Tag Archives: Course Guides

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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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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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.

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

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!

Plagiarism and academic integrity

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

Perhaps we are better at detecting plagiarism because of software such as Google and Turnitin. Or perhaps we forget that every generation, at least since the ancient Romans and Greeks, complains that the next one is composed of lazy, possibly illiterate, youngsters willing to cut ethical corners.  

- Jeff Karon, A Positive Solution for Plagiarism, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 2012

late_afternoon_student_studyingIt can seem from recent news articles that the more technology universities adopt to detect plagiarism, the more students have easy access to online material, social media networks and professional online services to break the rules. But whether on the increase or not, and what or whoever is to blame, fostering academic integrity in students can feel like an overwhelming challenge for teachers and institutions.

If there is one element in all of the discussion that seems to underpin most of the suggestions and strategies, it is the benefit of moving the conversation from one about plagiarism to the broader topic of academic integrity.

Less emphasis on punitive strategies and more on what we could call ‘health promotion’ strategies seems intuitively to me the right way to go. My alternate title for this post was: “Strategies to foster academic integrity with an emphasis on prevention rather than cure”.

While it may be challenging, research papers, web resources and blog posts are full of these positive suggestions and potential ways to improve learning cultures at the same time as mitigating risk.

This post will survey a few of these and add some examples from our own context here at RMIT (the paragraphs beginning ‘In practice…’) of a large first year social sciences course that were kindly shared with me for this post.

There are many strategies and interventions that can help your students demonstrate academic integrity and avoid plagiarism, but no magic bullet. I want to suggest three key aspects from ‘Minimising Plagiarism’ at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (The University of Melbourne) that may provide a framework to reconsider the elements of academic integrity in your course:

1. Make expectations clear to students

Modelling good behaviour, talking about your academic values with students, and making your expectations about referencing and originality of work clear in course guides and in-class can help. Share your expectations with your colleagues too. We don’t all start paraphrasing and referencing at the high standard of peer reviewed journals and we shouldn’t expect that from students new to tertiary study. Unpacking appropriate standards for students as a teaching team, then with students, and providing clear guidelines and examples of referencing appropriate to the discipline are critical. RMIT’s Learning Lab (see below) has modules that you could consider incorporating into your course.

In practice: Colleagues embedded a short module on plagiarism, referencing and paraphrasing including short diagnostic exercise into a large first year class using discipline-relevant examples. They also did a formative quiz with students on their perceptions of what was and wasn’t plagiarism, and paraphrasing and referencing exercises. This cleverly included the issue of whether internet content was in the free public domain (or needed to be cited and so on) which is commonly misunderstood. The module and associated quiz was part of a process of developing consensus amongst teaching staff and the students about what constituted ‘cheating’ and/or plagiarism, and making sure all students were aware of expectations. It was done early in the class so that anyone that didn’t sail through the quiz (most did) could get appropriate support and feedback.

2. Revisit course and assessment design

Students are more likely to cheat if they feel a course is unimportant or badly taught. If they feel ignored or cannot understand the purpose of the assessment or believe they are being asked to reiterate well-worn ideas rather than create their own, they cut corners … 

- Jude Carroll, Deterring, detecting and dealing with plagiarism at Brookes University (UK)

One of the best ways to tackle plagiarism and associated problems may be by focussing on innovative and flexible assessment tasks that feel authentic. Refreshing assessment tasks each semester, requiring students to show drafts, or unpack their learning and the processes they have undertaken in their assignments may be some simple ways to design against plagiarism.

Another factor may be the timing and overloading of assessment tasks. If assessments are carefully staggered across the semester and subjects/courses, and if students are supported through good assessment design to plan ahead, then there will be less of the last-minute pressure that has been shown to be one cause of students submitting work that isn’t their own.

In practice: Colleagues used online Turnitin submission in a first year assignment, providing students with access to be able to check their own paraphrasing and referencing before formal submission of the work for grading. Students are able to see a visual representation of the extent of their work’s originality.

