Tag Archives: peer learning

Going with their flow…

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

(cc) Rafters on the North Johnstone River, in Queensland, Australia. Flickr User, Didrik Johnck.

Rafters on the North Johnstone River, Queensland. (cc) Flickr User: Didrik Johnck.

Next week is the mid-semester break.

By now your students will be in the flow of their study with you. They are likely to have completed one piece of assessment and received some feedback to guide them on to the next stage of their learning or specified what they could have done differently in that assignment. Ideally this feedback will have created an opportunity for them to talk with you and/or their peers about what they have learned and encourage them to confidently tackle the next tasks in the course.

It is possibly tempting to let the flow of the assessment tasks keep control of how your carefully prepared study schedule continues for the remainder of the semester. You have set them on their way but do you really know they are on course, their course?

Let’s assume they have been stimulated and excited by the outcome of their assessment task and there are some intriguing points they’d like to explore more deeply or revisit. Perhaps they have come across some new material that they’d like to incorporate in the learning schedule.

Why not provide a touchpoint and check in to see where your students are at and establish what they might need or want next from the course?

This could happen when you all return from the semester break, refreshed and ready for the final stretch. Have a conversation with your students about their learning in the course so far. Find out where they are at and how they are progressing so that you are all on the ‘same page’ for the remainder of the time you have together.

How could you do this?

Set aside some time and ask them to:

  • outline what they have learnt so far in the course
  • reveal what they would like to know more about
  • identify what they are not clear about or on what they need further clarification

They could work in groups, individually, face to face or online to uncover and share what they know or want to know. Be creative, use technology, role play, or a game to find out what they know or need.

Once you have their feedback, take some time to reflect and diagnose. You may need to slow down or even prepare to change direction.

As a facilitator of their learning, challenge yourself to provide them with the opportunities to fill the gaps they have revealed. Be stunned and amazed by the leads they provide for further exploration. They are adult learners who have individual motivations and personal preferences of their learning requirements. Getting them to acknowledge those needs and identify their own areas of interest will help them to develop as self-regulated learners.

They will also feel valued when you address their feedback. Regrouping like this can bring together loose ends or point them in independent directions for their learning before commencing the final stage with you this semester.

Be partners and learn together.

Enjoy the rest of the semester!

Share your thoughts on coming back from the break in the comments section!
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RMIT’s 2014 Learning and Teaching Expo

Posted by: Meaghan Botterill,  Senior Coordinator, Educational Technology Integration, e-Learning Strategy and Innovation Group, RMIT University.

Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

RMIT’s annual Learning and Teaching Expo is on 2-3 September, 2014. This is a great opportunity to catch up on what is happening both nationally and locally in learning and teaching. Last year the Expo was a great success, so come and join colleagues from across the university to discuss and explore innovative practices that enhance student learning outcomes.

This year’s theme, Designing Teaching, Creating Learning, explores how good teaching design and pedagogical practices create and enhance student learning opportunities and outcomes. There will be an extensive range of speakers, presentations and workshops from across RMIT and the program features the following guests:

  • Professor James Arvanitakis from the University of Western Sydney who was the 2012 Prime Minister’s Teacher of the Year award winner. James’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching is apparent to any of you who have ever seen him present before. He is continually looking for ways to make connections with his students and to make learning relevant, accessible and exciting.
  • Professor Ruth Wallace is the Director of the Northern Institute, at Charles Darwin University. Her particular interests are related to undertaking engaged research that improves outcomes for stakeholders in regional and remote Australia. Ruth has extensive experience in innovative delivery of compulsory, post-school and VE programs in regional and remote areas across Northern Australia.
  • Associate Professor Nicolette Lee is from Victoria University and she is a 2013 OLT National Senior Teaching Fellow. Her project, Capstone curriculum across disciplines, synthesises theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design. It builds on previous and current work in the sector to identify capstone innovations and models-in-use, how standards might be demonstrated through a range of approaches, and providing publicly available and comprehensive practical tools for staff.
  • Associate Professor John Munro is from the University of Melbourne. John’s research, teaching and publications are in the fields of literacy and mathematics learning, and learning difficulties, learning internationally, gifted learning, professional learning and school improvement. His focus on neurology and the brain form the basis of designing explicit teaching strategies to create learning in diverse student cohorts.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about learning and teaching and what we as educators can do to design teaching to create learning and thus enhance student learning outcomes. Registration is essential. The full program and registration form are available here.

