Category Archives: elearning

Peer Partnerships: the professional development program that really resonates

Posted by:

Angela Clarke, Senior Research Fellow,
A/Prof Andrea Chester, Acting Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning and Teaching
&
Dallas Wingrove, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Property, Construction and Project Management, 
College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Rebekha Naim and Shayna Quinn are peer partners from the School of Media and Communication.

Rebekha Naim and Shayna Quinn are peer partners from the School of Media and Communication.

The RMIT Peer Partnerships program has been running for two years. Over that time the program has been successfully implemented in 17 Schools/centres and units across campuses in Australia and Vietnam. There have been over 195 peer partners and 24 leaders who have participated. The response from academic staff has been overwhelmingly positive, as evidenced by the following comments:

*One of the most positive and enriching professional development experiences I have had in nearly ten years at RMIT. 

*Best PD ever! To be great, you have to want to be great, there is always room for improvement as an academic…this is a great structure for reflective practice in teaching and learning.

*Very positive and insightful. Helped me conceive and expand possibilities for my own teaching practice. Sparked new ideas.

*This was a valuable program, which fostered teaching skills in ways both practical and theoretical.

*I found peer partnerships to be a really effective way of learning and reflecting on practice. It was particularly rewarding as a sessional teacher as many other opportunities aren’t open to us so it made me feel part of the RMIT team – for possibly the first time – which is really important to me.

These responses from our teaching staff suggest that the RMIT Peer Partnerships program is truly resonating with our staff and is having a positive impact. This is due to many factors including the structure of the program and the underpinning principles which foreground voluntary participation, reciprocal exchange and confidentiality. Many academics feel that this program is filling a professional gap in their academic work.  The process, which focuses on reciprocal observation of teaching practice, has generated meaningful professional conversations about teaching and learning and is fostering collegiate communities of practice within Schools/units.  For some staff who are seeking promotion or a teaching award, Peer Partnerships have offered a safe way in to the experience of peer observation and feedback for continuous improvement.

The program is open to all academic teaching staff, including sessionals and caters for early, mid and experienced professional development needs. The program has been specifically devised for implementation within the local context of a School.

We are now in our third year of implementation. This year we are very pleased to announce that two College representatives will co lead Peer Partnerships with us: Laurine Hurley in the College of Science, Engineering & Health and Tom Palaskas in the College of Business. We would like to welcome anyone who is interested in Peer Partnerships to contact dallas.wingrove@rmit.edu.au or angela.clarke@rmit.edu.au.

For further information visit our website www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/peerpartnerships.

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!
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Planning learning design through storyboards

Guest Post: Professor Gilly Salmon, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning Transformations, Swinburne University of Technology. 

Professor Gilly Salmon is one of the world’s leading thinkers in online learning. She researches and publishes widely on the themes of innovation and change in Higher Education and the exploitation of new technologies of all kinds in the service of learning. The Learning Transformations Unit is responsible for the exploration and exploitation of learning technologies; the resourcing, preparation and scholarship of staff; and the development of partnerships that increase and extend Swinburne’s online provision and presence. This year Gilly will be a guest speaker at the upcoming DEANZ Conference and EduTECH National Congress & Expo.

Gilly tweets @gillysalmon.

Opens in a new window.

Click to see the details of Gilly’s latest book: ‘E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, 2nd Edition’

Late last year I was invited to speak to academics at RMIT and we had a great afternoon together working on ideas around building scaffolds for learning using newer technologies.

Of course the time we had together  went by too quickly!  When I looked at the feedback, I noticed several participants had commented that they liked the idea of storyboarding for planning learning and wanted to know more about it. From the Learning Transformation Unit at Swinburne, we’re in the middle of running a MOOC for professional development around the Carpe Diem process.

I’ve made a series of little videos for the MOOC and one is about storyboarding — essentially representing the sequence or journey of your learners through the time you have together – and how helpful I’ve found it for planning forward-looking learning and teaching. So it’s here for you to have a look at and maybe get together with a course or program team and try!

For me, the focus on learning design is a key shift in the way we need to consider creating the future in our various disciplines and domains.

I would be interested to know how it goes for you.

Best wishes,

Gilly

Share your thoughts about learning design in the comments section!

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The art of questioning

Posted by: Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Over the years I have read quite a bit on the use of questions in education. There are a number of useful websites that describe the importance of questioning in teaching and defining different types of questions. The UNSW L&T Unit has one, as does Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

make-just-one-change-smAs part of the toolkit of a student-centred teacher, questioning has long been considered a core skill for all teachers from primary through to the tertiary context. So central is the skill that Mary Jane Aschner (1961) described educators as ‘professional question makers’. I know from experience how a well-chosen question can open up a rich discussion and how the wrong question can close it down.

What I hadn’t spent much time thinking about was how to encourage students to ask their own questions.  That is, until I read Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana.

Rothstein and Santana argue teaching can be transformed if students, rather than teachers, assume responsibility for questioning. They argue that asking questions is fundamentally empowering and that all students can and should learn to formulate their own questions and that all teachers can integrate development of the skill into their regular teaching practice. While the book is pitched at teachers of K-12, the ideas can easily be applied to tertiary teaching.

