Tag Archives: transition

If you’re just joining us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to RMIT!

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

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 2

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the previous post.)

4Rs of Reflection

Reporting and responding

Reflective learning is a wicked skill (Knight, 2007). It has slippery definitions, is seen differently by different people, and is often treated as omnipresent rather than teachable. My response to this issue has been to find out a bit more about it. I needed evidence about things like… What constitutes reflective learning? What are the conditions under which it can happen or is taught? What do people do in different disciplines? How can it be expressed? Is it assessable?

Relating

I started by drawing on my own experiences. I realised that in my own teaching I was making assumptions about students’ knowledge of how to write an effective text, their abilities to analyse and weigh up a situation, and their skills in identifying a key issue (for them) upon which to reflect. I soon became conscious of the need for a teaching intervention. I couldn’t leave this to chance – particularly for those students for whom English was not their first language or for those who were first in their family to attend university or who had entered university through pathways other than senior schooling. So I decided some serious research was needed to help me work out how this could be improved for students in higher education. Fortunately, the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) agreed that this was an important issue and they funded a project over two years.

Reasoning

I turned to learning theories such as Kalantzis and Cope’s Science of Learning through knowledge processes, Bloom’s taxonomy and others. A common factor across these theories was the view that learning was an active rather than passive process and that students can move from basic understandings to quite complex thinking skills of critical analysis and reasoning.  I scoured the literature on reflective learning and practice and found that it is generally accepted that there are levels of reflective thinking or learning, moving from basic identification of an issue, to dialogic thinking back and forth, to deep, transformative reflection that can change ideas or practice – hence the 4Rs that I’m using to reflect here (nothing like practicing what you preach). Plus I started to annoy plenty of colleagues at QUT – asking them about their own practices in teaching reflective learning. My colleague (Michael Ryan) and I developed the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) Model: (See Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field). The model considers the pedagogic field of higher

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Figure 1: Populating the Pedagogic Field (click to enlarge).

education as a space that enables increasingly more complex ideas and professional attributes to be attained (vertical axis) as students move through their degree (horizontal axis). It suggests that students can:

  • begin by reflecting on their own views and practices as a novice in the field,
  • incorporate the views and practices of others in the field,
  • reach the final goal of critically reflecting on self in relation to experienced colleagues and clients as a beginning professional.

The practical aspects of the model are the teaching patterns that are mapped to show at which point in a program they have been successful and the level of complex thinking that they can achieve. The benefits of this approach include minimising replication of activities across a program, ensuring that reflective activities are increasingly more sophisticated across a program and introducing a shared language for staff and students.

Reconstructing

I’ve learnt that a smorgasbord of reflective activities is not useful to develop levels of complexity across a program. I’ve learnt that we can’t make assumptions about students’ skills in this area. I’ve realised the importance of a shared language across programs and consistency in language within a course. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that higher education teachers really make a difference. If they prioritise and explicitly teach reflective learning, students can progress to those deep levels of self-reflection. New applications of this work have been in areas of peer review – teaching students how to write a reflective and useful review and how to respond reflectively to peer feedback; as well as teaching students how to evaluate university teaching and courses in a more reflective way as co-contributors to the learning experience. From here, I think I need to work more with academic staff in helping them to implement some of the great resources and strategies from the project.

References:

Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on reflection in the comments section!

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Reflecting on reflection: Part 1

Posted by: Mary Ryan, Associate Professor and Higher Degree Research Coordinator in the Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. 

The project team thanks the Office of the Dean of Learning and Teaching and Associate Professor Andrea Chester, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching, DSC for supporting the Inclusive Conversation Series.

(This post has been broken into two parts- click here to go to the next post where I apply the 4Rs to my own experiences.)

Reflective practice is often described as being as much a state of mind or attitude as it is a set of activities. It requires educators to assess themselves and their practice and as a result of this process become, “conscious agents in their own pedagogy” (Griffiths: 2010).

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 11.45.45 AM

A/Prof Mary Ryan at the Inclusive Conversation Series March 2014 © RMIT University, 2014, Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

My work as a teacher of undergraduate and postgraduate Education students for many years has shown me how much students can benefit from explicit teaching of critical reflection to improve their learning. This has motivated my work on developing students’ reflective learning capacities over several years — first as a teacher working directly with students and in the past few years supporting other teachers, program coordinators and support staff to develop a systematic curriculum model with practical strategies and resources that builds students’ capacities in reflective learning.

