Category Archives: first year transition

Reflecting on reflection: Part 2

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the previous post.)

4Rs of Reflection

Reporting and responding

Reflective learning is a wicked skill (Knight, 2007). It has slippery definitions, is seen differently by different people, and is often treated as omnipresent rather than teachable. My response to this issue has been to find out a bit more about it. I needed evidence about things like… What constitutes reflective learning? What are the conditions under which it can happen or is taught? What do people do in different disciplines? How can it be expressed? Is it assessable?

Relating

I started by drawing on my own experiences. I realised that in my own teaching I was making assumptions about students’ knowledge of how to write an effective text, their abilities to analyse and weigh up a situation, and their skills in identifying a key issue (for them) upon which to reflect. I soon became conscious of the need for a teaching intervention. I couldn’t leave this to chance – particularly for those students for whom English was not their first language or for those who were first in their family to attend university or who had entered university through pathways other than senior schooling. So I decided some serious research was needed to help me work out how this could be improved for students in higher education. Fortunately, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) agreed that this was an important issue and they funded a project over two years.

Reasoning

I turned to learning theories such as Kalantzis and Cope’s Science of Learning through knowledge processes, Bloom’s taxonomy and others. A common factor across these theories was the view that learning was an active rather than passive process and that students can move from basic understandings to quite complex thinking skills of critical analysis and reasoning.  I scoured the literature on reflective learning and practice and found that it is generally accepted that there are levels of reflective thinking or learning, moving from basic identification of an issue, to dialogic thinking back and forth, to deep, transformative reflection that can change ideas or practice – hence the 4Rs that I’m using to reflect here (nothing like practicing what you preach). Plus I started to annoy plenty of colleagues at QUT – asking them about their own practices in teaching reflective learning. My colleague (Michael Ryan) and I developed the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) Model: (See Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field). The model considers the pedagogic field of higher

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field (click to enlarge).

education as a space that enables increasingly more complex ideas and professional attributes to be attained (vertical axis) as students move through their degree (horizontal axis). It suggests that students can:

  • begin by reflecting on their own views and practices as a novice in the field,
  • incorporate the views and practices of others in the field,
  • reach the final goal of critically reflecting on self in relation to experienced colleagues and clients as a beginning professional.

The practical aspects of the model are the teaching patterns that are mapped to show at which point in a program they have been successful and the level of complex thinking that they can achieve. The benefits of this approach include minimising replication of activities across a program, ensuring that reflective activities are increasingly more sophisticated across a program and introducing a shared language for staff and students.

Reconstructing

I’ve learnt that a smorgasbord of reflective activities is not useful to develop levels of complexity across a program. I’ve learnt that we can’t make assumptions about students’ skills in this area. I’ve realised the importance of a shared language across programs and consistency in language within a course. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that higher education teachers really make a difference. If they prioritise and explicitly teach reflective learning, students can progress to those deep levels of self-reflection. New applications of this work have been in areas of peer review – teaching students how to write a reflective and useful review and how to respond reflectively to peer feedback; as well as teaching students how to evaluate university teaching and courses in a more reflective way as co-contributors to the learning experience. From here, I think I need to work more with academic staff in helping them to implement some of the great resources and strategies from the project.

References:

Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on reflection in the comments section!

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 1

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the next post where I apply the 4Rs to my own experiences.)

Reflective practice is often described as being as much a state of mind or attitude as it is a set of activities. It requires educators to assess themselves and their practice and as a result of this process become, “conscious agents in their own pedagogy” (Griffiths: 2010).

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 11.45.45 AM

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

My work as a teacher of undergraduate and postgraduate Education students for many years has shown me how much students can benefit from explicit teaching of critical reflection to improve their learning. This has motivated my work on developing students’ reflective learning capacities over several years — first as a teacher working directly with students and in the past few years supporting other teachers, program coordinators and support staff to develop a systematic curriculum model with practical strategies and resources that builds students’ capacities in reflective learning.

At the end of this page I’ve provided some resources that could help you in your teaching and in Part 2 I’ll share my reflections (on reflection) using this 4R model.

