Chris Deneen, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education Curriculum & Assessment from MCSHE, and Bronwyn Disseldorp , Senior Learning & Teaching Consultant at Learning Environments together presented an engrossing talk in an online seminar for UoM teaching staff at the end of July, about effective feedback to students in online environments. (This is a belated post that serves to re-fresh my thoughts and virtual ‘take-homes’). Kicking off the session (and thoughtfully “doing things in 3s”, Chris let us in to the latest research about what constitutes effective…and fabulous….feedback. FEEDBACK THAT MATTERS. The gap between feedback and feedforward is what you are needing to address,this is where the ‘difference’ is made for the student to improve. (What is the current level of performance, where do you want the student to get to, and what will it take to get to the future performance? )
Some of my big takeaways from this illuminating session were…
on Rubrics – (sorry for the pun, but I loved learning the etymology of rubrics, coming from the red ink with which early illuminated manuscripts were marked for emphasis, the art historian in me got fired up….)
Feedback must be immediate (makes sense, but needs to be said)
Feedback must be dialogic – it must inspire and constitute a discussion between teacher/facilitator of learning, and student/learner
Feedback must not be debilitating (overwhelmingly time consuming/overcommitted) for the teacher/learning facilitator who initiates/delivers it
In feedback sometimes less is more
TO GET TO THE TECHNOLOGY PART OF IT…
Chris used a great cartoon for the leveraging of technology in feedback, ocean swimmer to deep diver….from technology being an enhancement, to the deeper situation where technology leads to transformation…
Bronwyn Dissledorp then took us on a romp through CANVAS and the affordances of the platform for innovative feedback. She talked about many things, including …
…the use of Speedgrader program in canvas; Canvas Quizzes – feedback options. Text can be displayed for correct and incorrect answers, and as overall feedback…facilitating more subtle responses: not just ‘right’ ‘wrong’….but why? You could have response data views, to show trends in answers, so you can see where there are most misunderstandings… Use of Gradescope, Feedback Fruits (Peer Review Assignment and Group Member Evaluation)…. Use of video in Peer Feedback – Student Presentations, feeding forward suggestions in formats that aren’t just words (ie video, or audio recordings), use of Poll Everywhere (turns into Wordle-like outputs that can be shared) and Qualtrics for getting feeback from students to inform the subject itself…
OK, I admit, at this point of the session I started feeling overwhelmed (mostly because I’m unfamiliar with a lot of areas in Canvas, as I haven’t created a subject to date, just participated in parts of one as a ‘guest’. )
A big takeaway was that the LE team can support the development of innovative uses of Canvas, building/tweaking platforms that suit the specific feedback requirements. We’ve been invited into a Feedback Canvas site to play, so putting this in practice will be the best way to learn. Also there is potential to get a Teaching and Learning grant to focus on Feedback, which would support doing this more deeply in the near future.
I’m thinking about this in the context of our Creative subject for Medical Humanities, and the final task being a creative output. Feedback will be crucial, and we’ve already thought of providing discussion sessions at the end of every synchronous session where students can share their creative process to date, and support each other (and we support them) in applying the modes of creativity we explore (dance, visual art, creative writing, music, etc) to their own creative journey through the subject. I’m thinking about a few factors will will define effective feedback in this virtual learning context: how the students are already in an unfamiliar space of being invited to be as creative as possible with the task, to engage in lateral thinking and inviting multidisciplinary perspectives…so there are a lot of ‘unknowns for them’. This is where the formative feedback is crucial, needing to be super clear, very supportive and nurturing of some risk taking, timely and frequent.
One idea that was discussed in the session that I think would be really useful is use of video recordings: a general one which can be delivered to everyone, where we (academic subject leads) talk about the assigment, discuss the rubric elements, what ‘success’ looks like in this context, and also share some content -including examples (such as the Artodontia site which is part of UBC websites of health-sciences students’ art) to give clear examples of what creative final-products can look like. We take the best of the ‘art crit’ concept sessions familiar to anyone who has studied visual arts, in the virtual synchronous classes.
As we continue to evolve and develop the Medical Humanities subject, I am excited to keep probing at areas like effective feedback, incorporating my own learning into the process…
This webinar is fascinating, and on a topic close to my heart. I feel creativity is the pot of gold at the end of the University Museum & Collections academic engagement rainbow…. By that, I mean that I think creativity is one of the ‘superpowers’ of this resource, or rather that it is a ‘disposition’ at the core of the Museums & Collections (encompassing the environments, collections, exhibitions, programs, and the staff and collaborators who activitate them).
The talk features 4 academics from across the world who have identified creativity as fundamental, and who talk about various facets of how we can promote creativity in higher education, in both learning and research contexts. Speakers are: Bashir Makhoul, president and vice-chancellor of the University for the Creative Arts in London; Giovanni Moneta, senior lecturer in psychology at London Metropolitan University; Linda Watts, professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell; and Yong Zhao, foundation distinguished professor in the School of Education at the University of Kansas and a professor in educational leadership at the University of Melbourne’s own Graduate School of Education.
Situating creativity as desirable and fundamental across all disciplines, the panel noted the urgency for tertiary education leaders to communicate the value of creativity to policy makers and society, in an era when the split between STEM and humanities may be widening, and where creativity seems to be pushed to the sidelines. One of the shared perceptions from the panel was the need for students to be co-creators in their learning, or in the words of Yong Zhao, ‘students should be the partners of change, and owners of their own learning’.
The discussion begin from a definition of creativity, as the process of applying our imagination… It can’t be taught, but can be nourished. Creativity is a ‘high impact practice’, associated with higher order thinking skills… and so it is also a bit elusive. Conditions must be set up in tertiary contexts to allow creativity to flourish, and those conditions arise through a personalised learning experience, where individuals can best be allowed to work with their abilities, imaginations, and passion to develop their creative selves. Creativity creates a contexts in which you ‘surprise yourself’.
