Holidays – Time to relax and think

Picture of nice beach

Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia. (cc) John Benwell,

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

As this is my last tomtom post for the year, I wanted to share with you a successful redesign of a course (subject) I was involved in recently. It was a traditional course, face-to-face, and consisted of a lecture and a tutorial. The student satisfaction went through the roof after it was redesigned, and the lecturer, tutor and students were all very pleased. You might like to think about how you could redesign your course over the upcoming long break.

No content changed, but without setting out to include online activities, the method resulted in a blended solution: face-to-face and online activities are now embedded in the course.

We started by reviewing the course guide, and listing the learning outcomes. Each learning outcome was then assigned to a lecture, and from that, weekly learning outcomes (WLO) were generated. These weekly learning outcomes could be seen as components or contextualisations of the overall course learning outcomes.

We then created a table in a spreadsheet, and for each WLO, we then added the following columns so each WLO had an appropriate set of activities:

    • Activity to review and revise lecture material
    • Tutorial activity to reinforce and practice WLO
    • Activity to test learning and get feedback
    • Information to extend learning and research deeper
    • Activity to assess learning.

The spreadsheet turned out to be rather large, but it constructively aligned the course learning outcomes with the activities and assessments. The planning and redesigning was not about what the teacher would do, but what activities the students would do and how to involve and engage them in their own time.

Activity to review and revise lecture

The traditional lectures were captured with Lectopia, and we made the recordings available to the students though Blackboard. Over half the students watched all or some of the lecture playback. We also made some short (2-3 min) videos with Echo360, focusing on special topics, or areas where the students were seeking clarification. Other short videos included: Tips from 2nd year students, Meet our librarian and Go to the bookshop. These were all posted on Facebook.

Tutorial activity to reinforce and practice learning outcomes

After reading the WLOs, the tutors were much better at helping the students in the tutorials. Tutors were aligned with the learning outcomes. Activities were generated that also aligned with the learning outcomes. This provided the students with a connection between the lecture and the tutorial, plus they now understood what they had to learn. Most tutorial activities were problem-based to get them applying and using their newly learnt skills.

Weekly activity to test learning and get feedback

Next, we wanted the students to assess themselves on what they had learnt from this process. With over 80 students, we did not want any paper-based tests, so we created a question pool in Blackboard, and had a weekly quiz set for the students to complete. The quiz was designed as a learning activity, so students were given the answer immediately after they had answered and feedback was configured to help the student understand when they got it wrong. The quiz could be taken more than once if required, but the students got different questions each time due to the system randomising the questions from the pool. A bit of effort went into creating all the question pools, but they will be used again next year.

Information to extend learning and research deeper

Especially for students who grasped the topic quickly or for those who were independent learners, we provided a list of further readings, websites, companies and resources to allow the students to enquire further. This was very valuable for the quick learners, but was also used by others who had a keen interest in a particular topic.

Activity to assess learning

Every few weeks, another special quiz was set. A random set of questions was displayed, and students had 30 minutes to complete the quiz in one go. They were shown a mark at the end, and again received feedback on their incorrect answers, but they only had one attempt. These special quizzes were a part of the assessment for the course. The previous exam was dropped.

Communicating and community

To build the learning community, we created a Facebook page. Each student joined it, and this enabled communication amongst the students as well as with the tutors and lecturer. One learning activity was designed so each student had to research a topic and put a 1 minute video on Facebook. Then all students watched it, and commented. This created a great learning atmosphere where the students learnt, created a movie, and then learnt from their peers. This was a very powerful learning method, and one everyone enjoyed.

It was never our intention to ‘go online’, but how else would we easily create randomised quizzes, create a 24/7 community or publish movies? On paper? I think not. Online was simply the only option. All the quizzes were instantly marked, and the student advised of their mark. It was also simple for the lecturer to check who had not done the quiz, and then contact them to see how they were going.

Happy Holidays

So over the long break this year, you might like to try chunking your activities using the bullet points above to think about how you could redesign your course based on structured weekly learning outcomes. Learning and Teaching Advisors in your school will help you with Blackboard and together you can get your own site up and running.

Millennial (or ‘Generation Y’) students in particular will love it: it has online components, face to face interactions and communication in a medium that is familiar and part of their daily life. The quizzes are constructive, with formative feedback and by making and publishing videos on a topic, peer learning was included. Students also had the ability to move at their own pace, do the quiz when it suited them and research further areas independently. The simple act of constructively aligning the lecture’s learning outcomes provided the framework for all the activities, as well as informing the students of our educational expectations. The weekly program was also published in the first week so the students could map their own way through the course at their own pace.

For me, the greatest moment as a Learning and Teaching Advisor was when the tutor emailed me during the break after the teaching satisfaction scores were published, saying: ‘I have never, ever, seen a score that high.’

Hope you enjoy the break and have time to think about redesigning and blending your course to assist your students learning time outside the classroom.

Have fun! 🙂

Share your thoughts about blended learning and redesigning courses in the comments below!

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