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The Oxbridge tutorial is open to all online in a MOOC from FutureLearn

Fig.1 The intimate qualities of the Oxbridge tutorial are now experience in massive open online courses

I have been studying full-time for a year – an MA in a traditional university with lectures, book lists and online completing eight MOOCs and even trying to start a module with the OU.

My goal hasn’t been simply to gain yet further qualifications in subjects I love, but to experience first hand the variety of approaches to learning that exist.

Back to the classroom while learning online.

The MOOCs I’ve done on FutureLearn are highly ‘connected’ – I believe the way huge threaded discussions are managed and can be managed successfully recreates what some consider to be the Holy Grail of learning in HE, the ‘Oxbridge tutorial’ where a subject expert sits one to one or at most one to three to discuss a topic, set each other straight, and then return every week, or twice a week to do the same.

MOOCS completed or underway include:

Start Writing Fiction

How to read a mind

Climate Change

World War One: Trauma and Memory

World War One: Aviation Comes of Age

World War One: Paris 1919

How to succeed at: writing applications

Experience and research shows that even in a MOOC with 25,000 starters, in a threaded discussion that has 3000 posts, that groups of learners form – typically a mix of experts, keen learners with some knowledge and complete beginners. These groups can last the duration of a two month course and spill out into other platforms and meeting up face to face. John Seely Brown called this a couple of decades ago ‘learning from the periphery’, where new, keen learners gravitate from the edges to the centre. It is learning vicariously, as we do in our day to day lives. But it is more intimate than a community of practice: two or three people learning together in real-time or in a quasi-synchronous platform is like an Oxbridge tutorial. I had the privilege of attending these as an undergraduate and my father in law is one of these career Oxford fellows who taught in this way for several decades and has gone to great lengths to explain the unique qualities of the method, how and why it works. It now works online. You don’t have to be communicating directly with the lead academics – though you may do in a MOOC, but you can gravitate, with ease, if you like to the many experts who are in and contributing to these forums. I can cite examples of both types: the extraordinary care and fluency of the PhD contributors to WW1: Aviation for example, or in the massive (25,000 participants) threads of Start Writing Fiction.

This is ‘transitional education.’ Not a revolution, just building on the best of what has gone before and gradually taking others along with it.

I like that after 700 years of keeping the approach to themselves that the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ as a way to learn is, online at least, open to anyone.

Might understanding what primes us to behave in a certain way have impacts on social behaviour and learning?

Fig.1. Eyes & Ears – A public awareness film produced featuring the Emergency Services and members of the cast of Byker Grove. Broadcast on regional TV channels: BBC Look North and Tyne Tees Television. Widely reported in the local press.

Understanding what primes us to behave in a certain way must have impacts on social behaviour, from the London Riots of 2011 and police behaviour at Hillsborough in 1989, through to schooling, training, coaching and e-learning – and of course, how hypnotists play their tricks.

  • Are we so vulnerable and easily led because we cannot think about too much at the same time?
  • How must this influence the savvy learning designer?
  • Surely the context of any learning environment must be highly significant, from the buildings and resources, to your peers?


Fig. 2. A Oxford Tutorial – now as in the 1950s

  • Do Ivy League and Oxbridge Colleges have a centuries old model that works still in the 21st century?
  • Why do some libraries work better than others and why do we like to meet for coffee or for a drink?
  • Are we primed to open up, to be more or less receptive to ideas?
  • What therefore does the loan learner do studying at a distance, even if they are online?
  • What makes the experience immersive?
  • Synchronous learning in a webinar or seminar?
  • Active engagement in a discussion, multi-choice quiz or virtual world?
  • And how might they prep their context?
  • Close the curtains, dress to study?

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Fig. 3. Thinking, fast and slow

I was introduced to this concept by Daniel Kahneman in his 2011 book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slowly’ in the Linkedin Group for alumni of the Open University MBA Module ‘Creativity, Innovation and Change’.

 

Social Learning when it works – a convenient means of critical evaluation and discrimination of these ideas.

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From Chapter 1. Educational Implications

Gagne (1970 pp29-30) suggests that instruction in an organized group discussion develops the use and generalization of knowledge – or knowledge transfer. Oxbridge tutors contend that the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ – a weekly, structured micro-meeting of two or three people, achieves this. One student reads out a short essay that the tutor and students discuss.

