Tag Archives: reflective practice

Sailing through Peer Review: Five lessons learnt at the coalface

Dr Ehsan Gharaie, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management (PCPM)
&
Dallas Wingrove, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Having a peer reviewer review your teaching is for many staff an unfamiliar risk taking experience that can be anxiety provoking. Ehsan Gharaie, a lecturer in the school of PCPM at RMIT University, recently underwent the process of peer review. As Ehsan embarked upon this journey he approached me as Senior Advisor L & T to support him through the process which included observing Ehsan’s teaching and providing feedback in response to the Peer Review criteria. What unfolded was highly useful professional learning for us both. In this post we share our experience of peer review and the lessons learnt.

Similar to many Australian and international universities, RMIT has now implemented a process of peer review of teaching. At RMIT, peer review is now mandated for teaching staff who seek an individual teaching award, and in 2015 is also to be introduced for staff seeking academic promotion.

In tertiary education, beyond teaching practice such as team teaching, and Peer Partnerships programs, there are limited opportunities for staff to share their practice with a peer, and receive feedback. The often ‘siloed’ nature of teaching presents many challenges for educators and opening your class room up to someone else for the purpose of peer review can be extremely daunting.

So what does this process mean for teachers? And how can they best prepare to have a positive experience of peer review?

Here are five lessons learnt through our experience of the peer review process:

  1. Understand and engage in the process

Before getting involved in the process it is vital that you understand the peer review process and its purpose. Attend your university’s workshops and information sessions. Familiarise yourself with your university’s guidelines and importantly engage with the teaching dimensions/criteria against which you will be reviewed. Remember, these dimensions/criteria align with recognised principles of good teaching practice. Reflect on how these criteria relate to your own practice and list and discuss with a peer examples which provide evidence of how you contribute to and demonstrate these dimensions in your practice. Contact staff implementing the Peer Review process, ask them questions and share any concerns you may have. At RMIT the process of Peer Review is implemented through the university’s Learning and Teaching Unit Stills of Ehsan Teachingwhich runs induction/information workshops, and provides advice for participants.

  1. Seek support and advice

There are many processes in academia that are competitive, but remember, this is NOT one of them. Your teaching practice will be reviewed against established dimensions/criteria. You are not competing with your peers so if you feel confident enough, share your experiences along the way, and seek and provide support to your peers. Do not hold back. Talk to people who can support you. Your colleagues, peers, program manager, and your university’s Learning and Teaching Advisors/Academic Developers can help you through the process. You may need them to simply listen to you to your concerns and anxieties. Having a colleague to talk to can really help ease your anxiety; this is not a journey that you have to go through alone.

  1. Engage with your peer reviewers

Whilst the formal peer review takes place in your class, there is also important activity which occurs prior to and following the peer review. Similar to other universities, at RMIT it is mandatory to meet with your peer reviewers at least once prior to the review. Remember, any meetings and discussions with your peer reviewers help to build the context for your review. Peer reviewers are experienced educators and learning and teaching experts and your dialogue with them will help to ease your concerns and/or fears. In doing so, demonstrate your knowledge and command of the discipline field and discuss your teaching approach. Initiate further contact with your peer reviewers as needed including if you have questions or require further clarification and advice. Importantly, provide the context for your teaching prior to the review. Identify: the aim of your session, how your class relates to the course and the wider program, the expectations of your students, the class dynamic, the nature of your particular cohort, your teaching and learning goals for the particular session, and provide any other information that you believe would assist your reviewers to understand your teaching and the class to be reviewed.

  1. Seek feedback on your teaching prior to your peer review:

Have the confidence to ask one of your peers or your Learning and Teaching Advisor to observe your teaching practice and provide confidential feedback. Provide the peer review dimensions/criteria and seek feedback about your teaching. It will be very helpful to see your teaching through someone else’s eyes. You also get used to having someone other than your students sitting in your class. In this way, you can dip your toe in the water, and ease yourself more gently into the process of observation, review and feedback.

