Tag Archives: constructive alignment

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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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.

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Meeting the AQF deadlines

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

Click here to open a new window to the AQF site.

The Australian Qualifications Framework shines a torch on quality, establishing benchmarks within a flexible assurance framework. As a national framework the recently revised AQF seeks to ensure the “national and international portability of comparable qualifications” and to support “flexible qualifications linkages and pathways” within a framework that guarantees that “qualification outcomes remain relevant and nationally consistent”.

The AQF may be perceived as merely another compliance framework that adds to an already pressured workload, adding yet another bureaucratic layer of paperwork and mapping. In the context of higher education, the AQF undoubtedly heralds in a new era of quality assurance in a sector already weighed down by compliance and performance measurement.

The AQF compels academic learning and teaching leadership, and teaching staff, to engage in discussions about learning and teaching, and to reflect on what they deliver, how they deliver and why they deliver their courseware. As program guides and course guides are reshaped, the opportunity presents, if appropriate, to reimagine, reinvigorate and restructure the curriculum.

Included in its many requirements, the AQF prescribes learning level descriptors appropriate for each type and level of qualification. Within these parameters, the AQF defines knowledge in terms of “depth, breadth, kinds and complexity”. Skills too are described in relation to type and complexity, with the application of knowledge and skill defined in relation to the context in which a graduate applies their knowledge and skills. Regardless of the discipline, the descriptor for each qualification type is intended to underpin consistency in graduate outcomes for each qualification type.

So, in order to support a meaningful engagement with this framework what do tertiary teachers need to support them to both comply with the AQF, but to also truly engage with its intent, and to revisit, redesign or create curriculum that is underpinned by best practice and innovation? How can tertiary teachers be supported to engage with the AQF in ways which support reflective practice and ultimately ensure continuous improvement? What can the university offer to support a meaningful, supportive and seamless process?

Clear guidance and direction from TEQSA, that is distilled and communicated clearly by the institution is an essential starting point. So too is creating opportunities for staff to learn from one another, including within and across the disciplines, and across learning and teaching leadership. Equally important is the recognition of time, including the time it takes to unpack, interpret and contextualise the prescribed learning level descriptors, and translate these into a meaningful and coherent series of program and course learning outcomes. Time is also required to receive and respond to constructive and critical feedback from colleagues and learning and teaching leadership. Ideally, such work would be done collaboratively, supported by academic developers and Senior Advisors in Learning and Teaching, and other relevant specialist staff. Ideally, such work would be inclusive of the immediate teaching and discipline team, building staff capacity. Ideally, university systems and processes would ensure a consistency of approach, with clear and resolute direction top down as to how the many requirements of the AQF have been interpreted by the institution and how they are in turn to be implemented on the ground.

As we recommend for our students, the AQF journey should also entail a formative process, with opportunities for teaching staff to build capacity in a supportive, non-punitive environment. Tertiary teachers and program leaders need to be supported by senior academic management to innovate, to share and reflect on models, and new ways of working, and to seek and gain feedback from their peers.

No doubt for some programs, complying with the AQF involves a relatively straightforward exercise in re-assembling and refining existing program architecture and curriculum. Yet for others, complying with the AQF compels more radical change, or perhaps even acts as a catalyst for a more significant and far-reaching curriculum overhaul. Regardless, herein lies an opportunity to discuss, debate, contest and formulate  a curriculum that ensures high quality education for our students.

As quality debates and rhetoric surrounding educational standards and outputs continue to unfold, the AQF puts quality front and centre in a way that can empower and renew programs for the betterment of all. What needs to be embedded in the change process is appropriate and timely support for staff, and clear guidance from senior academic leadership. As universities grapple with the many challenges of meeting the requirements of the AQF, the 2015 deadline looms large.

Here’s to the next year or so building capacity where it counts, on the ground.

Share your thoughts about the AQF requirements and opportunities in the comments!

