Tag Archives: technology

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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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!

Find us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/teachingtomtom and Twitter @teachingtomtom.

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.

Social networks at work

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

yam·mer

verb (used without object)

Watercooler close-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sian: A tentative conclusion…

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.

The use of technology in teaching and learning: A game of mix and match

picture of Ehsan

Guest post: Dr Ehsan Gharaie, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University.

It seems like there’s a compelling new technology available for teaching every day. New teaching platforms, new software, and more recently new apps.  Add to this, new hardware such as tablets and smartphones.  As educators, we face a huge realm of possibilities and a big confusion, if not a headache: how to keep up? For some people, the question is more profound: should I keep up at all? And if yes, which technology should I choose?

Reflect and decipher

Dr Ehsan GharaieBefore you answer these questions, you need to decipher what happens in your teaching practice. Without reflecting on your own practice you will not be able to make active decisions. And I assure you, without you making these decisions; the decisions will be made for you.

Wait another few years and you will find yourself with a tablet in hand without knowing how to make use of it. The new movement towards MOOCs is one example of  the technology changing and leaving us to follow the trend instead of making active decisions.

To explain what I mean by deciphering your teaching practice, I reflected on my own class to see what exactly happened and then I listed what my students experience. Here is the list, in no particular order, or rather, a list that I could order or rank in many different ways:

My voice
My appearance
A space for their voice to be heard
A space for them to think and learn
My body language
Their body language
The human interaction between me and them
The human interaction between them
The learning environment/atmosphere/space
The lecture slides
The readings
Oral answers to their questions
Written answers to their questions
Class activities
Feedback (one-on-one)
Feedback on their written work
Discussion within their groups
Written communication within their groups.

Mix and match

Dr Ehsan Gharaie at LecternAfter the deciphering (and I would encourage you to do a similar audit of what goes on in a typical class) you need to look at the technology offered and see what the technology can do for you. And what it may prevent you from doing.

If you are a lecturer and the only thing that your students get from your class is your voice and lecture slides, then you could use PowerPoint with your recorded narration, and save yourself and your students, time and hassle. But if your teaching style is based on your personal relationship with students and the learning that happens from students collaborating, then narrated PowerPoint slides would kill your teaching practice.

If you are good at responding to emails and using written explanations of things to students, then an online platform may help your workflow. But if you prefer a teaching style similar to Michael J. Sandel’s (view a lecture from his ‘Justice’ course here) and believe in conversations and discussions during the class, then perhaps moving to an online platform would limit your practice.

The point that I want to make here is that before making any decision for the use of technology, reflect on your practice. Think about how you want students to learn, then look at the proposed technology and see what can be gained. Then it will be a matter of mixing and matching to get a good combination of technology-enabled and traditional teaching.

Wordpress shows the country of origin for your blog's viewers.

And remember, technology is not always there to replace the current practice and make life easier. Sometimes it gives new opportunities and opens new frontiers but this might come at the cost of an investment of time.

We are all confined in time and space. I can only be at one place and one time, but students can play lecture videos anywhere and anytime. In a modest way, even this particular post expands my existence; my audience. These words reach places I would never be able to visit in a single lifetime as an academic. Look at the picture on the left: it shows the country of origin from every viewer of this blog yesterday. Lecturers like Sandel are now reaching tens of thousands of students!

Thus, it is not all gloomy or geeky. Just as we express to our students, learning involves thinking, trying, and even failing at some attempts to succeed in the long run.

Share your comments on deciphering your own teaching and using technology in the comments!

Linking to the recent Sessional Staff Symposium

Connecting Sessional Staff LogoPosted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

The College of Design and Social Context facilitated a Professional Development Symposium for sessional academic and teaching staff on Friday 6 September.

If you missed my last post, the 2013 Connecting Sessional Staff Project aims to:

  • Address individual learning and teaching needs
  • Share, present, discuss and reflect on teaching and learning experiences
  • Support collaboration, peer partnerships and mentoring
  • Connect with other sessional staff and learning networks across the University
  • Link to the online Sessional Modules from the Professional Development for Tertiary Teaching Practice (PDTTP). The Modules are accessible through Blackboard and information is online at: http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/pdttp/sessionals

The symposium workshops were practical and hands-on. They aimed to connect staff with their peers, their curriculum and with their students.

For those who missed the symposium or attended and missed a workshop, here is a brief overview with  the learning outcomes for each.  If you find something  of interest, you can follow the links or even contact the facilitator for more information:

Opening Session

Workshop 1: Technology… you’ve gotta have a Plan B!

Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching, Learning and Teaching Unit

•Design back-up activities to include in lesson plans for when the technology fails
•Know who to call and what to say when you have technical issues in the class
•Identify resources to have on hand to continue to engage your students.

See also:
the teaching tomtom: http://theteachingtomtom.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/technology-you-gotta-love-it-when-it-works/
Teaching with Technology: http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology

Workshop 2: Assessment

John Benwell, Principle Learning & Teaching Advisor (Architecture and Design)

•Discuss and know how to use assessment as learning activity and a progress monitor
•Create an assignment in blackboard (with e-submission)
•Discuss and understand academic integrity using Turnitin.

See also:
RMIT University Student Assessment http://www.rmit.edu.au/students/assessment
Center for the Study of Higher Education, Melbourne University http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/resources_teach/assessment/
Turnitin http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology/turnitin

Workshop 3: Engaging your students using Inclusive Teaching practices

Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, DSC

•Identify and discuss challenges in managing a diverse student cohort in your class
•Translate the principles of Inclusive Teaching into your practice
•Design activities that incorporate alternative teaching strategies.

See also:
Inclusive Teaching http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/inclusive

Workshop 4: Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces

Thembi Mason, Educational Developer and Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor Learning & Teaching (Art)

•Identify the characteristics of a Next Generation Learning space
•Locate relevant resources and discuss approaches to teaching and the use of technology in these spaces

See also:
Next Generation Learning Spaces http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=xnbgfx4a17h3
Teaching with Technology http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology

Workshop 5: Connecting courses to content

Bernadene Sward, Liaison Librarians and Anne Lennox, University Library

•Make the most of library licensed learning and teaching resources, open access and creative commons content.

See also:
Library Learning Repository http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/learningrepository
School Liaison Librarians http://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarianshttp://www.rmit.edu.au/library/librarians

Workshop 6: Teaching students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds

Barbara Morgan, Study Learning Center

•Discuss the challenges facing students from diverse learning backgrounds
•Identify and integrate teaching strategies that address linguistic and cultural differences in the classroom.

See also:
Study and Learning Centre http://www.rmit.edu.au/studyandlearningcentreFinal Session

Workshop 7: RMIT Peer Partnerships: supported professional development for continuous improvement in teaching

Angela Clarke and Dallas Wingrove, Senior Research Fellows

•Find a focus for the observation of your teaching
•Provide sensitive and constructive feedback for a colleague
•Establish and build networks of professional relationships with DSC sessional teaching staff.

See also:
Peer Partnerships http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/peerpartnerships

Workshop 8: Flexible delivery, Blackboard Collaborate & Google Sites

Erika Beljaars-Harris, Howard Errey and Andrea Wallace, Educational Developers, DSC

•Use iPads and other mobile devices for teaching and learning
•Use and manage Blackboard Collaborate
•Setup and manage Google Sites.

See also:
Teaching with Technology http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/technology
DevelopME http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/professionaldevelopment/training

School workshops: Talking about Learning and Teaching

School Senior Advisors of Learning and Teaching with School Liaison Librarians and School representatives

•Identify issues surrounding learning and teaching practice in your School
•Locate key learning and teaching resources at RMIT
•Discuss ways in which you can contribute and feel included in a collegial and supportive environment.

Final Workshop: CES and feedback

Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context

The final workshop for the day focused on what academic and teaching staff will be encountering now students have returned for remainder of the year.

See also:
FAQs about CES http://www.rmit.edu.au/ssc/ces/faq

As you can see from the range of what was covered (and with an hour limit for each workshop) the conversations have only just begun.

We have time to prepare well for our end of year symposium, continue constructive conversations in the Schools and time to develop a firm plan for ongoing learning and teaching support for sessional staff beyond this semester.

A few more useful links for Sessional Staff at RMIT University 

Quick guide for sessional staff http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching/sessional

Professional Development Calender http://www.rmit.edu.au/staff/professionaldevelopment/calendar

Learning and Teaching Unit http://www.rmit.edu.au/teaching

Senior Advisors, Learning and Teaching http://www.rmit.edu.au/dsc/learningteaching

If you have any questions please share them in the comments section or contact me (Kellyann Geurts) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching.

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.

Tools for paperless grading

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

Stack of papers

(cc) MorgueFile.com, Paper Stack, user: Ladyheart.

Just like the textbook-to-tablet trade that many students have made (cf. pilots and lawyers) lecturers and teachers might be able to save themselves lugging around reams of Reflex after assessments. Online submission, grading and return of student work could save you time and enable you to give richer, quicker feedback to your students.