The panelists made many great points, provocations, and ‘calls to arms’. Here are some of my favourite (paraphrased/quoted closely from my notetaking during the panel discussion):
Linda Watts, in response to the prompt Creativity provides a bridge between the arts and sciences: “we are speaking to a tension that exists in universities between being organisations that persist within tradition, affirming existing knowledge; on the other hand there is the raw generative energy [through creativity] that transforms our lives in ways that are NOT customary or conventional” and goes on to quote Zora Neale Hurston from her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Dirt Road, ‘Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.’
Yong Zhao, in response to the prompt How do university leaders foster a creative culture across campus/the institution?: The 1st thing is for university leaders to recognise they are not preparing a workforce but rather preparing individual talents. Each student is a talented individual who can be creative. The 2nd thing is to create centres/institutes for students who may not fit very well in their disciplines/courses to have a place to go; creativity must be combined with knowledge and discipline, and to do this within a community. This allows them to be globally connected, using their creativity.
Bashir Makhoul, in reponse to the same prompt: Creativity is required for every researcher, everyone who is doing something, no matter what discipline they come from. Research is where we begin… There is an assumption that research is about data collection\, but that process itself, and connectivity between those elements of research, requires a creative mindset for it to work in terms of discovery. …You have to always think outside the box…You have to take intellectual risks on our own expense to reach that sense of discovery.
Yong Zhao in response to the prompt: Why is creativity so highly valued by employers? Indentifying the connection between the rise of creativity has a lot to do with the loss of human jobs, as technological innovations have made so many jobs redundant… this trend is moving towards the jobs requiring intellectual labour, as we see around the growth of AI innovations in the workplace. People instead need to be entrepreneurs, working in a space of uncertainty. In this domain, we need people who are actively seeking and prying, trying to figure out what to do, so they aren’t competing with same jobs as machines.
Linda Watts responding to the prompt: How can we ward off the risk of technology homogenising, rather than encouraging creativity. Is it harder across a screen?: Learning is a relationship; relationship can exist f2f or digital, and while each has its difficulties, it is the work of our lives that we persist in… Creativity is an important part of that: more than transmitting content or training skills, when we are learning and when we are teaching others we are involved in developing capacities and dispositions that the world needs, now more than ever. Those with the ability to manage in a context of ambiguity, ambivalence, rapid change, skills like resilience and empathy, ability to deal with unstructured problems, bring ethical discernment to problems that are unresolvable, and conduct reflective practice. Whatever that means in the context of your content areas, there is room to think about the ways that learning is building a sensibility and not just a knowledge base.
Yong Zhao in response to the question: Do you think creativity is best encouraged or fostered when people are working as prat of a wider group or community, or is it an individual pursuit?: Both. However, creativity can be further supported if you are with a more creative group (example of Silicon Valley context)…If you have a creative culture on campus, your school/university is going to be more creative… Creativity needs to be combined with discipline.
I’m very excited to be starting to develop a entirely new Medical Humanities subject for the new MD course at UoM. It is a Discovery subject, elective for first year postgraduate students studying medicine, and will be delivered entirely in virtual mode, to ensure equity across both city and rural based students.
Working with terrific colleagues Rosie Shea, Jenny Schwarz, and Jayne Lysk (all from the Faculty of Medicine), we’ve got a tight deadline to shape and create the subject, ready for delivery in Sem 1 2022. The subject will be bringing medical science, creativity and the arts together, for a socially engaged approach to health and wellbeing. We will be using an art/cultural learning approach exploiting the affordances of UoM’s cultural collections and museum/gallery environments, with a focus on the virtual space of UoM’s new Science Gallery as the virtual/conceptual central learning hub.
We started our strategising using Padlet as a collaborative tool, as we work in an entirely virtual space to create this new subject. Thanks to the inspiration and new understandings generated by EDUC#90970, I felt confident pulling together the beginnings of the Ecology of Resources for the subject, again in Padlet for easy sharing.
I’m very inspired by the reflective opportunities of the blog (they’ll use Edublogs like this). And there are great examples of digital platforms for assessment-outcomes in the form of creative content (artworks, poems, videos, music)… a classic being the UBC Heartfelt.
“The meaning and functional role of museum artifacts does not depend solely on the affordances of the museum or the properties of the artifacts, but is mediated by context-bound interactions of the subjects, their intentions, and tools.”
I often reflect on our opportunities to be continually more creative and collaborative at the intersection of University museums and academia. It is such a fertile space, largely because of the aligned of the ‘core missions of both museums and universities as collaborative spaces for dialogue and learning‘.(Speight et al, p. 3) We need to be pushing boundaries that we often don’t even realise are there, for the purpose of evolving new kinds of spaces, both physical and virtual, to promote more effective and transformational learning and engagement, and opportunities for creative graduate research translation.
“..when moving beyond the traditional model of educators and students in classrooms to a learning model that brings together students, museums, and expert communities, the new forms of collaboration and practices for sharing expertise present a very complex challenge. One can argue that most of the experts in different organizations have no experience of this kind of pedagogical approach that lie outside of their area of expertise. Thus, it requires extensive investigations of how diverse experts become part of the learning system, and how a reciprocal relationship for learning may be facilitated”. (Henrikka Vartiainen, Principles for Design -Oriented Pedagogy for Learning from and with Museum Objects, 2014, p. 60)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the learning system that is the university-based museum, and what Vartianinen has accurately described as the need for extensive investigation of the system. Last year, 2020, I wrote a Strategy (laid out in Prezi) for the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne for the coming 5 years, which seeks to stimulate a radically engaged approach to the museum’s relationship with its academic community. (BTW, the Prezi was a highly effective virtual tool for communicating the themes and contexts of the Strategy to team members and senior University staff in the virtual world we all occupied through 2020). (BTBTW Word Press won’t embed Prezi unfortunately!)