Upcoming Professional Development opportunities being offered by the Inclusive Teaching Project:

Mid term break is fast approaching for staff at RMIT and for staff there are a number of professional development opportunities coming up:

The Inclusive Teaching Team will be running an interactive, hands-on session at the Learning and Teaching Expo which is taking place on the 3rd and 4th of September in the award-winning Design Hub.

This session will take you an inclusive journey from principles to practice, and provide you with a ‘take-away’ of practical activities and ideas to use in your own practice.

To register for this session click on the registrations link here and select the Inclusive Teaching Practices Session on the 4th of September at 2pm.

DSC Sessional Staff Symposium, 6th of September

If you didn’t get to the last DSC Learning and Teaching Workshop for sessional staff, a (paid) full day of hand-on activities is planned for Friday 6th of September with sessions that range from teaching with technology, inclusive teaching practices, new generation teaching spaces to feedback – what do you with it.  For more information about this symposium contact Kellyann Geurts, Project Leader.

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RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo 2013

Guest post: Penny Mercer, Project Advisor, Learning and Teaching Unit, RMIT University.

Click to open the RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo 2013 page.

The Learning and Teaching Expo is an opportunity to showcase the excellent work of our dedicated teaching staff. It is a time for all of us to reflect on how we might enhance the student experience, reimagine our teaching and network with colleagues.

This year’s Expo takes the theme of “Inspiring teaching, inspiring learning.” Come along and hear what your colleagues have done to improve student learning outcomes, bring along your own experiences, or questions for discussion time. The Expo eLearning journey will allow all staff to identify a point of interest from which further learning opportunities can be explored.

Come along and hear from our invited keynote speakers about what is happening in the tertiary education sector, hear what your colleagues have done to improve student learning outcomes and bring along your own experiences or questions for discussion time.

Day 1: Tuesday 3 September – 12pm to 4.30pm, with lunch from 1pm to 2pm
Day 2: Wednesday 4 September – 9am to 1pm, with lunch from 1pm to 2pm
Venue: Design Hub, City campus.

Click here (or on the image above) to see the 2013 program and register now to attend (RMIT login required).

We look forward to seeing you there!

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.

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.

Grounding graduate attributes

Posted by: Margaret Blackburn, Senior Advisor, Strategic Learning and Teaching Initiatives, Office of the Dean, Learning and Teaching, Academic Portfolio, RMIT University.

A commercial aeroplane with landing gear deployed.

(cc) MorgueFile.com

As publisher and presidential advisor C. D. Jackson said, ‘Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings’. The notion of graduate attributes is a pretty abstract one, so the challenge is to provide some landing gear and make them mean something to students and teachers. Otherwise, the risk is that they’ll stay in orbit somewhere in the educational stratosphere and make little impact on the ground.

At RMIT, we have a set of six graduate attributes. They are skills or qualities that we expect all of our graduates, whatever their specific program, will have had the chance to acquire to a suitable level. We want them to be work ready, to be active and lifelong learners and so on. But what does this mean for the curriculum and for how it is delivered, learned and assessed?

Before we go further, let’s agree that there’s confusion over the range of terms used to describe these qualities. Aren’t we talking about learning outcomes here?  Well, yes, but we are now being more precise with outcomes at different levels. At the course level, we have outcomes that are assessed to and gained by successful completion of a course. But outcomes also exist at the program level (what we used to call ‘program capabilities’) and above and informing these are RMIT’s graduate attributes.

View above clouds from an aeroplane window.

(cc) MorgueFile.com

As a tertiary environment at RMIT, we also use the TAFE sector’s labels of competencies, elements, performance criteria and employability skills.

In the new program guide matrix developed to meet AQF requirements, program capabilities are now referred to as program learning outcomes. The matrix enables teachers to align program learning outcomes with the overarching graduate attributes and in the other direction, down to the courses of the program. Work is currently underway to complete this.

