Why I do PowerPoint

There’s been a bit of a hoo-hah on Twitter today about PowerPoint (PPt). I think it began following this post from Jo Facer, which makes some fair comments. This led to a share of a previously written, more balanced argument by Robert Peal. I certainly agree with points in both, but not all. Here’s why I think we shouldn’t be so hasty in dismissing the use PPt:

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1. It provides a structure for lessons – note the term lessons. I often have a PPt that spans more than one lesson and based on the content that needs to be taught. I don’t see a problem with planning via PPt, so as long as the time spent is on thinking about the order/structure of content. Taking the time to think about the structure helps to organise my thoughts and enables me to move information around to suit the needs of the class. It’s as if I am putting my schema to paper (figuratively speaking). I could use other means to do this, but the PPt serves as a prompt during the session and means that the risk of learners missing out on crucial information is minimised.

2. The ‘visual’ argument – there’s no denying the vast body of research supporting Paivio’s Dual Coding Theory. I used to be guilty of putting reams of text on slides, which I proceeded to read to my learners and wondered why they never remembered anything. The issue was that whilst I read aloud and learners read the text (self talking), all information was entering working memory via the verbal pathway. Having developed a (basic) understanding of the theory, I began to change my approach, ensuring that more visuals were used to support explanations rather than text. Where visual information can’t be used, I keep text to a minimum, emphasising key points only. Having the visual means that the two pathways to working memory are being used, thus less of of burden for the learners (as shown below). PPt is a platform that enables me to quickly create or add visuals, meaning that all I have to concentrate on is explaining it clearly.

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3. Animations – I’m not talking the swirling and whirling of individual letters which take ages to create sentences. No, I’m talking animations to grab learners attention, to direct them to important components of visuals as they are being discussed. I have blogged about this here, but the Clark and Lyons research is a much more comprehensive read on this. Whilst there are many other ways to direct attention, PPt can be used really effectively to do so.


4. Everything in one place – Another benefit of PPt is that I can place my quiz, my content, links to reading, learner task instructions etc all in one single place. I can upload this to the Virtual Learning Environment and if learners wish to access anything, it’s all there for them. The fact that everything is in one place also helps keep my OCD in check.


5. Aesthetics – I must admit, I am guilty of putting too much time into the aesthetics of my PPts. I have got better at making the information less of a burden on the working memory; gone are the GIFs, the tenuously linked images, and text heavy slides. In spite of this, I still like to have clear, crisp, well designed slides. The fact that I put effort into making my resources look nice probably won’t get me any thanks from anyone, but with the care I place, I know that the spellings will be correct, the animations will support the learners at the right time and (I’m going to throw this out there) it’ll probably engage the learners a little more (by engage, I mean grab their attention). Whilst this probably makes no odds to the learning, it’s far better than my handwriting on a white board.


To summarise, bad PPts are bad. Similarly, bad teachers are bad; as are bad pens, bad textbooks and bad technology. There is another way and I strive to be at the opposite end of the continuum.

Questioning questioning 

Since Geoff Petty shared his ‘which questioning‘ strategy with me around 6 years ago, I have been on a mission to hone my questioning. It is a great little activity that really gets you thinking about making effective use of questions. To this day, I use an adapted version of the activity with my own trainees. Indeed, I often focus observation feedback on the development of questioning as an essential formative assessment approach.

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It’s easy to see why this is the focus of many teachers up and down the country. Hattie’s synthesis of classroom experiments (2015) found questioning to have a modest, but positive effect size of 0.48 and the resulting classroom discussion a huge 0.82.

The thing is, I’ve found more and more that trainees are focusing too much on questioning individuals (they do it well), and less time on the instructing or allowing learners to practise. It seems that ‘the question’ has taken precedent over ‘the answer’.

I observed a session recently where the teacher insisted on working their way around the class with questions, yet many of the learners didn’t have sufficient prior knowledge to allow them to explore understanding through discussions. It appeared that the opportunity cost of such a strategy was not as fruitful as one might have thought. Due to questioning being a strategy held in high regard, I can understand why they persisted, but it just didn’t help the learners. Instead, the group lost interest rather quickly and low level disruption ensued.

Were the teacher to use questioning more efficiently (second time I’ve used this term in as many posts), through a selection of multiple choice questions which can be answered by all in a short time, the teacher may have realised that the learners required some input/guidance to increase knowledge and enable greater participation in discussions.

