Tag Archives: learning

What is inclusive teaching, and why is it important?

Guest Post by Dr Kylie Murphy, Academic Development Group, College of Science Engineering and Health.

Students browse bookshelves at Carlton Library

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky

Access and equity are hot topics in Australian higher education lately. The university sector is under pressure to massify. Rather than reinforcing the social class structure, Australian universities are now tasked with the challenge of helping students to transgress social class boundaries and break generations-old cycles of economic disadvantage. Indeed, there are significant financial incentives for universities around attracting and retaining students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. University teaching staff should be in no doubt about the importance of supporting more first-in-family students to come to higher education and ‘stay the course’.

What should we do?

But how are university teachers supposed to help students who lack the sociocultural capital of more ‘traditional’ university students to persist with their studies and succeed? Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds not only lack the financial resources of their middle and upper class peers. Many also:

  • have less time and space in which to study
  • lack the academic literacies taught more readily in selective-school classrooms
  • lack the language skills often modelled from birth by tertiary educated parents and
  • lack the understanding, support, and advice of university-experienced friends and family members.

If success in higher education is to be more accessible to socioeconomically disadvantaged students, perhaps we need to make it easier for all students to get a degree than in the past?

Are more lenient standards the answer?

Lowering academic standards or reducing the expected capabilities of graduates is, of course, not the answer.

Two students studying at Brunswick Library

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky

Australia’s economic health (to say nothing of other social benefits) needs more people who are as knowledgeable and skilful as graduates have long been, not an increased number of graduates who are less capable than before. Undergraduate degree students each bring tens of thousands of dollars to the university they are enrolled at. To attract increased and more diverse student enrolments and then simply lower the bar for students to step over is, if nothing else, completely unethical. The answer, instead, lies in transforming universities into places of truly inclusive teaching.

How can inclusive teaching help?

If inclusive teaching doesn’t mean lowering academic standards, what does it mean? Broadly, it means teaching in such a way that maximises the capacity of all students to reach meaningful standards of success. In other words, it means teaching so that all students in the course can meet the learning objectives. It’s not surprising, then, that there are many ways to conceptualise inclusive teaching. But while writers in this field may revel in exploring the complexities of inclusive education as an abstraction, a stack of slightly differing definitions and conceptual deconstructions are of little help to academics who just want to know how to teach their next class more inclusively or how to re-design an assessment piece for greater inclusivity.

What makes teaching inclusive?

Inclusive teaching manifests as many specific practices, adapted and contextualised as appropriate to the area of study and learning objectives in question. Instead of itemising possible inclusive practices, here, I offer three criteria that stand out to me as ready litmus tests for determining whether or not any particular thing that we do as a teacher or lecturer is ‘inclusive’. When selecting content for a course, when devising, explaining, and providing feedback on learning and assessment activities, and when otherwise communicating with our students, these three questions are critical considerations:

1        Will this content, range of activities, communication style, feedback, etcetera allow all of my students to feel respected and valued — or might some students feel overlooked and unengaged?

2        Will it help all of my students to maintain or develop enough confidence in themselves, in my approachability, and in the relevance and flexibility of the curriculum so that they will persist when challenges arise — or might students with more than their fair share of obstacles become disheartened and give up? and

3        Will it help all of my students to move step-by-step from the knowledge and skills they each have, now, to the knowledge and skills that I want them ultimately to attain — or does it fail to clearly communicate the steps required?

An attitude more than a checklist

I see inclusive teaching as an attitude as much as a checklist of actions. To me, it’s an ongoing process of aspiring to answer ‘yes’ to the above three questions regarding every aspect of our teaching and assessment practice, even though the implicit ideals are not always achievable. In my own teaching, I try to satisfy the above three criteria — aiming to help all of my students to feel respected and valued, to feel confident enough to keep trying despite setbacks, and to achieve the learning objectives in an appropriately scaffolded way — but I sometimes run short on the necessary resources, including time and know-how. And I know my efforts don’t always work for every one of my students. There are some factors that affect student learning and success that teachers simply cannot change.

Something to be proud of

Student Services Office, Bundoora Campus

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky

Inclusive teaching is not easy and it’s no panacea. However, our many teaching staff at RMIT who do continually try to enable all of our students to feel respected, to feel confident enough to persist despite difficulties, and to ultimately achieve the intended learning outcomes — even though they don’t always achieve these objectives with every student — are important agents of social change and incredibly valuable assets to the University. For those vulnerable students whom our inclusive teaching efforts have helped, and do help, the positive impact of our efforts, especially combined with the efforts of other inclusive teachers and student support staff, is potentially enormous.

