Tag Archives: teaching

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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L&T Grants – to apply or not to apply, that is the question

Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University

“Contemplating in Vanuatu” Picture © by Ruth Moeller

 At RMIT it’s L&T grant writing season

I have been sitting here contemplating the many grant proposals I’ve seen. As the DSC College’s Learning and Teaching Investment Fund (LTIF) co-ordinator I have seen many proposals, the good, the bad and the ugly. Over this time I have garnered some insights into what makes a successful proposal and would like to share them with you. (My experience and examples relate to LTIFs but the advice generally relates to all L&T grants.)

1. Have an idea, but make sure it’s the right kind

Grants will have a particular focus and to be successful you need to ensure that what you are proposing reflects that.

LTIFs are about learning and teaching and specifically things that “lead to quality learning experiences for students” and “provide students with a cohort experience that makes a difference to their lives”. So the focus here is the student and their outcomes. I have seen many proposals that were thinly disguised research applications, proposals that were focused on course/program development that is really part of normal business, and every now and again an idea that’s put forward just to see if someone will pay for it. These proposals may have merit but not for an LTIF.

2. Let someone know

This is a dilemma, as grants are competitive. By sharing your concept you may feel that you are giving away your idea but it is better to test your plan before you invest in a proposal that may be better placed elsewhere.

I have seen groups put forward similar projects – committees are unlikely to fund proposals about the same thing. If the groups consulted they could have been linked to talk about the direction each were taking and ways they could cooperate or differentiate. Likewise there are the proposals that are similar to ones previously submitted. This means they were successful, so it’s been done, or unsuccessful, and you need to find out why before proceeding.

Talk to the relevant grants co-ordinator to test out your idea before you become too invested in it.

Contacts for LTIFs and Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) grants at RMIT

Design and Social Context College

Business College

Science, Engineering and Health College

3. What are the conditions/parameters for the grant? Work within them.

This information will be on the website and presented at information sessions. You need to make yourself familiar with “The Rules” of the particular grant you are applying for and follow them.

I am always surprised that when the criterion says: “Travel and equipment purchases will not be funded unless there are extenuating reasons” there is a request for travel to a conference or the purchase of 25 iPads.

Even if you have applied for many grants, checking the guidelines and going to information sessions can provide you with insights and tips for your application.

4. Consult

Have the people/groups that can make your proposal a reality been consulted and are they involved?

By listing an EdTech group on a proposal there is an expectation is that they will take part but have they been asked? Conversely, proposing a technology dependent idea and not consulting with the experts weakens the application.

Also you need to consider issues of work planning and work load when forming your project team.

5. Be realistic

Ask yourself the following questions before the review panel does:

  • What do we actually want money for?
  • Could we do it within our current resources?
  • Can we really achieve what we are promising in the time allocated?
  • Is our budget optimistic/aspirational or realistic?
  • Is the idea sustainable? What happens next year without funding?
  • Does our idea have application beyond our course/program? When investing money the expectation is broader application
  • If it was my money, would I pay for this?

6. Read the form – and then fill it out – all of it

If a box isn’t completed it begs the question are you avoiding or ignoring or not good at proof reading – either way, a quality application is a complete one.

In the LTIFs, you are asked to identify “Which strategic objective(s) does this project address?”. In many of the proposals this is not addressed, begging the question, does it not align/ do you not know or do you not care?

On the matter of signatures, all grants require sign off by various roles with in the university. Make sure you allow enough time to do this and even better, consult before you ask for a signature.

In the LTIFs, your Head of School is required to support your application. It would be politic as well as good manners to tell them what you are proposing before you ask for a signature that shows their support.

7. Have a ‘critical friend’ read the final proposal

Your team members know what you are talking about but will others? Get someone who is not part of the team to read your application, do they understand it? You need to think about who will be reading and assessing your proposal. This can be particularly challenging when you have people from different disciplines assessing proposals.

