Stage 3 – Jackanory…
This week’s task was to sell your bargains following a creative purchasing session in Manchester. The first stage of the challenge is to introduce a teaching session that you have coming up soon that will benefit from the use of some props and abstract concepts to help provide a new dimension to the lecture.
One of the key challenges that I found at the first stage is that I naturally think quite abstractly about how I learn new bits of information and so I commonly use unrelated concepts and ideas to link into the way that I teach. For example I frequently use a photograph of a Lamborghini whilst I teach sustainability as it clearly jars against the concept of sustainability, but it is a useful illustration for embedded and operational carbon.
I decided to keep my brief quite open and to try and acquire some props and photographs that I can use to illustrate structural concepts across two of the modules that I teach and if I’m really lucky then I can perhaps extend some of these props into my research topics.
After meeting the rest of the group in front of the Manchester wheel on a typical Mancunian day, the task was set and we were carved into our respective pairs and we were thrust into action… or at least we would have been except that our team decided to take a moment and grab a coffee to fire up the neurons and for us to plan and discuss our respective teaching challenges.
This for me is when the PGCAP course it at its best as I get to take a peek under the hood and see how my peers teach from completely different disciplines and perspectives. My partner was Fiona whose teaching challenge was to think about providing a different spin on teaching innovation without resorting to clichés or companies such as Apple. As the caffeine slowly started to filter into our bloodstream and a sense of feeling worked its way through to our fingers, the creative juices started to flow and off we set to hit Arndale market… except the market that we both remembered so fondly no longer exists and doesn’t provide the same plethora of opportunities that it once did and so we had to change tack and head for the pound shops.
My PhD is based upon deployable structures and I’ve several undergraduate and postgraduate students writing their dissertations on folding and deployable structures and I have a few props that I use to introduce them into the concepts and language involved. Most of the props that I have though relate to the more complex elements of deployable structures, such as the large hooberman sphere that I use in engineering communication lectures and to show a practical example of how folding structures can change volume dramatically.
I was incredibly fortunate though as whilst we were searching for a multi tool for Fiona’s lecture I found the simplest of folding structures (a carpenters ruler) for the princely sum of a pound and this will be a great resource for several years in teaching folding structures (Chen, You, & Tarnai, 2005; Paquete, 2009).
My luck just carried on though when on the next aisle I stumbled across a special grillage that allows you to keep your dog safe in the car whilst leaving the window open. Whilst this doesn’t sound too impressive, for me it was perfect as it is based on a 2 dimensional folding structure called a pantograph (Kwan & Pellegrino, 1991; Nagaraj, Pandiyan, & Ghosal, 2009). For an extra pound I’d managed to increase my folding structure teaching arsenal to cover one, two, and three dimensional structures.
After we’d all made our purchases we returned to a local coffee shop to present our purchases and the logic behind them to the rest of our team. Again, this peek into every one elses thought process was great for me and gave me a great quote from Fabrizio that “behind every word is a culture” which I felt captured the overall theme of his teams presentation and the supporting narrative really gave me a gentle introduction to some of the cultural differences between Italian and UK education systems. The other team gave a powerful presentation combining aspects of biomechanics and literature associated with the romantics and made use of a key piece of Mancunian iconography following the riots, linking through to the IRA bomb which enabled the reconstruction of the Shambles and enabled developments like No 1 Deansgate which was one of the first projects that I worked on when I moved to Manchester.
After our presentations were over though, we all scored each others presentations and as Fiona and I scored a narrow victory we both received tickets for a ride on the Manchester wheel, which even based upon a cold and wet morning offered some great views over the city centre even though the pod was rocking quite a lot through a combination of wind and Fiona’s excitement.
But what use did I make of my bargain purchases? So far I’ve managed to integrate them into a presentation and discussion with a group of undergraduates to explain some of the initial folding mechanisms used in deployable structures. This is something that can frequently cause difficulties for students to envisage and also allowed the students to play with them to help consolidate their learning experience which is similar to the ‘having a concrete experience’ that (Kolb, 1984) references in the cyclical learning process.