Learn more

Read what Australian low socioeconomic status students say about inclusive teachers, and what inclusive Australian academics say about low socioeconomic status students, at www.lowses.edu.au. This website contains well-researched practical advice for university teachers and policy makers. And stay tuned for RMIT’s launch of its own professional development and support opportunities arising from the University’s Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices project.

Get Onboard

The transformation of higher education institutions from places of exclusivity and pre-existing privilege to places of inclusivity and life-changing opportunity is well underway in Australia. Australian universities now serve students of varying levels of socioeconomic advantage, including students from under-privileged backgrounds who we know, with good teaching, perform as well as or better than their wealthier peers. But, still, students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds remain proportionally underrepresented in Australian university enrolments.

The challenge lies, of course, not only in attracting more high-potential socioeconomically disadvantaged students to our universities, but also in ensuring that we capitalise on their potential, maintain their confidence and motivation, and appropriately scaffold their pathways to success once they arrive with us. This two-pronged challenge is being addressed on a global scale, including in the UK and the US as well as in Australia. Whether it’s social justice or economic pressure that drives you to teach as inclusively as you can, the imperative is strong — and it’s not going away.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching strategies in our comments section!

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!

A scientific take on teaching improvement

Guest Post by Dr Kylie Murphy, Academic Development Group, College of Science Engineering and Health.

A group of students dissect a fish.

©2012 RMIT. All rights reserved.

As the College of Science, Engineering and Health’s new Inclusive Teaching and Assessment specialist, it’s perhaps fitting that I lean towards science-based teaching and learning advice; that is, advice based on experimentally derived empirical evidence. This post is not a lesson in scientific method and I am not arguing that scientifically validated knowledge is the only valuable type of knowledge. I would however like to highlight a few practices that the best available empirical research in education has shown, repeatedly and consistently, improves student achievement — including in mathematics and the sciences. Drawing heavily on Professor John Hattie’s (2009) meta-analytic work, I’m offering only the bare bones here. If your interest is piqued, you’ll need to pursue the fleshy details for yourself!

Not wanting to get bogged down in statistical jargon, it’s worth noting that to be deemed a large ‘effect size’, the improvement in student achievement needs to be greater than the effect of ‘typical teacher’ practice. Large effect sizes usually indicate that, compared to the norm, a greater proportion of students progressed and they progressed considerably.  Now, the bony synopsis…

Classroom climate

In the category of classroom environment, the largest positive ‘effect’ on student achievement comes from environments that are welcoming of students and their errors. This is presumably because emotionally safe climates promote effort and risk-taking.

Curriculum design

On the matter of curriculum design, the findings are very consistent and transcend subject boundaries. The most important attribute is ‘balance’ between learning objectives that focus on increasing ‘surface knowledge’ (e.g., memorisable definitions and facts) and those concerned with ‘deep understanding’ (e.g., where the focus is on finding relationships between concepts, inferring hypotheses, identifying patterns and themes, generating arguments, and exploring useful applications). Not surprisingly, focusing too much on one and too little on the other has a minimal effect on student learning.

Students in an RMIT lab

©2012 RMIT. All rights reserved.

Specific teacher practices

There are many practices known to increase student achievement. These include having high expectations (i.e., not prejudging students), building and maintaining positive teacher-student relationships, undertaking regular professional development, paying genuine attention to learning objectives, formulating clear success criteria, setting challenging tasks, providing clear explanations and examples, providing opportunities for guided practice followed by constructive feedback, and continually seeking feedback from students as to the effectiveness of one’s teaching.

The biggest contributing factor is…

The biggest contributors to greater achievement appear to be not what the teacher does but what they get their students to do. For example, in more effective mathematics classes students are encouraged to be active in exploring potential solutions for most of the time (with as much or as little teacher assistance as is necessary), to go beyond the successful solution to the problem to include the interpretation of the solution, and to be diligent in frequently checking the quality of their work.

Students measuring water quality

©2012 RMIT. All rights reserved.

You may be wondering what measures of achievement were used in the 800 meta-analyses (i.e., thousands of individual studies) on which the above generalisations are based. You may wonder how the ‘effect sizes’ were calculated. You may have any number of bones to pick! For the answers, and a few concessions, grab yourself a copy of Hattie’s (2009) ‘Visible Learning’ published by Routledge, and read Chapter 2.