These are my insights on writing a successful application. The one thing I haven’t mentioned is the element of luck that goes with any completive endeavour as that is out of our control. But I do wish you good luck with your application and if you need further information:

Or contact the LTIF/OLT grants co-ordinator for your college listed in No.2

Do you have any advice/tips/strategies you would like to share on L&T grant writing?

Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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Teaching Excellence in Next Generation Learning Spaces

Posted by: Dr Cathy Hall-Van Den Elsen, Manager, Academic Development Group, College of Business
& Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

SABMany of the learning and teaching spaces available at RMIT University are now fitted with innovative technologies and specialised furniture to support teaching approaches that foster collaboration, engagement and student-centred learning.

These spaces have opened up a diverse range of teaching and learning possibilities, offering unprecedented opportunities for collaborative learning and student interaction underpinned by the latest educational technologies, including the extended use of mobile devices.

As part of a Learning and Teaching Investment Fund project, the Business Academic Development Group has collected and produced a number of case studies and videos of academic and teaching staff discussing their teaching in the Swanston Academic Building (SAB) and how they have responded to the potential the new learning spaces provide.

Each case study describes teaching strategies that have challenged, stimulated and motivated students through a combination of room types, pedagogies and technology to create student-centred learning events, including opportunities for integrating students’ mobile technologies in the classroom environment.

The video series is designed to support academic staff who are looking for information about learning spaces generally, and particularly in these new spaces at RMIT. Five types of learning spaces are presented from two perspectives:

  • Animations which describe the affordances of each the spaces.

  • Video interviews and demonstrations by five experienced teachers, supported by student observations about their engagement with the spaces.

For example, Jason Downs discusses his teaching strategies in the ‘Project Spaces’ in the SAB such as mixing and matching technology to suit particular tasks and how he enables collaboration. He found that students valued learning in these spaces with opportunities to work easily in a team, presenting their work through collaborative software and receiving feedback from other students.

In another example, 2013 RMIT Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award winner, Dr Ingo Karpen, discusses his use of the discursive theatre to facilitate student discussions of complex theoretical material and case studies.

If you would like to find out how other academics are using these new learning spaces then read the case studies and watch the videos.

Leave a comment and let us know how you find teaching in these spaces too!

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What does ‘good’ look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

To help, consider these three questions:

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

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

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

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

Resources that can help:

Assessing student work
Rubrics for assessing English language and academic literacies

Share your thoughts on what ‘good’ means in the comments section!
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Learning Analytics: What does it all mean?

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

Ever heard of the term ‘Learning Analytics’? If you haven’t, then you will. The 2013 Horizon Report describes it as the “[f]ield associated with deciphering trends and patterns from educational big data, or huge sets of student-related data, to further the advancement of a personalized, supportive system of higher education.”  What does this all mean? It means that we can gather student data to uncover trends, patterns and issues. It’s what we do with that data and how we can support the student that is the key.

Click on the image to explore educause.edu's resources on learning analyticsThe report also leads us to believe that it will take 2-3 years to adopt. However I believe it’s already here.

For example, in Blackboard you can access the ‘Performance Dashboard’ (from the Control Panel) to ascertain when a student last entered the course and drill down to the exact date and time they entered. As an instructor you can also view the last date and time that you accessed the course. This means that you (as an instructor) can confirm the amount of interaction the student is having with the online course. As I am a Blackboard gal, I presume that this is all possible with other learning management systems (LMS). Regardless of what LMS you use, there is already the capacity to obtain some basic data on students and instructor navigation within an online course.

Click on the image to explore educause.edu's resources on learning analyticsUseful? You betcha. Think of it this way, you are able to determine those students who have not accessed the course in the first week, this is a red flag. One possible intervention method is to contact the student and notify them that they haven’t accessed the course and you want to ensure that they are not having any technical issues, access issues, or any other issues. Then, the student emails you back with ‘thanks for your email I had problems accessing my course as I am located in a remote part of Australia/America/Afghanistan’ (wherever). Problem solved.

