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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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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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).

 


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Sustainability: Enabling Graduates

Dr Jude Westrup, Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, Office of Dean, Learning and Teaching updates us on Sustainability at RMIT University, and invites you to a professional learning session on sustainability on the 21st of October.

Sustainability is a major contemporary issue and therefore fundamental to good business practice for education institutions. Australia’s National Action Plan for Education for Sustainability – Living Sustainably , the Rio+20 Treaty on Higher Education  and the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development  over-arch and inform RMIT’s strategic, global implementation of sustainability in learning & teaching, research and industry engagement. Initiatives such as Sustainable Urban Precincts Project  and the global management of international programs and partnerships  contribute to RMIT’s “reorientation…to a focus on achieving a culture of sustainability in … teaching and learning for sustainability… and continuous improvement in the sustainability of campus management” . TT post

As part of the ongoing process of embedding sustainability within the curriculum, research and partnerships across RMIT, the Sustainability Committee via the Office of Dean, Learning & Teaching has undertaken extensive curriculum, professional development (PD) and project work within the Learning & Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) project during 2013-14.

RMIT’s Sustainability Policy and Action Plan to 2020 defines and directs projects and programs that embed sustainability principles and practices throughout learning & teaching, research and operational activities.

The plan states:

Tertiary education will:

  • Engage students at all levels in learning about relevant sustainability concepts (knowledge, skills and values/attitudes), identifying issues of importance and taking actions in order to empower them as future leaders in industry and society in their chosen fields
  • Embed sustainability capabilities/competencies within disciplinary and professional contexts, including where relevant challenges from beyond narrow or chosen discipline(s)
  • Support academic and teaching staff to develop high levels of discipline relevant sustainability literacy so that they are able (competent and confident) to facilitate sustainability learning

Sustainability: Enabling Graduates – professional development

This interactive, introductory professional learning session will introduce you to Learning & Teaching for Sustainability at RMIT and beyond.

Details are:

Tuesday 21st October in SAB – PD-Room (80.03.001)
From 12noon – 2pm. Details can be found on the DevelopME website:
Sustainability: Enabling Graduates is designed for all academic and teaching staff to:

  • interactively, explore through dialogue and design exercises curriculum refinement or development, with the aim of increasing relevant graduate learning outcomes in Sustainability or embedding sustainability further into the curriculum
  • trial and experiment with a multidisciplinary, e-assessment task design, and
  • examine and explore introductory concepts, praxis and principles ofLearning & Teaching for Sustainability within disciplines and professional contexts – local, regional, and international, that can then be applied to other course and program development or refinement.

Registrations are open until 20th October and inquiries are welcome to Dr Jude Westrup (9925 8377) or jude.westrup@rmit.edu.au

TTpost2There are extensive learning & teaching for sustainability resources on our sustainability pages.  You may like to access these for your pre-workshop reference or for further ideas and inspiration.

So if you are interested in sustainability and education and think you might be:

  • Ready for some new ideas and refreshment?
  • Ready to rekindle your joy of learning after a productive, and long, semester?
  • Then take the opportunity to join academic and teaching staff at the new, experiential, multidisciplinary, multi-modal professional development workshop

then you might want to go along!

Other useful references

TEQSA and the Australian Qualifications Framework promote the importance of being able to measure and evidence graduates’ learning outcomes resulting from their program of study. TEQSA’s approach to Quality Assessments 

The RMIT graduate attribute (GA3) that most explicitly relates to Learning & Teaching for Sustainability is, ‘Environmentally aware and responsive’. This attribute articulates our aim that ‘Graduates of RMIT University will have engaged in processes to develop their abilities to recognise environmental and social impacts and to provide leadership on sustainable approaches to complex problems’

Don’t forget to register (DevelopME website) if you want to attend!

Share your thoughts and questions on sustainability in learning and teaching  in the comments section!
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User Experience Design (UX) and Digital Literacy

Push Pad to Open Automatic door. Right...

