Tag Archives: CES

Everyone can have their moment – Celebrating learning and teaching

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

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

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

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

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

How to do this you ask?

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

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

RM

So complete the following sentences:

What I have learnt when teaching is…

My students have surprised me by…

In my teaching I am pleased with…

Thanks to Julie and Bronwyn for sharing their responses!

Share your thoughts in the comments!

 


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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.

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Keeping watch

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

Click to go to RMIT's Learning LabThe beginning of first year at university starts with a new physical environment, a new learning environment and even a new lifestyle. For school-leavers, gone are the teachers and the normal 9 till 3 classes and old school friends. The new environment is foreign, and to some intimidating. In comparison with the familiar, regular school schedule, this can leave some new students a bit bewildered and confused. In a different way, students who are returning to study after some years in the workplace (and those who haven’t studied in a tertiary institution) will probably be balancing work and family commitments.

All of this applies just as much to mid-year entry; an option that students are increasingly taking as we promise more flexible pathways through a qualification. Students who start mid-year might have a reduced range of orientation activities to participate in and feel less like part of the cohort.

Recent national figures indicate that about 18% of Australian students who commence as an undergraduate at a university in 2012 will not be at that university in 2013 (Devlin M, 2012).

Semesters are short, so students usually have to study from day one. They need help in the transition from secondary to tertiary education. A major part of this transition is moving from a somewhat dependent learner to an independent learner. This is a big challenge for young adults.

As tertiary educators we need to “keep watch” of these students in the first semester. I say “keep watch” rather than “take care” on purpose, as they are young adults. They mostly don’t need care, but monitoring to make sure they are academically progressing and not falling behind, as once behind in their work, their problems compound.

With study loads increasing, and work piling up, the easy solution for them is to withdraw and leave university, research as to why by academics Gail Huon and Melissa Sankey in a study at UNSW concludes:

“When we examined all variables that had been shown to be significant predictors of the consideration to discontinue, only three factors continued to have a significant association. Students’ perceptions of their workload, the number of paid work hours, and academic performance were associated with the decision to discontinue. The higher students’ academic performance, the less likely they had been to seriously consider discontinuing. It is important to note that academic performance has the most substantial contribution, when all other influences are taken into account.”

We can see that a student who is behind in their study program is potentially in trouble. Overwhelmed with their perceived load and general life stresses, it can seem that discontinuing is a real and easy way to solve their problems.

If academic performance is the most substantial factor in student perception to withdraw, as

Psychology students in a peer-mentoring program.

Psychology students in a peer-mentoring program.
© Margund Sallowsky (Photographer)

tertiary educators, we should be aware of and detect from an early stage in their first semester, how students are coping with their new environs and their academic load and test their involvement in a formative manner. This should occur in the first few weeks of the semester.

To “keep watch” we must have strategies to identify these students as well as strategies to help them. Whilst an early piece of assessment may seem to them initially as an instant hurdle, it will help to evaluate if the students are on track. Examples of how we can assess a students progress could be a simple online quiz about your course’s basic concepts, participation in a discussion in class or online, or even a small reflection. The data from Blackboard can be used to see whether your students are looking at course materials or whether they’ve looked ahead to the main assessment.

Devlin (2012) also suggests connecting “at risk” students with other students. This could include running a camp in the first few weeks to build a support community, or running classes or tutorials with students from all years of the program in one room. This is common in ‘vertical’ design studios at RMIT, which not only provides for the opportunity of peer learning interactions, but also means that senior students become peer mentors for the first year students. A number of student mentor programs are in place across the university.

All students should have access to Study Skills tutorials, both online and face to face. We may teach a first year Architecture student design, but are we teaching tertiary study skills to our new tertiary students?

As well as conducting an early assessment, at RMIT, services are available to assist students with their study skills. It is up to course co-ordinators and tutors to check in the first few weeks of semester one, that students are coping with the school-university transition, and advise them of the help available.

And consider a formative assessment for your students in the first few weeks of semester. Maybe you can take time out in one of your classes, if you haven’t already, to point students to the help that is available to them before it’s too late.

