Archive for category university

How about that virus huh?

It’s a heck of a time to be an online teacher/writer and try to stay ‘on leave’. With the global disruption caused over the past week due to the pandemic spread of the COVID-19 virus, social media networks and backchannels have drawn me in to the common story. Teachers and parents are reaching out to talk – to vent – about the decision to keep Australian schools open (so far) and the workload involved in shifting learning online. Parents are totally overwhelmed at the thought of having to simultaneously home-school their children and either work from home, or deal with issues like sudden unemployment. Teachers are tackling twice the workload, producing classroom as well as online materials, and crumbling in tears on their kitchen floors at the impossibility of the task – they were already working at capacity or burning out.

This post is to share some thoughts on…

Online teaching:

Wow, teachers, you are in for an experience. That drawn, haggard look you have noticed hanging around your university teaching friends the past two or so years? That is in part because we have been increasingly moving our work online in ‘blended’ modes – teaching courses both on campus and via online delivery. It. Takes. Ages. To. Get. Online. Teaching. Right. It is hard and it takes ages. The tech fails, the learning curve is steep, you can’t produce everything you planned so are filling unexpected holes everywhere, all the time. It can take 10 hours to make one teaching video when you are still learning the ropes, is anyone factoring that in? In the university sector the mantra from the centre has more of less been: this is the way we work now. Deal with it, or find a new job. In higher ed, if we burn out, we’re just replaced. But there are SO MANY MORE teachers than academics! That workforce is irreplaceable. Education leaders can’t afford to have their heads in the sand on this one – teaching materials don’t just “go up online” like someone waved a magic wand. The labour involved is huge. Teachers, I would estimate you will need to take all your current plans for what can be delivered online, and start by halving it. Half the content, half the assessments, half the feedback, at least. Start getting real about this earlier rather than later.

Parents keeping their kids at home:

What a bloody disgrace to see some schools being heavy handed with parents and pressuring them to send their kids to school! Even this morning the QLD Education stance was that voluntary isolation is an “unacceptable” reason for an absence. Shame! And a shame to see so many QLD school leaders so completely under the thumb of their employer, so totally intimidated by the “don’t criticise your employer” mantra, that they won’t advocate in public for a softer approach on absenteeism. The NSW Department of Education had updated their absentee categories on Sentral by Friday afternoon to include an “acceptable” absence category for voluntary isolation, if QLD schools are to remain open they should also urgently follow suit.

Self care – it won’t be business as usual:

With the advantage of a month of LSL under my belt before any of this started, I can tell you I was already feeling unsettled by having to stop work. Although I had planned for the leave and taken it intentionally for the very purpose of slowing down, the actual slowing down wasn’t easy. We currently exist in a mesh of systems that are slowing down (working from home, businesses closing, grocery shelves emptying) and speeding up (keeping up with demand from clients/customers, panic buying) and it is going to feel as confusing as hell. I don’t know what Self Care in the Time of Iso looks like, but we’re going to have to work it out soon.

Yes, teaching is a social service:

A final thought about a common message I have seen this week – a lament that teachers are seen as “a social service, not an educational one” and that they are being used as “glorified babysitters”.

I do agree with the frustrated sentiment behind some of these laments and I think Steve Kolber summed feelings up well here in an article on 20th March: https://educationhq.com/news/another-stinging-insult-teachers-are-being-used-as-martyrs-in-covid-19-agenda-75456/. And yet… the phrase ‘in loco parentis’ plays on my mind. I’m not saying that teachers should feel obliged to work against their will or to put themselves at risk (they should not). I do think that school systems need to at least partially close soon, to allow a swathe of teachers to choose to work from home. But I do wonder why so many are surprised at the expectation that teachers act as frontline workers in a time of crisis, especially in public schools. In loco parentis – in place of a parent. It has always been my understanding that teaching is as much a ‘social’ service as an ‘educational’ one. I might have done more before now to make sure my pre-service teachers understood that too. I wish the government messages included acknowledgment of all this work and care without fear of the next enterprise bargaining agreement. They are so scared of having to pay teachers more if they acknowledge the depth of service they provide.

If you can support a teacher with a kind listening ear this week, please do.

There is also a new Instagram account you can follow to hear their stories: @from_teachers.