Learning and Teaching Expo 

Date: Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September
Time: 9am to 4.30pm
Venue: Storey Hall, Building 16, City campus
Cost: Free

Registration: Essential
Registrations close Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Register here now.

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I ♥ RMIT Library

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

Since I was a child, I have always loved libraries. There was nothing better than roaming the shelves for hours looking for books that I hadn’t read and sometimes finding a quiet spot to read right there in the library. I’m still excited by libraries though now I’m usually searching for totally different genres. However, I do still spend hours searching the ‘shelves’ online.

The ease of searching the RMIT library online is just fantastic. You can do it from home, on the train, at work, on another campus – it’s just there. If you want to share the resources that you have found with other RMIT staff or with your students via email, Blackboard or Google Docs/Sites, by using the RMIT URL, they can log directly in to the resource (usually it has “ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/” in the URL somewhere).

Here are some of the ways that the library helps me in my work.

Google Scholar

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.23.43 pmI’m often looking for journal papers on a variety of topics. Now I could go to Google Scholar through the web but if I go to Google Scholar through the library, then I can link directly to all the papers from journals that RMIT has subscribed to – rather than being asked to pay for the article or taking the name of the article and then searching in the eJournals in the library.

eBooks

The library is purchasing more and more ebooks. And if there is a text that you like to use with your students you can request for RMIT library to purchase it as an ebook if it is available. It’s cheaper for students, it’s great to have a basic textbook if you need one and you might be surprised at how many there are in your particular field.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.24.52 pm

To access eBooks, simply type in your topic in the library search and then refine your search by clicking ‘Full text online’.

Videos

There are a number of video resources and databases that you can link to in the library, such as Informit TV News. If you see a news program or documentary on TV and you think, ‘I wish I had taped that to show my students’. Well, you can probably find it on TV News two or three days later. You can then copy and paste the URL into Blackboard or a Google site. Add some questions and start a discussion.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.25.42 pm

Another new video resource, released recently by the library is Informit EduTV. It is an online TV streaming resource and you can find anything here from full movies or documentaries to current affairs from free-to-air and Pay TV channels. Again, you can copy the link and direct people straight to the source.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.26.00 pm

Grazyna Rosinska in a previous post wrote about Kanopy and Lynda.com so I won’t mention them here except for the fact that I have used Lynda.com to help me learn a number of online tools, including WordPress and Google Sites. If you want to learn at your own pace then Lynda.com can be really useful. It’s free for staff and students at RMIT.

Subject Guides

There are a number of subject guides available through the library which can be useful, especially if you are teaching and would like students to have a basic list of relevant resources. If you have not got a subject guide for your discipline, the library liaisons are very happy to help create one for you.

Here is one that was developed to help academics teach in Next Generation Learning Spaces: http://rmit.libguides.com/newlearningspaces.

Here’s another on inclusive teaching practices: http://rmit.libguides.com/inclusive_teaching_practice.

There may be one that you can add to your Blackboard/Google Site for your discipline too. For example, Building and Property: http://rmit.libguides.com/building.

You might already be using all of these tools, but if not, then they are definitely worth a look. And if you are thinking of publishing in the near future, consider publishing an eBook! Here’s a good introductory article from The Guardian that comes from an e-textbook publisher and discusses just what that involves.

Are there other online tools that you find particularly useful in the library?