Arguably a good starting point for thinking about questioning in the classroom is to ask yourself what the purpose is. Is it to assess learner knowledge/understanding, or is it to teach learners something through discussion? Perhaps it is both, but the main reason should influence the type of questions used. Personally, I use questioning as an assessment tool and the quicker I am able to assess ALL learners the better, so that I can identify gaps in knowledge that need filling. I’m not dismissing questioning as a means to generate good class discussion, but appreciate that time is of the essence with our learners and we should aim to maximise every last drop of it.

Journey

I’ve been fortunate to work in the three great cities of the East Midlands – Leicester, Nottingham and Derby. My first 29 years of life were spent in Leicester. As a result of hundreds of trips to family and friends, I was able to develop an extensive knowledge of the area. Despite no longer living there, I often visit, and when traffic is bad I benefit from knowing most of the rat runs to ensure a timely arrival at my destination. Having this knowledge means that I can be creative with the journey I take. I can make sound judgements about where the traffic is likely to be bad and where I can save time by going alternative routes.

sat-navs

After much of my life in Leicester, I spent 3 years working in Nottingham in a role which required a lot of travel around the city. During this time, I developed a reasonably good knowledge of the city, getting to grips with most areas. Today I visited an area of Nottingham that I hadn’t previously, so as I neared my destination I needed to switch the sat nav on to guide me in. As I left the area to go to another part of the city, I started to recognise where I was and so the sat nav could be put away. Some knowledge of the area meant that I didn’t need to rely on the sat nav for too long.

 

I’ve been working in Derby for the last few months and prior to that, had only visited on a few occasions. Much like my previous role, my current position  involves a lot of travel. Today I made it out of Derby to Nottingham and back to Derby without my sat nav – the first time I have managed such a feat! Usually I am reliant on my sat nav to direct me everywhere in Derby.

 

On my travels, I started to think about learning, specifically knowledge of new areas. You see, when I drive around a new city, I use my sat nav as it tells me exactly where to go and on most occasions, I get to my destination in the most time efficient manner. Were I to try getting to a destination without the sat nav, I’d lose much of my day trying to figure out where I needed to go. Until I have developed a sufficient knowledge base which allows me to recognise that I’m on the correct route, the sat nav is my guide. Once I have a wealth of knowledge, the sat nav becomes redundant.

 

This is analogous to learning. Teacher = sat nav. If we want to learn anything, it is far more efficient and effective to be told by the teacher in the first instance. It is no good trying to figure out things for ourselves – it is not an efficient or effective way of proceeding. When we have more knowledge, we can begin to remove the teacher, until we become fluent. When we are fluent, we are able to do the ‘higher order’ stuff independent of the teacher.

 

I have blogged previously about the need to adopt different instructional methods for different learners (no this is nothing to do with learning styles!). The different methods of instruction are more/less effective based upon the prior knowledge of the learners.  For example, there is a body of research (Kirschner et al) which shows that direct instruction is more efficient and effective with novice learners. Essentially, they need to be told what to do, due to having insufficient knowledge to allow them to think for themselves (much like me trying to find my way around a new city – Derby). When sufficient knowledge is accrued, then the guidance can become less. Much like me driving around Nottingham. When learners acquire expertise in a subject, they are actually impeded by direct instruction according to Sweller et al (expertise reversal effect blog). This I suspect, is much like a sat nav telling me where I should go in Leicester. Sure it will send me the quickest route, but it won’t know where there is likely to be more traffic, like me. It will probably add more time to my journey.

 

In summary, the more we know, the less support we need; the less we know, the more support we need. How do you know what they know… initial assessment of course!

 

Some points I am aware of:

  • The post is a bit of tongue in cheek. We all know that learning isn’t quite as simple as I have made it out to be.
  • I know there is a danger of becoming over reliant on the teacher (sat nav). 
  • Bad teacher instruction is bad – much like a bad sat nav (I’ve hit a few dead ends in my time). 

