I ♥ RMIT Library

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

Since I was a child, I have always loved libraries. There was nothing better than roaming the shelves for hours looking for books that I hadn’t read and sometimes finding a quiet spot to read right there in the library. I’m still excited by libraries though now I’m usually searching for totally different genres. However, I do still spend hours searching the ‘shelves’ online.

The ease of searching the RMIT library online is just fantastic. You can do it from home, on the train, at work, on another campus – it’s just there. If you want to share the resources that you have found with other RMIT staff or with your students via email, Blackboard or Google Docs/Sites, by using the RMIT URL, they can log directly in to the resource (usually it has “ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/” in the URL somewhere).

Here are some of the ways that the library helps me in my work.

Google Scholar

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.23.43 pmI’m often looking for journal papers on a variety of topics. Now I could go to Google Scholar through the web but if I go to Google Scholar through the library, then I can link directly to all the papers from journals that RMIT has subscribed to – rather than being asked to pay for the article or taking the name of the article and then searching in the eJournals in the library.

eBooks

The library is purchasing more and more ebooks. And if there is a text that you like to use with your students you can request for RMIT library to purchase it as an ebook if it is available. It’s cheaper for students, it’s great to have a basic textbook if you need one and you might be surprised at how many there are in your particular field.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.24.52 pm

To access eBooks, simply type in your topic in the library search and then refine your search by clicking ‘Full text online’.

Videos

There are a number of video resources and databases that you can link to in the library, such as Informit TV News. If you see a news program or documentary on TV and you think, ‘I wish I had taped that to show my students’. Well, you can probably find it on TV News two or three days later. You can then copy and paste the URL into Blackboard or a Google site. Add some questions and start a discussion.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.25.42 pm

Another new video resource, released recently by the library is Informit EduTV. It is an online TV streaming resource and you can find anything here from full movies or documentaries to current affairs from free-to-air and Pay TV channels. Again, you can copy the link and direct people straight to the source.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.26.00 pm

Grazyna Rosinska in a previous post wrote about Kanopy and Lynda.com so I won’t mention them here except for the fact that I have used Lynda.com to help me learn a number of online tools, including WordPress and Google Sites. If you want to learn at your own pace then Lynda.com can be really useful. It’s free for staff and students at RMIT.

Subject Guides

There are a number of subject guides available through the library which can be useful, especially if you are teaching and would like students to have a basic list of relevant resources. If you have not got a subject guide for your discipline, the library liaisons are very happy to help create one for you.

Here is one that was developed to help academics teach in Next Generation Learning Spaces: http://rmit.libguides.com/newlearningspaces.

Here’s another on inclusive teaching practices: http://rmit.libguides.com/inclusive_teaching_practice.

There may be one that you can add to your Blackboard/Google Site for your discipline too. For example, Building and Property: http://rmit.libguides.com/building.

You might already be using all of these tools, but if not, then they are definitely worth a look. And if you are thinking of publishing in the near future, consider publishing an eBook! Here’s a good introductory article from The Guardian that comes from an e-textbook publisher and discusses just what that involves.

Are there other online tools that you find particularly useful in the library?

Share your thoughts on library resources in the comments section!
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The unbundling of higher education: Breaking down the whole.

(cc) Flickr user: Mike Linksvayer

(cc) Flickr user: Mike Linksvayer

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

There’s another movement unfolding in the background of fee deregulation that we need to be aware of: the unbundling of higher education. As Professor Jim Barber (former Vice Chancellor, University of New England) explains, “The concept of ‘unbundled’ education refers to the emergent practice of allowing students to pay for those services, and only those services, that they actually require.” Similar thoughts are being raised in the UK, as this Times Higher Education article points to a report that recommends government funding follow the student and not the institution.

