Learning from online learning

Dr Fergus Anderson

Covid-19 has forced a massive change in way that education happens and education providers all over the world have had to adapt fast. At Crossfields we are no exception. Our postgraduate teacher training programme (PPIE) normally has three residential intensives per year, but for the July residential we had to move everything online due to the lockdown.

We already had a lot of experience of online delivery, but doing a five-day intensive online was a whole new challenge. In this article I am going to summarise the main learning that came out of this experience with the hope that this will be of use to education providers who are struggling with similar situations.

First some general observations:

Anyone who has experience of live online teaching and learning will probably be aware that this can be a rather flat experience. Students tend to be more passive and unresponsive than in face-to-face interaction and teachers tend to counter this by filling the empty spaces with content, often with the help of Powerpoint. This can be an effective way of getting information across, but the student experience can easily be drab and uninspiring.

A further challenge has to do with the very real phenomenon of ‘Zoom fatigue’, namely, that interacting with a group of people online often seems more draining than interacting together in a classroom. So, added to the tendency towards flatness is the experience of exhaustion and burnout that can arise from the medium itself.

This may not be too much of a problem when online sessions are relatively short and happen relatively occasionally. But if online learning needs to occur in a more intensive way, such as has been the case for many education providers since the pandemic, then this can be a real problem.

What I will present below is intended primarily for further and higher education providers who, for one reason or another, are obliged to do intensive online learning for extended periods. The challenge in this case is how to make the experience as alive and stimulating as possible. Much of what I will propose will not be new, but hopefully it will help you to think creatively about what’s possible.

The first step, I would propose, is to be aware of the different modalities that online learning can include. I have experimented with five different modalities, though of course there may be more. These are:

1. Live presentation

This is the familiar ‘from the front’ presentation, either with or without slides. There may be pauses in the delivery for questions or discussion, but the basic aim and rationale for the activity is for the teacher to deliver content. Everyone is familiar with this modality so there’s no need to say more, other than perhaps to note that you can experiment with props.

For example, use a white board or flip chart to draw and write rather than Powerpoint. This can give a more organic and dynamic feel to the presentation and it also means that the face and torso of the presenter can remain visible, so the presenter can bring their enthusiasm and expressiveness to the session more effectively.

2. Recorded presentation

Traditional ‘from the front’ teaching can be inspiring. But as many Ted talks and YouTube films testify, inspiring presentations can be just as inspiring when they are recorded rather than live. The great benefit of a recorded presentation is that students can access it in their own time. They can also pause and go back over sections if necessary, or take a break.

The Zoom burnout experience that can occur in the live context does not seem to apply to the same degree here, which is a significant advantage. It is important to note that there is a distinction here between a presentation that’s made available as a recording from the beginning and a live presentation that’s then made available later as a recording.

Recorded presentation, as I mean it here, applies only to the former, i.e., it is something that’s recorded without students present, and then make available to students afterwards. The recorded presentation puts all students on the same footing whereas a recording of a live presentation differentiates between those who were actually there and those who watched the recording afterwards. A recorded presentation can also serve as a resource that can be re-used, so extra time, care and attention can be given to making it as high quality as possible.

3. Group-work or seminar

This is where students discuss content with fellow students and/or a faculty member. The discussion should be essentially student led and the aim is to engage the collective intelligence of the group to further and deepen the learning of all. The teacher/tutor should be engaged in facilitating this and not on holding forth, and that’s a quite specific skill in the online context. Breakout rooms on Zoom and other applications is a very useful tool for this as it enables small group discussion.

A typical session will oscillate between whole group discussion and small group discussion. Given the already discussed ‘passive’ nature of online learning, it can require skill on the part of the facilitator to stimulate and motivate discussion, and to crystallise and formulate what has emerged in an open and accessible way.

4. Walking conversation

Given that most online learning takes place indoors either sitting or standing in front of a screen, this modality aims to disrupt this by freeing the body and the visual gaze while also opening a subject to peer discussion. All students will have an app on their phone that enables free phone calls (WhatsApp, Messenger, etc.). The idea here is that students are paired in twos to go outdoors on a ‘walking conversation’ where they engage through conversation in some aspect of the course content.

