Tag Archives: assessment

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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First impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Session

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

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

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

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

Workshop 2: Assessment

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

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

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

Workshop 3: Engaging your students using Inclusive Teaching practices

Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, DSC

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

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

Workshop 4: Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces

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

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

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

Workshop 5: Connecting courses to content

Bernadene Sward, Liaison Librarians and Anne Lennox, University Library

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

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

Workshop 6: Teaching students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds

Barbara Morgan, Study Learning Center

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

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

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

Angela Clarke and Dallas Wingrove, Senior Research Fellows

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

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

Workshop 8: Flexible delivery, Blackboard Collaborate & Google Sites

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

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

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

School workshops: Talking about Learning and Teaching

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

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

Final Workshop: CES and feedback

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

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

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

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

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

A few more useful links for Sessional Staff at RMIT University 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Your Teaching

Posted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

logo for Developing Your Teaching DSC opportunitiesThis year, there are three projects that we at the DSC have united under the banner of ‘Developing Your Teaching’. The projects focus on developing teaching practice and providing staff with many opportunities to engage in hands-on, practical professional learning. Schools will also be able to customise sessions to suit their teaching needs. The projects address university strategic directions, namely teaching in new learning spaces, inclusive teaching and particularly support the professional learning of sessional staff in the DSC.

Sessional staff are key players in a productive and engaging learning and teaching environment but many are positioned in uncertainty. This uncertainty is pressured with increased demands on compliance, increased student numbers, changes in accommodation and new educational technologies, shifts in course offerings to accommodate student diversity, student expectations and industry needs. In this demanding environment, accommodating the needs of sessional staff in the teaching and learning space is critical. Connecting with a community of learners to advance practice is a priority to improve both staff and student satisfaction.

1. Connecting Sessional Staff

The Connecting Sessional Staff project will provide paid professional development for sessional academic and teaching staff and is to begin in Semester 2. With staff and School guidance, a symposium and School workshops will be designed to:

  • address individual learning and teaching needs
  • share, present, discuss and reflect on teaching and learning experiences
  • support collaboration, peer partnerships and mentoring
  • connect with learning networks across the University
  • link to the online modules from the Professional Development for Tertiary Teaching Practice (PDTTP) program designed for sessional staff.

2. New Learning Spaces

School-based peer learning networks will be offered in all DSC Schools for all staff teaching in New Learning Spaces in Semester 2 2013. Staff teaching in these spaces will be invited to join a School network that will run regular meetings, facilitated by the Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching. These meetings will include support for staff to trial new ideas and invite expert speakers to talk about their teaching practice. Additionally, staff will have the opportunity to undertake one of four approaches to enhance their professional learning. These include:

  • self-directed study supported by extensive web resourcesProjects3CirclesTEXTSM
  • peer partnership program
  • peer review of teaching
  • a module from the Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Education.

3. Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices

This project addresses the needs of a diverse student population through an ‘inclusive approach’ to curriculum design, teaching delivery and assessment. The project team will work collaboratively with academic and teaching staff to:

  • design and trial existing and new inclusive teaching approaches, learning activities and assessment tasks
  • produce hands-on teaching resources and assessment materials which support inclusive teaching practice
  • provide and assist with professional development resources and delivery in inclusive teaching.
  • promote the principles for inclusive teaching practice across the university.

The six principles developed are: Design Intentional Curriculum; Offer Flexible Assessment and Delivery; Build a Community of Learners; Teach Explicitly; Develop a ‘Feedback Rich’ Environment; and Practice Reflectively.

What next?

All three projects are in their planning phases and now is a good opportunity to ‘feed forward’ about what areas of learning and teaching most need developing, enhancing or advancing.

1. Connecting Sessional Staff: A Google survey form will be posted from your School’s L&T committees in the next fortnight to gather your ideas. Results from this survey will launch us into arranging schedules, themes and facilitators. We will keep you posted.

2. New Learning Spaces: L&T Committees will soon be advised and Program Managers and staff timetabled into these spaces will receive email notifications early in Semester 2.

3. Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices: This project and its website will launch on 7 June. Andrea Wallace will be providing an update in a future post on the tomtom.

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

***

L&T events coming up in the City and in Bundoora:

If you want to learn more about how to ditch your PowerPoints and teach like a pirate, James Arvanitakis (recipient of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Australian University Teacher of the year) will be sharing his stories and model practices in a series of workshops (11 and 12 June) to coincide with the lunchtime launch of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices project.

Tuesday 11 June 10.00-11.30, City Campus 080.02.003
Wednesday 12 June 10.00-11.30 and 1:30-3:00, Bundoora Campus – 205.3.10

Register now with DevelopMe.