Share your thoughts on library resources in the comments section!
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If you’re just joining us…

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

Everyday Monument by Ria Green & Alica Bryson-Haynes Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Everyday Monument
by Ria Green & Alicia Bryson-Haynes
Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Joining anything halfway through can be an unsettling experience. Shuffling in late to a movie, a concert or a dinner, probably triggers discomfort in all but the most blithe among us.

But many RMIT programs now have a dedicated midyear intake and many teachers and academics will have taken up appointments in recent days and weeks.

For students, there are midyear orientation events and if you’re wanting to see the kinds of online resources students have access to, here are three handy links:

Whether you’re a staff member or a student joining RMIT this July, you’ll be entering an environment which probably feels already set-up, already up-and-running even with induction and orientation processes.

I’ve been meeting new staff in the School of Art and the College of Design and Social Context and helping them navigate the RMIT landscape as best I can, so I thought I’d use this post to share some tips in the online space. Maybe they’ll spur some more suggestions from readers and commenters?

1. Read RMIT Update. The weekly RMIT Update is an essential mix of what your colleagues want you to know about. Deadlines for grants, upcoming conferences, good news stories and opportunities for staff to contribute to events are what you’ll get here. RMIT Update’s the kind of place where you’d read about RMIT’s involvement in White Night (see Everyday Monument above).

2. Master Gmail. Your RMIT Gmail account means that you’re pretty much committed to Google Apps and its associated bits and pieces. A steep learning curve if you haven’t had a Gmail account before, but worth it for the benefits over traditional email. You’ll receive RMIT Update through your Gmail account.

3. Check out Yammer. If you’re an RMIT staff member then you can see what you think of Yammer, the quickest way to describe it would be a kind of university Facebook. Yammer’s the sort of place you’d go to ask how to unsend something in Gmail.

4. Wrangle your passwords. ESS, eNumbers, CAS, Trobexis, Learning Hub, Gmail, Yammer- welcome a new family of usernames and passwords into your life! And if you work across a number

Click on the image to go to the TIME article on passwords.

Click on the image to go to the TIME article on passwords.

of institutions, as a sessional academic for instance, all of these will be evil twins to the ones you use at your other workplace! What’s the solution to this one? Well the method described in this recent Time article (A phrase like ‘Hi! I’m Doug, and I’m a 35-year-old. Do you want to dance?’ becomes: H!ID,aIa35-y-o.Dywtd?) might be for you…

Otherwise there’s the Self Service Password Reset that can help, or the good people of ITS at the end of extension 58888. There are a number of other numbers that you should know or have in your phone too: 53333 for Security on the Brunswick, Bundoora and City campuses and 53316 for urgent Audio Visual assistance.

Everyday Monument by Ria Green & Alica Bryson-Haynes Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

Everyday Monument
by Ria Green & Alicia Bryson-Haynes
Photographed by Nicholas Walton-Healey

5. And as all online lists about technology should finish with a message to disconnect and get some fresh air, my fifth tip is: Take a walk. Go see some student work, some students at work, or some students playing basketball.

Welcome to RMIT!

Share your thoughts on joining midyear and any tips for new staff and students in the comments!

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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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Being bold, being true – Knowing what you’re best to do

Guest Post: Associate Professor Debra Bateman, Faculty of Arts & Education, School of Education, Deakin University.

Late last year, as a guest of Dean of the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies (GUSS) Professor David Hayward and as part of an LTIF project on Next Generation Learning Spaces, Associate Professor Debra Bateman spoke to teachers and lecturers at RMIT about her own teaching identity and journey as an academic with a Q&A. The project team was keen to capture some of her thoughts and share them with a wider audience. In this post Deb outlines a few of the principles that underpin her teaching. The session was extremely well-received with many survey responses mentioning that Deb’s words energised and affirmed what these lecturers and teachers were doing in their teaching. 

We hope this post can have a similar effect on you at this busy time of the year!