In conclusion

What’s important to know is that a great many studies converge to support the above principles of effective teaching. While even more effective strategies may be yet to be scientifically studied, and more scientific research on effective teaching is sorely needed, it is noteworthy that teaching practices with the largest effect sizes in individual studies tend to be similarly effective across studies involving different subjects, student ages, and student demographics.

Whether we look to experimental evidence or other forms of evidence about what makes teaching effective for most students, universities must invest in the pursuit of this evidence and invest in their teachers. More than ever before, universities need to provide evidence-based training, resources, and support to enable academics to maximise learning and achievement for the increasingly diverse students entering our increasingly competitive higher education sector.

Reference:

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

More information about Hattie can be found at http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person428067 and our own Tom Coverdale’s terrific discussion paper on Inclusive Teaching, which draws on Hattie’s work, can be found at http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=s1ket45y2qrb

Share your thoughts about improving the quality of learning and teaching in our comments section!

Teaching Awards – worth the paperwork?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Students in plumbing workshop, Working Mens College

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom ‘n’ Biggs

Sunflower in full bloom


Creative Commons Photo from Flickr by Being There

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

You may be wading through a sea of marking right now and swinging between moments of absolute delight and total despair as you encounter and assess the learning your students have demonstrated in their assignments.

How well did students ‘get’ what you intended this semester? Did they produce assignments that were spot-on with your intentions or did they come up with different interpretations altogether? What do these interpretations tell you about what the students wanted from the course?

Whatever your response, perhaps it would be useful to consider the extent to which educational theorists Benjamin Bloom and John Biggs have influence in your course design and how they can help you to improve student learning.

Before Benjamin can work his magic though, we must first consider John.

John Biggs, proposes that learning is far more effective when the curriculum is aligned, as he recounts an experience he had in 1994:

In my last year of teaching, I had a class of 82 schoolteachers who were studying how psychology could be applied to teaching. It suddenly struck me how silly it was to give the usual exam or final assignment, in which my students tell me what I had told them about applying psychology to education. Rather, they should be telling me how they themselves could apply what psychology they knew to improve their teaching decisions – that was the underlying intended outcome of the course. So that is what I asked them to do, putting their evidence for psychologically-driven teaching in a portfolio. After the initial shock, they saw the relevance of the course to their own teaching. I received the best teacher ratings I’d ever had. Thus was constructive alignment born (Biggs, 2011).

In short, constructive alignment is nothing more than learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments that match each other and allow students to practice and then verify what they have learned (Biggs & Tang, 2011). For example, if an outcome is for students to be reflective, they are likely to be engaging in activities involving critical and deep thinking about improvement and growth while the assessment task might ask them to deliberate on changes of thoughts, beliefs or practice that they may have noticed in themselves over the course of the semester.

It would not make John happy if students were expecting to develop reflective abilities but were sitting passively through lectures. Or imagine if in the same course they were asked to collect vox pop data but were then assessed by multiple choice questions or an essay that was a reproduction of facts.

In the scenarios above there is no alignment between intended learning outcome, the learning activity and the assessment.

Alignment isn’t a straitjacket dictating the activities and assessments in your course. You just need to ensure that the activities and assessments make sense by being allied to your pedagogy and contributing to the learning outcomes you have indicated in your course guide. If not, students are unlikely to achieve the required outcomes and your experience at marking time may include more despair than delight.

If you have Biggs working for you (and an easy mnemonic is ‘A4′: Aims, Activities, Assessments- Aligned!) the next check is to ensure that Bloom is helping you to describe the learning outcomes you want for students.

Benjamin Bloom’s legacy for learning and teaching was to develop classifications, a taxonomy, of learning objectives in the 1950s. The best known of these classifications is the cognitive (knowing) taxonomy which describes development from simple recall and retelling through to more sophisticated activities like creation and synthesis.

Lesser known taxonomies have also been developed for the affective (feeling) and psychomotor (doing) domains. Affective learning objectives begin with the awareness of feelings and values through to their internalization while the psychomotor taxonomy maps doing skills from perception of activity to unconscious mastery. See Wikipedia’s page on Bloom’s Taxonomy for a detailed hierarchical or developmental listing of skills for each domain.