The teacher might set questions or themes that inform the discussion, or not. What’s important to note here is the impact that walking has on conversation and the fact that the visual gaze can roam freely. For this it is important that students use headphones and also that they don’t use the video option (i.e., it’s an audio call only). Student can also be encouraged to use the sensory impressions and embodied awareness from their walk to inform and stimulate their conversation.

5. Individual reflection

The fifth and final modality is that students work individually during a live session. This can be a valuable activity in that it enables them to disconnect for a while from the slightly numbing and mesmerising presence of the screen and to engage in a reflective or reflexive way with what they actually think or feel. Doing this while the seminar screen is still on in the room (though they are not looking at it) can help to give students an awareness of the presence of others engaged in the same activity.

What makes these different activities interesting in this context is how they are combined. The aim is to combine them in such a way so as to make the learning experience as dynamic and varied as possible, so as to counter the tendency to flatness and passivity. But there is no prescribed formula. The above five modalities can be seen as a palette from which something dynamic can be created, but this will mean different things with different student groups and in different contexts.

An example of what has worked for me is to begin with a recorded presentation that students view in their own time over a three or four hour period (say over an evening and part of the next morning). They then have a walking conversation with a fellow student to discuss the recording and to identify questions and areas of interest or unclarity.

There then follows a seminar session that is facilitated by the faculty member who recorded the presentation. This gives students the possibility of discussing the presentation with the teacher but informed by the deepening that has taken place through the walking conversation. The students have tried to make sense of the content first in their own time and then discussed this with a peer before engaging with the teacher who gave the presentation.

Another example is that the teacher begins with a live presentation, then shifts to a period of individual reflection, followed by a group work seminar session. Another example is to begin with a seminar session, followed by a walking conversation, followed by a live presentation. The aim is to shift and disrupt the learning experience so that a theme can morph and develop in an organic way over time as it is encountered in different ways. The sum of these activities should amount to a gradually deepening engagement with the content. The key here is to experiment and ask for feedback from the students about what works. It’s also important not to assume that what worked for one group will work for the next group.

I hope that this has been useful. Do get in touch if you have further insights to share on this subject.

fergus@crossfieldsinstitute.com

 

Job Vacancy: Head of Quality

Applications are invited for the following vacancy:

We are seeking a Head of Quality with experience and understanding of awarding organisation quality assurance processes and of the qualifications regulator Ofqual. The role will initially be managing and coordinating our approved centres delivering Crossfields Institute qualifications, ensuring high quality standards are maintained at all times, and you will be liaising with Ofqual. We intend that the role will expand into managing qualification development. An understanding of and appreciation for holistic and integrative education is also essential.

Location: our office in Stroud town centre

Salary: £35,000 pro rata, initially 20 hours per week

Crossfields Institute is an education charity and awarding organisation, aiming to contribute positively to making the world a better place by developing high quality, innovative education.

Closing date: 16 November 2020 – 12 noon.

Interview date: 24th November

Application by Application Form only and should be returned to Lou Doliczny at info@crossfieldsinstitute.com by the closing date. For further information please email the above address and someone will be in touch with you.

In Memory of Sir Ken Robinson PhD, 1950 – 2020

Sir Ken Robinson died on the 21st of August 2020 and I want to recognise his amazing work for education in the world as well as the inspiration he brought to Crossfields Institute. In these two short videos, he sums up beautifully what should be at the centre of our educational decision-making.

This particular video may be the last public appearance he made and here, he invites us to learn from the impact of a relationship to the natural environment that caused devastation and extinction so that we can start to also change our ways of approaching learning, education and school:

In the second video, which is a short tribute, Sir Ken tells a story about human potential and how easily it is missed in a system that habitually medicates the seemingly restless children of today:

I invite you to take this opportunity to dwell with Sir Ken’s core message – I invite us to take a moment to imagine what changes we are ready for, now, as we enter a new era where some doors are closed forever and others are finally opening…

Dr Charlotte von Bülow
Founder of the Crossfields Institute Group
Director of Crossfields Europa

May update from Lou Doliczny

Warm greetings from all at Crossfields Institute. We hope that you and your family are safe and well in this unprecedented time. We have certainly felt the effects of the coronavirus crisis here at Crossfields, but we have also been impressed and heartened by the resilience of our affiliates, centres and learners. Indeed, the crisis appears to have had a galvanising effect in some cases and we are seeing new projects and initiatives emerging.