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

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

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

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

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

Native or immigrant – Exploring foreign territory in online learning

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

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

I beg to differ…

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

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

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

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

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

That we should:

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

and, the benefits of being:

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

__________________________

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

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

 

Global in outlook and competence?

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

Meredith interviewed Dr Jose Roberto (Robbie) Guevara from the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies about his long experience running study tours with students from a range of disciplines and found a positive story about collaboration and deep learning.

RMIT has a commitment to offering students a ‘global passport’ seeking to develop in our students the necessary skills and knowledge to work around the globe. The

Dr Roberto Guevara. Click on the image to navigate to Robbie's staff page at RMIT.

Dr Roberto Guevara. Click to navigate to Robbie’s staff profile page at RMIT.

potential benefits of student study tours in this context might seem self-explanatory: they can broaden student outlook; enhance employment opportunities; and tie in powerfully with the RMIT Graduate Attribute of ‘Global in outlook and competence’. In order to understand a bit more though, I decided to interview a colleague with long experience running study tours. What I found was that overseas tours can also be an opportunity for students to own their own assessment and develop life-long learning skills.

Background

The most recent tour Robbie led was to the Philippines in 2012 that was conducted together with partner institution Miriam College, to research and reflect on the links between women, migrant workers, and intenational justice issues. The 2012 tour was designed to coincide with the 2012 World Social Forum on Migration in Manila. Robbie has been involved in a number of study tours, taking Melbourne RMIT undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of disciplines (including International Studies, International Development, Criminal Justice Administration, Social Work, and Environment and Urban Planning) to the Philippines. The tours also involve collaboration with staff members from this wide range of disciplines within the School, and in 2009 with the Ngarara Willim Centre. The 2009 tour included homestays with a local indigineous community; effectively ‘immersions’ in local culture and issues linked to community development.

Miriam College and RMIT students during their collaborative Study Tour in 2012.

Miriam College and RMIT students during their collaborative Study Tour in 2012.

Over time Robbie has developed a few key themes or principles in designing tours like this one. Given the financial and workload challenges in setting up a study tour (teaching can’t always neatly fit into 12 credit points) he mitigates this with what you might call a ‘bang for your buck’ approach. He looks for opportunities to collaborate with other disciplines areas working with existing university partner institutions to form staff-student partnerships that can begin well before the students leave for the tour and that can endure or develop after their return.

The underlying principle is that of reciprocity, where both institutions achieve positive long-term outcomes, such as when the collaborations foster benefits beyond the immediate tour. This might manifest as a stronger student exchange program or a cross-discipline research partnership.

However, in Robbie’s experience study tours can be more than just about achieving student learning goals or strengthening institutional partnerships. Given the focus on international community development issues, often there are other benefits that happen spontaneously. Past tours have resulted in direct benefits to overseas community groups. In 2009 students helped to establish a scholarship program to support teacher training development for the local indigenous community. This was the need identified by the students.

Student experience

During the study tour, students are encouraged to reflect on the links between the concepts studied and the lived experiences of the people they meet. The 2012 tour, provided the students with numerous opportunities to critically reflect on the experiences of the Filipino migrant women they met at the Forum and how these micro-experiences helped deepen their understanding of the concepts and drivers of mobility and displacement.  This balanced the more academic process of writing analytically on the subject. Hearing migration stories first hand, being exposed to their personal resilience, added complexity and depth to their thinking and writing. Given the nature of cross-cultural challenges (in personal and academic space), Robbie encourages students to read extensively and think about their preconceptions as part of the preparation before the study tour. Ongoing support is provided, but these real life challenges are better preparing students to develop in that dimension of a ‘global outlook’. Feedback from students highlights a confidence and willingness to work in cross-cultural settings upon completion of their degrees.

Assessment

Students are actively involved in the assessment design and supported to develop their own personalised learning goals. This takes some courage on the part of both students and staff. Tasks include identifying a learning objective or research question informed by the literature but linked to their personal and/or disciplinary background. For example an undergraduate student in Social Work who is also a recent migrant to Australia would frame her learning objective differently to a postgraduate student in International Development with a background in accounting.  These personalised learning goals (with the students gathered into learning groups that are set up before the study tour) provide fertile opportunities for cross-disciplinary and context-based learning. This makes it necessary for students to keep a regular reflective journal that does not merely describe but critically reflects on their experiences. In 2012, each of the student groups conducted a formal presentation to staff and students of Miriam College, this provided an achievable and tangible outcome at the end of the study tour. The final piece of assessment involved a synthesis report that weaved the literature and the experiences of the student framed by their personal learning focus.