Access other programs which support peer feedback. Participate in a Peer Partnerships program for example where you partner with another teacher to observe each other’s practice and provide feedback to support continuous improvement. At RMIT you can take up the opportunity to participate in RMIT Peer Partnerships. RMIT Peer Partnerships is a voluntary, confidential program involving peer observation of teaching. RMIT Peer Partnerships facilitates highly useful relevant professional development learning and can assist you to become more comfortable and at ease with sharing your teaching practice, and support critical reflection on practice through giving and receiving feedback.

  1. Believe in yourself: don’t panic, this is just another day in the class.

The prospect of peer review can seem very daunting for many staff. Most if not all educators experience some level of discomfort when having their teaching reviewed or evaluated, these are normal human reactions. However, if you have done your preparation, you understand the process, and you seek feedback beforehand, you will be well placed to feel more comfortable about the process. You just need to resist the nerves in the first five minutes of the class and as soon as you relax you will forget the reviewers are even sitting there. Remember, reviewers are experienced teachers and they can tell if you pretend. Just be yourself. After all this is just another day in the class.

The next steps…

As you contemplate whether you are ready to embark upon the Peer Review journey remember to access all supports and enlist the support of a peer AND remind yourself that the process is one which endeavours to strengthen the teaching culture of your university and to also value and recognise your good teaching practice.

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!
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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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The unbundling of higher education: Breaking down the whole.

(cc) Flickr user: Mike Linksvayer

(cc) Flickr user: Mike Linksvayer

Posted by: Erika Beljaars-Harris, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

There’s another movement unfolding in the background of fee deregulation that we need to be aware of: the unbundling of higher education. As Professor Jim Barber (former Vice Chancellor, University of New England) explains, “The concept of ‘unbundled’ education refers to the emergent practice of allowing students to pay for those services, and only those services, that they actually require.” Similar thoughts are being raised in the UK, as this Times Higher Education article points to a report that recommends government funding follow the student and not the institution.

Think of it as the difference between a set menu (preselected courses served at a fixed time and price) compared to free choice from the menu and dishes from any other restaurant. In the higher education arena, this might mean choosing a course from a university, but not paying for the facilities and services offered. The facilities students may choose to not use include the cafeteria and other academic and support services. What’s being called a ‘pick-and-mix’ approach means that students pay for certain facilities on a fee-for-service basis. Which leads to student choosing which parts they want to use and therefore pay for. Choice has always been seen as something students value in a program of study (look at electives, streams, majors, study-abroad and cross-institutional studies for instance) but this movement might see multi-institution degrees become a path that more students select.

According to Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, the unbundling of higher education is a form of ‘disruptive innovation‘. Christensen explains it as “a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of the market and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.”  An example of this already exists in the form of consumers (students) having the ability to receive credentials via RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) through previous work experience or a MOOC. For universities, the unbundling of higher education is a form of disruptive innovation. It is enabling the consumer (student) with the ability to choose subjects and courses from a university that can be delivered on campus, online or both, without the added fees for services and facilities that they may not need nor use. As a consumer (student), this unbundling provides the ability to secure services the individual does want, and not pay for what they don’t want. This hopefully translates to cheaper, but just as, or more effective degrees and experiences selected from a wider pool of providers.

The movement towards unbundling has started. Georgia Institute of Technology is admitting students into a low-fee postgraduate degree. Students are taking courses from the University Without Walls, a university fully supported by the University of Massachusetts, that enables students to design their program of study.

The goals of unbundling of higher education are to increase the quality of lectures, enable more individualised instruction, offer an increase in choice to students and most importantly, provide it all at a lower cost. What it might mean for academics and universities is to take stock of what they deliver well online, in blended environments and on-campus: student expectations aren’t going to do anything except rise.

To be honest, I Iike this movement, I like the goals that this movement professes to be aligning towards. I will be watching those universities to see who gets it right (and wrong) in this evolution of higher education.

Share your thoughts on unbundling in the comments…

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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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Google Apps for Education

Posted by: Howard Errey, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Last chance registrations for RMIT Staff: A special lunchtime workshop on Blended Learning at RMIT Wednesday, 2 July, 12.30pm, in the Swanston Academic Building featuring Professor Geoffrey Crisp (Dean, Learning and Teaching). Email Rosemary.Chang@rmit.edu.au for details.