Terms like ‘the paperless office’ and ‘paperless learning’ have come off the boil in recent years but both seem primed for a comeback in the tertiary setting. Web-based collaboration tools are closer to providing what lecturers and teachers need and (at least in Australia and industrialised nations) students are increasingly equipped with a smartphone, laptop or tablet: tools that potentially change the way people learn and capture their learning. I’m hesitant to say more than that because (with some exceptions) it seems to me that we use technology for the most part to present finished material and to view the finished material of others.

But without getting into the consumption/creation debate and whether these tools can really be used for deep learning, let’s recognise the utility of technologies even when they only streamline an existing modality. Here’s a simple manifestation of ‘going paperless’ as it applies to submitting, grading and returning students’ written work. Even though it relates to the technology and Learning Management System we use here at RMIT, I think the principles are transferable for those working in different educational contexts.
Recently I’ve assisted a few lecturers move their courses from using a physical drop-box to the electronic submission of assignments through Blackboard via Turnitin. For courses where written assessment makes up the majority of the submitted work, the advantages for the students are easy enough to sell:
  • an assessment declaration replaces the coversheet
  • submission is simple and can be done from anywhere in the world with an internet connection
  • students receive a digital receipt and can submit an assignment more than once if necessary.

The advantages for staff are pretty clear too. We’ve lifted the burden a little from professional staff (who were date-stamping and clearing items from a physical box and dealing with scores of papers) and enabled the teaching team to manage missing and late submissions (students with 7-day extensions or similar). Splitting the marking load between instructors can be done with a quick email using the generated reports if they are part of a larger team. Submissions are viewable just as the student submitted them (images are retained) and submissions are checked for originality, date-stamped, word-counted and cover-paged.

GradeMark's Rubric functionality

Click on the image to find out more about GradeMark.

There are still some tricky aspects to using Turnitin. These mean that you might need a guide through the process (someone using it already) or a visit to RMIT’s Teaching with Technology page. Compliance with TAFE assessments for instance (you’ll need to add details like the competency code in a separate field) and using it for group assignments (Turnitin is essentially set up to be a 1:1 submission interface) can be tricky but both of these problems have workarounds.

As an English teacher, the stack of physical papers, a favourite pen, a set of blank rubrics and plenty of coffee seemed like part of the profession. It often seemed preferable to more time looking at a computer screen. Sessional staff too might not have a suitable space to mark at work. Their office is their laptop/backpack/kitchen table or the university library. I’ve found most staff are still keen to print out submissions and most have good reasons to do this. But I also know some teachers who don’t let marking darken their doorstep. Student work stays at work or at least on the work laptop.

If the lack of a good on-screen solution to marking has stopped you in the past (maybe you’ve struggled with Word’s commenting function or you’ve used annotations with PDFs) it’s probably a good time to have a look at the current technologies.

RMIT lecturers now have the e-assessment option ‘GradeMark’ in Turnitin. GradeMark allows you (both online and offline) to annotate student work with your own comments, to build a comment bank and use pre-loaded comments (for grammar and expression for instance). The resulting layer is then there for the teacher (or student) to print out or view digitally. Rubrics in GradeMark are quite elegant too, not without their own quirks, but a much better implementation than Blackboard’s standard rubric function.

There’s also the feature of adding an audio comment that the student can hear once they log in to Blackboard to receive their grade. Lecturers and teachers have reported to me a reduction in time spent marking and a good student response too.

Shows a piece of annotated work at the beach on an iPad.

Click on the image to find out more about GradeMark.

The latest ‘Grade Anywhere’ advertisement from the Turnitin team shows an instructor using an iPad at a beach (or perhaps a cafe with a great water view) to comment on student work. Or maybe that iPad is being held by a lucky student. Either scenario might strike you as utopian/unsettling/nightmarish. But the iPad’s microphone and Turnitin’s rubric tool could be a good way to do that ‘opportunistic’ marking; smaller tasks where you want to provide quick feedback. I can imagine it being used successfully in studio-based subjects where students submit a handful of captioned images that show their work in progress.

The fact that marked work is available for download through the semester in Blackboard allows you to easily design a follow-up activity where your students genuinely review feedback (or even share it with their peers using a tool like Google Docs) before they tackle their next assessment.

Share your thoughts on paperless grading and anything related to making marker quicker, easier and a better experience for teachers and students! We’d love to hear them in the comments section below!

