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

Archive for the ‘reflection’ Category

Passionate about prime numbers

On the bus to work the other day, I enjoyed listening to a TED Talk by someone who is in love with prime numbers – the bigger the better for him. Adam Spencer introduces himself as a breakfast radio host who loves maths and science. I was intrigued by the stereotypes he broke in his introduction alone.

During his talk, Spencer excitedly announces that a new prime number has recently been discovered and that this is HUGE news. It’s hard not to get caught up in his excitement.

Passion for a topic

What I enjoyed most about this TED Talk is Spencer’s passion for the topic. Prime numbers may seem pretty dry for some, but it’s clearly big news for those who love number patterns (or numbers that break them).

I’ve always maintained that I would happily listen to someone talking any topic they choose so long as they were passionate about it. Accounting processes – why not? Writing legislation? Sure thing! At a party recently, I was talking to a policy analyst who was very excited (yes, excited!) about an upcoming job interview. He talked about some of the research he and his colleagues had been doing recently on topics as varied as meeting government objectives to investigating legal highs. Although I’m not likely to follow his career path any time soon, I genuinely enjoyed listening to him describe something he loves to do; his enthusiasm truly was infectious.

A passion for numeracy

123I think that we’re generally pretty good at¬†acknowledging the place of literacy in all its forms in our daily lives. As a society, we are getting better at celebrating literary success. We give ourselves permission to love literacy and it’s not unusual for people to talk about their favourite books or make suggestions for other readers. So why are we less passionate about numeracy and numbers? A recent UK publication, Voices of adult maths learners, identified that “… the biggest single factor in adults not taking up maths learning is fear” (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education 2013, p. 3). I find this climate of fear truly alarming and a sad consequence of lost opportunities.

I don’t know anyone who would casually scoff that they can’t read or write (and don’t want to know how) in the same way that it seems acceptable for people to ‘admit’ that they don’t like maths and were never any good at it but simply don’t care. The only exception seems to be spelling and grammar. Is this a defensive or protective strategy, where it’s easier to feign disinterest than admit fear or failure? How do we as educators go about dismantling this attitude and instead build positivity and excitement for such a vital set of life skills?

I had a primary school teacher who loved science and was particularly passionate about astronomy and geology. To this day, I enjoy a more than fleeting interest in both fields and am amazed at how much I remember learning about them from 30 years ago. Would our issues with child and adult numeracy would be different if those who are fearful of maths had a teacher or mentor who was passionate about numbers in the same way as my teacher loved science?

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (2013). Voices of adult maths learners. Retrieved November 1, 2013, from


DEANZ Conference 2012 reflections

DEANZ 2012 logoAnd so the DEANZ Conference has come to a close. It has been both refreshing and enriching having three days out of the office to be immersed entirely in the world of distance learning. Events such as this are a wonderful celebration of distance learning and show that, although we all work for different organisations, we share a common goal: quality education that is accessible for all learners. So many of the sessions I attended reflected my own experience of distance learning and teaching; so much so that I sometimes wondered if the presenters were actually talking about my work! One of the many things I love about distance education is that it can occur anywhere and at any time, that is, access to learning is not dependent on location or a particular timetable. It certainly makes sense in today’s increasingly busy society.

For me, the biggest highlight of this conference (and most conferences) was the opportunity to engage and interact with so many others working in the same field. I enjoyed meeting many people whom I have ‘worked with’ or encountered virtually over the years. I also enjoyed catching up with current and past colleagues, former managers and chief executives, students (former and current) and those who taught me back in my teacher training and university days. The education community is a rich tapestry and I am thrilled that my professional learning network is continually growing.

A big thank you to the organising committee for making this event happen. I look forward to continuing our professional conversations in the days/weeks/months/years to come. ūüôā

DEANZ Conference 2012

DEANZ 2012 logoA group of colleagues and I are attending the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) Conference this week. The day’s proceedings began with mihi whakatau with Open Polytechnic (as tangata whenua) welcoming the manuhiri (guests) to the conference. It is good to be able to make use of the wireless internet here at the venue by tweeting and blogging from the event. You can follow updates via the Twitter hashtag #DEANZ2012.

The opening keynote address was given by Professor Paul Bacsich, who we hosted at Open Polytechnic last week. Paul continued talking about his research into models for virtual schools and colleges (VISCED) and shared three institutions who are considered successful: Sofia Distans in Sweden, Interhigh in Wales and Brisbane School of Distance Education in Australia. He has generated a list of ‘Multeversity features’ for universities and tertiary institutions in the future, including bridging into and from upper secondary school learning to reduce the drop-out while still leveraging school-level knowledge. As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make connections with learners’ prior learning and experience and it would be good to see mechanisms in place to support this in the tertiary sector.

Professor Niki Davis and colleagues gave an invited presentation entitled A scenario guide to effective tertiary education for New¬†Zealand in 2016. Four scenarios were unpacked: articulation, the ‘supermarket’, quality branded consortia and self-determination. Each has its benefits and limitations and ultimately the exercise is about maximising the overlap and relationships between the four quadrants to provide the most effective learning solutions. Coming from a background in “self-determination”-styled learning as a primary e-teacher, I would love to explore strategies that would enable this approach in the tertiary learning environment.

I will continue to blog and tweet throughout the conference … or for as long as my laptop battery lasts. ūüôā

How easy it is

… to make someone’s day. Two little words go a looooong way yet cost so little: thank you.

Yesterday, the inaugural Open Polytechnic Learning Conference took place. 250 of our staff had the opportunity to attend a day of professional learning where we could share ideas, expertise, strategies and examples of good practice that support, promote, enhance, enable and celebrate student success. And what a success the conference was! ūüėÄ

Events like this don’t just magically happen on their own. Although a very small number of people actually planned, organised and ran the conference, an army of helpers was enlisted to assist in every area imaginable, from IT help, catering, moving furniture, graphic design, printing and more.

Bucket imageEarlier this year, I blogged about bucket filling. The time and energy required to organise this conference had threatened to drain my bucket many times these past couple of months. However, the practical and emotional support willing given by a huge number of colleagues ensured it was never completely empty and now my bucket is starting to replenish. It has been truly humbling and now it’s my turn to start refilling the buckets of those who have kept mine awash.

When I think of the most memorable thank yous I have received over the years, two key points come to mind: they are personalised and they are sincere. I am currently in the process of handwriting a personalised thank you card for each presenter and helper, valuing their contribution to this wonderful event and showing our appreciation. I have found the process itself is incredibly rewarding as I reflect on what each individual has done and the reactions from people as they read their cards is worth every second spent writing. A little really does go a long way!

Excuse me while I go and fill some more buckets. ūüôā

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 ‚Äď 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 MńĀori 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), whńĀnau¬†(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.