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Learning objectives: the basics

Bullseye

A combination of my ongoing mentoring of an M.Ed. student, a request by a commenter (Ian Guest) and some broken links on the newly-restored teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk has spurred me to write this post.

As a teacher, I’ve never really known a world before learning objectives. It was certainly something that was expected of me during my PGCE at Durham University and from then on in my teaching career. And, to be fair, it’s fairly obvious why. If a learner knows what’s expected of them, and then can ascertain whether they’ve achieved a learning goal, then they’ve been successful.

However, I’ve seen learning objectives used really badly. I’ve seen a ‘learning objective’ that ran something like:

To know who the Romans were.

How would a learner or teacher know whether any type of meaningful learning has taken place with this as a learning objective?! A far better one would be:

To list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.

This is SMART – i.e.

  • Specific – ‘list 3 ways’ tells students exactly what to expect.
  • Measurable – both students and the teacher can tell whether the learning objective has been attained.
  • Achievable – the learning objective is open-ended enough to allow for effective differentiation.
  • Realistic – this particular learning objective doesn’t really require any prior learning.
  • Time-related – students need to have achieved this learning objective by the end of the lesson.

Even better practice would be to use ALL, MOST and SOME with learning objectives. This allows for even more differentiation and sets and explicit baseline for all learners.

To use the above example again:

ALL students should: list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.

MOST students should: decide which Roman innovation has been most profound.

SOME students should: explain how Roman innovations have changed/evolved over the last 2,000 years.

It’s only after the learning objectives have been formulated that lesson activities and resources should be prepared. After all, if the activities and resources aren’t focused on learning, what are they focused upon?

Do you have a view or some advice on learning objectives? Share it in the comments below! 🙂

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Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: ‘aspirational naming,’ hegemonic power and finishing early?

umbrellas

Image by gagilas @ Flickr

Last Wednesday I met with Steve Higgins, my Ed.D. supervisor at the University of Durham. I enjoy the level of intellectual conversation I have with him and this meeting was no exception. Our discussion ranged from everything from Foucault to doing online shopping for your grandmother(!) and seemed to fly by. This post serves as a reminder for me and an insight for those interested in my chosen topic of ‘digital literacy.’

Concept maps and ‘umbrella terms’

Those familiar with the enormous Ed.D. concept map I produced will be familiar with the fair amount of complexity it contains. Steve suggested that I go back to it and attempt to synthesize some of the elements, perhaps by reworking it into a kind of Venn diagram. I replied that at the moment it’s something I don’t want to spend too much time looking at (because it took so long to produce), but will go back to it eventually!

I expressed my (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) annoyance that Lankshear and Knobel in the introduction to their 2008 Digital Literacies had pointed out and drawn attention to something I was going to present as a new analysis in my thesis: the ‘umbrella term.’ Many theorists take their conception of literacy and consider all others in the light of it, usually relegating them to some type of ‘sub-literacies.’ Steve suggested I try a different metaphor than umbrellas… 😉

Intentionality and trajectories

Steve reminded me that there is a ‘rhetoric’ to everything produced by theorists, even those who are leaders in the field (e.g. Lankshear and Knobel). There is an intention behind what they are doing; they are, to some extent, ‘tussling for position’ and attempting to prove a point.

All theorists in the realm of ‘new literacies’ deal in neologisms. That is to say they coin terms that they hope will enter common usage. Steve posited the idea of a ‘trajectory’ – that I need to show in my thesis where theorists are ‘coming from,’ what their definition is, what they’re trying to achieve through that definition, and then the logical implications and practicalities of this.

Language issues

At some point during the discussion I mentioned that I’d read that Norwegian has no word for ‘literacy’ as they use a different, but related term. I suggested that this might allow Norwegians to bypass some of the historical baggage bound up with the term ‘literacy.’ Steve pointed out that Norwegian also makes no distinction between ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’ which, if you think about it, is rather problematic. I can think of lots of efficient yet ineffective people vice-versa! :-p

I moved on to Gunther Kress‘ argument that because many languages don’t have the term ‘literacy’ then sub-dividing it into ‘visual literacy,’ ‘digital literacy’ and the like was problematic. I mentioned that I wasn’t convinced by his argument. Steve pointed out that English is a richer language (in terms of number of words) than other languages. This means that there may be actually an advantage in breaking down terms in English into sub-areas as it may be difficult to work out of a genuinely complex ‘super-concept.’