Resources available online and at RMIT University, Melbourne:

RMIT Learning Lab
A comprehensive online site with Study Skills, English Language development, Maths Help, Assessment tasks help, Writing skills and also help for new postgraduate students. (http://emedia.rmit.edu.au/learninglab/)

Library Tutorial
Library tutorials include pages to improve students research, referencing and information finding skills. (http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=fg3oadj847l01)

Study and Learning Centre
A place where students can go and get face-to-face study skills advice and English Language development tools. (http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=vaatmxwjav8k)

References:

Huon G. & Sankey M. (2000) The transition to University, Understanding Differences in Success, http://fyhe.com.au/conference/past-papers

Devlin M, First Year Survival Guide, The Age, Jan 16 2012, http://www.theage.com.au/national/tertiary-education/first-year-a-survival-guide-20120116-1q267.html#ixzz2S5UrDCv0

Share your thoughts about mid-year orientation in the comments below!

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.

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

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

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

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

Lecturer showing a mindmap on an overhead projector.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RMIT TAFE Students in class.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

How do we assess English language competence?

Posted by: Barbara Morgan, Manager, Academic Literacies & Maths, Discipline Services, Study and Learning Centre, RMIT University.

Click on the image to open a new window to RMIT's Study and Learning Centre.

Click on the image to open a new window to RMIT’s Study and Learning Centre.

Lecturers often ask us what they can do to help their students improve their English. They face a growing number of students in their classes from a range of language and cultural backgrounds, prior education experiences and academic abilities who all want to succeed in their studies. It is not just in the classroom that lecturers articulate their fears as there is increasing concern about English proficiency across the sector in response to the recent inclusion of English language in the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA) threshold standards.

At RMIT English language development is an important aspect of the ‘Work Ready’ graduate attribute.

The issue is how do we ensure that these crucial skills are developed over the course of a degree?  It seems that with increasing diversity we need to be even more explicit about what is expected and how to  go about it. The challenge for all tertiary institutions is that English language is developmental and context specific; university learning is a kind of apprenticeship into a discipline. This takes time.

So how do we overcome this barrier and teach this? One useful way is through the feedback we provide to students. Writing effective English language feedback for students can be challenging. Of interest to us all is that English language feedback is useful for all students and helps them to develop the capabilities required in their program.

For this purpose the Study and Learning Centre has developed a series of user friendly English language rubrics (for essays, reports, reflective journals, and oral presentations) to assist teachers to give practical feedback to their students on their English language and academic skills.

The rubrics aim to explicitly verbalise the implicit language and literacy requirements of assignment tasks. They do this through clear and simple explanations of the linguistic features of assignments and links to models on the Learning Lab. Staff can use the feedback provided in the rubrics to give students the specific advice they need to improve their language and literacy. Students highly value feedback from their teachers so we expect that use of the rubric could support positive GTS scores. Staff from the Study and Learning Centre are also available to directly work with you to customise the rubrics to suit your needs.

You can find the rubrics on the webpage English Language Development Project in the Teaching resources area of the RMIT staff webpage.  Please contact the Barbara Morgan at the Study and Learning Centre for more information (barbara.morgan@rmit.edu.au).

Share your thoughts on the nature of feedback or English language competence in the comments section!

Holidays – Time to relax and think

Picture of nice beach

Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia. (cc) John Benwell, www.flickr.com/jwbenwell

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

As this is my last tomtom post for the year, I wanted to share with you a successful redesign of a course (subject) I was involved in recently. It was a traditional course, face-to-face, and consisted of a lecture and a tutorial. The student satisfaction went through the roof after it was redesigned, and the lecturer, tutor and students were all very pleased. You might like to think about how you could redesign your course over the upcoming long break.

No content changed, but without setting out to include online activities, the method resulted in a blended solution: face-to-face and online activities are now embedded in the course.

We started by reviewing the course guide, and listing the learning outcomes. Each learning outcome was then assigned to a lecture, and from that, weekly learning outcomes (WLO) were generated. These weekly learning outcomes could be seen as components or contextualisations of the overall course learning outcomes.