Initial Assessment – Start as you mean to go

It wasn’t until well into my teaching career that I realised I needed to do something more than read the objectives to my learners at the start of lessons. I used to plan my lessons in the way that I wanted to teach it and I would stick to the plan rigidly. In fact, one of my first PGCE observations commented on my ‘uncanny ability to stick to the scheduled timings of activities’. These days, I’m not so convinced that this is a strength…

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Sure, I’d get through my lessons and learners would probably make some progress with their understanding, but it wasn’t as effective as it might have been. After a few years of teaching, I had somewhat of a ‘light-bulb’ moment – it was only when I initially assessed that I could redress misconceptions quickly and truly appreciate where I needed to spend more time instructing/guiding learners. I felt so stupid…

 

I have been guilty of and witnessed, many poor attempts at initial assessment over the years. The open question to the whole group, where only the confident answer; the quizzes with easy questions, or with implausible incorrect answers. Neither of which provide the teacher with anything useful. There really is little point doing initial assessment unless the assessment is broad enough to include most of the learners and challenging enough to provide valid and reliable results (but not too challenging).

 

A few simple methods that I have found useful include:

  1. Multiple Choice Quiz (MCQ): A quick MCQ to recap previous learning and assess understanding of intended learning can be a really useful way to build a picture of what the class know and where any misconceptions lie. Sure, it has its draw backs and it can be difficult to design good questions (see previous blog), but a small number of well thought through questions, along with answers that make it difficult to discern the correct response, can be very useful. A little tip – make sure all learners respond at the same time. Give them the opportunity to think about the answers and countdown from 3 to reveal, using either mini white boards, fingers, or hold-up cards. 
  2. Teacher Questioning: As mentioned above. It is too easy to throw out questions and only a minority of learners answer. This tells us very little. A really useful way to check all learners and rectify misconceptions as you go is the ‘think, pair, square, share’ approach. Pose a question and ask everyone in the room to think about a response. Learners then pair to discuss and reach a consensus, before partnering with another pair to reach a final consensus. The teacher randomly targets learners to share their answers with the whole class. All participate and therefore, a few answers to the question can reveal a lot about the group.
  3. Self-Assessment Know: Want, Learn (KWL) – This is something I came across a few years ago and as a tool to monitor progress throughout the session and I find it really useful. At the start of the session, the teacher introduces the learning intentions. Learners then write down everything they know (K) about a topic in the first column and put any questions they want (W) answering in the second column. As this is happening, the teacher circulates the room, checking answers and questions. It provides learners with plenty of time to think about their current knowledge around the topic and also allows the teacher to probe and cajole learners to explore their understanding.
  4. Self-Assessment Audit: For me, this trumps the KWL in a sense that explicit success criteria is given and learners rate themselves against it. For example: I can name 5 long bones – yes or no? The teacher then gains a much quicker idea as to what learners know/can do, in order to determine where more of their instruction/guidance should be directed. 
  5. Visual Mapping Activities: Providing learners with advanced organisers with gaps to fill, can reveal alot. It can show whether they have an understanding of how concepts relate to one another and whether they know key facts about a subject. Get the learners to work independently or in pairs to complete a visual map of the topic and use this as a discussion point to explore understanding further. 

      All of these methods have limitations, but what I’m getting at with this post, is the fact that we need to find out what learners already know about something, rather than teaching blind. All methods provide the opportunity for retrieval practice (crucial for long term retention), moreover, activating learners’ prior knowledge is pivotal to learning anything new (Marzano). Any activities that do this, provides learners with a great starting point for improving long term memory. As I continue to state, it also means that the teacher has a clear idea as to where extra instruction/guidance is required. Therefore, start lessons as you mean to go on, through well planned and effective initial assessment.

      That hand shake

      I’m sure the vast majority of those working in education have witnessed the amazing skills of Mr White, the elementary school teacher from the US (see video here). He has a personalised handshake for every student across three of his classes. 

      Image source: https://goo.gl/images/kcUVbY

      He says that it helps create trust and build relationships with his learners. Whilst this isn’t something that I would do, I like this isolated example (and hope it stays isolated), and have always valued positive working relationships with learners. Indeed, Hattie found, in his meta meta analysis, a high effect on achievement (0.72) when teacher-student relationships have respect, trust and care. Furthermore, the whole notion of routine adds to the effect of this approach to supporting learning. I’m an advocate of behaviour management strategies which create positive habits, as can be seen in my previous post on owning your room.


      So all is good, right? We should encourage all teachers to do something similar in their practice? 