Think of it as the difference between a set menu (preselected courses served at a fixed time and price) compared to free choice from the menu and dishes from any other restaurant. In the higher education arena, this might mean choosing a course from a university, but not paying for the facilities and services offered. The facilities students may choose to not use include the cafeteria and other academic and support services. What’s being called a ‘pick-and-mix’ approach means that students pay for certain facilities on a fee-for-service basis. Which leads to student choosing which parts they want to use and therefore pay for. Choice has always been seen as something students value in a program of study (look at electives, streams, majors, study-abroad and cross-institutional studies for instance) but this movement might see multi-institution degrees become a path that more students select.

According to Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, the unbundling of higher education is a form of ‘disruptive innovation‘. Christensen explains it as “a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of the market and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.”  An example of this already exists in the form of consumers (students) having the ability to receive credentials via RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) through previous work experience or a MOOC. For universities, the unbundling of higher education is a form of disruptive innovation. It is enabling the consumer (student) with the ability to choose subjects and courses from a university that can be delivered on campus, online or both, without the added fees for services and facilities that they may not need nor use. As a consumer (student), this unbundling provides the ability to secure services the individual does want, and not pay for what they don’t want. This hopefully translates to cheaper, but just as, or more effective degrees and experiences selected from a wider pool of providers.

The movement towards unbundling has started. Georgia Institute of Technology is admitting students into a low-fee postgraduate degree. Students are taking courses from the University Without Walls, a university fully supported by the University of Massachusetts, that enables students to design their program of study.

The goals of unbundling of higher education are to increase the quality of lectures, enable more individualised instruction, offer an increase in choice to students and most importantly, provide it all at a lower cost. What it might mean for academics and universities is to take stock of what they deliver well online, in blended environments and on-campus: student expectations aren’t going to do anything except rise.

To be honest, I Iike this movement, I like the goals that this movement professes to be aligning towards. I will be watching those universities to see who gets it right (and wrong) in this evolution of higher education.

Share your thoughts on unbundling in the comments…

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If you’re just joining us…

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

Everyday Monument by Ria Green & Alica Bryson-Haynes Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Everyday Monument
by Ria Green & Alicia Bryson-Haynes
Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Joining anything halfway through can be an unsettling experience. Shuffling in late to a movie, a concert or a dinner, probably triggers discomfort in all but the most blithe among us.

But many RMIT programs now have a dedicated midyear intake and many teachers and academics will have taken up appointments in recent days and weeks.

For students, there are midyear orientation events and if you’re wanting to see the kinds of online resources students have access to, here are three handy links:

Whether you’re a staff member or a student joining RMIT this July, you’ll be entering an environment which probably feels already set-up, already up-and-running even with induction and orientation processes.

I’ve been meeting new staff in the School of Art and the College of Design and Social Context and helping them navigate the RMIT landscape as best I can, so I thought I’d use this post to share some tips in the online space. Maybe they’ll spur some more suggestions from readers and commenters?

1. Read RMIT Update. The weekly RMIT Update is an essential mix of what your colleagues want you to know about. Deadlines for grants, upcoming conferences, good news stories and opportunities for staff to contribute to events are what you’ll get here. RMIT Update’s the kind of place where you’d read about RMIT’s involvement in White Night (see Everyday Monument above).

2. Master Gmail. Your RMIT Gmail account means that you’re pretty much committed to Google Apps and its associated bits and pieces. A steep learning curve if you haven’t had a Gmail account before, but worth it for the benefits over traditional email. You’ll receive RMIT Update through your Gmail account.

3. Check out Yammer. If you’re an RMIT staff member then you can see what you think of Yammer, the quickest way to describe it would be a kind of university Facebook. Yammer’s the sort of place you’d go to ask how to unsend something in Gmail.

4. Wrangle your passwords. ESS, eNumbers, CAS, Trobexis, Learning Hub, Gmail, Yammer- welcome a new family of usernames and passwords into your life! And if you work across a number

Click on the image to go to the TIME article on passwords.

