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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

The latest Digital Education and RITS collaboration is ready for launch – almost

SamanthaAhern8 March 2019

Space shuttle on launchpad

Digital Education and Research IT Services have been collaborating on the production of online self-paced training courses based on popular RITS face-to-face courses.

To date two courses have been formally launched, and we are making final preparations to launch our latest course.

If you would like to know more about why and how we developed these courses you can view our presentation from the OER18 Conference.

However, we need your help with a few final checks.

We would like your assistance in undertaking some final quality assurance tasks  – as like other work it’s difficult for us to spot our own errors or spelling mistakes.

We would particularly like assistance in identifying:

  • Spelling errors
  • Formatting issues
  • Missing images
  • Broken links
  • Correct Jupyter notebooks reference

Any assistance in this matter will be greatly appreciated, however we do ask for any feedback to be submitted by Monday 25th March. Please email feedback to: s.ahern@ucl.ac.uk

We have produced some guidance and a feedback  template for reviewing our courses – Research Software Engineering with Python and Introduction to Research Programming with Python.

 

Ethics education in taught courses – not just a STEM issue?

SamanthaAhern18 December 2018

On the 12th December I visited Central St Martins for the UAL Teaching Platform event Ethics in Arts, Design and Media Education. Much of the discourse at present is focused on ethics education in STEM discplines such as Computer Science and Data Science, or more predominantly the lack of meaningful education.  Much of this has been driven by growing concerns around the algorithms deployed in social media applications and seemingly rapid growth of AI based applications. The House of Lords AI report explicitly talks about the need for ethics education in compulsory education if society and not just the UK economy is to benefit.

I was intrigued by a potentially alternative viewpoint.

The role of the arts is to push the boundaries, but are there limits to artisitic expression?

Are rebellion and social responsibility mutually exclusive?

UAL seem to think not.

The focus of the day was ethics in the context of what students make and do, in postgraduate and undergraduate taught course contexts. UAL aim to entwine ethics into the creative process, developing ethics as lived practice.

One approach to this has been the development of the Bigger Picture unit which requires groups of students to undertake both collaborative practice and participatory design projects. Some of these projects required students to work with vulnerable members of society e.g. the homeless. How do we ensure that the participants equally benefit and not exploited? Throughout the unit students were encouraged to work collaboratively with these participants respectfully, honestly and with integrity. To enable this, explicit sections on ethical considerations were added to the unit handbook and project brief.

Additionally, UAL has been working on the development of an Educational Ethics Code and establishing an educational ethics committee.

The code has 3 main themes, these are:

  • Respect for persons
    • Respecting the autonomy of others
  • Justice
    • Does everybody benefit?
    • Are there privilege and power differences?
    • What social good will the project do?
  • Beneficence
    • The art of doing good and no harm

There was a general acknowledgement amongst the attendees that many of the ethical decisions we make are situation specific and timebound,with key consideration to be given to who is part of the conversation and who has got the power? Privilege and power are important considerations, especially when it comes to consent models, regardless of discpline.

It was also acknowledged that there is a fineline between support (e.g. timely guidance) and imposition (e.g. lengthy formal ethical review processes).

Attending this event made me wonder: is this just one part of a much wider debate around compassion and social responsibility? To my mind it is.

Event related readings:

 

 

 

Call for Participants

SamanthaAhern19 November 2018

Participants required for the following study:

What synergies or conflicts exist between current Higher Education Institution Learning Analytics and student wellbeing polices?

As part of an ongoing response to increasing concerns around student wellbeing and mental health UUK, in their September 2017 #StepChange report, recommended the alignment of learning analytics with student wellbeing. However, is it currently possible for these to be aligned?

The aim of this study is to identify the key characteristics of existing policies relating to student wellbeing and learning analytics across the UK Higher Education sector, and the synergies or conflicts that exist between them. This will help to establish whether, at present, learning analytics and student wellbeing initiatives are sufficiently aligned, and if amendments are required to aid alignment.

The study is looking to recruit HEIs who would be willing to share their institutional policies related to student support and wellbeing, and where applicable learning analytics.

For details of the study please view the study’s Information Sheet.

If you would like your institution to participate in the study please complete and return the Registration Form by Monday 21st January 2019.

Participating institutions will be requested to share their policies by Monday 21st January 2019.

Please return competed registration forms either via email (s.ahern@ucl.ac.uk) or by post to the address below:

Ms S. Ahern

ISD –  Digital Education

UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

This project is registered under, reference No Z6364106/2018/11/55 social research in line with UCL’s Data Protection Policy.

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.

 

The purpose of education?

SamanthaAhern25 January 2018

“Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.”
John Dewey, Democracy and Education

Over the last few weeks I have attended a number of events, but they have all the same common thread.

They have left me asking two questions; firstly, what is the purpose of education and secondly, what do we mean by learning?

This has reminded me of comments made by Peter Goodyear in his keynote at the 2017 ALT Conference regarding learning spaces, ‘attributes and qualities of spaces do not determine the learning and outcomes and objectives’ and ‘it’s what students actually do that effects what they learn .. can not be designed’.

In the #IOEDebates event What if… we really wanted evidence-informed practice in the classroom? Gert Biesta (Professor of Education and Director of Research, Brunel University London) noted that ‘Teaching is: Open, semiotic and recursive’ and this makes teaching a messy business. We can remove the messiness but would this reduce teachers to technocrats and create an education environment of uniform conformity, evidence must not become another thing to tell you what to do.

Professor Biesta went on to ask ‘What do we want education to work for:’

  • Qualification?
  • Socialisation?
  • Subjectification?
 This had parallels to discussions at the debate What is a university education and where is it going? where Lord Willetts discussed the wider benefits of Higher Education:
http://blogs.staffs.ac.uk/mikehamlyn/files/2015/06/willetts1.jpg
How do these benefits relate to the learning or the learning gain that takes place within our universities?
Many of the presentations at the HEFCE open event Using data to increase learning gains and teaching excellence hosted by the OU primarily focused on non-subject knowledge gains and employability.
HEFCE define learning gain as ‘an attempt to measure the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education.’ (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/lg/). They go on to state that measuring learning gain will ‘contribute to a broader international understanding about the value of higher education, and help governments shape their policies and investments accordingly.’.
So what is primary purpose of learning within our institutions? Can this learning be effectively measured?
I don’t know. All I do know is that I now have more questions than answers about the nature of learning and the purpose of a university education.