Keeping watch

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

Click to go to RMIT's Learning LabThe beginning of first year at university starts with a new physical environment, a new learning environment and even a new lifestyle. For school-leavers, gone are the teachers and the normal 9 till 3 classes and old school friends. The new environment is foreign, and to some intimidating. In comparison with the familiar, regular school schedule, this can leave some new students a bit bewildered and confused. In a different way, students who are returning to study after some years in the workplace (and those who haven’t studied in a tertiary institution) will probably be balancing work and family commitments.

All of this applies just as much to mid-year entry; an option that students are increasingly taking as we promise more flexible pathways through a qualification. Students who start mid-year might have a reduced range of orientation activities to participate in and feel less like part of the cohort.

Recent national figures indicate that about 18% of Australian students who commence as an undergraduate at a university in 2012 will not be at that university in 2013 (Devlin M, 2012).

Semesters are short, so students usually have to study from day one. They need help in the transition from secondary to tertiary education. A major part of this transition is moving from a somewhat dependent learner to an independent learner. This is a big challenge for young adults.

As tertiary educators we need to “keep watch” of these students in the first semester. I say “keep watch” rather than “take care” on purpose, as they are young adults. They mostly don’t need care, but monitoring to make sure they are academically progressing and not falling behind, as once behind in their work, their problems compound.

With study loads increasing, and work piling up, the easy solution for them is to withdraw and leave university, research as to why by academics Gail Huon and Melissa Sankey in a study at UNSW concludes:

“When we examined all variables that had been shown to be significant predictors of the consideration to discontinue, only three factors continued to have a significant association. Students’ perceptions of their workload, the number of paid work hours, and academic performance were associated with the decision to discontinue. The higher students’ academic performance, the less likely they had been to seriously consider discontinuing. It is important to note that academic performance has the most substantial contribution, when all other influences are taken into account.”

We can see that a student who is behind in their study program is potentially in trouble. Overwhelmed with their perceived load and general life stresses, it can seem that discontinuing is a real and easy way to solve their problems.

If academic performance is the most substantial factor in student perception to withdraw, as

Psychology students in a peer-mentoring program.

Psychology students in a peer-mentoring program.
© Margund Sallowsky (Photographer)

tertiary educators, we should be aware of and detect from an early stage in their first semester, how students are coping with their new environs and their academic load and test their involvement in a formative manner. This should occur in the first few weeks of the semester.

To “keep watch” we must have strategies to identify these students as well as strategies to help them. Whilst an early piece of assessment may seem to them initially as an instant hurdle, it will help to evaluate if the students are on track. Examples of how we can assess a students progress could be a simple online quiz about your course’s basic concepts, participation in a discussion in class or online, or even a small reflection. The data from Blackboard can be used to see whether your students are looking at course materials or whether they’ve looked ahead to the main assessment.

Devlin (2012) also suggests connecting “at risk” students with other students. This could include running a camp in the first few weeks to build a support community, or running classes or tutorials with students from all years of the program in one room. This is common in ‘vertical’ design studios at RMIT, which not only provides for the opportunity of peer learning interactions, but also means that senior students become peer mentors for the first year students. A number of student mentor programs are in place across the university.

All students should have access to Study Skills tutorials, both online and face to face. We may teach a first year Architecture student design, but are we teaching tertiary study skills to our new tertiary students?

As well as conducting an early assessment, at RMIT, services are available to assist students with their study skills. It is up to course co-ordinators and tutors to check in the first few weeks of semester one, that students are coping with the school-university transition, and advise them of the help available.

And consider a formative assessment for your students in the first few weeks of semester. Maybe you can take time out in one of your classes, if you haven’t already, to point students to the help that is available to them before it’s too late.

Resources available online and at RMIT University, Melbourne:

RMIT Learning Lab
A comprehensive online site with Study Skills, English Language development, Maths Help, Assessment tasks help, Writing skills and also help for new postgraduate students. (http://emedia.rmit.edu.au/learninglab/)

Library Tutorial
Library tutorials include pages to improve students research, referencing and information finding skills. (http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=fg3oadj847l01)

Study and Learning Centre
A place where students can go and get face-to-face study skills advice and English Language development tools. (http://www.rmit.edu.au/browse;ID=vaatmxwjav8k)

References:

Huon G. & Sankey M. (2000) The transition to University, Understanding Differences in Success, http://fyhe.com.au/conference/past-papers

Devlin M, First Year Survival Guide, The Age, Jan 16 2012, http://www.theage.com.au/national/tertiary-education/first-year-a-survival-guide-20120116-1q267.html#ixzz2S5UrDCv0

Share your thoughts about mid-year orientation in the comments below!

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