In the Activities for the Strategy, I proposed a 3-year research project, The Grainger Lab, to measure and iteratively report on the effectiveness of the Grainger Museum’s activities to fully integrating the Grainger Museum into the Teaching, Learning and Research agendas of the University. Being introduced to the theory of Design Based Research (DBR) in this #EDUC90970 course was so timely, as it gave me a theoretical structure for thinking about how this SoTL and SoTEL project could be effectively conducted, and – just as importantly – how I could communicate the concept to Museums & Collections senior management. While this research strategy is ‘on pause’ for the moment, it helped me to think about what research translation might look like in this context.
Exploring DBR specific to museum pedagogy on the net this week as part of #EDUC90970, I came across a very interesting dissertation by Henrikka Vartiainen, which documented a multi-year education study in a Finnish forest museum. Vartianinen’s definition of the aims of DBR in her context is: “to synthesize theoretical perspectives and empirical research in order to propose an approach to participatory learning that leverages the opportunities afforded by new technology, cultural environments, and communities, especially museums”
Vartiainen created a design-oriented learning environment, and tested it on school students, trainee teachers, and professional teachers. Over a number of iterations, Vartiainen believed that the research team achieved their goal, “a dynamic activity system, where a community of learners negotiates common goals, divides their duties, and focuses their object-oriented and tool-mediated activities to accomplish the multifaceted learning task …. The learning community consisted of a student, fellow students, and teachers, working with domain experts and other adults. New technology, especially social media and mobile technologies, provided tools for collaboration, and data collection, and helped to transform ideas into digital representations that could be jointly negotiated, developed, and shared with a wider community.”(Vartiainen p.44)
Design underpins both the pedagogically-driven activities (design-orientated learning), and the ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of those activities (the DBR part). Vartiainen situates DBR in the context of new museum pedagogy which privileges on ‘object-oriented actions’, rather than the old-school pedagogy of ‘the transmission of artifact-related knowledge’ (48). In this productive and participatory learning model, in which there are multiple participants in the production of meaning, “the meaning and functional role of museum artifacts does not depend solely on the affordances of the museum or the properties of the artifacts, but is mediated by context-bound interactions of the subjects, their intentions, and tools.” (Vartiainen p.48). With technological tools, students create transmissable and shareable responses to their interactions with objects, which can even become further Learning Objects alongside the original artefacts.
The practical outcomes of this multi-year pedagogical experiment is an active website for the Forest Museum and its surrounding natural environment, on which the Learning Objects are gathered and shared with other students, teachers, and the general public. The site is multidimensional, taking advantage of video, twitter feeds, maps, among many other forms. To me it feels like a nice cross between informative and overtly experimental in itself. (Some of the links don’t work, the ‘professional’ quality of some of the media varies, but I was curious and stimulated to investigate…and learn. So, I’d say successful on a lot of fronts):
What I found particularly exciting about Vartiainen’s dissertation was the rigorous theoretical underpinning, which situated the learning activities and outcomes in the museum in theoretical frameworks such as sociocultural contexts, and technologically mediated learning, with the overarching exploration of Design-Orientated Pedagogy. Reading this paper also compelled me to explore the concept of Learning Objects, which I hadn’t consciously encountered before. These are: “…any entity, digital or non-digital, which can be used, re-used or referenced during technology supported learning.” (As a professional who operates in a field defined in recent years as ‘Object-based learning’, I am always fascinated by the slipperiness of language around objects/artefacts… stretching from the material and into the digital. Vartiainen doesn’t disappoint in this area, exploring this complexity at length.
A core focus of the dissertion (and of immediate interest to me in the context of #EDUC90970) is the use of technology as “a medium for enhancing design-oriented learning from and with museum artifacts”. Vartiainen observes how learners now have access to a great range of digital representations of museum artefacts, supported by contextual and tailored information via the internet. In particular, images are now cheap and abundant thanks to digital means (compared to when we used to buy art books that had 10 colour plates of highlight paintings, another 50 black and white images, and the rest text… or compared further back to when only rich folks could buy prints etched and created by Old Master printmakers such as Schongauer and Durer in the 15th century)..
Multimodal digital artefacts may be represented in various forms or employ a combination of them, such as texts, drawings, diagrams, still photographs, multimedia presentations, animations, simulations and models of dynamic processes, interactive diagrams, maps, concept maps, databases, graphs, tables, hyperlinked web pages, audio and video files, and mathematical representations…the new technological opportunities challenge us to reconsider the current function and representation of museums in order for them to be a meaningful place for learning. Problems remain because museums seem to concentrate only on building a digital copy of the physical museum, instead of enhancing and deepening learning from museum artifacts …. To meet these challenges, this study attempts to apply the concept of the learning object to augment the meditational potential of museum artifacts.” [my highlight] (Vartiainen p. 19)
The focus for one of the design iterations, undertaken with trainee teachers, was the construction of Learning Objects for future learning activities, from physical museum artefacts. (p. 39) The design task (creating the Learning Object) orientated the interactions between subjects (students) artefacts (museum material culture) and (digital) tools, and “allowed the students to self-define and negotiate their areas and objects of interest, supported and extended by museum experts”.(p.42) The student teachers used tools such as digital cameras to shape and communicate new perspectives on the cultural artefacts, and social media platforms such as wikis as a platform for collaboration and sharing their newly created learning objects in their community of practice. Regarding the use of digital tools in the DOP, Vartiainen found in their study that “The analysis of tool-mediated activities indicated that use of participant-led photography strengthened and expanded the mediational potential of an artifact, and provided students the ability to reshape, represent, and embed the physical objects in relation to their own interest”. (p. 42)
To me, this supports an idea of a deeper and more transformative engagement by the participants with the museum environment and artefacts, beyond what we can usually achieve through talking and discussion only, in the physical space.