      Perhaps not. Firstly, relationships are important, but if you’re not doing the learning stuff right, then it doesn’t matter how much the kids like you. I argue that teachers should focus their attention on effective learning strategies.
       
      Secondly, I do wonder how much practice the 50+ different handshakes took the teacher and learners to master? Rather, how much this impeded the learning of the curriculum? Sure the whole idea may have just evolved over a period of months and the curriculum wasn’t impeded too much, but still, time is precious.
       
      Finally, at what point does being the fun, exciting, cool teacher lose the authority that may be required to manage the learner that is disruptive, or the learner that oversteps the teacher-student boundary? I really struggled with behaviour management when I started out teaching, all because I wanted to be the cool teacher that the students liked. Suffice to say that learner behaviour was pretty poor and I learnt an awful lot from this mistake. I had a job to do, and it wasn’t to be their mate.
       
      I don’t mean to rubbish an idea, because in this isolated case, it may work wonders, but remember folks, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers doing great things every day – great things without the ‘innovation’, or being the cool, hip teacher. They’re changing lives. 

      Bringing the outside in…

      In a Technology Enhanced Learning Showcase led by my PGCE trainees last week, I was reminded of the use of Skype in the classroom as a means of bringing experts in for our learners.*

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      Those of you that read my blog regularly will be aware of my appreciation for teacher expertise in subject content knowledge. Not only should teachers be experts in their content knowledge (CK), more importantly, they should aspire to be experts with pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) (I have written about this in a previous post, if interested). To acquire expertise in PCK takes years, however,  it could be asserted that there are many situations where abstract concepts can be made more concrete by experts in particular fields of a domain; those that can share ‘real world’ experiences with learners, as opposed to a teacher’s ‘text book’ understanding.

       

      I have used Skype myself with learners and found it invaluable. Just a couple of examples include:

      • When teaching Foundation Degree teaching and learning students about professionalism, specifically in FE, I was able to organise a Skype call with David Russell, CEO of the Education and Training Foundation to answer trainees’ questions about how the organisation supports practitioners with their development. My understanding in this regard was limited at the time.
      • When delivering a module on inclusion with trainee teachers, I was able to invite Amjad Ali and Nancy Gedge into the room to.share their views with trainees and answer their specific questions about the subject – something that both have vast experience in.

      The opportunity to engage with the depth and breadth of knowledge, skills and experiences is something that I alone could never offer to learners.  I am by no means a pioneer in using Skype to bring experts into the room, but in using it, found that my learners thrived.

       

      There are many ways in which you might engage with experts in your subject. Below I have listed a few ideas which might inspire you to try it for yourself in your subject:

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      The list is not extensive; the only limitation to how you might use Skype is your imagination.

       

      Using Skype or similar packages does not come without problems from time to time, however. For example, trying to download Skype software onto college systems was like asking the IT technicians to work on Christmas day – a bit of a chore. Moreover, you have to rely on a reasonably good internet connection and of course have a microphone and camera, which not all school/college computers have. Putting this to one side, I’d say from time to time, the opportunity outweighs the cost.

       

      *Thanks to the three trainees that shared their use of Skype – it provided inspiration for this post. There are other packages that can be used e.g. Google Hangouts, so you do not have to limit yourself to Skype.

      Teaching in New Zealand: shattering some myths

      By Dr Ursula Edgington

      I researched endlessly before our move to New Zealand 3 years ago. The exciting prospects that came with my husband’s new job in commerce included new academic opportunities for me. Escaping the pressures of constant nonsensical paperwork and an overwhelming teaching and marking workload seemed like a dream come true. Like lots of migrants here, we were swayed by the Government rhetoric (propaganda?) about a reportedly egalitarian education system based on holistic approaches to teaching and learning. And the promise of a healthier work/life balance with long weekends in beautiful landscapes and empty, sunny beaches….? impossible to turn down. But inevitably idealised visions of working overseas – especially in the sparsely-populated ‘paradise’ of Aotearoa New Zealand – comes with a realisation that not everything is quite what it seems…