We then created a table in a spreadsheet, and for each WLO, we then added the following columns so each WLO had an appropriate set of activities:

    • Activity to review and revise lecture material
    • Tutorial activity to reinforce and practice WLO
    • Activity to test learning and get feedback
    • Information to extend learning and research deeper
    • Activity to assess learning.

The spreadsheet turned out to be rather large, but it constructively aligned the course learning outcomes with the activities and assessments. The planning and redesigning was not about what the teacher would do, but what activities the students would do and how to involve and engage them in their own time.

Activity to review and revise lecture

The traditional lectures were captured with Lectopia, and we made the recordings available to the students though Blackboard. Over half the students watched all or some of the lecture playback. We also made some short (2-3 min) videos with Echo360, focusing on special topics, or areas where the students were seeking clarification. Other short videos included: Tips from 2nd year students, Meet our librarian and Go to the bookshop. These were all posted on Facebook.

Tutorial activity to reinforce and practice learning outcomes

After reading the WLOs, the tutors were much better at helping the students in the tutorials. Tutors were aligned with the learning outcomes. Activities were generated that also aligned with the learning outcomes. This provided the students with a connection between the lecture and the tutorial, plus they now understood what they had to learn. Most tutorial activities were problem-based to get them applying and using their newly learnt skills.

Weekly activity to test learning and get feedback

Next, we wanted the students to assess themselves on what they had learnt from this process. With over 80 students, we did not want any paper-based tests, so we created a question pool in Blackboard, and had a weekly quiz set for the students to complete. The quiz was designed as a learning activity, so students were given the answer immediately after they had answered and feedback was configured to help the student understand when they got it wrong. The quiz could be taken more than once if required, but the students got different questions each time due to the system randomising the questions from the pool. A bit of effort went into creating all the question pools, but they will be used again next year.

Information to extend learning and research deeper

Especially for students who grasped the topic quickly or for those who were independent learners, we provided a list of further readings, websites, companies and resources to allow the students to enquire further. This was very valuable for the quick learners, but was also used by others who had a keen interest in a particular topic.

Activity to assess learning

Every few weeks, another special quiz was set. A random set of questions was displayed, and students had 30 minutes to complete the quiz in one go. They were shown a mark at the end, and again received feedback on their incorrect answers, but they only had one attempt. These special quizzes were a part of the assessment for the course. The previous exam was dropped.

Communicating and community

To build the learning community, we created a Facebook page. Each student joined it, and this enabled communication amongst the students as well as with the tutors and lecturer. One learning activity was designed so each student had to research a topic and put a 1 minute video on Facebook. Then all students watched it, and commented. This created a great learning atmosphere where the students learnt, created a movie, and then learnt from their peers. This was a very powerful learning method, and one everyone enjoyed.

It was never our intention to ‘go online’, but how else would we easily create randomised quizzes, create a 24/7 community or publish movies? On paper? I think not. Online was simply the only option. All the quizzes were instantly marked, and the student advised of their mark. It was also simple for the lecturer to check who had not done the quiz, and then contact them to see how they were going.

Happy Holidays

So over the long break this year, you might like to try chunking your activities using the bullet points above to think about how you could redesign your course based on structured weekly learning outcomes. Learning and Teaching Advisors in your school will help you with Blackboard and together you can get your own site up and running.

Millennial (or ‘Generation Y’) students in particular will love it: it has online components, face to face interactions and communication in a medium that is familiar and part of their daily life. The quizzes are constructive, with formative feedback and by making and publishing videos on a topic, peer learning was included. Students also had the ability to move at their own pace, do the quiz when it suited them and research further areas independently. The simple act of constructively aligning the lecture’s learning outcomes provided the framework for all the activities, as well as informing the students of our educational expectations. The weekly program was also published in the first week so the students could map their own way through the course at their own pace.

For me, the greatest moment as a Learning and Teaching Advisor was when the tutor emailed me during the break after the teaching satisfaction scores were published, saying: ‘I have never, ever, seen a score that high.’

Hope you enjoy the break and have time to think about redesigning and blending your course to assist your students learning time outside the classroom.

Have fun! :)

Share your thoughts about blended learning and redesigning courses in the comments below!