During April I had the good fortune to attend the Google Education Summit in Sydney. It was really useful to see the scale and variety of what is going on as well as becoming aware of some of the things on the horizon.

One focus was helping teachers organise and solve problems. There were several sessions on using YouTube for organising, streaming and editing videos. One of the eye openers was seeing how easy the video editor was to use. 67% of courses in the College of Design and Social Context report they are already using YouTube so it will be useful to be able to share more of this functionality. Fortunately, like Blogger and Hangouts (recently switched on at RMIT via Google+), YouTube is on the RMIT roadmap for our suite of apps. You can find out more here.

I saw some excellent work being done with Google Sites, from using it as a low level learning management system, to enabling sharing across different sites and platforms. This seemed particularly useful for teachers needing to structure their online activities with large numbers of students. Many of the sessions were about Add-ons in Google Docs and Google Sheets enabling tools such as Doctopus that can combine with Google Drive and Sites. For example teachers can distribute different documents across different student groups into their Google Drives. I have since been trying out some of the Google Docs add-ons such as EasyBib for adding bibliographic references from the web.

Another session I enjoyed was an informal talk with four Google engineers who talked a lot about their favourite apps and were reassuring about Google wanting to be improving the experience for a number of the issues that we have had (for me it was better organising of shared files). The biggest push however was improving the mobile experience. Already we are seeing this with the apps for Drive and Sheets.

It was also eye-opening to go to a session on Google culture.  Here’s their ‘10 things we know to be true‘, formulated in the company’s first years:

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Did you know Google was originally called Backrub? (‘Just let me Backrub that for you…’ rippled around the room.)

The main feature is that Google is led by a ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude. When Google Maps (invented in Australia) was introduced many staff were skeptical as it seemed so far away from their core business. At the same time one of the founders was saying ‘Why not map the oceans or Mars as well?’ Both have become Google projects in the meantime.

A screenshot showing false-colour elevation of Olympus Mons on Mars

A screenshot showing false-colour elevation of Olympus Mons on Mars.

An inspiring keynote was given by Jenny Magiera who works in a Chicago public school where they have recently replaced Apple iPads with Nexus tablets. It takes only a few seconds (versus several hours per iPad) for a teacher to set up each Nexus, as demonstrated by Jenny’s students in the video leading this post. An interesting change of direction given that Jenny is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.

One session I thought was about learning analytics was called Making Sense of Data. It is a free online course Google makes available. The session involved taking us through the course as a way of learning Google’s data tools:

What was really impressive though was the learning design of this short course. Quizzes are offered up front, and then learning exercises are offered if you are not sure of the answers. You can learn about and try some of the course here or do the full course with the Google teachers here.

I also understood for the first time the value of Chromebooks which are essentially browser-based devices with a keyboard and touchscreen. By using the Chrome browser with all the plugin extensions available and combining this with all the capabilities in Google Drive and other Google platforms such as Maps and YouTube, so much can be done purely online.I am beginning to wonder about the value of the Mac I recently bought, compared with a Chromebook which retails for about one fifth of the price.

The next Google Summit is scheduled for Melbourne on 22 – 23 September. It would be terrific if some others from RMIT could benefit from the perspective that attending one of these summits enables. In talking with the organisers they would love to customise a summit for tertiary providers, so I will also be watching that space.

If you want to keep up to date with our project, follow us at www.whatonearth14.wordpress.com. We have a number of new posts showing RMIT teachers and students at work.

Share your thoughts about using Google’s tools in the comments section!

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Twitter: @teachingtomtom and

Teaching Awards: A writing rollercoaster

Ed: With RMIT’s Teaching Awards season underway, this week we welcome a team from the University of Canberra writing on the process of making applications for national citations.

Guest Post: Coralie McCormack, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Canberra.

An expanded version of our rollercoaster ride can be read in ‘Things fall apart so they can fall together’: uncovering the hidden side of writing a teaching award application, McCormack, Vanags and Prior (2014). We offer the expanded narrative (and this quick précis) as a companion to accompany other award applicants and their writing guides on their journey, whatever shape it takes.

