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Compassionate Pedagogy in Practice

SamanthaAhern3 July 2019

Abstract

Compassion can be defined as “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it”(Gilbert, 2017). Compassionate pedagogy could be viewed as a response to a growing sense of zombification of the academy. A universal design for education approach to learning design and resource selection, informed in part by learning analytics, could be considered as components of a compassionate pedagogy. However, as compassion requires an innate motivation, it is this motivation rather than a formal framework or policy requirement that makes these activities the actions of a compassionate pedagogue.

Introduction

The development of massified Higher Education and growing concerns around the increasing use of data in both the ranking and management of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) has led to a growing body of scholarly work around the notion of the Zombie Academy (Brabazon, 2016)(Moore, Walker, & Whelan, 2013).  Neo-liberal discourse and approaches to governance and accountability are increasingly commoditizing education and reducing the role of the student to consumers whilst simultaneously stripping the function and roles of our HEIs of their social, cultural and political meanings (Moore et al., 2013).

Simultaneously, there is a growing rise in literature around and a move towards compassionate pedagogy. Compassion can be defined as “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it”(Gilbert, 2017). Teachers are said to show compassion towards students if they endeavour to see things from the students’ perspective (Waghid, 2014), however this omits the need for motivation to act in a way that is of benefit for students. This is encapsulated in (Hao, 2011)’s definition of Critical Compassionate Pedagogy: “a pedagogical commitment that allows educators to criticize institutional and classroom practices that ideologically underserve students at disadvantaged positions, while at the same time be self-reflexive of their actions through compassion as a daily commitment”.

Being a compassion pedagogue and developing compassionate pedagogy can therefore be said to be about the day-to-day choices made by educators. These choices will include decisions about learning design, selection of learning materials and the use of data to inform learning design and student feedback.

Compassionate Pedagogy in Practice

The increase in the proportion of young adults attending Higher Education Institutions has led to an increasingly diverse student intake (‘Who’s studying in HE?: Personal characteristics | HESA’, n.d.), however this is not always represented in the curricula or in how the curricula are presented to students.

In recent years there has been growing dissatisfaction with what some students describe as ‘pale, male and stale’ curricula. This has resulted in some high profile student campaigns to decolonise the curriculum at a number of leading UK universities including UCL (‘Why is My Curriculum White?’, n.d.) and Cambridge University (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/25/cambridge-academics-seek-to-decolonise-english-syllabus), becoming a point of discussion and debate across the sector.

Selecting learning resources and situating learning in a manner that reflects the differing voices, perspectives and experiences of those generating and consuming knowledge are a fundamental part of compassionate pedagogy.

Even if our curricula are representative, how do we ensure an equity of experience for our students? Ableism in academia is endemic and so the concern for equality and equitability is on the increase (Brown & Leigh, 2018).  In 2016/17 12% of students were known to have a disability, many of whom may not have a visible disability (‘Who’s studying in HE?: Personal characteristics | HESA’, n.d.).  Therefore, learning design and design choices made when creating learning resources are also key components of an inclusive, compassionate learning environment. Examples of these choices may include automatically adding closed captions to all videos created by an instructor, avoiding the use of colour to infer meaning, ensuring resources are created in formats that are compatible with institutionally supported accessibility tools or selecting an open textbook as the main course text.

These can both be considered as examples of universal design in education (UDE), where UDE is defined as “the design of educational products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design” (Burgstahler, 2015).  This requires the acknowledgement and consideration of the diverse characteristics of all eligible students, these may include ability, language, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation and age. Therefore, the application of universal design principles can be considered an act of compassion.

For a course at a HEI, the products and environment would include the curriculum, facilities and technology used in the course.  At a macro level this may be choosing teaching strategies, and at the micro, facilitating small group discussions.  For example, when using a learning method such as UCL’s ABC method, the products and environments will include considering the variety of learning types selected, the blend of online and offline activity and the assessment load, both formative and summative. The Learning Designer tool enables you to see how much time is spent on tasks and what percentage of directed time is spent on each learning type (‘Learning Designer’, n.d.). Additionally, tools such as the Exclusion Calculator created by the University of Cambridge enables the quantification of accessibility of resources and helps to prioritise improvements.

The role of data

Learning analytics is an ongoing trend and has been identified as one of the ‘Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education’ for 2018/19 (Becker et al., n.d.). Learning analytics has been defined as ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’(Siemens & Gasevic, 2012).

