Teaching Awards – worth the paperwork?

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

Students listening to lecture, Working Men's College c.1920-1930

Students listening to a lecture in the Francis Ormond Building, Working Men’s College (now RMIT) c.1920-1930

The RMIT Teaching Awards have just been launched for this year so it’s that time when we think about evidencing good teaching practice. There’s discussion of why – and why not – someone might go forward for an award, the benefits of the process and what’s involved. Having worked with nominees and recipients over the past few years, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

I also spoke to Kerry Mullan (who recently received a Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning from the ALTC (now OLT)) to get the perspective of a recent award recipient.

From my experience, the main reason people apply is that they’ve been encouraged by their colleagues. It’s a generalisation, but we (both here at RMIT and more broadly speaking in Australia) probably don’t have a culture where individuals seek awards or recognition for doing their job well.*

After nomination, the next step, where applicants write about themselves and their teaching – and back that up with clear evidence – does not usually come naturally. It’s hard work and a new style of writing and evidence gathering is needed.

While it’s great to receive recognition for your hard work (by receiving an award or even just being nominated) what are the other benefits of developing a Teaching Award application? Talking to Kerry confirmed my suspicion that it can be a highly rewarding process. Writing and developing an application with associated evidence can help you:

  • find that point of difference/innovation/excellence in your teaching: It may help you to realise what you do is ‘special’ after all
  • refine your practice and try new ideas, while re-affirming what you do well (as well as highlighting any gaps)
  • reflect on what you do in learning and teaching and how you support student learning as a whole, beyond just activities in classroom
  • develop a base of material that can later be reworked into a publication on your scholarship and/or practice of learning and teaching, seek promotion, or develop new ideas to apply in your teaching
  • find and create opportunities to discuss your teaching practice/philosophy with colleagues and share effective tips and techniques.

An award application involves writing a clear statement against criteria such as “Approaches to the support of learning and teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn” and “Approaches to assessment, feedback and learning support that foster independent learning”. As well as addressing the criteria, you need to create a narrative that reflects on your philosophy of learning and teaching.  How have you enacted this in practice to support your students’ learning? Finally, you need to support your statements with evidence.

Even if you’re not quite ready to develop an application, you might still want to start to develop a portfolio of evidence in relation to your teaching, or join a peer partnership/teaching network. The benefits of reflecting on your practice and developing a portfolio go beyond the awards themselves and can also prepare you for next year’s round.  (Most categories will be asking you to reflect on three years of teaching, so it’s definitely a marathon not a sprint.)

If you’re ready to get started, familiarise yourself with the categories and criteria. There are 17 categories ranging across staff (HE and TAFE, including sessional staff), support staff and awards for research and programs (The First Year Experience, Flexible Learning and Teaching, Indigenous Education etc.) Team awards are also encouraged.

Develop a portfolio of evidence of your teaching practice, beginning with your survey scores from the CES.

A portfolio of evidence can be a great reflective tool. Along with your survey data, you could start simply by saving unsolicited student feedback and examples of teaching approaches that you’ve tried successfully (or unsuccessfully). There is more online about portfolios of evidence at the La Trobe and ACU websites to point to just two. These sites will give you an idea about what kinds of evidence you might use in your application.

When it’s time to start writing your application, Kerry found it useful to imagine that she was writing and observing someone else’s teaching practice. In other words, be supportive but factual. Get friends and family unfamiliar with your discipline to review for clarity as well as colleagues. The members of selection panels may need to be steered through the jargon of your discipline.

Students in plumbing workshop, Working Mens College

Students in a plumbing workshop, Working Men’s College (now RMIT) c.1920-1930

For more information, another mind to bounce ideas off, or someone to help you draft a nomination, contact your School’s L&T Chair or your Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching. RMIT has material (login required) such as video presentations and past nomination exemplars here.

Thanks to Kerry Mullan for her time and assistance with this post.

*Now is the time to nudge a colleague to make an expression of interest about nomination to their L&T Chair or Head of School! 

The source of the images for this post is the James Alexander Smith Collection held by the State Library of Victoria. They are out of copyright. James Alexander Smith was a Melbourne consulting engineer and President of the Working Men’s College Council.

Bloom ‘n’ Biggs

Sunflower in full bloom

Creative Commons Photo from Flickr by Being There

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

You may be wading through a sea of marking right now and swinging between moments of absolute delight and total despair as you encounter and assess the learning your students have demonstrated in their assignments.

How well did students ‘get’ what you intended this semester? Did they produce assignments that were spot-on with your intentions or did they come up with different interpretations altogether? What do these interpretations tell you about what the students wanted from the course?

