Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

What makes a case study?

March 19, 2015

This is the season when the undergraduate final-year students who I teach are working on their projects, and many of these projects are based around one or more case studies.  The idea of a case study is very well establshed as an approach to teaching in business and management, on the basis that potentially every management situation is slightly different, and by looking at a range of different situations, you will acquire the skills and understanding to deal with whatever challenges your subsequent career throws at you.

There is a lot of academic work around about when it is appropriate to use case studies, and how the observations from a case study can be applied more generally.  So it’s a complicated subject, but as is often the case there are a few relatively simple things to remember:

  • A case study doesn’t tell you anything about the prevalence of the effects or behaviour that you observe.  Think of it this way: when the Sun runs a story about somebody claiming benefits while living a luxurious lifestyle, this is a case study.  It tells you nothing about what proportion of people claiming benefits are indeed living luxurious lifestyles – merely tells you about one approach which somebody uses to do this.  Lest this looks like a dig at the tabloid press, the same point could be made about newspaper articles which focus on people who aren’t getting the benefits they deserve
  • You should be able to say something about why a case study is interesting, and also how the lessons could be applied in different contexts.  So (given the point above) James Blunt’s irritable open letter about his upbringing and career probably doesn’t say very much about social mobility, he makes an interesting point that boarding school and a spell in the army isn’t necessarily the best start for a career in pop music.  So you could read James Blunt’s career trajectory as a case study of a rather unusual post-military career
  • You really need to have some observations of how a case study might be ‘generalised’ even if the message is that your case study isn’t typcal.  So are there particular challenges that might be encountered in a different context?  If you are drawing on some management theory, are there ways in which the case fits, or doesn’t fit, the theory which might be reflected in different cases.

This guidance is particularly aimed at anybody writing up case studies as part of a taught degree in business or management, but of course might be relevant more widely than that.

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Another conference season

May 23, 2014

I’ve attended one conference so far this year – the Association of Business Schools annual teaching and learning conference.  This year it was in Aston, where the website helpfully tells you that the walk from Birmingham New Street station to the conference centre should use up enough calories to justify eating one biscuit or three jellybabies.

As always, this is a great conference for sharing ideas about teaching and learning, and student engagement.  As with last year’s conference in Nottingham, I chaired a stream on flexible learning (in practice a concept which embraces a lot of different ideas) and when asked to sum up what I took away from the stream, suggested that it was about having the confidence to bring back new ideas and implement them.  And if – as is the case where I work – we’re dealing with every increasing numbers of students one of the biggest challenges is to ensure that each student gets some individual attention.

And one interesting idea, from Gwen Van Der Velden, of the University of Bath, feeds into student engagement, and universities’ relationships with students who are keen to get value for money.   Her argument was that universities could adopt a ‘commercialist’ view – where the interests of the university would be distinct from those of its students – or a ‘collegiate’ view where the interests of a university were largely congruent with those of its students.  The collegiate approach has the benefit, arguably, of being close to the traditional idea of a university as a place of shared learning.  Given the level of interest that I’ve seen recently, in academics and students working together as partners, this is food for thought.

More blogging from the ABS conference

April 29, 2013

This isn’t live blogging any more, because I’ve been back since last Wednesday afternoon, but still worth catching up on.

There were two very engaging talks in the flexible learning stream starting first thing on the Wednesday morning:well done not just to the presenters but to the attendees who made the effort to come along and to engage in some really useful discussion.  One was by Chris Jones from Aston, who had been working with lecture capture (or Aston Replay to use their catchy name for their system) and in fact touched on two things that interest me right now: the benefits of lecture capture and the challenges associated with revision in economics for first year students.  Chris was interested in measuring whether there was any discernible advantage in terms of students who viewed lecture capture attaining higher marks.  He had lots of quantitative findings, but the one that sticks in my mind is that students who viewed (or listened to) lecture capture recordings did better than others on essay assignments, but not necessarily on multiple choice questions.  Which is interesting because of the questions that it raises: it’s possible, after all, that there’s no causal relationship at all, but that students whose learning approaches and preferred strategies are such that they are inclined to use lecture capture recordings are also the ones who tend to be better at writing essays.