‘When properly led’, Gagne continues, ‘such discussions, where the knowledge itself has been initially mastered’, not only stimulates the production of new extensions of knowledge by students but also provides a convenient means of critical evaluation and discrimination of these ideas. Gagne (ibid).

Forty years on from when Gagne wrote this there are what are meant to be or hoped to be learning contexts where this kind of knowledge transfer through group discussion can still work – or may fail to work – either because the degree of subject mastery between students is too broad or there are too many students, or the wrong mix of students. For example, in the Open University’s Masters of Open and Distance Education (MAODE) between 12 and 16 postgraduate students meet online in a series of structured online tutor forums – some of these work, some do not. As these meetings are largely not compulsory and as they are asynchronous and online, it is rare to have people in them together – the discussions are threaded. What is more, in any tutor group there will typically be a mixture of students who are on their first, their second, third, fourth or even fifth module of the Master’s – some of whom, given the parameters offered by flexible and distance learning, may have spread these modules over five years. Then there is the task and how it is set, whether the participants are meant to work alone or collaboratively – the simplest and most frequent model online is an expectation to read resources and share notes and thoughts. However, personal experience over five such modules suggests that the committed engagement of say six people, working collaboratively on a clear set of tasks and activities with a time limit and climactic conclusion of delivering a joint project, works best. Too many of these online tutorials drift, or fizzle out: too few posts, posts that are two long, fragmented posts linking to pages elsewhere, the indifference of participants, the lack of, or nature of the tutor involvement, excessive and misplaced social chat, or discussing subjects that are off topic … It depends very much on the mix, inclinations, availability and level of ‘knowledge mastery’ as to how such online tutorials work out. As well as the eclectic combination of students the role, availability, online and other teaching skills, even the personality of the tutor and of course THEIR knowledge experience and mastery matters.

Just reflect on how such workshops or seminars may work or fail face–to–face – the hunger for knowledge on the topic under discussion, the mix of personalities and the degree to which their experience or level of understanding is the same, at slight or considerable variance, let alone any differences of culture, background, gender or in a business setting – position and the department they have come from.

Ideally the workshop convener, or what the French call an ‘animateur’ should, assemble or construct such groups with great care, like a director casting actors to perform a piece of improvisation. Different contexts offer different opportunities. As a graduate trainee in an advertising agency six of us were repeatedly assembled, the various departmental specialists and directors playing roles at specific times – bit players in these scenarios. On reflection, stage management by a team in the HR department had been vital. It is therefore ‘stage management’ that I consider of significant importance when trying to construct such collective learning experiences online in a corporate setting.

CONCLUSION

Know your players, cast with care, give direction, record what goes on and step in to nudge, re–kindle, stop or start conversations or activities.

REFERENCE

Gagne, R (1970) The Conditions of Learning

ADDITIONAL LINKS

Robert Gagne Wikispaces

Theories of Learning

Cognitive Design Principles

The Nine Events – from Kevin the Librarian

Various Models of learning – Illustrated

Some online tutor sessions work, some do not. Some social platforms work, others do not. Why?

Fig. 1. Robert Gagne – a must have for anyone interested in learning

Gagne (1970 pp29-30) suggests that instruction in an organized group discussion develops the use and generalization of knowledge – or knowledge transfer. Oxbridge tutors contend that the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ – a weekly, structured micro-meeting of two or three people, achieves this. One student reads out a short essay that the tutor and students discuss.

‘When properly led’, Gagne continues, ‘such discussions, where the knowledge itself has been initially mastered’, not only stimulates the production of new extensions of knowledge by students but also provides a convenient means of critical evaluation and discrimination of these ideas. Gagne (ibid).

Forty years on from when Gagne wrote this there are what are meant to be or hoped to be learning contexts where this kind of knowledge transfer through group discussion can still work – or may fail to work – either because the degree of subject mastery between students is too broad or there are too many students, or the wrong mix of students.

