Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Archive for July, 2011

Conation and innovation

Imagine book coverI have just started reading Imagine  by Ian Hunter. The book is both an historical study of innovative people and an exploration into what the author refers to as the seven pillars of innovation: vision, creativity, knowledge, time, resources, focus and persistence.

Ultimately, the question to be asked is what is innovation? We have traditionally associated innovation as simply encompassing new ideas, doing things differently, or entrepreneurial success. Hunter describes innovation as “the process of creating wealth from new ideas – taking what resides in your imagination and converting it into reality”. True innovation leaves changes for the better. It also involves building on and developing ideas that have come before.

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr

Looking at the seven pillars of innovation, I can see at least two that would reflect the conative domain: focus and persistence. Not only did renown innovators such as Da Vinci, Mozart, Eiffel, Disney and Wedgwood possess the necessary talent and develop skills and experience to excel in their fields, but they also had the volition and persistence to overcome obstacles and make their dreams a reality. They weren’t afraid to  dream and aim high, aspiring not to just being satisfactory, but for excellence. These are very much the skills and dispositions we desire for our learners. The further I explore conation, the more I see it as an essential component in learning and teaching.

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.

Hunter, I. (2008). Imagine. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin Group (NZ).


Addressing the conative domain

In education, Bloom’s Taxonomy highlights the complementary nature of the cognitive (intellectual), affective (emotional) and psychomotor (physical) domains. Generally, even though cognition usually ends up taking precedence, educators are aware of the importance of addressing all three domains to enable effective learning and teaching.

Conative people imageOne of the many points to ponder from Tom Reeves‘ workshops at Shar-E-Fest 11 (and his visit to the Open Polytechnic yesterday) is the concept of conation, or the conative domain. These terms are new for me, even if the concepts underpinning them are not. Dating back to the work of Aristotle, conation refers to a natural tendency, impulse, striving or directed effort and is considered one of three parts of the mind along with cognition and affection. The conative domain drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings. Key words include volition, will, desire, follow through, intention, doing, striving, ethics and self-determination – all tendencies we want our students to have but don’t necessarily help them develop.

Apparently there is a 40% drop out rate from students in New Zealand tertiary education, the second highest in the OECD and only ‘beaten’ by the United States. Could addressing the conative domain through effective learning and e-learning design go some way towards ensuring a higher level of retention and success from our students?

Art Costa‘s Habits of Mind go some way to support the conative domain; they address concepts relating to value, inclination, sensitivity, capability and commitment. Mason Durie‘s philosophy toward Māori health, Te Whare Tapa Wha, which has also been adapted for an education context, is underpinned by four dimensions representing the basic beliefs of life: wairua (spiritual), whānau (social), tinana (physical) and hinengaro (cognitive). It is metaphorically represented by a whare (house) and each dimension becomes a wall. With even one dimension missing, the whare is unbalanced and cannot truly exist. Perhaps a similar metaphor could be used to represent the four domains for learning and allow conation to be aptly acknowledged and addressed in our learning and teaching?

Paradigms for formative evaluation

Shar-E-Fest banner
I have just returned to work after spending two days at Shar-E-Fest 11. Hosted by Wintec, this year’s keynote speaker and National E-learning Symposium presenter is Professor Thomas C Reeves from the University of Georgia. Tom’s keynotes and workshops gave me plenty to think about and follow up, some of which I will unpack here. We are very much looking forward to hosting Tom and his wife, Trisha, at the Open Polytechnic tomorrow as part of the National E-learning Symposium.

The role of formative evaluation

One of Tom’s workshops look at the role of formative evaluation to improve the effectiveness of online teaching. We initially unpacked the difference between evaluation and assessment; loosely, we assess characteristics but we evaluate things. Tom challenged us to create a formative evaluation plan for a fictitious new course and decide what it would look like. “Plan?” we all mumbled, “for formative evaluation?” To be honest, it wasn’t really an approach many of us had given due consideration.