When educators reflect on their teaching, their practice improves. Students can also benefit when they reflect on their learning experience or practice. Murphy (2011) states the act of reflecting on an experience or critical incident, leads to students making deeper connections to the concepts they are learning beyond the rote memorisation or simple completion, resulting in students experiencing an ‘a-ha’ moment.

Reflective learning is a way for students to:

  • develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills

  • consider different possibilities and actions

  • link old ideas with new ones

  • stimulate creative solutions

  • encourage life-long learning

  • draw on evidence to plan future actions

  • improve practice

  • create cohesiveness across a course/program. (Ryan, 2014)

How can I integrate reflection into teaching and assessment?

Designing a practice of reflection means both clarifying the purposes it needs to serve and identifying opportunities for reflection in students’ work that are realistic and yet occur at the right intervals with sufficient depth to be meaningful (Murphy 2011).

At RMIT, there are a number of teaching staff who have introduced reflective practice into their curriculum in courses such as Fashion and Textiles, International Development (GUSS), and Media and Communication to name just a few. And there would be countless staff who use the word ‘reflection’ in a task or in assessment criteria. What makes our project special is the real examples of reflection shown within their discipline. These patterns have been linked (where appropriate) to professional standards for the accrediting bodies and plotted on a graph to

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Populating the Pedagogic Field

show how they increase in complexity, or how they move from simulated to real experiences. (See the figure: ‘Populating the Pedagogic Field’ to the right and click to expand.)

Some examples have been selected here from the Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki to illustrate how you could introduce reflective practice into the course. The patterns include teaching resources including annotated examples of reflective writing, and student blogs:

Analysing Reflective Texts (ART),

Mapping Critical Incidents – Foundation (MCIF)

Reflections Around Artefacts (RAA)

Reflection as a Professional Activity during Service Learning (RPA)

Resources:

The Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki: holds the teaching patterns and common resources for over 20 patterns that are being used in different disciplines. The DRAW website (http://www.drawproject.net)provides a short summary of the project and references.

References:

Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching and assessment in the comments section! Click here to read Part 2 of this post!

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What does ‘good’ look like?

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

Series of sticky notes all saying 'good'.Let me begin with an anecdote.

Several years ago, I returned to study to do a post graduate course in Organisational Behaviour. I remember the first assessment clearly, we had to write an analysis of a group situation, I think it was about 1500 words.  I remember the anxiety, I had no idea of what I was doing. I had done the reading, attended the classes, consulted fellow students but in writing my analysis I made the best go of it I could but really had no idea of what was required.

I missed the class when the work was returned, so had to catch up with the lecturer at another time – I still remember the nervousness and trepidation I felt in waiting for my paper, and I did ask her, ‘Just tell me if I passed or if I have to do it again.’ When I got the paper back I got an HD, I still don’t know how, and I suspect that the lecturer regretted the mark, when she realised that I didn’t really know what I was doing!

The purpose of this anecdote was not to tell you I got an HD or to share my neuroses, but rather to make the point that when assessing and grading students they need to know what is expected and to what standard. Or to put it another way, ‘What does “good” look like?’

This is particularly important for students transitioning: from school to tertiary studies, from vocational to higher education or from one year level to the next. Expectations can be different, so we shouldn’t assume that students will understand what is required of them.

To help, consider these three questions:

  1. What criteria are you using? Are you assessing a product, application of theory, diverse reading, critical analysis, spelling and grammar, team work? Make this clear to the students and then they can aim to demonstrate what they can (or can’t) do, rather than try to guess what you want.

  2. What does ‘good’ look like?  You may have assessment criteria but when you are grading, could you explain to a student the difference between a Credit and a Distinction?  “It’s just the vibe of the thing…” (Dennis Denuto in The Castle) isn’t a satisfactory explanation.  This is often highlighted when a student questions their grade and asks what was missing. What did they need to do to get a higher grade?  Rubrics can help here.

  3. Can you explain what students have to produce? Even better, are there examples they can look at?  Students like to see what is required. You think you have clearly articulated the requirements but nothing beats a physical example. I get my post grad students to write wiki posts, and until I provided sample posts, I was always fielding questions about what was wanted, even though I thought it was clearly explained in the course guide.