For Robbie, the depth of the assessment pieces submitted is striking because no two submissions are ever alike. In 2012, students prepared a portfolio of all their submissions (the learning focus question based on the literature, their journal entries and their synthesis report) to help them see their peers’ and their own learning journeys. Often students say that their learning focus questions have changed. By asking them to reflect and explain why their questions have changed, students are able to identify for themselves how the experiences have contributed to new ideas and have resulted in more relevant and focused questions. It’s a way for them to identify what new questions have come up by the end of the study tour which they then have to find answers to after a substantial time for reflection and additional research. This whole process is underpinned by ongoing discussions with the students at different stages of the study tour. The process highlights student ownership of the outcomes and over what they have learned.

Study tours may not have a place in every program or course, but for me this is a strong example of the assessment principle championed by David Boud, that ‘students themselves need to develop the capacity to make judgements about both their own work and that of others in order to become effective continuing learners and practitioners’.  It’s clear to me from my conversations with Robbie that it’s in these rich, self-directed scenarios that students really match  and usually exceed  what we as course designers and facilitators have designed for them.
Useful links:
Information on current Tours, Student Exchanges and Study Abroad opportunities at RMIT can be found here:
David Boud’s principles on Assessment Design, Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education can be found through the OLT site here. :
Share your thoughts on the value of exchanges, study tours and student-derived learning outcomes in the comments below!

 

Course Guides…does anyone care?

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the academic year has been thrust upon us yet again, teaching staff have been preparing their Part B course guides…or have they? The course guide system officially closed on Friday 8 March and in the lead-up I provided support and feedback for teachers developing or refreshing their course guides.

And this is where I came to the realisation that some staff were not fully aware of the importance of the course guide and its relevance to other areas both internal and external to the University. Further, there seemed to be some very good course guides on Blackboard or handed out in class but the guide published on the system may not have been given the love and attention it deserved as the ‘official’ guide.

So in the last few weeks I met with a number of staff (in some instances long standing senior staff) who were quite prepared to leave sections like the Assessment Tasks with the barest of information: no assessment descriptions, no marking criteria, no links to learning outcomes. This perplexed me and when I questioned the content or lack of it well the floodgates opened:

“Ah the students don’t read these!”
“Nobody reads them….the system is horrible to navigate!”
“We have been told to just get them published…just put in the bare minimum.”

And then the bombshell: “Let me show you my course guide that I put up on Blackboard!” Lo and behold here was a course guide with all the trimmings…a detailed teaching schedule, assessment tasks clearly spelled out, references clear, detailed and current.

“But…but-” I stammered, “-nobody reads this!”

“The students do.” was the prompt reply.

There is a world beyond the course and beyond the classroom. Some teaching staff (and I was certainly one of them) find it a nightmare to navigate the complexity and bureaucratic nature of universities today. There are so many central systems, like Learning & Teaching Units, Academic Services, Marketing, and the new world order in compliance, TEQSA. Now what do all these have to do with course guides, let me explain:

  • The L&T units look at the ‘official’ course guides and from those, rightly or wrongly, judge the standard and quality of the course being delivered. Rightly or wrongly they may also judge the calibre of the staff member delivering it.
  • Academic Services play a major role in coordinating the appeals process. Recent conversations with the Manager for Academic Services in one of the colleges highlighted clearly that almost all cases are around assessment. In most cases the school loses appeals because ‘official’ guides lack important criteria or a lack of information pertaining to assessment. Sometimes there is an inconsistency with what is handed out in class to what is found on Blackboard which is different again in the ‘official’ guide. Students call on help from Student Rights Officers who will point to every assessment regulation or course guide guidelines and show us where we went wrong.
  • Marketing extract the information from the “official” course guide (Part A) to promote the course and program. In a number of instances this has caused not only bland and lacklustre information being published in glossy brochures but also misleading information.
  • The course guide will take on a new prominence in light of the AQF, with course guides subject to TESQA auditing and review. As Professor Bradley pointed out in a 2011 issue of Campus Review, TEQSA will have powers to “…intervene at the course, student cohort, institution and sector levels and to scrutinise whole institutions as well as particular aspects of their operations…”

And finally a few tips on the system itself. Yes, it is cumbersome and archaic but it has some redeeming features. For example, the magical button called Copy Part B Values. I am still gobsmacked at how many staff don’t understand that this button can copy a previous semester’s course guide and paste it into the current semester. Get one course guide right and then with some tweaking of dates for assessment and updating references you can copy it over.

Beyond the mantra of compliance, the course guide system is there to assist and protect us by making explicit, as a public document, the course and assessment. For Semester 2 think about:

Share your thoughts about course guides in the comments below!

NB. The image in this post comes from MorgueFile.com, from user: mconnors.

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