The book and associated online resources available through the Right Question Institute set out the seven-step Question Formulation Technique (QFT™) summarised below.

Step

Description

Principle

Approximate time allocation

  • Begin with a question focus (QFocus)
This is the work you do to develop a stimulus, which can be a topic, a sentence, an image or an object, depending on your purpose, but generally not a question itself.  -  (varies)
  • Share and discuss the rules for producing questions
There are four rules:

  • ask as many questions as you can
  • do not stop to discuss, judge or answer questions
  • write down each question exactly as it is stated
  • change any statements as questions 
Meta-cognition 5-7 minutes
  • Produce Questions
In small groups students produce as many questions as they like within the available time. Divergent thinking 5-8 minutes
  • Categorise Questions
In this step students are encouraged to improve their questions by labeling each as either open or closed and discussing the differences between these two types of questions. Students are encouraged to change some questions from one type to the other to explore the difference in possible responses. Analysis and convergence 5-10 minutes
  • Prioritise Questions
Students prioritise their questions, articulate their rationale and select the three most important questions. They note where these questions occurred in their original list of questions, at the beginning, middle or end. - 5 minutes
  • Next Steps
Here students consider how they will use their questions. This depends on your purpose for engaging in the activity. Application Will depend on purpose of QFT™
  • Reflection
Finally students reflect on what they learned and how they can use it. Meta-cognition 5-8 minutes

The entire sequence can be completed in 30 minutes, with a reduction as you and the students become more familiar with the process.

When you might want to use the QFT™
The QFT™ can be used to:

  • generate interest at the start of a course

    Click on the image to see Dan Rothstein's TEDx presentation: "Asking questions is the single most powerful renewable source of intellectual energy: It's in our minds we can create it, we can create it continuously..."

    Click on the image to see Dan Rothstein’s TEDx presentation: “Asking questions is the single most powerful renewable source of intellectual energy: It’s in our minds we can create it, we can create it continuously…”

  • introduce a new topic
  • assess and/or deepen understanding
  • stimulate new thinking
  • prepare for an assessment task
  • conclude a topic or course.

What to know more?

References:

Aschner, M. J. (1961). Asking questions to trigger thinking. National Education Association (NEA) Journal, 50, 44-46.

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!
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What will the campus of the future look like?

Guest Post: Jo Dane is a designer, educator and researcher with a passion for educational transformation enabled through research-based design practice. Jo works at woodsbagot.com and tweets @WB_JoDane.

Jo_Dane_Twitter_PicI’m a design educator and someone who’s regularly tasked with putting together a vision of physical spaces for students. Ideally, these new spaces are supposed to be ‘future-proof’. So it can be fun to do some crystal-gazing about the future of the university campus.

Here are some observations, speculations and predictions that I’ll commit to the blogosphere in 2014:

1. Students will be empowered with choices of how, when and where to learn.
It will be increasingly possible to get a degree at University X which includes undertaking core subjects at University Y or via accredited MOOCs. If the quality of the learning experience (and facilities and spaces will be part of that equation) doesn’t stack up, students will shift their allegiance to another institution. And the funding will follow the student.

2. Hybrid learning experiences will be the new norm.
On-campus delivery will increasingly incorporate online components such as response software in lectures, multimedia content, group collaboration and teacher consultation. Digital platforms will continue to improve and enable both synchronous and asynchronous learning encounters.

3. Learning will be social and happen with other students IN REAL TIME.
For too long learning has happened in isolation in students’ homes while studying for exams, or preparing essays and assignment work. It has long been recognised that learning is a social experience. A room full of students is also a room full of teachers. Interaction between students broadens each student’s perspective and provides an opportunity to share and reinforce important concepts.

Click to see more pictures of MUSE, a Woods Bagot project completed this year.

MUSE – Macquarie University Spatial Experience, Sydney, 2014

Real time learning will happen in the classroom when a) the teacher facilitates the interactive learning experience and b) the classroom is designed to enable such encounters.

4. The notion of a 24-7, ‘sticky campus’ will endure.
Students (especially undergraduates) will be encouraged to stay on campus for longer periods of time. They will continue to blur boundaries between learning, socialising and working. The campus, therefore, will provide ‘sticky’ spaces where students can undertake both serendipitous and asynchronous activities. These will include media hubs for small groups to collectively engage in online material, or to Skype subject experts/overseas peers.

Click to see more pictures of MUSE, a Woods Bagot project completed this year.

MUSE – Macquarie University Spatial Experience, Sydney, 2014

5. Mobile devices, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ and cloud computing mean that students can access specialist software anywhere, anytime.
Students need no longer be tethered to the dehumanising lab computer, but can choose where and with whom to study, whilst accessing critical digital infrastructure.

6. Say goodbye to lecture theatres and computer labs!
While this might seem to counter to the ‘sticky campus’ idea (but really it should clarify the purpose of bringing students together) students are voting with their feet and where possible opting to tune into lectures online rather than face-to-face. Not only this, the prevalence of high quality (free) content, through YouTube, TED Talks, MOOCs and a plethora of other online repositories means that students are finding expert content from alternative sources rather than from the prescribed teachers. Universities will increasingly share exemplary content rather than rely on academics reinventing content every year.

