Greetings! In this very first episode, I’m going to talk about my own journey into the world of education, and also introduce the topic we’ll be covering in this upcoming series: feedback cultures. Giving, receiving, and processing feedback is inseparable from learning and development, regardless of whether you’re teaching or learning; inside school or outside it. But what are the different ways we encounter this process, and how can we improve it? Tune in and let’s take a look.
Hello and welcome, to the first episode of The Edtech Tangent. My name's Dan and I'll be hosting this fortnightly series.
With this current transformation of the landscape of learning, I thought this was a good time to start bringing together the insights from instructors and innovators around the world. With the podcast becoming a more and more common form of media out there on the web, it seemed sensible to start sharing in this audio format. I've actually wanted to start sharing stories and conversations for some time and now, at the start of 2021, that can finally begin, so I'm very excited to get this going. It’s going to be a learning experience as we get off the ground, and I would love to hear your feedback on what i’m doing well and where I could improve. You can get in touch via the links in the description.
What this podcast aims to do is share, with anyone and everyone involved in higher education, the stories, conversations, and insights which might help us to spot the trends and themes in how education is changing with time. Through fortnightly episodes featuring interviews and conversations, we're hoping to showcase the stories that might just entice or expose new ideas and inspiration for the next time you're doing anything with learning. And it's my opinion that everything has to do with learning. For the upcoming few episodes, I want to dive deep into the culture of feedback; how we give, receive, process, and respond to feedback on all sorts of levels. We'll be bringing in students and teachers to talk to about their experiences, and hopefully build a picture of the diversity of these encounters.
To kick things off I thought it might be a good idea to tell you a little about myself, my journey through education and my experiences as a student, a tutor, and now in instructional design. And after introducing myself, I want to start exploring a little deeper the topic we just mentioned; feedback cultures, and specifically talk about some of the challenges we face in how we come to process suggestions and criticisms in formal and informal scenarios.
So let's get started with that first story. Once again, My name is Dan, I'm 26, and i was born in East London. I didn't have any educators in my direct family, my dad was a surgeon and my mum a nurse, and I was quite sure I'd be going down a similar route until not too long ago. When I was 5 years old our family moved to saudi Arabia following my dad's work, and I went to a tiny international school of not more than 80-odd students and staff. Maybe it's the rose-tinted glasses of retrospect, but those years felt like paradise - it was a great school and I especially loved music classes. Even at a young age, I think you can remember a good teacher, someone whose manner just stays with you. After a few years, the family emigrated back to the UK, eventually moving house a couple more times from the east coast to the midlands, and finally settling in staffordshire. That's where I finished high school and college, or sixth-form as it was called over there. Back in the UK there was a lot of variety in my educational experiences. I had some wonderful, inspiring teachers, and also teachers who were unforgettable for other reasons. I went to some good schools and I went to some bad schools. To this day I've studied at about 10 different institutions.
As a teen, I loved to learn, to read, and alongside my shy character, that didn't make me very popular. After finishing school a year early I wanted to keep growing in new directions, seeing new things and places, and so I decided to go abroad to the Netherlands to study. The year before I made this decision, the UK government also raised the price of university tuition fees by 300% making them some of the most expensive in europe, and this definitely impacted my choice to leave the country. In college I was asked a lot by the native folks, students and townsfolk, why I chose to leave the UK and come to a tiny town in the rural Netherlands to study? Well, apart from the much cheaper costs, english language instruction, and purported high quality of education, it was also time to leave my comfort zone in Britain and challenge myself with a new direction. On the side, I also got rejected from every medical school I applied to in the UK despite being a straight A student.
So I started following a pre-med track in a liberal arts college, which gave me the opportunity to learn a bunch of other things on the side: as well as the natural sciences I took courses in history and gender, philosophy and politics, anthropology and languages. It was another fairly small college, about 600 students in total, with everyone knowing everyone else. I noticed that I would often be very interested in what my friends were studying, psychology and linguistics, and other things I had no room in my timetable for. Sometimes I would lack motivation to study my own textbooks, instead wanting to delve into a topic from a domain I had nothing to do with. The combination of exploring the unknown, and also following a peer along their learning trajectory, was often more exciting than studying for my own exams. The further I went with this broad spectrum of education, the less convinced I became that I wanted to follow my father's footsteps and become a doctor. After graduating the feeling sunk in fully, and for a few years I stepped back from education altogether, instead working as a cook in a nearby restaurant for the next couple of years.