Higher Education Institutions store and generate a plethora of data about students and their interactions with the institution’s IT services and systems. Some of this data can be leveraged by educators to inform their practice and tailor student support. For example, the Echo 360 Active Learning Platform system enables students viewing recordings to flag content that they find confusing.  This data could then be used by the instructor to inform planning for forthcoming lectures or tutorials.  Demographic data could be used to identify students who may need additional support as they may have a specific learning difficulty or be first in family to attend university. It is also possible to identify students who may be over-using resources in an institution’s Virtual Learning Environment, e.g. repeatedly completing the same formative quiz, that may indicate support is required.

This data can be collated for different purposes; automated actions (e.g. email triggers) or as data for humans (e.g. tutors or students themselves) to interpret. An example of automated actions is Newcastle University’s Postgraduate Research Student attendance monitoring process undertaken by the Research Student Support Team (RSST) and the Medical Sciences Graduate School (MSGS). Of the three emails that can be sent to a student, the Level 1 email is an informal automated reminder sent to a student if there has been no recorded and confirmed meetings within 6 weeks (‘Attendance Monitoring’, n.d.).

However, this does not mean that actionable insights will necessarily be drawn or that action will take place. Motivation is required at institutional and practitioner level to make meaningful use of the data, returning us back to our notion of compassionate pedagogy and a motivation to criticize institutional and classroom practices for the benefit of students. An added complication are concerns around HEIs’ obligation to act on any data analyses, in particular providing adequate resources to ensure appropriate and effective interventions (Prinsloo & Slade, 2017).

Conclusion

In this paper we have discussed how accessible learning design and moves to liberate curricula can be perceived as acts of compassion, however these may be undertaken by non-compassionate pedagogues in response to mandated requirements from institutional management, for example UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check (UCL, 2018), potentially becoming another part of the zombie academy.

Likewise, we have identified that learning analytics can have a role to play. However, it too needs appropriately motivated institutions and staff to utilise this technology in a compassionate manner.

The key notion that separates compassion from empathy or sympathy is the desire to help, or in some definitions motivation to act.  It is this combination of awareness of others and motivation to act in a meaningful way, that determines whether a pedagogue is compassionate or not. These are not things that can be embedded in a formal framework or policy document, but are a culture and mindset that need to be cultivated.

References

Attendance Monitoring. (n.d.). Retrieved 18 September 2018, from https://www.ncl.ac.uk/students/progress/student-resources/PGR/keyactivities/AttendanceMonitoring.htm

Becker, S. A., Brown, M., Dahlstrom, E., Davis, A., DePaul, K., Diaz, V., & Pomerantz, J. (n.d.). Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition, 60.

Brabazon, T. (2016). Don’t Fear the Reaper? The Zombie University and Eating Braaaains. KOME, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.17646/KOME.2016.21

Brown, N., & Leigh, J. (2018). Ableism in academia: where are the disabled and ill academics? Disability & Society, 33(6), 985–989. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2018.1455627

Burgstahler, S. (2015). Universal design in higher education : from principles to practice / edited by Sheryl E. Burgstahler (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Education Press.

Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2017). Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications (1 edition). London ; New York: Routledge.

Hao, R. N. (2011). Critical compassionate pedagogy and the teacher’s role in first‐generation student success. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2011(127), 91–98. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.460

Learning Designer. (n.d.). Retrieved 17 September 2018, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/index.php

Moore, C., editor of compilation, Walker, R., editor of compilation, & Whelan, A., editor of compilation. (2013). Zombies in the academy : living death in higher education / [edited by] Andrew Whelan, Ruth Walker and Christopher Moore. Bristol : Intellect.

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2017). An elephant in the learning analytics room: the obligation to act (pp. 46–55). ACM Press. https://doi.org/10.1145/3027385.3027406

Siemens, G., & Gasevic, D. (2012). Guest editorial-Learning and knowledge analytics. Educational Technology & Society, 15(3), 1–2.

UCL. (2018, May 11). New checklist helps staff rate inclusivity of their programmes. Retrieved 17 September 2018, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/news/2018/may/new-checklist-helps-staff-rate-inclusivity-their-programmes

Waghid, Y. (2014). Pedagogy Out of Bounds: Untamed Variations of Democratic Education. Sense Publishers. Retrieved from //www.springer.com/la/book/9789462096165

Who’s studying in HE?: Personal characteristics | HESA. (n.d.). Retrieved 9 September 2018, from https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/whos-in-he/characteristics

Why is My Curriculum White? – Decolonising the Academy @ NUS connect. (n.d.). Retrieved 10 September 2018, from https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/articles/why-is-my-curriculum-white-decolonising-the-academy