Teaching Awards – worth the paperwork?

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

Students listening to lecture, Working Men's College c.1920-1930

Students listening to a lecture in the Francis Ormond Building, Working Men’s College (now RMIT) c.1920-1930

The RMIT Teaching Awards have just been launched for this year so it’s that time when we think about evidencing good teaching practice. There’s discussion of why – and why not – someone might go forward for an award, the benefits of the process and what’s involved. Having worked with nominees and recipients over the past few years, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

I also spoke to Kerry Mullan (who recently received a Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning from the ALTC (now OLT)) to get the perspective of a recent award recipient.

From my experience, the main reason people apply is that they’ve been encouraged by their colleagues. It’s a generalisation, but we (both here at RMIT and more broadly speaking in Australia) probably don’t have a culture where individuals seek awards or recognition for doing their job well.*

After nomination, the next step, where applicants write about themselves and their teaching – and back that up with clear evidence – does not usually come naturally. It’s hard work and a new style of writing and evidence gathering is needed.

While it’s great to receive recognition for your hard work (by receiving an award or even just being nominated) what are the other benefits of developing a Teaching Award application? Talking to Kerry confirmed my suspicion that it can be a highly rewarding process. Writing and developing an application with associated evidence can help you:

  • find that point of difference/innovation/excellence in your teaching: It may help you to realise what you do is ‘special’ after all
  • refine your practice and try new ideas, while re-affirming what you do well (as well as highlighting any gaps)
  • reflect on what you do in learning and teaching and how you support student learning as a whole, beyond just activities in classroom
  • develop a base of material that can later be reworked into a publication on your scholarship and/or practice of learning and teaching, seek promotion, or develop new ideas to apply in your teaching
  • find and create opportunities to discuss your teaching practice/philosophy with colleagues and share effective tips and techniques.

An award application involves writing a clear statement against criteria such as “Approaches to the support of learning and teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn” and “Approaches to assessment, feedback and learning support that foster independent learning”. As well as addressing the criteria, you need to create a narrative that reflects on your philosophy of learning and teaching.  How have you enacted this in practice to support your students’ learning? Finally, you need to support your statements with evidence.

Even if you’re not quite ready to develop an application, you might still want to start to develop a portfolio of evidence in relation to your teaching, or join a peer partnership/teaching network. The benefits of reflecting on your practice and developing a portfolio go beyond the awards themselves and can also prepare you for next year’s round.  (Most categories will be asking you to reflect on three years of teaching, so it’s definitely a marathon not a sprint.)

If you’re ready to get started, familiarise yourself with the categories and criteria. There are 17 categories ranging across staff (HE and TAFE, including sessional staff), support staff and awards for research and programs (The First Year Experience, Flexible Learning and Teaching, Indigenous Education etc.) Team awards are also encouraged.

Develop a portfolio of evidence of your teaching practice, beginning with your survey scores from the CES.

A portfolio of evidence can be a great reflective tool. Along with your survey data, you could start simply by saving unsolicited student feedback and examples of teaching approaches that you’ve tried successfully (or unsuccessfully). There is more online about portfolios of evidence at the La Trobe and ACU websites to point to just two. These sites will give you an idea about what kinds of evidence you might use in your application.

When it’s time to start writing your application, Kerry found it useful to imagine that she was writing and observing someone else’s teaching practice. In other words, be supportive but factual. Get friends and family unfamiliar with your discipline to review for clarity as well as colleagues. The members of selection panels may need to be steered through the jargon of your discipline.

Students in plumbing workshop, Working Mens College

Students in a plumbing workshop, Working Men’s College (now RMIT) c.1920-1930

For more information, another mind to bounce ideas off, or someone to help you draft a nomination, contact your School’s L&T Chair or your Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching. RMIT has material (login required) such as video presentations and past nomination exemplars here.

Thanks to Kerry Mullan for her time and assistance with this post.

*Now is the time to nudge a colleague to make an expression of interest about nomination to their L&T Chair or Head of School! 

The source of the images for this post is the James Alexander Smith Collection held by the State Library of Victoria. They are out of copyright. James Alexander Smith was a Melbourne consulting engineer and President of the Working Men’s College Council.

