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.


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


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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Openness in Dunedin

This week Howard Errey, Educational Developer in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, shares his thoughts on the upcoming Ascilite conference in Dunedin.

 I am looking forward to attending the Ascilite conference (Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education)  for the first time, at the end of November in Dunedin, New Zealand. I will be presenting a sharing practice session on The LMS and the alternatives, mainly telling stories we have collected  through the year-long project and hopefully opening discussions around similar experiences.

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station – Photo Credit, n0cturbulous @ flickr

Dunedin seems like a small town a long way away from anywhere. Why get excited about a conference there?

For me Dunedin is an important place in the history of online learning and in particular the history of open courseware. It was way back in 2008 that Otago Polytechnic with the involvement of Leigh Blackall signed up to make all their learning content creative commons. From my point of view at the time working in a TAFE in Australia that held a very closed and proprietary view of its content, this seemed like a revolutionary step. It certainly put Otago Polytechnic and therefore for me, Dunedin, on the map.

I am curious about my own organisation, RMIT University’s approach to open resources. While it is on the Ed technology ‘roadmap’ I don’t see a lot of activity in using open source content. For example I am yet to see courses from the National VET Content Repository sitting in one of our courses. I may well be looking in the wrong places. The importing or exporting of learning objects is not part of the formal LMS training here. Certainly good numbers from RMIT have attended the Converge conference where the national repository is heavily promoted.

Part of the issue may be the nature of ‘share alike’ licencing. Once an organisation uses creative commons object there is some obligation to share modified content back into the system with open source licencing. For some staff it is probably ends up coming down to a decision that it is easier not to go there.

One useful work-around I have heard about is an Australian university that encourages adjuncts to place their learning content in Wikiversity where content is open. Content is then visible via a wireframe in Moodle, thus circumventing copyright restrictions of building content in the university LMS. Adjuncts often consider themselves as consultants to the university rather than employees and this is a great way to let them know their knowledge is valued, without it being locked down as university owned copyright.

In the mean time I have raised the possibility of teaching about learning objects and SCORM with our LMS trainer Michael Fedyk. As it happens Michael’s favourite place is Dunedin. He tells me there are lots of good reasons to go there, particularly Speight’s brewery. Michael is also a Flickr enthusiast and tells me that the Dunedin Railway Station is the second most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere, after the Sydney Opera House. Thanks to Michael for making his photo of the station available with Creative Commons Share Alike licence!

You can read about Otago Polytechnic’s approach to copyright here.


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Design your Class

This week Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching for the School of Education in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, shares with us a new class designing tool created in a recent project.


Getting students to actively engage in their learning is what we want as academics. Active learning of students enables them to think deeply, engages them in original thinking and allows them to transfer their knowledge to new contexts (Hansen & Moser, 2003). Active learning strategies sit within the constructivist approach to learning where students build on their existing knowledge to further their understanding. Preparing students for active learning requires academics to carefully assess how students can build on their existing knowledge through scaffolded tasks such as discussions, group work, analysis, reflection etc. There are a number of learning strategies that we can use with students to encourage them to actively participate in class and outside of class, in online and in face-to-face sessions.

As part of an RMIT Learning and Teaching Investment Fund project, Transforming teaching practice through professional learning for Next Generation Learning Spaces, an interactive “Design my class” tool was developed, providing a fun and engaging way for academics to plan their classes. The tool allows you to design a multiple-activity, student centred, inquiry-based lesson through the use of easy drag and drop elements.


The layout is simple. A list of themes are provided in the right-hand side menu under the heading “I want to get students to:”, for example, reflect, build ideas together, conduct research, work in groups etc.

When you click on a theme, a list of learning of learning strategies that you might like to use appears, for example, the Muddiest Point, KWL Chart, PMI etc. You can then drag these learning strategies over into the class designer.

The class designer is broken into three distinct areas: introduction, activities and summary. By breaking the class into three areas, it prompts you to think about each section of the class. For example, the introduction might involve activities that tap into the students’ prior learning about a topic, learning from a previous class and/or giving an overview of the learning outcomes for the current class. The activity section continues with what you will get students to do. Think carefully about the focus of the learning strategy or the task you give them. Is it suited to the type of thinking needed by students in your discipline area? By using these strategies you are apprenticing students into the kinds of behaviors and knowledge that they will need to move into the discipline. The summary prompts you to review the learning that has occurred during class and perhaps to ask students to reflect on what they have learnt or what their muddiest point in the class was.

Notes, resources and the time allocated for each activity can be edited and customised. There is also a ‘Your Choice’ activity which allows you to type in any activity you may like to use.

Once you have completed your class design, you can easily print this as a PDF file, or export it as an Excel spread sheet. You can also save it into your browser cache if you use the same computer for each design. This will enable you to search for previous class designs which you can then further edit and refine.

So if you are looking for some inspiration and some learning strategies to get students to take an active approach to their own learning, give the Design my Class tool a go. It is still in beta mode so if you have any suggestions on how to improve the tool or any other comments please let us know (thembi.mason@rmit.edu.au).


Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!
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Designing your Research Dissemination

Megan McPherson, Project Officer from Learning and Teaching in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, writes on Designing your Research Dissemination. Thanks to our friends at The Research Whisperer for this cross post.

Megan McPhersonMegan McPherson is currently working on the Dissemination of Learning and Teaching Resources Project for the College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University. She is supporting multiple research teams and internal and external processes for engaged dissemination.

She has project managed, led, and evaluated higher education research in the areas of peer learning and assessment in the creative industries, elearning approaches in the university studio, and professional development for teaching in new generation learning spaces.

Megan is a practicing artist and has taught and researched in the university studio for 18 years. She is a PhD scholar in the Faculty of Education, Monash University.

