Post-truth teaching: coming to a lecture theatre near you?

Open University report looks at key trends in teaching and learning

December 7, 2017
Trump supporters
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Critical thinking: students and graduates will need the critical skills learned at university to know how to distinguish between facts and fiction

Equipping students with the skills to “navigate post-truth societies”, “spaced learning” and student-led analytics are three of the big emerging innovations in pedagogy considered in a new report.

The sixth edition of the Innovating Pedagogy report from the Open University, produced in collaboration with Learning In a NetworKed Society, an Israeli Center of Research Excellence, sets out 10 pedagogies that either already influence educational practice or offer “opportunities for the future”.

Rebecca Ferguson, senior lecturer in the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology, Learning and Teaching Innovation and lead author of the report, said it was aimed at encouraging practitioners and policymakers to think now about “what is going to be big in the future” rather than being reactive.

She said that two key themes ran through this year’s report: one on ensuring that learners are “more active in the learning process” and another “informed by the political climate”, on the question: “how can we know when we’ve encountered truth, facts or fiction?”

University syllabuses have not traditionally addressed the latter issue, but students and graduates will need the critical skills they learn at university to grapple with it, particularly in their use of social media, Dr Ferguson argued.

She added: “We talk about 21st-century skills, we talk digital skills and universities have been good at embedding those in the curriculum. Perhaps we need to be thinking about the skills around truth and knowledge and evaluation, and building those across the curriculum as well.”

One of the 10 pedagogies in the report is on “navigating post-truth societies”. The report looks at existing research on “epistemic cognition” – knowledge and how people know – and suggests that this field can be deployed in helping learners to assess “the validity of claims and forming sound arguments” and to “develop strategies for evaluating and constructing knowledge”.

On “spaced learning”, the report says that recent research in neuroscience “has uncovered the detail of how we produce long-term memories” and had led to a teaching method of spaced repetition that sees a teacher give information for 20 minutes, then give students a 10-minute break to participate in an unconnected practical activity such as aerobics or modelling, and then ask students to recall key information for 20 minutes. A further 10-minute break follows, before students “apply their new knowledge” for a final 20 minutes.

Dr Ferguson said that although this method had been used in school education thus far, it was also “absolutely applicable” to higher education.

She said that evaluations at school level had shown that spaced learning “makes things stick better and people can do as well or better on a test after a shorter period of spaced learning”, as compared with a longer period of traditional learning.

On student-led analytics, Dr Ferguson said learning analytics designed to assist a university in dealing with a particular issue – for example, retention – “don’t really pick up on what students want…and what students are trying to achieve”.

The report cites the University of Edinburgh’s Learning Analytics Report Card, which allows students to select which of their data to monitor in the categories of attendance, engagement, social interaction, performance and personal.

“These report cards give students opportunities to reflect on their performance and to decide where to put their effort as the course progressed,” the report says. “They are therefore able to make decisions based on data rather than simply on their own perceptions of progress.”

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