At the end of this page I’ve provided some resources that could help you in your teaching and in Part 2 I’ll share my reflections (on reflection) using this 4R model.

When educators reflect on their teaching, their practice improves. Students can also benefit when they reflect on their learning experience or practice. Murphy (2011) states the act of reflecting on an experience or critical incident, leads to students making deeper connections to the concepts they are learning beyond the rote memorisation or simple completion, resulting in students experiencing an ‘a-ha’ moment.

Reflective learning is a way for students to:

  • develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills

  • consider different possibilities and actions

  • link old ideas with new ones

  • stimulate creative solutions

  • encourage life-long learning

  • draw on evidence to plan future actions

  • improve practice

  • create cohesiveness across a course/program. (Ryan, 2014)

How can I integrate reflection into teaching and assessment?

Designing a practice of reflection means both clarifying the purposes it needs to serve and identifying opportunities for reflection in students’ work that are realistic and yet occur at the right intervals with sufficient depth to be meaningful (Murphy 2011).

At RMIT, there are a number of teaching staff who have introduced reflective practice into their curriculum in courses such as Fashion and Textiles, International Development (GUSS), and Media and Communication to name just a few. And there would be countless staff who use the word ‘reflection’ in a task or in assessment criteria. What makes our project special is the real examples of reflection shown within their discipline. These patterns have been linked (where appropriate) to professional standards for the accrediting bodies and plotted on a graph to

Populating the Pedagogic Field

Populating the Pedagogic Field

show how they increase in complexity, or how they move from simulated to real experiences. (See the figure: ‘Populating the Pedagogic Field’ to the right and click to expand.)

Some examples have been selected here from the Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki to illustrate how you could introduce reflective practice into the course. The patterns include teaching resources including annotated examples of reflective writing, and student blogs:

Analysing Reflective Texts (ART),

Mapping Critical Incidents – Foundation (MCIF)

Reflections Around Artefacts (RAA)

Reflection as a Professional Activity during Service Learning (RPA)

Resources:

The Developing Reflective Approaches to Writing (DRAW) Wiki: holds the teaching patterns and common resources for over 20 patterns that are being used in different disciplines. The DRAW website (http://www.drawproject.net)provides a short summary of the project and references.

References:

Knight, P 2007, Fostering and assessing ‘wicked’ competences, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Murphy, KR, 2011, ‘Student reflective practice – building deeper connections to concepts’, ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 25

Ryan, ME & Ryan, MC 2013, ‘Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol 32, no. 5, pp. 244-257.

Ryan, ME, 2014, Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning in Higher Education, Inclusive Conversation Series, RMIT, March 2014 presentation.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching and assessment in the comments section! Click here to read Part 2 of this post!

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First impressions

Posted by: Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching & Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Andrea is a member of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project working to develop resources and deliver professional development to staff.

Sign in a school bus reads: 'Keep Out. Please put on seatbelt + be quiet + behave. Thanks'

A sign in a school’s excursion bus at the Old Melbourne Gaol this week.

As the saying goes, ‘You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.’

This week, across Australia, thousands of lecturers and tutors will be meeting their new students or welcoming back continuing students.

In Vocational Education, classes have been back for almost a month, but still, it’s early days.

It’s obvious that getting off on the right foot and creating the right environment for students has a special importance in tertiary education. For one thing, in a 12-16 week delivery schedule, the feeling that time is precious is understandable.

In wanting students to take our course seriously, in the feeling that we’re competing for the mindshare of their course load, in rushing about, is there a risk of putting up a sign (metaphorically) like the bus driver (or the staff who share driving duties) in the picture to the left? Note the ‘Keep Out’ in red and the tiny ‘Thanks’ at the right. What messages are we sending students in their first classes?

So this post is just a quick reminder that in the midst of all the organisational and administrative tasks we should still hold our personal philosophy of education front-and-centre and be enacting the strategies and principles that brought us through university as learners, and that brought us to university to teach.

The Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project has a set of principles that might help you see that big picture (or the jigsaw pieces of the bigger picture that are your courses) and we can’t think of a better time of the year (at least for our southern hemisphere audience) than now to put them in front of readers. Each of the following links has an associated page with key questions, resources and examples of the principle in use:

Getting a piece of writing from your students in a class early in your teaching schedule is an easy diagnostic tool. You’ll get to know a key aspect of their learning skill set and coupled with a quick survey you can get an impression of what your students expect from the course. Perhaps you teach online (or you’ve taken these elements of your course online) and you use a discussion board or blog for this. You can probably see how this simple task hits many of the principles above– if you’ve asked students what was their inspiration to study a certain discipline; if you’ve read the responses and turned them around to the students quickly; if you’ve then provided the means for them to share their responses and maybe organise themselves in study groups based on this for the first assessment, you’re establishing an environment that is ‘feedback rich’.

But what about longer pieces of writing? What about supporting your students in documenting their progress in your course?

Next week, there’s an opportunity for all staff at RMIT as Associate Professor Mary Ryan (School of Education, QUT) delivers a lecture and workshop on the Teaching and Assessing Reflective Learning (TARL) model that she and her team developed in a recent OLT project.

Professor Ryan will explain how the systematic approach can be used to embed the pedagogy of reflective writing across courses in different disciplines.  The workshop will explore the suite of pedagogical patterns and accompanying resources for systematically teaching and assessing reflective practice underpinned by the TARL and EPC models.

Lecture: Teaching and Assessing Reflective Writing
Thursday 13 March 2014
11.30 am – 12.30 pm
Building 80, Level 1, Room 2
Workshops: Teaching and Assessing Reflective Writing
Thursday 13 March 2014
12.30 – 2.20 pm
Building 13, Level 3, Room 5 (City)
Or
Friday 14 March 2014
11.00 am – 12.30 pm
Building 514, Level 1, Room 2 (Brunswick)

Registration for the workshops is essential. Space is limited. Click here to register (RMIT Login required).

Oh, and on the topic of first impressions, we’d also like to mention two blogs that have made good impressions on us during the break and will be of particular interest to casual, sessional and part time staff:

We recently added them to our blogroll (right of screen)– go visit their site for more perspectives on starting the year.

Share your thoughts on first impressions, inclusive teaching and reflective writing in the comments section!
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Donning a pirate’s patch for your students

Posted by:  Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Andrea is a member of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project working to develop resources and deliver professional development to staff.

Pirate5With the project team busy working on things behind the scenes, on Friday 7 June, Professor James Arvanitakis launched the Inclusive Teaching Conversation Series, sharing his experiences of life at university. The stories and experiences he shared with us started from his first day at university. As a first in family student, he recounted how he sat through his first lecture (for film studies, which wasn’t one of his courses) and, based on the advice of his mother, carried both his passport (so people knew who he was) and a container of lamb to feed new friends.

His first year wasn’t brilliant in terms of grades and it would be fair to say that after being called into the Dean’s office (where it was suggested he might be better following his father’s footsteps into a trade) a young James could have been part of that statistic we call ‘attrition’. Luckily for us (and his current students) James completed his studies and after an early career that involved stretches in the finance and not-for-profit sectors, he returned to university for postgraduate study and eventually to teach.

He received the Prime Minister’s Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year in 2012, and now teaches into large classes at University of Western Sydney where the student cohort is culturally diverse and where a large percentage of students are also the first in their family to attend university.

James’ focus on the student is evident in almost everything he speaks about. By donning his pirate eye patch, he challenges conventional delivery techniques and has introduced new strategies which he continually tweaks including the use of social media. Alongside his research and publication interests, he keeps his teaching material current and engages with his students by letting them use their language to unpack topics such as gender and racism.

It got me thinking about my first experience of tertiary education, moving from assisting academics and researchers doing field work, to becoming a mature-aged student sitting in a lecture theatre listening to the theories of Freud. As a mature-aged student, I thought I understood what it meant to study. I thought I would fly through my degree and its assessments. But the reality was quite different. I remember the pressures of working part-time (to pay my mortgage, student fees and to eat!), learning how to write an essay and understanding that I was expected to interact with my lecturers and ask questions.  Along with assignments, group work and

Professor James Arvanitakis addresses staff at RMIT.becoming a critical thinker I was also trying to maintain some sort of a social life.  And if you’d asked me what I wanted to do with my degree, little did I know that some of the position descriptions I’ve ended up with didn’t exist in 1987. The same can be said for this student cohort, will they walk into a job after graduation that didn’t exist 10 years ago?