Waiting in line (Who we were/still are):

Our rollercoaster ride occurred in 2010 when I was an academic developer within the University of Canberra’s Teaching and Learning Centre. I have a passion for evaluating learning and teaching, developing teaching philosophy statements, teaching portfolios and narrative approaches to teaching and research. I specialise in capacity building for leadership in learning and teaching through institutional and national teaching awards, mentoring programs, writing as a method of inquiry and teaching and learning communities of practice such as TATALs (Talking about teaching and learning). In 2010, I assisted Thea and Robyn with their successful applications for an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.

ClimbThea was an Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Canberra with a fervour for knowledge and understanding, and an ability to use everyday language and examples to explain concepts. These skills and her focus on student feedback enable students to overcome their negative preconceptions of difficult topic areas. She received an ALTC Citation “For using active learning to demystify psychology, inspiring student engagement with the ‘hard, boring’ topics to create exciting learning interactions”.

Robyn was a Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Canberra. She uses four main strategies to help students learn: deconstructing complex material using simple explanations, presenting complex processes through animations, illustrating complex molecules through computer simulations and demonstrating complex processes through easy-to-understand drawings. She integrates these with examples that can be applied in everyday life. Robyn received an ALTC Citation “For using ‘step-wise’ knowledge building approaches to help reluctant learners understand and apply complex concepts in difficult biochemistry areas”.

The ride experience:

Meredith Seaman’s post suggests that this type of writing “…does not usually come naturally. It’s hard work and a new style…” We would concur and go as far as to say that writing a UpsidedownCitation application feels like you’re on a rollercoaster where things fall apart before they can come together for submission and success. What we are wondering now, is whether this is something with which others are familiar? Maybe you have ridden the writing rollercoaster as a teaching award applicant. We suspect this rollercoaster is also a ride we take in other writing contexts, such as performance appraisal reports and promotion applications.

The wash-up:

When our ride was finally over we took time to investigate this previously hidden side of writing from an autoethnographic perspective. Our collective story recounts the sense of feeling ‘at home’ as practitioners recognised by our institutions in various ways. However, this was followed by a sense of becoming and being ‘unhomely’ as we gathered speed on the downhill. As time passed and we went through the cycles of re-writes and reflection, our writing gathered momentum and Thea and Robyn began to feel more comfortable in the unfamiliar world of learning and teaching discourse. With this new momentum the we began to enjoy the process, the rollercoaster, we felt a sense of ‘homeliness’. After submission and success we felt a sense of personal transformation through learning and growing ourselves as teachers.

If the stages of ‘homeliness’ and ‘unhomeliness’ identified in our story are replicated in the experiences of others it could reasonably be asked whether the benefits are at least as great as the physical and emotional effort needed to achieve success, particularly for early career academics pressured from all sides to perform as teachers and as researchers.

The inevitably nomadic lives of academics adds a final footnote to all of this. Two years on and our team is now spread across three universities but we’re still able to collaborate electronically (most recently in the HERDSA article and this blog post) and we’re all still engaged in the scholarship of learning and teaching.

But back to where we started, at the title of Meredith Seaman’s contribution: ‘Teaching awards – worth the paperwork?’ And our answer? A definite YES!

For more information:

  • Teachers, academics (and academic developers) might like to visit the resources for the Promoting Excellence Network  hosted at the University of New South Wales.
  • McCormack, C., Prior, R., & Vanags, T. (2014). ‘Things fall apart so they can fall together’: Uncovering the hidden side of writing a teaching award application. Higher Education Research and Development. DOI:10.1080/07294360.2014.890569

Contact:  Coralie.McCormack@canberra.edu.au

Share your thoughts about any aspect of the Teaching Awards process in the comments section!

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Discourse diversity across L&T cultures

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

Making the implicit, explicit – discourse structures across cultures

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

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

Acknowledging diversity – similarities and differences

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

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

In the words of an international student:

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

model1_image

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

Assignment structure is culturally specific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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Beyond Blackboard Course Shells: “What on earth are they using?”

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

From a learning and teaching perspective it’s hard to think of a more important system in a modern university than its Learning Management System (LMS).

Alongside (and sometimes instead of) the physical experience of a campus, its buildings and facilities, a student now navigates an online set of hierarchies through the LMS.