Thesis structure

The structure of all theses tend to be in a state of flux until towards the end, and mine is no different. Given that I’m doing a rather bizarre thing – a conceptual, vocational doctorate(!) – the structure is not prescribed nor, indeed, self-evident. I pointed out to Steve that although it is usual to write the ‘methodology’ chapter after the ‘literature review,’ it might actually be a better idea and more coherent to the reader if the methodology comes before the literature review.

I’m planning to write a chapter on ‘digital flow,’ after being inspired by Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. One of the issues with ‘digital literacy’ is, as Steve put it, ‘aspirational naming’: we come up with terms describing states to which we aspire. ‘Digital flow’ (as I shall define it) would be on the same spectrum and would, inevitably, include value judgements and aspirational statements about how I want the world to be. We’re came back our earlier mention of intentionality.

After coming up with a (tentative) definition of ‘digital flow’ I shall be doing some policy analysis looking at whether conceptions of digital literacy and/or flow are embedded in pronouncements and practice in countries ranging from the UK to Singapore. Steve suggested that I look at the relation between literacy and hegemonic power; ‘the position of the individual relative to the discourse.’ Steve’s of the opinion that power comes as a ‘valuable incidental’ to those in power and control and that they don’t necessarily reinforce this on purpose through such things as literacy practices. It’s a question of ‘coherence and complexity’ despite Marxist rants to the contrary. He suggested I look at the difference between devolved and ‘real’ power (c.f. Foucault).

The nature of literacy

I’ve avoided in my thesis up to now discussion of ‘media literacy’ as I thought it would take me down a rather tangential rabbit-hole. However, as Steve pointed out, at the end of the day it’s all about semiotics and the encoding of meaning. It’s about production and reproduction, said Steve, as letter-based literacy is a ‘dense’ and precise method of exchange. Visual literacy, media literacy and the like points towards more metaphorical use of language. Poetry, for example, would be somewhat of a ‘halfway house.’

It was at this point that I re-conceptualized what Steve said as being almost a continuum ranging from the ‘literal’ use of language in literacy left to ‘metaphorical’ use of language on the right. Text-based literacy would be on the left whilst umbrella terms – metaphors of metaphors (or ‘second order metaphors’) would be on the right. It may be interesting to plot conceptions of literacy on such a continuum in my actual thesis.

This reminded Steve of C.S. Peirce‘s idea of ‘firstness,’ ‘secondness’ and ‘thirdness.’ This relates to something which equates to ‘raw perception’ (‘firstness’), the ‘idea’ of it (‘thirdness’) and the way of trying to express this (‘secondness’). I think this could be a really effective addition to my discussion of the ‘red pillar box’ in my phenomological introduction (sample below):

Human beings are tasked with making sense of the external world. We feel the need to decipher and communicate oft-repeated experiences and sensations, allowing other minds to share the same (or similar) conceptual space to our own. For example, research in Phenomenology tells us that two individuals may have two markedly different sensations when viewing a red pillar box. If, however, they agree on the category ‘pillar box’ to refer to approximately the shape they see before them, and that the colour sensation they are experiencing shall be called ‘red’, then meaningful discourse can ensue.

Returning to the policy document analysis, Steve re-iterated that I need to concentrate on producing an ‘interesting synthesis’ rather than getting bogged down in detail. I also need to separate out in my thesis the difference between ‘digital literacy’ and ‘being digitally literate.’

Finishing early

I mentioned to Steve – as I have done at previous meetings – that I’d like to have my thesis finished by next summer. That’s a year before my official end date, after which people are still allowed a year of ‘writing up.’ There’s three reasons why I want to finish early:

  1. I want to finish before I’m 30 (December 2010)
  2. It’s costing £thousands every year.
  3. Every additional year I take is another year in which I have to consider and attempt to synthesize other people’s work into my thesis.

The official line for the Ed.D. is that the taught elements give the skills to undertake something at equivalent level to Ph.D. This is usually done where there’s a professional dimension to this ‘something.’ However, overlaps with other areas (in my case, for example, politics and philosophy as well as education) is inevitable. The examiner will ultimately be looking for ‘doctorateness’ and whether the thesis is sufficiently conceptually rich. 🙂

Steve said he’d get back to me with whether I’d be able to finish early, which he did the next day. It turns out that, officially, the earliest I’m allowed to submit is January 2011. I could apply for a concession to submit early, but given Durham’s ‘glacial bureaucracy’ and the second point in the list above, it’s unlikely that would be successful. I’ve decided that to have ‘finished’ by December 2010 and to submit on 1 January 2011 is fine by me!