Before explaining more, I should perhaps begin by announcing that I have now been confirmed by trustees in the role of Executive Director and have taken over the leadership of the Institute.  We have chosen to furlough some staff, but the rest of us are still working with energy and commitment, including Charlotte who continues to be director of our subsidiary company, Crossfields Europa.  Her heart remains firmly with us as she continues to lead on Consulting and feed into other important Institute-wide projects.

Just to give a flavour of the work we are engaged in:

    • Our HE programmes are progressing well with students close to graduating in both Agroecology and Reflective Social Practice.
    • Our third cohort of students studying the Philosophy and Practice of Integrative Education are also being supported in their remote learning, with our experience with online learning coming into its own at this time.
    • The move towards online is also evident in the Awarding part of the Institute where we are supporting many centres to move their delivery and assessment online while still retaining the essence of a Crossfields educational approach.

So, the message is that we remain very much active and alive! We have been delighted to agree several new collaborations in recent weeks, including the development of a regulated qualification in forest gardening, a commitment to a second year of support for a school and a new long-term contract to advise an international education movement as they bring their inspiring integrative vision to life.

All these projects mean that we are able to continue to operate, but we also want to be able to expand our work and fulfill our charitable objectives.  I would like to do more to support other charities in their educational initiatives.  One such example is very local to us – a group of Stroud parents and educationalists are working to set up a Homeschool hub which may offer our integrative education qualifications to 14-16 year olds.  We are looking at ways to raise funds with them and would welcome any contacts, advice or indeed offers of support in the coming weeks.

After the successful response to our small-scale fundraising appeal in March, I know that there is a desire to support our work.  Indeed, I feel that there is an even stronger urge to explore educational alternatives and promote a more sustainable world view at this time.  If you would like to support us in this work, either as a one-off or as a monthly donation, then please visit our website and click the ‘donate now’ button.  Your donation would help us to spread our educational approach more widely and provide valuable support to other charities.

I very much hope that you are also able to sustain yourselves and your organisation in this time of challenge and opportunity.  Do stay in touch with us and let us know if we can be of any assistance in your educational endeavours.

With my best wishes to you all,

Lou

Lou Doliczny Bsc QTS
Executive Director

New qualifications launched

Crossfields Institute is delighted to announce the launch of three new qualifications

Crossfields Institute Level 7 Diploma/Extended Diploma in Osteopathy
Crossfields Institute Level 7 Diploma in Integrative Healthcare
Crossfields Institute Level 4 Certificate in Family Work

These qualifications are now open for registrations

The Level 7 Diploma/Extended Diploma in Osteopathy was developed in response to the changing market and emerging regulatory requirements for osteopaths. It will provide accreditation that meets internationally agreed best practice standards for trainee osteopaths from various countries, as developed and delivered by the European School of Osteopathy.

The Level 7 Diploma in Integrative Healthcare aims to develop the theoretical and practical knowledge, critical and analytic abilities and the professional and reflective practice of health care professionals to help them transform health care into a more effective and compassionate practice that respects the individual as a whole person

The Level 4 Certificate in Family Work introduces learners to the key knowledge, understanding and skills involved in Family Work: what it looks like and why it is a vital part of caring for children, young people and adults with life histories of loss or separation from family members, attachment disruption or other relational ruptures, and/or developmental trauma.

Crossfields Institute is a Gloucestershire based education charity, approved by Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulations in England) as an awarding organisation. The Institute specialises in the development of specialist qualifications for providers with a particular vision or ethos.

Letting go to let come …re-assessing death and desire in a post-pandemic world

By Dr Charlotte von Bülow

The current situation is a harsh and unforgiving reality for most people around the globe. People are suffering and many are losing livelihoods or lives. We must keep all those people in our awareness as we, who are self-isolating but essentially still have our good health, are given the opportunity to reflect and re-imagine new ways of thinking, feeling and being on this planet.