Whatever your response, perhaps it would be useful to consider the extent to which educational theorists Benjamin Bloom and John Biggs have influence in your course design and how they can help you to improve student learning.

Before Benjamin can work his magic though, we must first consider John.

John Biggs, proposes that learning is far more effective when the curriculum is aligned, as he recounts an experience he had in 1994:

In my last year of teaching, I had a class of 82 schoolteachers who were studying how psychology could be applied to teaching. It suddenly struck me how silly it was to give the usual exam or final assignment, in which my students tell me what I had told them about applying psychology to education. Rather, they should be telling me how they themselves could apply what psychology they knew to improve their teaching decisions – that was the underlying intended outcome of the course. So that is what I asked them to do, putting their evidence for psychologically-driven teaching in a portfolio. After the initial shock, they saw the relevance of the course to their own teaching. I received the best teacher ratings I’d ever had. Thus was constructive alignment born (Biggs, 2011).

In short, constructive alignment is nothing more than learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments that match each other and allow students to practice and then verify what they have learned (Biggs & Tang, 2011). For example, if an outcome is for students to be reflective, they are likely to be engaging in activities involving critical and deep thinking about improvement and growth while the assessment task might ask them to deliberate on changes of thoughts, beliefs or practice that they may have noticed in themselves over the course of the semester.

It would not make John happy if students were expecting to develop reflective abilities but were sitting passively through lectures. Or imagine if in the same course they were asked to collect vox pop data but were then assessed by multiple choice questions or an essay that was a reproduction of facts.

In the scenarios above there is no alignment between intended learning outcome, the learning activity and the assessment.

Alignment isn’t a straitjacket dictating the activities and assessments in your course. You just need to ensure that the activities and assessments make sense by being allied to your pedagogy and contributing to the learning outcomes you have indicated in your course guide. If not, students are unlikely to achieve the required outcomes and your experience at marking time may include more despair than delight.

If you have Biggs working for you (and an easy mnemonic is ‘A4’: Aims, Activities, Assessments- Aligned!) the next check is to ensure that Bloom is helping you to describe the learning outcomes you want for students.

Benjamin Bloom’s legacy for learning and teaching was to develop classifications, a taxonomy, of learning objectives in the 1950s. The best known of these classifications is the cognitive (knowing) taxonomy which describes development from simple recall and retelling through to more sophisticated activities like creation and synthesis.

Lesser known taxonomies have also been developed for the affective (feeling) and psychomotor (doing) domains. Affective learning objectives begin with the awareness of feelings and values through to their internalization while the psychomotor taxonomy maps doing skills from perception of activity to unconscious mastery. See Wikipedia’s page on Bloom’s Taxonomy for a detailed hierarchical or developmental listing of skills for each domain.

Referring to Bloom’s taxonomies and the plethora of verbs that describe each level of skill in the knowing, feeling and doing domains can assist you to accurately and explicitly write your learning outcomes to pitch or project the learning you want your students to achieve. Using Bloom’s suggestions can enrich your outcomes and clarify what you may mean by the generic verbs we slip into using such as ‘understand’ or ‘demonstrate’. Do note, however, that Bloom himself recognised that while these categories and descriptors are inherently useful, they would hold even more power when adapted and written within specific disciplines.

By involving Bloom and Biggs more consciously in your course design you will have the opportunity to offer deeper learning experiences and innovative, appropriate assessment tasks for your students.

Take some time to engage with these gentlemen once you have recovered from your marking and use them to interpret any messages for change that may have come to you from your students’ assignments.

Benjamin Bloom died in 1999. His Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook 1, the cognitive domain was published in 1956 but has been built on and adapted by countless educators across the world. There are many Bloom resources on the web, but try Wikipedia’s entry on Bloom’s Taxonomy to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom’s_Taxonomy

John Biggs lives in Tasmania where he writes history and fiction. For the seminal Biggs resource, see his text Teaching for Quality Learning at University, also available as an eBook available in the RMIT Library (login required): Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed). Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Education.

If you’d like to know more about the men behind the ideas, check out:

Biggs, J. (2011). Constructive Alignment. John Biggs. Retrieved June 16, 2012 from http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/

Eisner, E. (2000). Benjamin Bloom, 1913-1999. Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education 30(3). Retrieved June 19, 2012 from http://www.ibe.unesco.org/publications/ThinkersPdf/bloome.pdf

eBooks and Twitter: from L&T to research

Posted by: Rebekha Naim, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University.