7. Augmented learning, wearable technologies, 3d printing and gaming experiences are coming.
These are recognised trends on the horizon. We might not know exactly what they will look like, nor the impact they will have on the campus environment. Get used to this feeling. The better you adapt to change, uncertainty and the unforeseeable, the more agile you are. Agility is a key trait needed for the emerging knowledge economy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 5.16.10 pm

Media & Communication staff at RMIT discuss learning spaces in the Swanston Academic Building.

8. Academics will work increasingly in teams, sharing and collaborating in teaching and research activities.
The academic workplace will need to provide for a younger generation of academics who are more collaborative and connected than any previous generation. The next generation of academics won’t be hidden away in confined offices. The campus will include ‘third spaces’ — extensions of the workplace where workers can seek alternative environments to promote innovation and problem-solving.

9. Academics will be more accessible to students, but will connect through digital means moreso than face-to-face.
For teachers and lecturers, the skills of delivering remotely and facilitating online discussions will be as crucial as your in-class toolkit. This means your potential reach increases (and so does your profile) but of course that there’s another set of skills that are currently seen as optional.

10. This one’s a fill-in-the-blank, left for you, the reader…
Posts like this can often live on through the comments thread — why not make your own prediction (or disagree with/clarify one of my own) by commenting below.

Share your thoughts and predictions in the comments section!
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Learning Analytics: What does it all mean?

Posted by: Erika Beljaars-Harris, Educational Developer, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Ever heard of the term ‘Learning Analytics’? If you haven’t, then you will. The 2013 Horizon Report describes it as the “[f]ield associated with deciphering trends and patterns from educational big data, or huge sets of student-related data, to further the advancement of a personalized, supportive system of higher education.”  What does this all mean? It means that we can gather student data to uncover trends, patterns and issues. It’s what we do with that data and how we can support the student that is the key.

Click on the image to explore educause.edu's resources on learning analyticsThe report also leads us to believe that it will take 2-3 years to adopt. However I believe it’s already here.

For example, in Blackboard you can access the ‘Performance Dashboard’ (from the Control Panel) to ascertain when a student last entered the course and drill down to the exact date and time they entered. As an instructor you can also view the last date and time that you accessed the course. This means that you (as an instructor) can confirm the amount of interaction the student is having with the online course. As I am a Blackboard gal, I presume that this is all possible with other learning management systems (LMS). Regardless of what LMS you use, there is already the capacity to obtain some basic data on students and instructor navigation within an online course.

Click on the image to explore educause.edu's resources on learning analyticsUseful? You betcha. Think of it this way, you are able to determine those students who have not accessed the course in the first week, this is a red flag. One possible intervention method is to contact the student and notify them that they haven’t accessed the course and you want to ensure that they are not having any technical issues, access issues, or any other issues. Then, the student emails you back with ‘thanks for your email I had problems accessing my course as I am located in a remote part of Australia/America/Afghanistan’ (wherever). Problem solved.

And this is only the beginning of what learning analytics can do. It can predict the learning route of a student, it can assist in personalising the student’s learning, and it can recommend and apply interventions. As an instructor (with some setup) Blackboard can present the results of your assessment with full item analysis, meaning that you can look at what aspects of a course or topic your cohort found difficult and what they have mastered. You can use this data to modify your teaching after (or even during) the semester.

There are already criticisms to learning analytics including: ethical issues on the collection of data, who owns the data, the sharing of data, privacy and legal issues too. These are all valid concerns that need to be navigated carefully. Regardless of the route, learning analytics is here, and it’s only gaining ground.Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 1.50.51 PM

If you’re still not quite sure what learning analytics is, take a look at the infographic “Learning Analytics” produced by Open Colleges. It provides an excellent breakdown of what it is. If you still have more question, as we all do. Try www.educause.edu and do a search on learning analytics. You will find plenty of resources.

References:

Horizon Report. 2013 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2013.pdf

‘Learning Analytics 101. Leveraging Educational Data.’ Open Colleges. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2013.pdf

Share your thoughts on learning analytics in the comments!

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Everyone can have their moment – Celebrating learning and teaching

Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

BHFor me it can be easy to forget why I teach and more importantly why I love to teach; its about the students, the engagement, what I learn from them as well as imparting the odd bit of knowledge to them. Can anything be as rewarding as a student saying ‘You know we talked about “X”- I tried it and it worked!’? Or a student showing you they have come up with something that is unexpected, proof of effort and that they are proud of their achievements?

I believe that teaching is an art; well informed by theory and practice but in essence it is the way it is enacted with different students, in different situations, at different times that produce diverse and often unexpected results that make it such an exciting profession.

Having said all that, it can be somewhat demoralising to have your teaching distilled into a GTS (Good Teaching Score) that is such a cold set of numbers that may or may not JFreflect the experience of you or your students in the classroom. A misread question, numbering down the wrong side or students unhappy with _________ (fill in the blank) can all skew the results. That doesn’t mean that we should dismiss the GTS as it is a form of feedback from students but it is important to keep it in perspective.