Being bold, being true – Knowing what you’re best to do
(or my thoughts on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education)
 
SuperheroesThe best teachers in higher education are the ones who know what they are doing. Of course, that sounds quite simple, however to know what one is doing, in this context, is complex. You need to be able to juggle multiple pedagogical and curriculum balls in the air at any time, including:

·      Disciplinary knowledge.

·      The broken up bits of that disciplinary knowledge that are accessible to everyone, and subsequently scaffold deeper learning.

·      An approach that not only engages students, but also professionally and intellectually engages oneself, in order to participate in the learning process in a meaningful way.

·      Confidence in one’s academic identity.

·      An ability to articulate, from another different disciplinary knowledge such as education, the reasons you are doing what you are doing and how you are doing it. (Did you know, by the way, that in higher education we should be talking about andragogy rather than pedagogy?)

·      Opportunities to witness, assess and evaluate what is learned, and to make judgments about learning that affect how students are able to enter the world.

In my presentation at RMIT, I suggested that higher education teachers need to know themselves, and situated that idea in the works of Pat Thomson (2002) who talks about the ideas of virtual schoolbags. Whilst she was referring to the ‘stuff’ that students bring into a learning environment, which influence how and what they do, I suggest that teachers carry virtual school bags also. On top of the content they are expected to teach, they bring loads of experiences of the world and sophisticated thinking which ought to capitalise on the connections that are able to be made for students when delivering big ideas or abstract concepts. 

The fact that before I was a teacher and academic, I was a hairdresser might account for some of the very creative endeavours I pursue in teaching and learning. My background as a teacher in some challenging schools offers me a diverse set of strategies for engagement of resistant learners (and sometimes colleagues). Working to our strengths, offers students of all pursuits an enthused and committed experience in their learning.

I’m also pretty interested in Shulman’s notion of pedagogies of uncertainty (2005) and Rowan and Beavis’ notion of ‘playful pedagogies’ (never published but I heard them say it first). The idea of enabling students to take risks in their learning is powerful, and more importantly  exciting.

For different programs of studies, ‘risks’ can look quite different. In one of my classes, when teaching Civics and Citizenship, I ask students to come dressed as superheroes, and through a range of life-world related experiences they undertake a deep critical analysis of many of the taken-for-granted constructs of the caped wonders (though we also critique the capes from an OH&S perspective). The risks are many, including exposing a value or position of a societal issue, feeling like a fool as people stare at you on public transport (if you don’t do a quick change in a telephone booth), and participating in an embodied analysis, which draws upon cultural knowledge. However, the excitement provides the titillation to learn.

I’ve also thought a lot about ‘furtive teaching’. That’s taking risks with new strategies or using strategies in ways other than they were intended, with the fear of being caught. Part of furtive teaching is undertaking the act of teaching knowing that the risk is countered by the amount of preparation, consideration, research or rehearsal that you have done. In my experience, students have loved being part of my risks. And increasingly, other staff are enjoying them too. One staff-related risk was our representation of scholarship materials Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 11.54.00 amthrough a blend of culture jam, flash mob or parody (see https://vimeo.com/38401190).

Be proud of who you are, and where you come from. Connect the who you are with the what you need to do. Teaching and learning are important aspects of higher education, which cannot be guided by a proliferation of best practice guides. Whilst scholarship can inform and enhance what it is that we do, what we do is part of who we are, what we know, and how we know. But, in a climate of increased accountability, be able to articulate all of those things, and more importantly publish them. Give licence to others to explore their teaching and learning perspectives in ways that up until now, have been fairly limited and narrow.

References:

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Pedagogies of uncertainty. Liberal Education, 91(2), 18-26.
Thomson, P. (2002). Schooling the Rustbelt Kids. Making the Difference in Changing Times. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Deb tweets @debbateman
Share your thoughts about pedagogies and andragogies  in the comments section!
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Planning learning design through storyboards

Guest Post: Professor Gilly Salmon, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning Transformations, Swinburne University of Technology. 

