Article Review 1, Bob Heath

Abrahmov, S. L., & Ronen, M. (2008). Double blending: online theory with on-campus practice in photography instruction. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(1), 3-14. doi: 10.1080/14703290701757385

The authors through using online presentation to augment their classroom presentation were able to add learning objectives that previously were too much for the classroom (Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). These additions were aimed at the goal teaching basic photography and visual literacy: “Our major challenge was to promote the awareness of the connotative level of meaning, and its relation to the factual aspects, in order to foster the understanding and creation of photographs that express additional levels of meanings’ (Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). The authors describe six online exercises that they created to facilitate students learning visual literacy. This section of the paper is extensive and detailed. The authors also describe their evaluation of the augmented class.

This evaluation study was based on the analysis of the data extracted from the following sources:

  • Students’ online activity and their performance in the theoretical tasks (content analysis).
  • Students’performance in the practical final project.
  • The peer evaluation records of the final project (content analysis).
  • Students’ reflections as expressed in a questionnaire administered at the end of the course.
  • Interviews with a sample of students from each class.(Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008)

The content analysis focused on the student’s use of six professional terms. The analysis showed the adoption and use of these terms over the course. The peer evaluation was likewise subject to content analysis. Here the authors were looking for students to seek and identify a second level of connotative meaning in the images submitted for peer review. Sixty percent of the students did this. “All students reported that the study of theoretical aspects of ‘reading photographs’ had contributed to the development of their practical skills, while most (70%) stated that it had a significant impact on the photographs they have produced’(Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008).     The authors seem pleased with their results and even recommend that this model may have relevance for other “similar instructional challenges.’

I selected this article for review precisely because it combined the technical skills of making something and the theoretical skills of interpretation and appreciation of the object. I suppose this course has elements of a flipped class. However, even that is stood on its head because the online instruction is about peer interaction and about keeping the conversation going outside of the classroom… extending the learning outward into real life. I likewise chose the article because it was about more learning; more content added to the course, rather than more courses added to the curriculum or worse how a course could be dumbed-down because “Young people these days…’. I selected it as well because of the higher-level learning accomplished in the tension between the how and why of the inquiry.

I will now examine more closely two of the six assignments as the authors identified them as particularly effective. The second assignment was conceptually central and pivotal and students themselves acknowledged this. In the first, the notion of “focal point’ was developed and explored in this way:

  • Implementation format: open submission as a file attached to a message in a designated discussion group board.
  • Scaffolding: explanation and examples of the concept of ‘focal points’ was hyperlinked to the task page, as well as the opportunity to view peer examples.

This implementation is deceptively simple and unfortunately that is really all the authors give us. We are left to speculate on the conversations that ensued between instructors and students and between students. We have to imagine that the instructors have a particular knack for explaining the concepts but they do not give away their trade secrets here. The students identified this concept as the most revelatory and the most transferable piece of theoretical knowledge learned in the course. I really wish the authors had spent more time exploring and explaining this success.

The final project was the submission of a series of four to six printed photographs — thematically related. The subject was left open to the students but the goal of the project “to create photographs with a developed second level of meaning’ was assigned. Each student was expected to submit two written evaluation on peers’ work. This text, as already mentioned, underwent content analysis by the authors focused on use of terms and ability to identify and relate the two levels of meaning.

The article itself is not overwrought with theorizing or professional jargon dumping and I like that. The authors use “writing’ and “reading’ as tropes, as theoretical categories for the two sets of tasks they assign students. Writing speaks to the physical, technical skills of making pictures with cameras. Reading speaks to the interpretive and aesthetic notions that the instructors add to the class, that speak to achieving a “second level of meaning.’ This is a simple provisional theory to get the practice up on its feet and see if it grew legs.

I struggled a bit with the course evaluation because it smacked of academic rigor rather than sustainable self-reflection. Content analysis is a labor-intensive research technique, certainly for the purposes of writing an article and for scholarly rigor it was important for getting published. However, I suspect the authors returned to simpler and more sustainable course evaluation tools for subsequent classes. In truth, I would have preferred to read about those techniques — alas, their article probably would not have been successfully peer reviewed in that case.

I do recommend this article to my classmates particularly if they are dealing with presenting technical skill. However, I wonder if there is a way to make an abstract and theoretical subject more tangible by pairing it with a practical one. I recall once buying a book on framing roofs. The author did an admirable job of connecting geometry and trigonometry to the practical problem of building roofs. I would have learned the concepts in high school if the math had been taught in application rather than just rote.

 

2 thoughts on “Article Review 1, Bob Heath

  1. kgebauer

    Bob,

    The aspect of your article review that stood out to me was your evaluation of how the abstract and the concrete were connected to create an effective teaching and learning environment, although not as reflective as you would have liked. Reflection is very important to education especially higher education and is what encourages deep thinking. You stated, “Writing speaks to the physical, technical skills of making pictures with cameras. Reading speaks to the interpretive and aesthetic notions,” which you connected to the second level of meaning the instructors were teaching their students to capture in their photography. The idea of visual literacy was also intriguing. You know what they say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, but the instructors took it beyond that with their second level of meaning twist. Teaching the abstract is difficult in any situation, but if it can be connected to something a little more concrete it usually makes it easier.

    Another aspect of you review that spoke to me as an K-12 educator was this,

    “I wonder if there is a way to make an abstract and theoretical subject more tangible by pairing it with a practical one. I recall once buying a book on framing roofs. The author did an admirable job of connecting geometry and trigonometry to the practical problem of building roofs. I would have learned the concepts in high school if the math had been taught in application rather than just rote.”

    This is one of the many challenges to teaching, making it meaningful to each student’s life. I believe that if it is taught in the classroom it needs to be connected to the students’ lives. Students need to know why it is useful to be taught a skill and how to apply the knowledge they are learning. It is easy to have students complete a math worksheet and say you need to know this. It is much harder to guide students to the understanding that learning multiplication will be a valuable life skill unless you show or have them use it in such a way like grocery shopping or paying bills or calculating how much firewood or fuel you will need for the winter. To answer your wondering it is very possible, but as you experienced in your own education isn’t usually found in a textbook, but in an experienced and effective teacher, such as the one who wrote the book of building a roof.

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  2. Owen

    Nice review, Bob. I couldn’t help but think of this course and even more dramatically within the larger discipline of instructional design. We work at the intersection between theory and application. This is a very interesting space to call home. We often know what should work or what makes for good pedagogy, but passing that through the clunky processor of various tools (ie. Blackboard) can be challenging and distracting.

    Teaching these kinds of very complex ideas raises many challenges. Teaching the theory, the “reading” is relatively easy. These are the ideas and theories we draw from pedagogically. Teaching the application of those can be difficult.

    “I wonder if there is a way to make an abstract and theoretical subject more tangible by pairing it with a practical one.”

    I like projects for this reason. Asking student to apply their understanding. What do you think? What other subjects lend themselves to this kind of pursuit and how can we design better learning experiences with this in mind?

    -Owen

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