This is from a presentation given at the monthly teachers@work, L&T seminars, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University.

Establish your reputation by publishing online and watch it go viral!

self-portrait with portable devices © Jenny Weight: geniwate.com

© Jenny Weight: geniwate.com

When Jenny Weight, lecturer in Media and Communications and post-graduate supervisor, grabs her laptop, tablet or smart phone she does extraordinary things. At a teachers@work session she showed us how. She links her research which is published online to her Twitter account. This then becomes ‘live’ research as she uses the tweets to further inform her work.

Jenny teaches in the area of networked and convergent media at both graduate and post-graduate level in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT. Her recent research has focussed on the sociology of media device use in the area of pedagogy and networked media.

She uses iBooks and eBooks in combination with Twitter as a way of researching, teaching and disseminating her research.

Jenny publishes her research on Apple’s iBooks format which can include video, audio and interactive media, making it a richer experience for students.

Being on the cutting-edge means that not everything is perfect. The current reality is the iBooks store approval process is time consuming and learning the layout software is complex. Also, not all of the students are able to read the work so a pdf version is necessary.

However Jenny got canny! She now publishes the pdf files on her blog then advertises them via twitter to a ‘doco research’ hashtag (#), each created specifically for that research. When Jenny first did this, her research took on a life of its own – some retweeted, others blogged, still others scooped it, and before she knew it, Jenny Weight’s blog page had 20 000 hits!

Inspired? Want to know more? Please have a look at Jenny’s presentation. She would love to hear from you: http://geniwate.com/?p=2621

Room computer is now active…

Posted by: Megan McPherson, L&T Group, Design and Social Context College, RMIT.

A new smartboard awaits input at RMIT

(© Megan McPherson)

After reading Spiros’ post from a couple of weeks ago, and sitting in on some professional development sessions in the Swanston Academic Building SAB practice room and in the Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) space in Applied Science, I thought I would have a look for what else is available for Audio-Visual (AV) training at RMIT.

Self serve…
There is a set of RMIT training videos that are step-by-step guides in getting different equipment up and running. As a first step, the videos are informative and simple to follow:

Where to get help…
As new learning and teaching spaces come online, RMIT has set up a classification system depending on the AV equipment and the collaborative functionality of the space. This is where your friendly AV services support person comes in handy to make sense of the AV technology. Some of the AV enabled teaching spaces have been customized to work in a particular room and some have just been updated. So it is a good idea to make an appointment with AV services to get the rundown of any differences and to get comfortable with the room you are teaching in before the new semester starts.

Taking it further with collaborative tools…
Both the SAB practice room and the TEAL space in Applied Science have different capabilities that enable different types of collaborations. In the SAB practice room we tried out the software tools that enable collaboration, sharing and archiving work within groups and the class.

A blue screen points students to the web login for their group

Colour-coded screens point students to their appropriate working groups
   (© Megan McPherson)

In the scenes shown above, each of the collaborative groups had a screen with a particular colour and students linked into the system through a web address. I particularly liked that each of the screens had whiteboards next to them; if the technology fails, there is always a whiteboard and a smartphone photograph to document the activity for further collaboration.

For a list of the teaching spaces with new AV equipment, check out this AV teaching spaces with new technology list. To find out more about the classifications see the pdf- RMIT Design Standards- Section 11- Audio Visual.

Additional technical support…
If you want more support and training to take advantage of the audio visual capabilities of  any of the AV enabled teaching spaces contact Audio Visual Services and check out the videos above.

For urgent AV assistance, please call the audiovisual support line on tel. 9925 3316 during IT Service Desk hours of operation.

For general AV enquiries, please contact the IT Service Desk.

Share your thoughts and impressions of the new spaces or anything related to AV and collaboration in the comments!

Vodcasting to support students’ learning

Dr. Jennifer Elsden-Clifton, Lecturer, School of Education, RMIT University and

Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor (Learning and Teaching), College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University

(Here is a taster from Jen’s vodcast)

A vodcast is a video podcast and is a term used for the online delivery of video files on demand.

I recently convened a workshop in the School of Education looking at how Blackboard could be used effectively for learning and teaching with students. We had a lot a fun discussing different ways the tools in Blackboard/myRMIT Studies could be used with students including using wikis and blogs and how students engage with these forums. We also discussed issues around students submitting assessment tasks online. Two staff members from the School of Education presented on how they use Blackboard with their students and it was fantastic to see how each engaged in the tools in different ways. Dr Jennifer Elsden-Clifton, blew everyone away with how she uses vodcasts using Lectopia Personal Desktop (http://www.rmit.edu.au/lectopia/desktop) and Blackboard/myRMIT Studies to support students in their assessment tasks. The idea was so good we thought that it should be communicated far and wide! I asked Jen some questions about her practice and here are her responses:

What did you do?