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Developing your knack

I created these slides to use next year in my English curriculum teaching. The idea I am using them to underpin is that an English teacher is expected to have ‘superpowers’ across a range of canonical/literary types of text (the traditional categories of study: poetry, prose, drama) as well as newer textual fields that have come up since that initial period (film, tv and other screen texts, media and new media).

possible superpowers to foster, in canonical curriculum categories

possible superpowers to foster, in late-20th and 21st century curriculum text categories

At the same time as finishing these slides, I am audio-reading Wundersmith: The calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. It is Book 2 in the Nevermoor series. I love it and would love my pre-service teachers to think about what their ‘knack’ is, in terms of studying or creating texts, so they can focus on developing it during their degree.

Whether you want to think about textual expertise as a superpower or a knack

English teachers – how many knacks do you consider you have?

Everyone – how many text areas from the graphics above would you say is desirable for an English teacher’s expertise to cover? 

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Why #edutube?

Blog reader, welcome to the Next Thing that is pulling me back inexorably into a research space concerned with online learning.

In my last post I talked about/to the most excellent Sayraphim Lothian, who is on the verge of beginning a research degree at my uni (hopefully with me as the supervisor). Sayraphim is slaying the write up of the research ‘prologue’ over on the blog sayraphimlothian.com. We have both caught the #edutube fever, wanting to explore education/educational YouTube videos/creators etc. …you know, #edutube?

And I mean, that’s the problem-slash-wonderful thing about exploring YouTube that is being created and viewed in educational ways. To even pin down what I mean by that involves myriad semantic considerations. The ‘on YouTube’ bit is concisely defined and establishes one clear boundary. Excellent. But as for the rest…

When I say ‘edutube’ a typical question cascade sounds like this:

  • Are you meaning professional teachers who make videos, or anyone who is aiming to teach others through a video?
  • Does the education have to be intentional – what about when something is learned from a video on YouTube but the creator didn’t intend it, and maybe could not have anticipated it?
  • What is the difference between education and learning anyway?
  • Isn’t everything a potential learning experience? So are attempts to define what is ‘educational’ just exercises in gate-keeping?
  • By the way, schools are such gatekeepers, they are really bureaucratic and restrict learning in a lot of ways, don’t you think? Down with schools! YouTube has tutorials for everything!
  • jk. Platform capitalism might be a concern – do you think platforms like YouTube might be trying to create a global education market?
  • In what ways might professional teachers’ work be intersecting with new education markets?
  • Have you heard of flipped learning?
  • In what ways might we be productively redefining teaching and learning? Perhaps as personal and community practices, not only professional and institutional ones?
  • Can anyone be a teacher? What defines a teacher?
  • Is a teacher the same as an educator?
  • How is ‘education’ different to ‘educational’? Does that distinction provide a helpful boundary?
  • Will anyone be asking the students about any of this? #studentvoice

There is a striation that commonly interrupts this kind of question cascade: who owns teachers’ IP; what are the conflict of interest issues; who stands to profit from a hidden global curriculum that is defined by a corporation; have you heard the saying ‘if it’s free then you’re the product’? Technical and practical questions about legislation, policy and money. Interesting questions, ones that also interest me. But they aren’t as helpful for defining ‘edutube’.

So why edutube for me, why now?

Biographically, the answer is that it is a very natural progression for me in terms of my ongoing interest in social media and digital cultures. I was a teacher in the thick of the Digital Education Revolution and we lived and breathed this challenge: what can you do with these screens? We found out quickly the limits of that world, and how contingent those limitations were on things including: the state you taught in, the sector, the goals of the Regional Director, the attitudes of the school community (especially the Boss)… not to mention the damn battery life and lack of internet connection.

As far as I can tell, from my position in Brisbane, Australia at least, is that the answer to the challenge ‘what can you do with these screens?’ in education – both schools and higher education – is ‘take it slowly’. The hyper-connected PLN/PLE learning culture that we thought could be around the corner remains stymied by over-crowded curriculum and a culture that is fixated on standardised (you say ‘high standards‘, I say ‘one size fits all‘) pedagogy and assessment.

But I can’t help it – I’m still interested in screens.

