Let them know!

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

Now the second semester is up and running, classroom timetables sorted, and new-comers settled, students are already wondering how they are doing.

By week 4 in the semester, hopefully you have given the students an early and simple assessment to make sure their break is behind them (for those starting midyear it could be their first assessment in their program) and they are on the road to successfully completing your course. With both large classes and small, after the assessment, it is time to give them feedback and publish their results.

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Nothing grabs a student’s attention like “Marks released for Assignment One!”

Just as we expect to be able to check our bank account or phone or utility bills, students are keen to get their results of submissions quickly and online is the first place they will go looking. Do you use online submissions for your assignments? Do you publish your results online? Both are of great benefit to students and can save you a lot of time.

Getting students to submit online is a great way to keep up with a student’s performance – making sure they have submitted on time and are participating. A quick look at the submissions will show students who have failed to submit, and may be already falling behind.

Once marked, grades will automatically be presented to the students or can be released on your schedule.

If it isn’t possible to submit the assessment online (a project, an artwork for instance) you can still create a column and publish marks or grades online for the students’ benefit. In these cases you might consider having students photograph their work and submit a reflective piece. This can be a good way of keeping things fair if you are dealing with work that is installed in a gallery space for instance, or for when a students might be presenting throughout the week.

Blackboard has a valuable facility built in called Grade Centre. It resembles a spreadsheet, and is automatically populated with the students’ names and student numbers. As a bonus, their last login is listed in the third column; a quick way to see if they are participating online. Columns will be added to Grade Centre when you create Blackboard assignments (quizzes, Turnitin assignments) or you can easily add columns for assignments that cannot be uploaded. Furthermore, Grade Centre has the ability to add calculated columns where you can add mathematical formulae to calculate marks with weightings.

Grade Centre has the facility to download its data in Microsoft Excel format to your desktop/laptop where you can take it away and fill out the results. When you are finished marking, and back on the internet, you can upload the spreadsheet, and your results will be published to you class. Once in Grade Centre, the marks are stored and backed up by IT. Columns can also be hidden from students, or published on a particular date.

Grade Centre also supports groups and multiple markers, so part-time and sessional tutors can group their students and mark their assignments from anywhere on the internet at any time.

So if you’re excited about these possibilities to keep an eye on your students and keep them informed whilst saving yourself time, here are some links to the technologies above in our university’s context:

DevelopMe sessions are also available on: Grade Centre and Blackboard Assessment.

And in the DSC, don’t forget your Learning and Teaching advisors and Educational Developers who can also help you.

Give your students what they want and let them know their results as soon as you can!

Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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Discourse diversity across L&T cultures

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

Making the implicit, explicit – discourse structures across cultures

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

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

Acknowledging diversity – similarities and differences

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

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

In the words of an international student:

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

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

Assignment structure is culturally specific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 2

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the previous post.)

4Rs of Reflection

Reporting and responding

Reflective learning is a wicked skill (Knight, 2007). It has slippery definitions, is seen differently by different people, and is often treated as omnipresent rather than teachable. My response to this issue has been to find out a bit more about it. I needed evidence about things like… What constitutes reflective learning? What are the conditions under which it can happen or is taught? What do people do in different disciplines? How can it be expressed? Is it assessable?

Relating

I started by drawing on my own experiences. I realised that in my own teaching I was making assumptions about students’ knowledge of how to write an effective text, their abilities to analyse and weigh up a situation, and their skills in identifying a key issue (for them) upon which to reflect. I soon became conscious of the need for a teaching intervention. I couldn’t leave this to chance – particularly for those students for whom English was not their first language or for those who were first in their family to attend university or who had entered university through pathways other than senior schooling. So I decided some serious research was needed to help me work out how this could be improved for students in higher education. Fortunately, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) agreed that this was an important issue and they funded a project over two years.

