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Idea Management in Higher Education FeaturedWritten by Dr. Paul Leslie
In order to support students in their academic efforts, the notion of Idea Management can offer a series of processes and strategies that can tie together, both conceptually and practically, their interactions with important and recurring concepts. Such processes can be reflected in assessments that are designed to help students articulate their thoughts, to themselves, their academic communities and their assessors, in a coherent and complete manner.
Idea management is a notion that speaks to the highly interactive nature of the flipped classroom, a model that is quickly gaining prominence, especially in Australia and elsewhere. Many current assessment strategies include opportunities for students to demonstrate competency through a variety of practical activities. Students now need a structured, holistic approach to these assessments that will allow them to compile and curate the range of ideas, skills and concepts that they produce through their classroom and assessment work and that are related to the various practices they are expected to master. These processes will be designed to support their ability to recall and reuse concepts and strategies across units.
The ability to recall and reuse, and apply concepts speaks to the issue of threshold concepts. In many areas of study, the ability to be successful relies on students being able to grasp elemental concepts and then develop and build on those concepts. Variation theory, as means of working with threshold concepts provides a means of modelling activities that support student success.
Variation theory may be viewed as an application of Schema Theory (Ausubel) supported by Differentiation and the notion of Ill-structured knowledge domains (Spiro). Schema theory suggests that in order to understand a new concept, we must be able to place or attach it to the context of our current understanding. Ill-structured knowledge domains consider the idea that knowledge is not usually linear and hence requires a variety of ways to represent and understand it. Differentiation suggests that we all learn in different ways. Hence, variation theory suggests that we might learn better if we are given opportunities to interact with new knowledge in different ways in order to account for all of its permutations and combinations.
Feedback from a number of fellow colleagues in higher education suggest that a coherent strategy would be appreciated and would offer meaningful support, both longitudinally beyond the duration of a unit through a course, and concurrently across units. Feedback also supports the development of a coherent strategy that could be modelled for other units and courses. Feedback from literacy advisors indicates that there is need of an overarching strategy that can support students to address their other literacy needs and that can be used to track progress and to guide further personal development.
Idea Management and Student Work Space
The notion of a student work space refers to a set of tools, and processes to make the best use of these tools in the pursuit of excellence. One of the elements of this approach will be a curated collection of work to serve assessment purposes.
A structured work space for idea management outlined through assessments provides students a range of lifelong learning skills including communication and presentation skills, collaboration and participation skills, analysis through curation, and critical self-reflection. It also provides a set of skills that help students to function in a knowledge economy and that will provide coherency and consistency across the span of a student’s university career and hopefully beyond as they pursue lifelong learning.
The activities that support and are supported by this approach also speak to a range of learning items including learning styles. The notion of differentiation discusses the value of presenting information in different ways, and the need to consider the students learning styles as well as our own.
We need to consider how students take in information and ‘digest’ it. Most people learn in a variety of ways but will have a preference or a particular strength in learning in one of these ways. We also need to be very cautious not to generalize from our own experiences when trying to understand how others learn.
Students receive ideas and information from a variety of sources, and are expected to do a variety of things with that information:
Another way of viewing this work is to look at it through a sequential process.
Students themselves are often not aware of how they learn and so should be given the opportunity to experience multi-modal methodologies. For example:
- Auditory learners: Learn from or when hearing others talk.
- How: Let them talk! When they speak aloud they quickly realize they do or do not know what they are talking about.
- Let others talk
- Share videos online
- Visual learners: Need to see the information
- How: Write new concepts and vocabulary on the board – leave them there as a reference throughout the lesson
- Use presentation tools with graphic images with or instead of text.
- Let students design their own graphics and concepts maps.
- Kinesthetic learners: Need to move or physically interact with information
- How: Provide opportunity to take notes, remind them to write something down
- Let them get up and write on the board,
- Let them handle things (manipulatives – e.g. spreadsheets), “hands on” activities,
- Work in groups to make a concept map.
How do we then integrate these methods into our classes?
By providing structures for work spaces, associated classroom activities, and incorporating these processes into formal assessments, the faculty can encourage students to come to class much better prepared for the flipped classroom. By employing cloud storage tools to capture and share ideas, students should always have access to their work and be able to draw upon previous work and documentation.
The notion of “Making Thinking Visible” allows students and faculty to externalize their ideas – to literally take the ideas out of our heads – and through the use of various media create ‘discrete’ ideas which can be manipulated, shared, sequenced and put on display for others.
By using a few select, freely available tools, students can bring their old ideas with them to new classes. They can reflect on past work and make connections by virtue of having a range of thoughts and ideas arrayed before
Students should use their own cloud storage tools for the actual storage of their data in its various formats. There are a variety of different tools available.
Google is recommended because it offers a range of tools under one log-in account and is already widely used around the world. It also offers longevity for the account, easier access to other account holders, ample storage space and an integrated suite of tools.
The following is a selection of tools and purposes offered as examples.
Personal work space
- Google Drive
- provides ample cloud storage space (15GB)
- Accessible from multiple devices and integrates into multiple platforms.
- Can’t be forgotten at home.
- Can’t be lost
- provides a video platform.
- can hold links, articles,
- Share ideas
- Profile, employment related groups and discussions
- Great source of professional communities
- Can be linked, used for communication, updated and shared
Community work space
- Google docs
- Synchronous editing
- Exports to Word, Excel, PPT.
