01 SES 17 B, Professional Development, Praxis and Pedagogy
Threshold concepts (Meyer and Land, 2003) are key conceptual problems which act as barriers to student learning. These barriers may arise from incomplete pre-knowledge, gaps in essential concepts, issues with terminology, or existing intuitive beliefs. In order to help educators address these student misunderstandings, a Tricky Topics process was developed from the EU-funded Juxtalearn project and has been successfully implemented in contexts such as primary, secondary and Higher Education contexts across Europe as well as with UK police forces. The process has helped develop teaching and learning practices as well as learning design for distance education and online games-based learning innovations. The process was developed as face-to-face workshops and has been adapted to support online forums using video conferencing software. It is now freely available for people to learn about through a Badged Open Course.
This project aimed to help distance learning tutors develop their understanding of disciplinary and student misconceptions (Tricky Topics) within distance learning modules at The Open University (UK). Using this understanding, the module team could then create new ways of overcoming those misconceptions. The project combined online learning networks (a type of discussion forum producing practical outcome benefits for an organisation) with a Tricky Topic workshop, held either face-to-face or online with distance learning educators and the academic module chair. This presentation uses the evaluation of this project to suggest recommendations for HE practice, in particular, principles for supporting student directed learning. There were two research questions the project sought to address:
- To understand the potential of the Tricky Topic process in identifying learner needs and barriers within three comparative university-level taught modules.
- To identify what is required to develop a joint understanding between those that teach the students and those who develop the learning resources and activities.
This project took a technology-enabled participatory action research perspective (Coghlan and Brannick, 2014), where learning was self-reflective and collaborative, taking place through an unfolding and emergent process. Joint ownership was critical to the work, with both full-time academic module chair and distance learning tutors working together equitably on the discussion, planning and implementation of the project components. Three modules took part in the study; Maths undergraduate (level one) module – this covered fundamental maths topics with two start dates a year. The module has been running for 3 years and has had the same module chair in place for the life of the module. The module taught between 1,000 and 1,800 students per cohort with between 50 and 90 distance learning tutors supporting them. Chemistry undergraduate (level two) module - this module was built upon the fundamental chemistry module at level one by developing a deeper and broader understanding of these fundamental chemistry topics. The module has been running for over 5 years and has had the same module chairs in place for the life of the module. The module taught between 240 and 250 students with between 12 and 13 distance learning tutors supporting them. Technology Enhanced Learning (postgraduate) module -the undergraduate modules had issues with retention and progression that needed addressing. The module has been running for 10 years and has a new module chair in place for the past 2 and a half years. The module taught between 90 and 100 students with between 7 and 8 distance learning tutors supporting them. A qualitative evaluation of the learning networks and workshops was conducted. This consisted of seven interviews; two for each of the three modules consisting of one interview with the academic module chair and one with one of the distance learning tutors. One interview was also conducted with the workshop facilitator. This data was supplemented with observation notes taken from each workshop by an academic staff member in the role of an evaluator. Data were analysed using a constructivist, grounded theory approach.
The evaluation data confirmed that the learning networks, the facilitation of the workshop and the knowledge creation activities were effective for the participants. The Tricky Topic process enabled participants to identify Tricky Topics and their associated stumbling blocks that formed barriers to student learning. During evaluation, some participants were sceptical about the project outcomes from the Tricky Topic process and about whether they would be able to implement the required changes. Main enablers of a successful Tricky Topic process included the support of the learning networks, the mode of delivery and active participation. Barriers or challenges to the process included the perception of a lack of funding and/or resources, lack of flexibility in institutional processes and conflicting priorities for the distance learning tutors. Overall there was an issue of agency between different perceptions of student-centred teaching and learning. The distance learning tutors focused on the learning content and inherent issues in delivering this topic to students, whilst the academic module chair focused more on a personalised perspective of the students understanding of the topic. Whilst this process sought to bring these two perspectives together we found that the academic module chair’s understanding (or lack of understanding of) of student-centred teaching and learning was the major barrier to be overcome. Routes to academic development approaches are proposed as a method of overcoming these issues.
Coghlan, D. and Brannick, T. (2014) Doing Action Research in Your Own Organisation, London, Sage. Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003) Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practising. In: Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student Learning - Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 412-424.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
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Network 10. Teacher Education Research
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Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
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Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
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Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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