And this is only the beginning of what learning analytics can do. It can predict the learning route of a student, it can assist in personalising the student’s learning, and it can recommend and apply interventions. As an instructor (with some setup) Blackboard can present the results of your assessment with full item analysis, meaning that you can look at what aspects of a course or topic your cohort found difficult and what they have mastered. You can use this data to modify your teaching after (or even during) the semester.

There are already criticisms to learning analytics including: ethical issues on the collection of data, who owns the data, the sharing of data, privacy and legal issues too. These are all valid concerns that need to be navigated carefully. Regardless of the route, learning analytics is here, and it’s only gaining ground.Screen shot 2013-12-05 at 1.50.51 PM

If you’re still not quite sure what learning analytics is, take a look at the infographic “Learning Analytics” produced by Open Colleges. It provides an excellent breakdown of what it is. If you still have more question, as we all do. Try www.educause.edu and do a search on learning analytics. You will find plenty of resources.

References:

Horizon Report. 2013 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2013.pdf

‘Learning Analytics 101. Leveraging Educational Data.’ Open Colleges. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2013.pdf

Share your thoughts on learning analytics in the comments!

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Everyone can have their moment – Celebrating learning and teaching

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

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

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

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

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

How to do this you ask?

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

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

RM

So complete the following sentences:

What I have learnt when teaching is…

My students have surprised me by…

In my teaching I am pleased with…

Thanks to Julie and Bronwyn for sharing their responses!

Share your thoughts in the comments!

 


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Thinking of doing some professional development for teaching?

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

This post has been informed by the work in two learning and teaching projects led by Professor Barbara de la Harpe — an Office for Learning and Teaching project, Not a Waste of Space, and an RMIT Learning and Teaching Investment Fund project, Transforming teaching practice through PD for NGLSs. These projects explored professional learning for the future and also implemented a professional learning approach in the College of Design and Social Context. For more information visit the RMIT page on the project here.

logo for Developing Your Teaching DSC opportunitiesAlthough engaging in professional development to improve teaching has been shown to have a direct relationship on student learning outcomes (Hattie, 2009), as far back as the mid-80s, questions have been raised around the effectiveness of some professional development activities. As Webster-Wright (2009) points out, ‘…many [PD programs] remain as episodic updates of information delivered in a didactic manner, separated from engagement with authentic work experiences…’ Such approaches are generally ‘bolted-on’, often with a focus on compliance. They tend to be content heavy rather than learning oriented in their design and delivery.

What this can lead to is a kind of superficial accumulation of knowledge, layer upon layer, rather than an ongoing re-conceptualisation of educational practice (Boud & Hager, 2012; Cross, 2010; Feixas & Zellweger, 2010; Hart, 2011; Webster-Wright, 2009).

So the research supports approaches that look less like crash courses and more like maps or field guides for a learner to explore the territory. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to educators because we’re familiar with course and program design and most of the same principles apply. How do we then apply some of those good learning principles, those good instructional design principles, to our own professional development for teaching?

Here are some tips to make your own plan for a more sustained and long-term approach for your professional development:

1. Plan to try one new thing next semester in your class. Identify a learning and teaching goal or a ‘problem of practice’ that you want to address in 2014. This should be a risk or a proposed solution to your problem. It might be using a particular technology in your teaching, getting students to collaborate more or perhaps it is trying something that you have seen a colleague do successfully.  Simple activities like ‘Think, Pair, Share’ will enrich the discussion in your classroom as the thinking will encompass the views of all students and will invoke the prior learning of students.

2. Write it down! Write out your action plan. What will you do? What will your students do? What resources or knowledge do you need? How will you research the task? Who can you speak to for assistance? Give yourself some dates to meet your milestones. How will you design the activity so that it enables your students to do the work and to build up the strategies that you use to work through tasks so that they can use them in other contexts.