- Supports forms
- Documents and videos from these platforms and from social media including Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. can be easily embedded.
- Discussion boards, wikis,
Assessment and Competency
- Supports assessment documentation and provides various efficiency means for assessing and providing feedback
- Classroom activities
- Work sheets
- Quizzes and results
- Discussion boards
- Supports assessment documentation and provides various efficiency means for assessing and providing feedback
- Can hold embedded documents, RSS feeds from Twitter, LinkedIn profile etc.
- Can be used for reflective writing and exported.
- Can be closed, shared, partially or fully public.
- Personal folders can be shared in such a way as to support assessment of individual items.
- Folders can be assessed for such aspects as:
- Completeness / inclusion of
- Instructor and / or peer feedback
- Individual homework items
- Reflections on activities
- Presentation of contents
- Ease of access to contents
- Are the contents representative of some element of the unit e.g. real world examples of unit content found in media / imagery
- Completeness / inclusion of
- In class activities need to be:
- Related to the weekly content in various formats in order to allow for the flipped model to function.
- Map from outcome to activity to assessment needs to be explicit.
- Can incorporate a point system for the portfolio activities.
- Need to consider recurring strategies that allow the students to be familiar with what they need to do and what tools they might need to use.
In my last post, I wrote about digital literacy and the mundane idea of document storage. The point, which I may not have actually mentioned, is that we need to be able to make our thinking visible to others. I have written about this topic several times (here and here for starters).
In the video below, Steven Johnson comments at about 3:45 that an idea is not a single thing, but rather a network. This is interesting but might be a bit misleading. We can debate the existence of complex ideas or simple ideas, but nevertheless I think that individual ideas exist and can be externalized into a visible format through the use of media to create meaningful narratives of learning.
We then take those ideas and string them together into networks of ideas. In the video, Steven Johnson talks about several notions surrounding the question, where do good ideas come from, including the 'slow hunch'. But, basically he says good ideas come from people sharing their ideas with others and beating them about, and bashing them against others' ideas and preconceptions about the world. He concludes by saying that, "Chance favours the connected mind".
So, how do we share our ideas more effectively with those around us and how do get others to share their ideas with us.
Watch the video...
I am working with my new team at WSU to review and find means of helping students to manage the many varied tasks and challenges involved in being a successful learner. One of the issues that has arisen in my work is the challenge of managing our documents and pieces of information. Document storage may seem like the epitome of mundane tasks, but I consider documents to be physical repositories (even with virtual or soft copy documents) of our ideas. Hence, storage and nomenclature become second only to the contents of the documents. If we cannot find each other’s ideas, then we are poorer for that.
An integrated approach to file storage and naming can serve a number of purposes. The architecture alone of a clear folder system can indicate the relevance or documents without even having to open a document. Document retrieval is also greatly enhanced, almost as a side effect, although we might argue that said retrieval is the primary purpose of a clear filing protocol. Often, we start be trying to find one document and end up looking in a dozen different places for it.
However, ideally, we want to start with a dozen different carefully itemized locations and quickly delve into the exact location for the one document we want to find.
However, the most important effect of being able to efficiently access our documents is to enhance our ability to access our ideas. As I have noted elsewhere, one form of practice for practitioners and / or students is to begin to wrestle with the myriad ill-structured domains of knowledge that they encounter in their daily professional life and employ what Jacobson and Spiro (1993) term, ‘cognitive flexibility’ to put their ideas into an accessible format that can be viewed and shared by other people. This practice will enable the practitioner to begin to both actively and passively share their ideas more readily and easily with their community of inquiry and, almost as a by-product, and with little tampering, provide a high-stakes showcase of competencies.
Similarly, in the process of epistemological curiosity, the practitioner can employ a portfolio approach that allows him or her opportunities to “assemble relevant abstract conceptual and case-specific knowledge components” (Jacobsen & Spiro, 1993, p. 3), better explain or organize those knowledge components, and then hold and examine them, almost as concrete objects, before putting them out into the world.
When considering whether new forms of media can alter our ways of thinking, we can reflect on McLuhan’s (1964) argument that the “medium is the message”. How do the new possibilities of the social media and web 2.0 technologies influence our abilities to share ideas? As years’ worth of students have told me, “I am doing it in my head”, ‘it’ being planning, outlining, organizing, preparing for assessments, and otherwise being a student. This is also true for practitioners or academics. ‘Doing it in our heads’ is certainly possible, how do others can access those ideas that are in our heads. With 21st century tools, practitioners can now be much more efficient in sharing their ideas with their community and stakeholders and thus creating the possibilities for growth.
Jacobsen, M., & Spiro, R. (1993). Hypertext Learning Environments, Cognitive Flexibility, and the Transfer of Complex Knowledge: An Empirical Investigation. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Center for the Study of Reading. Champaign, Illinois: College of education. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/17752/ctrstreadtechrepv01993i00573_opt.pdf?sequence=1
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media. Cornwall: Routledge.
Spiro, R. J. (1993). Cognitive Flexibility, Constructivism, and Hypertext: Random Access Instruction for Advanced Knowledge Acquisition in Ill-Structured Domains. Institute for Learning Technologies. http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/publications/papers/Spiro.html