One of the most popular screen media in my house is YouTube, I am already a participant in the culture. I’ve been making video for my own teaching for a long time, uploading my first (unlisted) teaching video to YouTube in 2012 – it was an assignment Q&A – and now maintaining a public-facing channel with a few uploads a year. I am a ‘creator’!

A creator. Look, here is another different word for teacher. Or would a better word for that be author? Wait I think I remember something about the medium being the message? Now we’re talking! My screen-based, education and English teacher worlds collide!

I’m only just piecing together the parts of my own research design. I won’t write the ethics application until next year after January break, but I think I want to start by looking at Australian teachers who make YouTube with the purpose of educating others. Just a few case studies, maybe alongside a wider survey?

If you want to keep talking about this, or just have an idea, reference or link to throw my way, drop by in the comments. I’d love to hear responses to any element of this post no matter how random.

Or… subscribe?

😉

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Game on (edutube study)

OK Sayraphim, you’ve set the scene for the project as an opening move. But two can play at the blog reboot game!

It gets easier every time.

So, #edutube is a go. The word is out. The claim, it’s staked. You will study it, and no matter what role I get to play, I am so here for this.

Here’s a lovely thing too – as a craftivist, I know you aren’t territorial. You are about making things and lifting people up, sharing, generosity and kindness. Well anyway, those are qualities I think you definitely have, and which other craftivist instagram feeds seem to project, so I am generalising a little about #allcraftivists. But I have a hunch that I’m generally right! So, ‘staking your claim’ is really more like you saying ‘folks, I’ve got this angle covered, you go work on other angles, tell me if I’m overlapping with you too much and I’ll get back in my lane; here if you need me though and let’s share all our toys, let’s quilt our ideas together, yay team!’

(Honestly, new friends we are meeting on Twitter now, you have given us such a warm welcome to the established/ing network for studying education + YouTube, I’m very grateful and glad to meet you, and excited to add a patch to the quilt!)

Here are three reasons why I am psyched to be along with you on this journey, as a friend, as a fellow Aussie edutube creator, and as a scholar:

  1. You have track record as both a nerd and a book author – I cannot wait to see you grow through next level, book-length nerding out, on an idea that has serious legs. You seem Ready.
  2. I love how research on this topic will contribute to the edutube community, and how it will be sensitive of Aussie/NZ/’southern’ contexts as well as humanities communicators/creators. As an Australian English teacher, it’s really cool to see you representing.
  3. I’m excited by the idea of problematising this space. Are these videos on these platforms about learning, or teaching? About PLNs/PLEs/connectivism in education? About networks or communities of practice? Affinity spaces? Can we find anything to generalise to all teaching videos streamed online, or is YouTube a distinct enough phenomenon to bind up a study? Is edutube a kind of alternative curriculum (I can’t wait to introduce you to the field of curriculum studies)?

As for what the thing even is…I change my mind all the time about what I think edutube is. It’s one of the reasons I held off posting my post-vidcon video about it in 2018 – yeah, I was short on time, but I also was not certain of the content. But hang it, right? I should just post it. As a welcome gift to you! It is a record of my thinking at a point in time.

[Spoiler alert: I think the reason it is so hard is the ‘edu’ bit. We can define the ‘tube’ two ways, or somewhere in between, that’s easy. Broad, like ‘screen media’ with roots in television/’tube’, or narrow, like the specific platform ‘YouTube’. But ‘edu’ is the hard bit. Defining that involves getting to the heart of what people think education is, what it’s for, and who it’s for. Also who gatekeeps it. You’ll have to develop a scholarly stance on all those fundamental questions – at some point. Not right away! But no joke big questions.]

So yeah, I find it hard to answer, “what is edutube?”. I find myself constantly having to reorient my perspective, from teacher to citizen. I suspect my instinct, as a long time educator in institutions, is to gatekeep – no matter how much I resent gatekeeping, I live and breathe the mechanisms that do it. But I am also critical of them and often resist them. So yes, at some point you will have to define ‘edutube’, and convince me of it, but when you can do that I will listen intently, because I’m eager to hear your fully considered opinion.

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To watch more of this unfold over on YouTube – like, comment or subscribe!