It is Week 2 for Higher Education and Week 5 for Vocational Education, so it’s not too late to review your assessment tasks and see if there are ways to make them student-friendly rather than ‘guess what I want’ tasks.

Resources that can help:

Assessing student work
Rubrics for assessing English language and academic literacies

Share your thoughts on what ‘good’ means in the comments section!
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First impressions

Posted by: Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching & Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Andrea is a member of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project working to develop resources and deliver professional development to staff.

Sign in a school bus reads: 'Keep Out. Please put on seatbelt + be quiet + behave. Thanks'

A sign in a school’s excursion bus at the Old Melbourne Gaol this week.

As the saying goes, ‘You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.’

This week, across Australia, thousands of lecturers and tutors will be meeting their new students or welcoming back continuing students.

In Vocational Education, classes have been back for almost a month, but still, it’s early days.

It’s obvious that getting off on the right foot and creating the right environment for students has a special importance in tertiary education. For one thing, in a 12-16 week delivery schedule, the feeling that time is precious is understandable.

In wanting students to take our course seriously, in the feeling that we’re competing for the mindshare of their course load, in rushing about, is there a risk of putting up a sign (metaphorically) like the bus driver (or the staff who share driving duties) in the picture to the left? Note the ‘Keep Out’ in red and the tiny ‘Thanks’ at the right. What messages are we sending students in their first classes?

So this post is just a quick reminder that in the midst of all the organisational and administrative tasks we should still hold our personal philosophy of education front-and-centre and be enacting the strategies and principles that brought us through university as learners, and that brought us to university to teach.

The Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project has a set of principles that might help you see that big picture (or the jigsaw pieces of the bigger picture that are your courses) and we can’t think of a better time of the year (at least for our southern hemisphere audience) than now to put them in front of readers. Each of the following links has an associated page with key questions, resources and examples of the principle in use:

Getting a piece of writing from your students in a class early in your teaching schedule is an easy diagnostic tool. You’ll get to know a key aspect of their learning skill set and coupled with a quick survey you can get an impression of what your students expect from the course. Perhaps you teach online (or you’ve taken these elements of your course online) and you use a discussion board or blog for this. You can probably see how this simple task hits many of the principles above– if you’ve asked students what was their inspiration to study a certain discipline; if you’ve read the responses and turned them around to the students quickly; if you’ve then provided the means for them to share their responses and maybe organise themselves in study groups based on this for the first assessment, you’re establishing an environment that is ‘feedback rich’.

But what about longer pieces of writing? What about supporting your students in documenting their progress in your course?

Next week, there’s an opportunity for all staff at RMIT as Associate Professor Mary Ryan (School of Education, QUT) delivers a lecture and workshop on the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) model that she and her team developed in a recent OLT project.

Professor Ryan will explain how the systematic approach can be used to embed the pedagogy of reflective writing across courses in different disciplines.  The workshop will explore the suite of pedagogical patterns and accompanying resources for systematically teaching and assessing reflective practice underpinned by the TARL and EPC models.

Lecture: Teaching and Assessing Reflective Writing
Thursday 13 March 2014
11.30 am – 12.30 pm
Building 80, Level 1, Room 2
Workshops: Teaching and Assessing Reflective Writing
Thursday 13 March 2014
12.30 – 2.20 pm
Building 13, Level 3, Room 5 (City)
Or
Friday 14 March 2014
11.00 am – 12.30 pm
Building 514, Level 1, Room 2 (Brunswick)

Registration for the workshops is essential. Space is limited. Click here to register (RMIT Login required).

Oh, and on the topic of first impressions, we’d also like to mention two blogs that have made good impressions on us during the break and will be of particular interest to casual, sessional and part time staff:

We recently added them to our blogroll (right of screen)– go visit their site for more perspectives on starting the year.

Share your thoughts on first impressions, inclusive teaching and reflective writing in the comments section!
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Linking to the recent Sessional Staff Symposium

Connecting Sessional Staff LogoPosted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

The College of Design and Social Context facilitated a Professional Development Symposium for sessional academic and teaching staff on Friday 6 September.