Professor Gilly Salmon is one of the world’s leading thinkers in online learning. She researches and publishes widely on the themes of innovation and change in Higher Education and the exploitation of new technologies of all kinds in the service of learning. The Learning Transformations Unit is responsible for the exploration and exploitation of learning technologies; the resourcing, preparation and scholarship of staff; and the development of partnerships that increase and extend Swinburne’s online provision and presence. This year Gilly will be a guest speaker at the upcoming DEANZ Conference and EduTECH National Congress & Expo.

Gilly tweets @gillysalmon.

Opens in a new window.

Click to see the details of Gilly’s latest book: ‘E-tivities: The Key to Active Online Learning, 2nd Edition’

Late last year I was invited to speak to academics at RMIT and we had a great afternoon together working on ideas around building scaffolds for learning using newer technologies.

Of course the time we had together  went by too quickly!  When I looked at the feedback, I noticed several participants had commented that they liked the idea of storyboarding for planning learning and wanted to know more about it. From the Learning Transformation Unit at Swinburne, we’re in the middle of running a MOOC for professional development around the Carpe Diem process.

I’ve made a series of little videos for the MOOC and one is about storyboarding — essentially representing the sequence or journey of your learners through the time you have together – and how helpful I’ve found it for planning forward-looking learning and teaching. So it’s here for you to have a look at and maybe get together with a course or program team and try!

For me, the focus on learning design is a key shift in the way we need to consider creating the future in our various disciplines and domains.

I would be interested to know how it goes for you.

Best wishes,

Gilly

Share your thoughts about learning design in the comments section!

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What will the campus of the future look like?

Guest Post: Jo Dane is a designer, educator and researcher with a passion for educational transformation enabled through research-based design practice. Jo works at woodsbagot.com and tweets @WB_JoDane.

Jo_Dane_Twitter_PicI’m a design educator and someone who’s regularly tasked with putting together a vision of physical spaces for students. Ideally, these new spaces are supposed to be ‘future-proof’. So it can be fun to do some crystal-gazing about the future of the university campus.

Here are some observations, speculations and predictions that I’ll commit to the blogosphere in 2014:

1. Students will be empowered with choices of how, when and where to learn.
It will be increasingly possible to get a degree at University X which includes undertaking core subjects at University Y or via accredited MOOCs. If the quality of the learning experience (and facilities and spaces will be part of that equation) doesn’t stack up, students will shift their allegiance to another institution. And the funding will follow the student.

2. Hybrid learning experiences will be the new norm.
On-campus delivery will increasingly incorporate online components such as response software in lectures, multimedia content, group collaboration and teacher consultation. Digital platforms will continue to improve and enable both synchronous and asynchronous learning encounters.

3. Learning will be social and happen with other students IN REAL TIME.
For too long learning has happened in isolation in students’ homes while studying for exams, or preparing essays and assignment work. It has long been recognised that learning is a social experience. A room full of students is also a room full of teachers. Interaction between students broadens each student’s perspective and provides an opportunity to share and reinforce important concepts.

Click to see more pictures of MUSE, a Woods Bagot project completed this year.

MUSE – Macquarie University Spatial Experience, Sydney, 2014

Real time learning will happen in the classroom when a) the teacher facilitates the interactive learning experience and b) the classroom is designed to enable such encounters.

4. The notion of a 24-7, ‘sticky campus’ will endure.
Students (especially undergraduates) will be encouraged to stay on campus for longer periods of time. They will continue to blur boundaries between learning, socialising and working. The campus, therefore, will provide ‘sticky’ spaces where students can undertake both serendipitous and asynchronous activities. These will include media hubs for small groups to collectively engage in online material, or to Skype subject experts/overseas peers.