      Image source: https://goo.gl/VCegZg

      Contrary to many people’s perceptions, New Zealand is not without its social problems. Reflecting similar issues to the UK, the gap between rich and poor widens. Low salaries and the high cost of living causes extreme pressure on many families; education is a not a priority. In the last 30 years, child poverty has doubled to 28%. Not surprisingly then, the OECD estimates 40% of New Zealanders don’t have the UK equivalent of level 2 in basic literacy or numeracy skills. And with no ‘NHS’, those already living in poor quality housing who can’t afford medicines, suffer diseases wiped-out a generation ago in the UK (like Rheumatic Fever). Mental health too is a serious problem, with high rates of depression inevitably leading to high levels of alcohol and drug addiction. It’s tragic that rates of suicide here are actually similar to the UK, at around 11 per 100,000 population. It’s an artificial and unhelpful (and some would argue tokenistic) ‘biculturalism’ (rather than multi-culturalism) that is the Kiwi buzzword, replicating socio-economic problems divided between ‘skilled migrants’ and the Māori/Pacifika communities.

       

      You will know all too well, these issues – and more – impact significantly in complex ways on our learners’ lives and on their self-esteem and self-worth. It’s sometimes challenging to provide a safe, positive learning environment in this context.

       

      But one of the unexpected challenges of teaching here is more sociological than psychological: Tall Poppy Syndrome. Often played-down in Kiwi jokes, Tall Poppy Syndrome is a common cause of bullying in the New Zealand workplace – and especially the educational workplace. The New Zealand Oxford Dictionary defines it as the act of “’cutting down’ those who are conspicuously successful or who are high achievers”. But for some employees – especially teachers from the UK who (let’s be honest) usually have to ‘big ourselves up’ just to survive in a fiercely competitive environment – it’s far from humorous and can often have a catastrophic impact on lives and families of bullying victims. Worryingly, research suggests bullying in New Zealand is a serious problem compared to international indicators.

       

      So singling-out ‘tall poppy’ practitioners with ‘best practice’ is a big no-no here, and this stigma has a knock-on effect of restricting the sharing and reflection on classroom ideas. My own research is based on lesson observations – a quality control/assurance strategy so pervasive and contentious in the UK, but which is rarely actioned or even discussed here, perhaps partly because of Tall Poppy Syndrome.  

       

      So after shifting on its axis, my ground has settled into this new challenge ahead. I’m faced with a dilemma: how can teachers encourage learning and development against this dispiriting backdrop? In our new smart-phone, information-mad world, knowledge drives success. But what if this success is limited or dismissed? The pressures from global competitive markets are seeping into New Zealand’s education system – slowly.  But how can students reach their true potential and outcomes improve when ‘good teaching’ (and research surrounding it) isn’t recognised or even acknowledged? When instead it’s ‘stamped out’ because some people fear that ambition might lead to others facing competency measures?

       

      Are there any lessons to be learned from the UK that will help New Zealand challenge and overcome Tall Poppy Syndrome in its colleges and universities? I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

      u.edgington@gmail.com

       

      1. Ursula is an independent researcher, tertiary teacher and published author, specialising in education and accountability. She has recently published a book based on psychosocial research into staff experiences of lesson observations in Further Education in England. Full academic profile: available here.
      2. Employment law in New Zealand is under-developed. Culturesafe NZ Ltd is one example of an organisation with objectives that include preventing workplace bullying through training initiatives and supporting victims. For further details see: http://culturesafenz.co.nz/

      ResearchEdFE – Oliver and me

      Last week (03.12.16), Oliver and I delivered our ‘Choose Science, Not Myths’ presentation at the first ResearchEd devoted to Further Education.


      Below are the slides from the presentation and Oliver kindly put together the presentation notes in his blog here and here.

      The first part of the presentation explored a range of myths and while it is acknowledged that the jury is still out on some of these, it is important to remember that we were attempting to be contentious in order to spark debate. The second part of the presentation explored a range of effective learning strategies which are supported by both classroom experiments and cognitive science.


      10 tips to maximise learning support

      This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts on my blog. It is written by my good friend and experienced Learning Support Assistant (LSA), Paul Warren.

