Lesson Study – thinking through the possibility of a distance learning variant

Over the past two or three years, I have worked as part of the Lesson Study Research Group at the School of Education, University of Leicester. Over this time we have developed the use of lesson study in a number of contexts, one of which has been with post-graduate groups in education. Our use of the approach in this context has given us a lot of useful insights particularly in relation to the learning of international students with whom we work.

Over the same time period I have also been increasingly involved in designing, delivering, tutoring and innovating on distance learning (DL) courses at masters level. DL presents a series of new and interesting pedagogic challenges as the nature of the contact between tutors and students can vary widely within and between courses. Many DL masters courses do include some collaborative elements to learning, be it through collaborative writing tasks, discussion board exercises or through the use of skype or other video-orientated media. These give us some glimpse into the thinking and learning processes of students, but to a great extent DL remains opaque to understanding the processes students are engaged in, particularly when related to specific areas of the curriculum we believe they might find challenging; after all DL by definition tends to lead to tutors being as interested in summative pieces and outcomes as the day to day processes of student learning.

The complexity of capturing student learning processes is increased due to the varied professional contexts of students. Our students work in different educational contexts, from primary, to special education to higher education and across all time zones. This makes capturing and understanding learning difficult in any systematic way other than through the submission of assignment drafts and final pieces. However, to develop DL activities and curricula we need to begin to access other activities in a more systematic and critical way.

Lesson study works by identifying ‘learning challenges’, i.e. specific areas of a curriculum students struggle with, and then collaboratively discussing and planning enhanced and/or new lessons with the specific aim of understanding the nature of the challenge and overcoming it to aid students’ learning. In a face to face context the process of doing this might take the form shown in the diagram below, discussed in an earlier post.


Is it possible to develop a variant of this approach for use with distance learning? We can replicate the identification of the learning challenge based on past experience and past submitted assignments. One example is the continued challenge of helping students understand the concepts of ontology > epistemology > paradigms in research methods/literacy modules. Having identified the learning challenge, it is then possible to collaboratively create a set of activities to be completed online. Hence, the focusing and planning elements of lesson study remain the same for DL as they do for face to face applications. Where the main variation would occur is in the observation of learning. In our work on lesson study we advocate the use of observation of case students during a session, but accept that the insights are partial and incomplete. This is why we routinely record artefacts from students’ learning and carry out stimulated recall interviewing, as these give different, and often deeper, levels of insight into the learning process. For lesson study to work in a DL context this is the area where we would need to think about, data capture. The following is suggested as a possible way forward:

  1. The activities developed would require some form of process capture. This might be notes, concept mapping, the development of an artefact, such as a questionnaire, a mixture of these, or any other relevant outcomes.
  2. The students would complete the activities, but then would be asked to capture how they had completed the activities through some form of self-explanation. The easiest way of achieving this would be to use some form of screen capture software such as http://screencast-o-matic.com/home . Students would be given a series of prompts through which they would explain the process they had undertaken to gain the outcomes in their work. We would ask them to send both a copy of the work and their video for us to analyse, and then we would carry out short stimulated recall interviews to supplement our understanding of their experience and learning. Towards the end of these interviews we could also include some evaluative elements so as to consider further task design development in a wider sense.
  3. Having gained all of the evidence, we would then evaluate the activities as we would normally do for a lesson study cycle.

This DL variant would be a relatively simple framework to develop and test, but would potentially give us a huge amount of data on the ways in which different students interact with materials and how this helps or hinders their learning. As a consequence, we would not only begin to develop specific elements of the courses we are involved in but a more global set of ideas, principles and task designs might begin to emerge from insights and data gained.