Click to see more pictures of MUSE, a Woods Bagot project completed this year.

MUSE – Macquarie University Spatial Experience, Sydney, 2014

5. Mobile devices, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ and cloud computing mean that students can access specialist software anywhere, anytime.
Students need no longer be tethered to the dehumanising lab computer, but can choose where and with whom to study, whilst accessing critical digital infrastructure.

6. Say goodbye to lecture theatres and computer labs!
While this might seem to counter to the ‘sticky campus’ idea (but really it should clarify the purpose of bringing students together) students are voting with their feet and where possible opting to tune into lectures online rather than face-to-face. Not only this, the prevalence of high quality (free) content, through YouTube, TED Talks, MOOCs and a plethora of other online repositories means that students are finding expert content from alternative sources rather than from the prescribed teachers. Universities will increasingly share exemplary content rather than rely on academics reinventing content every year.

7. Augmented learning, wearable technologies, 3d printing and gaming experiences are coming.
These are recognised trends on the horizon. We might not know exactly what they will look like, nor the impact they will have on the campus environment. Get used to this feeling. The better you adapt to change, uncertainty and the unforeseeable, the more agile you are. Agility is a key trait needed for the emerging knowledge economy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 5.16.10 pm

Media & Communication staff at RMIT discuss learning spaces in the Swanston Academic Building.

8. Academics will work increasingly in teams, sharing and collaborating in teaching and research activities.
The academic workplace will need to provide for a younger generation of academics who are more collaborative and connected than any previous generation. The next generation of academics won’t be hidden away in confined offices. The campus will include ‘third spaces’ — extensions of the workplace where workers can seek alternative environments to promote innovation and problem-solving.

9. Academics will be more accessible to students, but will connect through digital means moreso than face-to-face.
For teachers and lecturers, the skills of delivering remotely and facilitating online discussions will be as crucial as your in-class toolkit. This means your potential reach increases (and so does your profile) but of course that there’s another set of skills that are currently seen as optional.

10. This one’s a fill-in-the-blank, left for you, the reader…
Posts like this can often live on through the comments thread — why not make your own prediction (or disagree with/clarify one of my own) by commenting below.

Share your thoughts and predictions in the comments section!
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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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Social networks at work

Sian Dart, Coordinator, Learning Repository, University Library, RMIT University
Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching, College of Design & Social Context, RMIT University &
Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design & Social Context, 
RMIT University.

yam·mer

verb (used without object)

Watercooler close-up

Are services like Yammer the water coolers of the modern workplace?

1. to whine or complain.
2. to make an outcry or clamour.
3. to talk loudly and persistently.
yammer. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged.

This week’s post is structured a little differently from most tomtom posts…

Sian had already sketched-out her thoughts on Yammer but we also posted a question (on Yammer) to our institution (‘What is Yammer good for?’) and we received over a dozen replies that shaped this post: if you’re in a rush just read the Yammer screen-grabs!

Jon: I was expecting the definition of ‘yammer’ to be much more neutral (meaningless chat?) — surprised that it has this element of complaint.

Sian: Aren’t all social networks used to whine and complain? It’s appropriate! However, I think the most accurate is probably number three, at least for RMIT’s implementation. The small quantity of posters contrasted with a larger number of ‘lurkers’ means that those of us who do post are quite loud and influential on the network, I think.