Final thoughts

Other things we mentioned that I need to consider:

  • How would you go about ‘teaching’ digital literacy? (Foucault & power, etc.) Mention the ‘digital divide’ etc. and equality in society.
  • Make sure show aware of Prensky, ‘digital natives’ etc. – so ‘immersed’ and it is ‘second nature’. Two-edged sword – miss the ‘critical’ element. Intentionality? (step back, underlying conceptions – HTML, programming, etc.)
  • At the moment, people can still refuse to engage in digital world, and still function. Link to power and authority? Teenagers can’t do this? Bridging technologies (chequebook and Switch card)
  • Need to define ‘digital’ (definitions often aren’t bounded) – more than text (images, other media, etc.)

Very finally, we discussed the rather problematic issue of how I should submit my thesis. Given the nature of my thesis it would be more than a little anachronistic to only submit it in a printed paper format. Therefore we’re going to look at ways which would satisfy the university as well as ourselves (and the wider community) for the final thesis. Steve’s thoughts are that the appendices at the very least should be some sort of website. Given issues relating to ‘digital permanence’ Steve pointed out the very useful website snapshot-archiving tool iCyte which I’ll be exploring in more depth…

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Daniel Goleman on Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman

Watch a video of Goleman being interviewed about emotional intelligence here.

Last week, when I mentioned to my Twitter network that I needed to do some reading on ‘Leadership’, quite a few recommended the work of Daniel Goleman. Then, when I looked at the ‘Further Reading’ section of Jo Owen’s How to Lead that I’ve just started reading, Goleman was mentioned again. How to Lead cited some contributions Goleman made to the Harvard Business Review. Thankfully, I’ve access to this electronically through being a student at the University of Durham.

What follows are my notes and thoughts on 5 articles (and a letter) by Goleman, all published in the Harvard Business Review. Each subtitle is the name of Goleman’s article, along with the year published. 🙂

What make a Leader? (1998)

IQ-EQ icebergMany believe that leadership is an art rather than a science. Why? Because ‘every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job.’ Goleman believes that whilst IQ and technical skills are not irrelevant (they are ‘threshold capabilities’) but what is much more important is emotional intelligence. Indeed, Goleman asserts that his research shows that this is twice as important as a driver of outstanding performance compared to the other two factors.

Goleman states that emotional intelligence is made up of the following characteristics:

  • Self-Awareness – ‘the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.’
  • Self -Regulation – ‘the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods’ and ‘the propensity to suspend judgment – to think before acting.’
  • Motivation – ‘a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status’ and ‘a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.’
  • Empathy – ‘the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people’ and ‘skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.’
  • Social Skill – ‘proficiency in managing relationships and building networks’ and ‘an ability to find common ground and build rapport.’

Emotional intelligence is not easy, says Goleman, but it can be learned!

Leadership That Gets Results (2000)

Goleman contends that what leaders should do is get results. Pure and simple. The question is how is this achieved? Research by the consulting firm Hay/McBer found there are six main leadership styles ‘each springing from different components of emotional intelligence.’ Goleman likens these leadership styles to golf clubs in a seasoned professional’s bag: you choose the correct club (‘style’) for each shot (‘situation’).

The six styles are:

  1. Coercive – demand immediate compliance.
  2. Authoritative – motivate people towards a vision.
  3. Affiliative – create emotional bonds and harmony.
  4. Democratic – build consensus through participation.
  5. Pacesetting – demand excellent and self-direction.
  6. Coaching – developing people for the future.

These styles impact directly on the ‘climate’ of an organization, defined as comprising the following elements:

  • Flexibility – how free people are to innovate.
  • Responsibility – the sense of responsibility people have to the organization.
  • Standards – the standards that people set.
  • Rewards – the accuracy of performance feedback.
  • Clarity – how clear people are about mission and values.
  • Commitment – how committed people are to a common purpose.

Of the six styles, four of them act positively towards the climate of the organization and two in a negative sense. The two that damage the climate of an organization are Coercive (‘do as I say, now!’) and Pacesetting (‘do as I do, now!’). That being said, there are times, usually during times of crises when these leadership styles can prove effective in the short-term.

Being able to switch between the six styles is a matter of Emotional Intelligence, something akin to changing habits, says Goleman. It is something that can be learned and has to be practised.

Primal Leadership (2001)

Primal LeadershipGoleman, Boyatzis and McKee continued Goleman’s original research into emotional intelligence, coming up with the concept of leaders having an ’emotional style.’ This, they believe, sets the tone for the whole organization, that ‘the leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.’