3. Put it in your workplan. Ensure you embed this idea into your teaching and work by writing it into your workplan next year. This also means that someone else, your line manager, will ask you how you are going and perhaps even suggest resources that might be useful. Articulating what you are doing not only makes it more explicit to you, talking about it enables another professional to build your idea and suggest other relevant avenues.

4. Make time in your calendar. Active learning over time is much more effective than learning in sporadic sessions. Set aside 5-10 minutes a week to read/talk to a colleague/watch a YouTube video. Try to keep your time aligned to your self-directed learning goal. Talking to someone else about what they are doing is a great stimulus for your own thinking.

5. Start your own professional learning network. Create a Twitter account and follow those whom you think you may find useful. Often people on Twitter who are exploring similar areas to you will post the latest papers, information and news to keep you up to date. Again, this collaborative approach leverages a community of learners and is a great example of the ‘just-in-time’ learning which will actively stimulate your teaching.

Comments from academic staff who undertook self-directed study as part of our LTIF project were very positive. While we still ran a model that included workshops, these workshops ran over a whole semester and not as ‘once-off’ sessions. We also encouraged sessional staff (a group of staff who can feel left out of the usual avenues and opportunities of professional development) to scope a small project and write a case study. Participants reported positive outcomes and an enthusiasm based on the fact that they had decided what their focus would be. Further results from the project will be available and disseminated at the project’s conclusion.

Share your thoughts about professional development in the comments!

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Boud, D. & Hager, P. (2012). Re-thinking continuing professional development through changing metaphors and location in professional practices. Studies in Continuing Education, 34(1), 17-30.

Cross, J. (2010). They had people called professors…! Changing worlds of learning: strengthening informal learning in formal institutions? In U. Ehlers and D. Schneckenberg, (Eds.), Changing Cultures in Higher Education (pp. 43–54). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

Feixas, M., & Zellweger, F. (2010). Faculty development in context: changing learning cultures in Higher Education. In U. Ehlers and D. Schneckenberg, (Eds.), Changing Cultures in Higher Education (pp. 85-102). Berlin Heidelberg: Springer.

Hart, J. (2011). Social learning handbook synopsis. Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Retrieved from: http://c4lpt.co.uk/social-learning-handbook/social-learning-handbook-synopsis/.

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

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 702-739.

Games people play Part 2: Let’s pretend

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

Metrics

Fitbit Screengrab

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

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

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

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

All true!

What a savvy readership!

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

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

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

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

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

‘Trouble Tower’ app from RMIT’s GEElab.

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

Caveats

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

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

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

Click to read the article at news.Discovery.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Games people play

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

This post has been split into two parts:

Part 1: In which I outline some of my own feelings about games in the classroom.
Part 2: Which may be published tomorrow and will cover the why and how of introducing a game mechanic to your class or course…

Screenshot at 99 posts

Screenshot on the eve of 100 posts.

Games to kill time

First, this scene from an episode of The Simpsons:

[Bart has forgotten his permission slip for the class excursion to the chocolate factory and has to stay at school.]

Principal Skinner: Here’s a whole box of unsealed envelopes for the PTA.
Bart: You’re making me lick envelopes?
Skinner: Oh, licking envelopes can be fun! All you have to do is make a game of it.
Bart: What kind of game?
Skinner: Well, for example, you could see how many you could lick in an hour, then try to break that record.
Bart: Sounds like a pretty crappy game to me.
Skinner: Yes, well… Get started.  -‘Bart the Murderer’ (Writer: John Swartzwelder, 1991)

Games bloggers play

For a while I’ve wanted to set down some thoughts about games and their place in the classroom. If you blog with WordPress you’ll know that you get a little badge and some words of encouragement each time you publish a post.

It’s not necessarily an earned reward either. The person who pushes the button usually isn’t the same one who wrote the post and nevermind that I only joined the team a year or so ago — in this case I’m the author and the lucky duck that gets to see 100 posts tick over. Similarly with ‘followers’ and site statistics, these two metrics of the online world are easily gained, easily gamed, but addictive regardless. At last count the tomtom has a few hundred followers spread across WordPress, Twitter and Facebook.