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The concept of praxis

For me, demands to attend to the concept of ‘praxis’ in my work come from two main directions – my English educator community, and my Arts education colleagues.

This post captures my current ways of understanding praxis in relation to my work.

  1. Doing praxis means you are basically in a constant state of action research: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)#Education
  2. Praxis describes practice that is informed by theory, not generally, but purposefully (and perhaps systematically?)
  3. Praxis is underpinned by the belief that theory is understood through its realisation in practice, that proof of and improvements to theory are found in application
  4. So basically, all your practice gets explicitly framed by theory (and it’s therefore interesting to notice the texts and contexts that this ‘explicit’ framing happens through…is this also self-governance? is action research actually a self-review and reporting cycle to check for theoretical ‘compliance’, to conduct strategic planning in line with ‘vision and mission’??)
  5. …and you can reflect on your theoretical position by observing and analysing it’s application in your teaching (requiring a personal plan or framework for collecting valid evidence)
  6. It’s part of the answer to “so can I just tip a can of paint on a canvas and call it art?” – no. Artistry responds to other art, to discourses. Teaching becomes ‘art’ when there are processes for reflection
  7. In Vis Arts the VAPD is offered as a technology that enables praxis – study art, respond and experiment, create new art, repeat. This process became internalised, the VAPD supported cultivation of a praxis mindset/discipline. What does English offer? What does ITE offer English PSTs?
  8. How do the ruling texts of an institution shape praxis? Good question. Thinking about this.

Questions that linger:

  • How does praxis differ from “reflective practice”? (is it because the later divorces the elements ‘reflection’ and ‘action’, when they should always both be
  • This reminds me of the Action in/on Reflection scholarship from my undergrad/accreditation contexts. How is this different to ‘praxis’? Is Reflection in/on practice just the language teachers need to comprehend and embark on praxis?
  • How do practitioner inquiry and action research methods facilitate ‘praxis’?
  • Does changing the discourse from ‘praxis’ to ‘reflection’ constrain teacher agency? i.e. maybe reflection can be limited to self-reflection e.g. to better meet KPIs, doesn’t necessarily involve system-reflection or critical reflection…or this is an artificial distinction (?)
  • Do I vibe with project based learning because it scaffolds praxis instead of practice?
  • How are the praxis intensives at Bianca’s school more praxis-y than PBL (I think she and I agreed they are not more or less praxis-y, just needed a different name)? Is it problematic to label the week-long intensive projects ‘praxis’ if the received meaning is that other pedagogies (e.g. PBL) do not require praxis?
  • When you practice you are a practitioner, when you praxis (do praxis?) you are a …? Praxitioner? (note to self: praxitioner as #medium)

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Reporting phase: Semester 1 reflection

Vlogging project

In semester 1 this year (just finished!) I undertook making a few vlogs about my teaching experience as a lecturer at uni.

The results are here:

I’ll be using these vlog ‘reports’ as the source material for an end-of-semester reflection vlog. You are welcome to watch them in the meantime and add questions or ideas as comments to push my thinking.

Edu-tube community

One of the best parts of making these vlogs are the connections I am making with the Australian edu-tube community as I go. We have a decent sized Facebook group, a few of us are active on Twitter, and people are really good about watching and commenting on each others videos.

Some people are ‘teacher-tubers’, teachers who are currently working in schools and making YouTube videos about it (or for it). Others like me are educators from other contexts, from higher education, or community groups, the GLAM sector, public artists and art-based educators. We’re still feeling out the boundaries of this group, as a collective. It’s an energising space. A few of us are meeting up this year again at VidCon Australia.

One of my subscribers asked if I could make a video about how to do a 4-R style reflection, which I mentioned in one of the vlogs. This is definitely something I want to get to before semester 2 starts.

In the meantime, if you want to watch me trying to capture some teaching practice, be my guest:

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Strategies for pulling all-nighters

  1. Eat a high protein dinner.
  2. Carbs for phase 1 – 10pm-midnight. Shapes are ideal. Doritos and salsa delicious, but hard to eat and type.
  3. Coffee is a morning drink. Try to hold out until 1am. But also don’t leave it too late.
  4. Keep the big lights on.
  5. Sugar for phase 2 – the between-coffees session.
  6. Coffee again if you are serious about this. At least a tea. Maybe at 4.30am. Or go get a few hours sleep, it’s not too laaaaaaaaate!
  7. (Big lights down and low lamps on 1 hour before you do want to catch a couple of zzzs.)
  8. Carbs and sugar crash means need water! Or fruit, or cereal with milk. Don’t worry about food keeping you up at this point.
  9. Coffee all day tomorrow, also a chocolate brownie around morning tea is ideal.

