Polarities: A question from Twitter

This week, Howard Errey raises an interesting question around choice and consequences, and what is lost when discussion and debate polarises.

 The Argument by Austin Wright. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user DavidKF1949

The Argument by Austin Wright. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user DavidKF1949

Last year, for the What on Earth are they Using Project, we investigated what methodologies and technologies are being used outside of RMIT’s Learning Management System (LMS). It was a marvelous experience where many stories were collected that helped transform how staff approach online practice, regardless of platform. In conversations since the project, about the state of online practice at our institution, I often refer to a question we received via Twitter that seemed to encapsulate the consequences for students.

Firstly, this story needs some context. The question came as the last question, in the last event, of the project in December 2014. Gregor Kennedy and Travis Cox had just explained the LMS setup at Melbourne University. If there are 6 students over in Engineering or wherever, that want a plugin for the LMS, Travis and his team can spec it out, tell IT what to do and what to expect, and they will just go and do it.

By contrast we have an interesting situation where we have a poorly implemented LMS, due to funding, structural and political issues not worth pursuing here. In the meantime some of the Google suite of apps have been turned on enabling a wide range of innovative practice, not to mention teaching time efficiency, as we discovered in our project. The gaps in the LMS are often filled by the easy functionality afforded through Google.

And so to the Twitter question. It came from Jenny Luca a school librarian. Her context is that her school hosts trainee teachers on placement. Her question to Gregor asked when Melbourne University was going to turn on Google. It came from a frustration that Melbourne University students on placement didn’t have a sufficient level of ‘digital literacy’, which has become so important in K-12 education sector, especially with so many schools using Google Apps in Education.

It was an innocent enough question, with an equally simple answer. Gregor’s response was ‘no’.

This then begs questions for me. Is our university accidentally doing our students a favour by supporting a few choices in teaching platform? Are our students, despite what might be a frustrating experience, going out there with better digital resilience? I would like to think so; and where does this then leave us in terms of planning elearning infrastructure and designing better experiences for students?

The positive side of all this is that we have options and a new culture of enablement emerging. The negative side is that we have 2 platforms that are both only partially enabled leading to frustrations. Often complicated work arounds are necessary, giving rise to situations that give plenty of ammunition to the risk averse marketing and copyright policy enforcers, that continue to drive innovation underground.

Polarities

What I notice in our conversations about online practice is how polarities arise, usually between ‘face to face vs online’, or ‘Blackboard vs Google’. The challenge with this is how being invested in either can become your own “prison”, as Jim Groom describes it in relation to ‘closed vs open’. Again perhaps it is good that we have grey areas at RMIT. The challenge I see is that when 2 polarities dominate a conversation there emerges no room for a third element. What if we want a different technology to be supported by the university altogether? In the 2 years I have been at RMIT there has been very little room for such wider conversation.

Another example of a polarity in online educational design, is that between pedagogy and technology. “Pedagogy comes first” is the mantra, rightly so in an educational organisation. At the same time we need to provide the opportunities to play with new technologies, such as the DSC Innovation Incubator, in order to experience those lightbulb moments. Where it gets frustrating, in terms of introducing a third element, is in good quality social design which, as a psychologist, I consider a primary precursor to both pedagogy, technology and student engagement. It is all too easy to assume, as I often hear it, that “social means all that technology stuff like Facebook and Twitter”. The argument is then back in the pedagogy/technology spectrum so that when it comes to starting design, the “pedagogy first” horse has already bolted.

As a mid-design remedy I am thinking of overlaying the educational design course maps and personas, with a social user experience layer. I have been working with an Architecture program where we have an excellent but all too linear course map. On realising this, it occurred to me that using another layer with tracing paper, as per architects’ methods in design, over the top of the course map, could help design a social experience through the course, even before the course starts. In the process it will hopefully help to join some of the dots still missing in our course design efforts, and truly focus on a student centric experience. It will be interesting to see a design with both these layers, and watching for a crossover when the social, or even other factors depending on context, might lead to a better experience and pedagogy.

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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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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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?

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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!

 

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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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RMIT’s 2014 Learning and Teaching Expo

Posted by: Meaghan Botterill,  Senior Coordinator, Educational Technology Integration, e-Learning Strategy and Innovation Group, RMIT University.

Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

RMIT’s annual Learning and Teaching Expo is on 2-3 September, 2014. This is a great opportunity to catch up on what is happening both nationally and locally in learning and teaching. Last year the Expo was a great success, so come and join colleagues from across the university to discuss and explore innovative practices that enhance student learning outcomes.