If you missed my last post, the 2013 Connecting Sessional Staff Project aims to:

  • Address individual learning and teaching needs
  • Share, present, discuss and reflect on teaching and learning experiences
  • Support collaboration, peer partnerships and mentoring
  • Connect with other sessional staff and learning networks across the University
  • Link to the online Sessional Modules from the Professional Development for Tertiary Teaching Practice (PDTTP). The Modules are accessible through Blackboard and information is online at: http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/pdttp/sessionals

The symposium workshops were practical and hands-on. They aimed to connect staff with their peers, their curriculum and with their students.

For those who missed the symposium or attended and missed a workshop, here is a brief overview with  the learning outcomes for each.  If you find something  of interest, you can follow the links or even contact the facilitator for more information:

Opening Session

Workshop 1: Technology… you’ve gotta have a Plan B!

Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching, Learning and Teaching Unit

•Design back-up activities to include in lesson plans for when the technology fails
•Know who to call and what to say when you have technical issues in the class
•Identify resources to have on hand to continue to engage your students.

See also:
the teaching tomtom: http://theteachingtomtom.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/technology-you-gotta-love-it-when-it-works/
Teaching with Technology: http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology

Workshop 2: Assessment

John Benwell, Principle Learning & Teaching Advisor (Architecture and Design)

•Discuss and know how to use assessment as learning activity and a progress monitor
•Create an assignment in blackboard (with e-submission)
•Discuss and understand academic integrity using Turnitin.

See also:
RMIT University Student Assessment http://www.rmit.edu.au/students/assessment
Center for the Study of Higher Education, Melbourne University http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/resources_teach/assessment/
Turnitin http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology/turnitin

Workshop 3: Engaging your students using Inclusive Teaching practices

Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, DSC

•Identify and discuss challenges in managing a diverse student cohort in your class
•Translate the principles of Inclusive Teaching into your practice
•Design activities that incorporate alternative teaching strategies.

See also:
Inclusive Teaching http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/inclusive

Workshop 4: Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces

Thembi Mason, Educational Developer and Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor Learning & Teaching (Art)

•Identify the characteristics of a Next Generation Learning space
•Locate relevant resources and discuss approaches to teaching and the use of technology in these spaces

See also:
Next Generation Learning Spaces http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=xnbgfx4a17h3
Teaching with Technology http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology

Workshop 5: Connecting courses to content

Bernadene Sward, Liaison Librarians and Anne Lennox, University Library

•Make the most of library licensed learning and teaching resources, open access and creative commons content.

See also:
Library Learning Repository http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/learningrepository
School Liaison Librarians http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarianshttp://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarians

Workshop 6: Teaching students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds

Barbara Morgan, Study Learning Center

•Discuss the challenges facing students from diverse learning backgrounds
•Identify and integrate teaching strategies that address linguistic and cultural differences in the classroom.

See also:
Study and Learning Centre http://www.rmit.edu.au/studyandlearningcentreFinal Session

Workshop 7: RMIT Peer Partnerships: supported professional development for continuous improvement in teaching

Angela Clarke and Dallas Wingrove, Senior Research Fellows

•Find a focus for the observation of your teaching
•Provide sensitive and constructive feedback for a colleague
•Establish and build networks of professional relationships with DSC sessional teaching staff.

See also:
Peer Partnerships http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/peerpartnerships

Workshop 8: Flexible delivery, Blackboard Collaborate & Google Sites

Erika Beljaars-Harris, Howard Errey and Andrea Wallace, Educational Developers, DSC

•Use iPads and other mobile devices for teaching and learning
•Use and manage Blackboard Collaborate
•Setup and manage Google Sites.

See also:
Teaching with Technology http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology
DevelopME http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/professionaldevelopment/training

School workshops: Talking about Learning and Teaching

School Senior Advisors of Learning and Teaching with School Liaison Librarians and School representatives

•Identify issues surrounding learning and teaching practice in your School
•Locate key learning and teaching resources at RMIT
•Discuss ways in which you can contribute and feel included in a collegial and supportive environment.

Final Workshop: CES and feedback

Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context

The final workshop for the day focused on what academic and teaching staff will be encountering now students have returned for remainder of the year.

See also:
FAQs about CES http://www.rmit.edu.au/ssc/ces/faq

As you can see from the range of what was covered (and with an hour limit for each workshop) the conversations have only just begun.