For example, in the Open University’s Masters of Open and Distance Education (MAODE) between 12 and 16 postgraduate students meet online in a series of structured online tutor forums – some of these work, some do not. As these meetings are largely not compulsory and as they are asynchronous and online, it is rare to have people in them together – the discussions are threaded. What is more, in any tutor group there will typically be a mixture of students who are on their first, their second, third, fourth or even fifth module of the Master’s – some of whom, given the parameters offered by flexible and distance learning, may have spread these modules over five years. Then there is the task and how it is set, whether the participants are meant to work alone or collaboratively – the simplest and most frequent model online is an expectation to read resources and share notes and thoughts. However, personal experience over five such modules suggests that the committed engagement of say six people, working collaboratively on a clear set of tasks and activities with a time limit and climactic conclusion of delivering a joint project, works best.

Too many of these online tutorials drift, or fizzle out: too few posts, posts that are two long, fragmented posts linking to pages elsewhere, the indifference of participants, the lack of, or nature of the tutor involvement, excessive and misplaced social chat, or discussing subjects that are off topic … It depends very much on the mix, inclinations, availability and level of ‘knowledge mastery’ as to how such online tutorials work out. As well as the eclectic combination of students the role, availability, online and other teaching skills, even the personality of the tutor and of course THEIR knowledge experience and mastery matters.

Just reflect on how such workshops or seminars may work or fail face–to–face – the hunger for knowledge on the topic under discussion, the mix of personalities and the degree to which their experience or level of understanding is the same, at slight or considerable variance, let alone any differences of culture, background, gender or in a business setting – position and the department they have come from.

Ideally the workshop convener, or what the French call an ‘animateur’ should, assemble or construct such groups with great care, like a director casting actors to perform a piece of improvisation. Different contexts offer different opportunities. As a graduate trainee in an advertising agency six of us were repeatedly assembled, the various departmental specialists and directors playing roles at specific times – bit players in these scenarios. On reflection, stage management by a team in the HR department had been vital. It is therefore ‘stage management’ that I consider of significant importance when trying to construct such collective learning experiences online in a corporate setting.

CONCLUSION

Know your players, cast with care, give direction, record what goes on and step in to nudge, re–kindle, stop or start conversations or activities.

REFERENCE

Gagne, R (1970) The Conditions of Learning

ADDITIONAL LINKS

Robert Gagne Wikispaces

Theories of Learning

Cognitive Design Principles

The Nine Events – from Kevin the Librarian

Various Models of learning – Illustrated

 

How do we perceive and share knowledge? What matters most in this equation

How do we perceive and share knowledge? What matters most in this equation?

Society, the institution, department or the individual educator?

Learning occurs at the interface between individuals, between the teacher and pupil, between pupils and of course between the thinkers, the educators, researchers and academics.

This interface is expressed as an artefact: a lecture, a book, a TV appearance, a podcast, a chapter in a book or a paper – as an expression of a set of ideas. This interface is also a conversation, in a tutorial, at a conference or less formally in passing over a meal, or drink (in the Oxbridge experience at the High Table, in the senior, middle or junior common rooms, in halls and rooms where societies and loose groupings of people meet, as well as in studies and rooms). Recreation of this online as minds meet, discuss and share. Informal or proactive groups or societies coming together. People with people.

On the one hand we like to put the institution above the person, whether in academia or the commercial world we rank and recognise Oxbridge and the Russell Group ‘above’ other universities while, for example, in Law we put Freshfields, Clifford Chance and Herbert Smith in the top ten of 125 or 500 legal practices.

However, it is an the individual level, at the interface between one person and another, one mind and another, where the learning occurs, where the knowledge is applied and changed, and in various forms written up or written out to cause or record effect.

It is at this interface, where minds meet, where ideas are catalysed and formed.

Towards my own theory of learning ?

Or trying to get my head around Engestrom’s Activity Theory that fits the bill for me?

 

Oxford University taped 1982-1984: Forty hours of video of undergraduate life and activities

From early 1982 to graduation in June 1984 I used a Sony Betamax kit to video undergraduate life at Oxford University.