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What does poetry mean to me? #PBL unit

This semester I am attempting to demonstrate project based learning (PBL) in action by giving both of my classes an extra-curricular project to work on.

(More about whether these projects are in-or-extra to ‘the curriculum’ in an upcoming post…)

Pre-service teachers in my 3rd year English curriculum studies class are themselves focusing on how to use a PBL approach to design learning for junior secondary English. Their final assignment involves working in groups of 3-4 to create a PBL unit of work and assessment task/criteria sheets.

So, while we are learning about PBL, we are also doing PBL. And here is the project flyer:

image: created by Kelli McGraw, produced using Canva.com

We’re in Week 6 of a 9-week semester, and I already know that exploring ‘ways of speaking poetry’ is going to get squeezed out. That’s OK. My original goal of using the explore phase to offer a ‘smorgasbord’ of experiences has been usurped by getting to know the students and their needs – and they need to spend time going deeper into ways of reading and writing poetry. That’s cool – one of the things I am proud to model for my PSTs is they way plans have to change once real humans are involved. This need to teach in a responsive, agile way is understandably one of the things that new teachers find confronting, but ultimately it’s what effective teaching requires.

I’m at that critical stage of the project where I’m looking at the number of lessons left vs work that needs to get done to complete the project – eek!

My original plan was to get enough poetry artefacts to fill an entire display cabinet, but thankfully the cabinet has SHELVES, so our new goal is to fill 1-2 shelves only. Not a bad result it turns out, as it gives me space to run this project again next year and fill the cabinet progressively instead of all at once.

image: hallway cabinet near my office

The whole project is supposed to take 6 weeks. By the second week I wished I had twice as much time! But that’s how teaching rolls, eh – PBL or no.

Will post pics of the finished cabinet display at the end of semester 🙂

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Teaching and work-life balance

This week I’ve given my pre-service teachers this ‘wicked problem’ to start a conversation about work-life balance:

Imagine it is dinner time on Tuesday and you have three things to do before school tomorrow:

  1. Grade papers
  2. Meet a family/friend obligation
  3. Sleep

You only have time to accomplish 2/3 of these things.

Which thing do you drop?

The decisions and justifications that ensued were sufficiently terrifying. Don’t worry – I also had an excellent follow up discussion about all the joy and fulfillment that teaching brings to your life…

Overwhelmingly, students chose to drop sleep (if they were the kind of person who could handle that kind of thing), or family/friend obligations. Many justified their choice by explaining that family and friends would be understanding, and they’d ‘make it up to them’ later.

Some home truths I needed to explain after we had our discussion included:

  • This is a wicked problem that most teachers (and ALL beginning teachers) face down pretty much every single night. And every weekend. Basically, in every moment of spare time.
  • You can only run on a few hours sleep a night for so long. Driving while overtired can be as bad as driving drunk. Your body will kick your butt come holiday time and you WILL crash. You will also cope less well with this as you age.
  • Your friends and family will only put up with being neglected for so long. They will get tired of coming second best. Many will move on as a result. Where will that leave you?
  • The assertion that “I will not get myself into this situation” is naive. A beautiful and important goal, but naive.
  • The claim that you will get those papers knocked over in a couple of hours ignores the reality of many teachers’ work. English teachers especially mark long pieces of writing – like essays and short stories. You’re looking at around 30 mins per paper, so if you have even half a class to do, you’re looking at 7.5 hours marking work.
  • When you’re not marking, you’re planning. There’s. Always. Something.

The follow up sharing has come thick and fast.

Here is an explanation of the Four Burners Theory that one student shared. She wondered if maybe women generally feel more pressure than men to keep all four burners running, and burn out as a result.

One student shared information about music that is purposefully constructed to reduce stress.