There’s a great new tool available for RMIT staff that allows you to see what a student is seeing at the current point in time.

At RMIT, our implementation of Blackboard (‘myRMIT’) currently shows students that course surveys are about to close, deadlines for exchanges are coming, the availability of financial support, upcoming study skills workshops and various other announcements from whole-of-University groups.

And all of that is before they see any announcements, course materials or assessment links in their Program or Course.

There’s a renewed scrutiny on just how well and how widely myRMIT is being used by academics. Statistics showed that many courses have very low usage but there are notable exceptions and as that Swiss Army Knife expression goes, ‘pockets of good practice’. We knew anecdotally and from Program Managers that a number of other technologies were being used within and alongside the Blackboard environment.

This led our project team to ask “Well, what on earth are they using?” and a Learning and Teaching Investment Fund (LTIF) proposal to answer this question was developed. This Q&A explains some of the background to the project:

What do you think might be discovered by the project?

I think we will find a diversity of online tools that are not evidenced by the statistics. I think we will find new ways academics are using educational technologies for learning and teaching. We will discover why Blackboard’s capabilities fall short of the requirements of the creative and design disciplines and why designers/architects/artists take to alternate platforms.

I hope we will also find that staff are using many technologies in their teaching, but are simply not providing the links in Blackboard. Using the approved channel for assessment and course material has a number of advantages. It provides an enterprise-grade archive and ensures there’s a course ‘memory’ to name just a couple of benefits.

But it’s a bit like asking why people drive around in different types of cars. We look for a car that fits our requirements. At the moment I suspect some feel ‘illicit’ if they’re using tools like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or Google Sites to organise or run aspects of their course.

Think of it from the university’s point of view. We spend a lot of money on the LMS, and we want to see staff using it. A large organisation has to keep everyone happy and at the same time be adaptable. Yet we have different people and school personalities in a myriad of disciplines. So the reality is not all black and white in terms of teaching technologies. One size seems to not fit all.

One of the issues is that statistics are not analytics. What is being done with the data?

With the LMS we have never had a measure of how much it was being used. A considerable amount of our budget is being spent on the LMS and of course the university would like reporting back on its usage. However the only statistics we have are hits per course per student. This tells us very little. Yet there is a lot more going on that we know about. Staff and students are always working online – so what are they doing? This is what we set out to find out in the project.

Judgements are being made on the above statistics. There is no doubt that RMIT has patchy LMS usage, but we also know that so much more is going on.

Why is the LMS used so little is some places?

Blackboard is complex and can be difficult to use. I liken it to an old 16mm film projector. The films are what people want to see, but the projector requires a licensed operator. In the same manner, the LMS is not important; it’s the content that is. With a lack of operational understanding of the LMS, it often gets treated as just a document store. Unless lecturers are aware of what online activities can be achieved and the value to their teaching and the students’ learning, efforts beyond the use of myRMIT as a filing cabinet are hard to get excited about.

What influence would you like the project to have?

It would be a great outcome if the project discovered school/discipline specific learning technologies and how they added value to learning and teaching. We need a range of technologies that match the diversity of the university’s disciplines. We know we can’t have everything, yet we need to find some middle ground.

The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything...

The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything…

We also need statistics for all of the learning technologies we use, to enable meaningful learner analytics and of course to provide evidence we are using them and that they are worth paying for.

Do you see some middle ground with the suite of Google Apps?

There are quick wins for all with Google sites. The fact that RMIT students have Google accounts is an exciting and under-utilised aspect in all of this. The imminent arrival of Google Classroom could change everything.  Designers don’t want to follow what has happened before. They are not followers. They want to research, change, innovate and create anew. To some, Blackboard has a last century feel. I am surprised that there is not more competition in the LMS marketplace.

I know we will discover an enormous diversity in learning technologies in use during this project and much more than just Blackboard shells in this project.

We’ll be back later in the year with an update on the project and we have a Part 2 of this post that goes into more depth about the concept of learner analytics, but for now we’d love to hear from staff directly (email us) or through the comments section.

If you want to keep up to date with our project, follow us at www.whatonearth14.wordpress.com

Share your thoughts on Learning Management Systems comments section!

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