So with that in mind, I am starting a movement to encourage all teaching staff to take a breath and think about their teaching, their students and the positive experiences they have had during the year and to value that.

How to do this you ask?

One way can be to ask yourself three questions: ‘What have I learnt when teaching?’, ‘How have my students surprised me?’ and ‘In my teaching I am pleased with…’

You may even want to do this with colleagues, to reflect, acknowledge and celebrate what makes you keep teaching.

RM

So complete the following sentences:

What I have learnt when teaching is…

My students have surprised me by…

In my teaching I am pleased with…

Thanks to Julie and Bronwyn for sharing their responses!

Share your thoughts in the comments!

 


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Thinking of doing some professional development for teaching?

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

This post has been informed by the work in two learning and teaching projects led by Professor Barbara de la Harpe — an Office for Learning and Teaching project, Not a Waste of Space, and an RMIT Learning and Teaching Investment Fund project, Transforming teaching practice through PD for NGLSs. These projects explored professional learning for the future and also implemented a professional learning approach in the College of Design and Social Context. For more information visit the RMIT page on the project here.

logo for Developing Your Teaching DSC opportunitiesAlthough engaging in professional development to improve teaching has been shown to have a direct relationship on student learning outcomes (Hattie, 2009), as far back as the mid-80s, questions have been raised around the effectiveness of some professional development activities. As Webster-Wright (2009) points out, ‘…many [PD programs] remain as episodic updates of information delivered in a didactic manner, separated from engagement with authentic work experiences…’ Such approaches are generally ‘bolted-on’, often with a focus on compliance. They tend to be content heavy rather than learning oriented in their design and delivery.

What this can lead to is a kind of superficial accumulation of knowledge, layer upon layer, rather than an ongoing re-conceptualisation of educational practice (Boud & Hager, 2012; Cross, 2010; Feixas & Zellweger, 2010; Hart, 2011; Webster-Wright, 2009).

So the research supports approaches that look less like crash courses and more like maps or field guides for a learner to explore the territory. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to educators because we’re familiar with course and program design and most of the same principles apply. How do we then apply some of those good learning principles, those good instructional design principles, to our own professional development for teaching?

Here are some tips to make your own plan for a more sustained and long-term approach for your professional development:

1. Plan to try one new thing next semester in your class. Identify a learning and teaching goal or a ‘problem of practice’ that you want to address in 2014. This should be a risk or a proposed solution to your problem. It might be using a particular technology in your teaching, getting students to collaborate more or perhaps it is trying something that you have seen a colleague do successfully.  Simple activities like ‘Think, Pair, Share’ will enrich the discussion in your classroom as the thinking will encompass the views of all students and will invoke the prior learning of students.

2. Write it down! Write out your action plan. What will you do? What will your students do? What resources or knowledge do you need? How will you research the task? Who can you speak to for assistance? Give yourself some dates to meet your milestones. How will you design the activity so that it enables your students to do the work and to build up the strategies that you use to work through tasks so that they can use them in other contexts.

3. Put it in your workplan. Ensure you embed this idea into your teaching and work by writing it into your workplan next year. This also means that someone else, your line manager, will ask you how you are going and perhaps even suggest resources that might be useful. Articulating what you are doing not only makes it more explicit to you, talking about it enables another professional to build your idea and suggest other relevant avenues.

4. Make time in your calendar. Active learning over time is much more effective than learning in sporadic sessions. Set aside 5-10 minutes a week to read/talk to a colleague/watch a YouTube video. Try to keep your time aligned to your self-directed learning goal. Talking to someone else about what they are doing is a great stimulus for your own thinking.

5. Start your own professional learning network. Create a Twitter account and follow those whom you think you may find useful. Often people on Twitter who are exploring similar areas to you will post the latest papers, information and news to keep you up to date. Again, this collaborative approach leverages a community of learners and is a great example of the ‘just-in-time’ learning which will actively stimulate your teaching.

Comments from academic staff who undertook self-directed study as part of our LTIF project were very positive. While we still ran a model that included workshops, these workshops ran over a whole semester and not as ‘once-off’ sessions. We also encouraged sessional staff (a group of staff who can feel left out of the usual avenues and opportunities of professional development) to scope a small project and write a case study. Participants reported positive outcomes and an enthusiasm based on the fact that they had decided what their focus would be. Further results from the project will be available and disseminated at the project’s conclusion.

Share your thoughts about professional development in the comments!

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Boud, D. & Hager, P. (2012). Re-thinking continuing professional development through changing metaphors and location in professional practices. Studies in Continuing Education, 34(1), 17-30.

Cross, J. (2010). They had people called professors…! Changing worlds of learning: strengthening informal learning in formal institutions? In U. Ehlers and D. Schneckenberg, (Eds.), Changing Cultures in Higher Education (pp. 43–54). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

Feixas, M., & Zellweger, F. (2010). Faculty development in context: changing learning cultures in Higher Education. In U. Ehlers and D. Schneckenberg, (Eds.), Changing Cultures in Higher Education (pp. 85-102). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

Hart, J. (2011). Social learning handbook synopsis. Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Retrieved from: http://c4lpt.co.uk/social-learning-handbook/social-learning-handbook-synopsis/.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 702-739.