Photo credit Dave Stone on Flickr: CC licence

Posted by: Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Dr. Jeremy Yuille is a senior lecturer in several subjects/courses at RMIT University in the School of Media and Communications around User Experience Design, Interaction Design, and Digital Design as well as professional practice and studio contexts. This post is a transcription of an interview with him for the Beyond Blackboard Course Shells: “What on earth are they using?” project.

Do you use Blackboard?
I use it as little as possible. In the last course I used it to manage assessment. So it was the place where students had to submit their work. It was the “official” place where the final word on what was going on in the course was put. It worked better than it has in the past.

I’m pretty sure that at least a quarter of the students did not look at anything there, but then I am also pretty sure about the same number did not turn up to the class either! (I’m not sure about the correlation between those 2 things.) It was really just used for the grade centre. I did it to see how it would work. I will probably continue with it as it makes that end of semester work flow go more easily. It also meant there was no physical artifacts to have to deal with and no chance of losing anything.

What other tools do you you use?
In the course of teaching, I have used lots of different tools. Before blogs we had Moveable Type and Typepad. We installed our own instances on the servers here and were managing them. These days, I tend to use something more lightweight. I have been using a Facebook page.  It wasn’t as successful as I thought it would be. I used a “page” instead of a “group” – they are different. I’ve used Twitter and then quickly found out that most of the students at that point didn’t use it. I have used a Google Site and that was disappointing, mainly because I work with design students and it immediately lost credibility no matter what content was in there.

The thing I’ve found that works best is a WordPress site. It is very easy. We don’t have to worry about login or access. I just use the free WordPress.com rather than hosting WordPress.org. Other colleagues use it as well.

I have tried getting students on to their own blogs. It didn’t work. I have heard good stories of others doing this. Young people are tending to communicate visually. It might be better to get them doing their own Pinterest or something like that. I would like to get them to write more and better. For us, WordPress is like a link bucket and we use it for reflecting/collaborative/sense-making, and write it in a way that students can comment into it.

I have used Google Docs for sharing documentation with our Singapore students. Their brief  was written in Docs and they could use the commenting and collaboration features to ask me questions about that.

I’m about to use Google Docs this week to teach students how they can do remote interviews for instance. It’s much better than email because you are working with someone on what their interview will look like, particularly if it is to be published. It puts more work onto the interviewee. So the success depends on what the payoff is for the interviewee. Writing input can vary wildly.

I have tried getting students to collaborate on Google Docs. Our students are interesting. We think they are digital natives but they are not – or not in the way that we think about it. In the past I have assumed students knew why this was interesting or why the way you can collaborate on, say, Google Docs is so good. But it’s not until I contrive the situation where you get someone to open it and you edit something in front of them and they all freak out and suddenly they get it. I have done this with staff too. Or you do it on the phone with someone and you are talking to them about it and it’s not until you contrive those “aha” moments that they get it. I am hoping to get students a little bit more in it this year. Google Docs is a bit more stable now. For the last couple of years I have trying to get my colleagues to use Google Docs, while managing the program and that was a challenge.

Hungry?

Photo credit Max Crowe on Flickr: CC licence

In what particular ways are students not as savvy online as we might think?

We have found that they are not as critical as we have led to believe. This means they tend to be consumers on information but their appetite is not broad. They don’t tend to look widely. It’s a bit like they come here on a diet of junk food.

When it comes to content creation I am still quite surprised by my students because communication design or graphic design happens with digital technology. But these are offline solo processes. So that doesn’t map really well on to them having a lot of experience working with people online. Just the idea of being networked isn’t a large part of their online identity.  There is a student I am noticing at the moment who does seem to have a large networked identity and I think that is because they have been working outside in the fashion industry. That student is aware of what the value of a networked identity. Whereas a lot of our students have not had a lot of experience outside of school and they have no sense of what a networked identity is. And that then flows into a lot of digital literacies, for example, how do you work with someone, why is it valuable to even work with someone online? With studios it is challenging to get them to interact face-to-face let alone online. One of the things we still find hardest to teach are these kind of soft skills. We need to think about these as digital soft skills with the first question being: How do you form relationships with people?