Megan tweets and instagrams at @MeganJMcPherson.

Tote. Sack. (Artwork/photo by Megan McPherson)It used to be that dissemination was all about the academic publishing and conference presentations you would do at the end of the project to make public your findings and recommendations.

In the grant-lands of internal and external funding bodies, the idea of dissemination is changing.

Engaging in dissemination with your stakeholders is expected from the beginning of the project. An example of the support for this move is the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) ‘engaged dissemination’ project resulting in The D-Cubed project and resources.

Most learning and teaching funds emphasise engaged dissemination, and there are things that we can learn from this space. Dissemination can be more than an academic conference paper or article in a pay-walled journal.

Dissemination has moved into the more specific arena of ‘engaged dissemination’ where there is a planned process of ‘understanding potential adopters and engaging with them throughout the life of the project, to facilitate commitment to sustained change” (p.12). This means that you identify and interact with the audience for your research from the beginning of your project.

It involves a process that is thoughtful and focused on the change you want to enact through your project. An example of this is the Eating for Two study by Dr Emily Kothe. The study examines eating habits and pregnancy, and is making connections with, and disseminating information to, the audience that is most affected by these issues. Emily, an early career researcher (ECR) at Deakin University, is disseminating information, updating her audience, and recruiting participants through Facebook.

Dissemination is closely connected to your project’s methods and methodology. You can think of engaged dissemination as:

  • Distributing project products or information
  • Telling others about the project
  • Others using the project outcomes
  • Spreading and embedding project impact
  • An ongoing two-way process aimed at bringing about change

(The D-Cubed project, p.10)

These concepts can help you think through the research process and what change you want to achieve. Different artefacts, events, and methods can work in multiple ways and for diverse audiences. These multiple ways are best illustrated by the different dissemination examples below.

Static web resources are the lasting web based artefacts like a website from the project, resources, and reports that are accessible. Many of the contractual agreement with learning and teaching funds require that they have to remain accessible on the web for five years.

An example of a static web resource is the Teaching Larger Classes site. Under the sessional teaching tab, it provides examples of learning and teaching resources on multiple platforms and outputs for sessionals teaching in universities. This externally funded project links into an institutional presence and manual. Other learning and teaching resources and documents can be lodged into repositories and shared from this point. Writing manuals to support the change being enacted provides a way for your audience to undertake action without having to read your reports or academic articles. However, this type of dissemination depends on the audience finding the resources – it is a ‘distributing project products or information’ type of engaged dissemination.

Engaged dissemination is also about telling others about the project and having them use the project outcome. Trish McClusky (@Trilia) and Kylie Readman (@kyliereadman) have designed the Social Media Toolkit, a project for higher education leaders who are interested in developing knowledge and skills in connecting, sharing, and creating through social media. It is a repository of information, and customisable by users to suit different locations and priorities. For example, you can copy the content of the site with author attribution, and then add and adapt links to introduce a particular topic, a particular location, and add your university’s social media policy and guidelines to suit your audience.

Other forms of engaged dissemination spread and embed the project impact by using blogging over the life of the project to engage with stakeholders. Professor Pat Thomson regularly blogs about her research experiences. She lists a number of her ongoing project blogs on her blog’s research page; these project blogs are where she and her research team document their research. In the comments the audience can interact, ask questions and contact the researchers.

Non-traditional outcomes for engaged dissemination include films and participatory art exhibitions. The Heroic Strategies Exhibition came out of a large, long-term project that addresses staff concerns in Bournemouth’s School of Health & Social Care. The project describes its methodology as ‘a unique arts-based approach to change management to engage staff in the process’. The project researchers, Dr Kip Jones and Professor Gail Thomas, used a guest blog post on the LSE Impact blog to engage with an audience interested in change in academic institutions.

Professor Adra Cole’s project, Putting care on the map, investigates care giving and Alzheimer’s disease with an arts-based methodology. It used engaged dissemination, including participatory art exhibitions. The project invited carer-participants to add to the data in situ in the gallery as well as in more formal ways. The idea of the research was to educate the public about the complexities of care giving by connecting with diverse communities. By exhibiting collecting stories, artefacts, and documenting experiences, it disseminated the information at the same time that it gathered it. It exhibited the works over a two year period, and Cole continued to present the project academically over 6 years. It is an example of an ongoing two-way process aimed at bringing about change.

Designing dissemination

To start thinking about dissemination in the design phase, the OLT recommends these starting questions to think through the process:

  • What do you want to disseminate?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Why do you want to disseminate?
  • How are you going to do it?
  • How might you involve your target audience throughout the process?
  • Have you allowed time for evaluation, reflection and replanning?
  • How will you know that your dissemination has been successful?

(The D-Cubed project, from King, 2003, p. 89 )

Follow up steps

My secondary questions are:

  • What are the best ways to make contact and engage your audience?
  • What are the outcomes that are going to be most useful in this conversation?
  • How do I make this sustainable for the research team and my audience to engage in this process?
  • What is the cost (money, time and personnel) of these strategies and outcomes?
  • Have we included the dissemination process in our evaluation plan?

Dissemination is about building profile for your project and about you – the researcher – as a part of the team. Recently, I made a webpage for the project, Academics who Tweet. It’s research I am working on with Dr Narelle Lemon (La Trobe University) and Kylie Budge (Victoria University). The webpage has an “About” section that is replicated on Narelle’s blog and linked into Kylie’s profile on LinkedIn. This simple act of making the project known on multiple platforms has enabled us to make connections with other researchers in the area.

There’s sure to be an audience that will engage with your research. It’s up to you to tell them about it, in ways that make sense for your methodology and research design.

Share your thoughts and questions on Designing your Research Dissemination in the comments section below!
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