Click on the image to go to the TIME article on passwords.

of institutions, as a sessional academic for instance, all of these will be evil twins to the ones you use at your other workplace! What’s the solution to this one? Well the method described in this recent Time article (A phrase like ‘Hi! I’m Doug, and I’m a 35-year-old. Do you want to dance?’ becomes: H!ID,aIa35-y-o.Dywtd?) might be for you…

Otherwise there’s the Self Service Password Reset that can help, or the good people of ITS at the end of extension 58888. There are a number of other numbers that you should know or have in your phone too: 53333 for Security on the Brunswick, Bundoora and City campuses and 53316 for urgent Audio Visual assistance.

Everyday Monument by Ria Green & Alica Bryson-Haynes Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Everyday Monument
by Ria Green & Alicia Bryson-Haynes
Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

5. And as all online lists about technology should finish with a message to disconnect and get some fresh air, my fifth tip is: Take a walk. Go see some student work, some students at work, or some students playing basketball.

Welcome to RMIT!

Share your thoughts on joining midyear and any tips for new staff and students in the comments!

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A short break between semesters…

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

hoopThe tomtom will take a short break for the middle of the year but we will be back on 17 July. In the meantime, don’t forget that you can access articles in the Archive.

See you in two weeks!

- Jon.

 

 

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Google Apps for Education

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

Last chance registrations for RMIT Staff: A special lunchtime workshop on Blended Learning at RMIT Wednesday, 2 July, 12.30pm, in the Swanston Academic Building featuring Professor Geoffrey Crisp (Dean, Learning and Teaching). Email Rosemary.Chang@rmit.edu.au for details.

During April I had the good fortune to attend the Google Education Summit in Sydney. It was really useful to see the scale and variety of what is going on as well as becoming aware of some of the things on the horizon.

One focus was helping teachers organise and solve problems. There were several sessions on using YouTube for organising, streaming and editing videos. One of the eye openers was seeing how easy the video editor was to use. 67% of courses in the College of Design and Social Context report they are already using YouTube so it will be useful to be able to share more of this functionality. Fortunately, like Blogger and Hangouts (recently switched on at RMIT via Google+), YouTube is on the RMIT roadmap for our suite of apps. You can find out more here.

I saw some excellent work being done with Google Sites, from using it as a low level learning management system, to enabling sharing across different sites and platforms. This seemed particularly useful for teachers needing to structure their online activities with large numbers of students. Many of the sessions were about Add-ons in Google Docs and Google Sheets enabling tools such as Doctopus that can combine with Google Drive and Sites. For example teachers can distribute different documents across different student groups into their Google Drives. I have since been trying out some of the Google Docs add-ons such as EasyBib for adding bibliographic references from the web.

Another session I enjoyed was an informal talk with four Google engineers who talked a lot about their favourite apps and were reassuring about Google wanting to be improving the experience for a number of the issues that we have had (for me it was better organising of shared files). The biggest push however was improving the mobile experience. Already we are seeing this with the apps for Drive and Sheets.

It was also eye-opening to go to a session on Google culture.  Here’s their ‘10 things we know to be true‘, formulated in the company’s first years:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Did you know Google was originally called Backrub? (‘Just let me Backrub that for you…’ rippled around the room.)

The main feature is that Google is led by a ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude. When Google Maps (invented in Australia) was introduced many staff were skeptical as it seemed so far away from their core business. At the same time one of the founders was saying ‘Why not map the oceans or Mars as well?’ Both have become Google projects in the meantime.

A screenshot showing false-colour elevation of Olympus Mons on Mars

A screenshot showing false-colour elevation of Olympus Mons on Mars.

An inspiring keynote was given by Jenny Magiera who works in a Chicago public school where they have recently replaced Apple iPads with Nexus tablets. It takes only a few seconds (versus several hours per iPad) for a teacher to set up each Nexus, as demonstrated by Jenny’s students in the video leading this post. An interesting change of direction given that Jenny is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.

One session I thought was about learning analytics was called Making Sense of Data. It is a free online course Google makes available. The session involved taking us through the course as a way of learning Google’s data tools:

What was really impressive though was the learning design of this short course. Quizzes are offered up front, and then learning exercises are offered if you are not sure of the answers. You can learn about and try some of the course here or do the full course with the Google teachers here.