Last week was for me an object lesson in how to survive and thrive in the continuum of virtual education life in 2021. I saw our inimitable EDUC90970 (Facilitating Online Learning) virtual leader Thom in the Zoom lecture first thing Monday, and then in physical form on Thursday evening — unusual in itself, given we have existed to each other in pixels and computer-generated audio only up to this point — and Thom suggested I write a blog about the week which had had the potential to evolve into either a virtual nightmare, or a rich context of multiple applied learnings in the digital sphere. So this is it…
Sunday: using Uni computer at home all day to catch up on work, I was embracing learning a new technology (Adobe Spark presentation software) in real time while rewriting 2 lectures on Academic Engagement in University Cultural Collections, bringing in the virtual delivery mode stimulated by COVID-contexts last year. My first-year Arts Uni daughter questioned this approach (high risk) but I was embracing authentic learning, and was in the zone. Enjoying the fact that it was a weekend, and I wanted to de-couple from the home office and monitor, I was flying free on PC internal battery (but failed to notice when I plugged it in to the office again on Sunday evening that the power point was off… First mistake, which didn’t reveal it’s true impact until the following morning). Lecture happily completed. Second lecture, also in Spark, on Access to Complex Cultural Collections also updated, tick…
Monday, it’s going to be a big one, in at the office (see glamour pic above). Online lecture (EDUC90970) as student, followed directly by Masters student thesis supervision meeting (online), then online lecture with me delivering (no.1), break, then online lecture from me no.2, followed by some meetings in the office (new Melbourne Connect building, Science Gallery staff offices. (What is coming to be a fairly typical day in the office…) When I rocked into the Uni for the EDUC class, my laptop wouldn’t start. Oh no. It had been misbehaving, with weird slow loading and other mild problems during Sunday, and I jumped to the conclusion that it had potentially got a virus. (Second mistake – fail in Differential Diagnosis). Practicing my (evolving) open-plan-office social skills, I negotiated rapidly with my colleagues to use the only available networked desktop PC in the place, and settled with headphones into a fascinating lecture on heutagogy by Vickel Narayan… Brilliant. I shared the potential applications of the ideas synchronously with my colleagues in the class via multiple strands of Zoom chat, one with Solange (shared excitement on the potential for incorporating music-focussed academic outcomes and the idea of Frisson…more to come in this space!) and another with Samantha (shared excitement on the potential for health sciences multidisciplinary research using Science Gallery). I’m excited.
I’m also deeply relieved that I prepared both the lectures today in online formats (Adobe Spark, as mentioned), so that it didn’t matter what hardware I was using… I was flying free in virtual space! Jump straight from lecture into supervision meeting, also enjoyable and stimulating, and in the back of my mind wondering how to deal with the rapidly approaching scenario of giving an hour long lecture in an open plan office.
A whip-around the office of available technology revealed a new laptop that hadn’t yet been logged into the Uni system in someone’s filing cabinet… Colleague Matt supported a focussed scramble for electricity, internet; loading my Uni Identity so I could logon to my mail for the zoom link; then loading Zoom from scratch; then logging in to Adobe on a new device (which required a password to be sent to my phone which has by Adobe ID)…countdown 1 minute before postgrad class of Collection Management students expects me to appear magically online before them, and I’m racing out to the Melbourne Connect Superfloor next to the Science Gallery open plan office, to find a quiet corner (with a power point, as the new laptop shows 4% power). Whew, here I am… Here we all are (mostly with videos turned on, nice to see…) I warm up to my topic, go over the ‘Trigger Warning” about potentially disturbing material relating to Percy Grainger (important in a lecture, dealing in detail with complex content that has been addressed already in the public sphere . I’m on a roll…
6 minutes in, Zoom dies. My students disappear. More accurately, I disappear for my students.
I text the lecturer in charge: “finding another computer. back in 5” and race back to the office, trailing multiple cords, notebook and reading glasses. Addressing the hunched backs of my diligent colleagues, I announce that I have to give a lecture: I’m sorry I’m going to be talking out loud, a lot, about odd and potentially offensive stuff… I logon to the only Desktop computer again, find my Adobe tabs (I’ve been logged out, but it fortunately doesn’t take long to login and reload), and I’m off again. Successful lecture, engaged students, lots of curly questions at the end (a good sign in the context). Tick.
I apologise profusely to the office team for noise pollution, grab the borrowed laptop with it’s Zoom update problem, and head back out to the Superfloor for lecture number 2. A restart gets me back in the land of the digital living on this device, I sign back into Adobe Spark for the 3rd time for the day and reload the second lecture; jump into Outlook via the UoM Staff Portal to find the Zoom link for the lecture, then kick off the program to virtually meet 56 new faces for what is a highlighly pertinent conversation about museum pedagogy, SoTL, SoTEL, and the learnings we are all making about our new hybrid teaching and learning environments in a COVID-changed University world. Tick.
After lunch (no beer), I ring Uni IT to help talk me through my own laptop’s failure to start that morning. Mitch, the endlessly cheerful IT support technician I’ve had the pleasure of calling on multiple times in the past year, asks “So…did you plug it in?”
SHOOT. No. (Well, I thought I had.)
Total embarrassment. Mitch was very sweet about it, and we sorted some lagging CPU problems while we were at it.