Referring to Bloom’s taxonomies and the plethora of verbs that describe each level of skill in the knowing, feeling and doing domains can assist you to accurately and explicitly write your learning outcomes to pitch or project the learning you want your students to achieve. Using Bloom’s suggestions can enrich your outcomes and clarify what you may mean by the generic verbs we slip into using such as ‘understand’ or ‘demonstrate’. Do note, however, that Bloom himself recognised that while these categories and descriptors are inherently useful, they would hold even more power when adapted and written within specific disciplines.

By involving Bloom and Biggs more consciously in your course design you will have the opportunity to offer deeper learning experiences and innovative, appropriate assessment tasks for your students.

Take some time to engage with these gentlemen once you have recovered from your marking and use them to interpret any messages for change that may have come to you from your students’ assignments.

Benjamin Bloom died in 1999. His Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook 1, the cognitive domain was published in 1956 but has been built on and adapted by countless educators across the world. There are many Bloom resources on the web, but try Wikipedia’s entry on Bloom’s Taxonomy to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_Taxonomy

John Biggs lives in Tasmania where he writes history and fiction. For the seminal Biggs resource, see his text Teaching for Quality Learning at University, also available as an eBook available in the RMIT Library (login required): Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed). Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Education.

If you’d like to know more about the men behind the ideas, check out:

Biggs, J. (2011). Constructive Alignment. John Biggs. Retrieved June 16, 2012 from http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/

Eisner, E. (2000). Benjamin Bloom, 1913-1999. Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education 30(3). Retrieved June 19, 2012 from http://www.ibe.unesco.org/publications/ThinkersPdf/bloome.pdf

Flipping the classroom: the new acrobatics of teaching?

Post By Kylie Budge

“Flipping the classroom” is a new buzzword floating around the education sector at the moment. You may have come across it and wondered if this is some kind of strange new acrobatic maneuver or craze that’s hit teaching.

Well, yes and no!

What exactly is being flipped?

“Flipping the classroom” is an inquiry and problem based learning model of teaching.  As the name suggests, it is the flipside of the still popular lecture/content or teacher centred models still being used in universities today. The Economist explains that flipping the classroom is the ‘reversal of the traditional teaching methods—with lecturing done outside class time and tutoring (or “homework”) during it…’.

While in some ways flipping the classroom might appear as a new strategy to engage students in learning, the basic concept behind it has been around for some time. This recent article in Wired by Makice details the more recent history of flipping the classroom and how it is connected to teaching strategies such as enquiry and problem based learning.

Let’s think about some of the practicalities of how this might work.

Instead of students attending face-to-face classes to hear presentations from lecturers about a new topic, theory or series of ideas, students do this in their own time prior to class. That is, students are directed to read information about the topic or theory, view a lecture online, and/or listen to a podcast independently of their lecturer. When students attend their face-to-face classes, the focus is on applying the knowledge they gathered prior to the class. Application might involve problem solving or doing an activity alone or with other students to see how their ideas and new-found knowledge work in practice. Therefore classes are for being active, not passive.

Learning from a specific example is often the best way to understand a new concept. The following link shows how and why teacher, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, flipped her Art History classroom.

For many, to flip our classrooms will take a significant cultural shift in the way we see teaching. It will also require a shift in the expectations and mindset of many students. Some students have grown used to being passive consumers of education even if they don’t enjoy learning that way. Changing this attitude and approach to learning will take time, but possibly not as much time as you might think. Students are used to searching information on the Internet when they want to know more on a topic that interests them. They’re active knowledge seekers in their own time, for their own interests. It’s about continuing that active frame of mind and setting up contexts where they can apply it to their learning.

In terms of teaching, it might mean reconsidering the whole notion of weekly face-to-face classes. Do students need to attend classes weekly in order to learn? Could they come to a monthly workshop/seminar/tutorial instead and in between be focused on a series of reading/listening/viewing tasks in conjunction with their ongoing assessment pieces? They could still be actively linked with each other (and you as their teacher) doing tasks in online forums between workshops.

For many of us it’s about flipping traditional notions of teaching on their head and approaching things in a very new way. It’s also something worth thinking about in terms of being current with educational policy and technology.

There are a lot of resources available online if you’d like to know more about flipping the classroom. There’s even an annual conference you can attend.

And for those who use Twitter for professional development you can follow the hashtag: #flipclass and connect with others who are experimenting with this model in their teaching practice.

Have you already made the change and flipped your classroom? If so, we’d like to hear from you about what’s worked, what hasn’t and what changes you are making.

the Tom Tom, learning & making connections

Post by Ruth Moeller & Kylie Budge.