       

      Rarely do teachers have the opportunity to explore how to work effectively with LSAs (or equivalents) in their classrooms. Both ITE and ongoing staff development sessions often fail to emphasise the importance of, and methods to enhance, the working relationship between teacher and LSA, resulting in ineffective utilisation of this key role (not in all cases, but many).  In this post, Paul highlights the pivotal role that LSAs play and he provides teachers with 10 great tips to maximise their use:

      Image source: http://www.civilserviceworld.com/frontline-learning-support-assistant
      ‘At some point during their career, many FE lecturers will have an opportunity to work alongside a Learning Support Assistant (LSA). Usually, but not exclusively, LSAs are tasked with providing 1:1 or small group support to students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities by offering learning strategies which help them to access the curriculum. Above all, however, the ultimate aim of most LSAs is to promote independent and autonomous working for the students that they support.

       

      The most effective LSAs are those which seek to work closely with the lecturer and the student to gradually reduce the need for support with a view to ultimately removing it altogether. This can create a range of possible issues – not least of which being that the LSA should expect to make themselves redundant – but the overall impetus is on helping the learner to maximise their potential to work independently.

       

      Of course, some learners will require support for the entirety of their time at college, but there is no harm in working with the expectation that all students will be able to work more independently before their course of study ends.

       

      Often lecturers may not have had any in-depth instruction or training regarding how best to work with LSAs. Finding information isn’t always easy. FE-specific literature or research relating to working with LSAs is scarce, but there are some schools-based studies (see the excellent Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) Project) or smaller scale FE research (see LSIS/Natspec’s highly valuable Enhancement of Learning Support) which may prove helpful. Excellence Gateway have also produced a really useful guide which can be used to gauge the impact of support staff via their Working With LSAs Audit Tool. In addition, a search on the Education and Training Foundation’s website will yield a range of resources for working with students with SEND who need support. Other additional useful and relevant sources include The 2010 Equality Act, the 2014 Children and Families Act – including Education, Health and Care Plans and The FELTAG report which, in part, highlighted the importance of providing assistive technology for FE students who need it. More current FE-specific research and general awareness is needed, however, which promotes the benefits and value of using LSAs to promote independent and autonomous working in Further Education.

       

      In the meantime, the following suggestions may be useful to lecturers to help kick-start a collaboration with LSAs with a view to reducing support and increasing learner independence:

      1. Work with LSAs to review current records of student needs – particularly pinpointing any known learning strategies which encourage the learner to work independently.
      2. Cultivate high expectations of the learner by immediately working with LSAs to try to identify what independence from support might ultimately look like. Use what you find in conjunction with your identification of student needs as a guide for each session and review regularly.
      3. Agree an absolute maximum level of support that LSAs can provide before an issue or difficulty must be referred directly to the class tutor. Be clear with LSAs (and the learner) that the LSA should never do the work for the student.
      4. Identify an early target for the learner to interact directly with the lecturer at least once during every session. Increase over time in order to reduce reliance on LSAs and gradually prepare the student for the time when the support is withdrawn.
      5. Produce a measurable method of identifying the impact of support. This could be a chart or record of work that records instances in which the student does a task independently or requires minimal LSA input. If possible, actively involve the student in evaluating their own need for help and use the data to plan future support.
      6. Encourage, praise and reward students when they work independently and use successes to promote future independent learning
      7. Work with the LSA and the student to produce a portfolio of independent working strategies which the learner can take with them to further study or employment.
      8. Liaise with teacher trainers, quality managers and senior leaders to share successes of promoting learner independence and reducing LSA support.
      9. Work with your Learning Support team to build a database of what works for learners in your subject and use it to inform future individual student support needs.
      10. Share ideas and successes via social media platform such as Blogs, Twitter or YouTube (remembering to respect individual student confidentiality and identity) and get in touch with other colleges to find out how they reduce support and promote learner independence.’

       

      So there we have it. Why not consider how you can develop each of the above points. Thanks go to Paul Warren @paulw_learn for this excellent post.

      Why use visuals?

      Along with the other half a dozen books I am working my way through, I am coming to the end of Ruth Clarke and Chopete Lyons’ book on Graphics for Learning. My fascination for this sort of thing is borne out of admiration for my good friend, Oliver Caviglioli’s work (if you haven’t seen this, you’re missing out). For information, in this post I will be using graphics and visuals synonymously.
       
      In their book, Clarke and Lyons spend a chapter (4) exploring how learning happens and how graphics can be effective in supporting this. Here is a graphic they use to show human cognitive architecture which aligns with Baddeley and Hitch’s Working Memory Model.

      badd-and-hitch

      They note that because of the importance of long term memory, those with little domain knowledge (novices) suffer when information is not presented effectively to them, as their working memory (WM) becomes overloaded. Using visuals with auditory information during instruction can work to reduce this burden on WM however, as two pathways into WM are distinctly separate – one visual and one auditory.
       