I also understood for the first time the value of Chromebooks which are essentially browser-based devices with a keyboard and touchscreen. By using the Chrome browser with all the plugin extensions available and combining this with all the capabilities in Google Drive and other Google platforms such as Maps and YouTube, so much can be done purely online.I am beginning to wonder about the value of the Mac I recently bought, compared with a Chromebook which retails for about one fifth of the price.

The next Google Summit is scheduled for Melbourne on 22 – 23 September. It would be terrific if some others from RMIT could benefit from the perspective that attending one of these summits enables. In talking with the organisers they would love to customise a summit for tertiary providers, so I will also be watching that space.

If you want to keep up to date with our project, follow us at www.whatonearth14.wordpress.com. We have a number of new posts showing RMIT teachers and students at work.

Share your thoughts about using Google’s tools in the comments section!

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Learning & teaching for sustainability– naturally

Guest Post: Dr Jude Westrup, Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, RMIT University.

Click the image to view The Learning and Teaching for Sustainability toolkit [PDF, 812 KB, 27 pages]

Click the image to view The Learning and Teaching for Sustainability toolkit [PDF, 812 KB, 27 pages]

Following Margaret Blackburn’s post in early 2013, I responded in a comment that it was ‘…great to see sustainability and environmental responsibility made explicit in our graduate attributes…’ What this means is that whatever the program of study, graduates of RMIT University will have engaged in processes to develop their abilities to recognise environmental and social impacts and to provide leadership on sustainable approaches to complex problems. The page on the graduate attribute Environmentally aware and responsible (#3 of 6) gives some suggestions of how this might look in a program. Appropriate to their level of study, students will:
•                Recognise the interrelationship between environmental, social and economic sustainability
•                Appraise and critique context-appropriate sustainability measures
•                Take responsibility for critical decision-making in ensuring sustainable outcomes
•                Appropriately apply their environmental and sustainability literacy in a highly diverse range of contexts.
For interested teachers and academics (especially those involved in course and program reviews, amendments or developments) the Learning and Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) project can help you map this attribute and there are many excellent curriculum development and refreshment resources already available on the LTfS website  and includes the recently produced LTfS Toolkit for curriculum development, consisting of templates and workshop activity sheets.
Sustainability is undergoing a renaissance within the international and national tertiary sector as it relates to professional, industry and community priorities. Several LTfS components of RMIT’s Sustainability Action Plan are being reinvigorated while others are being developed for the first time. Through the Office of the Dean – Learning & Teaching (Academic Portfolio) a university-wide, year-long LTfS project is flourishing, with curriculum development, professional development (PD) and LTfS opportunities for staff being the main foci.
In terms of PD, staff will be able to access resources for LTfS curriculum development and evaluation via the LTfS website, a Google Site for informal (within RMIT) sharing of ideas, the Sustainability Subject Guide (RMIT Library) and other resources collated within RMIT’s Learning Repository.

Gallery of RMIT Graphs

LTfS sits within a broader suite of sustainability projects at RMIT.

RMIT Vietnam already has sustainability resources, such as an Environmental Policy in place.

We have contributed to the International Sustainability Literacy Index (currently in development), the United Nations Higher Education for Sustainable Development portal and the National Education for Sustainability (Office of Learning & Teaching) website. RMIT is a key contributor to these sites and initiatives.The national Education for Sustainability Tertiary Forum was held at LaTrobe University in February which linked staff at Universities in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Detailed outcomes and actions are available on the Education for Sustainability website.

We have ongoing national participation with groups such as ACTS (Australasian Campuses Toward Sustainability) and AAEE (Australian Association for Environmental Education). Both of these groups have conferences in Hobart in November which staff are encouraged to explore, attend and contribute to.
A range of RMIT resources exist for teachers, lecturers and academic developers.