The authors state that the brain’s limbic system, it’s emotional centre, is an ‘open-loop’ system. Unlike self-regulating closed-loop systems, an open loop system relies on external sources to maintain itself. ‘In other words, we rely on connections with people to determine our moods.’ That’s why we find it difficult not to smile or laugh ourselves when we hear laughter. It is this that the emotionally intelligent leader needs to tap into as good moods, it would appear from the research, transmit more quickly that bad ones! 😀

Leaders cannot simply ask those further down the hierarchy for feedback on their emotional style. Why? Job security and the personal nature of such feedback are two very good reasons. Instead, leaders need to go on journeys of self-discovery and personal reinvention that are ‘neither newfangled nor born of pop psychology.’  The authors point towards eiconsortium.org as being a useful starting point.

The journey of self-discovery and personal reinvention, contend the authors, is a five-step process of asking questions:

  1. Who do I want to be?
  2. Who am I now?
  3. How do I get from here to there?
  4. How do I make change stick?
  5. Who can help me?

I find these questions, if I’m honest, a little patronising. But then, after studying Philosophy at university as an undergraduate, I’m fairly self-reflective in any case. What do you think? Useful questions or not?

Never Stop Learning (2004)

Emotional IntelligenceIn this very short article Goleman says that leaders can survive without much ’emotional intelligence’ if everything is going well for the business. However, this is exactly the time that leaders should be building up and developing their emotional intelligence for the downturn and potential crises.

The data shows that people’s emotional intelligence tends to increase with age, but this is not to say that it is a function of, and comes with, experience. One of the most frequent criticisms of newly-promoted leaders is that they lack empathy. The problem, of course, being that they have been promoted for their intelligence and outstanding performance rather than their leadership skills.

Leaders can improve their emotional intelligence if they are given:

  • Information – candid assessment of their strengths and limitations from people they can trust.
  • Guidance – a specific development plan using ‘naturally occurring workplace encounters as the laboratory for learning.
  • Support – someone to talk to as they practice how to handle different situations.

It’s hard to argue with the principles and ideas behind Goleman’s emotional intelligence, although I do wonder whether the inclusion of the word ‘intelligence’ is helpful… :-p

Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership (2008)

Research shows, says Goleman and Boyatzis, that certain things leaders do affects their brain chemistry and that of their followers. In fact,

researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system.

Great leaders, say the authors, are at the opposite end of the ‘neural continuum’ than those with autism or Asperger’s, social disorders ‘characterized by underdevelopment in the areas of the brain associated with social interactions.’

Social IntelligenceThe authors therefore introduce the concept of social intelligence, ‘a set of interpersonal competencies built on specific neural circuits (and related endocrine systems) that inspire others to be effective.’ Pointing to recent research in neuroscience on ‘mirror neurons’ which act as ‘neural wifi’. When we detect other people’s (emotions through their actions), our mirror neurons reproduce these emotions, leading to a feeling of shared experience.

So, Goleman and Boyatzis say, the ‘old carrot-and-stick’ approach for encouraging people to perform better, doesn’t work. Smiles, laughter, nods and positive reinforcement are much more conducive to improving performance. Followers of effective leaders experience rapport with them – what the authors call ‘resonance’.

‘The only way to develop your social circuitry effectively,’ say Goleman and Boyatzis, ‘is to undertake the hard work of changing your behavior.’ Linking back to Primal Leadership, the authors believe this is a process of building a personal vision for change and gathering feedback. It is especially important to undergo this when things are going well, as during times of stress as ‘soaring cortisol levels and an added hard kick of adrenaline can paralyze the mind’s critical abilities.’ Leaders fall back into old habits during these times – all the more reason to become more self-reflective.

A Reply to Ken Otter (2009)

Finally, in a letter to the Harvard Business Review, Ken Otter gave his thoughts on an article by Goleman and Boyatzis. The authors took the time to reply to this, in which they made the following point – important and especially relevant to me about online communication:

Andrea Zambarda’s query about whether the brain’s social circuitry operates as well during communication by phone and videoconference as it does during face-to-face interactions raises an issue that is becoming increasingly important to companies. The brain’s circuitry picks up crucial social signals during communication, receiving the most during face-to-face interactions, somewhat fewer during videoconferences, and fewer still during phone calls. When communication is via e-mail or text alone, however, no emotional signals whatsoever are received, resulting in the greatest likelihood of missed cues.

…and that’s why I almost always put a smiley in my tweets, text messages and blog posts! 🙂

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