Fitting then that I flag the importance of fairness and that with the 100th post from the tomtom team, I weigh in on games and ‘gamification’, a topic that we haven’t really dealt with explicitly.

Paper-based games

A few years before that episode of The Simpsons, I was in 6th grade. At some point in that year, one afternoon, my teacher brought out a blue ice-cream container with cut-up pieces of paper and announced that we were going to play ‘The Fractions Game’. I got along well with my teacher and I sat at a group table near the front of the class.

But this game sounded boring and it sounded like something I wouldn’t be very good at. Plus I probably felt like this was my time to score a point in the more important social game called ‘6th grade’.

I didn’t do anything elaborate: I just groaned dramatically and said ‘Not this game.’ (I’d never actually played ‘The Fractions Game’, but the title was a giveaway: these were vegetables masquerading as dessert.)

In my memory this next bit is in slow-motion. Mrs P. shouted something like ‘Right!’ and tossed the bucket of cut-up paper into the air. The pieces rained down on our group’s table and on her head and shoulders. A bit like confetti or ticker tape. But more like something very bad had just happened.

I’d never had this effect on a teacher. So unexpected and such a literal explosion. My group and I started gathering up the paper — but the ‘Right!’ was just the start of the sentence sending me to the principal’s office. And to make clear that this story is not about rewriting my history to represent me as anything like a cool and calm kid, I was definitely in tears at this point.

I was sent home that day with a note (more tears!) asking my mum to come in the next morning. I remember apologising, I remember Mrs P. explaining that she’d spent a lot of time on preparing that game.

I was an enthusiastic participant in any game Mrs P. suggested for the remainder of the year.

Computer games

The games we really enjoyed were on the Apple IIgs at the back of the classroom: Gold Dust Island and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. We got to play in pairs or trios I think. Gold Dust Island – especially good — had you marooned and managing water, food, treasure-hunting and shipbuilding. Looking back on the two games they’re both pretty meagre fare educationally. Carmen Sandiego was a bunch of trivia about the flags and currencies of countries and I remember that digging for gold in Gold Dust Island usually prevented us from spending the necessary time on woodcutting and shipbuilding. Still there were early lessons in opportunity costs and logic in both.

Time on the computers was probably based on some sort of behaviourist carrot and dependent on our ability to coöperate sotto voce and get off that island/find Ms Sandiego while the rest of the class were reading or doing maths problems.

I could go on about the computers and other games we played. We had the usual typing tutors and ‘drill & kill’ games. Students of my generation can usually count at least a few skills gained solely through games. Off the top of my head, for me, it would be typing speed and a smidgin of music theory. At home (or at a friend’s house) we played the increasingly sophisticated simulation games of the ’80s like SimCity. For many of my friends, games were their pathway into programming, through a language like Logo.  Many can trace a path from these experiences through to their current professions.

But If Mrs P. is reading this, she should take heart that it was her teaching strategies, her passion and the class conversations that I remember most about 6th grade and not a computer screen. ‘The Fractions Game’ was an off-day. I have vivid memories of her reading to us (Thurley Fowler’s The Green Wind (probably more tears)) and that she was a ruthless critic of my juvenile writing for instance. See how far I’ve come!

She should know too, that as an English and History teacher years later, I would stay up late making revision crosswords or flashcards that stumped my students and made me question what progress we’d made. That I ran in-class games that were unappreciated by most, or that simply crashed and burned. That I set the creation of games as assessments with very mixed results and that we played these games-of-variable-quality (set maybe in Ancient Egypt or Rome) in the final days of a term and that yes, they usually left the participants cold.

So games are attractive. As educators, it’s natural that we should see them as containers that we can sneak knowledge into, perhaps a foreign language or some critical thinking skills. Which is a roundabout way of bringing this post to ‘gamification’ and its place in TAFE and Higher Education.