A range of RMIT resources exist for teachers, lecturers and academic developers. Click on the image to see more.

All Colleges in Melbourne and the Sustainability Group in Vietnam are involved in linking LTfS curriculum development with the Global Learning by Design (2014-2016) major project and other strategic Program and Course development and delivery initiatives (such as the AQF Program and Course Guide alignments and Undergraduate and Postgraduate Program reviews). A workshop, Introduction to Learning & Teaching for Sustainability will be available to all staff from Semester 2 in the DevelopMe PD program and online, modular resources are under development. Social media, digital learning and blog communications channels are also being explored and developed.During the RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo in September 2014 students, alumni and staff from across RMIT will present an interactive Q&A style LTfS colloquium. This session will explore key issues in sustainability of relevance to staff and students across our campuses.

The creation of a dedicated RMIT Teaching Award (P9: Graduate Learning Outcomes), for curriculum developments or initiatives that enhance one of RMIT’s graduate attributes, will further raise the profile of LTfS and enhance learning and teaching practices across RMIT.

To close on the topic of awards, the 2014 Green Gown Awards Australasia is now open and the deadline for all submissions is 4pm Tuesday 5 August 2014. A team in Landscape Architecture were finalists last year with their project looking at green roof projects.
Are there teams out there ready to have a shot at the 2014 awards?
Share your thoughts and questions about sustainability on campus in the comments section!
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Teaching Awards: A writing rollercoaster

Ed: With RMIT’s Teaching Awards season underway, this week we welcome a team from the University of Canberra writing on the process of making applications for national citations.

Guest Post: Coralie McCormack, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Canberra.

An expanded version of our rollercoaster ride can be read in ‘Things fall apart so they can fall together’: uncovering the hidden side of writing a teaching award application, McCormack, Vanags and Prior (2014). We offer the expanded narrative (and this quick précis) as a companion to accompany other award applicants and their writing guides on their journey, whatever shape it takes.

Waiting in line (Who we were/still are):

Our rollercoaster ride occurred in 2010 when I was an academic developer within the University of Canberra’s Teaching and Learning Centre. I have a passion for evaluating learning and teaching, developing teaching philosophy statements, teaching portfolios and narrative approaches to teaching and research. I specialise in capacity building for leadership in learning and teaching through institutional and national teaching awards, mentoring programs, writing as a method of inquiry and teaching and learning communities of practice such as TATALs (Talking about teaching and learning). In 2010, I assisted Thea and Robyn with their successful applications for an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.

ClimbThea was an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Canberra with a fervour for knowledge and understanding, and an ability to use everyday language and examples to explain concepts. These skills and her focus on student feedback enable students to overcome their negative preconceptions of difficult topic areas. She received an ALTC Citation “For using active learning to demystify psychology, inspiring student engagement with the ‘hard, boring’ topics to create exciting learning interactions”.

Robyn was a Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Canberra. She uses four main strategies to help students learn: deconstructing complex material using simple explanations, presenting complex processes through animations, illustrating complex molecules through computer simulations and demonstrating complex processes through easy-to-understand drawings. She integrates these with examples that can be applied in everyday life. Robyn received an ALTC Citation “For using ‘step-wise’ knowledge building approaches to help reluctant learners understand and apply complex concepts in difficult biochemistry areas”.

The ride experience:

Meredith Seaman’s post suggests that this type of writing “…does not usually come naturally. It’s hard work and a new style…” We would concur and go as far as to say that writing a UpsidedownCitation application feels like you’re on a rollercoaster where things fall apart before they can come together for submission and success. What we are wondering now, is whether this is something with which others are familiar? Maybe you have ridden the writing rollercoaster as a teaching award applicant. We suspect this rollercoaster is also a ride we take in other writing contexts, such as performance appraisal reports and promotion applications.