Social networks at work

Sian Dart, Coordinator, Learning Repository, University Library, RMIT University
Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching, College of Design & Social Context, RMIT University &
Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design & Social Context, 
RMIT University.

yam·mer

verb (used without object)

Watercooler close-up

Are services like Yammer the water coolers of the modern workplace?

1. to whine or complain.
2. to make an outcry or clamour.
3. to talk loudly and persistently.
yammer. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged.

This week’s post is structured a little differently from most tomtom posts…

Sian had already sketched-out her thoughts on Yammer but we also posted a question (on Yammer) to our institution (‘What is Yammer good for?’) and we received over a dozen replies that shaped this post: if you’re in a rush just read the Yammer screen-grabs!

Jon: I was expecting the definition of ‘yammer’ to be much more neutral (meaningless chat?) — surprised that it has this element of complaint.

Sian: Aren’t all social networks used to whine and complain? It’s appropriate! However, I think the most accurate is probably number three, at least for RMIT’s implementation. The small quantity of posters contrasted with a larger number of ‘lurkers’ means that those of us who do post are quite loud and influential on the network, I think.

Howard: It’s not exactly a friendly origin (interesting that it’s related to the German for ‘lamentation’) although perhaps that doesn’t matter — it’s a memorable brand.
What is Yammer? 
For a few years now, Yammer’s been in use at our institution and while it’s the platform that we’ll be talking about in this post, there are many other enterprise-based social platforms that might be in use at your institution or workplace. These include SocialcastSocialtext and Corus – some of these are niche products and they’ll use different organising principles but here’s a quick definition from one of the players in this space, Igloo:
It’s like having your own secure, private version of Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox designed for your business – without the oversharing.
Yammer uses a time-stamped discussion board interface and allows you to broadcast to the entire Catherine and SimonYammer group or to sets of people. You can also follow people which results in their posts being prioritised in your feed. Let’s look at Sian’s thoughts on the platform:
Sian: Here’s my list of ‘Stuff that happens on Yammer’ in no particular order with a quick comment for each.
1. Event promotion
I’m not sure how much take-up arises from these, as opposed to the constant all-staff promotional emails, but it’s good being able to comment on these things instead of just have them broadcast.
2. Self promotion
When staff are getting involved in community events, exhibiting or performing, Yammer is a perfectly valid billboard for potentially interested audiences. The reach is different to putting up a poster in the student union/staffroom, but the intent is the same.
3. Interesting Stuff I Found On the Internet
Like all social media, Yammer is a great place to share, albeit under very obvious filters of ‘safe for work’ and ‘appropriate for work’. (More sensible people than I would point out that all social media should be aimed at that level, for the sake of job safety and future employability!) I encounter a multitude of links every day from my peer learning network, and some of the things I find aren’t necessarily relevant to my work, but I know they’ll be of interest to the RMIT community. And if I know they’re specifically interesting to one person, I can ‘tag’ them and make sure they know about it. Sure, I could just email them the link directly, but who needs more email? And that David and Mattwould stop others serendipitously encountering the article in turn.
4. Private Groups
Yammer provides for private or open groups to be created – for example, we have a Library Staff group, in which we discuss things we think will be of interest mainly to librarians (although it’s astonishing how interested in libraries some of our non-library staff seem to be!).
5. Public Groups
These include the RMIT BUG (Bicycle Users Group) which any Yammer member can join. Joining a group gives you the ability to see the posts from that group and post to it.
6. Help!
Doreen CommentThis is definitely an area where Yammer proves its value. It allows someone to reach out to a community made up of a wide range of staff, and seek expertise, opinion, or understanding of processes within the university. You may not receive an answer, but you might get 10, or you might get the name of someone to contact who could give you an answer — it’s worth a try! I think this service alone, while it does mean you have to admit to potentially all of your colleagues at the entire university that you have a problem, or don’t know something, or need assistance, justifies the staff time spent on Yammer. I love being able to promote a library service, or better yet, the service I run within the library when I have the solution to someone’s specific need. I think it’s way better marketing than a poster or email because it’s direct, targeted and responsive.
7. Networking
I don’t go to too many RMIT events, but every event I’ve been to in the last few years, someone’s introduced themselves and said “I see you on Yammer”. So I guess my name is getting out there after all, it’s a real-name social network – and hopefully it’s mostly good – but each time, I’m reminded that I’ve got more reach than I think I do. (See next: ‘Lurkers’.)
8. Lurking
Well, who knows what these guys get up to. I know they’re there. Every now and again a colleague or a manager will pull me aside and say “Hey, I like what you said there,” or ask me about something I know I’ve only Yammered, despite never seeing them interact with Yammer at all. I guess they must enjoy seeing the discussions, but either kaidaviddon’t have time to interact, don’t have strong opinions, or simply have a fear of putting themselves out there — internet shy!
9. Informal learning and sharing
A lot of useful knowledge is gained via what we learn about each other and what we do in a site like Yammer. By following someone I meet in the Bicycle Users Group I can also get to know about a new part of what happens in the organisation. It’s a bit like walking into the tea room and overhearing or joining in an important work conversation that happens to arise.  Without that informal linking, a lot of useful knowledge remains static.
10. Less email
This has got to be one of the biggest benefits of Yammer. Why send around a bunch of emails when we can all share stuff in a Yammer group? This usage would be particularly helped if line managers used the service effectively. Material is more easily shared into the most appropriate contexts and it also increases transparency.
11. Information filtering
Amy and Sian CommentEver heard the complaint that there is too much information? Yammer-like tools allow us to follow the people who are good at scanning and filtering the information that is most relevant to the organisation. I just need to find and follow some of those useful people rather than try and know everything that is going on myself. Following a few librarians on Yammer can be good for that!
Howard: Agree with the points above and here are two more before we get on to the fine print!
12. Productivity and efficiency
It’s no wonder that Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion. The primary reason that this type of tools gets adopted in organisations and institutions is the way it improves the bottom line with faster and easier work practices. It probably saves some paper too.