Its not all about the data: teachers’ experience of the CES

Post by Dallas Wingrove

Image by pgcap

The previous post, Do students read your feedback? looked at the issue of feedback from the student perspective.  This post considers the view of the teacher, and particularly in relation to the Course Experience Survey (CES).

Conversations with teaching staff have driven home that the focus on teacher scores and rankings (GTS & OSI)  and the design and administration of the CES can lead to significant degrees of personal and professional angst for some staff. What is heartening though is that teaching staff have begun to share their experiences and concerns, moving beyond self-deprecation and feelings of deflation that can occur when the CES report is received following the semester’s teaching.

The purpose of the CES is to systematically capture feedback from students about their course experience to in turn provide feedback to assist teachers to continue to improve the quality of learning and teaching in their course. Yet whilst the CES, and the data it produces, carries so much weight, particularly in relation to university systems of academic promotion, teaching awards and wider career development there is some work to be done if the survey is to foster improvement in teaching practice and for CES data to provide useful feedback to teachers.

Following discussions with staff at my School’s Learning and Teaching Committee it was decided that a project team be formed to investigate how to do things better. As discussions about the CES unfolded in the school, a colleague and I starting exploring whether there was room for changes to improve how the survey was administered and ultimately experienced by both staff and students. We discussed the issues with teaching staff and had a series of follow-up one on one discussions which resulted in the development of a CES Project brief. Our project brief includes a summary of the views staff expressed regarding how they experience the CES.

Fundamentally, teachers expressed:

  • Feelings of disillusionment, and concerns in relation to the rigour of the survey, its design and implementation
  • Feelings of concern about the rigor of a survey where the very staff administering it are not briefed about, nor supported to engage with its purpose and its role in improving learning and teaching
  • Concern as to the use of the Likehart scale, with not all points on the scale marked on the CES
  • A strong sense of disenfranchisement with the survey questions having been delivered top down, with no input from teaching staff on the ground
  • Questions as to the appropriateness of the survey questions for the first year cohort
  • The experience of receiving the CES report demoralising and disillusioning, with no guidelines for Heads of School/Senior Academic Management regarding how they debrief with teachers about their scores and the CES data the survey generates.

I suspect that what staff in this school articulated both in relation to design and administration for the CES is common, including how student feedback is communicated to them. As this university moves to a full on-line administration of the CES in 2013, there are some burning unanswered questions. And I hope some unrealised opportunities for lasting positive change.

To begin with we decided to explore further the issue of survey administration in the school. This we believed had relevance not just to the current roll out of hard copy surveying, but perhaps also to the next phase of the CES as this university moves to a near 100% on-line surveying of its students by 2013. The administration of the CES in the school in which I work is delegated to administration staff. I understand from colleagues in some other schools across this university that this is common practice. In reality, this means that the administration of the survey really is ad hoc since without briefing, induction, many variables can come into play.  Commonly, the survey is devolved to admin staff who may not be appropriately briefed as to the design purpose and significance of the survey, and who may or may not introduce the survey in accordance with the guidelines.

From the student perspective, it must be at the very least perplexing to be faced with surveys for which there is minimal context, nor rationale, and yet which also carry such weight which they may or may not be aware of.

We met with our Head of school and the College Associate PVC Learning and Teaching; both were supportive, with the latter referring us to practice within the Australian sector in which undergraduates are engaged in the course administration process. Our next step was to meet with the Director of the university’s Student Survey Centre. This discussion highlighted the siloed ways we practice in higher education as the centre has, through no fault of its own, little interface with teaching staff.  We learnt much, including that the university is reviewing its administration of the survey, and already changes have been made to the Graduate Destination Survey Likehart scale with the middle point now clearly marked as neutral. Given the close alignment between the GDS and the CEQ, and in turn the CES, it seems that some positive change may be around the corner.