We have time to prepare well for our end of year symposium, continue constructive conversations in the Schools and time to develop a firm plan for ongoing learning and teaching support for sessional staff beyond this semester.

A few more useful links for Sessional Staff at RMIT University 

Quick guide for sessional staff http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/sessional

Professional Development Calender http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/professionaldevelopment/calendar

Learning and Teaching Unit http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching

Senior Advisors, Learning and Teaching http://www.rmit.edu.au/dsc/learningteaching

If you have any questions please share them in the comments section or contact me (Kellyann Geurts) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to have the tomtom delivered to your email as soon as it’s published and you can follow us on facebook: www.facebook.com/TeachingTomTom.

The promise of the new

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

Tulip among leaves and dirt

(cc) Flickr User: dugspr

Isn’t it rewarding that when you least expect it, you are given a shake and reminded why you do what you do?

Well for me it happened on Sunday, when I gave up my morning and volunteered at the University’s Open Day, and  I am so glad I did. It reminded me that what I have been taking for granted is of importance and significance to others.

When you are teaching you can get lost in the mire that can be ‘teaching’: marking, PowerPoints, student questions (why don’t they read the notes!), meeting deadlines and technology challenges. In doing so it is easy to forget why we are here and what we are offering to our students. In my three hours at Open Day I saw, met and spoke with potential students and realised that for them coming to university is a significant point. It takes them away from the familiarity, structure, and comfort of secondary school and places them into a whole new environment and onto a path to their future.

Now my role on Open Day was traffic direction. This meant wearing a stylish fluoro orange vest, holding a clipboard and greeting and directing the myriad of people who came through the door where I was standing. Can I say it is amazing the power a clipboard gives the holder: people saw an authority figure, or perhaps it was the fluoro vest. Anyway, people were more than happy to engage and ask questions and take my directions.

I spoke with many, often just to confirm what the signs said: “Yes the presentation is on the third floor”. Or to help them navigate through the maze that is RMIT. It is easy to forget that coming to a university for the first time can be physically daunting: buildings can seem to be arranged randomly, and numbers whimsically. Why else would Building 94 be opposite Building 53? Someone might pipe up here that it is probably the order in which they were built or acquired: the new RMIT Design Hub after all is number 100… and that holds until you get to Brunswick and Bundoora. There are little traps too like forgetting that the Art is often listed as Fine Art and that Art is scattered across a number of levels and buildings across what seems like the entire CBD.

What I had forgotten was that this part of going to uni is often a family affair, potential student were there with one, maybe two parents, often a sibling or two and in a couple of cases, I’m guessing a grandparent. There seemed to be two types of groups, one where the potential student was running the show and the rest were following along behind and the other where a parent, often with notes in hand was trying to find out what was on offer and how it would help their child. It was also interesting to consider the siblings who were tagging along, not always voluntary I’ll bet, but nonetheless seeing what the future may hold for them too.

I met a girl, in Year 10 who had come with her Mother to see what uni is all about, spoke with some parents who wanted to know if university studies could lead to a job and how the courses were linked to ‘the real world’ and others who didn’t know what they wanted but had come to look around.

It is interesting isn’t it, that most of the information could be found online but there is still a need to engage with the visual and physical aspect of the university, to see what it is like and to experience the environment and in doing so to get a felt sense of where their future may be.

In the lulls between greetings, I took time to guess, which area are they interested in. My general observations, were that stylish, well groomed young women were interested in Public Relations, those in grungy t-shirts, the Music Industry and those with novelty bags or water bottles – Communication Design.  Yes, it was stereotyping but it was harmless fun, and I was often right, so it also may mean that they were on the right path.

After my three hours I handed over the Clipboard and Vest of Power. I wandered through the buzzing crowds, to Bluebelle, my trusty bicycle. Pedalling home, I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and the positive energy that surrounded it. Over my journey, I concluded that Open Day is all about potential, options and future. Although ATAR was mentioned, it wasn’t the focus.  There wasn’t a sense of limitation, just possibilities, for potential student, their families and even for the staff present who were there to show the University as a place to develop that potential.

So I have decided “I‘ll be back”, because every now and then you need to be given a dose of optimism, as it helps to keep you out of the mire.

