Learning & teaching for sustainability– naturally

Guest Post: Dr Jude Westrup, Senior Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, RMIT University.

Click the image to view The Learning and Teaching for Sustainability toolkit [PDF, 812 KB, 27 pages]

Click the image to view The Learning and Teaching for Sustainability toolkit [PDF, 812 KB, 27 pages]

Following Margaret Blackburn’s post in early 2013, I responded in a comment that it was ‘…great to see sustainability and environmental responsibility made explicit in our graduate attributes…’ What this means is that whatever the program of study, graduates of RMIT University will have engaged in processes to develop their abilities to recognise environmental and social impacts and to provide leadership on sustainable approaches to complex problems. The page on the graduate attribute Environmentally aware and responsible (#3 of 6) gives some suggestions of how this might look in a program. Appropriate to their level of study, students will:
•                Recognise the interrelationship between environmental, social and economic sustainability
•                Appraise and critique context-appropriate sustainability measures
•                Take responsibility for critical decision-making in ensuring sustainable outcomes
•                Appropriately apply their environmental and sustainability literacy in a highly diverse range of contexts.
For interested teachers and academics (especially those involved in course and program reviews, amendments or developments) the Learning and Teaching for Sustainability (LTfS) project can help you map this attribute and there are many excellent curriculum development and refreshment resources already available on the LTfS website  and includes the recently produced LTfS Toolkit for curriculum development, consisting of templates and workshop activity sheets.
Sustainability is undergoing a renaissance within the international and national tertiary sector as it relates to professional, industry and community priorities. Several LTfS components of RMIT’s Sustainability Action Plan are being reinvigorated while others are being developed for the first time. Through the Office of the Dean – Learning & Teaching (Academic Portfolio) a university-wide, year-long LTfS project is flourishing, with curriculum development, professional development (PD) and LTfS opportunities for staff being the main foci.
In terms of PD, staff will be able to access resources for LTfS curriculum development and evaluation via the LTfS website, a Google Site for informal (within RMIT) sharing of ideas, the Sustainability Subject Guide (RMIT Library) and other resources collated within RMIT’s Learning Repository.

Gallery of RMIT Graphs

LTfS sits within a broader suite of sustainability projects at RMIT.

RMIT Vietnam already has sustainability resources, such as an Environmental Policy in place.

We have contributed to the International Sustainability Literacy Index (currently in development), the United Nations Higher Education for Sustainable Development portal and the National Education for Sustainability (Office of Learning & Teaching) website. RMIT is a key contributor to these sites and initiatives.The national Education for Sustainability Tertiary Forum was held at LaTrobe University in February which linked staff at Universities in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Detailed outcomes and actions are available on the Education for Sustainability website.

We have ongoing national participation with groups such as ACTS (Australasian Campuses Toward Sustainability) and AAEE (Australian Association for Environmental Education). Both of these groups have conferences in Hobart in November which staff are encouraged to explore, attend and contribute to.
A range of RMIT resources exist for teachers, lecturers and academic developers.

A range of RMIT resources exist for teachers, lecturers and academic developers. Click on the image to see more.

All Colleges in Melbourne and the Sustainability Group in Vietnam are involved in linking LTfS curriculum development with the Global Learning by Design (2014-2016) major project and other strategic Program and Course development and delivery initiatives (such as the AQF Program and Course Guide alignments and Undergraduate and Postgraduate Program reviews). A workshop, Introduction to Learning & Teaching for Sustainability will be available to all staff from Semester 2 in the DevelopMe PD program and online, modular resources are under development. Social media, digital learning and blog communications channels are also being explored and developed.During the RMIT Learning & Teaching Expo in September 2014 students, alumni and staff from across RMIT will present an interactive Q&A style LTfS colloquium. This session will explore key issues in sustainability of relevance to staff and students across our campuses.

The creation of a dedicated RMIT Teaching Award (P9: Graduate Learning Outcomes), for curriculum developments or initiatives that enhance one of RMIT’s graduate attributes, will further raise the profile of LTfS and enhance learning and teaching practices across RMIT.

To close on the topic of awards, the 2014 Green Gown Awards Australasia is now open and the deadline for all submissions is 4pm Tuesday 5 August 2014. A team in Landscape Architecture were finalists last year with their project looking at green roof projects.
Are there teams out there ready to have a shot at the 2014 awards?
Share your thoughts and questions about sustainability on campus in the comments section!
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Patterns for Change and Innovation

Posted by: Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching, RMIT University.