Sitting in the workshops that accompanied the launch and observing James’ teaching, he modelled many of the principles for inclusive teaching during each of the workshops. So for those of you who have not accessed the new pages, I would strongly suggest that you visit each of the principles and its supporting strategies. The strategies can be used for you in two ways, as a guide to help you design your practice to ensure that it’s inclusive or as a tool to reflect upon and refine your teaching:

As a project team, we invite staff in each of the three colleges to share with us any resources that you have developed which reflect inclusive teaching approaches and if you would like to be involved in promoting or working alongside the project team to incorporate inclusive teaching strategies into your teaching we encourage you to make contact with us!

The Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project Team New resources and professional development opportunities will be announced through various channels once they are uploaded and available for use by staff.

Don’t forget that you can find the rubrics on the English Language Development Project page in the Teaching Resources area of the RMIT staff webpage.  Please contact Barbara Morgan at the Study and Learning Centre for more information (barbara.morgan@rmit.edu.au).

All photos in this post are © RMIT University. Photographer: Carmelo Ortuso.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching and assessment in the comments section!

The librarian, the academic, the student…

Posted by: June Frost, Liaison Librarian, University Library, Bundoora West Campus, RMIT University.

I recently came across this description of my library colleagues in an Oxford University student’s column:

When it is not attacking other creatures librarianus spectacalus spends most of its time catching the unsuspecting rectangular creature bookius bookius in the strange firm linear webs with which they line their mountain caves.  But librarianus does not eat bookius bookius; instead they catch it for the strange effect it produces when they stare at its underbelly.

rowsofbooksAcademic librarians are a strange breed of people. Of course, there are variations within the breed: some like to catalogue and organise information, some like to present information by using the latest gadgets, some like to verbally impart information (sometimes endlessly it seems), some (just a few) like to keep information secret, but almost all of us love to share information in one way or another. It’s not difficult to distinguish the key word here – INFORMATION! We love the opportunity to share information with our colleagues, teachers, lecturers and researchers and with our families (much to their dismay). Here is a typical exchange:

- How was your day, Mum?
– Oh, really good today. Did you see my post on Facebook about RMIT Library’s new LibrarySearch function? It’s just like doing a Google search except you find all the Library resources on one topic including e-books, e-articles and streaming video?
– Oh, great Mum – hope you didn’t make it public!

But most of all, we love sharing information with students who at certain times of the year, are our biggest fans.  It might be that StudentonmobilephoneatRMITthey’ve never used a certain database or that they hadn’t realised they can access a resource from their iPad or maybe they’ve hit a tricky concept in one of their courses. They might not know it, but they’re usually looking to fill a gap in their information skill-set.

Information skills

Information /ɪnfəˈmeɪʃ(ə)n/ (International Phonetic Alphabet)

  • facts provided or learned about something or someone: a vital piece of information.

(from Oxford Dictionaries Online.)

Traditionally, information skills sessions takes place in the first few weeks of a semester, when students are reeling from information overload.  It doesn’t matter whether they are starting a TAFE certificate or beginning research for a PhD, there’s a lot to take in.  The Library homepage contains a plethora of – you guessed it—INFORMATION, and students need to learn the skills to navigate (we also love the word ‘navigate’) their way around and through this information, until ‘Bingo!’ they find what they are looking for.  To get to the ‘Bingo!’ moment, it’s quite understandable that most students will need some help in: firstly, recognising they need information; secondly, selecting the right method to find the information; thirdly, finding ways to locate, disseminate and store the information; fourthly, synthesising and evaluating the information; and lastly, deciding on the methods to present the information.

Time Pressures

A study by Kent state University Researchers which collected data from higher education institutions across 17 states in the USA found that the biggest barrier to including information skills (or IL: information literacy) in teacher education programs was time:

It makes sense that barriers remained consistent whether educators were trying to integrate IL skills or IL standards. Since most courses consist of well-established content, it is not surprising that lack of time and lack of their own expertise in IL were identified as major hurdles. These responses highlight another possible benefit of collaboration; a librarian, looking at a course from a different perspective, may be able to suggest ways that existing content and assignments can be slightly modified to include important IL skills and knowledge. Kovalik, et al (2010) p.62

I suspect the same might be said of RMIT or indeed across the nation.  It does take time for course coordinators and lecturers to firstly talk to or LIAISE (another of our favourite words) with librarians, schedule in an information skills session and then find a time to incorporate it into the busy course schedule, but it will be worth the effort.

