Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Conference report: Failure; Group work; Architecture #sheftess15

In my second post about the University of Sheffield Faculty of Social Sciences learning and teaching conference (that I attended on 19 March), I’ll say something about three presentations I attended: on failure, on group work and on “real world” projects. Firstly, Tim Herrick (from the Education School) talked about Have we got it wrong? Rethinking failure, in which he was reflecting on what happens when student work fails. He asked us to think about failures in our own lives, and whether we’d used those experiences of failure with our students (many of us had e.g. talking about the “messiness” of getting an article published, or using examples of mistakes one has made in one’s own teaching practice when talking with students learning about teaching).

He identified three ways of diagnosing failure: as lack of capability (and he felt there were issues with this: could capability always be accurately assessed?); as “a standard level of performance temporarily affected by external factors” (aka as “my gran died” i.e. it refers to the type of circumstances that (someone decides) are allowable as a reason for not having performed well); and finally as “a misalignment of task and effort”.

It was this last one which he found most persuasive. Tim stressed that the learner has always been doing “something”, even if it wasn’t what the educator hoped or wanted (e.g. the learner might have been out having a good time, or have paid someone else to do the work – but that was still “something”). He felt that identifying the “something” gave a starting point for engaging with the student. It also helped to focus on identifying – why has this misalignment happened? what could educator and student do to prevent the misalignment?
One of Tim’s recommendations was: Holt, J. (1982). How children fail. Rev. ed. DaCapo Press. ISBN 9780201484021

Leo Care and Daniel Jary, from the School of Architecture, talked about two types of projects: MatterReality (a first year project) and Live Projects (a Masters level project). They are not to do with information literacy, but I’ll put links to some of the projects’ websites and social media as I found them interesting. For MatterReality, students end up constructing a conversation space out of one material, which gets displayed in the centre of Sheffield https://instagram.com/matterreality and https://matterreality15.wordpress.com/. In Live Projects http://www.liveprojects.org/, the students work on projects for real clients (mostly 3rd sector, community groups). Care and Jary did provide some interesting points on how the group work was managed, and as with the next speakers, they included reflective elements in assignments.

Finally, my colleagues in the Information School, Pam McKinney and Barbara Sen, talked about their analysis of reflections on groupwork: the reflections were worth 20% of the mark in an assignment where the main output was a business report for a real life client. Their talk was entitled Situational analysis of group work: student reflective assessment.

Pam and Barbara analysed 25 students’ work, using (as you would guess from the title) situational analysis. Using this technique they identified actors (e.g. the student, the client), actants (e.g. ways of communicating), temporal elements (e.g. reflecting on past experiences of group work), silent actors/actants (i.e. things not mentioned e.g. very little mention of internet, wifi), discursive constructions (e.g. valuing each other’s contributions) and major issues or debates(e.g. importance of keeping in touch with the group).

In terms of implications for teaching, these included that (i) students used lots of different ways to communicate, with groups settling on the way that pragmatically worked best for that group (so the same way e.g. Facebook, email, was not best for every group); (ii) face to face group meetings were important, but there were issues around arranging and attending them; (iii) although the educators had put in a good deal of support and scaffolding, this was not mentioned by students (it was a “silent” item; (iv) students were not distinguishing work from social identities.
This identified (for example) the need to make it easier for students to arrange and manage face to face group meetings; the issue of the educator support could be seen as a positive (something the students used and took for granted), or perhaps its contribution to successful group work needed to be emphasised more.
Photo at the start of the post by Sheila Webber: blackthorn blossom, March 2015

No comments: