Online identity, work spaces and folios – a celebration of awareness

 This week Leigh Blackall, Educational Designer from the Digital Learning Team in the College of Design and Social Context writes about the issue of online identity and continuity

 

leigh 1

This sign welcomes visitors to the main building of the Googleplex (Google’s company headquarters) at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, California. Source: Coolcaesar on Wikimedia Commons

Who are you?

Cover of International Multimedia School Magazine "trait d'union" n° 03-2003. Topic: "our identity. Creator of the mask: Antonia Lent, German School of Toulouse (2003). Photographer: Lothar Thiel. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cover of International Multimedia School Magazine “trait d’union” n° 03-2003. Topic: “our identity. Creator of the mask: Antonia Lent, German School of Toulouse (2003). Photographer: Lothar Thiel. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shall we start with a quick Google search on your name? Web, image, video, news, and scholar.

I do it as a matter of course when considering new people to work with, or in preparation for applying for work. I want to know what a person looks like; to gain some insight into how they work online (or not); to get an overview on the sorts of things they have done in the past; and to get a sense for what their identity is, online. There is a significance to me, in what is revealed in such a search and what is not.

Is it too simple to say that an online folio is a search result for a person’s or project’s name, and an online workspace is the Internet as a whole? This online workspace is not a single publishing platform or content management system – the Internet is the platform. Some of us might be a bit stuck on this, but this perspective becoming mainstream is probably inevitable if it’s not already a reality.

Most people who do a search on their name come to realise that the search result is essentially the first page of their online identity – their folio. It could be personal, it could be professional, often it’s both. Their next realisation might be that the way they work online, the processes, platforms, linkages and associations in the data that they generate, all has an impact on their portfolio-as-a-search-result. Their search terms and saved bookmarks, the media they upload and download, their playlists, click-through history, viewing times, purchase history, GPS location, and strength of linkage to other people, collaborators and projects. All this data is built up around us as we work online, and can be used to create, shape and grow a personalised and professional workspace. It can be harnessed to improve the quality and efficiency of our work. Our search results on topics of inquiry can become more targeted, or recommendations and linkages can be made more relevant. This includes advertisers and surveillance agencies of course, which at this point in time at least, we might consider as our symbiotic relationship.

 

You’re a machine

In 2004, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson created a video about this future that we now live in. They called it the Evolving Personalised Information Construct (EPIC2014). Their video starts in black, with a flickering light in the distance. A narrator reads, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times…”

In 2007 Dr Michael Wesch expanded on this topic and published the incredibly popular video, The Machine is Using Us, now at nearly one million seven hundred thousand views. This video explained an EPIC hypertext reality, 7 years before Sloan and Thompson thought it would come to pass.

While we’re talking about Michael, check out his online folio. As you do that, it’s worth considering how the strength of Michael’s online identity impacts on those that link to him, such as his students at Kansas State University.

 

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Goshen College Choir 1958-1974 Source: Mennonite Church USA Archives on WIkimedia Commons

 

A cog in a wheel

In the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, a range of educational development projects are interested in this line of inquiry, and in the kinds of operating principles that might inform the design of learning activities and assessment tasks. Tasks that ask people to manage their online workspaces, professional identities and portfolios.

At RMIT though, like many other universities, a specified workspace is provided that impacts on this conception of a professional identity, precisely because it has become a central and major entity of the Internet – Google.

To some, Google is a good platform choice. It is a very relevant and effective toolset in a university that needs to show ‘industry relevance’, productivity gains and expenditure savings. To some others though, they think that RMIT should be more concerned about data sovereignty and maintaining local IT skills. They would ask, “should an offshore advertising company with questionable links to surveillance agencies be getting intimate access to data about a large population base, especially a university one?”

 

Who are you tomorrow?

As we ask people to use the Internet in their work, and in RMIT’s case – Google in particular, we’re asking people to shape their online workspace into a personalised space with professional relevance. Their connection to us is recorded, their connection to each other is recorded, what they do with their online identity all combines to teach “The Machine” to use them, and be used by them.

What happens to these online identities when the people leave though? Their accounts are disabled! They’re effectively deleted, or held in limbo until that person comes back into the organisation.

What about people who have already built themselves an online workspace, a professional identity and folio? Should they stop with that and rebuild another one? Won’t they dilute their online identities, especially students, casuals, contractors and other transients?

Additionally, if RMIT continues to limit the functionality of an RMIT/Google account by not enabling Youtube accounts, Maps, Classroom or the use of Addons for instance, what impact is that decision having on the account holder’s development of a professional workspace and online folio?

All this seems at considerable odds with RMIT’s graduate capabilities around Lifelong Learning.

 

A temporary role

I’ve raised these RMIT/Google account issues with anyone willing to talk about them, on behalf of the projects I’m assisting with, in the hope of better understanding RMIT’s position and conceiving a workable solution. I’ve had a few things pointed out to me so far:

  1. Perhaps managing multiple online identities is a critical literacy, and a student account is a ‘practice’ space before developing their real workspace. Related to this is the reality that industry workspaces are also going to prescribe an account that contributes to the complexity around a person’s online identity and workspace.
  2. RMIT is a large and international organisation and needs to implement a system that can work consistently across that organisation. Our partners in Vietnam for example, have not agreed to the full use of a product like Google, citing performance and other issues.
  3. An account with @rmit.edu.au is branded RMIT, and what a person does with that account impacts the RMIT brand and RMIT’s liability.
  4. There are legal implications for RMIT accounts using Youtube channels or Addons, relating to Intellectual Property.

 

Practically though, when a staff member or a student needs or wants a Youtube account, or to turn on an Addon, or to Create a Map, they simply work around the limitations and use their own Google accounts. I’ve been advised that there is no policy or procedure in RMIT that would regulate or prevent such practice.

Youtube for instance, the third or fourth most used website by Australians, and not just for watching funny cat videos either, has long been sociologically important*, a media phenomenon over the past 10 years with significant cultural impact*. RMIT’s teachers, researchers, students and administrators should have by-now developed deep critical awareness around this. But they have not on the whole, not while their RMIT accounts can’t engage it. RMIT remains technically disengaged.

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Mummified Nile catfish (Middle Kingdom) placed in a tomb for the deceased to eat in the afterlife on display at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. RC 2182. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Retain something of yourself

With all these realities, issues and workarounds in mind, we might then consider the idea of advising people to primarily use their own accounts over their RMIT provided ones, because the development of online workspaces and folios are long term projects starting now, and continuing well beyond their life as students and staff members.

To most, this suggestion will appear too subversive, “taking a long walk off the reservation”, as a good colleague puts it. But in another light it might only be a minor conceptual shift. It is certainly inline with the practical realities at universities that are not deploying Google accounts. The staff and students at those universities simply use Google like any other external web service when required. One that is not limited by the University-wide settings or legalities over an account that in reality is on loan to them and never really ‘owned’ by the user who’s identity it actually is!

A BYO account has longer term benefits for transient people in the university, such as students, casual and part time staff – which I hear is most of us now.

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“There’s nothing casual about casual employment. The working conditions experienced by tens of thousands of casual academics in Australia’s public and private universities demonstrate that casualisation, as an employment strategy, is both widespread and systemic.” Source: NTEU Website

 

Celebrate the awareness

To conclude this never ending libertarian dilemma then, if it is deemed inappropriate that an offshore advertising corporation with links to foreign surveillance agencies has deep ties to the research data and communications within a university; and if the university that is using that service does not enable the full features of that service anyway – thereby impacting on the productivity, professional identity and portfolio of its staff and graduates, it might be better to do away with the limited service and make arrangements for services that do better in terms of data sovereignty and personal responsibility and control (if that exists, look to the open source, open data and hacker communities for committed innovation in this space).

So, the university drops Google so that we can use Google. Better still, the university seeks out a partnership and invests in communication and documentation services that genuinely give us some options outside the profit and surveillance driven motives. In the meantime, we might make it our responsibility to raise awareness around all of this. We’ll design learning activities and assessment tasks that help people manage their online identities and establish life-long learning efficacy. And we’ll celebrate the readiness of our staff and graduates by citing the confidence of their online work practices and the self evident strength of their portfolios…

 

*Note: “An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube” by Michael Wesch may not be currently available due to copyright challenges in your country.

 


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School of Art: Feedback notes for Students

This week Associate Professor Peter Ellis, Deputy Head of School, Learning and Teaching, School of Art writes about his school’s guidelines on how to explain feedback to students in the creative disciplines.

School of Art: Feedback notes for Students
Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Group Tutorials
Individual Tutorial Guidelines

Year 1 Student Chloe Caday in feedback session with Dr. Robin KingstonThis week’s Teaching TomTom post seeks to provide staff in the college of Design and Social Context (DSC) with some guidelines on how to explain feedback to students in the creative disciplines. The notes have been designed for students within the School of Art, but may be of interest for other schools too.

Attached to this post are Notes on feedback for students designed to inform students on, what feedback is, the types of feedback, how it is given and by whom.

The main idea behind this document is to provide new introductory students and staff with some useful notes on the importance of feedback and how it can be adapted for individual tutorials, Work Integrated Learning Group Tutorials, and Formative and Summative assessment.

The key points being that feedback is a continuous activity, not just at assessment, that it is the way students learn and that it is designed to:

  • Inform them on how well they are meeting the criteria for assessment
  • Inform them on how well they are meeting the learning objectives of courses or projects within courses.

Feedback is designed to:

  • Be supportive, clear, and honest
  • Assist in moving forward with their work in a confident, positive and manageable way
  • Be delivered in a way that clearly indicates what they should do to improve their work and how to move forward to the next level of their learning

Feedback should focus on the successful things your students are doing well, as well as things that need more attention, in order to improve and make their work stronger. Feedback is inclusive, individual and supportive. It is important that all feedback is given in a collegial, positive and supportive learning environment, where there is respect for individual opinion, gender and cultural diversity.