The Solution

StudentreachingforbookatRMITOne solution to this may be to rethink the timing of library skills sessions in the academic year.  How about scheduling a session mid-semester when the student’s first major assessment piece is being delivered?  If the librarian has access to the assignment question and themes, the skills session can then be tailored to the question and the students can walk away with not only skills but some actual resources to set them on their way. For flexibility, we could also ensure this information is available online for students who prefer to learn from their bedroom floor…speaking as someone with teenage children.

For myself, I will happily impart information to students at any time of the year, but by trying to strategically place these research sessions at the right point of the calendar, it may produce better outcomes.

Maybe it could further cement our libraries as AWESOME, SICK and KOOL (yes that’s how they spell it now!) places on campus.  Or to use the IPA/ˈɔːs(ə)m//sɪk/ and /kuːl/.

Share your thoughts about campus libraries and information skills in the comments below!

Reference:

Kovalik, C. L., Jensen, M. L., Schloman, B., & Tipton, M. (2010). Information literacy, collaboration, and teacher education. Communications in Information Literacy, 4(2), 145-169. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/865649314?accountid=13552. 1 February 2013

What is inclusive teaching, and why is it important?

Guest Post by Dr Kylie Murphy, Academic Development Group, College of Science Engineering and Health.

Students browse bookshelves at Carlton Library

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky

Access and equity are hot topics in Australian higher education lately. The university sector is under pressure to massify. Rather than reinforcing the social class structure, Australian universities are now tasked with the challenge of helping students to transgress social class boundaries and break generations-old cycles of economic disadvantage. Indeed, there are significant financial incentives for universities around attracting and retaining students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. University teaching staff should be in no doubt about the importance of supporting more first-in-family students to come to higher education and ‘stay the course’.

What should we do?

But how are university teachers supposed to help students who lack the sociocultural capital of more ‘traditional’ university students to persist with their studies and succeed? Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds not only lack the financial resources of their middle and upper class peers. Many also:

  • have less time and space in which to study
  • lack the academic literacies taught more readily in selective-school classrooms
  • lack the language skills often modelled from birth by tertiary educated parents and
  • lack the understanding, support, and advice of university-experienced friends and family members.

If success in higher education is to be more accessible to socioeconomically disadvantaged students, perhaps we need to make it easier for all students to get a degree than in the past?

Are more lenient standards the answer?

Lowering academic standards or reducing the expected capabilities of graduates is, of course, not the answer.

Two students studying at Brunswick Library

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky

Australia’s economic health (to say nothing of other social benefits) needs more people who are as knowledgeable and skilful as graduates have long been, not an increased number of graduates who are less capable than before. Undergraduate degree students each bring tens of thousands of dollars to the university they are enrolled at. To attract increased and more diverse student enrolments and then simply lower the bar for students to step over is, if nothing else, completely unethical. The answer, instead, lies in transforming universities into places of truly inclusive teaching.

How can inclusive teaching help?

If inclusive teaching doesn’t mean lowering academic standards, what does it mean? Broadly, it means teaching in such a way that maximises the capacity of all students to reach meaningful standards of success. In other words, it means teaching so that all students in the course can meet the learning objectives. It’s not surprising, then, that there are many ways to conceptualise inclusive teaching. But while writers in this field may revel in exploring the complexities of inclusive education as an abstraction, a stack of slightly differing definitions and conceptual deconstructions are of little help to academics who just want to know how to teach their next class more inclusively or how to re-design an assessment piece for greater inclusivity.

What makes teaching inclusive?

Inclusive teaching manifests as many specific practices, adapted and contextualised as appropriate to the area of study and learning objectives in question. Instead of itemising possible inclusive practices, here, I offer three criteria that stand out to me as ready litmus tests for determining whether or not any particular thing that we do as a teacher or lecturer is ‘inclusive’. When selecting content for a course, when devising, explaining, and providing feedback on learning and assessment activities, and when otherwise communicating with our students, these three questions are critical considerations:

1        Will this content, range of activities, communication style, feedback, etcetera allow all of my students to feel respected and valued — or might some students feel overlooked and unengaged?

2        Will it help all of my students to maintain or develop enough confidence in themselves, in my approachability, and in the relevance and flexibility of the curriculum so that they will persist when challenges arise — or might students with more than their fair share of obstacles become disheartened and give up? and

3        Will it help all of my students to move step-by-step from the knowledge and skills they each have, now, to the knowledge and skills that I want them ultimately to attain — or does it fail to clearly communicate the steps required?