What were your your intentions in using Facebook?
Basically, lowering friction; reducing barriers. Previous informal research in class showed me 99% had it in common. If I put things there it is easier to get them to see it. Then, once you’re on there, you have all sorts of other features. So I created an equivalent of live Tweeting during lectures. I created a back channel and have a series of guest lecturers and would have a live feed on the page. The students who engaged with the page and attended the lectures tended to benefit, although that didn’t show up on the student survey scores. But I suspect that the students who attended didn’t do the survey – what can you say? This is the first time the course had been taught and we had a only a few survey responses and those were mostly negative.

Technically the students could have input into the Facebook channel, but I am not sure they are aware enough of that practice. We could run a whole course just on back channels. We could foreground it a bit more or put it on the screens like at conferences. I suppose they get it because they see it on things like Qanda; but I am yet to be convinced that they have actually taken part in something like that. That would be different. At present they are just spectators. They are quite sophisticated spectators but are not overly critical. When it comes to making something or contributing, those skills are not as developed.

How do we help students find the practical experience?
I don’t think it’s happening explicitly in our systems. It is starting in first year where they have taken on the task of expressing literacies in transition. So much of this is about being able to communicate with the written word. I am a little bit gobsmacked that the middle aged lecturers who are teaching courses about digital design are far more sophisticated users than the student — who we have been lead to believe are good at doing stuff online. There is a mistake there and we haven’t quite cracked that. We need to know: what is their understanding of this medium?… or how can we get them thinking about engaging with the network? Some of the things they are doing in primary schools now are going to lead into networked literacy. So that is 15 years before they get to university, and hopefully between now and then we will begin to understand and observe some change.

With design there is a large part that is embodied. But it’s not just soft skills but also how you look at situations and perceive different ways of framing things. There is a large amount of embodied knowledge in these platforms. When you first open a Google Doc and start synchronous editing – no one forgets that. Those moments when the penny drops. Those kind of threshold learning experiences. They are embodied and yet because we think of it as virtual we think, they will just get it. We think that students will jump into these sort of environments, yet their literacy with them is so low. If you have had experience of seeing an edit war in Wikipedia then you have a different perspective on that Wikipedia page and all that’s behind it. This week I will show students an edit log of an interview I did with someone, so they can see how it all happens. One of the challenges here is how to pull someone into the experience of using something without them actually using it. How do you simulate their use in order for them to experience what it means to use it and see the payoff?

CIMG1943.JPG

Photo credit Vanessa Bertozzi on Flickr CC licence

You can tell someone, “Oh it’s great you can collaborate with someone.” But collaborate is a big word that means so many different things. However, the first time you do collaborate and you see that the work is better because you collaborated, then you understand what collaboration means.

For me it’s that the digital platforms are fine (there are challenges with clunkiness and access). It depends what they have experienced physically. I am interested in the role of video. Some of the platforms that have been developed recently like Adobe Voice. I will be exploring more time-based rich media.

How could learning design learn from UX?
With Marius Foley and Blair Wilde we are working in how you take the studio online. The Internet pipes are now all connected. You can now go online, press a button, and start a blog or whatever. It’s still a bit clunky but much better than it used to be.

This raises questions. How are you then able to stand back and put an experiential skin across all that? How do we create an experience that is as rich as sitting in a studio or us having a conversation now? They are interesting challenges not just in education but commercially as well. I do think UX can help here by framing embodied experiences so that people learn by experience. Experience is interpreted through your embodied interactions with the world. It gets more abstract through a piece of glass when online. Experience seems to change when you talk with someone or listen to someone talking. There are different cues for connecting with humans than connecting with information. I am interested in this and don’t have all the answers.

We are proposing a masters for experienced designers. It will teach design skills that are not so much about usability but about how to be better leaders in organisations. It will be entirely online and we don’t yet know how we will do that. It’s a really interesting opportunity. If we can do it well, I think they will borrow a lot more from cinema and sound design than they will from computer and user interface design. We know how to bolt stuff together, so then how do we make it affective?