This year’s theme, Designing Teaching, Creating Learning, explores how good teaching design and pedagogical practices create and enhance student learning opportunities and outcomes. There will be an extensive range of speakers, presentations and workshops from across RMIT and the program features the following guests:

  • Professor James Arvanitakis from the University of Western Sydney who was the 2012 Prime Minister’s Teacher of the Year award winner. James’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching is apparent to any of you who have ever seen him present before. He is continually looking for ways to make connections with his students and to make learning relevant, accessible and exciting.
  • Professor Ruth Wallace is the Director of the Northern Institute, at Charles Darwin University. Her particular interests are related to undertaking engaged research that improves outcomes for stakeholders in regional and remote Australia. Ruth has extensive experience in innovative delivery of compulsory, post-school and VE programs in regional and remote areas across Northern Australia.
  • Associate Professor Nicolette Lee is from Victoria University and she is a 2013 OLT National Senior Teaching Fellow. Her project, Capstone curriculum across disciplines, synthesises theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design. It builds on previous and current work in the sector to identify capstone innovations and models-in-use, how standards might be demonstrated through a range of approaches, and providing publicly available and comprehensive practical tools for staff.
  • Associate Professor John Munro is from the University of Melbourne. John’s research, teaching and publications are in the fields of literacy and mathematics learning, and learning difficulties, learning internationally, gifted learning, professional learning and school improvement. His focus on neurology and the brain form the basis of designing explicit teaching strategies to create learning in diverse student cohorts.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about learning and teaching and what we as educators can do to design teaching to create learning and thus enhance student learning outcomes. Registration is essential. The full program and registration form are available here.

Learning and Teaching Expo 

Date: Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September
Time: 9am to 4.30pm
Venue: Storey Hall, Building 16, City campus
Cost: Free

Registration: Essential
Registrations close Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Register here now.

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L&T Grants – to apply or not to apply, that is the question

Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University

“Contemplating in Vanuatu” Picture © by Ruth Moeller

 At RMIT it’s L&T grant writing season

I have been sitting here contemplating the many grant proposals I’ve seen. As the DSC College’s Learning and Teaching Investment Fund (LTIF) co-ordinator I have seen many proposals, the good, the bad and the ugly. Over this time I have garnered some insights into what makes a successful proposal and would like to share them with you. (My experience and examples relate to LTIFs but the advice generally relates to all L&T grants.)

1. Have an idea, but make sure it’s the right kind

Grants will have a particular focus and to be successful you need to ensure that what you are proposing reflects that.

LTIFs are about learning and teaching and specifically things that “lead to quality learning experiences for students” and “provide students with a cohort experience that makes a difference to their lives”. So the focus here is the student and their outcomes. I have seen many proposals that were thinly disguised research applications, proposals that were focused on course/program development that is really part of normal business, and every now and again an idea that’s put forward just to see if someone will pay for it. These proposals may have merit but not for an LTIF.

2. Let someone know

This is a dilemma, as grants are competitive. By sharing your concept you may feel that you are giving away your idea but it is better to test your plan before you invest in a proposal that may be better placed elsewhere.

I have seen groups put forward similar projects – committees are unlikely to fund proposals about the same thing. If the groups consulted they could have been linked to talk about the direction each were taking and ways they could cooperate or differentiate. Likewise there are the proposals that are similar to ones previously submitted. This means they were successful, so it’s been done, or unsuccessful, and you need to find out why before proceeding.

Talk to the relevant grants co-ordinator to test out your idea before you become too invested in it.

Contacts for LTIFs and Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) grants at RMIT

Design and Social Context College

Business College

Science, Engineering and Health College

3. What are the conditions/parameters for the grant? Work within them.

This information will be on the website and presented at information sessions. You need to make yourself familiar with “The Rules” of the particular grant you are applying for and follow them.

I am always surprised that when the criterion says: “Travel and equipment purchases will not be funded unless there are extenuating reasons” there is a request for travel to a conference or the purchase of 25 iPads.

Even if you have applied for many grants, checking the guidelines and going to information sessions can provide you with insights and tips for your application.

4. Consult

Have the people/groups that can make your proposal a reality been consulted and are they involved?

By listing an EdTech group on a proposal there is an expectation is that they will take part but have they been asked? Conversely, proposing a technology dependent idea and not consulting with the experts weakens the application.

Also you need to consider issues of work planning and work load when forming your project team.

5. Be realistic

Ask yourself the following questions before the review panel does:

  • What do we actually want money for?
  • Could we do it within our current resources?
  • Can we really achieve what we are promising in the time allocated?
  • Is our budget optimistic/aspirational or realistic?
  • Is the idea sustainable? What happens next year without funding?
  • Does our idea have application beyond our course/program? When investing money the expectation is broader application
  • If it was my money, would I pay for this?

6. Read the form – and then fill it out – all of it

If a box isn’t completed it begs the question are you avoiding or ignoring or not good at proof reading – either way, a quality application is a complete one.

In the LTIFs, you are asked to identify “Which strategic objective(s) does this project address?”. In many of the proposals this is not addressed, begging the question, does it not align/ do you not know or do you not care?

On the matter of signatures, all grants require sign off by various roles with in the university. Make sure you allow enough time to do this and even better, consult before you ask for a signature.

In the LTIFs, your Head of School is required to support your application. It would be politic as well as good manners to tell them what you are proposing before you ask for a signature that shows their support.

7. Have a ‘critical friend’ read the final proposal

Your team members know what you are talking about but will others? Get someone who is not part of the team to read your application, do they understand it? You need to think about who will be reading and assessing your proposal. This can be particularly challenging when you have people from different disciplines assessing proposals.

These are my insights on writing a successful application. The one thing I haven’t mentioned is the element of luck that goes with any completive endeavour as that is out of our control. But I do wish you good luck with your application and if you need further information:

Or contact the LTIF/OLT grants co-ordinator for your college listed in No.2

Do you have any advice/tips/strategies you would like to share on L&T grant writing?

Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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This article has a readability score of grade 9 assessed by the program Hemingway App

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