Tuesday was virtually uneventful. Wednesday saw me delivering my Adobe Spark lecture no 1 again, this time in Dual-Delivery mode in Arts West, 30 students in the room, another 30 on the screen. Once again the online nature of Adobe Spark saved the day, as there was no tech that I could see to plug my PC in when I arrived in the room, so we found the Spark link I’d emailed to my colleague earlier, and logged into the lecture via his Mac computer. I found it quite curious presenting to simultaneous live and virtual students, and the chat was fun to negotiate, making sure everyone in the room could see (or hear) the questions that were asked, as well as the answers. It was old-school engagement, no virtual polls or collaborative MIRO boards, just enthusiastic conversation, conducted in cross-over f2f and virtual learning. Tick.
Dr Anthony Lyons (FFAM) and Abdul Rehman Mohammad (eResearch Comp Sci) and I presented together in the MC building, each using a different presentation software: me on Adobe Spark, Ant and Abdul in powerpoint, and Interactive Composition student Reuben Cumming through a pre-record video, loaded to Vimeo and linked to Spark:
All went swimmingly with the presentation, and afterwards we handed out old-school iPads for the 30 members of the public audience to try their hand in real time, playing with the application. Big tick.
So, what were my takeaways from this big tech week of teaching and learning in formal and informal environments? Be flexible, be collaborative; hold your nerve when the tech fails and trust in the skills we have all acquired in this last decade or two to problem solve in complex environments; remember you are human and fallible, and every other human around you is the same; and remind yourself that you’re lucky to be doing all this is a working environment that privileges innovation and Life-Long Learning…
What did I learn about ecologies of resources? I enjoy Adobe Spark, partly because it looks so professional despite being darned easy to use. (I am slightly nervous that when I come to give these lectures again in 2022 they may have mysteriously disappeared, or my account has been suspended unless I hand over $$ and I can’t access them, but I’m willing to trust at this point). I enjoy thinking about the affordances of different virtual presentation platforms and what they communicate to my audience by their structure and flow (For example, Prezi is delightful when I want to situate my audience in a physical space – for example, I’m describing a museum context so I use the metaphor of walking through the museum space via the virtual museum space, to ‘walk through’ key concepts that have a linear flow and I like that Prezi has a downloadable desktop app so I don’t have to online to create and shape and deliver my content). Adobe Spark allows me to use multiple images to ‘colour’ my presentation, without them being the centre of attention, as well as being very adaptable to embedded content. Prezi can’t embed video as far as I can tell… And I loved the way the guest lecturer Vickel used a MIRO board to share his content, which again exploited the platforms affordances and character in a way that aligned perfectly with his content. I am reminded again of Marshall McCluhan, and his aphorism The medium is the message…
… the latest approach to media study considers not only the “content” but the medium and the cultural matrix within which the particular medium operates…
What we are considering here, however, are the psychic and social consequences of the designs or patterns as they amplify or accelerate existing processes. For the “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs…
McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Chapter 1
Final learning: make sure that Friday night beer is waiting in the fridge.
Marshall McLuhan. (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill.
The idea of using the rhizome (originally a botanical description for structures like ginger roots) as a philosophical concept was first posited by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London: Athlone Press, 1988). The rhizome concept suggests a way of structuring knowledge (and learning) that is non-hierarchical, imminent (in the process of endlessly becoming), rootless…(as compared to logical, static, closed, hierarchical).
Dave Cormier, a significant voice in translating these ideas to the present (and specifically to the information age) and to the learning process, has blogged and published on the focused concept of Rhizomatic Learning. Starting from the concept “You don’t know what you don’t know“, Cormier looks at how the rhizome metaphor is useful to address this learning problem that is particularly apparent in the present day. Rhizome qualities show us a useful approach to “learning for uncertainty”. The rhizome is a particular kind of network, which is collaborative, creative, untidy, with no real start or end, adapting to the ecosystem around them. Here is Dave Cormier giving a very useful video introduction to Rhizomatic learning, appropriately entitled Embracing Uncertainty:
While exploring (in good rhizomatic fashion) the theme of rhizomatic learning and museums that exist entirely in the virtual space, or which use digital means to reach out to audiences who can’t physically visit, I found a marvellous site: Girl Museum . Girl Museum is “Girl Museum is the first and only museum in the world dedicated to celebrating girlhood” It is entirely virtual. They describe their role in their Impact statement:
“providing a safe virtual space for education and discussion of girl culture in the past and present. We also manage social media channels and other projects dedicated to advancing girls’ rights today, sharing stories that celebrate girls and their contributions, and empower girls to become active in documenting, preserving, and sharing their history and culture”
This is a truly fantastic site. I jumped into a number of their virtual exhibitions, starting with this one, called 52 objects. Created progressively, week by week, in 2017, the exhibition was curated on the idea that “many “history of the world” programs routinely left out the stories of young girls, we scoured the globe for objects that would bring to light girls’ daily lives, struggles, and heroism.” They used a variety of digital means to share the content, including a google map showing where various objects originated from:
You can then link to individual items in the exhibition, such as this one:
So where does this all fit into the rhizomatic question? The creators/content generators of Girl Museum directly associate rhizomatic ways of thinking and learning with their site, and its mission, writing about this in an article, BECOMING-GIRL-MUSEUM published in 2011 in a journal aptly titled Rhizomes.
They write how Girl Museum, and its digital and every-expanding exhibitions work: ‘Projected out into a pixel-based world are the powerful stories of us all—past, present, and future—necessary to share and understand, growing rhizomatically, constantly creating newness and variation through inter(net)connectivity. We resist the conventional, striving to (re)define ‘girlhood’, while simultaneously unfixing ‘girl’. We are (Becoming-) Girl Museum.”