Image by: Ruth Moeller.

The Teaching Tom Tom has been an initiative of the Learning & Teaching Team, College of Design & Social Context, RMIT University.

When the Teaching Tom Tom began 6 months ago, its aim was to create a community of practice amongst learning and teaching staff (or achieve world domination, whichever comes first). We wanted to trial using social media, in our case blogging and twitter, to provide a forum for those interested in teaching and learning at the tertiary level.

Well, we haven’t achieved world domination quite yet (!) but the Tom Tom has had some success in developing a community of practice. As a reader of the Tom Tom from the comfort of your computer screen, you are joining about 600 others world wide who have an interest in learning and teaching. Think about it, how many people were at the last teaching and learning meeting you went to?

Along the way we have learned many things but the main thing being: social media is social; it’s about making connections. And it’s a two-way dialogue. This doesn’t just have to mean online. ‘Shut up and write‘ sessions have provided a chance for writers across RMIT to share a coffee (or herbal tea), have a chat, write for one pomodoro (25 minutes), have another chat, and write for another pomodoro. In doing so, making connections that help in research, teaching, and blogging. Connections are also made in sourcing, encouraging and supporting contributors to the Tom Tom and in discussing and commenting on posts (both face to face and online).

The other aspect of our social media experiment has been connection with the twitterverse, where we have discovered and shared ideas and resources with fellow Twitterers, most of whom we have never, and will never meet but who have become part of the community of practice we have been engaged with. Being part of this community, we have realized that this kind of activity can also be part of professional development, not replacing journal articles, conferences and more formal professional development initiatives, but enhancing them – providing tasters and snapshots that can lead to further exploration.

We would like to acknowledge all those would have supported the Tom Tom, and in particular our fellow RMIT bloggers Inger Mewburn from The Thesis Whisperer, and Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell from The Research Whisperer for their advice and encouragement.

We are taking a break for a few weeks until early next year. This will give us an opportunity to review, reflect and refresh our approach.

Have a restful holiday season!

Peer learning sucks…

Post by Angela Clarke.

Image via athenazoe.wordpress.com

When you don’t set it up right.  Poorly facilitated peer learning leads to frustration and disillusionment for students and teachers alike, both blaming the other for a lousy learning experience.

I have heard it said that peer learning is something that happens outside of class and should be left up to students, after all isn’t the purpose of peer learning to encourage self-direction?

Well yes but problem is that self-direction needs to be nurtured, facilitated and fostered over time.  When students, particularly first years are left to their own devices to form peer study groups it is difficult for them to sustain meaningful learning experiences.

If you are keen to help students use their learner directed hours well through study groups then it is important for you to initiate this work in the first week by allowing time for them to form groups in class.  Touch base with whole group about how the study groups are going at least 3 times and let them know why you value peer learning.

Your attitude toward the work students do in study groups significantly impacts on how they engage with it.  Even seemingly benign comments like “I’m not interested in what you do in your study groups, it’s up to you” can undermine your intention.  Be interested in how they use their time, make loads of suggestions and link it to your assessment.

Using study group agreements is particularly helpful for students when issues arise, individuals don’t pull their weight or things don’t go as planned. I’ve attached an example from art and design.  Feel free to adapt for your purposes.  Again allow time in class for students to formulate a first draft of their agreement and discuss why you value this as a learning tool.

What’s your experience in using peer learning?

Do students read your feedback?

Post by Kylie Budge

Image via UBC Library

When asked this question, many teachers would probably be tempted to respond “Not likely!” or “I can’t see any evidence of it”. Even though it may feel like students don’t read our feedback on their work, take on board our comments, or value it in any way it’s useful to look at what the research in this area tells us.

Most of us are probably aware that students report a great deal of dissatisfaction with the feedback they currently receive on their work. This is a sector-wide phenomenon, not one just linked to your university. A colleague and I were involved in some local research on this topic recently and discovered some interesting information (see references below). In doing this research we found that student feedback surveys in Australia and the UK report student dissatisfaction with the quantity, quality, and timing of feedback. While there has been quite a bit of research into feedback generally, until recently little was known about how students feel about the issue.

What we’ve been learning is this: students value feedback on their work when the timing and frequency, quantity and quality, and the form that feedback takes is considered.

Timing is critical in terms of students being able to apply the feedback in their work. Feedback early on in the semester is very important to first year students, but all students can benefit from this too.