ABC LD – the next steps

13 July 2018

UCL Digital Education has been awarded two year Erasmus+ funding to develop their well-known ABC learning design workshop with a 12 European universities. Since its inception at UCL only three years ago this unique ‘rapid-development’ approach to help academics develop high tech student-focused modules and programmes has had an unprecedented impact on the sector. Dr Clive Young, the originator of ABC alongside his Digital Education colleague Nataša Perović, gives the reasons for its success, “Most universities have aspirational strategies to develop future-looking digitally rich and blended courses, but few teachers have the skills, knowledge and time to redesign their programmes”. ABC is UCL’s response, a light touch team-based approach which co-creates a visual storyboard for a module in just 90 minutes. Over 75 workshops have been run at UCL with nearly 500 academics (and students) redesigning around 200 modules. The participant response has been overwhelmingly positive and ABC was soon picked up beyond UCL, and is now used at 20 other universities in the UK alone. The Erasmus project builds a strategic partnership between UCL, six other universities from the League of European Universities (Amsterdam, Helsinki, Leuven, Milan and the Sorbonne, with Oxford as an associate) and six innovative universities from Belgium, Denmark, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland and Romania. The partnership will develop ABC as a downloadable toolkit that can be used globally by any institution in the sector.  More information…

Follow the project progress via twitter @ABCtoVLE @ABC_LD.

TPCK, data and learning design

SamanthaAhern13 February 2018

Samantha is an experienced educator, technologist and creator.

This is my standard biog text. Technology is both what I have studied and what I have taught others. The use of technology in learning activities was authentic and integrated into the learning design. Technology, pedagogy and curricula are therefore intrinsically intertwinned.

For meaningful use of technology in teaching and learning these three elements should form a braid.

The 2007 paper What is Technical Pedagogical Content Knowledge? is a good discussion of this interplay and is pretty much how I view the relationship between technology and pedagogy.

When talking about learning and the use of technology in learning I often used the phrase and advocate for ‘pedagogic intent’.

Its a great phrase, but what does it mean?

Lecture capture is very popular with students, and increasing numbers of lectures are recorded.  However, there can be a quite passive use of the technology.

However, it can be used create engagement in the classroom.  The technology becomes part of the pedagogy of the classroom experience.  Our UCL colleague Parama Chaudhury presented a great webinar for the Echo 360 EMEA community on ‘Engaging students with active learning: lessons from University College London’.

This technology can also be used post session to identify content that is that is either difficult, identified by a flag, or of particular interest to students, that could inform future session planning.

Additionally, many taught modules have corresponding Moodle courses.  Although the e-Learning baseline introduces a degree of consistency, these vary immensely in their purpose and content types.

A move towards blended learning designs provides data points that could support post-course review or, perhaps most interestingly, to flag ‘critical-path’ activities (quizzes, forum posts, downloads etc) for intervention in real time. In this case ‘blending’ in online activities becomes an essential part of the student experience.

This identification of course elements of pedagogic interest of existing learning designs and how resulting questions could be answered by the identification of corresponding data points and analysis can be embedded into the learning design process.

The upcoming JISC Data informed blended learning design workshop aims to help participants ensure that their blended learning designs are purposeful. It will seek to make explicit the pedagogic intent in a learning design and explore how data can enable us to understand whether or not learner behaviour is corresponding to those expectations.

Thus returning us to the intertwinned relationship between technology, pedagogy and curricula.

 

Applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles to VLE design

JessicaGramp16 July 2017

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles describe how educators can cater to the needs of students with differing needs, including those with disabilities (CAST 2011). It stems from the social model of disability, which places the problem within the environment, rather than with the individual who has the disability (Collins 2014).
Technology enables the quick modification of learning materials to meet the specific needs of students (Pisha & Coyne 2001) and online communication can even hide a disability from others. For example, a deaf student who participates in an online discussion forum does not need to reveal they are deaf in order to communicate with peers. This can lower the social and communication barriers that may be experienced when communicating in person. Also, there are many modern technologies specifically developed to help people with disabilities engage with online environments. This means online learning environments are particularly well placed to address the goal of Universal Design for Learning. It is the responsibility of the institutions and developers who maintain these environments to ensure they can be accessed by all.
While most of the UDL guidelines apply to curriculum design, some of them are relevant to the design of the broader virtual learning environment (VLE).

UDL principles (CAST 2011) mapped to how a VLE might meet relevant checkpoints

To learn more, click on one of the Guidelines in the boxes below.