Reasoning

I turned to learning theories such as Kalantzis and Cope’s Science of Learning through knowledge processes, Bloom’s taxonomy and others. A common factor across these theories was the view that learning was an active rather than passive process and that students can move from basic understandings to quite complex thinking skills of critical analysis and reasoning.  I scoured the literature on reflective learning and practice and found that it is generally accepted that there are levels of reflective thinking or learning, moving from basic identification of an issue, to dialogic thinking back and forth, to deep, transformative reflection that can change ideas or practice – hence the 4Rs that I’m using to reflect here (nothing like practicing what you preach). Plus I started to annoy plenty of colleagues at QUT – asking them about their own practices in teaching reflective learning. My colleague (Michael Ryan) and I developed the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) Model: (See Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field). The model considers the pedagogic field of higher

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field (click to enlarge).

education as a space that enables increasingly more complex ideas and professional attributes to be attained (vertical axis) as students move through their degree (horizontal axis). It suggests that students can:

  • begin by reflecting on their own views and practices as a novice in the field,
  • incorporate the views and practices of others in the field,
  • reach the final goal of critically reflecting on self in relation to experienced colleagues and clients as a beginning professional.

The practical aspects of the model are the teaching patterns that are mapped to show at which point in a program they have been successful and the level of complex thinking that they can achieve. The benefits of this approach include minimising replication of activities across a program, ensuring that reflective activities are increasingly more sophisticated across a program and introducing a shared language for staff and students.

Reconstructing

I’ve learnt that a smorgasbord of reflective activities is not useful to develop levels of complexity across a program. I’ve learnt that we can’t make assumptions about students’ skills in this area. I’ve realised the importance of a shared language across programs and consistency in language within a course. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that higher education teachers really make a difference. If they prioritise and explicitly teach reflective learning, students can progress to those deep levels of self-reflection. New applications of this work have been in areas of peer review – teaching students how to write a reflective and useful review and how to respond reflectively to peer feedback; as well as teaching students how to evaluate university teaching and courses in a more reflective way as co-contributors to the learning experience. From here, I think I need to work more with academic staff in helping them to implement some of the great resources and strategies from the project.

References:

Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on reflection in the comments section!

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 1

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the next post where I apply the 4Rs to my own experiences.)

Reflective practice is often described as being as much a state of mind or attitude as it is a set of activities. It requires educators to assess themselves and their practice and as a result of this process become, “conscious agents in their own pedagogy” (Griffiths: 2010).

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 11.45.45 AM

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

My work as a teacher of undergraduate and postgraduate Education students for many years has shown me how much students can benefit from explicit teaching of critical reflection to improve their learning. This has motivated my work on developing students’ reflective learning capacities over several years — first as a teacher working directly with students and in the past few years supporting other teachers, program coordinators and support staff to develop a systematic curriculum model with practical strategies and resources that builds students’ capacities in reflective learning.

At the end of this page I’ve provided some resources that could help you in your teaching and in Part 2 I’ll share my reflections (on reflection) using this 4R model.

When educators reflect on their teaching, their practice improves. Students can also benefit when they reflect on their learning experience or practice. Murphy (2011) states the act of reflecting on an experience or critical incident, leads to students making deeper connections to the concepts they are learning beyond the rote memorisation or simple completion, resulting in students experiencing an ‘a-ha’ moment.

Reflective learning is a way for students to:

  • develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills

  • consider different possibilities and actions

  • link old ideas with new ones

  • stimulate creative solutions

  • encourage life-long learning

  • draw on evidence to plan future actions

  • improve practice

  • create cohesiveness across a course/program. (Ryan, 2014)

How can I integrate reflection into teaching and assessment?

Designing a practice of reflection means both clarifying the purposes it needs to serve and identifying opportunities for reflection in students’ work that are realistic and yet occur at the right intervals with sufficient depth to be meaningful (Murphy 2011).

At RMIT, there are a number of teaching staff who have introduced reflective practice into their curriculum in courses such as Fashion and Textiles, International Development (GUSS), and Media and Communication to name just a few. And there would be countless staff who use the word ‘reflection’ in a task or in assessment criteria. What makes our project special is the real examples of reflection shown within their discipline. These patterns have been linked (where appropriate) to professional standards for the accrediting bodies and plotted on a graph to

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Populating the Pedagogic Field

show how they increase in complexity, or how they move from simulated to real experiences. (See the figure: ‘Populating the Pedagogic Field’ to the right and click to expand.)

Some examples have been selected here from the Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki to illustrate how you could introduce reflective practice into the course. The patterns include teaching resources including annotated examples of reflective writing, and student blogs:

Analysing Reflective Texts (ART),

Mapping Critical Incidents – Foundation (MCIF)

Reflections Around Artefacts (RAA)

Reflection as a Professional Activity during Service Learning (RPA)

Resources:

The Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki: holds the teaching patterns and common resources for over 20 patterns that are being used in different disciplines. The DRAW website (http://www.drawproject.net)provides a short summary of the project and references.