13. Modelling Collaborative Learning
In online learning environments we want our students to be work collaboratively — we can better help them do this if we practice what we preach. Yammer provides a powerful reminder of the way that collaboration can be harnessed to improve engagement, learning and enjoyment.

The Disadvantages 
Yammer type tools need support from above to really succeed. This includes both setting the example and leading organisational and cultural change, to adopt whichever social intranet is chosen. Yammer itself is very easy to get started in that it can organically start without any formal adoption or support. This is also problematic in that important information (either for reasons of IP or other legal sensitivities) can end up with Yammer — and it can be costly to get it back out. So collaboration on sensitive issues needs to be considered and it helps if there is a clear usage policy. Yammer can also be expensive compared with the David Ralternatives.

The Alternatives
Tools like SocialcastSocialtext and Corus can work at least as well as Yammer and have the advantage of being completely contained social intranets; they exist only on the company servers, so there is no question of locating the data. The free version we use of Yammer for instance prevents us from one of the collaboration opportunities that might be most fruitful — the use of the system with our colleagues in Vietnam and other RMIT locations around the world. 

Corus has the added advantage of being applicable for education contexts, having been designed with education in mind, and has already been used in a couple of large scale activities with RMIT students.

Jon: Picking up on couple of points from Sian and Howard, a lot of the discussion here seems to run parallel to the problems we have with students’ engagement in Learning Management Systems:
As educators we’d probably like to see students interacting on a discussion board in Blackboard rather than in a Facebook group that we’re not aware of and not invited into…we’d like students who might have accepted an offer but aren’t due to arrive on campus for another couple of months to be able to sign into a social platform and begin building those links, and even to begin learning (or teaching their peers)…we’d like the kind of mentoring opportunities that could happen between years, between programs, between campuses in a system that could hold student work in shareable portfolios…
Because we’re all split between a number of services and workflows, is Yammer (or something like it) the right match for Google’s suite of apps? I’ll continue to use Yammer to promote this blog and upcoming events but I think this is only the beginning of a different style of work that we’re in the middle of. I’ll leave it to Sian to sign off with some concluding thoughts.

Sian: A tentative conclusion…

If your institution has signed up for Yammer, you simply go to yammer.com and sign in — you’ll automatically get to the right network, because you’ll be authorised by the domain on your email address. If your institution isn’t involved yet, anyone can start it up — but getting people to use it can take a bit more work.

HowardThe Library holds internal training sessions every now and then on Yammer (What is it? Why should I use it? How do I use it?) and Yammer of course suggests we invite colleagues every time we log in to the website, so I guess it grows virally — but having said that, it’s not for everyone. Some staff remain uncomfortable with aspects of sites like Yammer, just as people have different relationships with services like Facebook and Twitter.

So it is what you make it. Some institutions have very active involvement at the Executive level; it’s a way that they can keep in touch with day to day things happening in the business. And it’s only natural that some groups and users will be more active than others. I’ve talked about the Library group because I can see it, but there’s a lot more going on than what I see.

The main thing is, everyone has a voice. It’s more accessible than the official channels (like email and RMIT Update — though these obviously have their place) and it’s for everyone, regardless of rank or role.

Thanks to Catherine, Simon, David G, David R, Matt, Doreen, Amy & Kai for allowing us to republish their comments from Yammer.

Share your thoughts about Yammer in the comments section! Or on Yammer!


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Assessment, Grade, Holidays…

Posted by: John Benwell, Principal Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

HD rubricIn Melbourne, it’s the last week of scheduled classes and nearing the long break over the southern summer. Whilst thoughts may be wandering towards holidays, sun, the beach and all those great ‘Aussie’ pastimes, it’s time to assess and grade our students.

All the formative assessment has been done; we have provided vast quantities of feedback to our students and maybe provided avenues for feedback from their peers; now is the time to give each one a grade.

So I thought for my last post for the year, and before running to the beach to go sailing, I’d do a light refresher on assessment and point to some resources on rubrics to help you through.

At this stage of the year, we already know how most students are going. We have been giving them formative assessment tasks, and providing feedback to them so they can learn from their mistakes, fill the gaps and polish their performance. There have likely been summative assessments, which have been building towards a final mark.