      Essentially, the working memory is like a bottle neck. If we pour too much into the bottle neck, much is lost… now imagine having two bottle necks into the same bottle, we’d keep much more information (yes a very simplistic way of looking at it). Better still, imagine if the same information went in both visually and auditory… this is what Paivio calls dual coding – a really useful approach to providing new information to learners.

      dual-coding
      Dual coding in action?
      Using graphics benefits learners in numerable ways, not just the above. Here I will discuss some of the reasons outlined by Clarke and Lyons:

      1. Graphics help to direct attention

      They suggest that almost any ‘visual will attract attention’. Attention is key to learning anything new, but in a typical classroom, in addition to the information being taught, there are other stimuli which can distract learners. Having a visual for learners can provide the focus of attention, however, they should be used with caution:

      • The visual should not be irrelevant to what information is being shared (random clip art images should be avoided).
      • The visual, if complex, should also have signals to direct attention to component parts such as small circles or arrows.
      • Simple visuals are better for more novice learners.

       

      2. Graphics help to activate prior knowledge

      Learners ‘know stuff’ already, but it will be in the abyss of long term memory and it is important for us to draw it (no pun intended) into the working memory in order to link new knowledge. Clarke and Lyons tell us that ‘a visual provided before the main lesson content can help to build an effective base knowledge structure. This skeleton structure provides a frame on which the learner can attach additional lesson details.’ This is corroborated by Marzano’s work on classroom based instruction, whereby non-linguistic teaching methods such as graphic organisers have a startling effect on achievement (0.75 Ave. ES)

      In spite of this, a graphic that activates inappropriate prior knowledge will depress learning according to Clarke and Lyons, so there is a need to ensure clarity and order with the graphic that is used.

       

      3. Graphics help to manage mental load

      ‘Since working memory is the site of active processing, good instructional materials must preserve its limited capacity for learning.’ I have blogged before about the use of storyboards to assist with delivery of new information. This is one example of how to manage the mental load. Simple visuals (line drawings) are said to be better than more complex visuals. For instance, when drawing the heart, for novice learners it would help to draw a simple boxed line drawing as opposed to a cross section of the heart, which is often seen. As learners become more competent with the content, visuals can increase in complexity.

       

      4. Graphics help to build mental models

      Where Clarke and Lyons refer to mental models, they basically mean ‘schema’, or patterns of knowledge and skills in the long term memory. The more expert one becomes, the more complex and organised our mental models become. We learn by linking new information to existing mental models and in using graphics, abstract information can be made more clear with how new information links to current knowledge.

       

      5. Graphics help with transfer

      Clarke and Lyons argue that with all the knowledge in the world, unless we can retrieve it and bring it back to WM, we won’t be able to transfer it to alternative situations. They distinguish between near and far-transfer in their book, both requiring different types of graphic to maximise the type of transfer.

      Near-transfer is the type of thing we will do more frequently, like a following a process for sending an email – the difference being that there will be different content to include.

       

      Far-transfer requires the use of concrete and abstract examples – Clarke and Lyons inform us that in developing far-transfer, ‘graphic illustrations that build mental models, use varied context, transition from concrete to abstract, and provide a work context for immersive learning environments’. I feel that this warrants an entirely separate blog post, so will look at this further in the new year.

       

      6. Graphics can optimise motivation

      Clarke and Lyons highlight motivation as the key to effective learning and that visuals can play a huge role in motivating learners. They recommend using visuals that help learners see the relevance and value in the learning and trigger interest for learners. It is important to note that while visuals can interest learners in the learning material, the ‘edutainment’ that often comes with instruction can actually impede learning (guilty of this your honour). So try to avoid eye candy and instead focus on relevant graphics.

      In addition to this, a recent post by Greg Ashman caught my eye, arguing that by reducing cognitive load, we increase the motivation of our learners. If we look back at the purpose of using the visual pathway to WM – to reduce load, then we find additional benefits to using graphics.

       

      So that’s it, six reasons why we should consider using more visuals in our instruction. If you do use them though, please heed the advice of Clarke and Lyons.