Eventually I started to feel the stagnation of making the same sandwiches and stews every day and cleaning the same deep fat fryer every week. I applied for a course in science communication and education, not exactly sure where I'd end up but having some vague notion of becoming an attenborough-esque science presenter or journalist. During this course I experienced my first internships in the Dutch language, an exhausting, overwhelming, but rewarding experience. For one, I designed an interactive, augmented-reality enhanced promotional poster about the origins of life and the cosmos, which sadly never took off. For the second, I translated an entire coursebook of the national science curriculum from Dutch to English, but again, was unfortunately not able to see this through to final publication as the covid pandemic hit during its concluding months. In this year after quitting the kitchen, I also had to find another way to support myself so I tried my hand at freelance personal tuition, both in music and english, and had mixed success.
Then, around halfway through my degree, I started working at the edtech company FeedbackFruits, in the teacher relations team. I would be travelling the country giving workshops to and holding interviews with teachers and instructional designers, which I didn't know when I began, but it was a dream come true. I have great admiration for high school teachers but I don't think I could do it myself - although I love teaching and learning, the thought of standing in front of a room packed full of rowdy teenagers remains one of my nightmares. But now, I had been given the chance to experience teaching from this different, supporting, role, and I instantly fell in love. It was a perfect match for me as I'd been struggling for the past year to decide whether I should commit myself to a teaching track in my degree, or go down a research route. Now, the path had been shown to me and I eagerly set out upon it. Through the tumultuous course of 2020 I spoke to hundreds of teachers, designers, and students about all things education, and documented about 25 in depth case studies of particular courses.
Just like my broad upbringing, I was beginning to see this broad picture of education, coming across recurring themes and fitting them into a still-incomplete picture. But with breadth, you have to keep in mind that it's often opposing depth. I never really got deep into these questions but I want to change that now, which is one of the reasons I started this podcast. Issues around engagement, assessment, and dealing with feedback have come up time and time again for me in almost every single conversation I've had with educators.
Over the coming episodes I want to first look at this last one - feedback, specifically the different cultures of feedback on local and global scales. This time, I got the chance to ask the CEO and co-founder of FeedbackFruits, Ewoud de Kok, about his experience with feedback and interaction during his time at the University of Delft, and he had this to say:
[EdK] “the human interaction that I experienced when I was at a traditional, was quite a traditional course was almost zero, except for the jokes maybe that the teacher made in front of the class, and some chitchat with my fellow students. Yeah, I guess if that was the type of human interaction that I experienced. And I think that can be much, much better.
[DH] I see. So I've heard you talked before about that you want to democratize education, is this in the same realm of what you've been saying?
[EdK] Of course, in education... we're doing this together. And this idea that sort of sneaks into the 90s, I think inside in the 80s and 90s, and definitely the beginning of 2000 consuming education be being a customer and I lean back And I'll decide whether I like this or not just entertain me. And it's terrible and doesn't work. So everyone should be part of it should feel part of it should feel committed. And, yeah, if you would see democratization of education in that sense, I definitely agree with you.”
So usually when I think about the term feedback I’m thinking about specific comments and responses between peers or teachers and students, but Ewoud reminded me that the concept of feedback applies at an institutional level too, the roles and responsibilities we have to each other to be part of a greater whole. And this resonates with me, I said before that all life is learning, but i think it’s also true that a lot of learning is feedback. I think we all have a duty to try to be honest and open at all stages of education about how we’re experiencing it. Knowing what went well and what can be improved on isnt just useful for personal reflection but for the instructors who’re also trying to deliver their best efforts. And with the huge transformations in the educational landscapes adaptability is more necessary than ever - something that absolutely requires everyone involved to be forthcoming with their experiences.
Next time we’ll be comparing the experiences of students and teachers from different parts of the world, exploring the diversity in feedback cultures in south east asia, the caribbean, and here at home in western europe. After all, there’s not one right way of doing things and we can learn a lot from comparing different approaches.
So I hope you’ll join us and tune in next time in two weeks for another focus on feedback. This podcast was made possible by FeedbackFruits. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, facebook, and instagram, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any comments, questions, or queries. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org - as always, I’d love to hear your feedback! ‘Til next time!
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Dan is an (almost) graduate of science communication and education who lives for learning. For a year he has been investigating course design case studies around the world and is now trying his hand at this new format of gathering and sharing insights and ideas.
Ewoud co-founded FeedbackFruits in 2012, starting as an experiment in a small class at TU Delft, and growing to global success in the years after. Today, he continues to lead an international team under the mission of transforming education by making every course engaging.