Howard: It’s not exactly a friendly origin (interesting that it’s related to the German for ‘lamentation’) although perhaps that doesn’t matter — it’s a memorable brand.
What is Yammer? 
For a few years now, Yammer’s been in use at our institution and while it’s the platform that we’ll be talking about in this post, there are many other enterprise-based social platforms that might be in use at your institution or workplace. These include SocialcastSocialtext and Corus – some of these are niche products and they’ll use different organising principles but here’s a quick definition from one of the players in this space, Igloo:
It’s like having your own secure, private version of Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox designed for your business – without the oversharing.
Yammer uses a time-stamped discussion board interface and allows you to broadcast to the entire Catherine and SimonYammer group or to sets of people. You can also follow people which results in their posts being prioritised in your feed. Let’s look at Sian’s thoughts on the platform:
Sian: Here’s my list of ‘Stuff that happens on Yammer’ in no particular order with a quick comment for each.
1. Event promotion
I’m not sure how much take-up arises from these, as opposed to the constant all-staff promotional emails, but it’s good being able to comment on these things instead of just have them broadcast.
2. Self promotion
When staff are getting involved in community events, exhibiting or performing, Yammer is a perfectly valid billboard for potentially interested audiences. The reach is different to putting up a poster in the student union/staffroom, but the intent is the same.
3. Interesting Stuff I Found On the Internet
Like all social media, Yammer is a great place to share, albeit under very obvious filters of ‘safe for work’ and ‘appropriate for work’. (More sensible people than I would point out that all social media should be aimed at that level, for the sake of job safety and future employability!) I encounter a multitude of links every day from my peer learning network, and some of the things I find aren’t necessarily relevant to my work, but I know they’ll be of interest to the RMIT community. And if I know they’re specifically interesting to one person, I can ‘tag’ them and make sure they know about it. Sure, I could just email them the link directly, but who needs more email? And that David and Mattwould stop others serendipitously encountering the article in turn.
4. Private Groups
Yammer provides for private or open groups to be created – for example, we have a Library Staff group, in which we discuss things we think will be of interest mainly to librarians (although it’s astonishing how interested in libraries some of our non-library staff seem to be!).
5. Public Groups
These include the RMIT BUG (Bicycle Users Group) which any Yammer member can join. Joining a group gives you the ability to see the posts from that group and post to it.
6. Help!
Doreen CommentThis is definitely an area where Yammer proves its value. It allows someone to reach out to a community made up of a wide range of staff, and seek expertise, opinion, or understanding of processes within the university. You may not receive an answer, but you might get 10, or you might get the name of someone to contact who could give you an answer — it’s worth a try! I think this service alone, while it does mean you have to admit to potentially all of your colleagues at the entire university that you have a problem, or don’t know something, or need assistance, justifies the staff time spent on Yammer. I love being able to promote a library service, or better yet, the service I run within the library when I have the solution to someone’s specific need. I think it’s way better marketing than a poster or email because it’s direct, targeted and responsive.
7. Networking
I don’t go to too many RMIT events, but every event I’ve been to in the last few years, someone’s introduced themselves and said “I see you on Yammer”. So I guess my name is getting out there after all, it’s a real-name social network – and hopefully it’s mostly good – but each time, I’m reminded that I’ve got more reach than I think I do. (See next: ‘Lurkers’.)
8. Lurking
Well, who knows what these guys get up to. I know they’re there. Every now and again a colleague or a manager will pull me aside and say “Hey, I like what you said there,” or ask me about something I know I’ve only Yammered, despite never seeing them interact with Yammer at all. I guess they must enjoy seeing the discussions, but either kaidaviddon’t have time to interact, don’t have strong opinions, or simply have a fear of putting themselves out there — internet shy!
9. Informal learning and sharing
A lot of useful knowledge is gained via what we learn about each other and what we do in a site like Yammer. By following someone I meet in the Bicycle Users Group I can also get to know about a new part of what happens in the organisation. It’s a bit like walking into the tea room and overhearing or joining in an important work conversation that happens to arise.  Without that informal linking, a lot of useful knowledge remains static.
10. Less email
This has got to be one of the biggest benefits of Yammer. Why send around a bunch of emails when we can all share stuff in a Yammer group? This usage would be particularly helped if line managers used the service effectively. Material is more easily shared into the most appropriate contexts and it also increases transparency.
11. Information filtering
Amy and Sian CommentEver heard the complaint that there is too much information? Yammer-like tools allow us to follow the people who are good at scanning and filtering the information that is most relevant to the organisation. I just need to find and follow some of those useful people rather than try and know everything that is going on myself. Following a few librarians on Yammer can be good for that!
Howard: Agree with the points above and here are two more before we get on to the fine print!
12. Productivity and efficiency
It’s no wonder that Microsoft bought Yammer for $1.2 billion. The primary reason that this type of tools gets adopted in organisations and institutions is the way it improves the bottom line with faster and easier work practices. It probably saves some paper too.

