What’s wrong with “Deficit Language” anyway?

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I am doing a CPD course on the revised way of working post-Covid-19 for next academic year, called USW DEAL (Digitally Enabled Active Learning). Our first task was to reflect upon the following article: “Let’s lose the deficit language about online education” by Tansy Jessop from the University of Bristol

I’m a big fan of WonkHE, especially the podcast, which provides an interesting and diverse take on the issues facing HE every week; I definitely recommend it, as a good way to scope all the blogs, etc, that get produced on their site, which can be overwhelming to keep up with otherwise. Guest posts range from very practical to highly abstract, but all useful. However, apart from disliking the term “pivot to” as it implies a degree of choice and control that might be lacking – swerve madly to take the right fork in the road” might be more accurate – anything that gets us realistically talking about effective pedagogies is a good thing, in my book.

Reading the critique of the Media handling of this sudden change of delivery in (or rather outside) universities, but also schools and colleges, of course, begs the question why a revolution in Education is being debated in the Press. My own take was that it was more speculative, rather than prophetic in nature. Calling it naive is dismissive though. There is a lot of rhetorical language in the piece – a LOT! Such as “within an inch of” – that undermines the argument; it is almost an ad hominem attack on all journalists.

Furthermore, the apparently obvious decline in lecture attendance, presented as fact. While there is some evidence for lack of attendance and corresponding poor attainment, the literature also presents a weak positive correlation, to positive effects of access to archived lectures, which the author of this piece neatly forgets. Recordings are not a good substitute for lectures, online or otherwise, so long as they are interactive. However, while non-attendance at a lecture is a common reason given for accessing recordings, it is balanced by educationally beneficial reasons, such as note taking, reviewing learning, and assessment preparation. It must be remembered that there is a significant cost associated with coming on campus – for USW students it can be £6-£9 or even more, on public transport – and this highlights the need for effective timetabling. Ultimately, accessibility to learning materials is vastly improved for students with special educational needs, but the “kerb cut effect” will help those on the continuum between those with and without stated needs. One study in 2018 found “no evidence for a negative effect of recording use, or that attendance and recording use were related” (Nordmann et al 2018) and, more importantly,  found that lecture capture was “most beneficial for first year undergraduates, particularly non native speakers. The four year study identified strong students as able to substitute attendance with recordings, while weaker students benefited from using it as a supplement to attending lectures. Of course, there are many papers citing small, local examples of attendance equating to better performance, but these don’t span the time that Nordmann’s study examined. However, when we are forced to deliver lectures online, and recording is effectively mandatory, as a result of it already being digital, and not wanting to negatively impact students, the most important question is to ask why a live lecture is more effective than a passive recording? And what, if anything, we need to do to reduce the potential negative effects of students only being able to access recordings.

Jessop seems to have a low impression of students as well, implying a conscious and informed choice in skimming lecture materials; there are many and varied reasons why students may find it difficult to attend at a particular time, and a particular place (or technology). Her assertion that only the OU were involved in effective online delivery is outdated. Several universities have been engaging in distance courses, at all levels, quite successfully, using a range of techniques and technologies, and not all adhering to the Open University model, even if it is an effective and adaptive approach, evolved over decades. She is right, though, that it is the ‘more traditional’ institutions that have adhered to the ‘chalk and talk’ habit. But the “new normal” (whatever that is!) is an opportunity Jessop identifies as (in my words) the ill wind; a disruptive act that allows us to consider change.

Jessop’s shopping list of opportunities is “a bit utopian” she recognises, but we finally get to her concerns over “deficit language”, by which I believe she means avoiding the “negative waves”; either the naysayers saying “Tried that… didn’t work…”

What’s wrong with “Deficit Language” anyway? 24

or the “We have no choice but to…” grudging adopters.

but you left no choice
What’s wrong with “Deficit Language” anyway? 25
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USW DEAL: Principles into Practice (6 July – Group 1) (USW_DEAL_06071)

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  Thread 2 of 22 Posts in this Thread 0 Unread 0 Unread Replies to Me 1 hour agoMike Reddy What’s wrong with “Deficit Language” anyway? AttachmentCOLLAPSE

I’m a big fan of WonkHE, especially the podcast, which provides an interesting and diverse take on the issues facing HE every week; I definitely recommend it, as a good way to scope all the blogs, etc, that get produced on their site, which can be overwhelming to keep up with otherwise. Guest posts range from very practical to highly abstract, but all useful. However, apart from disliking the term “pivot to” as it implies a degree of choice and control that might be lacking – swerve madly to take the right fork in the road” might be more accurate – anything that gets us realistically talking about effective pedagogies is a good thing, in my book.

