Friday, September 10, 2010

Tweckled at ALT!

Missed the Tweetstorm after my ALT Keynote at the University of Nottingham, as I was on the road without a mobile for the following two days. I don’t have a mobile phone as I’m not really a Gadgetboy and enjoy my periods of solitude and privacy when I travel. Nevertheless, from London to Dundee I kept bumping into people who told me that the Tweckling was fierce. I even had someone come up to me and mention the tweets as I stood outside a burning building in which I was due to deliver a keynote. She had been watching my talk online. As I say, I’m not a mobile Tweeter, so will respond here.

Don’t lecture me
‘Don’t LECTURE me (yes I’m aware of the contradiction)’ was the title of my talk. A number of people objected to me criticising the lecture, using a lecture. Ho hum. First, I explained myself in the title and verbally at the start of the talk. I was deliberately provocative as I wanted to show that the lecture is an odd format and explained the weaknesses of the format as I spoke (one hit, psychological attention, dull, memory fade etc).
To effect change, which is why I do this stuff, you need to create a sense of urgency and that means getting to the people who matter. In this case, in HE, they happen to love attending conferences. I don’t, but that’s where they hang out. To catch fish, you sometimes have to trawl in the cold, cruel sea, a place you’d rather not be. And if you think it’s easy to stand up in front of hundreds of people and say things you deeply believe but know they won’t like – try it.
I did this talk because Seb Schmoller asked me and spent a day of my life getting to Nottingham to say what I had to say, for free, so was probably the only person in the whole lecture theatre who wasn’t being paid to be there. I have never deliberately asked to speak at a conference. I do it because I’m asked. I could, admittedly just say NO, but if my aim is to change things, that would be counterproductive.

Lack of evidence?
Another charge was that I didn’t provide evidence. Sorry, but almost every point I made was backed up by a published source and, often empirical studies.
My analysis of the Socratic method included analysis by Xenophon and Plato and I gave accounts of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, along with a linguistic analysis of the word ‘lecture’, from it’s original 14th century meaning to its semantic shift in the 16th century.
I showed the covers and quoted from of five books; The Media Equation by Nass & Reeves from Stanford, What’s the use of Lectures? by Donald Bligh, Peer Instruction by Eric Mazur, Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman by Richard Feynman, Lectures in Physics by Richard Feynman.
In addition to the studies presented in these books I gave detailed slides showing the methods and results of large scale studies on the FCI test and the work of Eric Mazur. On the psychology of learning I showed research by Ebbinghaus and a contemporary study by Paul Kelley, and summarised the results from the Institute of Theoretical Physics (even promising to send people the papers on request). I also showed a summarising graph from a five year study on lecture attendance. In addition I showed two slides referencing Carol Twigg’s $8.8m research project on transformational learning. I also quoted detailed figures for the numbers of views of Lewin’s physics lectures. This, in my experience, is a great deal more than most conference presentations.
So to be accused of not presenting evidence seems to suggest that people were spending too much time tweeting and not enough time listening (one of my criticisms of the lecture format!)

The backchannel was showing tweets as I spoke. I rather like this, as it at least provides some form of feedback and a variety of views, although it would have been better if the chair had given me a chance to respond. Interestingly, it sort of indirectly reinforces my view that lectures are pedagogically odd (why cut out to tweet if you like the format so much?). It’s like a game where the speaker is playing shot-put and the audience darts.
However, pedantic tweets are infantile, and there were plenty of those. Puzzlingly, a fair number got upset because I swore a couple of times. There’s something deeply reactionary about portions of HE audiences, definitely a touch of the old-fashioned ‘schoolmaster’ or ‘angry from Tunbridge Wells’. Welcome to the real world, where people get passionate enough to say ‘bollocks’! Do they turn their TVs off when Frankie Boyle appears?
On the other hand some excellent blog posts have appeared from Stephen Wheeler and others, with some reasoned argument. I’ve never attended ALT, as I don’t like sitting around listening to conference lectures for two or three days but I do like the online material, Seb’s fortnightly newsletter and subsequent blog posts.