An attitude more than a checklist

I see inclusive teaching as an attitude as much as a checklist of actions. To me, it’s an ongoing process of aspiring to answer ‘yes’ to the above three questions regarding every aspect of our teaching and assessment practice, even though the implicit ideals are not always achievable. In my own teaching, I try to satisfy the above three criteria — aiming to help all of my students to feel respected and valued, to feel confident enough to keep trying despite setbacks, and to achieve the learning objectives in an appropriately scaffolded way — but I sometimes run short on the necessary resources, including time and know-how. And I know my efforts don’t always work for every one of my students. There are some factors that affect student learning and success that teachers simply cannot change.

Something to be proud of

Student Services Office, Bundoora Campus

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky

Inclusive teaching is not easy and it’s no panacea. However, our many teaching staff at RMIT who do continually try to enable all of our students to feel respected, to feel confident enough to persist despite difficulties, and to ultimately achieve the intended learning outcomes — even though they don’t always achieve these objectives with every student — are important agents of social change and incredibly valuable assets to the University. For those vulnerable students whom our inclusive teaching efforts have helped, and do help, the positive impact of our efforts, especially combined with the efforts of other inclusive teachers and student support staff, is potentially enormous.

Learn more

Read what Australian low socioeconomic status students say about inclusive teachers, and what inclusive Australian academics say about low socioeconomic status students, at www.lowses.edu.au. This website contains well-researched practical advice for university teachers and policy makers. And stay tuned for RMIT’s launch of its own professional development and support opportunities arising from the University’s Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices project.

Get Onboard

The transformation of higher education institutions from places of exclusivity and pre-existing privilege to places of inclusivity and life-changing opportunity is well underway in Australia. Australian universities now serve students of varying levels of socioeconomic advantage, including students from under-privileged backgrounds who we know, with good teaching, perform as well as or better than their wealthier peers. But, still, students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds remain proportionally underrepresented in Australian university enrolments.

The challenge lies, of course, not only in attracting more high-potential socioeconomically disadvantaged students to our universities, but also in ensuring that we capitalise on their potential, maintain their confidence and motivation, and appropriately scaffold their pathways to success once they arrive with us. This two-pronged challenge is being addressed on a global scale, including in the UK and the US as well as in Australia. Whether it’s social justice or economic pressure that drives you to teach as inclusively as you can, the imperative is strong — and it’s not going away.

Share your thoughts on inclusive teaching strategies in our comments section!

The last class

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

Sunset over waterIt’s nearly the end of semester and you will be thinking about the last class with your students. How memorable do you want it to be? Will it involve a celebration or will it be a protestant lock down until the bell goes? Is there content still to be mopped up or revision needed for looming exams? Perhaps it will incorporate a flourishing submission of the final assignment or coverage of logistical details like exam timetables, collection of assignments and completion of course surveys. Will the spirit of the class be an ungainly scrabble for closure or will it be a time for considered reflection?

The last class of the course is an opportunity to acknowledge the passing of time spent together as a community of learners. There is a sense of relief in having conquered the learning schedule presented at the first class but there may possibly be a sense of regret that perhaps not all expectations in the room have been met. It is a surety that you won’t be coming together in this course any more to discuss, challenge, ponder and learn together and perhaps that is a little sad. But it is also a time to affirm what has been achieved in those hours spent in company and to give space for the sense of wonder about the meanings that each student has made of the subject area and how they have demonstrated what they have learnt.

Will your students be feeling that they have arrived and are ready to move on?

Will the last class be a time to celebrate the community that has come together for 12 weeks, and acknowledge their pride and achievements, both collectively and individually?

Will it allow students a safe space to express their disappointments, talk about their interpretations of events and share their frustrations?

The final class is a transition space where students are about to leave familiar territory and embark on another beginning, whether that be to progress to the next stage of their study or to graduate from university. Will the final time together be about what has happened and what’s ahead? The time they have spent together with you is not an isolated event in their study but a bridge in their journey of learning. Have they been able to make their own meaningful connections with course content and previous experiences to create new knowledge and understanding that will be relevant to the future possibilities before them?

Is the final assessment a part of that experience of moving forwards? Is it a recap or an opening? What sort of feedback will you give them? Perhaps you could ask what they would specifically like to receive feedback on for their last assignment? They should now be in a better position to know what they need for their next steps of learning.

