Design your Class

This week Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching for the School of Education in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, shares with us a new class designing tool created in a recent project.


Getting students to actively engage in their learning is what we want as academics. Active learning of students enables them to think deeply, engages them in original thinking and allows them to transfer their knowledge to new contexts (Hansen & Moser, 2003). Active learning strategies sit within the constructivist approach to learning where students build on their existing knowledge to further their understanding. Preparing students for active learning requires academics to carefully assess how students can build on their existing knowledge through scaffolded tasks such as discussions, group work, analysis, reflection etc. There are a number of learning strategies that we can use with students to encourage them to actively participate in class and outside of class, in online and in face-to-face sessions.

As part of an RMIT Learning and Teaching Investment Fund project, Transforming teaching practice through professional learning for Next Generation Learning Spaces, an interactive “Design my class” tool was developed, providing a fun and engaging way for academics to plan their classes. The tool allows you to design a multiple-activity, student centred, inquiry-based lesson through the use of easy drag and drop elements.


The layout is simple. A list of themes are provided in the right-hand side menu under the heading “I want to get students to:”, for example, reflect, build ideas together, conduct research, work in groups etc.

When you click on a theme, a list of learning of learning strategies that you might like to use appears, for example, the Muddiest Point, KWL Chart, PMI etc. You can then drag these learning strategies over into the class designer.

The class designer is broken into three distinct areas: introduction, activities and summary. By breaking the class into three areas, it prompts you to think about each section of the class. For example, the introduction might involve activities that tap into the students’ prior learning about a topic, learning from a previous class and/or giving an overview of the learning outcomes for the current class. The activity section continues with what you will get students to do. Think carefully about the focus of the learning strategy or the task you give them. Is it suited to the type of thinking needed by students in your discipline area? By using these strategies you are apprenticing students into the kinds of behaviors and knowledge that they will need to move into the discipline. The summary prompts you to review the learning that has occurred during class and perhaps to ask students to reflect on what they have learnt or what their muddiest point in the class was.

Notes, resources and the time allocated for each activity can be edited and customised. There is also a ‘Your Choice’ activity which allows you to type in any activity you may like to use.

Once you have completed your class design, you can easily print this as a PDF file, or export it as an Excel spread sheet. You can also save it into your browser cache if you use the same computer for each design. This will enable you to search for previous class designs which you can then further edit and refine.

So if you are looking for some inspiration and some learning strategies to get students to take an active approach to their own learning, give the Design my Class tool a go. It is still in beta mode so if you have any suggestions on how to improve the tool or any other comments please let us know (


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We are listening. Strategies to increase survey responses rates on teaching.

Picture credit

Picture credit

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

The problem…

We talk quite a lot about student feedback here on the blog, but the specific aspect I want to consider here is appropriate, fair and reliable ways to administer institutional surveys on good teaching to students. In particular I want to examine what could be done to increase survey responses so the results are more meaningful. The challenge in getting students to participate is more significant since surveys moved online, despite the obvious benefits of ‘anywhere/anytime’ for students to complete the survey instruments, and associated efficiencies for the Institution.

With low response rates it can be just a waste of everyone’s time as we need a certain sample size to viable and useful.

The research….

Investigations from the period of transition when many surveys moved online in the United States emphasise the following:

  • … “an important factor in response rates is students’ belief that rating results are used for important decisions about courses and faculty.” (Ballantyne, 1999)
  • Institutions should “encourage instructors to show a personal interest in students completing the forms (e.g., instructors could mention the forms in class, let students know that they pay attention to student responses, or send personal emails to students reminding them to complete the forms)” (Johnson, 2002)

While I’d definitely think twice about sending a personal email to your students, research is consistent that it is important for teachers to set up the context for students to complete the survey. For response rates to increase strategies are required at a range of levels. There is however, consensus that teachers have a role.

Given that the challenge is bigger than an institution sending out disembodied emails or offering iPads. How might we make it a meaningful process, a better experience for our students, and get more reliable data?


Pulling together different ideas from Schools across our College, to do it well, we need to show we are listening. The in-class process might go something like this:

Sowing the seed

Before survey time sow the seed early on about the importance of their ‘feedback’. You could highlight earlier in the course that such surveys inform a range of activities and decisions from university management down to the classroom. You could highlight a couple of specific changes that you have made in response to past survey responses and Student Consultative Committee discussions and so on.

Spending time with your students unpacking the notion of ‘feedback’ more generally is another idea. You might want to emphasise the different types of feedback that students get in your course, such as: from peers, on learning activities, on assessments tasks etc. You could also build on work you are doing with students on their skills to provide constructive feedback, such as giving peer review and feedback on learning activities and assessment tasks etc.

Summarise the Course

At survey time you could summarise the course to date.

e.g. In week one we…  in week 3 we found such and such a concept difficult…, in week 6 we … and finally, reiterate where you’re heading in the remainder of the semester. Helen’s recent post on ‘Going with the flow’ provides a model for this kind of activity. You might want to highlight how have you listened to your students (current and previous) and adjusted your learning and teaching plan.

Set aside time in class: (or in an online space)

Delivery in class time might be tricky, but in terms of getting response rates up it is well worth the time investment. It will show generosity if you allow class time, and that in itself emphasises that you take the process seriously, and are listening. It has been reported that 84% of Australians now have a smart phone, and 71% of those also have a tablet (Horizon Report 2014), and surveys can be completed on these devices online. If these stats seem inflated for your cohort, you could allow time for students to go to the library or build into an existing lab class.

Leave the Room:

It’s important that after all that, you leave the room. It highlights that the process is fair, provides thinking time, and creates a space for their comments to come to the fore.


At RMIT City Campus the Course Experience Survey (CES) survey is open to students from the 20th of September.

More on the CES at RMIT

Ballantyne, C. (1999). Improving university teaching: Responding to feedback from students. In Zepke, N., Knight, M., L&ach, L. and Viskovic, A. (Eds), Adult Learning Cultures: Challenges and Choices in times of change,  WP Press, Wellington, pp.55-165.

Johnson, T. (2002). ‘Online Student Ratings: Will Students Respond?’ Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, 2002.

NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education – A Horizon Project Regional Report 2014

Share your thoughts on strategies to increase survey responses rates in the comments section!

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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?

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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'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'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 and do a search on learning analytics. You will find plenty of resources.


Horizon Report. 2013 Higher Education Edition. Retrieved from

‘Learning Analytics 101. Leveraging Educational Data.’ Open Colleges. Retrieved from

Share your thoughts on learning analytics in the comments!

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