The wash-up:

When our ride was finally over we took time to investigate this previously hidden side of writing from an autoethnographic perspective. Our collective story recounts the sense of feeling ‘at home’ as practitioners recognised by our institutions in various ways. However, this was followed by a sense of becoming and being ‘unhomely’ as we gathered speed on the downhill. As time passed and we went through the cycles of re-writes and reflection, our writing gathered momentum and Thea and Robyn began to feel more comfortable in the unfamiliar world of learning and teaching discourse. With this new momentum the we began to enjoy the process, the rollercoaster, we felt a sense of ‘homeliness’. After submission and success we felt a sense of personal transformation through learning and growing ourselves as teachers.

If the stages of ‘homeliness’ and ‘unhomeliness’ identified in our story are replicated in the experiences of others it could reasonably be asked whether the benefits are at least as great as the physical and emotional effort needed to achieve success, particularly for early career academics pressured from all sides to perform as teachers and as researchers.

The inevitably nomadic lives of academics adds a final footnote to all of this. Two years on and our team is now spread across three universities but we’re still able to collaborate electronically (most recently in the HERDSA article and this blog post) and we’re all still engaged in the scholarship of learning and teaching.

But back to where we started, at the title of Meredith Seaman’s contribution: ‘Teaching awards – worth the paperwork?’ And our answer? A definite YES!

For more information:

  • Teachers, academics (and academic developers) might like to visit the resources for the Promoting Excellence Network  hosted at the University of New South Wales.
  • McCormack, C., Prior, R., & Vanags, T. (2014). ‘Things fall apart so they can fall together’: Uncovering the hidden side of writing a teaching award application. Higher Education Research and Development. DOI:10.1080/07294360.2014.890569

Contact:  Coralie.McCormack@canberra.edu.au

Share your thoughts about any aspect of the Teaching Awards process in the comments section!

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Patterns for Change and Innovation

Posted by: Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching, RMIT University.

Click on the image to visit the GLbD site.

Click on the image to visit the GLbD site.

RMIT is a global university of technology and design but how does this translate into our programs and courses? Are they truly global? And are we keeping pace with the changes being forced upon Higher Education?  Changes that are very much driven by technology and online delivery.

Global Learning by Design (GLbD) is a major project of the University that is hoping to address and deliver on these questions. The idea is that programs will be designed for delivery in multiple locations using multiple channels: face-to-face, blended or fully-online.

So how does GLbD propose to do this?  We’ve set up Curriculum Design Teams made up of academic and teaching leads, teaching staff, educational developers, representatives from the Library and Study and Learning Centre as well as production specialists from the Office of the Dean, Learning & Teaching. It’s about bringing these stakeholders together from the start, providing a holistic approach to program development. Not a new concept in designing curriculum, but one that makes sense.

There are many innovative approaches to teaching and learning across RMIT that have resulted in rich student learning experiences. But what we have not been able to do is consistently capture this work and share it! Making it available to other disciplines and Colleges is how this good work can have a ripple effect. GLbD is putting its effort into capturing Curriculum Design Patterns and building a repository for all to access and use.

Avoiding a business-as-usual approach, we’re using particular principles of program management methodologies such as Agile and Lean. These principles have been around for a long time and are now becoming more commonplace in Higher Education.

Information on Global Learning by Design can be found here along with a list of all the Colleges’ projects for 2014. If you are interested in how you could get involved in GLbD, contact your Deputy Head/Dean Learning & Teaching. We’ll be posting an update on the work from specific Curriculum Design Teams later in the year.

Share your thoughts and questions about the project  in the comments section!
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Discourse diversity across L&T cultures

This week’s post comes to us via Karen Dellar, Barbara Morgan, Alison Brown and the team at the Study and Learning Centre at RMIT University.

Making the implicit, explicit – discourse structures across cultures

Most students initially find the transition to academic discourse and writing styles challenging. This transition can be more problematic when students are new to the Australian educational environment. Many international students are unfamiliar with lecturers’ expectations and visit the Study and Learning Centre’s busy drop in service for assistance with academic writing.