Reading the critique of the Media handling of this sudden change of delivery in (or rather outside) universities, but also schools and colleges, of course, begs the question why a revolution in Education is being debated in the Press. My own take was that it was more speculative, rather than prophetic in nature. Calling it naive is dismissive though. There is a lot of rhetorical language in the piece – a LOT! Such as “within an inch of” – that undermines the argument; it is almost an ad hominem attack on all journalists.

Furthermore, the apparently obvious decline in lecture attendance, presented as fact. While there is some evidence for lack of attendance and corresponding poor attainment, the literature also presents a weak positive correlation, to positive effects of access to archived lectures, which the author of this piece neatly forgets. Recordings are not a good substitute for lectures, online or otherwise, so long as they are interactive. However, while non-attendance at a lecture is a common reason given for accessing recordings, it is balanced by educationally beneficial reasons, such as note taking, reviewing learning, and assessment preparation. It must be remembered that there is a significant cost associated with coming on campus – for USW students it can be £6-£9 or even more, on public transport – and this highlights the need for effective timetabling. Ultimately, accessibility to learning materials is vastly improved for students with special educational needs, but the “kerb cut effect” will help those on the continuum between those with and without stated needs. One study in 2018 found “no evidence for a negative effect of recording use, or that attendance and recording use were related” (Nordmann et al 2018) and, more importantly,  found that lecture capture was “most beneficial for first year undergraduates, particularly non native speakers. The four year study identified strong students as able to substitute attendance with recordings, while weaker students benefited from using it as a supplement to attending lectures. Of course, there are many papers citing small, local examples of attendance equating to better performance, but these don’t span the time that Nordmann’s study examined. However, when we are forced to deliver lectures online, and recording is effectively mandatory, as a result of it already being digital, and not wanting to negatively impact students, the most important question is to ask why a live lecture is more effective than a passive recording? And what, if anything, we need to do to reduce the potential negative effects of students only being able to access recordings.

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Jessop seems to have a low impression of students as well, implying a conscious and informed choice in skimming lecture materials; there are many and varied reasons why students may find it difficult to attend at a particular time, and a particular place (or technology). Her assertion that only the OU were involved in effective online delivery is outdated. Several universities have been engaging in distance courses, at all levels, quite successfully, using a range of techniques and technologies, and not all adhering to the Open University model, even if it is an effective and adaptive approach, evolved over decades. She is right, though, that it is the ‘more traditional’ institutions that have adhered to the ‘chalk and talk’ habit. But the “new normal” (whatever that is!) is an opportunity Jessop identifies as (in my words) the ill wind; a disruptive act that allows us to consider change.

Jessop’s shopping list of opportunities is “a bit utopian” she recognises, but we finally get to her concerns over “deficit language”, by which I believe she means avoiding the “negative waves”; either the naysayers saying “Tried that… didn’t work…”

Negative Waves

or the “We have no choice but to…” grudging adopters.

But you left me no choice
  1. Thread: What’s wrong with "Deficit Language" anyway?
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USW DEAL: Principles into Practice (6 July – Group 1) (USW_DEAL_06071)

First Thread
Previous Thread

  Thread 2 of 22 Posts in this Thread 0 Unread 0 Unread Replies to Me 1 hour agoMike Reddy What’s wrong with “Deficit Language” anyway? AttachmentCOLLAPSE

I’m a big fan of WonkHE, especially the podcast, which provides an interesting and diverse take on the issues facing HE every week; I definitely recommend it, as a good way to scope all the blogs, etc, that get produced on their site, which can be overwhelming to keep up with otherwise. Guest posts range from very practical to highly abstract, but all useful. However, apart from disliking the term “pivot to” as it implies a degree of choice and control that might be lacking – swerve madly to take the right fork in the road” might be more accurate – anything that gets us realistically talking about effective pedagogies is a good thing, in my book.