Click on the image to visit the GLbD site.

Click on the image to visit the GLbD site.

RMIT is a global university of technology and design but how does this translate into our programs and courses? Are they truly global? And are we keeping pace with the changes being forced upon Higher Education?  Changes that are very much driven by technology and online delivery.

Global Learning by Design (GLbD) is a major project of the University that is hoping to address and deliver on these questions. The idea is that programs will be designed for delivery in multiple locations using multiple channels: face-to-face, blended or fully-online.

So how does GLbD propose to do this?  We’ve set up Curriculum Design Teams made up of academic and teaching leads, teaching staff, educational developers, representatives from the Library and Study and Learning Centre as well as production specialists from the Office of the Dean, Learning & Teaching. It’s about bringing these stakeholders together from the start, providing a holistic approach to program development. Not a new concept in designing curriculum, but one that makes sense.

There are many innovative approaches to teaching and learning across RMIT that have resulted in rich student learning experiences. But what we have not been able to do is consistently capture this work and share it! Making it available to other disciplines and Colleges is how this good work can have a ripple effect. GLbD is putting its effort into capturing Curriculum Design Patterns and building a repository for all to access and use.

Avoiding a business-as-usual approach, we’re using particular principles of program management methodologies such as Agile and Lean. These principles have been around for a long time and are now becoming more commonplace in Higher Education.

Information on Global Learning by Design can be found here along with a list of all the Colleges’ projects for 2014. If you are interested in how you could get involved in GLbD, contact your Deputy Head/Dean Learning & Teaching. We’ll be posting an update on the work from specific Curriculum Design Teams later in the year.

Share your thoughts and questions about the project  in the comments section!
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What does ‘good’ look like?

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

Series of sticky notes all saying 'good'.Let me begin with an anecdote.

Several years ago, I returned to study to do a post graduate course in Organisational Behaviour. I remember the first assessment clearly, we had to write an analysis of a group situation, I think it was about 1500 words.  I remember the anxiety, I had no idea of what I was doing. I had done the reading, attended the classes, consulted fellow students but in writing my analysis I made the best go of it I could but really had no idea of what was required.

I missed the class when the work was returned, so had to catch up with the lecturer at another time – I still remember the nervousness and trepidation I felt in waiting for my paper, and I did ask her, ‘Just tell me if I passed or if I have to do it again.’ When I got the paper back I got an HD, I still don’t know how, and I suspect that the lecturer regretted the mark, when she realised that I didn’t really know what I was doing!

The purpose of this anecdote was not to tell you I got an HD or to share my neuroses, but rather to make the point that when assessing and grading students they need to know what is expected and to what standard. Or to put it another way, ‘What does “good” look like?’

This is particularly important for students transitioning: from school to tertiary studies, from vocational to higher education or from one year level to the next. Expectations can be different, so we shouldn’t assume that students will understand what is required of them.

To help, consider these three questions:

  1. What criteria are you using? Are you assessing a product, application of theory, diverse reading, critical analysis, spelling and grammar, team work? Make this clear to the students and then they can aim to demonstrate what they can (or can’t) do, rather than try to guess what you want.

  2. What does ‘good’ look like?  You may have assessment criteria but when you are grading, could you explain to a student the difference between a Credit and a Distinction?  “It’s just the vibe of the thing…” (Dennis Denuto in The Castle) isn’t a satisfactory explanation.  This is often highlighted when a student questions their grade and asks what was missing. What did they need to do to get a higher grade?  Rubrics can help here.

  3. Can you explain what students have to produce? Even better, are there examples they can look at?  Students like to see what is required. You think you have clearly articulated the requirements but nothing beats a physical example. I get my post grad students to write wiki posts, and until I provided sample posts, I was always fielding questions about what was wanted, even though I thought it was clearly explained in the course guide.

It is Week 2 for Higher Education and Week 5 for Vocational Education, so it’s not too late to review your assessment tasks and see if there are ways to make them student-friendly rather than ‘guess what I want’ tasks.

Resources that can help:

Assessing student work
Rubrics for assessing English language and academic literacies

Share your thoughts on what ‘good’ means in the comments section!
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Everyone can have their moment – Celebrating learning and teaching

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

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

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

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

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

How to do this you ask?