PS: Question of the day: “Where is the lightsaber display?”

Tempted answer: “In a galaxy far, far away.”

Real answer: “Not sure, try ‘Games and Animation’.”

(That is the answer from someone who responsibly wields the Clipboard of Power!)

Share your thoughts about the possibilities of Open Day in the comments!

RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo 2013

Guest post: Penny Mercer, Project Advisor, Learning and Teaching Unit, RMIT University.

Click to open the RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo 2013 page.

The Learning and Teaching Expo is an opportunity to showcase the excellent work of our dedicated teaching staff. It is a time for all of us to reflect on how we might enhance the student experience, reimagine our teaching and network with colleagues.

This year’s Expo takes the theme of “Inspiring teaching, inspiring learning.” Come along and hear what your colleagues have done to improve student learning outcomes, bring along your own experiences, or questions for discussion time. The Expo eLearning journey will allow all staff to identify a point of interest from which further learning opportunities can be explored.

Come along and hear from our invited keynote speakers about what is happening in the tertiary education sector, hear what your colleagues have done to improve student learning outcomes and bring along your own experiences or questions for discussion time.

Day 1: Tuesday 3 September – 12pm to 4.30pm, with lunch from 1pm to 2pm
Day 2: Wednesday 4 September – 9am to 1pm, with lunch from 1pm to 2pm
Venue: Design Hub, City campus.

Click here (or on the image above) to see the 2013 program and register now to attend (RMIT login required).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Donning a pirate’s patch for your students

Posted by:  Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Andrea is a member of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project working to develop resources and deliver professional development to staff.

Pirate5With the project team busy working on things behind the scenes, on Friday 7 June, Professor James Arvanitakis launched the Inclusive Teaching Conversation Series, sharing his experiences of life at university. The stories and experiences he shared with us started from his first day at university. As a first in family student, he recounted how he sat through his first lecture (for film studies, which wasn’t one of his courses) and, based on the advice of his mother, carried both his passport (so people knew who he was) and a container of lamb to feed new friends.

His first year wasn’t brilliant in terms of grades and it would be fair to say that after being called into the Dean’s office (where it was suggested he might be better following his father’s footsteps into a trade) a young James could have been part of that statistic we call ‘attrition’. Luckily for us (and his current students) James completed his studies and after an early career that involved stretches in the finance and not-for-profit sectors, he returned to university for postgraduate study and eventually to teach.

He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year in 2012, and now teaches into large classes at University of Western Sydney where the student cohort is culturally diverse and where a large percentage of students are also the first in their family to attend university.

James’ focus on the student is evident in almost everything he speaks about. By donning his pirate eye patch, he challenges conventional delivery techniques and has introduced new strategies which he continually tweaks including the use of social media. Alongside his research and publication interests, he keeps his teaching material current and engages with his students by letting them use their language to unpack topics such as gender and racism.

It got me thinking about my first experience of tertiary education, moving from assisting academics and researchers doing field work, to becoming a mature-aged student sitting in a lecture theatre listening to the theories of Freud. As a mature-aged student, I thought I understood what it meant to study. I thought I would fly through my degree and its assessments. But the reality was quite different. I remember the pressures of working part-time (to pay my mortgage, student fees and to eat!), learning how to write an essay and understanding that I was expected to interact with my lecturers and ask questions.  Along with assignments, group work and

Professor James Arvanitakis addresses staff at RMIT.becoming a critical thinker I was also trying to maintain some sort of a social life.  And if you’d asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, little did I know that some of the position descriptions I’ve ended up with didn’t exist in 1987. The same can be said for this student cohort, will they walk into a job after graduation that didn’t exist 10 years ago?

Sitting in the workshops that accompanied the launch and observing James’ teaching, he modelled many of the principles for inclusive teaching during each of the workshops. So for those of you who have not accessed the new pages, I would strongly suggest that you visit each of the principles and its supporting strategies. The strategies can be used for you in two ways, as a guide to help you design your practice to ensure that it’s inclusive or as a tool to reflect upon and refine your teaching:

As a project team, we invite staff in each of the three colleges to share with us any resources that you have developed which reflect inclusive teaching approaches and if you would like to be involved in promoting or working alongside the project team to incorporate inclusive teaching strategies into your teaching we encourage you to make contact with us!

The Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project Team New resources and professional development opportunities will be announced through various channels once they are uploaded and available for use by staff.

Don’t forget that you can find the rubrics on the English Language Development Project page in the Teaching Resources area of the RMIT staff webpage.  Please contact Barbara Morgan at the Study and Learning Centre for more information (barbara.morgan@rmit.edu.au).

All photos in this post are © RMIT University. Photographer: Carmelo Ortuso.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching and assessment in the comments section!

Student feedback: What it can and can’t tell us

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

As we move towards the end of semester we begin the process of collecting student feedback via the Course Experience Survey (CES). Student feedback on teaching is a complex topic and it typically raises a range of issues for academics.

Get any group of teaching staff together to discuss student feedback and you will be guaranteed a lively discussion. In addition to the many hours clocked up in our staff rooms on this topic, it has generated thousands of articles examining the validity of student evaluation tools; the best time in the semester for such feedback; how to most effectively close the feedback loop and how to communicate with students about changes made as a result of their feedback.

Lecturer showing a mindmap on an overhead projector.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

Previous tomtom posts like this one and this one have effectively captured the ups and downs of the process and both make mention of the importance of putting the CES in context for students.  The phenomenon of “survey fatigue” too (as we know from our own lives) is a risk in any drive to increase response rates, particularly as we move to online administration of the survey.

There is one issue, however, on which there is widespread agreement: student feedback is only one source of information available to us about our courses and our teaching. Triangulation is crucial. This means complementing student feedback with information from:

  • assessment tasks, giving due consideration to the learning your students demonstrate
  • peer observation, such as via Peer Partnerships, in which you invite colleagues to experience your teaching and provide feedback and your own reflections on what seems to work and not work and why.

The CES can provide us with useful information, but we do need to remember what it measures, namely student experience. In his useful summary of research on student evaluations, Terry Doyle (2004) reminds us that while student feedback can provide valuable information, there are a number of aspects about which students are not well qualified to provide feedback including:

  • if the teaching methods used were appropriate for the course
  • if the content covered was appropriate for the course
  • if the content covered was up-to-date
  • if the assignments were appropriate for aiding student learning
  • if what they learned has real world application
  • if what they learned will help them in future classes
  • if the type of assistance, help or support given to students was appropriate to the learning goals of the class
  • if the difficulty level of the course material was at an appropriate level.

What Doyle also provides here I think is a structure for a teacher or lecturer to speak to towards the end of her or his course. A quick reminder about each of the elements above would also be an appropriate introduction to students before they complete their survey.

RMIT TAFE Students in class.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

Before making changes in response to student feedback, we need to be confident in the validity of the data provided and this brings us to response rates. This semester the Survey Services Group has developed a reliability band calculator. During the administration period of the survey (May 6 – June 2) you will be able to check how your own response rates are tracking against the reliability bands (good, sufficient and insufficient). You can check the response rates by program and school here (RMIT Staff login required). Contact your L&T group if you’d like to use a short presentation that has been designed by the Survey Centre to be displayed in a class so that students can follow the links and complete any outstanding surveys.

The RMIT Academic Expectations have set expected and aspirational targets for the Good Teaching Scale. In the coming years there will be more pressure on academics to provide reliable snapshots of the student perspective on their teaching. The vast majority of academics have always used the surveys as a tool for self-reflection.

I’m confident that we can continue a culture at RMIT that puts an appropriate emphasis on major surveys like the CES as one way in which we identify both evidence of excellence and areas for improvement.

Resources:

  • Read more about Terry Doyle’s research into surveys and teacher effectiveness at his blog Learner Centered Teaching.
  • For more on the CES, read this FAQ published by the Survey Services Centre.

Share your thoughts about the CES in the comments section below!

A post from the archive: Native or immigrant – Exploring foreign territory in online learning

Did you know that there are over 80 teaching tomtom posts searchable and available through the tools at the right of the page?

You can also use the tag cloud and categories link to bring up relevant posts.

At this time of year you might be heading into the pointy end of your unit(s) and looking for advice on assessment (17 posts)student engagement (14 posts) or feedback (21 posts).