It includes strategies for conducting tutorials including the use of WIL feedback forms that are designed for students to record and reflect upon feedback provided to them by peers and lecturers during WIL group tutorials. The WIL forms that the student present for assessment clearly enables staff to ascertain if the student has understood the feedback that was offered to them.

The WIL form allows students to upload an image of the art work discussed, six keywords that exemplify the work, a description of the artist’s intentions for the work, a section to record the peer and lecturer feedback, and a section on how they will progress with the work after reflection on the feedback. WIL feedback forms also have a section for students to record suggestions from peers and staff about artists they should research, both historic and contemporary, bibliographic ideas, writers, films, critical theory, websites, magazines, YouTube etc. that may be useful for the their progress.

In an environment where the Course Experience Survey (CES) is an important tool for measuring student responses to the feedback we provide, it is crucial that both students and staff are aware of the importance of explaining and understanding what feedback is, that it is continuous in studios every day and is provided in a positive and supportive way.

The feedback we provide must be informed and supportive to encourage, inspire and provide strategies for continual improvement.

Please find some time to look at the attached Notes on feedback for students and provide advice.

I acknowledge Sally Mannall’s assistance in the preparation of the attached notes for students.

 


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writing + thinking teaching awards

helen tomtom pic

Image from morguefile.com

This week, Helen McLean, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching and Rosemary Chang, Project Manager – Scholarship of Learning & Teaching (SoLT) project, write about the college’s new approach to supporting academics applying for teaching awards.

This year in the College of Design and Social Context (DSC), we are supporting our college participants in the RMIT Teaching Awards process by using a community of practice model that makes writing and sharing of knowledge about learning and teaching the central methods for developing deeper understanding of individual teaching practice. We are exploring how teaching staff might be enabled to deepen their understanding and articulation of their teaching practice as they develop teaching award applications.

We are providing a supportive space whereby participants learn from each other in the drafting and development of submissions under the guidance of two College LT team members. We are offering three sequential workshops and five writing + thinking spaces to support the writing and development process of submissions using hands-on writing sessions, models and feedback on drafts. The workshops invite participants to engage with theoretical frameworks about writing and the genre of teaching awards through scaffolded reflection and dialogue, as well as engaging in writing activities and sharing of drafts for comment. The writing + thinking spaces are opt in and unstructured. They are designed to assist applicants with maintaining momentum and time management as they weave their applications together.

We aim to nurture a supportive community where applicants receive individual, formative and ongoing feedback from college L&T team members and peers through review of drafts. We discuss writing strategies for the teaching award genre and for selecting learning and teaching evidence to support applicants’ stories. The approach seeks to enable teaching staff to genuinely deepen their knowledge and articulation of teaching practice in the context of the teaching awards application process.

We are also taking a long term view of developing teaching awards applications and encouraging applicants to consider working on planning and preparing their submissions with sufficient lead time. In many cases, applicants are opting to take a year or more to reflect on their teaching practice and gather focused evidence. We are supporting participants to think strategically about the teaching awards process in relation to their individual career plans, taking into consideration their aspirations and suitability for national awards, grants and academic promotion. We therefore help with mapping out an individual schedule for developing learning and teaching practice, collecting evidence and applying for grants and awards over the immediate future.

This overall approach for supporting teaching award applicants builds on previous posts on the teachingtomtom which have emphasized the planning and benefits of the effort and writing involved for developing a successful and rewarding application.

We are realistic with applicants about the competitive nature of teaching awards, particularly at the national level. We therefore aspire to ensure that the work that applicants put into the development of an RMIT award has the potential to seed a strong case that will both demonstrate the contribution that has been made to learning and teaching and tell a convincing and memorable story for the purposes of another award, promotion or even a publication (see Iain Hay’s book Inspiring Academics for a lovely read of award-winning university teachers’ explorations of their practice).

We hope that the college process we are using this year will set the foundation not only for supporting quality submissions, but also for enabling deeper understanding and expressions of practice, leading to scholarly reflections and writing in learning and teaching and the relevant fields for each applicant.

 


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Engaging Students’ Professional Capacity

Picture of staff at Software workshop

Software Workshop. Photo credit Julian Lee

Post by: Howard Errey
Senior Coordinator, Digital Learning Design, College of Design and Social Context

Have you ever thought about the talent, knowledge and skills that your students are cultivating as they progress through their studies at university? Have you ever considered that you might be able to tap into this rich resource on offer to enhance your own professional context and learning?

Recently there have been a couple of opportunities to hire students to support staff projects. For this year’s LTIF on Practical Analytics (Learning and Teaching Investment Fund) we invited a 4th year student referred to us by the teaching staff in Graphic Design to design a logo and card to distribute at events and to promote the project website. We were very pleased with the result in the DSC College, receiving great concept designs overnight that needed only minor adjustment before final printing.

Last year the College of Design and Social Context commenced an e-learning Innovation Incubator aimed at getting collaboration across schools on digital learning and teaching innovations 10 years ahead of where we are now. One group of staff were interested to learn how to design 3d objects for the Occulus Rift (OR). A couple of 4th year gaming students, recommended by their lecturers in the School of Media and Communication, were highly experienced in the skills required to develop the OR and they were able to provide some cutting edge professional development to teaching staff from across the College. We had representation from the schools of: Architecture and Design, Property Construction and Project Management and Global, Urban and Social Studies. It was a fabulous win as a cross school collaboration not just from the three schools, but by employing students from a fourth school to train the staff.

 


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Digital learning: who’s doing the learning?

This week Angela Nicolettou, Manager, Digital Learning, Design and Social Context College shares with us her thoughts on setting up a new digital learning team and some of the challenges it presents.

angela tomtom image

Picture Credit – Angela Nicolettou

A new team has been established this year at the College of Design and Social Context, the Digital Learning team, and I have the pleasure of managing this group. Being in a management role is new to me and so I find myself ‘learning’ on the job. Learning about recruitment, workplans, policies and procedures and other administrative tasks that I have not had to pay much attention to in my career so far. It is not all administration and processes though, it is also about team building, learning about new educational technologies, working with new groups in the college, learning from those in the team and having opportunities to bounce ideas off each other and progress concepts, processes, develop resources, to name a few. In short, my new role is a hive of activity and there is the ever-present ‘newness’ of the work.

Why am I writing about this? As I was thinking about this post and reflecting on what Digital Learning is, it led me to think about who is doing the learning? The students yes, but before that can happen, the teachers need to learn a thing or two about digital learning spaces, just like my new role is taking me on a steep learning curve.

So, to the teachers. What is their role in this age of digital learning? What skills does one need to teach? When I trained to be a teacher in the 90’s it was all about curriculum, content, class planning and class management. All of these elements I would argue are still the case, but added to this we have online learning. It involves not only knowing how to use various educational technologies, but also knowing how to create digital learning spaces, communities, manage these, provide feedback, ensure that students are engaged and supported, fix things when they aren’t working (or at least know where to find help), and do all of this for groups of 5 to 500+ students. Technology brings with it opportunities never before imagined in teaching spaces, such as global collaboration, online assessment, industry engagement at the touch of a button, access to numerous resources, and on-demand access to learning resources; place and time are no longer a limit to engagement.

Is it then reasonable to expect that one teacher can have all these skills? I’d say no. Like many jobs in the digital age, it is a job that requires constant learning and development. Just like the students, teachers in the digital space are in a constant flux of learning and development. A dynamic space that is at once terrifying and exhilarating with the promise of ongoing innovation.

I can understand terror and resistance when it comes to trying new things and ‘going online’ because this can mean a new and unfamiliar work space, a combination that may lead to difficulties, loss of classroom management and most importantly hours of extra work. But what if it works? What if there are efficiencies to be gained, such as ease of grading, management of student groups, and communication with students? What if student engagement can be enhanced through having more collaborative activities, peer feedback opportunities and real-time student feedback that teachers can respond to during teaching time? The short answer is there are, with efficiency and engagement being two of the most positive outcomes I regularly see occurring when online learning is well structured, thought through and designed.

Believe it or not, Learning Management Systems (such as Blackboard) when used well are all about efficiencies. Student collaboration tools (even those in Blackboard) when linked to clear outcomes and assessment are brilliant at enhancing engagement. The key to success here is to have a clear plan. The first step is to develop an understanding of who the students are and what their learning needs are (developing learner personas is a good way to do this). The next step is to determine exactly what it is you want the students to do, know and experience so that a series of activities can be developed. These activities will also need to be linked to the assessment tasks. The basis for the map is now drawn up, choosing and implementing the technology tools is the final step. All this can be achieved with ‘safe’ technologies, ones that are part of the university’s systems and ones where there are lots of existing examples, resources and success stories to draw from.

Going beyond the ‘safe’, we enter the world of innovation. This is where ideas are trialled, new technologies tested, and old technologies stretched. This is where students are often challenged to learn differently, and more times than not, it takes way more time to develop the learning environment than originally anticipated. It is where learning technologists and production staff need to be engaged, projects scoped and resources allocated. Is it worth it? Most of the time it is. It’s the frustrating and exhilarating part of this work. This is where we need ‘special projects’ such as Global Learning by Design or the e-learning innovation incubator; projects that are designed to support these innovative activities, providing the time and resources to ‘have a go’.

So what of the Digital Learning team? What is our role in all this? Simply, we are here to support the design and delivery of everyday efficient and engaging online teaching activities by curating resources, providing exemplars and principles of good learning design, encouraging the development networks of like-minded teachers and engaging with as many teachers as we can. We are also here to support innovation projects, test emerging technologies, challenge ideas and spark conversations both virtually and literally about online learning and what that means for our work.

Who’s doing the learning? I’d say we all are!

To find out more about the DSC Digital Learning team go to the Digital Learning Teams’s Blog

 


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Capstone Feedback

This week, Ruth Moeller, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College,  shares with us her capstone feedback model.


Picture of Capstones

Capstones Photo credit Ruth Moeller

RMIT is very interested in the employment outcomes of its students, and a lot of research is currently underway to explore factors that effect employability. One of the factors that I have been surprised by is the fact that employers are telling us that graduates have difficulty articulating what they have learnt and how it could be translated into the work environment. (RMIT Graduate Employment Study Draft Final Report, insightrix, 2015)

I find it surprising because isn’t it obvious? You set an assessment task to address a brief, have students work in teams to produce an outcome. Aren’t these activities rich with transferable learnings and experiences; working with diverse others, understanding and meeting client needs, creating a product using the knowledge and skills of your discipline, meeting deadlines, the list goes on. Apparently I get it, but the students don’t, or at least can’t make the connections. So what is needed are ways to help students make the connections between what they do in our learning environments and how that can be communicated to potential employers.

There are a range of different strategies that can be incorporated into your curriculum to help address/support this, but what I would like to offer here is a simple, double edged strategy that I will be trialling at the end of this semester. It involves incorporating an end of course evaluation exercise I commonly do with my students, with reflection and articulation of student learning specifically in relation to workplace and employment contexts.

The feedback model I have used with my classes in the past is based on the premise that, for course feedback to be valuable, it needs to be clear, practical and implementable (whether you choose to action or not). A way of achieving this is to encourage students to reflect on their own experience of the course, but also clarify and moderate it with their peers. Using this model to encourage reflection reduces the likelihood of unsubstantiated and unhelpful comments such as: “it was OK or Things could be explained better”.

What I am planning to do in future classes, is to link this feedback exercise with an the opportunity to analyse and discuss the skills and knowledge they have developed or enhanced, and how what they have learnt can be linked to current or potential employment. (I will link a detailed “How to” to this post but as a start will give you an overview.)

In the last class of semester, I am planning to run an activity where the goals are to:

  • Get feedback from students on their key learnings and their perspectives of the course, its content and delivery, and suggestions on how it could be improved
  • Help students to identify and articulate the knowledge and skills they have developed in this course
  • Link students’ development and learning to their future employment.

My plan is that this activity will be done in two stages. In the first part I will encourage students to reflect and answer the focus questions on their own. Working on their own is an effective way for students to reflect initially on their own experience. In the second part, they form groups to discuss their responses and produce a ‘group’ response to the questions. Working as a group provides an opportunity for the individual responses to be clarified, moderated and validated.

The focus questions that I will provide are:

  1. What I have learnt (formally/informally)? Or had reinforced?
  2. What skills have I developed or improved?
  3. How can this knowledge and skills be used for my future career (does everyone want a career) job, profession, employment?

Now, think about the content and delivery of the course:

  1. What worked well? What should we do again next time?
  2. What suggestions do you have to improveme the course the next time it is run? What changes should we make?
  3. Anything else you would like to add about the course?

Once the students have discussed their responses in small groups, I will open up the discussion so we can explore their learnings and how these can be applicable to life (and work) beyond this course.

I have used this strategy to collect feedback before and it has been highly successful, as it provides tangible and validated feedback. It will be interesting to see how adding the second employability aspect to the activity will go, will it give the students the opportunity to reflect and make connections about the learning and its transferability and in doing so model the communication that employers are looking for?

I have attached the “How to” instructions to run this activity. If you try it too with your classes I would be very interested in your experience/feedback.

Click here to download the “how to” Capstone feedback handout


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Why I get excited about Program Annual Review

This week, Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching), writes about the Program Annual Review process.

April marked the start of the Program Annual Review (PAR) process at RMIT, in which every program manager is invited to reflect on the quality, viability and relevance of their program. Combining the data collected at an institutional and national level, with detailed knowledge about the program, these reports provide rich descriptions of our strengths, opportunities and areas for focused attention. As the Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor in the College of Design and Social Context, my job is to facilitate the PAR process for the College. I love PAR season and I want to explain why…

If you’ve been at RMIT for a while you may remember the introduction of PAR more than 10 years ago, during what could euphemistically be described as a period of “financial pressure”. At the time the PAR process was used to identify the bottom performing programs so they could be closed. No wonder the word brings fear to the eyes of even the most steely Program Managers. Even those who arrived after this period seemed to absorb the institutional memory and the very mention of PAR could raise a collective moan. If you work at another university I’m sure you have a similar process. It may not happen every year; at some universities it is a three or five year cycle, but regardless of its frequency the process of reviewing programs can easily become a “tick and flick” process, regarded with the same irritation as a range of “compliance” requirements.

And yet the idea of regularly reviewing programs makes inherent sense; program teams want to better understand the student experience, we want to find out whether our students have strong graduate outcomes and we want to improve the curriculum and innovate in evidence-based ways.[1]

A strengths-based approach to PAR

This is why in 2014 we decided to review the PAR process within the College of Design and Social Context and pilot a strengths-based approach. Using the framework of Appreciative Inquiry and the 4-D cycle we asked schools what they do well and how the College and University could support them to do more of it.

PAR

The 4-D Cycle of Appreciative Inquiry

In contrast to deficit models that seek to understand and fix what isn’t working, focusing on gaps, needs and deficiencies (e.g., programs with poor margins, low enrolment numbers, poor quality data), Appreciative Inquiry focuses and celebrates what is currently working and looks at how this might shape future practice.

When we flipped the focus in this way the stories that emerged were rich and inspiring. For example, in 2014 the School of Art, who had largely been concentrating on their face-to-face model of studio teaching and who might have come under scrutiny for low engagement with technology, shared their success in developing a MOOC. The Art of Photography, offered through Open2Study by A/Prof Shane Hulbert, an experienced, knowledgeable and generous instructor, has now reached more than 45,000 students. Rather than focus our PAR meeting on the school’s lack of engagement with Blackboard we explored the steps they had taken in the digital space and their aspirations for the coming year. When we met again this year the school had made substantial inroads, with pilot work completed on a digital portfolio for students, the establishment of online collaborative assessment between students in Melbourne and Hong Kong, a streamlined online process for recognition of prior learning, several courses developed for online delivery and a bold vision for the school’s L&T digital future.

And in the other six schools similarly impressive stories emerged. On the basis of strengths identified the previous year, models for online studio teaching have been developed in the Schools of Architecture & Design, Fashion & Textiles, and Media & Communication. Fundamental work on program narratives is underway in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, consolidating ownership of program documentation and building a solid basis for curriculum renewal. The School of Education is doing important work to develop Vocational Education programs for multi-location, multi-channel delivery. And developing strengths established through its global partnerships, the School of Property, Construction and Project Management has designed a mentoring program that brings together local students undertaking study tours in China with cohorts of Chinese students studying in Melbourne.

Now I’m not suggesting that the PAR process alone is responsible for these achievements. Strong leadership from Deans, Deputy Deans, School Managers, program leaders and the right mix of staff within program teams all contribute. Funding is important. Space planning and IT systems need to align. Academic developers, educational designers, academic administration all need to come together. What I am arguing is that we are most likely to encourage the flourishing of innovation and encourage commitment from our staff when we work with strengths rather than focus on deficits. And the PAR process gives us an opportunity to do this.

Our job now in the College is to find effective ways to share these innovations, connect up and consolidate good practices across schools and use them to shape University agendas and policy.

So if you haven’t yet had a chance to see the PAR report for your program, ask your Program Manager for a copy. Chances are it tells an interesting story.


[1] As Carl Rogers wrote in 1960, admittedly in a different context, “the facts are always friendly, every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true”. (p.25) I’m aware that in the area of Program Review the data are often hotly contested; much of the data are lag and response rates are often low. But that deserves another post…


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We’re Back! – Welcome

RMITB1

RMIT Francis Ormond Building, Melbourne. Photo Credit jwbenwell @ flickr.com

Hi and welcome back to the teaching tomtom for 2015: The drum on learning and teaching: helping you navigate the tertiary education landscape.

The Learning and Teaching and Digital Learning Groups in the College of Design and Social Context (DSC) are all now back on deck and ready to beat the drum on the teaching tomtom.

This week we just want to say “Hi, we’re back!” and to let our academic and teaching staff at RMIT know who their Learning & Teaching Advisors are, as well as to introduce our new Digital Learning team.

Before the teaching tom tom gets down to weekly posts on issues of learning and teaching in the tertiary sector, we must say hello to the many sessonal lecturers, teachers and tutors. RMIT University has approximately 80,000 students, and as we are a university of design and technology, we pride ourselves with our involvement with industry. Sessional staff are the backbone to our industry connections. Current practitioners, as teachers and tutors, keep our programs and courses on target and connected. Students are exposed to current knowledge and practices in their respective disciplines. This keeps everything fresh, up-to-date and relevant.

We hope to make all our sessional staff feel at home and support you to feel fully equipped to lecture and teach students, sometimes after a hard day at your normal job. To that end the Design and Social Context College have run induction sessions for sessionals; one for Vocational Education teachers and another for Higher Education tutors and lecturers. From the feedback, these were a great success. Please bookmark this page http://www1.rmit.edu.au/dsc/sessionalstaff which has a wealth of resources for sessional staff.

This year we also welcome the Digital Learning Team to the college a new group dedicated to education development and support in the online space. They will be posting to the tomtom this year and also have a blog you may wish to follow at digitallearnteam.wordpress.com

We publish the tomtom every Thursday afternoon Melbourne time (UTC +10) during the Australian academic year. We look forward to your contributions and we hope you’ll comment or even write a post.