 Share your thoughts and questions on “User Experience Design (UX) and Digital Literacy” in the comments section!

 

Image of popular social media logos wearing graduation hats

Are you teaching at RMIT University in 2014? Do you have an active online presence with your teaching – either within the Blackboard learning management system or beyond? You may have received a postcard in September for the staff educational technologies survey.

Please tell us your views on using digital technologies for teaching and learning at RMIT. It takes 10 minutes and we’re keen to hear your experiences. Click Here (RMIT login required)

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Sailing through Peer Review: Five lessons learnt at the coalface

Dr Ehsan Gharaie, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management (PCPM)
&
Dallas Wingrove, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Having a peer reviewer review your teaching is for many staff an unfamiliar risk taking experience that can be anxiety provoking. Ehsan Gharaie, a lecturer in the school of PCPM at RMIT University, recently underwent the process of peer review. As Ehsan embarked upon this journey he approached me as Senior Advisor L & T to support him through the process which included observing Ehsan’s teaching and providing feedback in response to the Peer Review criteria. What unfolded was highly useful professional learning for us both. In this post we share our experience of peer review and the lessons learnt.

Similar to many Australian and international universities, RMIT has now implemented a process of peer review of teaching. At RMIT, peer review is now mandated for teaching staff who seek an individual teaching award, and in 2015 is also to be introduced for staff seeking academic promotion.

In tertiary education, beyond teaching practice such as team teaching, and Peer Partnerships programs, there are limited opportunities for staff to share their practice with a peer, and receive feedback. The often ‘siloed’ nature of teaching presents many challenges for educators and opening your class room up to someone else for the purpose of peer review can be extremely daunting.

So what does this process mean for teachers? And how can they best prepare to have a positive experience of peer review?

Here are five lessons learnt through our experience of the peer review process:

  1. Understand and engage in the process

Before getting involved in the process it is vital that you understand the peer review process and its purpose. Attend your university’s workshops and information sessions. Familiarise yourself with your university’s guidelines and importantly engage with the teaching dimensions/criteria against which you will be reviewed. Remember, these dimensions/criteria align with recognised principles of good teaching practice. Reflect on how these criteria relate to your own practice and list and discuss with a peer examples which provide evidence of how you contribute to and demonstrate these dimensions in your practice. Contact staff implementing the Peer Review process, ask them questions and share any concerns you may have. At RMIT the process of Peer Review is implemented through the university’s Learning and Teaching Unit Stills of Ehsan Teachingwhich runs induction/information workshops, and provides advice for participants.

  1. Seek support and advice

There are many processes in academia that are competitive, but remember, this is NOT one of them. Your teaching practice will be reviewed against established dimensions/criteria. You are not competing with your peers so if you feel confident enough, share your experiences along the way, and seek and provide support to your peers. Do not hold back. Talk to people who can support you. Your colleagues, peers, program manager, and your university’s Learning and Teaching Advisors/Academic Developers can help you through the process. You may need them to simply listen to you to your concerns and anxieties. Having a colleague to talk to can really help ease your anxiety; this is not a journey that you have to go through alone.

  1. Engage with your peer reviewers

Whilst the formal peer review takes place in your class, there is also important activity which occurs prior to and following the peer review. Similar to other universities, at RMIT it is mandatory to meet with your peer reviewers at least once prior to the review. Remember, any meetings and discussions with your peer reviewers help to build the context for your review. Peer reviewers are experienced educators and learning and teaching experts and your dialogue with them will help to ease your concerns and/or fears. In doing so, demonstrate your knowledge and command of the discipline field and discuss your teaching approach. Initiate further contact with your peer reviewers as needed including if you have questions or require further clarification and advice. Importantly, provide the context for your teaching prior to the review. Identify: the aim of your session, how your class relates to the course and the wider program, the expectations of your students, the class dynamic, the nature of your particular cohort, your teaching and learning goals for the particular session, and provide any other information that you believe would assist your reviewers to understand your teaching and the class to be reviewed.