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

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

RM

So complete the following sentences:

What I have learnt when teaching is…

My students have surprised me by…

In my teaching I am pleased with…

Thanks to Julie and Bronwyn for sharing their responses!

Share your thoughts in the comments!

 


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Program management for everyone

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

Click on the image to view RMIT's web resources on program management.

Click on the image to view RMIT’s web resources on program management.

Program management is hard work. There is so much to consider, take into account, plan for and, at times, react to. It’s not just about the program; its design, delivery, quality, review, promotion — it’s also very much about the students: their enrolment, orientation, induction, progress, feedback, complaints, appeals and advice…as I said, hard work.

So what can help?

As part of the Academic Management of Coursework Programs in Schools endorsed by the VCE in April 2013, The Office of the Dean Learning and Teaching has put together a suite of resources for Program Managers in both Higher Education and VET to hopefully ease some of that burden.  Program Management for everyone is a just-in-time portal to policies, resources, training and relevant information. It isn’t the magic bullet, but it has attempted to bring information together.

By the end of November it will be complemented with a section for Course Coordinators in Higher Education, and VET will follow suit in early 2014 with a section for Program Coordinators. There are also plans to include a section on People Management.

Professional development has been organised, and apart from the resources online, there is a Blackboard shell and upcoming DevelopMe workshops. We’ve already held one of these sessions and look out for one in late November. In 2014, another series of DevelopMe workshops will target specific areas when they are needed most.

We chose the tagline Program management for everyone because it’s such crucial role here at RMIT. The impact the Program team has on the student experience and student outcomes can’t be overestimated.

Share your thoughts on the new resources or program management more generally in the comments!


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Assessment, Grade, Holidays…

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

HD rubricIn Melbourne, it’s the last week of scheduled classes and nearing the long break over the southern summer. Whilst thoughts may be wandering towards holidays, sun, the beach and all those great ‘Aussie’ pastimes, it’s time to assess and grade our students.

All the formative assessment has been done; we have provided vast quantities of feedback to our students and maybe provided avenues for feedback from their peers; now is the time to give each one a grade.

So I thought for my last post for the year, and before running to the beach to go sailing, I’d do a light refresher on assessment and point to some resources on rubrics to help you through.

At this stage of the year, we already know how most students are going. We have been giving them formative assessment tasks, and providing feedback to them so they can learn from their mistakes, fill the gaps and polish their performance. There have likely been summative assessments, which have been building towards a final mark.

Maybe you’ve read (and found useful) other tomtom posts that have discussed aspects of assessment (like Thembi’s post on Active Learning Strategies, Meredith’s post on Academic Integrity, Alex’s post on Peer and Self-Assessment and my previous post, Keeping Watch on using assessment to track our students’ progress), so here is a post with some handy references on assessment and rubric development.

In the old days, students would now start cramming, revising knowledge and processes, going to the library and doing old exam papers hoping their lecturer would just revise the last year’s paper for this year.

Nowadays, we hope those student expectations are well behind us and the last assignment encapsulates the skills, knowledge and the application skills and knowledge into a capstone assessment experience to confirm the student has achieved the course (subject) learning outcomes.

In pondering assessment we should never lose sight of what assessment is, and its purpose. As a reminder, here are the core principles of assessment from The University of Melbourne’s  Centre for the Study of Higher Education:

  1. Assessment guides and encourages effective approaches to learning
  2. Assessment validates and reliably measures expected learning outcomes, in particular the higher–order learning that characterises higher education
  3. Assessment and grading defines and protects academic standards.

At this stage of the year, principle 1 should have provided students with tasks that permitted them to test their learning and understanding in their passage towards the achieving the learning outcomes. The best scenario would be student-lecturer negotiated, multiple learning and assessment tasks that were designed to increase in complexity over the semester.

Principle 2 reminds us that we should not be simply testing students’ knowledge, but more their application of skills and knowledge and their ability to independently think though increasingly complex problems associated with their intended discipline. And we must grade each student in a reliable and repeatable manner. More on how we do that later.

Principle 3 helps maintain our standards. Not only do we have to assess if they have achieved the course learning outcomes, but also how well they have achieved it with reference to industry standards and moderation across institutions. Painfully for a teacher, we also must decide if a student has not achieved the learning outcomes.

