There will be a short break in our transmission…

Hello fellow bloggers and educators. The teachingtomtom is having a short holiday for 2013, and will return on Thursday 6 February 2014.

A view of Melbourne from RMIT University building 1

A view of Melbourne from RMIT University building 1

I would like to thank all our readers and contributors for 2013 who thought, wrote and commented on so many posts for us to read and enjoy. We hope you may have put some of the ideas posted here into use in your teaching practice. During the break, maybe you’d like to review some of our 108 previous posts.

Currently the teachingtomtom has 341 blog followers, 514 Twitter followers and 19 Facebook followers. We have posted 38 articles on learning and teaching for 2013, and we had on average over 1,500 hits per month. If you like our blog, we look forward to seeing you again in 2014. If you really like our blog, please pass our link onto your friends and colleagues, and if you really, really like our blog, please ask to contribute a post by emailing us at teachingtomtom@rmit.edu.au.

RMIT University is a dual sector university in Melbourne, Australia with approximately 74,000 students of whom 30,000 are from overseas. We are the learning and teaching unit in the Academic Development Group of the College of Design and Social Context.

Regards and safe holidays to you from our team.

- John Benwell

Learning Analytics: What does it all mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

Share your thoughts on learning analytics in the comments!

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Everyone can have their moment – Celebrating learning and teaching

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

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

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

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

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

How to do this you ask?

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

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

RM

So complete the following sentences:

What I have learnt when teaching is…

My students have surprised me by…

In my teaching I am pleased with…

Thanks to Julie and Bronwyn for sharing their responses!

Share your thoughts in the comments!

 


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Thinking of doing some professional development for teaching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share your thoughts about professional development in the comments!

Find us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/teachingtomtom and Twitter @teachingtomtom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social networks at work

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

yam·mer

verb (used without object)

Watercooler close-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sian: A tentative conclusion…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Publishing your teaching: disseminating practice for continual improvement

Posted by:
Dallas Wingrove, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching & Miranda Francis, Liaison Librarian, School of Property, Construction & Project Management, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Students on campus at RMIT.Once the marking period is over and results are lodged, there is thankfully at least some time to catch your breath and begin to allocate a sustained period of time to your research and publications.

Understandably, teachers and lecturers frequently plan to use the non-teaching period for their research and writing, commonly focused on their discipline. Yet, for a range of reasons, fewer write about their teaching practice.

Whilst many feel confident to research and publish from within their discipline, with the exception of those from within the discipline of Education, writing about your teaching might seem daunting, less familiar and for some, it may not even be on the radar.

So, how can your university support you to engage with the learning and teaching literature?

At RMIT, your Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching (SALT) and Liaison Librarians are publishing within this field and can provide you with practical support and direct you to a suite of useful resources.

Our Library offers a range of practical, up-to-date resources which include two key subject guides: one on publishing your research and the second on resources for Learning and Teaching:

Publishing your ResearchStudents at work at RMIT.

http://rmit.libguides.com/publishingresearch

Online Resources for Learning and Teaching
http://rmit.libguides.com/learningandteaching

Beyond accessing these resources, each School in this university has a Liaison Librarian. Liaison Librarians are subject specialists. They can help you to use these resources to find relevant, accurate information.
http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarians

In addition, your Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching can also provide advice on current thinking and research and can also provide feedback to support you to reflect on your teaching practice. SALTs can also guide you through the ethics approval process and may also collaborate with you to co-author a paper.

Research in Learning and Teaching

Research into your teaching practice can include course and program assessment, action research and peer feedback on teaching. Your research can encompass professional development, such as how you can enhance your teaching expertise. It may also encompass the study and implementation of pedagogy such as active learning and problem based learning.

Research methods may include reflection and analysis, interviews with your students and focus groups, questionnaires and surveys, content analysis, observational research and case studies.

Importantly, you can also integrate current and emerging research developments from within your discipline into your teaching practice, such as through assessments, face to face and online teaching. The practice of gathering meaningful student feedback will not only enable you to write up your practice, but also offers a vital data source to inform your review of curriculum for improvement.