We’re always interested to hear what you’re wrestling with in the tertiary sector too – drop us a line at theteachingtomtom@gmail.com and request a topic or write a post for submission!

Native or immigrant – Exploring foreign territory in online learning

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

There is sometimes a perception that ALL tertiary students have grown up with technology and are natives of the online environment, and that teaching staff, well, they just have to catch up.

I beg to differ…

Working with staff as they prepare for teaching, I come across a vast range of different styles and views in relation to using newer educational technologies, some keen, proficient and eager to experiment and others overwhelmed, nervous or disinterested.

A recent study found that there was significant diversity in both staff and students in terms of technical experiences and proficiency in Australia universities. Students were not always ‘digital natives’ and academics were not always ‘immigrants’ as has sometimes been claimed. Given my experience, it doesn’t surprise me that they found great diversity across ages and groups, and a wide range of perceptions about the advantages of using technology for learning and teaching. Even if we don’t buy into the immigrant/native analogy, both students and staff can at times feel foreign and lost. As reflective journals, lecture capture, web conferencing, twitter, blogs and video (some explored in recent blog posts to TTTT) become more common, more students and colleagues will be exposed to an increasing range of technologies in learning and teaching. So how can we support better learning and teaching through technology and enable both colleagues and students from a range of backgrounds and technical proficiencies to flourish?

My personal understanding of what it might be like to be in ‘foreign territory’ in an educational online context, comes from my own recent experience as a distance education student. Thrown in the deep end with two other students, who had had very minimal exposure to Web 2.0 technologies but were keen to learn, we were asked to use an emerging educational technology to develop and present an assignment about education and technology. A fellow team member suggested a wiki and we were off. In our case, the technical aspects (setting up and navigating wikispaces which was very new to the other students), and visual and instructional design aspects of the task completely took over from the content and intended learning outcomes of the assignment in our interaction as a group. On top of additional time constraints which we faced as mature aged students with young families and/or in full time employment, the challenges of working and being assessed as a group, the assignment almost derailed. We ended up using email to communicate outside of the wiki and got back on track. The difficulties weren’t because wikispaces was difficult to use, but because of the challenges in sustaining good group work and communication while interacting online in an unstructured, unfamiliar space, in this case with others we hadn’t even met.

I learnt a lot from this activity, and apply it in my work with teaching staff. Like Clare suggests in her recent post, there needs to be a clear sense of purpose as to why to adopt technology for a particular tasks, and clear attention paid to the motivation for students (to foster the kind of willingness and ‘good attitude’ which is so important to successful learning). For our assignment the benefit that we should learn about wikis for education to inform our role as educators was clear, yet it still felt like an unnecessarily add on to an assessment task, and very time consuming in itself. While technology can support communication between peers for distance students, the dry unfamiliar territory of the wiki was not ideal for this in our case. We tended to develop content separately, and then publish, rather than truly collaborate and develop ideas relevant to the assignment as a group. The superficial design and technical aspects unfortunately took over. Other tools, like chat or skype or google docs (or even email which we ended up resorting to) would perhaps have been better for timely communication and collaboration, and would have supported the development of the wiki. But the solution to such challenges isn’t using other tools or technology training (though time and support to learn new technologies is terribly important), but in good teaching practice and design.

So what did I learn about good teaching practice and design using educational technologies from that experience?

That we should:

  • provide time for students to play and explore technologies in advance of the ‘meat’ of the assignment work
  • provide clear structure/scaffolding to support how we were expected to work with the online tools (and most importantly AS A GROUP if that’s a key aspect of the task)
  • make an explicit link between the learning outcomes, assessment criteria, and the process of developing new technical skills

and, the benefits of being:

  • required to work in a group with different levels of ability, and with different individual strengths and weaknesses
  • encouraged to explore new technologies
  • able to experience the technology from a student perspective as an educator.

__________________________

More on recent research into ‘immigrants and natives’ and attitudes about technology in learning and teaching:

Educating the Net Generation: Implications for Learning and Teaching in Australian Universities
Open University research explodes myth of ‘digital native’
The impact of web-based lecture technologies on current and future practices in learning and teaching
Teaching, technology and educational design: the architecture of productive learning environments

 

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