One student who is now receiving credits and distinctions recently reflected on her previous failure in a number of courses. We asked her what it was that helped her achieve better marks. She said quite simply: ‘I now know what they want!’

Acknowledging diversity – similarities and differences

This student’s experience typifies the challenges often faced by students in not knowing what is expected when they transition to study in a new culture. The first step towards creating a truly inclusive learning environment is to acknowledge the similarities and differences across learning cultures (and there are many) and then to make the differences explicit. Key differences relate to  discourse styles and expectations upon the reader-writer relationships. The way we shape or tell a story depends upon our cultural and linguistic context and the unspoken patterns we have learnt.

Across cultures there are different expectations of how texts are structured. We expect that all texts have a similar framework to our own…until we are faced with something different. It is surprising to realise how much of our knowledge of text organisation is implicit and culturally specific. English language readers have an expectation about how quickly you get to the point, and when you do, how explicitly this is done; the order that concepts are introduced; the amount of preamble or background that is necessary; the amount of repetition that is effective or the extent of digression that is permissible. As teachers we expect our students to conform to these expectations.

In the words of an international student:

In the Subcontinent (Pakistan and India) the way we are taught to structure our essays is, we don’t come to the point directly: we have to develop this major build-up, before coming to the point…otherwise our lecturer won’t think we have put in enough effort…but over here the thing was that ‘bang’ – go to the point directly and then you can start explaining… (Learning Lab International Student Stories)

model1_image

Model 1: Direct, linear approach. Here’s the flower. These are the main points…

Assignment structure is culturally specific

It is often assumed that students whose first language is not English have difficulty with their

Model 2. Here's the garden. Let me take you for a walk and I'll show you something..

Model 2: Explanation before getting to the main point. Here’s the garden. Let me take you for a walk and I’ll show you something…

studies because of their language. This is not the full picture. What is commonly overlooked is that students from different cultural backgrounds are often unaware of the academic expectations of their new educational culture. In particular, the discourse structure can be unfamiliar and different to what they know.

The models here give a visual representation of two common ways of structuring academic writing across cultures.

Model 1 is a simple representation of the approach to organising material in the Australian educational context. The student is expected to present the main point first, followed by explanation and analysis.

Model 2 is another representation of what is common in many other cultures. In this model the student builds a case through background information, explanation and analysis and finally presents the main point.

Put simply, the measures for ‘good writing’ in an Australian university are often quite different from the students’ previous experience. International students are often disappointed at their poor marks in first year as they take some time to work out what is required. In the case above, the student repeated first year having learnt this lesson the hard way. A better solution would be for students to be explicitly taught what is expected and for it to be acknowledged that their understanding of academic writing on arrival may be different to what we expect.

For more on helping your students structure their assignments visit RMIT’s Learning Lab. For diverse cohorts a good starting point is International Student Stories. As well, you will find resources on assignment genres that you can use in-class and direct students to for self-study.

References:

Arkoudis, S & Tran, L 2010, ‘Writing Blah, Blah, Blah: Lecturers’ Approaches and Challenges in Supporting International Students’, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 169 -178.
Fox, H 1994, ‘Listening to the World. Cultural Issues in Academic Writing ‘, National Council of Teachers of English, USA.
Ramburuth, P 2009, ‘The impact of culture on learning: exploring student perceptions’, Multicultural Education and Technology Journal, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 182 – 195.
Ryan J & Carroll J (eds) 2005, Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All, Routledge, London.

Share your thoughts about discourse diversity and your tips for conveying your expectations in the comments section!

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Beyond Blackboard Course Shells: “What on earth are they using?”

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

From a learning and teaching perspective it’s hard to think of a more important system in a modern university than its Learning Management System (LMS).

Alongside (and sometimes instead of) the physical experience of a campus, its buildings and facilities, a student now navigates an online set of hierarchies through the LMS.

There’s a great new tool available for RMIT staff that allows you to see what a student is seeing at the current point in time.