I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation

PerceptionLanguage, expressions, and symbolsComprehension

II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Physical actionExpression and communication
Executive function

UDL Principle 1 aims to ‘provide multiple means of representation’  by ‘providing options for perception’, which includes ‘offer[ing] ways of customizing the display of information’ (CAST 2011). This means the VLE should offer the ability to do things like resize text and enable screen-readers to read aloud text to those who have visual impairments or dyslexia.

Within UDL Principle 2, guideline 4: aims to ‘provide options for physical action’, which includes ‘vary[ing] the methods for response and navigation’ (CAST 2011). This means ensuring all navigation and interaction can occur via a keyboard and using assistive technologies such as voice activated software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which recognises speech and converts it to text.
UDL Principle 3 seeks to ‘provide multiple means of engagement’ by ‘recruiting interest’, including enabling the learner to choose colours and layouts (CAST 2011). There are a number of tools that enable users to change the fonts and colours on a webpage and it is important these are able to be applied. The VLE should also offer the ability to customise the interface, in terms of re-ordering frequently accessed items, placement of menus and temporarily hiding extraneous information that may distract from the task at hand.
These three principles and the specific checkpoints mentioned above are being addressed as part of the Accessible Moodle project, which aims to make UCL Moodle more accessible. The main ways these are being addressed are through the development of a more accessible Moodle theme, as well as the development of Moodle code itself. Although the project has limited ability to develop this code, suggestions for improvements are being raised with the Moodle development community via the Moodle Tracker. You can sign up and vote for accessibility enhancements to help these get prioritised, and therefore resolved more quickly, by Moodle HQ and other developers within the community.
The remaining UDL principles are intended to guide the development of more accessible content and curriculum designs, and therefore these will inform the development of the Universal Design for Learning course that is being developed at UCL, to help educators understand how to design accessible learning tasks, environments and materials.
 
You can read more about the Accessible Moodle project on the UCL Digital Education blog.
 
References
CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. [online]. Available from: http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/UDL_Guidelines_Version_2.0_(Final)_3.doc [Accessed 16 July 2017].
Collins, B. (2014). Universal design for learning: What occupational therapy can contribute? [Online]. Occupational Therapy Now, 16(6), 22-23. Available from: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/21426/1/Collins.pdf [Accessed 16 July 2017].
Pisha, B. & Coyne, P. (2001) Smart From the Start: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning. Remedial and Special Education. [Online] 22 (4), 197–203. Available from: doi:10.1177/074193250102200402.

Accessible Moodle Theme

JessicaGramp10 July 2017

As part of a wider Accessible Moodle project, a new UCL Moodle theme is being designed to make it more accessible for those with particular disabilities.

The new theme will address some accessibility concerns by using:
• Larger fonts and icons.
• Off-white backgrounds to reduce glare.
• High contrasting and brighter colours.
• Making the main content areas more prominent.
• Using icons, alongside or in place of text, to de-clutter the screen and make it easier to identify important links and information.

If you work or study at UCL and would like to provide feedback on the initial designs, please contact j.gramp@ucl.ac.uk as soon as possible, using your UCL email account.

Accessible Moodle wishlist

JessicaGramp20 June 2017

The following outlines recommendations from the Accessible Moodle project to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for disabled students and staff, as well as improve usability for all users. These have been informed by focus groups with disabled students and staff; analysis of how UK websites adhere to accessibility guidelines; and research of relevant journal articles and accessibility guidelines.

Our primary aim is to ensure Moodle is technically accessible using assistive technologies including ZoomText, JAWS screen-reader, Read & Write, Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, as well as other assistive technologies commonly used at UCL. In addition, keyboard-only access should be fully supported. It is also important that UCL Moodle is usable for those with disabilities, as well as the wider student and staff community.

In order to develop these recommendations, the project team ran focus groups with UCL students and staff with disabilities, to find out what they found difficult to use within Moodle and what suggestions they had for improvements. I have blogged previously about the background to the project and the outcomes of these focus groups.

A number of sources were also referenced to see how Moodle could be made to better adhere to accessibility guidelines. The most important of these are the following three guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) :

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA for making Moodle and its content more accessible.
  • Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) for designing Moodle so users of assistive technologies, like screen-readers, can navigate and read its pages.
  • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) for making the Moodle rich text editors more accessible.

A number of websites were also analysed to compare how each of them implemented W3C guidelines.

The list that follows is a wish list, which may not all be implemented, but gives us a guide for how we might improve Moodle. Although there are many other elements that are important, but not mentioned below, the following makes a start of improving the interface for disabled  and non-disabled users alike.