13. Modelling Collaborative Learning
In online learning environments we want our students to be work collaboratively — we can better help them do this if we practice what we preach. Yammer provides a powerful reminder of the way that collaboration can be harnessed to improve engagement, learning and enjoyment.

The Disadvantages 
Yammer type tools need support from above to really succeed. This includes both setting the example and leading organisational and cultural change, to adopt whichever social intranet is chosen. Yammer itself is very easy to get started in that it can organically start without any formal adoption or support. This is also problematic in that important information (either for reasons of IP or other legal sensitivities) can end up with Yammer — and it can be costly to get it back out. So collaboration on sensitive issues needs to be considered and it helps if there is a clear usage policy. Yammer can also be expensive compared with the David Ralternatives.

The Alternatives
Tools like SocialcastSocialtext and Corus can work at least as well as Yammer and have the advantage of being completely contained social intranets; they exist only on the company servers, so there is no question of locating the data. The free version we use of Yammer for instance prevents us from one of the collaboration opportunities that might be most fruitful — the use of the system with our colleagues in Vietnam and other RMIT locations around the world. 

Corus has the added advantage of being applicable for education contexts, having been designed with education in mind, and has already been used in a couple of large scale activities with RMIT students.

Jon: Picking up on couple of points from Sian and Howard, a lot of the discussion here seems to run parallel to the problems we have with students’ engagement in Learning Management Systems:
As educators we’d probably like to see students interacting on a discussion board in Blackboard rather than in a Facebook group that we’re not aware of and not invited into…we’d like students who might have accepted an offer but aren’t due to arrive on campus for another couple of months to be able to sign into a social platform and begin building those links, and even to begin learning (or teaching their peers)…we’d like the kind of mentoring opportunities that could happen between years, between programs, between campuses in a system that could hold student work in shareable portfolios…
Because we’re all split between a number of services and workflows, is Yammer (or something like it) the right match for Google’s suite of apps? I’ll continue to use Yammer to promote this blog and upcoming events but I think this is only the beginning of a different style of work that we’re in the middle of. I’ll leave it to Sian to sign off with some concluding thoughts.

Sian: A tentative conclusion…

If your institution has signed up for Yammer, you simply go to yammer.com and sign in — you’ll automatically get to the right network, because you’ll be authorised by the domain on your email address. If your institution isn’t involved yet, anyone can start it up — but getting people to use it can take a bit more work.

HowardThe Library holds internal training sessions every now and then on Yammer (What is it? Why should I use it? How do I use it?) and Yammer of course suggests we invite colleagues every time we log in to the website, so I guess it grows virally — but having said that, it’s not for everyone. Some staff remain uncomfortable with aspects of sites like Yammer, just as people have different relationships with services like Facebook and Twitter.

So it is what you make it. Some institutions have very active involvement at the Executive level; it’s a way that they can keep in touch with day to day things happening in the business. And it’s only natural that some groups and users will be more active than others. I’ve talked about the Library group because I can see it, but there’s a lot more going on than what I see.

The main thing is, everyone has a voice. It’s more accessible than the official channels (like email and RMIT Update — though these obviously have their place) and it’s for everyone, regardless of rank or role.

Thanks to Catherine, Simon, David G, David R, Matt, Doreen, Amy & Kai for allowing us to republish their comments from Yammer.

Share your thoughts about Yammer in the comments section! Or on Yammer!


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