One of my personal learning goals was to embed more blended learning opportunities in my courses.  This semester I experimented with Desktop Lectopia (Echo360) to record a vodcast titled ‘Assessment Support’.  This vodcast was designed to help students complete a multi-step assessment task.

Why did you decide to do it?

In past years, I normally delivered or talked about the assessment task in class.  This was done at a time when I thought students should be thinking about and working on their assessment – which may not always match with their time frame or priorities.  Sometimes this may have been followed up during the assessment process with some reminders or tips in reaction to students’ questions.  However, I felt this was not helping students at the point of need which was when they were actually working through their assessment outside of university class time.

In previous years I used the discussion forum in MyRMIT as a space they could post/access assessment support, this semester I extended the online support to create a vodcast.  This enabled to students to access my ‘lecture’ about the assessment at any time and revisit when they needed it.  Students said they used it before starting to help them think about the assessment, revisited it if they got stuck, or used it as a ‘checklist’ before submitting.  Students also said they used it to settle disagreements amongst themselves if they were interpreting an aspect of the assessment differently.

How did you do it?

There were a number of stages:

1.  This year I repeated (with some minor improvements) an assessment task from last year.  Therefore, to begin with, I looked at the frequently asked questions from the discussion board last year and the feedback tutors gave on assessment criteria in the previous year.  From this list, I prioritised three aspects that I felt students needed to ‘hear’.

2.  I also unpacked the different components of the assessment as a way of structuring the vodcast.  This meant that the vodcast corresponded with the different stages of the assessment and students could come in and out of the vodcast where necessary.  Next year, I would probably create three separate, smaller vodcasts so students can more easily navigate the process.

3.  I then created a PowerPoint slide series that included advice, links to resources, examples of effective assessments from last year, things to avoid and tips for submission.

4.  Using Lectopia Personal Desktop (Echo360) I created an eighteen minute vodcast (a mixture of PowerPoint and voice) that was posted to the MyRMIT site.

What feedback have you got?

As I would have predicted, students liked having access to an explanation of the assessment and to be able to access the support when they needed it and to be able to revisit if necessary.  As some students noted:

‘I found the vodcasts helpful especially because you can access the information whenever you like and as often as you like’

 ‘It felt like a mini lecture for me because I had you discussing the material and me being able to view what you were discussing’

‘Seeing sample work and having different elements explained really helped to bring together the different sections of the assignment’.

What was more of a surprise to me were the comments around how the assessment support reduced students’ anxiety around the assessment.  In particular, the vodcast answered some of the questions they may have had, but may never have asked as they would have felt “stupid” or that they were “bothering” lecturers:

‘I probably like it more than lectures because you can take your own time and listen to the information over and over again if you don’t understand something’

‘It’s also hard to see lecturers sometimes and you feel stupid if you continually ask for help’

‘I struggle to fully grasp what is actually wanted when I only have a rubric to work from’

‘I find that it helps reduce the amount of emails/writing on discussion boards that I need to do because I know that it is there and it is my first point of reference before bothering others with what is usually an obvious question’.

From an educator’s perspective, I did notice a general drop in assessment questions on the discussion forum. Instead, students used the discussion forum to share drafts of their assessment and students were more likely to respond to each other using the advice from the vodcast.

Would you do it again?

Definitely.  Why wouldn’t I?  It was a process that took a few hours, but resulted in: fewer e-mails and meetings about routine questions around the assessment; more meaningful conversations about assessment as the basics had been covered; and students feeling a lot more confident about their assessment and their place in my class.

What I liked about this presentation was that it was such a simple solution that all parties loved. Jen discussed the assessment task in detail, explaining what the criteria were, what her expectations were, the common mistakes that students sometimes make in their assessment (such as retelling what happened, rather than reflecting on the experience), how to go more deeply into thinking about the assessment task and showing examples of how other students have approached the tasks. There was no confusion between the students as they all heard exactly the same explanation of the tasks they were asked to complete and they could listen (and review it if necessary) at times which suited them. And it didn’t take up valuable class time.

Often the best ideas are simple.

If you would like to explore Lectopia Personal Desktop (at RMIT) you need to register http://www.rmit.edu.au/lectopia/desktop/register. It is such as simple tool to use, so have a play!

If you have similar stories to Jen, we’d love to hear them!