Active Learning Conference: Sussex, June 2018

Conference summary : meetup with lots of folks passionate about active learning of various forms; this report contains my overall impression plus a list of those ideas I thought worth further consideration including: agile scenario construction; study of emergent network behaviour through the medium of dance (!); team chess and distributed responsibility;  plus of course lots of Team Based Learning. 

My favourite conference of 2018 (so far!) has just finished. I love the University of Sussex; small and friendly campus, great people, lovely setting. Not forgetting to say hello to their illustrious Chancellor.

I arrived in time for an afternoon’s masterclass on Team Based Learning; following my forays into this with Victor Geh, Richard Burke and James Scobie last year, it was great to meet others who have been using this approach, some for many years. We continued the conversation over dinner (at the wonderful Polpo in Brighton). The TBL theme continued into the following day, the key insights for me were

  • There is now quite a lot of evidence for the efficacy of the TBL approach
  • Many successful implementations involved quite a lot of preparation for teamwork (team bonding, setting rules, communication training, some warm up exercises and other approaches)
  • There is much debate about whether TBL should be summative (some felt it was a sine qua non) with a range of practices about how to split the summative marks over the various TBL activities
  • Peer evaluation is key (including skills building – we are training our students to be leaders than can develop their team).
  • Also there should be a chance for students to question the answers (Team Appeal: some felt this was a key part of TBL).
  • There are now online TBL tools allowing the collection of real time learning analytics

I didn’t get to go to Mark Carew’s workshop on playing chess. This is intriguing – the team distribute responsibilities between them (one is looking out for development of the pieces, another one for whether the piece moved is in danger, another for the king.. etc ). This approach, in theory, allows a completely novice team to play a reasonable game of chess. Mark uses it with individuals taking a monitoring role in the body (eg glucose levels) in a team based approach to physiology. It’s easy here to find analogues I could use. Importantly, it directly addresses the problem we often find, which is that groups fragment with the ‘strongest’ (or at least most dominant) member taking over.

Another new technique (for me) was presented by Roy Hanney from Solent, he works with media production students who need to quickly generate a ‘storyboard’. The approach is very interesting, the students arrive with an artefact (eg photo) and a story in their heads already. But the rest of the students use brainwriting to create another story around that. The results are tangibly more novel. It is more difficult initially to imagine the relevance to business, but I thought about a way of constructing business scenarios and new product design ideas.

Perhaps the most intriguing new approach I saw was from Margarita Steinberg from Sussex who introduced what she called Socratic Questioning 2.0 (!). It involved the use of Argentine Tango (really) to embody the experience of co-operation, power and trust. The idea was for one person to ‘lead’ another using light touch of the hands (this could be adapted; we used an empty cup lightly sandwiched between the hands to avoid direct contact). Variations explored symmetry, communication, power, certainty etc. And it got really interesting when the ‘leaders’ started paying attention to the room – the ‘emergent’ behaviour was quite different. The challenge of course is to make this into a learning experience rather than a novelty – for me I think the approach could be used to ‘embody’ supply chain dynamics in a way I haven’t yet completely worked through.

One final point, perhaps more down to earth but a really useful insight. Wendy Garnham has compared video, audio and textual feedback. They found that the video feedback (using Zoom – although the tool looks a little heavyweight to me) is the most popular with students, and just as effective as text. And in a pleasing win:win it actually reduces the time for assessment!

So – quite a lot packed into a single day but well worth the trip. I won’t have time to apply all these ideas to Engineering Business Management and Innovation and Technology Management; but certainly some of them will be making an appearance.

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1 Response to Active Learning Conference: Sussex, June 2018

  1. Pingback: Experiential Learning of the Embodied Kind – The Active Learning Network

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