Students are saying they want constructive, quality feedback that tells them what they need to improve on rather than just an indication of what they did right and/or wrong.

Feedback can of course be provided to students in number of forms including verbal face-to-face (teacher to individual student/teacher to group/peer); hand written (teacher to individual/teacher to group/peer); and electronic feedback (teacher to individual/teacher to group/peer). A good feedback strategy will use a combination of different methods, including peer feedback, to encourage students to seek and use feedback from a variety of different people (ie. not just the teacher). Teachers are busy people with lots of competing demands on our time. A feedback strategy with multiple components can help us provide the feedback students need for learning in a manageable way.

Interestingly, the discipline context is also important in terms of how students value and use feedback on their work. The little research that has been done in this area from the student perspective tells us that students from creative disciplines (such as art and design) value feedback highly. Students in creative disciplines are engaged in an active feedback culture (where work critiques with their peers and lecturers is common) and often producing a product (of some description) where feedback on work-in-progress is critical. They are often eager to get feedback and value it because they are also immersed in a discipline culture where it is seen as everyday practice.

This may or may not be the case with the way students see feedback in other disciplines. Research in this area is limited so time will tell us more.

What do you think? Do you have the sense that students read and apply your feedback? And what feedback strategies work for you?

Here are some useful references if you want to learn more from recent research on feedback:

Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (1999). Peer Learning and Assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. 24 (4), December, 1999.

Budge , K. and Gopal, S. (2009). Feedback: working from the student perspective, refereed conference paper presented at Assessment in Different Dimensions, 2009 ATN Assessment Conference, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 19-20 November.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77 (1), 81-112.

Nicol, D.J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), 199-218.

Rowe, A.D. & Wood, L.N. (2008). Student perceptions and preferences for feedback. Asian Social Science, 4, 3, 78-88.

Rowe, A.D., Wood, L. N. & Petocz, P. (2008). Engaging students: Student preferences for feedback. 2008 HERDSA Conference Proceedings, 1-4 July 2008, Rotorua, New Zealand.

The use of metaphors in teaching and learning

Our next post is by guest contributor, Rod Pitcher, a PhD student at The Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. Rod’s PhD focus is the metaphors that people use to explain their conceptions.

Image by: by justjk accessed through flikr

Metaphors are very useful in teaching and learning because they use already held knowledge as a scaffold upon which to build new knowledge or to illustrate some property of the new concept to be learned. Metaphors are of use to both the teacher and the learner and they help in the process of both teaching and learning. It’s helpful to think about this as we design the learning for our students.

Here are a few examples that illustrate how and why they are useful:

Metaphors in teaching electronics
Metaphors are common in teaching electronics. Radio waves are compared to ripples in the surface of water, electricity flowing in a wire is compared to water flowing in a pipe, spider webs are compared to communication networks. Each of these metaphorical objects has some property which casts light on the relevant area of electronics.

Although the metaphors aren’t perfect they help the learner to come to terms with the new concepts. The metaphors use knowledge that the learner already has of the surrounding world to illustrate some property of the unfamiliar topic. Thus learning takes place by building on that previously held knowledge

Metaphors in teaching writing
A thesis or academic paper can be compared to a number of things when teaching writing.

One of the most useful is that of weaving cloth on a loom. Like the cloth, the paper has to be constructed properly, the individual strands have to be placed in the right places to do their jobs. When the cloth is finally produced it has to be trimmed and cut to suit the purpose to which it will be applied. Similarly the finished paper will have to be revised and cut if necessary to suit the audience to whom it will be presented.

A thesis might also be related as the story of a journey, showing the researcher’s development as a researcher, the problems overcome in the progress of it and the thoughts of the person as they progressed. Like a journey the paper will have tough and easy stages, interesting byways and some entertaining digressions from the most direct path but will eventually reached the required destination.

Metaphors in teaching and learning
The type of metaphor used in teaching and learning depends on what is to be taught and learned. The metaphor must be chosen to illustrate the required concept. Choosing the wrong one would be disastrous for the teacher and misleading for the learner.

Metaphors have a great place in teaching and learning. They should be used more as they ease the path of both. However, they should be used with care and discarded when they have served their purpose. If the use of a particular metaphor is prolonged past its useful time it may become misleading or confusing to the learner.

Use them with care, but use them all the same.

What metaphors do you use in your teaching?  Do you have a cunning way of illustrating a concept that helps enhance your students’ understanding?

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