Immediately afterwards there was a talk by Will Green from Leicester about blogging.  This was in the context of business and management students undertaking placements in industry, and particularly linked to the idea of generating critical thinking skills.  Students do gain a huge amount from spending time in the workplace during tehir courses, but it was great to see a discussion and some thought of how this could be enhanced with some useful reflective writing about their experiences.

Great quote from the ABS teaching and learning conference

April 24, 2013

This from David Hitchcock of the University of Westminster in a panel discussion ‘flexibility for one person is unstructuredness for another’ – particularly relevant for my role in the conference because I was chairing a stream on flexible learning

Liveblogging from the Association of Business Schools learning and teaching conference

April 24, 2013

After a little time away from blogging (too many other things happening) the annual learning and teaching conference run by the Association of Business Schools is a good opportunity to get back into it.  This year we’re in Nottingham, in a rather attractive conference centre created by Nottingham Trent University from a combination of grand Victorian and even grander 1950s buildings.

Rebecca Taylor, who is dean of business and law at the Open University, is today’s keynote speaker and has interestng ideas about personal learning, and about the connection between informal and informal learning.  Particularly striking is her take on openlearn as a forum for informal learning, given that this attracts huge numbers of learners (unlike most university resources there are materials on the web which attract up to a billion page views) and the view that this is a way of increasing the ‘reach’ of the open university and making ever greater numbers of people aware of its work.

She’s just been asked about MOOCs (I told you that this was liveblogging) and suggested that MOOCs would offer participants an additional type of informal learning experience, but one which could be part of a journey towards more formal learning.  Given the amount of thought that’s being given to the business model underlying MOOCs. and the Open University’s involvement in FutureLearn, this is food for thought

Ideas behind the MOOCs

December 7, 2012

George Siemens is one of the most prominent proponents of MOOCs at present.  While I’m not convinced by all the links that he draws between innovative education and changes in society, in this TED talk he does provide a powerful explanation of the thinking behind new approaches to learning online (the course for educators that he describes is a MOOC)

For as long as distance education has been available (and that includes correspondence courses going back at least as far as the 19th century) much of it has been devoted to providing education to groups who wouldn’t have been reached by more traditional approaches.  An interesting consequence of the interest in electronic tools for learning is the number of influential thinkers who are based in remote parts of Australia or Canada, or who work with students who might be classed as ‘widening participation’  Working inAthabasca University, which is an established distance learning institution based in Canada, George Siemens falls into both these categories, though the TED talk is worth a browse for the bit at 2:47 where he explains where he comes from originally, and why that matters.

MOOCs in the Times Higher

December 7, 2012

This week’s cover story in Times Higher Education is about MOOCs.  It’s worth reading this electronic version from the bottom up, because, whatever the rights and wrongs of the criticisms posted by David Kernohan of JISC (an organisation that supports innovative digital technology in British universities), he’s provided some interesting links.  And this Twitter exchange is telling in that he’s clearly hoping to provide material for a follow-up article

Watch out for the MOOCs

November 20, 2012

David’s question about what a 21st century university might look like arrived, by chance, just at the same time that I saw this from Clay Shirky, who is interested in one particular online player – Udacity – which depends on using a MOOC (massive open online class).

Clay Shirky is a very eminent figure, and his explanation of the MP3 file as an example of how a seemingly obscure technological development can precipitate disruptive change is a powerful one.  So it’s with some trepidation that I take issue with him.  But the Internet thrives on debate, so I’ll do so on a couple of specific points.  His discussion of the role of quality, and the limitations on the sound quality from an MP3 file or the educational quality of participation in a MOOC, is interesting and is relevant to disruptive innovation.  Because it’s a typical characteristic of disruptive innovations that they are ignored because innovative products and services aren’t perceived as being good enough, only for the products and services to improve gradually until they become serious threats.  This is the lesson of observers who might have dismissed Apple in the 1980s as frivolous because they sold personal computers costing several thousand pounds, or who would have ignored Skype because it offered inferior sound quality to a phone line.

But most recorded music isn’t played through expensive equipment in an acoustically perfect environment.  So it’s reasonable to assume a ‘satisficing’ effect, that once the technology to play music had reached a certain sound quality there wouldn’t be much pressure to improve on that.  Which explains partly the success of MP3: it may not be a perfect format but for most listeners it’s good enough.