The exhibition Across Time & Space, is an example of the way the digital exhibitions can rewrite versions of ‘girlhood’, taking concrete objects or documents from the past and recontextualising them in the digital ever-present, and through new juxtapositions, they challenge the way we think about them – and about girl/womanhood. Historical, cultural and social interpretations are constantly being layered over cultural artefacts, and the digital exhibitions allow us to ask when, where and how these versions of female experience were defined and modified. In these online exhibitions, co-curated and co-created by many girls and women, “Girls (and Becoming-girls) can create and contribute content based on their views and experiences, and interact with the content created by the views and experiences of other girls. With each new submission [the virtual exhibition] grows and changes to reflect the inspirations of its contributors.” The virtual museum disrupts the traditional art historical or anthropological meaning of objects, ‘nomadically’ and iteratively opening new spaces for interpretation. This is where the rhizomatic analogy allows us to see the structure and its value. And because it happens in the virtual space, it is relatively unconstrained in the process, particularly in comparison to what a physical version of this might look like in a traditional museum. The authors note:
“Traditionally, museums are collections of objects, concepts, definitions, people, and thoughts. Virtual museums, by their very nature, are composed of all these elements, but can be pulled from universal experience and not linked to any single or specific collection. Though they can be hindered by a lack of physical resources, this can also be advantageous because virtual museums do not have to be static. The virtual assemblages of objects, concepts, and definitions can feed off each other, generating new concepts, more definitions, new ideas, and, as many museums move toward a more interactive experience, new objects” http://www.rhizomes.net/issue22/museum/index.html
As Remer, Wiedmann et al note about the collaborative, unhierarchical and rhizomatic approach to exhibition creation, “In this way the goal of collecting multiple, diverse viewpoints from girls on what constitutes a heroine, is fulfilled on a global, easily accessible platform“.
It substantiates what Dave Cormier has formulated about rhizomatic processes in the form of collaborative knowledge construction. Cormier writes: “Collaborative knowledge construction is also being taken up in fields that are more traditionally coded as learning environments. In particular, social learning practices are allowing for a more discursive rhizomatic approach to knowledge discovery. Social learning is the practice of working in groups, not only to explore an established canon but also to negotiate what qualifies as knowledge.” In the Girl Museum, participants use the virtual space to challenge the canonic ways girlhood has been defined through material culture, and are simultaneously exposed to a hugely diverse range of objects and artefacts, that will provoke further explorations.
All this has great resonance for me, personally and professionally. My curatorial approach in recent years when I’m working in the university museum space (such as in the exhibitions Multivocal and How it Plays) has been to seek continuously open conversations and follow (human) leads to shape and fill the content for an exhibition and its associated educational engagements. This might be in the form of professional collaborations, student-commissioned elements, and inclusion of student-generated creative content that responds to the exhibition, in the content of the exhibition itself.
I am heartened in the 6 years or so since I undertook the GCUT at UoM (really that long?) that my understanding of, and fascination in, SOTL has continued to grow. Coming back to this field through undertaking EDUC90970, from a ‘virtual teaching and learning'(or SOTEL: Scholarship of Technology Enhanced Learning), I am also interested to see how the scholarship of this field has advanced, at the same rate (not unexpectedly ) as the scholarship around tertiary museum pedagogy, and now embraces digital learning. Advancing on Boyer’s contentions in 1990 (Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate) where he challenged the existing singular dichotomy between teaching and research, and promoted a more complex understanding the scholarship of teaching and learning as a field in its own right, researchers in the field of SOTL now work in a clear framework – albeit a nuanced and multifarious one. I love a framework!
The process of SOTL, leading directly (ideally) to an ‘enhancement of students’ experience of learning’ (Haigh) has turned out to be essential in my work with students in museum contexts. The question of ‘why should we be interested?’ posed by Haigh, relates directly to me through the driver he describes as ‘personal circumstances, interests and capabilities’:
Is there some aspect of teaching and learning that I am really interested in and want to investigate further? • Do I think I can change and improve my own and others’ teaching through SoTL? • Am I confident about my research capabilities, including ‘doing’ SoTL? • Am I confident about my teaching but ready to investigate it? • Given other demands in my academic and personal life, is there space for engaging in SoTL?
All of the above points feel important to me personally, particularly as I have recently returned to a role in the University that is 100% focused on academic engagement (rather than about 20% as has been the case for the past 4 years). I need to rebuild my confidence as a researcher in this field of SOTL, where I genuinely believe I can create new scholarship that will directly influence the outcome for students as learners… and for that, theoretical frameworks are crucial.
One area in Haigh’s article that has been very valuable is nuancing my understanding of pedagogical research and SOTL. Haigh, drawing on a number of other scholars, identify critical reflection as a key factor in the practice of SOTL, as well as the specificity of the research (rather than the more generalised research that characterises pedagogy). In other words, it is ideal to focus on your own disciplinary (or in my case, domain-specific) context, and this exploration may eventually evolved into more generalised pedagogical research. Haigh sees overlap, rather than clear-cut difference, between pedagogical research and SOTL. I love the way Haigh talks about ‘integrative scholarship’ as necessary to sustain the SOTL community of practice… This resonates so beautifully with my primary strategy for conducting SOTL in university museums…get a fabulous and multidisciplinarily diverse group of academics on side…and GO FOR IT!
Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED326149
On the possibility of collaborative learning in virtual museum spaces…
I am using this post to reflect on some of the ideas that emerged for me in the intersection of museum learning and digital learning in the group context. The idea of communities of practice, which I have also been reading more about, is fundamental to this: “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger 1998 and nice web summary here Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, 2015) . The community is formed around a ‘domain of interest’ and typically a ‘shared competence’in that domain; the ‘community of practice’ is joint activities/learning; and they have a shared practice, they “develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems”. I’m fascinated to think about this shaped around a museum as a learning environment… (more to come on this in future blogs).