But first more disclosure

I’ve recently participated in the ‘Global Corporate Challenge’. I wear a fitness monitor to track steps every day. I work on a project that is trialling badges and quests to lift the engagement of users in a professional learning approach.

All three of these activities are trying to use a game mechanic (ie points, leaderboards, quests) to increase the level of engagement/’stickiness’/personal commitment or fun. There are many more examples of gamification being used by institutions, corporations and by governments to alter behaviour.

So gamification often tries to take something most of the population experiences as tiresome or time-consuming or not intrinsically satisfying (exercise, professional development, sorting your recycling or paying your tax) and attaches an extrinsic reward to it.

And now, a game!

If this, the 100th post of the teaching tomtom gets more than 100 hits today, Thursday 3 October, I will publish Part 2 on Friday. If not, I’m following Mrs P.’s lead and throwing it to the winds! Lost to the ages!

In Part 2 I will discuss some caveats of extrinsic rewards; why and how one still might like to introduce game mechanics to a HE or TAFE course and I’ll share another anecdote about me as a learner. This time, a lecturer at university takes me to task for doing the crossword before his lecture begins.

Stay tuned/click refresh/leave a comment.

Share your thoughts about Part 1 in the comments…

There’s an app for that…

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

This post focuses particularly on use of the iPad for educators although some of what I share will be relevant for Android devices and smartphones. The ‘digital divide’ is a real issue and one that I’d like to take up in a future post- but increasingly most students will have more than one mobile device. So for ‘iPad’, read ‘iPad, tablet and increasingly smartphones’.

RMIT's Open2Study Course: Foundations of PsychologyOften staff are interested in how they can adopt new technology but are concerned about not having enough time to learn and make successful changes in their teaching. One of the things I have found about the iPad is that it has improved my productivity as well as provided new ways to transfer learning. The challenge, as with a lot of new technology, is putting in the investment of time before the payoff in effectiveness can occur.

There are a couple of examples where I have been involved with iPad use in education that have been illustrative of both the challenges and advantages of adopting iPads. Often iPads are introduced with a simple focus that fails to address the complexity of issues the device also creates as well as the potential complex advantages.  In the Open2study free online Foundations of Psychology course, you can see the iPad being used primarily so that the academic can continue to face the camera while delivering the content. However in several of the early Open2study courses the iPad was merely being used as a whiteboard without taking more advantage of the functional strength and flexibility of the device.

I’ve also been involved in vocational settings where iPads have been handed out to students as a paper and cost-saving activity.  Loading electronic versions of textbooks was going to be cheaper than the provision of textbooks and workbooks. As the devices get cheaper and as the publishers shift to eTextbooks this trend will continue. In this case students were not given enough context and training in using the device and teachers were initially resistant due to a lack of support and preparation. What these instances highlight is the need to be clear (from the teaching team’s perspective) about what moving to devices like this means to their delivery model.

Productivity

I find that the iPad helps my productivity in several ways. One example is that I like to use the Evernote app for note-taking. Evernote is a wonderful tool for collating all sorts of notes. It works across all devices or in a browser and saves notes to the cloud. When I go to a meeting and start a new note Evernote automatically brings the meeting title from my calendar into the note’s heading – making it easier to just begin and know that when I am back at my desktop the notes are already saved and ready to use. I also find the iPad very fast for making presentations – faster than on my laptop or desktop. More on that below.

