Making the most of it

Upload a video, or seek out a pastel de nata?

I’m back at UACES this week, including our regular L&T workshop, which got a really good turnout for a range of practically-directed panels and workshops. 

As always, one of our concerns in running this event is finding a format and a content that will draw people in, above and beyond the regulars who form the backbone of our work.

This time, that meant inviting applications for active workshops and a roundtable drawing in some different perspectives on engaging learners.

While this was all positively received, my mind already turns to next year’s event, in Lisbon (I know, it is a great venue) and how we can engage people.

Indeed, as we’ve moved into the general conference, I also want to make the most of the time we get to spend together.

This is a hardy perennial ALPS Blog posts, born of too many events sitting and listening to unengaging presentations and insipid ‘discussion’. And it’s all the odder, because I’ve not had that here, but my mind can play out too easily how it can happen.

Clearly, this is deeply analogous to the situation in our classrooms, where a dry lecture can suffice, but is hardly the optimal use of the time.

The value of that time is surely grounded in our co-location, which allows us to debate and discuss issues in a way that is much less practical if it took place in other media.

So rather than using it for transmission, perhaps it needs to be centred on interaction instead.

More practically, that implies some form of flipping: getting people to produce pre-recorded presentations, so that the contact time can be spent in a more detailed and engaged discussion.

And yet, it’s evident that it’s not as simple as that.

In particular, I draw on one of my basic precepts of teaching: students will always take the path of least resistance.

In practical terms, that means that we have to assume delegates won’t watch uploaded videos beforehand, presuming that the contact time will provide the core information.

That might not be ‘right’ but it’s likely to be what happens, relying as it does on the idea that the presenter will provide a failsafe.

And this is perhaps where we can find a resolution, albeit not a problem-free one.

Instead of doing a simple flip – pre-record a presentation, then do Q&A in the contact session – one could instead require that presenters do the pre-record, then create an activity for the contact time that communicates the fundamentals of the research in a more active and engaging way.

That way, you’d get something even if you couldn’t/wouldn’t watch the presentation beforehand, so providing a backstop to learning.

The problems should be obvious. Either you risk de-incentivising anyone watching the pre-record, or you create a risk that presenters will also take the path of least resistance and not bother to do one or more of the additional elements.

Ultimately, this highlights one of the real challenges we face in organising events (and indeed teaching): it’s easy to add more requirements, but in so doing the main effect might be more workload for us, rather than improved learning for those we wish to learn.

As happens all too often, I don’t have a solution for this, something that aligns nicely with everyone’s interest in a simple life. Either we have to place more work on the shoulders of instructors or of learners.

I’ve been around long enough to see that both groups have plenty of other things to be doing, so I’m relatively pessimistic about shifting practice. 

That’s not to say it’s not possible, but it probably requires a concerted effort from a professional association to change requirements, and to promote and police that for enough years to embed the practice.

Maybe one to discuss with colleagues.