One angle on this is how digital media can interact with, and support with community of practice in a museum environment. Reading Scavarelli et al, ‘Virtual reality and augmented reality in social learning spaces: a literature review’, and jumping off into a number of the linked papers, I was particularly interested to learn more about the differences and affordances of VR and AR, and challenges around collaborative learning and haptic experiences.
Scavarelli et al talk specifically about museum learning, which is, of course, my chief context. They note “there is some promising work that explores how a virtual museum could emulate the social experience of visiting a physical museum by allowing learners to interact with virtual artefacts with VR or AR together” . Group learning activities are essential to utilising museum environments and collections (in object-based learning contexts) effectively, so clearly if we are going to get students into a virtual space, collaborative learning would also be ideal. One of the embedded articles in the Scavarelli lit review was by Li et al (2016), entitled Multiuser Interaction with Hybrid VR and AR for Cultural Heritage Objects. Li et al write: “Digital technology is at a stage where highly realistic objects and environments, real-time interactivity, and multiuser virtual experience have become possible“… And, later in the article, “Previous research has emphasised the importance of social interactions in museums as they tend to contribute to collaborative learning through discussions, debates which lead to deeper reflections on the subject . These are important and should not be compromised when introducing emerging digital technologies.” [my emphasis]
I actually hadn’t thought about this at all in VR contexts, having imagined that a virtual VR experience was probably a solo one. AR seems a much easier way to have a social and collaborative learning experience in a museum, because it is both embodied and virtual, and can be experienced with devices (such as smartphone and tablets) that are more generally accessible .
[cultural] Object as [digital experience] interface…
Li et al explore a cultural heritage digital experience of the Chinese Silk Road using photogrammetry models of artefacts from different collections around the world, with supportive text labels (in English and Chinese). Li et al simultaneously engaged participants who were using either VR (fully immersive) or AR (via smartphones) in a “multiuser, multidevice application” Li et al (2016)) The AR users had ’embodied engagement’ through being able to manipulate a virtual cube, each side of which had an image of the object from that view, plus text information. In their study of user’s experience, Li et al found that the digital cube “gave users the impression that the cube embeds the artefacts and that the smartphone camera is the key to unlock them“. When a cube was ‘moved’ in the virtual world by an AR user, it’s movement was emulated in the VR world and a sound trigger alerted the VR participant to engage with the AR user’s perspective. And in a way that completely inverted my perspective on the world (ie, blew my mind), Li et al observe: “We consider VR and AR as being from different worlds, using different devices and therefore, the need for objects to be an interface connecting them.”
Cultural objects as portals to parallel virtual universes… Wow.
Social and haptic qualities of the virtual museum interactions…
Importantly, the study by Li et al found that users in these different but simultaneous virtual worlds of AR and VR started by sharing ideas about the appearance of the objects under observation, but moved on to sharing their interpretations and developing conversations that substantiated a social connection: “The awareness of another user through the object as an interface mitigated loneliness for them in a fully immersive environment“. I also found it fascinating that one of the main reasons the users in the study liked VR and AR technologies were that these technologies afforded “more dynamic interactions as compared to physical museum“. This is surely only the case in a physical museum, where objects are behind glass, and the only sense with which you can typically engage with them is sight. In University museums and galleries typically, an object-based learning (OBL) approach has been adopted in the past decade or so, that privileges multi-sensory engagement as a fundamental aspect of deep learning and enriched research opportunities. This shift, known as “the new sensory museology” has been a game changer. (see Chatterjee et al)
So we have a problem, with museums in tertiary environments trying to engage students in virtual ways as meaningfully as they would in physical ways. As recently as 2019,”WANG et al, in ‘Haptic display for virtual reality: progress and challenges‘ wrote: “The haptic sensation obtained through virtual interaction is severely poor compared to the sensation obtained through physical interaction. In our physical life, the haptic channel is pervasively used, such as perception of stiffness, roughness and temperature of the objects in external world, or manipulation of these objects and motion or force control tasks such as grasping, touching or walking etc. In contrary, in virtual world, haptic experiences are fairly poor in both quantity and quality. Most commercial VR games and movies only provide visual and auditory feedbacks, and a few of them provide simple haptic feedback such as vibrations. With the booming of VR in many areas such as medical simulation and product design, there is an urgent requirement to improve the realism of haptic feedback for VR systems, and thus to achieve equivalent sensation comparable to the interaction in a physical world.” [my emphasis]
So, two things jump to mind here: 1. the ongoing gap between a haptic physical experience in an OBL museum context, and the virtual learning experience with objects; and 2. the need to explore other ways that the virtual is BETTER than the physical, if the virtual is all you have (for example, international students engaged with the University’s museums and collections when studying from the other side of the globe). The possibility of VR in stimulating ‘transformative learning’ by increasing the user’s experience of another person’s perspective is something else to think about in the museum-learning context. Transformative learning by using the stimulation of highly affective artworks and objects underpins arts-based experiential learning to promote empathy, in the medical humanities field. What is the cross-over of these physical and virtual experiences of museum and art objects in the context of transformative learning? And how do we ensure accessibility across the physical and virtual museum environments?
And on a meta level, how does this all intesect with a community of practice around museum learning in digital spaces? All food for thought…
Some initial musings about the Grainger Museum context…
While reading through literature Thom suggested for the EDUC 90970 course, I had a thought about the definition of museums as ‘informal educational spaces’ (Scavarelli Robert et al), and wondered about what this perspective of informality (understood as ‘relaxed, friendly, unofficial’) tells us when it comes to context of tertiary learning in museums as part of university curricula: particularly in the context of the deliberately shaped physical and virtual environment we are working towards with the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne, where we engage with 1000s of university students each year in curriculum and research contexts, across all levels of tertiary education. Relaxed (maybe?) and friendly (always!) sounds appropriate (in order to support student engagement where they are potentially worked in a cross-disciplinary way and out of their disciplinary comfort zone), but certainly not ‘unofficial’ when it comes to the core work I do in my job and the context of our University Museums and Collections. So I wonder if the qualification of museum spaces that are engaged in formal tertiary education changes the ideas around use of technology in these spaces … I expect it will support a powerfully engaged, directed use of technology in creative ways.
