This is a great opportunity because I have never been to Darwin or the Northern Territories in Australia. It is also a great opportunity to develop my design skills and experience, and work in an area that is completely new to me (she says with a *gulp*). As well as meeting new people and developing skills, I hope to get out and do some sight seeing and even get around to learning to scuba dive, which is an aim I want to achieve before I am 50.

My hubby dreamed I got eaten by crocodiles...so hope that doesn't come true. I am very definitely likely to be eaten by mosquitoes. Otherwise, it's going to be great fun and another fabulous learning opportunity. Hopefully, I'll get to see real, live kangaroos!

Image: Open Wide Mozul

Friday, September 4, 2009

Second Life and midwifery education: reflections on my personal learning

This is the last part of a series of blog posts I have written over the last few days about my involvement in the virtual birth unit project and Second Life Education New Zealand. The last ten months have been hectic and my involvement in the project has been a lot more time-consuming than I expected. The learning curve has been vertical at times but the end result of the project (the virtual birth unit and normal birth scenario) is one that I am extremely proud to be part of.

I am also extremely proud to be associated with the SLENZ team who are an amazing group of diverse and gifted people. How such a diverse group of people have pulled off such a quality job in a very tight time frame as well as being located all over New Zealand...I'll never know! Hats off to everyone!!

Development of skills
I leave this project far more skilled with using online tools and processes such as Google Documents, Wikieducator, Facebook and Second Life. I feel very confident to use them for design, development, communication and teaching.

Designing educational experiences
The key things I have learned about designing educational learning experiences, not just in Second Life are:
  • bring everything back to the learning aims/objectives of a program;
  • always consider how to engage students who do not have access to the Internet and Second Life;
  • design and develop in stages;
  • keep things as simple and authentic as possible;
  • don't lose sight of the reality of teaching and learning in environments such as Second Life and design your learning experiences accordingly ie how are you going to manage issues of access, skills, motivation, attitudes etc?
Being an open scholar
The other area that has been great to put into practice is being an 'open' researcher and scholar. I have talked about Creative Commons and open educational resources for some time, inspired by people such as Leigh Blackall and the work of people at Otago Polytechnic but this is the first time I have seen and been involved in open research/development processes in a large project.

I have blogged about my involvement throughout the project and it has been wonderful to be able to discuss ideas and get feedback along the way. No doubt there will be misgivings about this way of working...fears that research ideas will be stolen and that opportunities for making money are missed. But by putting your work out into the open, not only are you laying claim to your ideas and work in a way that is completely visible, but you are also sharing your knowledge and experience to a much wider audience than you would if you published solely in small, professional academic research journals.

Where to from here
I could go on but don't want to bore you too much. And I am sure that more things will come to me as time goes by.

Many of you have walked my journey with me and encouraged me along the way...and for that I thank you.

Now comes the hard work of writing up my experiences and learning, and hopefully getting some articles published in those "small, professional academic research journals" that I have just slagged off :) And I am off to the Australian College of Midwives Conference in Adelaide to present a paper about the birth unit in September...so may even see some of you there. I am also looking for ways of continuing the work with the SL birth unit and finding funding for continuing design and research. So if any of you know of potential for funding, please let me know.

In the meantime, if you're ever in Second Life...give me a buzz...my alter ego is called Petal Stransky.

It's a wrap, baby!!

Image: slenz workshop 007 nzdakota

Second Life and midwifery education: where to from here?

Now that the virtual birth project is coming to a close, I am reflecting on where we go from here. The possibilities for midwifery, nursing and medical education are almost limitless because Second Life gives an amazing ability to provide immersive simulation of situations that cannot be easily practiced in the classroom or clinical setting.

I have heaps of ideas...the challenge will be finding teams that are willing to engage further with Second Life, and the funding to support development work.

Embedding the normal birth scenario
The first step is to embed the normal birth scenario into midwifery education and evaluate its effectiveness as a teaching tool. The SLENZ team has provided a wonderful free resource - now it is for midwifery educators to take it up and run with it by integrating it into their programs. This will require champions to lead this. I am not sure who will do this in New Zealand, but I know there is growing interest in other countries and I am sure midwifery educators will fly with this resource in educational institutions in the UK, Australia and USA.

Multi discipline collaboration
Another area that has huge potential is in the area of inter-disciplinary education. There is a growing interest in how we can improve communication and cooperation between disciplines, especially between medicine, nursing and midwifery, and I believe Second Life can work well in projects that encourage this sort of collaboration.

So one idea for a project is the transfer of women in labour from a birth unit to a secondary care facility, in situations where birth has deviated from the normal. Anyone interested?

Working with health consumers
Another area I would like to explore is how midwives can work with pregnant women and women interested in pregnancy and childbirth in Second Life. I have already broached the idea of students following women having a virtual pregnancy and birth. Midwives pride themselves on the way they work in partnership with women, so how can that be extended into Second Life and the design of learning experiences in SL?

What do you see as the future of Second Life in midwifery education...and the education of other health professionals?

Image: Second Life: National Health Service (UK) rosefirerising

Designing learning resources and activities in Second Life

Here are some more of my thoughts about my experiences designing the normal birth scenario and learning activities for midwifery students in the Second Life Education New Zealand project.