Maybe you’ve read (and found useful) other tomtom posts that have discussed aspects of assessment (like Thembi’s post on Active Learning Strategies, Meredith’s post on Academic Integrity, Alex’s post on Peer and Self-Assessment and my previous post, Keeping Watch on using assessment to track our students’ progress), so here is a post with some handy references on assessment and rubric development.

In the old days, students would now start cramming, revising knowledge and processes, going to the library and doing old exam papers hoping their lecturer would just revise the last year’s paper for this year.

Nowadays, we hope those student expectations are well behind us and the last assignment encapsulates the skills, knowledge and the application skills and knowledge into a capstone assessment experience to confirm the student has achieved the course (subject) learning outcomes.

In pondering assessment we should never lose sight of what assessment is, and its purpose. As a reminder, here are the core principles of assessment from The University of Melbourne’s  Centre for the Study of Higher Education:

  1. Assessment guides and encourages effective approaches to learning
  2. Assessment validates and reliably measures expected learning outcomes, in particular the higher–order learning that characterises higher education
  3. Assessment and grading defines and protects academic standards.

At this stage of the year, principle 1 should have provided students with tasks that permitted them to test their learning and understanding in their passage towards the achieving the learning outcomes. The best scenario would be student-lecturer negotiated, multiple learning and assessment tasks that were designed to increase in complexity over the semester.

Principle 2 reminds us that we should not be simply testing students’ knowledge, but more their application of skills and knowledge and their ability to independently think though increasingly complex problems associated with their intended discipline. And we must grade each student in a reliable and repeatable manner. More on how we do that later.

Principle 3 helps maintain our standards. Not only do we have to assess if they have achieved the course learning outcomes, but also how well they have achieved it with reference to industry standards and moderation across institutions. Painfully for a teacher, we also must decide if a student has not achieved the learning outcomes.

Using the results from several forms of assessment during the semester, we need a framework to grade effectively. We need to have a considered series of statements that allow us to assign an overall grade to each student. They are like performance indicators. These statements are incremental performance levels of the learning outcomes. The levels are based on professional judgement, industry expectations and the quality standards of the university.

Commonly referred to as rubrics, you should develop a set of guidelines for marking and grading. They are not rules, but a framework to help you and your co-assessors be consistent across the group of students, from year to year and to maintain the academic quality standards expected by your industry/discipline and the students’ future employers. Your institution also relies on your professional judgement to uphold the standard of its awards.

Some argue that rubrics are restrictive, but with a well-developed set of rubrics, time is saved, consistency is improved, standards are upheld, and the course remains constructively aligned — the rubrics being generated from the learning outcomes. Levels of attainment between are  documented and described for the students to see. These can be a little bit fuzzy in their generic form but discussion with students, providing exemplars and using the same rubrics for peer and self-assessment can enhance all participants’ understanding of what a rubric is trying to do. Rubrics can be applied to all types of assessments: essays, drawings, pictures, models, presentations, designs and films.

The links below have some useful reading on rubrics, their purpose, value and how to write them:

http://aadmc.wikispaces.com/file/view/Assessment.pdf

http://www.edutopia.org/assessment-guide-rubrics

http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/rubrics.html

Unfortunately some students, despite all attempts by us, fail to provide us with the evidence they have achieved the learning outcomes. The result is then a fail. There wouldn’t be a lecturer or educator who does it lightly, but it’s part of upholding the professionalism of our discipline, and the standards of our university. The determined learner who fails will return and do the course again, learning from their mistakes, and hopefully will achieve a better mark the next time around.

So before you start marking this semester try developing your own rubrics. Start by writing your learning outcomes on the left of a tabjboceanle, and then use grade descriptors of what you would expect to see from the students in the boxes. Your learning and teaching advisor can help you create them and your results will be fairer and more consistent. Rubrics are also a great help when marking online or if you have several tutors performing the assessment. What’s more, you can save time!

Well my last student is graded, so I’m off to a BBQ tonight and out into the ocean (Bass Strait) for a sail on the weekend.

I hope you have an enjoyable break.


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Games people play Part 2: Let’s pretend

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

Metrics

Fitbit Screengrab

Author is comfortably mid-table at 10000 steps a day. Less than Andrea W, more than The Phantom.

Last week was quite a fun post to write and I’m back with the semi-promised ‘Part 2′…

We do often get between 100 and 300 daily hits on a published post at the tomtom. But my post, the 100th post fell a little bit short. But since then there’s been quite a bit of activity and as a number of people pointed out in the comments, my threat to send it to blog-post-Heaven made it seem:

  • like a waste of my effort/their invested time
  • like an arbitrary requirement
  • unfair to demand a group of people to reach an aggregated target
  • churlish for me to take my ball and go home
  • that perhaps at 1400 words I just didn’t know how to end the post?

All true!

What a savvy readership!

And all so relevant to games- Are the rules clear? Are the rules fair? Who thought up these rules? Who’s the umpire? How do I win? How do I quit?

On to what I’d promised, first, extrinsic motivations and measurements.

There’s already a game in place in TAFE and HE that our students play. The game called, for instance, ‘Bachelor of X’ runs for three years, it’s assessed by former players and it will cost you upwards of $30 000 AUD. Insert as many asterisks as you’d like, but essentially you quit by dropping out, you win by graduating, you can cheat in a number of ways and at the end you’re awarded a badge called a degree.