The 18 tapes and some 40 hours of content I am digitizing includes:

  • The Oxford Union Debating Society (featuring Hilali Noordeen) The day I was in the Union Chamber I was sitting next to Susanna White and Steve Garvey who were shooting a documentary about ‘Women in Oxford’.
  • The Oxford Theatre Group at the Edinburgh Fringe (Featuring all the plays: 13 Clocks, The Hunger Artist, Edward II, Titus Alone directed by Patrick Harbinson, produced by Nicky King and the Oxford Review)
  • I shot this over three weeks while helping out behind the scenes at St. Mary’s Street Hall (the OTG venue) and kipping in a Free Mason’s Lodge by the Castle. Nicky King and Matthew Faulk edited in my Balliol Room (now the Oxford Internet Institute) cum edit suite the following term.
  • The Oxford Student Union elections.
  • The Lightweights Boat Crew in training with David Foster et al (11th March 1983)
  • Torpids (various)
  • Romeo & Juliet (in which I played Mercutio and lost my pants during the fight scene)
  • The Taming of the Shrew: an OUDS production  (in which I played Baptista) And the rehearsals.
  • Abigail’s Party (directed by Anthony Geffen)
  • Various other plays and boat crews
  • The May Day Celebrations 1982
  • Training for the Oxford Students Union president
  • Oxford Television News (Various episodes of OTN in which Hugo Dixon does a Jeremy Paxman and we are introduced to the Chicken Pal Society at the Gate of India + TCG, PWG and CJP) (9th May 1983)
  • OTN. Visit of Prince Charles (18th May 1983) + ‘Exter guy in glasses’ or is this in fact a Jesus guy doing a ‘party political broadcast’.
  • Oxford University Boxing
  • A workshop on how to shoot video (10th February 1983)
  • A corporate promotional film for the language school ‘Speakeasy’
  • Windsurfing
  • The Oxford & Cambridge Varsity Ski Trip to Wengen
  • perhaps a play produced by Tessa Ross directed by Clive Brill
  • perhaps Andrew Sullivan directed by Alex Ogilvie in ‘Another Country’
  • and perhaps the Women’s Eight.

and various other antics around Balliol College and the university that will reveal themselves in the course of being downloaded, graded and digitized.

I believe my aim should be to use this as the foundation for a documentary.

I need to raise £2000 to digitize/archive this content and am therefore looking for backers.

P.S. It is six weeks since I was behind a camera. I may be about to shoot some swimmers for a swimming e-learning app but if you have anything immediate let me know.

It’s one thing to contribute to a flash debate, it is quite another to embrace the Cloudworks platform.

It is one thing to contribute to a flash debate, it is quite another to embrace the Cloudworks platform.

There is only one way to test the water, and that is to get in. We talk of ‘swim lanes’ for learning design, I like every platform, every social network, business network or here, educational network, to be a visit to another pool, a lido, indoor or out, leisure pool or training pool.

They need to know who you are, you have to sign in. Then you have to change, get in, and give it a go.

So I am for the umpteenth time adding a profile picture and a profile, tagging, finding favourites debates and linking to people.

It all takes time.

Online you control time. Intensive engagement might move things along … on the other hand, it may irritate those who’ve been here a while.

It should take time.

Find the rhymn of the place, observe when and where there is a buzz. Identifiy the ‘champions,’ come in on the periphery, pick up a thread, join in tentatively, give it a go here and there.

I make a contribution to a Flash Debate on the futre and threats to universities

Universities will flourish as they become part of the mainstream and engaged with the world, rather than distinct from it. Relationships with governments, industries, schools (for future students) and alumni (for past student) will develop and become continual, rather than passing. Student cohorts may look the same on the ground, but in the virtual world will be broader and deeper, technology and systems allowing a greater diversity. Not all institutions will have the ability, whether through lack of financing, the burden of their past and costs, to be flexible and change. The overall impact will be of an evolutionary change, though for some it will be a fight for survival.

BRANDING

Established, motivated, well supported and well known colleges and institutions, where there is strength as a brand, as well as financially, in their governing body and from alumni will thrive. They can afford to exploit the changing circumstances (and they can’t afford not to). Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Bristol, UCL and the OU are not about to go under. On the other hand, new, complacent, poorly supported, little known educational institutions where the sources of income and grants may be narrow or uncertain, with weak leadership and ill-established (or disloyal) alumni will fail.