What are the key factors influencing the design of MUVE educational environments?
I would say that the main key was to keep things as simple as possible, aiming for the slowest common denominator ie aiming your activities to students who have minimal skills and low Internet bandwidth.
  • Make the learning activity fun and social.
  • Think about how you can provide learning opportunities for students who cannot (for whatever reason) access Second Life.
  • Provide thorough orientation and ongoing support for students and educators.
  • Ensure the resources and activities have 'value' for the student, that they aren't just 'nice' to do, but are integrated into the education program and based on learning outcomes and objectives.
My mantra for design of learning activities in Second Life for midwifery, nursing and medical students is:

"Authentic, but safe"

What do you think could have been done better in the design and development of the programme(s) in SL?
This is a difficult question to answer without hearing from the students and what they think. I would say the major mistake was not integrating the scenario into the midwifery program ie getting student to use it in lesson time. However, I am confident that once the students understand what can be achieved, they will see the value of it and use it voluntarily and in their 'own time'.

The other assumption we made that didn't pan out was that students would orientate themselves and get the hang of things with minimal 'real time' support and help. In fact, I found that students required far more one-on-one support and help than we had allowed for. I found that students responded far more positively when I was present to give instructions and show them what to do - they very rarely read any instructions that we wrote for them.

What do you think was done well?
I believe what we did really well is design the normal birth scenario on real life situations using professional midwifery standards and teaching resources to ensure everything was authentic, down to the feedback the woman gives the midwife. The scenario is interactive and social, and because it is open to all there is the potential for communication and collaboration beyond the immediate class.

What advice would you give another group wanting to produce an excellent MUVE educational experience?
I am repeating myself with some of these points, but I think that doesn't do any harm to keep emphasizing them.
  • Provide in-depth orientation and ongoing support as students get the hang of what they're supposed to be doing.
  • Keep things simple, social and interactive.
  • Allow twice as long for the development work as you think you're going to need.
  • Think about how you're going to motivate both educators and students to use the resource/experience.

If you were a student, what would motivate you to use Second Life for learning?

Image: learn http://www.flickr.com/photos/heycoach/1197947341/
Mark Brannan

Recording of my thoughts on the virtual birth unit project

Here is a link to the recording of the interview Micheal Winters had with me about the SLENZ virtual birth unit project, as part of the project evaluation. It is rather long to say the least, so if you don't want to be too bored, you might be better off reading my last few reflective posts on this blog.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Intellectual property, Second Life and education

One of the questions I have been asked about the virtual birth unit is how the work has been licensed.

How have Intellectual Property issues been addressed?
Right from the outset the Second Life Education New Zealand team has opted to be totally open about its work, and place a Creative Commons license on the resources it has developed. This approach has been driven by the team's desire to share resources, as well as the learning the team gained during this project.

This open approach to research and development is different because many educational institutions and research companies like to keep their work to themselves so they can make maximum profit from it.

We believe that 'profit' comes from the collaboration that ensues when you make research and education resources freely available.

I have a dream...
I have become increasingly aware of the number of projects that are being developed in Second Life for medical, nursing and midwifery education. And million of dollars are being spent on the development of these resources.

My dream is that developers and educators all work in an open environment...that we all make our resources freely available and coordinate our efforts, thus saving time and finances, making sure that we're not forever re-inventing the wheel and ensuring our resources become more sustainable.

So the New Zealand birth unit work is continued....Vanderbilt University in the USA develops a secondary hospital unit and Coventry University in the UK develops an ante natal unit...and we integrate each other's resources and work together with each other's students.

How do you think about this as a model of international collaboration? Is it something that you'd be interested in becoming a part of? Do you think we could achieve this level of cooperation, or do you think universities would put their foot down and prevent that level of openness?

Image: And so I am become a knight of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows
[ r ♥ c e y t ♥ y ] {I br♥ke for bokeh}

Questions about multi-user virtual environments in education

Here are another couple of questions I have been asked to reflect on in light of my experiences with the SLENZ virtual birth unit.

What barriers are there to using MUVEs in tertiary education?
I believe attitudes and technology continues to be the main barriers to the use of multi user virtual environments in education. Access to the appropriate technology and Internet continues to be an issue that needs to be addressed. Even when educational institutions theoretically support the use of Second Life, getting adequate access to computers and technology can be problematic. And as for distance students, Second Life can use up a large amount of bandwidth and data allowance, as well as prove to be difficult to run on computers that do not have adequate graphics cards etc.

Attitudes of educators is another barrier to overcome. Educators want to use resources that are quick and easy to learn to use both themselves and in their teaching. They want tools that are time-effective, and cause the least amount of aggravation in terms of set-up - they not want to spend hours "immersed" as argued by John Waugh, one of the SLENZ team unless they see real benefits for their teaching.

What has been done to overcome them?
I believe the main way of overcoming barriers to the use of MUVE in educator is to role model MUVE in teaching. To show how beneficial they can be for students' learning - to design 'real' learning experiences, and to make them as simple as possible for educators and students to be able to use with the least amount of difficulty.

What are the key factors influencing the design of MUVE educational environments?
The key factor has got to be how you engage students - how you make the learning experience to to be an interactive and social one - make it 'fun', yet credible. I do not see any point in replicating the classroom in a MUVE but rather should look at how you can design alternative learning experiences that are unique to the MUVE.

At the same time, I also think we need to consider how our design supports students that have limited or no access to the MUVE - how can we ensure they have an equally beneficial learning experience as those who do not have access or skills issues?

What do you see as the advantages of using MUVE environments in teaching and learning?
To my mind, the advantages are that MUVE provide authentic places for students to learn, yet at the same time they are safe environments where students can 'practice' without fear of harming any one, including themselves. A midwifery student cannot practice managing a hemorrhage in 'real' life, but can do so in SL without fear of the consequences if she makes a mistake.

What are the disadvantages?
I know I keep on repeating myself but it has to be access to Internet, technology and skill-training.

What do you think?

Image: 'Nadya doing what she does.. better than+me...'