Guest writers are always welcome, so whether you are from RMIT or not, please contact us at teachingtomtom@rmit.edu.au for details.

RMIT University, College of Design and Social Context: Learning and Teaching Group and Digital Learning Team

Associate Professor Andrea Chester Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching
Learning and Teaching
John Benwell Principal Advisor, Learning & Teaching:    School of Architecture and Design
Angela Clarke Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: School of Art
Melanie Williams Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: School of Education
Kellyann Geurts Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: School of Fashion and Textiles
Meredith Seaman Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: College Projects
Ruth Moeller Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: School of Media and Communication
Dallas Wingrove Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: School of Property, Construction and Project Management
Helen McLean Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: Higher Education
Jane McGlashan Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching: Vocational Education
Digital Learning
Angela Nicolettou Manager, Digital Learning Team
Erika Beljaars-Harris Senior Coordinator, Digital Learning Design
Howard Errey Senior Coordinator, Digital Learning Design
Cathy Leahy Project Officer, eLearning
Leigh Blackall Educational Developer, GLbD
Andrea Mclagan Educational Developer, GLbD

Please feel free to contact your School’s Learning & Teaching Advisor for assistance during the year.


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Time to Celebrate, Reflect and Rest

This week John Benwell, Principal Advisor Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context wraps up for 2014.

The seats are all empty, as holidays begin. Photo Credit, jwbenwell@flickr

The seats are all empty, as holidays begin at RMIT University. Photo Credit: jwbenwell@flickr

 

The tables are all free in the cafeteria, and there is a strange quietness around the university as students prepare to graduate next week.

For all our northern hemisphere readers, it may seem odd that the teaching tomtom is now having a break until late February 2015. We have just completed our academic year here in Australia, and so with the combination of holidays and good summer weather, we take a break from work and reflect and recover from another busy year.

Before we go on leave, the last event on the university calendar is to say congratulations and goodbye to our graduates, and bestow upon them their well deserved academic awards at graduation. As a city university, students and staff process down the main street of Melbourne and are greeted by city’s Lord Mayor and our Vice Chancellor, before the evening graduation ceremony. The graduation ceremony is held in an under-cover football stadium with approximately 6000 students graduating and an audience of approximately 30,000. It is a truly magnificent moment for Melbourne, RMIT University, its staff, graduates, their family and friends.

Here is a short video of our academic and graduate parade.

The teaching tomtom has had a tremendous year in 2014. We have enjoyed and benefited from every post and everyone’s constructive comments.

From our first post in 2014  First Impressions by Jon Hurford, to our last post by Thembi Mason, on Teaching Fellowships we have a very enjoyable year publishing our blog posting 33 posts over the year to our friends and colleagues. Our most popular post was a great article on “The Art of Questioning” by Associate Professor Andrea Chester. We now have readers in over 140 countries.

During the year we have had many regular and guest writers who we wish to thank for their time and interest in helping us make the tom tom drums beat regularly. Sadly we said goodbye to the tomtom’s editor, Jon Hurford who left RMIT and went back to secondary teaching. Good luck, and thanks Jon!

Finally we would like to thank you, our readers; some 560 bloggers, 828 twitter followers and 31 facebook followers who have read, shared, re-blogged and left comments for us.

From everyone in the Learning and Teaching unit; and many others in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, have a happy, safe holiday, and take some time to relax and reflect on your year of teaching and researching. Oh, and don’t forget to check out some of our archive posts at the teaching tomtom.

See you in 2015!


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RMIT Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Teaching Fellowships – a celebration, and tips for applicants

This week Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, in the College of Design and Social Context, and Dr. Jude Westrup,  Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, Learning and Teaching from the Office of Dean, Learning and Teaching, at RMIT University, interview two academics on their “RMIT Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Teaching Fellowships” (Pilot) 2014 project.
 
Two RMIT Learning and Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) Teaching Fellowships were awarded in 2014, one to Dr Yoko Akama (School of Media and Communications – DSC) and the other to Dr James Wong (School of Property Construction & Project Management – DSC). Yoko and James kindly agreed to share their experiences in winning the award, what their proposals were about, what they learned and what tips they would give to others considering applying for a Fellowship. In 2015 there will be funding available for three Learning & Teaching for Sustainability Teaching Fellowships – one for each Academic College. 
 
The primary focus of the LTfS Teaching Fellowships is on developing strategic, high-quality curriculum resources and learning activities, created in collaborative and innovative ways with industry-focuses. They not only advance LTfS in the curriculum across RMIT, within their specific discipline, but also within their industry or profession and across the global tertiary sector. In addition, they enhance the student learning experiences and outcomes in relation to sustainability and graduate employment outcomes.
Designing future designers: Pedagogy of building capacity in designing for complex social and environmental issues Implementing lessons learned from the development and delivery of a blended course on ‘Sustainability in the Built Environment’ at broader program level
 Yoko_smlDr Yoko Akama (top left) with Communication Design students) The TeamDr James Wong (right) with research assistant, Linnea Eriksson
What was your proposal?