In the last class I will have with my students, I want them to celebrate the time together both as learners and as a community and to reflect on how they have learned as well as what they have learned to strengthen what has happened during the semester. I want them to revisit the objectives and expectations they stated at the beginning of the course and consider how well these were met and whether they feel more prepared for whatever is next in the their learning. I want them to own the experience of the semester and feel that the effort they put in as learners and a community was worthwhile and relevant for what’s ahead.

The types of questions I will consider asking them to ‘Think, Pair and Share’ include:

  • What did I expect to learn in this course? Did I learn it?
  • How have my opinions and views changed as a result of this course?
  • One thing I will take from this course is… because…
  • I would like to learn more about…

(See Humboldt State University’s page: The Last Day of Class: Beginning at the End for further suggestions).

Activities like these can shift the focus from marks and grades by getting students to think about their learning and celebrate and own their achievements, to find closure for the time and effort they committed to your course and to consider where this experience can lead them next.

Share your thoughts about finishing a course and final activities in the comments below!

“Guess what I want!”

Posted by Ruth Moeller.

Just like that, I was taken back to my first year of university –  when I thought you had to be very clever to be at university (and not sure that I was) and I had no idea what was expected and how I would give the lecturer what she wanted in my essay. 

Quite a chilling moment really – what brought about this flashback I hear you ask?

I was working with an academic on the subject she teaches to first semester, first year students.  Reading the assessments she was setting her students, I was confused and didn’t understand what was wanted, in fact I felt stupid. I could guess what was required but I really wasn’t sure and I have many years of academic study behind me.

I asked about assessment criteria, was there a rubric, were the students given samples of what was expected?  The answer was “No”. She agreed that these could be helpful but didn’t really know how to go about setting this up. Also as an aside, she did mention that there were several tutors who marked this subject, 10 in fact, and they all had their own ideas – imagine the students in the tutor/assessment/marking lottery!

I was struck by the fact that here was a dedicated teacher, looking at her subject, and particularly assessment, through the lens of many years of academic experience and a high level of academic literacy. Her student cohort, on the other hand, first semester, first year students, most of whom would find being at university daunting, let alone assessments that were framed with the underpinning premise of “guess what I want”. 

I need to say that this academic wasn’t ‘bad’, in fact she was concerned about the struggles of her students, without realising she was contributing significantly to them.

A starting point was to think about these students as transitioning into the university coming from school, work and range of experiences and backgrounds, all converging at the one point. Here is an opportunity to establish good academic practice and help develop their confidence.

So, what do students need when they move into tertiary study? When I think about me as a school leaver and even as a mature age student, I wanted to know what was expected of me, how to pass and how to fit in. Surprisingly, or not, I am not alone, these expectations are common for students transitioning to all aspects of tertiary life. (For more about student transition see the work of Sally Kift.)

With this in mind, the first thing I encourage teaching staff to do is make students feel welcome, learn names (use labels or name plates), give a clear overview of what they will be learning and why, and also how you will be teaching and the best ways to be ‘successful’.  With regards to knowing students names, others may have different opinions: in discussion, with a colleague, I was surprised, if not horrified, to hear that he deliberately doesn’t learn names, believing students prefer to be anonymous!

As you know universities have a range of student services available – they usually have a high profile for students during campus orientation but to be effective, transition should go beyond the sausage sizzle, show bags and information session and be integrated into your semester’s teaching. I have involved the academic support services in my classes to give a presentation on how they could assist students in the first assessment task. Another colleague cunningly incorporates a library session and annotated bibliography into the first assessment task to ensure students engage with services that can support them in their further tertiary education.

On the matter of assessment, (the prime focus of students), they want to know what, how and whyWhat is required, how it will be judged (ie. assessment criteria) and why this assessment (ie. its relationship to their learning). With regards to the what, not just from a content perspective, but also in the presentation of that content – the academic literacy. Once completed, they want to know a further how – how they did and how they can improve. This is why feedback is so important.

To help students, something I have been using in my own teaching for a wiki based assessment is an example of what ‘good’ looks like; a sample of the product and standard required for a task at the level they are studying. I have to say that this has reduced many of the questions and anxiety around the task as the students don’t have to guess what good looks like.

Back to my starting point, if you put students into the position of “guess what I want”, they will, with differing levels of success, high levels of frustration and the odd bit of ambivalence. Perhaps then, it’s better to not put them in this situation at all by providing some clarity around what we do want and how they could provide it.

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