BUSINESS

The opportunities to flourish are extraordinary; the global demand for tertiary education with tens of millions of people from Asia, for example, seeking higher education over the next decade means that there is a growing and hungry market if you have the right ‘product.’ Education is a business, whether the model is that students are educated for free or pay part of the fees, cash flow matters. Retailing has been in constant flux, from the high street to out of town shopping, with national and international brands dominating, and then online shopping cornering certain markets, from books to electronic goods. Retailers have had to change the mix, where they locate and what they sell. Universities are less agile and less prone to the vicissitudes of short-term purchasing decisions, but the impact on them of new technologies is no less profound. Negotiating their way through this will require skill, the most vulnerable institutions will fail.

QUALIFICATIONS

Letters after your name differentiate you from other candidates for a job or promotion. Where there are many applicants for the same position where you studied, indeed, who you studied with, will matter. It helps to study under the best in your field. It depends entirely on where you wish or plan to go afterwards, where and if a position or job requires a certain qualification, and if a qualification from one or another institution has greater perceived or actual value. However, as those with experience of the job market will tell you, it is how what you have been taught is applied and how you relate to other people, that will determine your success.

CAMPUS BASED vs DISTANCE LEARNING

Technology is blending the two: increasingly students are opting for this, to be campus-based, but to take advantage of the technology to better manage their time or support their learning. Far from being the death-knell of the traditional university, new technologies will assist in their finding ways to develop and support a broader and deeper student body. Participation and collaboration, socialising away from the screen, is a vital component of the university experience for those coming out of secondary education – the demands and expectations of a mature student are very different. How people get on, how they work together, is a vital lesson that a campus based university offers. Whilst increasingly our online experiences are as ‘real’ as everything else we do, it is how and if we can work as a team that will decide how we progress. The student experiencing this will better know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and suitability for different career paths.

CHANGE

Like retailers, manufacturers, broadcasters, publishers and the post office, we are in a period of significant change, new technology was already having an impact, the economic down turn has aggravated this, obliging some forcing other institutions to act. How this change is managed will decide who survives and who struggles on. There is a fine line to tread between innovating early, or too late, changing wholesale or piecemeal. The wise institution not only spreads its risk, but also casts its opportunism just as wide as spreading your bets covers you in a world where nobody knows what will work or not. Libraries, one of the draws to a campus-based university, cannot be as influential as hundreds of millions of texts become instantly available in digital form. Senior lecturers and researchers should be employed for their ability to communicate, support and rally students around them, not simply because of the paper they are working on. Students will demand more if they feel it is the cash in their pocket that is buying what the institutions offers. Errors, failings and shortcomings of a person, a module or course, can be spread through online reviews and will decide their fate. New blends of courses will invent themselves where a student feels able, supported through e-learning, to cherry pick, even to study simultaneously quite different subjects. Cohorts, if on the ground still that 17-23 year old age group, will become far more diverse, with groupings formed by mutual interest in a subject. Life-long learning, already apparent in some professions, will become more common place as people recognise the need to refresh their understanding of some topics, while gaining new skills and additional insights.

Am I responding to a thread, or like the second or third speaker at an Oxford Union Debating Society getting up to say my piece?

And if I sit on the fence, what kind of debate is that?

We should be obliged to take sides, THAT would be a debate, otherwise it is a conversation, another online tutorial.

Thus far Cloudworks is like a new swimming pool, refreshing and full of opportunity. To thrive, let alone survive, it needs people coming down to swim, to jump in, to train, to meet …

And once you have your regulars, keep them coming back.

How do you study if you are both a tutor and a student?

I guess if you are a chemistry tutor and you’re studying e-learning the two are complementary but you cannot, be both tutor and student of the same course (though interestingly this has/is occurring in our module with a tutor absent the OU failing to accommodate).

It’s rather making me think that student as tutor is absolutely possible.

Why not? All it requires is leadership and initiative. I don’t see tutors as subject matter experts. Can you cater for everyone? In communications you need to know your audience. Writers are meant to think of their reader as one person, not millions. How should teachers/tutors think? Of student, or students? Does it matter anymore?