Areas to consider writing about based on your teaching include:

  • Reflecting on new ways of working/a  change in practice

  • Reflecting on feedback from your students

  • Reporting and evaluating your assessment design

  • Utilising new learning spaces

  • Offshore teaching

  • Integrating teaching, students’ learning and work

  • Teaching /Research Nexus

  • HDR supervision

  • Peer Partnerships

  • Transition

  • English Language Development

  • Cross Disciplinary Teaching

  • Team Teaching

  • Technologies to enhance learning

  • Teaching-Industry partnerships

Where to next?

For those of you who are contemplating dipping your toe in the water, or for the more experienced researchers  in learning and teaching, we hope you may consider taking the time to review these resources and to share these with your peers.

Each College at RMIT also provides a range of support and professional development activities for staff to research and publish, so check with your Deputy Head Research to find relevant support staff and resources.

Writing about your teaching practice delivers many benefits which can also apply to preparing for a teaching award or for the academic staff promotion process.

As teachers, you bring to the table your practical experience and commitment to quality teaching and learning.

So, why not use your experience and knowledge and write about your practice?

In doing so, you will not only disseminate your work and produce outputs but you will further enhance your teaching practice.

Share your thoughts about writing about your own practice in the comments and remember that you can also follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/teachingtomtom

Program management for everyone

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

Click on the image to view RMIT's web resources on program management.

Click on the image to view RMIT’s web resources on program management.

Program management is hard work. There is so much to consider, take into account, plan for and, at times, react to. It’s not just about the program; its design, delivery, quality, review, promotion — it’s also very much about the students: their enrolment, orientation, induction, progress, feedback, complaints, appeals and advice…as I said, hard work.

So what can help?

As part of the Academic Management of Coursework Programs in Schools endorsed by the VCE in April 2013, The Office of the Dean Learning and Teaching has put together a suite of resources for Program Managers in both Higher Education and VET to hopefully ease some of that burden.  Program Management for everyone is a just-in-time portal to policies, resources, training and relevant information. It isn’t the magic bullet, but it has attempted to bring information together.

By the end of November it will be complemented with a section for Course Coordinators in Higher Education, and VET will follow suit in early 2014 with a section for Program Coordinators. There are also plans to include a section on People Management.

Professional development has been organised, and apart from the resources online, there is a Blackboard shell and upcoming DevelopMe workshops. We’ve already held one of these sessions and look out for one in late November. In 2014, another series of DevelopMe workshops will target specific areas when they are needed most.

We chose the tagline Program management for everyone because it’s such crucial role here at RMIT. The impact the Program team has on the student experience and student outcomes can’t be overestimated.

Share your thoughts on the new resources or program management more generally in the comments!


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Procrastination

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

Academics can sometimes hold very negative perceptions of students as lazy and question their ability to meet deadlines and submit assignments on time. Academics can even be a bit gleeful in their enthusiasm in coming up with rules and penalties for late submission. Reinforcing deadlines is critical if we are trying to teach students about the realities of the workforce, but can’t we all relate to students who struggle with time management or procrastination? If we’re being honest, don’t we all struggle with deadlines and more specifically procrastination on difficult tasks like writing articles? I’ve noticed for myself that writing can prompt anxieties and very similar avoidance strategies that I had sadly practised back as a student. Of course, very real issues including illness, unrealistic goals and workloads get in the way, but we’re also all well aware of a host of procrastination techniques in ourselves and observed in others.

I surveyed colleagues and friends to find out a bit more about how they procrastinate and whether they have any useful (online) tools or strategies that might help them avoid procrastinating. Finally I begin to consider how we might better support students to stop procrastinating and submit on time.

I wonder if procrastination needs much introduction…

I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t sometimes procrastinate. For me, when procrastinating, I go to the internet and social media tools. The most mundane of internet games and the worst of television shows all take on new importance. Research has demonstrated that technologies can similarly tempt students to procrastinate and it shouldn’t surprise us that they’ve also demonstrated links between Facebook and procrastination.