Tom gave an overview of four major paradigms in relation to formal evaluation within the context of course or programme design. Each is valid with its own benefits and advantages but equally has its own flaws and biases. Briefly:

  • Experimental (quantitative) paradigm. Based on the notion that there are facts with an objective reality that exist regardless of our beliefs, eg hitting our head against a hard wall is going to hurt. The goal of experimental evaluation is to detect the causes in change in phenomena through quantitative analysis.
  • Interpretive (qualitative) paradigm. Reality is socially constructed through collective definitions of phenomena, eg in the Inuit language, there are multiple words for different types of snow (although Wikipedia disputes this particular example as a popular urban legend). The goal of using this paradigm is to interpret phenomena from multiple perspectives.
  • Postmodern (critical) paradigm. Reality is individually constructed based upon experience, eg culture, gender etc. The goal of this type of evaluation is to improve the status of under-privileged minorities, which sometimes leads to discussion around the hidden curriculum.
  • Pragmatic (eclectic) paradigm. Reality is complex and many phenomena are chaotic and unpredictable. The goal of evaluation using this paradigm is to provide decisions makers with the information they need to make better decisions. Chaos theory, anyone?

What does this mean for us?

These paradigms are all very well and good, but how do they relate to us as educators? As we know, evaluation is about far more than simply ticking the right boxes. When asked to evaluate the programmes or courses we teach, it is important to consider who our key stakeholders are and what paradigm they are coming from as this will ultimately affect the type of evaluation carried out as well as any findings. This will help us plan the purpose, type and methods for evaluation and determine what kind of information we will gather, analyse and report. Tom shared some of his tools and resources to help frame evaluation plans and make sure we are finding out the most relevant information.

The demise of research libraries

As a long-time bibliophile, I love libraries. Earlier in the year, I wrote about the demise of bookshops in response to news that physical bookshops were struggling to compete with their digital counterparts. Yesterday, I read this opinion piece entitled The Crisis in Research Librarianship. In it, the writer, Rick Anderson, laments the demise of research libraries and questions what it is that we value about research libraries, both from a current and historical perspective. Scarcity of information and financial expense, traditionally two catalysts for libraries, have now been greatly diminished in a world where almost anything is available online, leaving us to question the true value of research libraries.

Anderson suggests that the value of research libraries is now determined by a new type of currency, that is, not money but time and attention. To quote, “We procure for our patrons products (books, articles, etc) and offer services (bibliographic instruction, one-on-one research guidance, etc) that we believe are valuable, and our patrons choose whether or not to invest time in our offerings based on the value they expect to gain from doing so” (p. 1). As with the bookshop scenario, rather than focusing on the demise of a traditional system which aptly served its purpose in a particular way, why not look at how libraries are changing or evolving to meet the needs of today’s learners?

As an undergrad student, I spent many late nights in the closed reserve section of the Victoria University library, waiting to use one of two copies of a required book but made available to students in my course for up to two hours at a time and only on the premises. I would rapidly take notes on sections I thought might help me with assignments and crossed my fingers that there would be synergies with information from other books that would be available later in the night after another student had finished their two hours with them. It was a very stressful way to study, especially as deadlines loomed.

Fast forward to my postgraduate study and research libraries took on a whole new function for me. I never physically set foot in Otago University’s library, as I lived in a different city, yet used it extensively to call up copies of research journals, books, articles and texts which would be sent to me by post or email. I could evaluate content by reading abstracts online and sometimes even access full text articles. Although I did most of the searching for materials myself via the library’s online database, Otago’s research librarians were extremely helpful when I got stuck tracking down sources, expanding on searches for my meta-analysis, needed to arrange an interloan, or do something else I couldn’t manage from home. True, they weren’t carrying out the same role they might have when I first started tertiary study ten years earlier, but their newly evolved role was just as valuable to me as a student. I don’ t know how anyone would go about measuring a return on investment for services of this kind, but I’d hate to see the demise of specialist research librarian skills and services.

Rick Anderson, The Crisis in Research Librarianship, The Journal of Academic Librarianship (20110, doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2011.04.001 Retrieved 7 July 2011 from