Running repairs

Posted by: Jon Hurford, L&T Group, Design and Social Context College, RMIT.

Image: RMIT’s Graduate of the Year, Dean Benstead and his air-powered motorcycle at the 2011 Sydney Motorcycle and Scooter Show. Courtesy of RMIT News.

With less than a month of teaching remaining in the semester, now might be a good time to conduct some running repairs to your course. In this post I’ll put forward that reflection, in a couple of forms, is the first step to these repairs. With some form of summative assessment probably on the horizon, you might also encourage your students to take part in a similar exercise.

It’s only natural that by this time of the semester you’ve probably had a guest-speaker cancel, a room-booking gone awry or a dip in student attendance. Some of your students may have had health problems; you yourself may have had to take leave.

Remind students of your office hours or contact details and publish a quick review of what’s been covered. These reassurances (the breadcrumbs back to successful completion) will  go a long way to relieve the anxiety of those who are feeling like they have lost touch with your course. Look at this post from earlier in the year on the teaching tomtom to jog your thoughts on assessment, reflection and the student perspective.

A course survey might also be looming, so it’s important that your reflective course-correction isn’t seen by students as anything that smacks of a lack of confidence or simply as pre-polling; survey fatigue can be a drag, both for students and on your scores. So what else can you do, and importantly, how can you get your students participating in this work?

First you probably need to cover the basics by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have you covered the learning outcomes and made them clear to students?
  • Has the course content and assessment allowed exploration and demonstration of the learning outcomes?
  • Are there program capabilities targeted in your course that could provide the industry or disciplinary context to what’s being studied? Do students understand the bigger picture of what this course is trying to achieve?

A quick review might reveal a learning outcome, a tricky skill or concept, or a program capability that you realise has been skimmed over (or that you simply haven’t treated in the depth that you would have liked). It’s not too late to fill in those gaps!

And if that checklist seems complete you might be ready to look at the really big picture:

It will be up to you to determine what level (and therefore which schema) you think is most valuable to share with your students. A first year course in TAFE differs from a capstone course in a Masters; the latter probably lends itself more to the six graduate attributes. For first year students it probably wouldn’t hurt to quickly traverse the path from an assessment item that has already been completed, through to a program capability. This way you’re showing students the throughline, or the path, of their current and future studies.

Similarly, wouldn’t it be valuable for students who may have been at RMIT for just three months to be picturing themselves as graduates of their program? This is the expectancy-value theory of motivation as used by Biggs and Tang (2007) in practice: “…a commonsense theory of why students do or do not want to learn…which says that if anyone is to engage in an activity, he or she needs both to value the outcome and to expect success in achieving it.”

Whichever level you choose to look at, it’s important to get a sense of whether the students also feel these aspects of the course have been covered, in short, to validate your own perceptions. Work out the best way to get this feedback in a quick and genuine way. It might be as simple as issuing sticky notes and having students write down what they feel has been covered and what they’re still unsure of. For more ideas on different feedback approaches see the following RMIT tip-sheets:

Providing feedback to students
Motivating students and stimulating interest

Once you’ve got this feedback you need to set up a space to get the students working on it. If you’re not already using a blog or the tools on Blackboard, this could be your opportunity to start.

Using whichever schema you feel is appropriate (the criteria for the final assessment, learning outcomes, program capabilities, graduate attributes) set up a space for your students to do the work and determine what work needs doing. It could be as simple as a topic set up on Blackboard where students can discuss their understanding of the criteria for the final assessment.

You could even create a handle or a hashtag on Twitter for your course. This will create a chronologically-organised microblog that could form a quick course review linking to longer articles on the web. Or it could simply point students back to great conversations that you’ve observed, or participated in, on the discussion board.

Hashtags like #flipclass, #blackboard and #teqsa, are all shortcuts into posts, communities and current articles that have been recently mentioned on the teaching tomtom. But if you’re not willing to take that step, Blackboard announcements could be used to achieve a similar outcome.

So my tip is to make use of the thinking that has been embedded into your course and your institution; make use of the schema at hand, whether it’s at course, program or graduate attribute level.

At the risk of labouring the metaphor, in this home-stretch of first semester, what tips can you share with others about finishing the semester with confidence?

References

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for Quality Learning in University. 3rd ed. Berkshire: Open University Press.

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