The three of us agreed to develop a project involving the administration of the hard copy CES which would in turn inform the process for on-line delivery. This would involve volunteer undergraduate students inducted as mentors, which we intend to enhance rigor and consistency in the administration of the CES and we hope an enhanced understanding from our students as to the importance and purpose of their feedback. We have committed to embark on a pilot in which we will compare uptake, response rates etc from the hard copy and on line sample within a course, with findings to inform the roll out of the administration of the CES on-line. It may be that our students who completed the survey on-line talk to one another via video prior to commencing the survey for example.

What can be left as an unspoken in tertiary education is how teachers experience the CES, both in terms of how the data is collected and received. Our project is only emerging, but it highlights that teaching staff need to feel supported and listened to, to put on the table their experience of the CES. As we move into a world of increasing quality assurance, it’s a win for all if the instruments we use to measure the quality of teaching and learning replicate rigor in their design and administration.

there’s something in my inbox

Post by Ruth Moeller.


Sitting in my inbox is an email from the university’s survey centre. It’s been there for a week. I am working up to opening it. I know what it contains; it’s the results of the Course Experience Survey (CES) for the subject I teach.

CES (HE & VET Vocational Education & Training) is the official feedback survey from my students, comprising the Good Teaching Scale (GTS) and Overall Student Satisfaction (OSI). The six questions that make up the GTS really cover the aspects of teaching practice as they ask about: motivating, commenting on work, understanding student difficulties, giving feedback, interesting delivery and clearly explaining content. On reflection, all of these are fundamental to quality teaching.

On a general level, the CES provides us with a statistical snapshot of the student view of their subject, it is a useful tool to review what is working and what could be worked on – I know that the stats can be cold and there is an opportunity for comments, but it’s a clear starting point for discussion and reflection. In fact, when discussing the CES with other teaching staff, I encourage them to work with it rather than rail against it, though there can be something satisfying and cathartic about bagging the instrument and its calculating manner.

Each time I receive my CES feedback, I find it thrilling and depressing in equal measure. Thrilling, as it is a way of finding out if the students’ experience was what I hoped it would be. And depressing as it is such a cold measure, a percentage that represents a semester’s teaching (work).

A common frustration I hear from colleagues is that although they have given plenty of feedback on students’ work, when it comes to the GTS, they are rated as not providing enough. As one colleague said, “we discuss all their ideas, do pin-ups where we have peer and teacher input and at the end we do an overall critique. What more do they want?” Potentially two things are at play here, quantity of feedback not equating with quality, and/or students being asked about ‘feedback’ doesn’t automatically equate with the language of ‘discussion, pin-ups and critiques’.

I know there will be people out there thinking, “surely they know what feedback is” but if you think about it, for us, the GTS has great meaning and purpose (both for better & worse), whereas for many students, it can be seen as an impost. If they cannot link their experience with what is being asked in the survey, there would be a disconnect. With this in mind, the practical advice I can offer is, if it looks like feedback, sounds like feedback, then call it feedback- educate them in the discourse (language) that is important. You can take this a step further by linking the language of the discipline’s discourse, with the language of education discourse; “We are going to conduct critiques, where you will be giving and receiving feedback ……”.

GTS irritations come in many ways; a colleague tells of being rated 44% for the statement “The staff made a real effort to understand the difficulties I might be having with my work.” When he reviewed the stats, the students either rated him as positive (44%) or not applicable (53%) – he has drawn the conclusion that 53% had no issues and accurately responded to the question; ie. they didn’t hypothesis what he would do. Understandably frustrated by this as it had a negative impact on his overall GTS, he has employed the tactic of overtly checking in with his students at key points in the semester; seeing if they are having any difficulties and if they do, asking if he can help. Now some may say that this is manipulative, but others, including myself say it is making the implicit, explicit. He has always been a thoughtful and caring teacher, and is now making sure that his students are reminded of that, with the side benefit being if a student was unsure about whether they should approach him about an issue, they have an explicit invitations to do so.

Teaching to the GTS could be seen as calculating but for me it is good professional practice. If, when teaching I address all aspects of the GTS, I would by definition be a ‘good’ teacher, and by ensuring that the language I use reflects the language of the GTS, this gives students the fair opportunity to reflect and give feedback on my practice in an informed way.

All that being said, the email is still unopened. The weekend is coming up; I will take a quiet moment and open it then.

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