Category Archives: peer learning

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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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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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.

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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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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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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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There’s an app for that…

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

This post focuses particularly on use of the iPad for educators although some of what I share will be relevant for Android devices and smartphones. The ‘digital divide’ is a real issue and one that I’d like to take up in a future post- but increasingly most students will have more than one mobile device. So for ‘iPad’, read ‘iPad, tablet and increasingly smartphones’.

RMIT's Open2Study Course: Foundations of PsychologyOften staff are interested in how they can adopt new technology but are concerned about not having enough time to learn and make successful changes in their teaching. One of the things I have found about the iPad is that it has improved my productivity as well as provided new ways to transfer learning. The challenge, as with a lot of new technology, is putting in the investment of time before the payoff in effectiveness can occur.

There are a couple of examples where I have been involved with iPad use in education that have been illustrative of both the challenges and advantages of adopting iPads. Often iPads are introduced with a simple focus that fails to address the complexity of issues the device also creates as well as the potential complex advantages.  In the Open2study free online Foundations of Psychology course, you can see the iPad being used primarily so that the academic can continue to face the camera while delivering the content. However in several of the early Open2study courses the iPad was merely being used as a whiteboard without taking more advantage of the functional strength and flexibility of the device.

I’ve also been involved in vocational settings where iPads have been handed out to students as a paper and cost-saving activity.  Loading electronic versions of textbooks was going to be cheaper than the provision of textbooks and workbooks. As the devices get cheaper and as the publishers shift to eTextbooks this trend will continue. In this case students were not given enough context and training in using the device and teachers were initially resistant due to a lack of support and preparation. What these instances highlight is the need to be clear (from the teaching team’s perspective) about what moving to devices like this means to their delivery model.

Productivity

I find that the iPad helps my productivity in several ways. One example is that I like to use the Evernote app for note-taking. Evernote is a wonderful tool for collating all sorts of notes. It works across all devices or in a browser and saves notes to the cloud. When I go to a meeting and start a new note Evernote automatically brings the meeting title from my calendar into the note’s heading – making it easier to just begin and know that when I am back at my desktop the notes are already saved and ready to use. I also find the iPad very fast for making presentations – faster than on my laptop or desktop. More on that below.

Challenges in VET and HE

One of the challenging things about the iPad is not having a file system. There are no content folders, no usb port, just apps that you download on to the devices. For a number of reasons, Apple has made this side of the system opaque to users. This means you have to start thinking differently about how you go about things. A part of the solution is to start thinking in combinations of apps. Often you might use two or three different apps to achieve what you want. You might use a third-party camera because it allows for more control over the shot; that shot goes into the iPad’s Photo app and you might use a different third-party app to edit the photo. It’s important then to think in terms of workflows. If you are planning activities with students, you need to consider how you create evidence for what they do on the device (process) as well as how artefacts are transferred off the device (the final product) into an appropriate place (like Blackboard) for assessment.ipad and moleskine notebook

So remember these three questions when you’re planning an activity:

  1. How will the students get the content onto the device? (Will the students use one of the inbuilt tools on the device: web browser, microphone, camera, video camera, notepad or gps?)
  2. What are the students doing with the content once they have it? (What’s the critical or creative task that they’ll be engaging in on the device? Does it require an app or an internet connection?)
  3. What is the process for getting the work from the device and onto, for instance, their peers’ devices for comment or back to their ePortfolio, or into the Learning Management System? (Will the result for you, as an assessor, be easily viewable? Will you be able to see the process as well as a finished product?)

The best way to increase your capacity with these devices is to use them for yourself in meaningful ways. You’ll find yourself using a version of the steps above in your own use-cases. As well, playing with the device is an important element that makes it easier to discover your own approaches to teaching with the device. Here are three ways that I find the iPad useful as an educational device.

1. Presentations

There are several apps that make creating and running presentations easy and engaging. I like to develop PowerPoint style presentations in Keynote. It makes it easy to quickly move content around and it has a notes function that enables you to read from this while presenting. Haiku Deck is an app that encourages good design using free to use images and less text. If you want to use a PowerPoint you have already created then try SlideShark which will import and run the presentation on the iPad without animations.

students using iPhones.

For running presentations try Penultimate which is like a flipboard that you can write on – and you can also import your slides to write over these. Even more sophisticated is Explain Everything which will enable the same activity and will also record what you do on your screen with your voice as you present. You can then save the presentation and send it to students via email or place it in the LMS.

2. Content specific apps

It’s worth visiting Apple’s App Store (or Google’s equivalent Google Play) and typing in your subject or topics relating to your subject. For example, a chemistry teacher will find dozens of apps relating to molecular bonds. There are many free and low-cost apps that could enliven demonstrations on particular topics, allowing students to perform simulated experiments or used as study aids. Trouble Tower (see a screenshot below) is an example of an RMIT-developed app that looks at Occupational Health & Safety in the context of the Australian construction industry.