So, if you were to go back a decade to the start of the digital music revolution, I don’t think that sound quality would have been perceived as the barrier to wider use of MP3s.  Instead, I think you would have found a tacit assumption that, because the previous technologies for recording music, whether they had been phonograph cylinders or CDs, depended on the music being associated with a physical artefact, people who bought music would still have wanted the sense of possessing some such artefact.  Perhaps the ultimate expression of the importance of this artefact was t the interest accorded to the artwork on album covers.  The MP3 was disruptive because it removed the coupling between the recorded music and the artefact.  But when it first became available it wasn’t at all obvious that this would be acceptable to the market.

So what has this to do with MOOCs?  I’d suggest that if we’re looking for a technology that really has the scope to disrupt higher education, we shouldn’t just be looking at quality or engagement.  We shouldn’t just be preoccupied with whether lectures and tutorials offer the sort of interaction and coordination seen among musicians playing a string quartet (or a jazz piece, or a concerto, which I think is a particularly powerful metaphor for a lot of learning).  Instead we should be looking for technologies which can decouple the student experience from the physical university in new ways.

And on this count, I’m not sure if MOOCs are really new.  I think they offer some interesting pedagogic options, and may well open up education to a broader group of students, as did the Open University from the 1960s onwards.  But I also think it reasonable to ask, given that traditional universities have survived the first generation of Internet-based learning from around 2000, the advent of the Open University in the 1960s, and the emergence of correspondence courses in late Victorian times, why MOOCs should be more disruptive than earlier technologies.

Incidentally this shouldn’t be read as an argument for complacency.  One of the lessons of disruptive innovation is that organisations are threatened by sources of competition that they can’t foresee, and they don’t know about.

Finally I’ll pick up on the issues surrounding music.  People do still pay to listen to live music, and, given that string quartets are mentioned by Clay Shirky, it’s worth noting that there’s a long-established series of chamber concerts on Sunday evenings in London that’s been running, with just two changes of venue, for around 100 years.  Unfortunately I don’t have the data, but a determined archivist should be able to find out the price of these concerts over the years, and plot how it has changed in real terms.

Oddly enough ‘cost disease’, as Clay Shirky calls it, did have an effect on the recording of string quartets.  From the 1980s the Naxos record label set out to sell budget recordings of classical music.  This was a period when production costs of CDs were going down because of the same influences that reduced the cost of many electronic and related goods.  Naxos’s idea was to match this with a budget approach to finding artists, by looking for young and little-known performers who would expect lower payments than their more famous equivalents, and would welcome the exposure.

Moreover Glenn Gould – the famously eccentric Canadian pianist – gave up live performances in the 1960s on the understanding that he believed recorded music to be the future.  Fifty years later, one of the most significant areas of impact of the digitisation of recorded music is on talent scouts, who no longer need to travel to rooms above pubs or to busking pitches to discover new artists, but who instead trawl the more obscure reaches of YouTube.  Nevertheless, live music hasn’t disappeared.

Twitter picture from ALT-C

September 19, 2012

Sandra Partington, who was one of the co-authors of our ALT-C contribution last week, has appropriately used Twitter to post a photo from the session.  Here’s her shot of me with Mo Pamplin in front of one slide from our Pecha Kucha session – I’m on the left of the photo in the light coloured shirt.

Using a pattern language

September 12, 2012

One other workshop which I attended was from Yishay Mor, who one of the people behind this online course created by the Open University.  I was drawn to his contribution by his use of the pattern language created by Christopher Alexander as an influence.  As discussed in the workshop, Alexander is an architect and the concept of the pattern language was, in simple terms, to rationalise the characteristics of places where people would enjoy living and working.  Yet his concepts are more widely used in computer science where the word ‘architecture’ has acquired its own meaning.  A siginificant point here is that the workshop opened with a quick, structured, particpatory exercise to get the attendees to talk about their own uses of educational technology.  The structure – based around groups of three, with one telling a story, one questioning, and one writing down, was a fairly pure example of a reflective dialogue but was also introduced as an illustration of how an educational exercise can follow a pattern language.