References:

Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching and assessment in the comments section! Click here to read Part 2 of this post!

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First impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share your thoughts on first impressions, inclusive teaching and reflective writing in the comments section!
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The promise of the new

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

Tulip among leaves and dirt

(cc) Flickr User: dugspr

Isn’t it rewarding that when you least expect it, you are given a shake and reminded why you do what you do?

Well for me it happened on Sunday, when I gave up my morning and volunteered at the University’s Open Day, and  I am so glad I did. It reminded me that what I have been taking for granted is of importance and significance to others.

When you are teaching you can get lost in the mire that can be ‘teaching’: marking, PowerPoints, student questions (why don’t they read the notes!), meeting deadlines and technology challenges. In doing so it is easy to forget why we are here and what we are offering to our students. In my three hours at Open Day I saw, met and spoke with potential students and realised that for them coming to university is a significant point. It takes them away from the familiarity, structure, and comfort of secondary school and places them into a whole new environment and onto a path to their future.

Now my role on Open Day was traffic direction. This meant wearing a stylish fluoro orange vest, holding a clipboard and greeting and directing the myriad of people who came through the door where I was standing. Can I say it is amazing the power a clipboard gives the holder: people saw an authority figure, or perhaps it was the fluoro vest. Anyway, people were more than happy to engage and ask questions and take my directions.

I spoke with many, often just to confirm what the signs said: “Yes the presentation is on the third floor”. Or to help them navigate through the maze that is RMIT. It is easy to forget that coming to a university for the first time can be physically daunting: buildings can seem to be arranged randomly, and numbers whimsically. Why else would Building 94 be opposite Building 53? Someone might pipe up here that it is probably the order in which they were built or acquired: the new RMIT Design Hub after all is number 100… and that holds until you get to Brunswick and Bundoora. There are little traps too like forgetting that the Art is often listed as Fine Art and that Art is scattered across a number of levels and buildings across what seems like the entire CBD.

What I had forgotten was that this part of going to uni is often a family affair, potential student were there with one, maybe two parents, often a sibling or two and in a couple of cases, I’m guessing a grandparent. There seemed to be two types of groups, one where the potential student was running the show and the rest were following along behind and the other where a parent, often with notes in hand was trying to find out what was on offer and how it would help their child. It was also interesting to consider the siblings who were tagging along, not always voluntary I’ll bet, but nonetheless seeing what the future may hold for them too.

I met a girl, in Year 10 who had come with her Mother to see what uni is all about, spoke with some parents who wanted to know if university studies could lead to a job and how the courses were linked to ‘the real world’ and others who didn’t know what they wanted but had come to look around.

It is interesting isn’t it, that most of the information could be found online but there is still a need to engage with the visual and physical aspect of the university, to see what it is like and to experience the environment and in doing so to get a felt sense of where their future may be.

In the lulls between greetings, I took time to guess, which area are they interested in. My general observations, were that stylish, well groomed young women were interested in Public Relations, those in grungy t-shirts, the Music Industry and those with novelty bags or water bottles – Communication Design.  Yes, it was stereotyping but it was harmless fun, and I was often right, so it also may mean that they were on the right path.

After my three hours I handed over the Clipboard and Vest of Power. I wandered through the buzzing crowds, to Bluebelle, my trusty bicycle. Pedalling home, I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and the positive energy that surrounded it. Over my journey, I concluded that Open Day is all about potential, options and future. Although ATAR was mentioned, it wasn’t the focus.  There wasn’t a sense of limitation, just possibilities, for potential student, their families and even for the staff present who were there to show the University as a place to develop that potential.

So I have decided “I‘ll be back”, because every now and then you need to be given a dose of optimism, as it helps to keep you out of the mire.

PS: Question of the day: “Where is the lightsaber display?”

Tempted answer: “In a galaxy far, far away.”

Real answer: “Not sure, try ‘Games and Animation’.”

(That is the answer from someone who responsibly wields the Clipboard of Power!)

Share your thoughts about the possibilities of Open Day in the comments!

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!