This article bemoaning ‘mindset’ culture and the way ‘good teaching’ is conflated with ‘tired teachers’ serendipitously came across my feed that same week.

And, just to prove that when a message is needed, it comes from all angles…Steven Suptic even made a video that same week about being BURNED OUT from making videos.

I’d love to hear from teaching colleagues about their strategies for solving the wicked problem above. Or their struggles in attempting the same.

Postscript, 12th May: And wow, this post from Tomaz Lasic this week with advice for new teachers is solid gold.

 

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Assignment marking: Do the math

Something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while is the unseen labour that goes into marking student work.

It’s semester 2 marking time in Australian universities, and I’ve just finished a stack of mine. ‘Stack’ in the figurative sense, because these were a combination of learning logs and and video blogging, all submitted and marked digitally, so there were no actual stacks of anything.

Being the audience and assessor for these students’ work was a privilege, and I don’t think any teacher should forget that having the authority to do this work is always a privilege. Sometimes it is also a joy. And it is always something that we do, knowing the important positive impact that quality feedback has on student learning.

It is a labour of love, but it is a labour to be sure.

Generally a student assignment takes 30 minutes to mark. So they say. Once I get my hand in, I can usually get through an exam response in 20 minutes (they don’t tend to require any feedback), and an essay in 30 minutes, but a set of professional plans (e.g. annotated lesson plans, units of work) takes about 45 minutes and you just can’t rush it.

A typical formula for university marking in my field is that formal assessment feedback and grading for each student should get an hour of your time each semester. That’s 30 minutes for each assignment if you only set two assignments. If you want to set more assignments, it’s on you to mark them quicker. If you’re in the edu-biz, you’ll know that this is where group presentations and short response exam papers start looking attractive.

In a typical semester I have 120 students. That’s maybe 90 students in one big unit, and 30 students in a smaller unit. As a high school teacher this was also roughly the number of students I had – roughly five classes of 25 (some with 30 students, some with closer to 20, e.g. senior classes).

Using me as an example: I set two assignments each semester. And we know that on average I plan to spend 30 minutes on each.

My semester runs for 9 weeks (because it’s followed by prac.), but they can also run for 13 weeks. You can’t really set an assignment in weeks 1 or 2. If the assignment is big, worth 40% or more, you can’t really set it in weeks 3 or 4 either.

Let’s say assignment 1 is submitted in week 5. We’re expected to get work back to students in 2-3 weeks. So they say. Which puts me giving their results back to them in week 8 (a very important deadline if the next assignment is due in week 9).

120 students

x

30 mins each

=

60 hours extra work

/over 3 weeks

=

20 hours of extra work each week.

Add about 3 hours for each of the following:

  • getting your head around the task and long times spent on first few tasks marked
  • moderation with a colleague
  • administration of grades, uploading feedback to LMS etc.

Rinse and repeat just one week later if you have set assignment 2 to be due in week 9.

So if you’ve got about 120 students on average, and managed to keep yourself limited to your 30 minutes per assignment in all units in both semesters, then you will have worked about 23 hours of overtime for 12 weeks out of the year.

I say overtime, because the whole time you’ve been doing this, life, and other work, goes on…

Classes still need teaching. Emails still need answering. You still have to front up to important meetings. Research papers still need writing, grant proposals still need submitting, you may be collecting research data and attending conferences too. If you’re a school teacher, it’s classes, emails, meetings, lesson prep, school dance supervision, year 8 camp, sport coaching, bus duty…the list goes on.

As depressing as this exercise is, I think we should all do the math on this for our own teaching context.

People need to know the reality of what teachers mean when someone asks them how they’re going and the only response they can muster is a stoney-eyed “I’ve been marking”.

Spouses and family members need to be acknowledged for how they support the teachers in their lives during marking seasons.

Teachers need to grasp the reality of their workloads so they aren’t taken by surprise each time the overtime cycle hits, and help each other learn how to manage the physical, mental and emotional toll it takes (or collectively rise up and change this system maybe, hey?).

And beginning teachers need to be aware of what they’re in for.

I am so grateful to my boss for giving me lighter teaching load this semester (just 35 students!) so I can focus on my research publications, but next semester I’ll have 120 students again. I can’t wait to meet them, but I sure do wish their assignments would mark themselves!

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