Can we, knowing or indulging ourselves, choose from a plethora of ways into a subject?

I have to wonder, thinking in extremes, why we don’t have tutor groups by gender, by generation, even by profession … let alone our current professional status. Would for example all those working for the armed services benefited from being in a group of their own?

And how do we make such a choice?

Too late if you buy a book, even read a sample, only to find the rest of the content doesn’t deliver.

What about a course?

You pay the fees for a module only to feel or realise a week or so on that it is going to disappoint all the way to the end?

Do you choose by Brand?

Do you choose by awarding body?

And what say do we have?

Can we play-act the model online student?

Would it help to have such an image and then be this person?

Can we assume ourselves into a level of comprehension what we haven’t yet reached and as a result of such aspirations and performance become this more informed and ‘educated’ person?

With an interest and some training in sport and developing young elite athletes I’ve studied Long Term Athlete Development. With a sport, let alone studying, we can group children by gender and biological age. When or where do such groupings or any groupings become difficult to create, or politically incorrect to create? Should not institutions go to greater lengths to group people scientifically?

And to mix these groups up as we go along, if only to change and balanced the learning opportunities?

This is the OU’s show, their party. They are hosting an event, or series of events or have we simply taken a few steps beyond getting a box of books and CDs on the doorstep at the start of a module … to the set of railway tracks that is the like a cartoon, are laid before our eyes as each new week approaches? Who ‘owns’ this course? I get know sense of that, or someone leading. The tutors/authors of the course left years ago. Perhaps this is obvious and given the topic and the speed of change in e-learning is detrimental. I wonder, if given time, more ‘natural’ tutor groupings would form in the national forums of ‘General Discussions’ and the Café from which break-out tutor groups could be constructed (or they do?) I wonder if the solution is in the ways resources are presented, that there need to be multiple ways into a topic. That once size never did fit all.

That ideally we would each have a personal tutor, that all learning would be one to one and tailor to our needs, as they are and as they change … and as we are changed by the process and anything else that is going on around us.

Do we all want a take-away, or a pot-lunch?

The set menu and if so as a school dinner, or from a top restaurant? Home cooking or our own cooking?

Might I say with H800 are getting the ‘set menu,’ i.e. the choice is limited. All I’m discussing here is choice; the next point would be the size of helpings. How do we respond to either being hungry as a wolf (read everything) or not hungry at all (graze nonchalantly doing the bare minimum?) The answer, as I found in H808, was to have plenty of moderated activities in the General Discussion, Café and Supplementary Activity Forums … where like minds could meet, where if you found you had time or wanted to make time, you could get involved in a different group and therefore benefit from an alternative dynamic. I have found that with groups, even more so away from the OU, that are global in scope, that you find groupings that are topic specific and where you can, whenever you like, find a conversation to engage with that adds to your knowledge.

It is a vital part of the learning process I believe, where you form opinions and develop ideas as a result of your engagement, the only issue being that your voice comes out of the tips of your fingers rather than your mouth, which rather suggests we’d all have been better off communicating to our parents and siblings at home via a QWERTY keyboard from an early age so we had these surprisingly necessary skills in place.

Perhaps, as there appears to be so much inclination, whether desire or otherwise, to shift towards the Oxbridge tutorial system as a model, (small tutor groups), might not we also have junior, middle and senior common rooms?

Might we not also have a variety of virtual colleges? And taking just one idea from this … ought we not to have more than one tutor, even within a module, perhaps a different module for each TMA?

Dr Z A Pelczynsni, OBE, a retired Oxford tutor and fellow discusses ‘The Oxbridge Tutorial’

A 4 mininute interview and supporting transcript with Dr Z A Pelczynsni, OBE, a retired Oxford tutor and fellow.

From Drop Box

An interesting insight into the tutorial system and how teaching at university differs from teaching at school.

An interview with Dr Zbigniew Pelzcynski OBE, retired Pembroke College Fellow, and Senior Lecturer in Politics and Philosophy

ZAP

Interview with Dr Z.A.Pelczynski

How does teaching differ between school and university?

What do you for in an essay? Should it be academic, journalistic, or a bit of both?

Can leadership be taught?

Could leadership be taught online?

 

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