Challenges in VET and HE

One of the challenging things about the iPad is not having a file system. There are no content folders, no usb port, just apps that you download on to the devices. For a number of reasons, Apple has made this side of the system opaque to users. This means you have to start thinking differently about how you go about things. A part of the solution is to start thinking in combinations of apps. Often you might use two or three different apps to achieve what you want. You might use a third-party camera because it allows for more control over the shot; that shot goes into the iPad’s Photo app and you might use a different third-party app to edit the photo. It’s important then to think in terms of workflows. If you are planning activities with students, you need to consider how you create evidence for what they do on the device (process) as well as how artefacts are transferred off the device (the final product) into an appropriate place (like Blackboard) for assessment.ipad and moleskine notebook

So remember these three questions when you’re planning an activity:

  1. How will the students get the content onto the device? (Will the students use one of the inbuilt tools on the device: web browser, microphone, camera, video camera, notepad or gps?)
  2. What are the students doing with the content once they have it? (What’s the critical or creative task that they’ll be engaging in on the device? Does it require an app or an internet connection?)
  3. What is the process for getting the work from the device and onto, for instance, their peers’ devices for comment or back to their ePortfolio, or into the Learning Management System? (Will the result for you, as an assessor, be easily viewable? Will you be able to see the process as well as a finished product?)

The best way to increase your capacity with these devices is to use them for yourself in meaningful ways. You’ll find yourself using a version of the steps above in your own use-cases. As well, playing with the device is an important element that makes it easier to discover your own approaches to teaching with the device. Here are three ways that I find the iPad useful as an educational device.

1. Presentations

There are several apps that make creating and running presentations easy and engaging. I like to develop PowerPoint style presentations in Keynote. It makes it easy to quickly move content around and it has a notes function that enables you to read from this while presenting. Haiku Deck is an app that encourages good design using free to use images and less text. If you want to use a PowerPoint you have already created then try SlideShark which will import and run the presentation on the iPad without animations.

students using iPhones.

For running presentations try Penultimate which is like a flipboard that you can write on – and you can also import your slides to write over these. Even more sophisticated is Explain Everything which will enable the same activity and will also record what you do on your screen with your voice as you present. You can then save the presentation and send it to students via email or place it in the LMS.

2. Content specific apps

It’s worth visiting Apple’s App Store (or Google’s equivalent Google Play) and typing in your subject or topics relating to your subject. For example, a chemistry teacher will find dozens of apps relating to molecular bonds. There are many free and low-cost apps that could enliven demonstrations on particular topics, allowing students to perform simulated experiments or used as study aids. Trouble Tower (see a screenshot below) is an example of an RMIT-developed app that looks at Occupational Health & Safety in the context of the Australian construction industry.

3. Playing around

Sometimes an app will demonstrate or provide a purpose in unexpected ways. For example the popular game Angry Birds gives a wonderful demonstration of the principles of physics. Fun, intuitive apps like Comic Life and storyboarding apps are used for quick mock-ups in courses like theatre, literature and cinema studies.  Apps that you might use in your own life might have applicability across a range of disciplines. For example Magic Plan allows you to point the device in a room and accurately measure dimensions to create a floor plan.

A note on Android tablets and smartphones

There are often the same (or equivalent) applications for Android devices. And there are a number of aspects in which the Android platform currently has the lead on Apple; a tighter integration with Google’s online tools is a significant one.

Opens a new window to Trouble Tower in the App Store.

A screenshot from Dr Stefan Greuter’s app ‘Trouble Tower’

Androids have other advantages; they offer more customisation and they play Flash animations. While iPads are often easier to use, Androids can often be better adapted to do specific things you want to do. They can also represent good value if you want basic functionalities without the cost of the iPad.

In closing, start small! Try to modify one activity in your class that you think would be enriched by using mobile technology. A colleague at another university recently told me about an OH&S activity she ran where the students had 10 minutes to walk around the building and snap pictures of hazards on campus. The students messaged the pictures to her which then formed the basis of the group’s discussion. A simple activity like that can begin a process of harnessing the tools we’re carrying in our pockets for quick, real-world learning.

Share your thoughts (or useful apps and learning activities) in the comments section or contact me (Howard Errey on Yammer or on Twitter: @howard61) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching for more information

Don’t forget you can subscribe to have the tomtom delivered to your email as soon as it’s published and you can follow us on facebook: www.facebook.com/TeachingTomTom.

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