My proposal built on a course we piloted with final year Communication Design students in 1st semester 2014. Developed in partnership with Oxfam’s Design for Change program, students designed communication strategies to engage Australian youth on climate change and food security. The teaching integrated my research expertise and introduced human-centred design methods to assist students’ learning of design’s role in addressing complex issues.Consolidating its fruitful outcome and Oxfam’s enthusiasm to continue the successful partnership, I evaluated the pilot program through feedback from students and Oxfam staff. This was then strengthened further with a literature review to integrate social and sustainable principles into the curricula. I undertook several workshops with various stakeholders to call upon a range of expertise in Oxfam, RMIT and beyond to ensure evaluation and critical input to deliver internationally relevant curricula.

How did you feel, when you found out that you’d won the fellowship?Very pleased and grateful – the timing was perfect! It also meant that the program we could develop with Oxfam would be stronger and they were really thrilled with the news as well.

What was your experience of the process for submitting for a sustainability fellowship?

The time when the call came through the e-mail to when the application was due was very short. I had to pull all stops, work evenings and weekends to get the application done, but it was worth it. I’m used to pressured deadlines ;-p

What would you recommend to others who might be considering applying?

I would recommend people to play to their strengths, build on their current research and teaching practice.

What did you learn through the fellowship project you proposed?

It was great to have consolidated time to thoroughly examine sustainability and social innovation in design from literature, case studies and experiences of those who are teaching it now. This was a great learning experience.

What would you do differently next time?

If I could do it differently next time, I would like to involve more people, through discursive and generative workshops. We only ran three workshop sessions in the end, and each one felt like there was more that could’ve been shared and iterated.

What does winning the fellowship means to you?

Winning the Fellowship meant that I could explore and deepen my approach and knowledge on how sustainability can be taught in design. It felt like a philosophical quest, actually, and very rewarding too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank the Learning and Teaching for Sustainability project (Office of Dean, Learning & Teaching) and RMIT’s Sustainability Committee for this initiative, and I hope it continues from strength to strength into the future.

What was your proposal?

The aim of the project was to implement lessons learned from the development and delivering of the ‘Sustainability in the Built Environment’ course into the Master of Energy Efficient and Sustainable Building which will be offered in 2015 within the Construction Management Program. This course will be delivered in conjunction with the Master program.The project explored the viability of the delivery mode of the course in implementing it to other courses in the Masters program; exploring ways and methods in enhancing student learning for online course through implementing virtual collaborate problem-based workshop; and to explore possibilities in implementing online real-time case studies with building industries.

How did you feel, when you found out that you’d won the fellowship?I was really excited and encouraged by the fact that important issues for sustainability in teaching and learning have been acknowledged.

What was your experience of the process for submitting for a sustainability fellowship?It has been a challenging experience but the process has been a pleasant one with the encouragement, support and advises from the school.

What would you recommend to others who might be considering applying?Prepare early, consult relevant people in your school and excited about sustainability in tertiary education.

What did you learn through the fellowship project you proposed?

The project has helped to extend my knowledge and understanding in developing and delivering online courses in construction management programs.

What would you do differently next time?Prepare proposal with industry inputs/advise.

What does winning the fellowship means to you?It has encouraged me to plan for submitting proposals to relevant external research funding.

If you are interested in applying for a Learning and Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) Teaching Fellowship details will be made available in January 2015. For more information email the L&T Sustainability Group

However, here are some planning points you may like to consider:

Does the project proposal:
  Address at least one priority area derived from the RMIT Strategic Plan and Sustainability Action Plan?
  Show that there is support by the school or college?
  Have a budget compliant with accounting standards and which uses current salary scales?
  Show evidence of consultation with relevant stakeholders including the ODLT including LTfS Project Manager where relevant?
You will need to demonstrate:
a. Demonstration of clear potential to improve student learning experiences, outcomes and employment opportunities in relation to LTfS
b. Evidence of a clear return on investment, by demonstrating the potential for application in areas of the university beyond their immediate context
c. Demonstration of the ability to deliver project outcomes within approved timeframes and with requested resources (table format)
d. Demonstration of the need for the project, including reference to previous relevant projects, published literature and LTfS context
e. Demonstration of sound project design and methodology
f. Demonstration of how the impact of the project will be evaluated (e.g. by improved data in PARS or by improved CES or other LTfS metrics or indicators)
g. Demonstration of how knowledge and best practice from the LTfS Fellowship project will be shared and disseminated

These Teaching Fellowships are an integral component of a LTfS project that is reinvigorating and creating new curriculum resources, professional development (PD) and interactive LTfS experiential learning resources in alignment with RMIT’s Sustainability Policy and action items from the RMIT Sustainability Action Plan (to 2020)  and our Graduate Attributes

 


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