Yet it isn’t a new phenomenon

I used to bake cookies before Facebook and iPads, Candy Crush and Pinterest. I have the recipe written down in my recipe book as “procrastination cookies”. So a Facebook restriction will result in other types of procrastination. Cooking, cleaning, sleeping… — Erica

file000184731991

Before the internet, as my friend Erica says, there was cleaning and baking. Tax returns might even get done if avoiding writing or marking papers. If these can be kept in hand, tasks (like setting up a conducive working space) can be appropriate precursor activities before sitting down to get through some marking for instance. Many people have rituals they have to go through before sitting down to work.

In ‘Waiting for the motivation fairy’ Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner (2011) also remind us that procrastination can be ‘far more subtle, and can even be taken for productive work’ such as digging up elusive references, starting new projects or experiments, chasing up elusive but perhaps unnecessary references, checking emails.

Is it necessarily a bad thing?cleaning

We certainly need breaks. Breaks are essential for deep thinking and assimilation of ideas and concepts, critical for creativity, to occur. Walking, gardening or other simple repetitive tasks not taking much concentration can help the creative process. Productive and creative ‘types’ throughout history have often taken dramatic steps to increase their productivity and avoid procrastination, some common elements include daily set periods of work, clear targets of how many words to achieve, but they also had breaks such as time out for day jobs and long walks.

It’s important to think about why you might be procrastinating and not be too judgemental or hard on yourself:

Reward yourself for work done. Punishment never works, it just creates more procrastination. Sometimes laughing helps to, to take the pressure off: I love PhD comics. Oh, and getting to know the difference between avoiding because you’re lazy, and avoiding because you’re actually on the brink of a brainwave… — Lisa

I think the unconscious aspects of self sabotage often need to be addressed carefully rather than becoming stentorian with oneself… — Fiona

Sometimes we may just be stuck on something or need to approach a different way. Other times a task may be overwhelming or crippling, and strategies are needed to address the procrastination.

filing

Are there any solutions?

One colleague successfully uses Pomodoro as her procrastination avoidance tool. In brief, it’s a pre-set strict period of work, using a timer, where interruptions are carefully managed with breaks interspersed. Another finds it really useful to get up very early in the morning at the same time each day to write. The lack of interruptions and being a bit less awake may actually be a benefit to productivity in his case. Some people have joined support networks such as “Shut up and Write” where interested people meet at a cafe and write in short bursts and then have a chat to each other as well.

Kearns and Gardiner identify three techniques which provide a good summary of key practices to hold procrastination at bay:

1) big projects need to be broken down into steps (perhaps even tiny ones)

2) set a time deadline by which to perform that tiny step

3) build in an immediate reward.

Implications for assessment design

If we think about assessment design in the context of the conditions that may contribute to procrastination, then as academics, we would want to avoid setting unclear tasks; tasks without any progress points or milestones and tasks that feel too big and complex to get started. They may all affect student motivation and their ability to make a start. If ‘action leads to motivation, which in turn leads to more action’ (Kearns and Gardiner, 2011) then designing assessment that encourages students to get started makes sense. So think about breaking up some big assessments into smaller components with earlier due dates to get students started and on the right track. Provide them with feedback, early on. Even better: work with your students to help them to break up the assessment tasks. Also, think about rewards versus the perceived ‘threat’ or pressures associated with assessment tasks.

coffeeIf redesigning your assessment for the next semester seems like a big task at the moment, don’t put it off! Break it down, set some dates and reward yourself!

Thanks to Fiona Collins, Lisa Farrance and Erica Walther for their input into this post.

References and more information:

Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments!


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Assessment, Grade, Holidays…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you have an enjoyable break.


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Games people play Part 2: Let’s pretend

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

Metrics

Fitbit Screengrab

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

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

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

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

All true!

What a savvy readership!

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

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

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

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

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

‘Trouble Tower’ app from RMIT’s GEElab.

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

Caveats

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

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

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

Click to read the article at news.Discovery.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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