We are now halfway through our group design task as part of our studies. As previously noted, we are battling a number of obstacles, and they are giving rise to another, quite interesting issue. I have spent some of the last few years teaching management and strategy concepts to trainee accountants, particularly focusing on applying these concepts to scenarios. I am often asked if someone has come up with the “right” answer. In areas like management and strategy, it is hard to talk about “right” answers, so I usually say that there are potentially many “right” answers. However, there are also going to be “wrong” answers, in the sense that analysis may be faulty, or a student may come up with recommendations that are completely uncommercial, or impractical. Some can accept this concept but others, perhaps more used to solving mathematical issues, find this difficult.
Our current task is a creative one, so it makes even less sense to talk about “right” answers, but I am feeling more sympathy with my students. Our task is very unstructured and open-ended – we are interpreting instructions in different ways. While I am sure all our approaches are valid, we need to know if we are making real howlers somewhere, or fundamentally misunderstanding something. Perhaps this is one of the key skills of being an educator (at any level). You need to give your students enough freedom to be creative and take new directions, at the same time giving them reassurance and feedback that they are not making mistakes that will waste their time or lead to problems down the line. There is certainly no “right” answer to this one – it is a delicate balance that must constantly be adjusted. Maybe this is another reason why the MOOCs will never really take over education (but that’s for another time).
Our most recent activity has been to review some case studies and frameworks relevant to our task, which is creating a tool (“digital diary”) to help learners in a range of contexts plan their development and reflect on their progress. For one study, I diverged a little from the usual pattern and looked at Voicethread, one of the most interesting tools for reflection and comment to emerge in recent years, and an eportfolio implementation at Dumfries & Galloway College, which was part of a JISC project. We are asked to draw some patterns from our research and I came up with this. The points are not perhaps entirely original, but maybe it was good to reinforce them with evidence:
- Do not underestimate IT issues involved – tools need to be simple and support provided
- It is helpful to have goals in mind but there is also a place for experimenting with a new approach and seeing what happens
- Use of an interesting tool can improve enthusiasm and motivation in itself
These are very consistent with the principles my team-mates identified, with perhaps a couple of additional points – firstly, the need for support and examples for learners, and secondly the importance of learner buy-in if this is really going to work.
All of this is will be useful in planning our tool, and perhaps it has broader application. We will need to make the tool simple and intuitive to use and make sure plenty of support and examples are offered. Not revolutionary stuff, but very useful design principles and undoubtedly worth observing wherever possible.