A second opportunity has presented itself this weekend where I’ve been teaching for the British Red Cross about presentation techniques, with the key message being about using common analogies that are accessible and available to our volunteers and ensuring that as trainers we don’t fall into the trap of using complicated medical terms and abbreviations.
To illustrate the point, I introduced a set of complex terminology that was completely unfamiliar to the group to describe my carpenters ruler. I asked them to guess what I was describing and unsurprisingly the answers proffered were wide and wonderful, but not accurate. But taking the time to then explain the language associated with the ruler, working through each term carefully using visual prompts equipped them with a new vocabulary. I then repeated the process for the pantographic two dimensional structure making note of the similarities and as a group they were much closer to the mark with their guesses.
Even though that this vocabulary is completely alien to my British Red Cross students at this point, once I described the three dimensional pantographic structure they were able to describe the hooberman sphere even though nobody in the room had ever seen one before. For me this process is really very similar to the various learning cycles (Kolb, 1984; Race, 2006, 2010; Ramsden, 2003) of introducing a concept, demonstrating the concept, experiencing the concept and then applying it in a new context as the complexity of the problem increases.
I tend to think quite abstractly when I learn and when I teach, it’s a positive means of thinking, but can also be quite destructive as I’m unable to articulate a concept properly until my understanding reaches a certain level. Once I can create an abstraction in my own words and I’m able to manipulate the analogy into a form that I think will fit into someone else’s logic and experiences (which is key to an analogy being successful (Martin, 2003)) then I feel that my understanding of the topic is complete.
Personally I feel I’m very strong on analogies and abstract presentation styles, but having seen my peers selections it’s become clear that I’ve become comfortable with a standard, specific form of delivery which is to be expected as you develop a style. The downside though is that it’s great being on the right track, but if you stay still too long you’ll eventually get hit by a train! I need to take on board some of the creative thinking from my peers, their selections really wouldn’t have been what I’d have picked, but actually they chose some excellent props and analogies.
Chen, Y., You, Z., & Tarnai, T. (2005). Threefold-symmetric Bricard linkages for deployable structures. International Journal of Solids and Structures, 42(8), 2287-2301. doi: DOI: 10.1016/j.ijsolstr.2004.09.014
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Kwan, A. S. K., & Pellegrino, S. (1991). The Pantographic Deployable Mast: design, structural performance, and deployment tests. In P. S. Bulson (Ed.), Rapidly Assembled Structures (Vol. 8, pp. 213-224). Chippenham: Computational Mechanics Publications.
Martin, M. A. (2003). ” It ís like… you know”: The Use of Analogies and Heuristics in Teaching Introductory Statistical Methods. Journal of Statistics Education [online], 11(2).
Nagaraj, B. P., Pandiyan, R., & Ghosal, A. (2009). Kinematics of pantograph masts. Mechanism and Machine Theory, 44(4), 822-834. doi: 10.1016/j.mechmachtheory.2008.04.004
Paquete, L. (2009). Erik D. Demaine and Joseph O’Rouke, Review of Geometric Folding Algorithms: Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra , Cambridge University Press (2007). European Journal of Operational Research, 199(1), 311-313. doi: 10.1016/j.ejor.2008.06.009
Race, P. (2006). Learning – A natural human process: The Lecturer’s Toolkit: A practical guide to assessment, learning and teaching (Third ed., pp. 1-26). Abingdon: Taylor & Francis e-Library.
Race, P. (2010). How students really learn; ripples model of learning (updated Aug 2010) Retrieved 30th September 2011, from http://voicethread.com/ – q.b2250451.i11964012
Ramsden, P. (2003). The nature of good teaching in higher education Learning to Teach in Higher Education (Third ed., pp. 84-105). London: RoutledgeFalmer.