TEQSA now requires institutions to demonstrate that all of their graduate attributes, including English language competency, have been attained. Why this new focus on outcomes? The tertiary context has changed radically in recent years. There can be a haphazard quality to the bundle of skills, knowledge and attributes students graduate with. Degrees from different institutions vary in terms of minimum standards as well as content. The kaleidoscope of higher participation rates, funding pressures, more varied models and modes of learning, have all led to a new focus on outcomes and how to measure them.[1] Research also points to a need to re-examine the role of graduate attributes when it comes to standards.

To breathe life into graduate attributes in curricula, in teaching and learning and in assessment, the key is context. To use the word ‘generic’ to describe graduate attributes suggests that we can ‘unplug’ graduate attributes entirely from a specific discipline or teaching area.  But Anna Jones’ research[2] indicates that they are not ‘generic’ or ‘super skills’ that exist beyond disciplinary contexts or professional and vocational fields. Graduate attributes don’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, they start with the content and culture of particular disciplines or fields. A key question is: what is the essence of this discipline? Jones found that the ways that graduate attributes are taught and learned depend on the conceptual frameworks, language, assessment practices, technologies and even physical settings that form the heart of particular disciplines, professions and vocations. As de-contextualised statements, they don’t work. This makes sense to the classroom teacher or lecturer who ideally is also a practitioner or has a deep knowledge of their industry counterparts.

Although the terminology is the same for different disciplines and fields, for example ‘work ready’, graduate attributes have different meanings and are weighted differently in every field or profession. For example, a ‘work ready’ engineering graduate will prioritise in-depth technical competence in at least one engineering discipline. In media and communications, work readiness is primarily about creative practice and critical reflection. ‘Innovative’ in fashion and design disciplines may spotlight imaginative and creative endeavours whereas in business disciplines, innovation is about designing new rules and processes that improve traditional business models. In a business degree, ‘cultural and social awareness’ should include an understanding of how enterprise and business activities affect groups and individuals. In social sciences, however, to understand social justice issues in professional settings may be an essential aspect of this attribute.

Where do you start to bring graduate attributes down to earth?  One approach is, as per the King of Hearts, ‘begin at the beginning’. Consider what gives your discipline or field its identity, its own distinguishing stamp. What are the essential skills or qualities that you want your graduates to have? For example, in economics, one central skill is to be able to apply economic tools to problems. Another might be to analyse macroeconomic data to make predictions. A third might be to be able to develop further economics expertise by being an independent and active learner. But does your economics degree, as you’ve sketched it out, prepare students for the cultural and social implications of their profession? If you use the graduate attributes as a screen while listing those essential skills and qualities, you may find that elements you thought peripheral have a place in ensuring that every RMIT program has the best chance to develop a well-rounded graduate.

As you make your list then, use the graduate attributes as a reference point to help you frame the skills and knowledge of your discipline or profession. Then you are ready to express the skills and qualities it contains in a set of five or six broad program learning outcomes that take into account AQF levels.

How do those program learning outcomes shape the curriculum at course level? They are the starting point for drafting detailed course level learning outcomes that spell out in detail what students will learn and be assessed on in each course. Course learning outcomes must fit with both program learning outcomes and the overarching graduate attributes. Mapping all three across the entire program is helpful. The point is that graduate attributes don’t mean much on their own. They’ll gain their real meaning and impact from the detailed context provided by the learning outcomes at both program and course level.

(cc) MorgueFile.com

(cc) MorgueFile.com

Finally, and critically, structure your students’ learning activities to help them actively engage with the course learning outcomes. Ask yourself: how will this activity, exercise, problem, online discussion exercise, help my students get to grips with a specific learning outcome? And how will the elements of my assessment program enable students to show that they have met the learning outcomes at a particular level? By taking a holistic approach to all three elements, learning outcomes, learning activities and assessment, you’ll ensure that those elusive graduate attributes come back to earth.

Share your comments on graduate attributes in the comments below!

References:

[1] Royce Sadler, (2012) Assessing and assuring graduate attributes, keynote address to AAGLO Conference, July 19.

[2] Anna Jones, (2012) There is nothing generic about graduate attributes: unpacking the scope of context, Journal of Further Education, DOI:10.1080/0309877X.2011.645466

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