Let us take note: the climate crisis did not bring the world of work to a standstill – it was a sudden widespread fear of statistics showing impending illness and death that did it. It took a global pandemic to make us stop and think. Most of the people I have talked to in the last three weeks describe their inner state as a strange combination of deep anxiety about the future and a sense of liberation from the treadmill.

Each day at work as an educational activist, researcher, consultant or coach, I engage deeply with others in the following questions:

    • What would a post-pandemic economy look like?
    • What is the impact on our attention as a result of a life led primarily online?
    • What can we do to ensure that this situation is not only a crisis but an opportunity?
    • What have we learnt so far from not having the things we think we need at our fingertips?
    • Can we start to re-evaluate our so-called needs and wants in light of what we are experiencing now, and can we put such learning to good use in the design of new ways of being on this planet?

With various countries offering support to employers and the self-employed, a new era has begun for sure, but are we gratefully taking what is being offered whilst continuing to hanker after what we knew and what we had? Or are we ready to embrace the new and, if so, at what cost?

I recommend reading The Coronation by Charles Eisenstein and I suggest you ponder his perspective. It is a longish read but stick with it and tell us what you think. I invite you to contemplate in particular Eisenstein’s point about our relationship to death and dying well. In my view, it is not only our relationship to death itself but the death also of what we desire.

This point about death and the relinquishment of desire is made also by Professor Jem Bendell, whose forthcoming book I am honoured to author a chapter for with my co-researcher, Charlotte Simpson. Charlotte and I are asking educators, pupils, parents and activists four questions inspired by the Deep Adaptation framework:

    • Resilience: what aspects of education as we know it would we want to keep developing and learn from in a climate of change and complexity?
    • Relinquishment: what aspects of our current education system would we want to let go of?
    • Restoration: what would we want to re-introduce in education, for example, can we re-imagine past practices and can we learn from other cultures past and present?
    • Reconciliation: how do we facilitate hope and agency in the hearts and minds of children and young people and the people who take responsibility for their education?

How do we learn to let go in order to let come? We talk of innovation but where do we find the courage to commit to actual tangible change? Professor Gert Biesta speaks and writes about The Beautiful Risk of Education and he gives education of the future the task of figuring out how we can put our desires in perspective. If the health of our planet and all living beings on it relies on a major attitude shift, re-evaluating our relationship to death and the relinquishing of desires has to be among the things we need to work on now.

… there is so much more to say but, for now, join the debate. Let us know what the current situation is inspiring you to do differently. Share


Dr Charlotte von Bülow is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership at the Bristol Business School, Faculty of Business and Law, University of the West of England. She is the Founder of the Crossfields Institute Group (UK) a recognised awarding organisation for holistic and integrative education, a higher education institute and a consultancy for supporting change in businesses, charities and communities. Charlotte served as the CEO of the Crossfields Institute Group for twelve years and is the founding Director of Crossfields Europa (based in Denmark), a branch within the group offering consulting and executive coaching internationally. Charlotte has worked as a consultant and executive coach for over a decade, serving individuals, groups and organisations the world over.  

New Philosophy and Practice of Integrated Education qualification launched

Crossfields Institute is delighted to announce the launch of

Crossfields Institute Level 7 Diploma in the Philosophy and Practice of Integrative Education

This qualification is open for registrations from Wednesday 4th March 2020

The qualification was developed in response to the major social, environmental and technological changes that are being experienced globally, and the changing skills and competences that young people need. As a response to these challenges, many educators are now experimenting with new approaches to teaching and learning with the aim of nurturing capacities such as creative thinking, empathy, resilience and resourcefulness. This qualification invites teachers and school leaders onto a journey of creative exploration that can serve as a catalyst for positive change within their own thinking and within their practice as educators.

Crossfields Learning is passionate about education in all its forms, and has a vision to inspire, innovate and initiate positive social change towards a better world for all. They design and deliver workshops, short courses, conferences, in-service training and specialist higher education programmes within the UK and around the world.

Crossfields Institute is a Gloucestershire based education charity, approved by Ofqual (the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulations in England) as an awarding organisation. The Institute specialises in the development of specialist qualifications for providers with a particular vision or ethos.