A cynical sketch of the tertiary experience, yes. Shoulder angels should rightly counter with the intangibles and the intrinsic benefits that come with a tertiary experience. University is where students can grapple with ideas, create new knowledge, speak truth to power etcetera.

Click here to visit GEElab. Opens in a new window.

‘Trouble Tower’ app from RMIT’s GEElab.

It would be depressing (or worse) if we held the first view front of mind and didn’t encourage the myriad benefits related to what learning institutions offer. But you’ll find plenty of posts on the tomtom where you can read about graduate attributes, lifelong learning and that sort of thing!

Caveats

My point though is that adding another layer of achievements as instructors is problematic for a system that already has clear thresholds, ladders and badges. Completion of credit points, Competent/Not Yet Competent, Pass to High Distinction: these are the real points of the game. Universities bear the legacy of ranks and hierarchies in their inherited Latin and medieval terms. Just as more recently we have had the AQF imposing a kind of metric system of levels 1-10 on these old terms from guilds, knights and churches.

So an easier conclusion to this post would be for me to write about what could go wrong with adding a game element to your course. That it’s ‘pointsification‘, that it’s infantile, that there’ll be unintended consequences. That it makes university into (even moreso) a token economy. That carrots and sticks are for donkeys. Adding gameful design to your course won’t make up for opaque course outcomes or dated course materials.

But I did promise to explain why an individual instructor might still be interested in adding some sort of a game mechanic to their course.

Click to read the article at news.Discovery.com

A 5000 year old Bronze-Age game: “According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it appears that the game is based on the number 4.” Haluk Sağlamtimur, Ege University İzmir, Turkey. Click above to read the full article.

Case 1: You enjoy games (boardgames, word games or computer games) and recognise that games can add an element of fun to tasks. You want to allow students to learn, track their learning or to present the results of their learning in a modality that’s closer to one in which they’re spending some of their leisure time.

Case 2: You recognise that there’s an element of your course that’s an ‘eat-your-vegetables’ proposition: it needs to be done and many of your students find it difficult. As a result, it’s often skipped over by students or it becomes a point where their performance dips or where they disengage. It might be something like acquiring the appropriate vocabulary for a unit, or acquiring a set of technological skills that are required that can be applied later in the unit. You think that maybe some healthy competition or a bit of incentivising could do the trick.

To address the latter case, it’s worthwhile noting that psychologists talk about the overjustification effect, where extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation. As one of the examples in Alfie Kohn’s very quotable ‘Punished by Rewards’ goes:

Asked about the likely results of Pizza Hut’s popular food-for-reading program, educational psychologist John Nicholls replied, only half in jest, that it would probably produce “a lot of fat kids who don’t like to read.” (Kohn, 1999)

Kohn’s book has a bigger target of praise and gold stars in schools and performance bonuses in the workplace but his arguments that this type of vegetables-for-dessert bargaining is essentially coercive (and stacked in favour of society’s dominant power structure) and that the results are either counter-productive or short-lived (they end when the reward ends) are certainly worth keeping in mind. You’d better be careful about incentivising an aspect of the course that part of your cohort actually enjoys already for instance.

In response to the first case, I think it’s important to recognise the range of games and the types of players you’re likely to be teaching. It will be impossible to design a semester-long game that engages all of the players, all of the time. Even a leader in the field, Kevin Werbach (whose videos and articles will point you in the right direction) shies away from using an actual game mechanic in his MOOC: Gamification (run through The University of Pennsylvania on Coursera).

Conclusions

So why, as a teacher or lecturer, would you be looking to introduce game-mechanics to your classroom? The short answer is that I think it gives you another way to experiment with your teaching in a way that brings students along for the journey.

If you begin by asking ‘What is the problem that I’m trying to solve in my class?’ you might end up with a dilemma like:

*Survey results indicate that students don’t feel I’m giving enough feedback to them.
OR
*I’m not getting the quality of answers/creative output that I’d expect from this level of students.

What I think game design opens up here is the possibility for you not to simply answer ‘I’ll work harder.’ Making a game of it means you will work with students and you will help them to work with each other to solve problems.  For you, this problem of practice may or may not be openly shared with them- you’ll find a way to link it appropriately to their real success in their course or program.

I think that’s one of the powerful things about games. The ‘let’s pretend’ aspect of them imagines a world where things are simpler and clearer. Where things work. Where there are bright lines, winners and losers but also camaraderie among the players (and the umpires). It’s where achieving 10000 steps with a pedometer or staying ahead of an opponent in a ladder can be the askew goal that keeps you on track for the ‘real’ goal.

I’ll post my ‘feedback game’ ideas in the comments but to bring it back to Skinner (the Principal from The Simpsons, not the behaviorist) his error was not in the silliness of the game (all games are silly) but in assigning a game that he didn’t play himself, that he didn’t play alongside his student. And that’s the great opportunity of games in higher education — more time playing alongside instead of umpiring. Let’s continue this particular game in the comments section…

Share your thoughts about games, gameful design and gamification in the comments!

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