Using the results from several forms of assessment during the semester, we need a framework to grade effectively. We need to have a considered series of statements that allow us to assign an overall grade to each student. They are like performance indicators. These statements are incremental performance levels of the learning outcomes. The levels are based on professional judgement, industry expectations and the quality standards of the university.

Commonly referred to as rubrics, you should develop a set of guidelines for marking and grading. They are not rules, but a framework to help you and your co-assessors be consistent across the group of students, from year to year and to maintain the academic quality standards expected by your industry/discipline and the students’ future employers. Your institution also relies on your professional judgement to uphold the standard of its awards.

Some argue that rubrics are restrictive, but with a well-developed set of rubrics, time is saved, consistency is improved, standards are upheld, and the course remains constructively aligned — the rubrics being generated from the learning outcomes. Levels of attainment between are  documented and described for the students to see. These can be a little bit fuzzy in their generic form but discussion with students, providing exemplars and using the same rubrics for peer and self-assessment can enhance all participants’ understanding of what a rubric is trying to do. Rubrics can be applied to all types of assessments: essays, drawings, pictures, models, presentations, designs and films.

The links below have some useful reading on rubrics, their purpose, value and how to write them:

http://aadmc.wikispaces.com/file/view/Assessment.pdf

http://www.edutopia.org/assessment-guide-rubrics

http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/rubrics.html

Unfortunately some students, despite all attempts by us, fail to provide us with the evidence they have achieved the learning outcomes. The result is then a fail. There wouldn’t be a lecturer or educator who does it lightly, but it’s part of upholding the professionalism of our discipline, and the standards of our university. The determined learner who fails will return and do the course again, learning from their mistakes, and hopefully will achieve a better mark the next time around.

So before you start marking this semester try developing your own rubrics. Start by writing your learning outcomes on the left of a tabjboceanle, and then use grade descriptors of what you would expect to see from the students in the boxes. Your learning and teaching advisor can help you create them and your results will be fairer and more consistent. Rubrics are also a great help when marking online or if you have several tutors performing the assessment. What’s more, you can save time!

Well my last student is graded, so I’m off to a BBQ tonight and out into the ocean (Bass Strait) for a sail on the weekend.

I hope you have an enjoyable break.


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Games people play Part 2: Let’s pretend

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

Metrics

Fitbit Screengrab

Author is comfortably mid-table at 10000 steps a day. Less than Andrea W, more than The Phantom.

Last week was quite a fun post to write and I’m back with the semi-promised ‘Part 2’…

We do often get between 100 and 300 daily hits on a published post at the tomtom. But my post, the 100th post fell a little bit short. But since then there’s been quite a bit of activity and as a number of people pointed out in the comments, my threat to send it to blog-post-Heaven made it seem:

  • like a waste of my effort/their invested time
  • like an arbitrary requirement
  • unfair to demand a group of people to reach an aggregated target
  • churlish for me to take my ball and go home
  • that perhaps at 1400 words I just didn’t know how to end the post?

All true!

What a savvy readership!

And all so relevant to games- Are the rules clear? Are the rules fair? Who thought up these rules? Who’s the umpire? How do I win? How do I quit?

On to what I’d promised, first, extrinsic motivations and measurements.

There’s already a game in place in TAFE and HE that our students play. The game called, for instance, ‘Bachelor of X’ runs for three years, it’s assessed by former players and it will cost you upwards of $30 000 AUD. Insert as many asterisks as you’d like, but essentially you quit by dropping out, you win by graduating, you can cheat in a number of ways and at the end you’re awarded a badge called a degree.

A cynical sketch of the tertiary experience, yes. Shoulder angels should rightly counter with the intangibles and the intrinsic benefits that come with a tertiary experience. University is where students can grapple with ideas, create new knowledge, speak truth to power etcetera.

Click here to visit GEElab. Opens in a new window.

‘Trouble Tower’ app from RMIT’s GEElab.

It would be depressing (or worse) if we held the first view front of mind and didn’t encourage the myriad benefits related to what learning institutions offer. But you’ll find plenty of posts on the tomtom where you can read about graduate attributes, lifelong learning and that sort of thing!