Reading the critique of the Media handling of this sudden change of delivery in (or rather outside) universities, but also schools and colleges, of course, begs the question why a revolution in Education is being debated in the Press. My own take was that it was more speculative, rather than prophetic in nature. Calling it naive is dismissive though. There is a lot of rhetorical language in the piece – a LOT! Such as “within an inch of” – that undermines the argument; it is almost an ad hominem attack on all journalists.

Furthermore, the apparently obvious decline in lecture attendance, presented as fact. While there is some evidence for lack of attendance and corresponding poor attainment, the literature also presents a weak positive correlation, to positive effects of access to archived lectures, which the author of this piece neatly forgets. Recordings are not a good substitute for lectures, online or otherwise, so long as they are interactive. However, while non-attendance at a lecture is a common reason given for accessing recordings, it is balanced by educationally beneficial reasons, such as note taking, reviewing learning, and assessment preparation. It must be remembered that there is a significant cost associated with coming on campus – for USW students it can be £6-£9 or even more, on public transport – and this highlights the need for effective timetabling. Ultimately, accessibility to learning materials is vastly improved for students with special educational needs, but the “kerb cut effect” will help those on the continuum between those with and without stated needs. One study in 2018 found “no evidence for a negative effect of recording use, or that attendance and recording use were related” (Nordmann et al 2018) and, more importantly,  found that lecture capture was “most beneficial for first year undergraduates, particularly non native speakers. The four year study identified strong students as able to substitute attendance with recordings, while weaker students benefited from using it as a supplement to attending lectures. Of course, there are many papers citing small, local examples of attendance equating to better performance, but these don’t span the time that Nordmann’s study examined. However, when we are forced to deliver lectures online, and recording is effectively mandatory, as a result of it already being digital, and not wanting to negatively impact students, the most important question is to ask why a live lecture is more effective than a passive recording? And what, if anything, we need to do to reduce the potential negative effects of students only being able to access recordings.

Jessop seems to have a low impression of students as well, implying a conscious and informed choice in skimming lecture materials; there are many and varied reasons why students may find it difficult to attend at a particular time, and a particular place (or technology). Her assertion that only the OU were involved in effective online delivery is outdated. Several universities have been engaging in distance courses, at all levels, quite successfully, using a range of techniques and technologies, and not all adhering to the Open University model, even if it is an effective and adaptive approach, evolved over decades. She is right, though, that it is the ‘more traditional’ institutions that have adhered to the ‘chalk and talk’ habit. But the “new normal” (whatever that is!) is an opportunity Jessop identifies as (in my words) the ill wind; a disruptive act that allows us to consider change.

Jessop’s shopping list of opportunities is “a bit utopian” she recognises, but we finally get to her concerns over “deficit language”, by which I believe she means avoiding the “negative waves”; either the naysayers saying “Tried that… didn’t work…”

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Negative Waves

or the “We have no choice but to…” grudging adopters.

But you left me no choice

So, let us look at the list:

  • personalise learning – just in time learning is just training without the thoughtful review, and the time management requirement might be difficult in any event, let alone during lockdown
  • a shift from content-driven curricular – almost impossible for vocational courses, where a good deal of content, as well as technique is required. Furthermore, students have (in direct surveys, etc) expressed a desire not to have education delivered in small chunks; for that they can go to Coursera, edX and Youtube. They want/need a uniquely HE experience, which for them involves hour long lectures! Of course, we don’t talk at students for an hour solid – do we? I hope not!!! – but that hour is a planned series of experiences that are not neat little 5-7 minute video montages, surrounded with “interactive quizzes” that are as disruptive to learning as they can be helpful.
  • getting to grips with – no evidence that online material does this more effectively
  • drawing out different voices – I am a fan of Lave and Wenger’s “legitimate peripheral participation” so am never worried by the student who sits quietly at the back. An asynchronous, text based interaction does allow different voices, and levels access UNLESS SOMEONE USES ALL CAPS, OF COURSE. but it can be just as inhibiting as asking for contributions from the lecture hall, if not necessarily in the same way, or for the same people. A dyslexic student, who is quite eloquent, when speaking directly, might be discouraged from typing in a forum.
  • more inclusive – no evidence that online material does this more effectively (to plagiarise my earlier comment)
  • prompt all sorts of good things (hopefully) – see above
  • fixing “assignmentitis” – see above, but also why couldn’t these carefully designed tasks have happened before Covid-19?
  • promote all sorts of more good things – like many of the above, we need the “when done well” suffix, which applied (and still applies) to learning design generally, not just a “new normal” situation.

