This theme comes from a new monthly series of on-campus workshops from the Teaching and Curriculum Team in IML – Talking about Teaching and Learning (TATAL). Whether you’re new to teaching or have years of experience, we are always facing new challenges in this dynamic higher education landscape. These workshops are designed for you to learn with and from a community of educators, build connections and solidarity with colleagues from across the university, and experience social learning processes that you can use in class with your own students. If you missed the first event, read a quick summary here of our discussion on strategies for dealing with disruptive behaviours in the classroom.

In this second session, we focused on a topic that emerged from the first session: how to engage students both online and face to face in the aftermath of remote teaching. We used another active and collaborative method adapted from the Hyper Island Toolbox called Systems Thinking: The Iceberg Model.

The Iceberg Activity: 4 levels of interactive investigation

An iceberg has only 10% of its total mass above the water while 90% is underwater. ​But that 90 percent is what the ocean currents act on, and what creates the iceberg’s behaviour at its tip. ​What’s happening in our classrooms can be viewed in the same way. ​What you are noticing and responding to as an educator is the part you can see, the student behaviour, but that is influenced by a much broader system.​

Using a systems thinking approach, we are interested in how we might start to recognise problems that seem individual as part of a broader pattern, culture or system that we might (or might not) have some agency over.​ The Iceberg Activity looks at different levels in turn:

  • Level 1: The individual behaviours you are noticing, your perception of what is going on ​
  • Level 2: The collective patterns of behaviour that we can name and anticipate​
  • Level 3: The underlying causes of the patterns you are observing (eg. structural, physical, social, cultural, psychological, habitual, etc)​
  • Level 4: The assumptions, beliefs and values that keep the system in place ​

We conclude with the question: what needs to be transformed?

Levels 1 & 2: Finding trends and patterns… in LEGO?

For level 1, we got into some ‘serious play’ with LEGO, following these four steps:

  • Step 1: Select any 7 individual pieces of Lego​
  • Step 2: For 5 minutes, use those 7 pieces to build a representation of the post-COVID classroom – what does it look, feel and sound like?​
  • Step 3: At your table, take 2 minutes each to explain what you have built (your interpretation)​
  • Step 4: Make a note of the collective themes that are emerging from your individual perceptions

In our own process, we noted several similar themes across our constructions, including the pros and cons of technology-enabled learning spaces, distance (both physical and psychological), difficulty and messiness in learning norms and spaces, and the diversity of circumstances and student experiences we see at the moment.

Level 2 of the ‘iceberg’ then asked us to consider collective trends and patterns from the identified themes: what patterns of behaviour, for example, have we already started anticipating in the design and delivery of classes?​ Going deeper, what trends or patterns of behaviour do we feel are outside of our agency to change or design for? 

Levels 3 & 4: Underlying structures and mental models

Level 3 takes us to the next layer down, to consider the underlying causes of these patterns and trends. Some of these could include causes which are:

  • Structural​ – how does the structure of our university system impact learning behaviours and possibilities?
  • Physical​ – what are the affordances and constraints of our physical spaces and how we interact with them?
  • Social​ – what are the norms and expectations in our learning experiences, for both students and educators? How are they evolving?
  • Cultural ​– what’s expected in the university ‘culture’, or what do students bring from their own cultural experiences into their learning?
  • Psychological​ – how do we engage with learning environments psychologically? What’s the impact when something changes or evolves?
  • Habitual – what habits impact students’ and educators’ use of and engagement with different learning environments?

Once we get down to level 4, we start tackling the assumptions, beliefs and values that keep the system in place. What are the mental models that need to be understood in order to effect transformation? In our case, we discussed long-established assumptions about how we measure engagement in learning, what being ‘present’ means, and our use of time and space in learning environments.​

Figure 1. Systems Thinking Iceberg Model (Bryan et al, 2006) ​

Join us at the next TATAL workshop for more discussions and activities tackling teaching and learning topics of the day. Contact Alisa Percy or Ann Wilson for more information, and keep an eye on the LX.lab events page for our next session.

Join the discussion