Caveats

My point though is that adding another layer of achievements as instructors is problematic for a system that already has clear thresholds, ladders and badges. Completion of credit points, Competent/Not Yet Competent, Pass to High Distinction: these are the real points of the game. Universities bear the legacy of ranks and hierarchies in their inherited Latin and medieval terms. Just as more recently we have had the AQF imposing a kind of metric system of levels 1-10 on these old terms from guilds, knights and churches.

So an easier conclusion to this post would be for me to write about what could go wrong with adding a game element to your course. That it’s ‘pointsification‘, that it’s infantile, that there’ll be unintended consequences. That it makes university into (even moreso) a token economy. That carrots and sticks are for donkeys. Adding gameful design to your course won’t make up for opaque course outcomes or dated course materials.

But I did promise to explain why an individual instructor might still be interested in adding some sort of a game mechanic to their course.

Click to read the article at news.Discovery.com

A 5000 year old Bronze-Age game: “According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it appears that the game is based on the number 4.” Haluk Sağlamtimur, Ege University İzmir, Turkey. Click above to read the full article.

Case 1: You enjoy games (boardgames, word games or computer games) and recognise that games can add an element of fun to tasks. You want to allow students to learn, track their learning or to present the results of their learning in a modality that’s closer to one in which they’re spending some of their leisure time.

Case 2: You recognise that there’s an element of your course that’s an ‘eat-your-vegetables’ proposition: it needs to be done and many of your students find it difficult. As a result, it’s often skipped over by students or it becomes a point where their performance dips or where they disengage. It might be something like acquiring the appropriate vocabulary for a unit, or acquiring a set of technological skills that are required that can be applied later in the unit. You think that maybe some healthy competition or a bit of incentivising could do the trick.

To address the latter case, it’s worthwhile noting that psychologists talk about the overjustification effect, where extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation. As one of the examples in Alfie Kohn’s very quotable ‘Punished by Rewards’ goes:

Asked about the likely results of Pizza Hut’s popular food-for-reading program, educational psychologist John Nicholls replied, only half in jest, that it would probably produce “a lot of fat kids who don’t like to read.” (Kohn, 1999)

Kohn’s book has a bigger target of praise and gold stars in schools and performance bonuses in the workplace but his arguments that this type of vegetables-for-dessert bargaining is essentially coercive (and stacked in favour of society’s dominant power structure) and that the results are either counter-productive or short-lived (they end when the reward ends) are certainly worth keeping in mind. You’d better be careful about incentivising an aspect of the course that part of your cohort actually enjoys already for instance.

In response to the first case, I think it’s important to recognise the range of games and the types of players you’re likely to be teaching. It will be impossible to design a semester-long game that engages all of the players, all of the time. Even a leader in the field, Kevin Werbach (whose videos and articles will point you in the right direction) shies away from using an actual game mechanic in his MOOC: Gamification (run through The University of Pennsylvania on Coursera).

Conclusions

So why, as a teacher or lecturer, would you be looking to introduce game-mechanics to your classroom? The short answer is that I think it gives you another way to experiment with your teaching in a way that brings students along for the journey.

If you begin by asking ‘What is the problem that I’m trying to solve in my class?’ you might end up with a dilemma like:

*Survey results indicate that students don’t feel I’m giving enough feedback to them.
OR
*I’m not getting the quality of answers/creative output that I’d expect from this level of students.

What I think game design opens up here is the possibility for you not to simply answer ‘I’ll work harder.’ Making a game of it means you will work with students and you will help them to work with each other to solve problems.  For you, this problem of practice may or may not be openly shared with them- you’ll find a way to link it appropriately to their real success in their course or program.

I think that’s one of the powerful things about games. The ‘let’s pretend’ aspect of them imagines a world where things are simpler and clearer. Where things work. Where there are bright lines, winners and losers but also camaraderie among the players (and the umpires). It’s where achieving 10000 steps with a pedometer or staying ahead of an opponent in a ladder can be the askew goal that keeps you on track for the ‘real’ goal.

I’ll post my ‘feedback game’ ideas in the comments but to bring it back to Skinner (the Principal from The Simpsons, not the behaviorist) his error was not in the silliness of the game (all games are silly) but in assigning a game that he didn’t play himself, that he didn’t play alongside his student. And that’s the great opportunity of games in higher education — more time playing alongside instead of umpiring. Let’s continue this particular game in the comments section…

Share your thoughts about games, gameful design and gamification in the comments!