  1. Seek feedback on your teaching prior to your peer review:

Have the confidence to ask one of your peers or your Learning and Teaching Advisor to observe your teaching practice and provide confidential feedback. Provide the peer review dimensions/criteria and seek feedback about your teaching. It will be very helpful to see your teaching through someone else’s eyes. You also get used to having someone other than your students sitting in your class. In this way, you can dip your toe in the water, and ease yourself more gently into the process of observation, review and feedback.

Access other programs which support peer feedback. Participate in a Peer Partnerships program for example where you partner with another teacher to observe each other’s practice and provide feedback to support continuous improvement. At RMIT you can take up the opportunity to participate in RMIT Peer Partnerships. RMIT Peer Partnerships is a voluntary, confidential program involving peer observation of teaching. RMIT Peer Partnerships facilitates highly useful relevant professional development learning and can assist you to become more comfortable and at ease with sharing your teaching practice, and support critical reflection on practice through giving and receiving feedback.

  1. Believe in yourself: don’t panic, this is just another day in the class.

The prospect of peer review can seem very daunting for many staff. Most if not all educators experience some level of discomfort when having their teaching reviewed or evaluated, these are normal human reactions. However, if you have done your preparation, you understand the process, and you seek feedback beforehand, you will be well placed to feel more comfortable about the process. You just need to resist the nerves in the first five minutes of the class and as soon as you relax you will forget the reviewers are even sitting there. Remember, reviewers are experienced teachers and they can tell if you pretend. Just be yourself. After all this is just another day in the class.

The next steps…

As you contemplate whether you are ready to embark upon the Peer Review journey remember to access all supports and enlist the support of a peer AND remind yourself that the process is one which endeavours to strengthen the teaching culture of your university and to also value and recognise your good teaching practice.

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!
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Going with their flow…

Posted by: Helen McLean, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

(cc) Rafters on the North Johnstone River, in Queensland, Australia. Flickr User, Didrik Johnck.

Rafters on the North Johnstone River, Queensland. (cc) Flickr User: Didrik Johnck.

Next week is the mid-semester break.

By now your students will be in the flow of their study with you. They are likely to have completed one piece of assessment and received some feedback to guide them on to the next stage of their learning or specified what they could have done differently in that assignment. Ideally this feedback will have created an opportunity for them to talk with you and/or their peers about what they have learned and encourage them to confidently tackle the next tasks in the course.

It is possibly tempting to let the flow of the assessment tasks keep control of how your carefully prepared study schedule continues for the remainder of the semester. You have set them on their way but do you really know they are on course, their course?

Let’s assume they have been stimulated and excited by the outcome of their assessment task and there are some intriguing points they’d like to explore more deeply or revisit. Perhaps they have come across some new material that they’d like to incorporate in the learning schedule.

Why not provide a touchpoint and check in to see where your students are at and establish what they might need or want next from the course?

This could happen when you all return from the semester break, refreshed and ready for the final stretch. Have a conversation with your students about their learning in the course so far. Find out where they are at and how they are progressing so that you are all on the ‘same page’ for the remainder of the time you have together.

How could you do this?

Set aside some time and ask them to:

  • outline what they have learnt so far in the course
  • reveal what they would like to know more about
  • identify what they are not clear about or on what they need further clarification

They could work in groups, individually, face to face or online to uncover and share what they know or want to know. Be creative, use technology, role play, or a game to find out what they know or need.

Once you have their feedback, take some time to reflect and diagnose. You may need to slow down or even prepare to change direction.

As a facilitator of their learning, challenge yourself to provide them with the opportunities to fill the gaps they have revealed. Be stunned and amazed by the leads they provide for further exploration. They are adult learners who have individual motivations and personal preferences of their learning requirements. Getting them to acknowledge those needs and identify their own areas of interest will help them to develop as self-regulated learners.

They will also feel valued when you address their feedback. Regrouping like this can bring together loose ends or point them in independent directions for their learning before commencing the final stage with you this semester.

Be partners and learn together.

Enjoy the rest of the semester!

Share your thoughts on coming back from the break in the comments section!
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