3. Visibly monitor, detect and respond to incidences of plagiarism

This tip partly takes us back to making expectations clear.  Reinforced in guides on preventing plagiarism is the importance of detection and response as part of the overall package (but not in isolation). Using Turnitin as part of your Blackboard assignment submission is one way to openly demonstrate to students that work will be checked for originality, and can also be used as an educational tool.

Further resources or prevention is better than cure:

Resources that highlight strategies and solutions to promote academic integrity and prevent plagiarism (these cover everything from induction, learning outcome design, creating a culture of learning, all the way through to assessment):

RMIT-specific resources:

  • At RMIT, Turnitin is now embedded in Blackboard assessment tools.  Click on the link to find out more.
  • Academic Integrity: an essential requirement in tertiary study (PPT 45 KB)
    This is a basic and easy to use PowerPoint suited to introducing students to the concept of academic integrity which can be adapted to your teaching context
  • Assessment Plagiarism at RMIT (PPT 76 KB)
    A PowerPoint explaining to staff the importance of assessment practice in minimising plagiarism.
  • While best done in a discipline context, RMIT’s Learning Lab resources include a video, online tutorial and pdf quicktips on referencing, integrating references into written work, and tips on avoiding plagiarism for students that could be embedded into your course. See their Referencing section.

Recent articles to share with your colleagues and students which may help you unpack academic integrity and plagiarism in your classes:

Thanks to Rachel Chamberlain and Rosy Peake from the School of GUSS for their input into this post and for sharing their experiences and clever solutions.

Share your thoughts on academic integrity and strategies to develop and promote it in the comments below!

What does ‘Work readiness’ mean in a creative discipline?

An array of powerplugs and brightly-coloured cabling

Untitled © Kellyann Geurts, 2009

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

It’s only natural that some of RMIT’s six graduate attributes (Work-readyGlobal in outlook & competenceEnvironmentally aware & responsiveCulturally & socially awareActive & lifelong learnersInnovative) align in different ways to different programs. Educators and policy-makers at RMIT have always acknowledged a ‘complex conception’ of these attributes; in short, that they mean different things in different disciplines. Fine art students, for instance, can be seen as some of the most work-ready of all RMIT graduates, having been through a degree structure which is studio-based and involves the continual feedback and critique of artists (peers, lecturers and visiting industry professionals). Their study years prefigure the life of a working artist.

But I now have another convincing position about employment prospects in fine arts with the recent expansion of the internship program in the School of Art:

VART3510: This is a Work Integrated Learning course designed to facilitate a practical working relationship between you and selected arts and cultural organisations. You will participate in an internship or artist in residence program in an arts or cultural organisation, company, festival, gallery, museum or studio, through dual negotiation with the industry and School. You will be expected to work as negotiated by the host organisation, to address and solve real issues in an arts industry workplace environment.

Open Day always buzzes with energy and eagerness for the RMIT School of Art offerings. It is an opportunity for students to ask questions directly to faculty. One stands out; maybe because answering it with certainty tended to be quietly problematic. The question, framed in all sorts of ways, is essentially: “What employment opportunities exist for me when I complete my fine art degree?”

Foremost on my mind was the employment prospects for graduates referred to in a recent post on ArtsHub: “…only 2%, will make a decent living from it (an art practice), the rest will usually have to supplement their earnings as artists with a second or third income, and even then they will earn less than most people” (Isbel, 2012). 

Investigating further, I found supporting evidence in the report published by Australia Council for the Arts titled: “What’s your other job?”, a census analysis of arts employment in Australia (2010).  This report states that the average annual income for visual artists occupations in 2006 was $31,200.  More recent figures from the Graduate Careers Australia (2011) state the median salary for Bachelor Graduates for visual/performing arts is now around $40,000 (under 25 years of age it reduces to $38,000).