3. Playing around

Sometimes an app will demonstrate or provide a purpose in unexpected ways. For example the popular game Angry Birds gives a wonderful demonstration of the principles of physics. Fun, intuitive apps like Comic Life and storyboarding apps are used for quick mock-ups in courses like theatre, literature and cinema studies.  Apps that you might use in your own life might have applicability across a range of disciplines. For example Magic Plan allows you to point the device in a room and accurately measure dimensions to create a floor plan.

A note on Android tablets and smartphones

There are often the same (or equivalent) applications for Android devices. And there are a number of aspects in which the Android platform currently has the lead on Apple; a tighter integration with Google’s online tools is a significant one.

Opens a new window to Trouble Tower in the App Store.

A screenshot from Dr Stefan Greuter’s app ‘Trouble Tower’

Androids have other advantages; they offer more customisation and they play Flash animations. While iPads are often easier to use, Androids can often be better adapted to do specific things you want to do. They can also represent good value if you want basic functionalities without the cost of the iPad.

In closing, start small! Try to modify one activity in your class that you think would be enriched by using mobile technology. A colleague at another university recently told me about an OH&S activity she ran where the students had 10 minutes to walk around the building and snap pictures of hazards on campus. The students messaged the pictures to her which then formed the basis of the group’s discussion. A simple activity like that can begin a process of harnessing the tools we’re carrying in our pockets for quick, real-world learning.

Share your thoughts (or useful apps and learning activities) in the comments section or contact me (Howard Errey on Yammer or on Twitter: @howard61) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching for more information

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 use of technology in teaching and learning: A game of mix and match

picture of Ehsan

Guest post: Dr Ehsan Gharaie, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University.

It seems like there’s a compelling new technology available for teaching every day. New teaching platforms, new software, and more recently new apps.  Add to this, new hardware such as tablets and smartphones.  As educators, we face a huge realm of possibilities and a big confusion, if not a headache: how to keep up? For some people, the question is more profound: should I keep up at all? And if yes, which technology should I choose?

Reflect and decipher

Dr Ehsan GharaieBefore you answer these questions, you need to decipher what happens in your teaching practice. Without reflecting on your own practice you will not be able to make active decisions. And I assure you, without you making these decisions; the decisions will be made for you.

Wait another few years and you will find yourself with a tablet in hand without knowing how to make use of it. The new movement towards MOOCs is one example of  the technology changing and leaving us to follow the trend instead of making active decisions.

To explain what I mean by deciphering your teaching practice, I reflected on my own class to see what exactly happened and then I listed what my students experience. Here is the list, in no particular order, or rather, a list that I could order or rank in many different ways:

My voice
My appearance
A space for their voice to be heard
A space for them to think and learn
My body language
Their body language
The human interaction between me and them
The human interaction between them
The learning environment/atmosphere/space
The lecture slides
The readings
Oral answers to their questions
Written answers to their questions
Class activities
Feedback (one-on-one)
Feedback on their written work
Discussion within their groups
Written communication within their groups.

Mix and match

Dr Ehsan Gharaie at LecternAfter the deciphering (and I would encourage you to do a similar audit of what goes on in a typical class) you need to look at the technology offered and see what the technology can do for you. And what it may prevent you from doing.

If you are a lecturer and the only thing that your students get from your class is your voice and lecture slides, then you could use PowerPoint with your recorded narration, and save yourself and your students, time and hassle. But if your teaching style is based on your personal relationship with students and the learning that happens from students collaborating, then narrated PowerPoint slides would kill your teaching practice.

If you are good at responding to emails and using written explanations of things to students, then an online platform may help your workflow. But if you prefer a teaching style similar to Michael J. Sandel’s (view a lecture from his ‘Justice’ course here) and believe in conversations and discussions during the class, then perhaps moving to an online platform would limit your practice.

The point that I want to make here is that before making any decision for the use of technology, reflect on your practice. Think about how you want students to learn, then look at the proposed technology and see what can be gained. Then it will be a matter of mixing and matching to get a good combination of technology-enabled and traditional teaching.

Wordpress shows the country of origin for your blog's viewers.

And remember, technology is not always there to replace the current practice and make life easier. Sometimes it gives new opportunities and opens new frontiers but this might come at the cost of an investment of time.

We are all confined in time and space. I can only be at one place and one time, but students can play lecture videos anywhere and anytime. In a modest way, even this particular post expands my existence; my audience. These words reach places I would never be able to visit in a single lifetime as an academic. Look at the picture on the left: it shows the country of origin from every viewer of this blog yesterday. Lecturers like Sandel are now reaching tens of thousands of students!

Thus, it is not all gloomy or geeky. Just as we express to our students, learning involves thinking, trying, and even failing at some attempts to succeed in the long run.

Share your comments on deciphering your own teaching and using technology in the comments!

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.

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!

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