At RMIT, our implementation of Blackboard (‘myRMIT’) currently shows students that course surveys are about to close, deadlines for exchanges are coming, the availability of financial support, upcoming study skills workshops and various other announcements from whole-of-University groups.

And all of that is before they see any announcements, course materials or assessment links in their Program or Course.

There’s a renewed scrutiny on just how well and how widely myRMIT is being used by academics. Statistics showed that many courses have very low usage but there are notable exceptions and as that Swiss Army Knife expression goes, ‘pockets of good practice’. We knew anecdotally and from Program Managers that a number of other technologies were being used within and alongside the Blackboard environment.

This led our project team to ask “Well, what on earth are they using?” and a Learning and Teaching Investment Fund (LTIF) proposal to answer this question was developed. This Q&A explains some of the background to the project:

What do you think might be discovered by the project?

I think we will find a diversity of online tools that are not evidenced by the statistics. I think we will find new ways academics are using educational technologies for learning and teaching. We will discover why Blackboard’s capabilities fall short of the requirements of the creative and design disciplines and why designers/architects/artists take to alternate platforms.

I hope we will also find that staff are using many technologies in their teaching, but are simply not providing the links in Blackboard. Using the approved channel for assessment and course material has a number of advantages. It provides an enterprise-grade archive and ensures there’s a course ‘memory’ to name just a couple of benefits.

But it’s a bit like asking why people drive around in different types of cars. We look for a car that fits our requirements. At the moment I suspect some feel ‘illicit’ if they’re using tools like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or Google Sites to organise or run aspects of their course.

Think of it from the university’s point of view. We spend a lot of money on the LMS, and we want to see staff using it. A large organisation has to keep everyone happy and at the same time be adaptable. Yet we have different people and school personalities in a myriad of disciplines. So the reality is not all black and white in terms of teaching technologies. One size seems to not fit all.

One of the issues is that statistics are not analytics. What is being done with the data?

With the LMS we have never had a measure of how much it was being used. A considerable amount of our budget is being spent on the LMS and of course the university would like reporting back on its usage. However the only statistics we have are hits per course per student. This tells us very little. Yet there is a lot more going on that we know about. Staff and students are always working online – so what are they doing? This is what we set out to find out in the project.

Judgements are being made on the above statistics. There is no doubt that RMIT has patchy LMS usage, but we also know that so much more is going on.

Why is the LMS used so little is some places?

Blackboard is complex and can be difficult to use. I liken it to an old 16mm film projector. The films are what people want to see, but the projector requires a licensed operator. In the same manner, the LMS is not important; it’s the content that is. With a lack of operational understanding of the LMS, it often gets treated as just a document store. Unless lecturers are aware of what online activities can be achieved and the value to their teaching and the students’ learning, efforts beyond the use of myRMIT as a filing cabinet are hard to get excited about.

What influence would you like the project to have?

It would be a great outcome if the project discovered school/discipline specific learning technologies and how they added value to learning and teaching. We need a range of technologies that match the diversity of the university’s disciplines. We know we can’t have everything, yet we need to find some middle ground.

The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything...

The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything…

We also need statistics for all of the learning technologies we use, to enable meaningful learner analytics and of course to provide evidence we are using them and that they are worth paying for.

Do you see some middle ground with the suite of Google Apps?

There are quick wins for all with Google sites. The fact that RMIT students have Google accounts is an exciting and under-utilised aspect in all of this. The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything.  Designers don’t want to follow what has happened before. They are not followers. They want to research, change, innovate and create anew. To some, Blackboard has a last century feel. I am surprised that there is not more competition in the LMS marketplace.

I know we will discover an enormous diversity in learning technologies in use during this project and much more than just Blackboard shells in this project.

We’ll be back later in the year with an update on the project and we have a Part 2 of this post that goes into more depth about the concept of learner analytics, but for now we’d love to hear from staff directly (email us) or through the comments section.

If you want to keep up to date with our project, follow us at www.whatonearth14.wordpress.com

Share your thoughts on Learning Management Systems comments section!

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