We are taking a multi-faceted approach to resolve the issues identified, and work is likely to be ongoing, but here’s a list of changes we’d like to see made to make Moodle more accessible.

Assistive Technology compatibility.

The following recommendations are likely to require implementation at multiple levels, so don’t easily fit under any single development areas below. The project aims to achieve the following:

  • Content and editing features are available to screen-readers, or suitable alternatives are available – e.g. offline marking in Word enables in-line marking for assessments.
  • Navigation is straight-forward, with content appearing before menus and appropriate headings, links and lists being utilised to enable easy navigation using common screen-reader features. E.g. the list of module tutor names under every Moodle course name in the search results means that hundreds of links are listed to screen-reader users and sighted users are overwhelmed by irrelevant information which needs to be scrolled past, and which is particularly problematic for those with dyslexia.
  • All images have alt tags (even if these are empty), or in the case of icons that supplement text, they use ARIA tags to tell screen-readers to ignore them.
  • Accepts user input using voice recognition software, like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
  • Enables magnification by ensuring the pages display well when the browser is zoomed in or when zooming software is used.
  • Visible focus when using the keyboard (tab, space, enter and arrow keys) to navigate.
  • Supports the use of OpenDyslexi font, available as a browser plugin to help those with dyslexia read text.

A multi-faceted approach

The following five areas outline the different ways in which Accessibility improvements can be made to UCL Moodle.

  1. A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
    • Minimise clutter, by enabling blocks to be hidden and removing extraneous information.
    • Position elements for optimal access. E.g. ensure the login is prominent and important course features are easy to access.
    • Simplify the menus, by showing relevant links only to relevant users. E.g. staff see different links from students.
    • Improve the course icons by making them larger and clearer. E.g. the maximise block link is not intuitive.
    • Show alerts to users – e.g. explaining that editors can drag and drop files, warnings of Moodle outage periods.
    • Improve navigation, e.g. by enabling links to key areas that users expect.
    • Use high contrasting colours on a pale background that is easy to read for those with dyslexia (e.g. not white).
  2. Changes to Moodle configuration.
    • Configure text editors so they encourage accessible content design. E.g. offering heading styles 3-5, removing the inclination for people to add heading 1 and 2 tags when these are used at higher levels within Moodle pages.
    • Enable global search (assuming this does not negatively impact performance).
    • Allow students and staff to personalise the interface by enabling courses to be moved up and down on the My Home page, hide and show blocks, maximise the screen or use a default width better for reading and dock blocks.
  3. Enhanced Moodle features.
    A number of plugins to Moodle exist that make Moodle more usable and improve accessibility.

    • Implement and configure user tours to help users understand how to use Moodle and point to help with accessibility features.
    • Install the course checks plugin to help staff create an accessible Moodle course – e.g. checks for assignment due dates in past, courses not reset, broken links.
    • Implement a Moodle course site map so students can easily see what is available on a course on one page.
    • Enable importing content from Word, which some users find easier to edit within than Moodle.
    • Pilot the Blackboard Ally plugin to help in the creation of more accessible learning resources and course structures.
    • Install the Office 365 plugin to make it easier to author, organise and link or embed content into Moodle (coming to Moodle core in v3.3).
    • Enable staff to add icons to help signpost particular areas of their course and help people who prefer these visual cues, as opposed to having to read excessive text.
  4. Improved training, staff development and support.
    • Develop a course for Moodle editors so they understand how to develop accessible Moodle resources and activities.
    • Develop an online course to explain how Assistive Technologies can be used with Moodle (e.g. regions for JAWS, browser plugins to show a reading ruler, change fonts to OpenDyslexi font, improve colour contrast).
  5. Improved interfaces by proposing enhancements to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin).
    • Adequately signpost links showing (new window, document, external/internal etc) automatically.
    • Enable users to personalise their experience by allowing them to choose their own course format, set blocks to particular colours.
    • Improve assessment interfaces, such as the Moodle Assignment rubric functionality and display.
    • Flag new items on the Moodle course page (allow this to be enabled/disabled in user preferences).
    • Improve the Moodle calendar – e.g. size, reliance on colour, clicking month to access full screen.
    • Improve the discussion forums – e.g. showing the entire thread when replying, the accessibility of the email alerts it sends.
    • Fix Moodle heading tags.

The UCL Digital Education team, staff in Disability Support teams and staff from IT for IoE  are slowly working through each of these five strands to make improvements to virtual learning experiences at UCL for those with disabilities. Many of these improvements will also benefit other Moodle users, since accessibility cannot be considered in isolation from usability, so this means an enhanced user experience for everyone!