So, back to digital technologies and museum education. This topic is incredibly relevant to me in my current work. I’m leading the development of a new digital platform for the Grainger Museum, which is overtly exploratory, experimental, and supports the new Grainger strategy to bring a mutally-transformative research model to the heart of the work. We are considering a ‘brain’ like interpretation of the museum, it’s building, collections, themes, and ongoing research enrichment… Machine learning will be a major element that brings an experimentally creative output to the core data and research – like endless synaptic connections being made, expanding Percy Grainger’s original thoughts in infinitely varied ways. We are shaping the content to be in the Creative Commons space, promoting further creative digital engagement to ensure the Grainger story is endlessly evolving (rather than stuck in a historical moment/context). Another aspect is a virtual architectural version of the Grainger Museum, created by Point Cloud Scanning (working with RA’s and the scanning equipment based in Melbourne School of Design). This virtual environment will be a space to play, explore, curate, and present within for researchers and students, and accessible by the public. What that quite looks like yet is very open.
I’m also interested in the idea of rhizomatic learning, and how this might align (or not?) with the Grainger digital interface and student engagement. I am taken with the metaphor of the rhizome and Grainger’s ideas (anti-canonic) and the Museum’s purpose (radical). ‘In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. The rhizome metaphor, which represents acritical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge, may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target.” A fundamental principal is that students can “enter the community themselves and impact the shape of its curriculum as well as their own learning” (Cormier 2008)
I was led off on a musical rhizomatic tangent, to an article by Ronal Bogue about Sylvano Bussotti’s Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor, and in particular the musical score for Piece 4. It is in itself rhizomatic, superimposed on the domain of a music staff. (I can’t add an image as I’m confident it will still be in copyright… even though you can find images out there on the web, and you can see it in this interesting Blog). The score – really an artwork respresenting the aleatoric style of the music – was used by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and French psychoanalyst Félix Guattari to illustrate the of philosophical concept of rhizome: interconnected living fibres with no definable central point or origin (different to the branching tree concept, where there is a clear central origin). This tangent just got me thinking (in a very rhizomatic way) about the beautiful way the philosophy of rhizomatic learning meshes over the concepts we are developing for the Grainger Museum digital interface (brain metaphors) and the heutological affordances of this environment for future teaching and learning experiences in the physical/digital space…
BRAINWAVE! (BTW brainwave picture sourced from Creative Commons, above, links nicely to the Grainger Museum digital project as being like an evolving brain).
So, the brainwave that has emerged from these reading explorations is that the module of a new subject that I’ll propose and start to develop, through the stimulation of EDUC90970, is for a fully online subject that is fully situated in the virtual Grainger Museum. This is a way of fully capitalising on the work we’re doing to create this publicly accessible virtual Grainger space, and deeply integrating it with the UoM Advancing Melbourne and the Cultural Commons’ goals relating to student engagement. Yay! Students will learn about virtual museum contexts (or bigger than that? – any cultural virtual context?), while undertaking real-life work on the Grainger collections, architecture, themes, etc and integrating this into the ever-growing, machine-learning enhanced, virtual Grainger Museum. Hmmm… Who are the academic collaborative partners? Is this a breadth subject, offered through multiple electives? Should be an elective for Arts & Cultural Management and Art Curatorship, but could also be an elective for Comp Sci Masters by Coursework, and others? B.Mus (Interactive Composition) elective, which explores sound, composition and virtual spaces? An elective in Science (eg Science Communication?) Could it link in virtual museum environments in Medical Humanities, and therefore be an elective in the new MD? Students have a extended research paper that they explore from their disciplinary perspective, which has an output a new node of the evolving Grainger digital brain….?? OK, Next blog is the start of a subject structure…
Thom Cochrane shared in #EDUC90970 “In response to the critique of the Digital Native narrative popularised by Prensky, David White proposed the “Visitors and Residents” (VandR) framework of technology adoption. JISC subsequently utilised the VandR mapping exercise within their Digital Literacies framework and guides. The VandR mapping exercise provides a quick visual map of how students and academics interact with various technologies in the Institutional (or Professional) and Personal (or Social) domains. It also highlights the potential for rethinking how various tools can be used within a more professional domain rather than merely within a social or personal domain.”
I created a digital version in this mapping tool. A fascinating exercise, which had me thinking visually about my use of digital tools across my professional and personal life. I used different colours to group the way I used the various tools (storage for T&L, teaching/presenting, investigation (personal or professional, etc etc) and size to represent how much of my digital activity was conducted through each platform/tool. It was actually quite profound, not only the number of tools, but how they clustered so heavily in my professional life; how some overlapped suggesting I could simplify into a single platform for less ‘cognitive overload’; how sometimes the replications were a result of institutional mandates on what platforms to use, and sometimes were just ongoing redundancy of tools, with new platforms doing things better…but you still had hangovers from old tools ( for me Endnote to Mendeley over a more than a decade).
Infuriatingly, the platform timed out while I did other tasks (the email pile up etc) and I didn’t know and kept adding content, so when it came time to save and share… the whole thing disappeared into digital dust. Aaaarghhhhhhhhh. A lesson there…
So, I went to my old fallback, coloured markers on a large piece of paper, and whipped out a messy analogue version, which is what you see below.
An adventure in the pedagogies and potentials of Museums & collections in tertiary education