On Open Day, I preferred to follow along these lines:

  • Our highly qualified staff train students to: practice as a professional artist; work in a studio; exhibit locally, nationally, internationally (with Artist-run Initiatives, commercial galleries, public spaces); apply for funding, commissions and residencies opportunities; enter major art awards and contribute to the ever-expanding arts and creative industries.
  • You may go on to further study ie. Honours, Masters or PhD. Often I needed to elaborate why they would wish to do this; according to the Graduate Careers Australia, in 2011 the median salary for artists with further study increased to $50,000
  • Teaching is a real option with good employment prospects.  Here’s a brief overview:
  1. Secondary teaching – you will require a Diploma of Education in addition to your Bachelor degree
  2. TAFE – you require industry experience, an established art practice and a Certificate IV Training and Assessment
  3. HE academic and research positions – you will require industry experience and an established art practice, as well as devoting a substantial period of time to postgraduate studies (MA or PhD).  In addition, all ongoing HE staff now require a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and Learning and quality contributions to the body of knowledge in your specialist area.

Regarding ‘industry experience’ – this may encompass the arts industry, the creative industry and cultural industry. This can be confusing and clarification was often requested from the prospective students (and their parents). Regarding an ‘established art practice’ – this requires dedication to practice and generally a significant outlay of money to establish an artist profile so, in the meantime, most will probably need another job…

Brightly coloured wires/threads on a black background

Digital Thinking © Kellyann Geurts, 2010

Introducing the internship opportunities seemed to be well placed at this point. Keeping in mind that most of the aspiring fine art graduates will not make a living from their work but instead need to be realistic about what related professional position is best able to complement their practice, if indeed they wish to practice. Students need some time to consider where are the graduate skills and knowledge best placed in the industry and identify at an early point in their study, what skills and knowledge they need to develop to meet industry needs.

So, back to Open Day, in the last couple of years I have been able to continue with something like this:

  • In your final year, we offer an arts internship program that helps position you in a related field of work (that may serve to complement your practice).  Preparations can begin as early as first year:

VART3510: Learning in this course is primarily ‘on-the-job’, complimented by a series of tutorials and workshops aimed at assisting you in identifying and developing employability skills, develop an awareness of the arts and creative industries and workplace culture, prepare for placement and be able to demonstrate reflective processes in response to the experience.

I was enthusiastically engaged in expanding the internship program for students over the last two years to better prepare a higher number of undergraduate students for industry related employment and professional practice. Enrolment numbers have tripled in this time, the interest continues to grow and real employment outcomes are possible for students. In many cases students who have completed their placement continue relationships with their chosen host.

Informing our prospective students and first year students of the placement opportunities begins the discussion around career planning and identifying employability skills. From first year, students can prepare with industry-related volunteer positions, making contact with RMIT Student Services for Work and Careers resources, leadership (LEAD) and mentorship programs.

My hope is that the course continues to strengthen, providing more opportunities for students to meet RMIT’s graduate attributes. Work-readiness and its allied principle of career development should be seen as a uniting principle in the learning and teaching strategy. There is more work to do in establishing richer relationships with hosts and a clearer picture of how industry would like to work with us.

For the majority of art students who are not able to ‘make it’ as a professional artist, (remembering that this may only be the first phase of life, and of their artistic lives, after their university study) it’s important to have a solid plan in place to build confidence and prepare them well to contribute to the culture that nurtures art practice.

Share your ideas about internships, work readiness or any of RMIT’s graduate attributes in the comments below!

References:

Stuart Cunningham, Peter Higgs, Simon Freebody and Peter Anderson (2010), What’s your other job? A census analysis of arts employment in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney
http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/resources/reports_and_publications/subjects/artists/artist_careers/whats_your_other_job

David Throsby and Virginia Hollister (2003), Don’t give up your day job: an economic study of professional artists in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney
http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/resources/reports_and_publications/subjects/artists/dontgiveupyourdayjob

Paul Isbel (2012), What it takes to become an artist for keeps, artsHub
http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/what-it-takes-to-become-an-artist-for-keeps-188632

Australia Council of the Arts http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/

Australian Association of Graduate Employers Ltd http://www.aage.com.au

Graduate Careers Australia http://www.graduatecareers.com.au/research/researchreports/

Arts Hub Australia http://www.artshub.com.au/au/

RMIT Graduate Attributes http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/graduateattributes

RMIT Strategic Plan 2011-2015 http://www.rmit.edu.au/about/strategy

RMIT Academic Plan http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse/OurOrganisation/AcademicPortfolio/AcademicPlan/

Work and Careers at Student Services http://www.rmit.edu.au/careers

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