The major problem with all this is the one simple truth of educational reform: it will always mean more work, and more resources, to improve educational attainment; and here I mean for students AND staff. The second truth is that change always makes things worse (particularly technological change) before it (hopefully, but not always) makes things better. This also requires a level of good will on the part of everyone involved, and the best way to have this is to engage in participatory design, rather than a “if it does not kill them it cures them” experiment. All this is an unasked for, major change to their experience and expectations, and (as if we could ever forget) they are our employers as well as our customers. Mitigating the risks, and the negatives, is IMHO as important, right now, as trying to gain a few benefits.

We need to ask, and then to listen, and then to act, WITH students.

From a personal perspective, as Course Leader as well as just a lecturer, the three months of lockdown have fallen into three chunks: dealing with the immediate support of learning and assessment for students scattered to the four winds; supporting an overwhelmed admin team trying to create a no detriment system on the fly; and COBR style speculation as to the best course of action for a lockdowned Autumn Term; I’m of the opinion that it is better to expect the worst and assume fully online delivery next term (at least), and hope for the best, where we have some face2face activities.

I’m not holding my breath for f2f, and am trying to imagine what a computer lab session could be, without any computers; as we cannot assume that our students (particularly new students) will have a decent enough PC to do the work. Computer Games Development, my course, has a heavy tech requirement, in its traditional delivery. We have two of the best equiped labs in the whole university, but these won’t be much use if we cannot access them at all, or at reduced capacity, which would quadruple class contact times; neither does this account for the self-study time we schedule for students to guarantee access to this necessary kit, which usually means the labs are in continuous and heavy use during office hours, every week day.

Most of my teaching consists of professional skills and application of knowledge from other, more traditional content-oriented modules. Students engage in large group activities for six, twelve and twenty four week projects, and have been “forced” into using CSCW tools widely used in the Games Industry. so, fortunately, in my case, the shift to online was about as painless as it could have been. The only obstacle was the one of access to technology and the Internet, which some students struggled with. This, however, is an ongoing and perennial problem.

My course team has been excellent BTW and we are exploring the idea of sending the computer labs to the students, using raspberry PI 4s as development platforms, computer substitutes, and VPN terminals to access on campus resources, as a means of delivering our teaching for at least the first term, should we be as locked down as we were in the Spring. Colleagues have been willing to explore adapting, and even developing new materials, that could be delivered on a sub £100 device, which could be loaned (or even gifted!) to students. All they would need would be an HDMI capable TV (and no televisions in recent production do not have these) and a USB keyboard and mouse, which can be picked up for £5 in most supermarkets. For students without any computer access, these could act as standalone PCs – the latest model PIs are more than capable desktop substitutes – and would be more cost effective than trying to purchase or lease laptops for everyone. They would also be amazing freebies for students 🙂 which might allay any frustrations if f2f classes prove to be impossible. Although we are lucking in Computer Science to have such an option, I’d imagine that creative thinking by a course team, especially if they involve the students – the raspberry PI idea came from a recent graduate to give full credit! – could overcome many potential issues that a return to full lockdown might otherwise cause.

Whatever we do, we need to talk to the students, and involve them as much as we can!

References

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09639284.2015.1043563?needAccess=true&journalCode=raed20

https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/07/05/study-lecture-capture-reduces-attendance-students-value-it#:~:text=The%20paper%2C%20published%20in%20Computers,lecture%20capture%20encouraged%20poor%20attendance.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10734-018-0275-9

https://psyarxiv.com/fd3yj

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