Course Handover:  A CHAT can make a world of difference

Andrea Chester is Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning and Teaching in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University. In this post she describes a collaborative project to improve course handover.



“You can take it over now’ and you could see him running off into the distance!”
Левитан. Владимирка. Версия без рамки. 1892. Isaak Levitan. The Vladimirka (1892). Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

If you’re a course coordinator there’s a good chance that you’ve been asked at some stage in your career, to take over a course (substitute “unit” or “subject”, depending on the nomenclature of your institution). Courses change hands for many reasons: people move on, take leave, want (or need) a change. Unless you’ve had the luxury of always teaching courses you’ve developed yourself, you will have experienced course handover.  While it’s a common and important phenomenon across programs, there is very little written about it.

Over the last year I have been working on a project, funded by the Office for Learning and Teaching, exploring the issue of course handover in higher education. We’ve been talking to new and experienced Course Coordinators, Program Managers, Heads of School and Deans. We wanted to hear about staff experiences and expectations of course handover. We wanted to know what good practice might look like and how we could best support it.

We spoke to staff at three universities: RMIT, the University of South Australia and the University of Newcastle across the disciplines of Design, Health and Business. Here’s what we found:

  1. Luck. Unlike nursing handover, which takes place at the start and end of every shift and usually follows a standardised process (see, for example ISBAR), the handover of courses is often left to the goodwill of those involved. None of the staff we spoke to had experienced or facilitated a formal handover. Several, however, described with gratitude a colleague, not always the outgoing course coordinator, who had taken the time to talk about the course with them.
    Too often, however, course handover was lacking. As one of our respondents told us, “The outgoing course coordinator said ‘You can take it over now’ and you could see him running off into the distance!” Another was told, “I hated teaching this course. I never wanted to teach this course. I’m so glad I’m leaving.” What a welcome!
  2. The unknown unknown. New course coordinators don’t know what they don’t know; there is often, as D.H. Lawrence put it, “the unknown unknown”. New course coordinators found it difficult to know what to ask, particularly if they were new to the role or the university.
    One of our respondents told us that he first learned about an assessment task when he received emails from students wanting information about it. Other staff told us that simply reading an assessment task didn’t necessarily provide them with the information about its purpose and role in the course.
  3. The luxury of time. Staff told us all too familiar stories of being handed courses only a few days before the start of semester or when teaching had already commenced. But courses don’t always change hands at the beginning of the semester. In some instances outgoing coordinators leave unexpectedly, in one case taking many of the course resources with her.
  4. Course handover is important. Poor handover jeopardises the integrity of the course, risks key program learning outcomes, and in some instances may compromise the ability of students to meet standards expected by accreditation bodies. And as our respondents recounted, poor handover is stressful and inefficient.

So what does good course handover look like?

When we asked our participants about the features of an ideal handover, consistent themes emerged. We collated those themes under six headings and the acronym CHATTS.

The CHATTS framework provides a structure for the handover conversation. It offers prompts for core information that the new course coordinator needs and, once captured, it can provide a resource for all staff teaching into the course.

 

Context A course is positioned within the context of a program or programs. In this section the person responsible for the program explains:

  • the purpose of the course
  • how it links with other courses in the program
  • how it forms an integral component of the program
Handover process The CHATTS framework is designed to facilitate conversations between a person who understands the course, such as the outgoing course coordinator, and the incoming or new course coordinator. This section requires an agreement about how and when the handover process will occur.

 

Assessment Assessment is often considered to be the most critical aspect of a course. This section summarises:

  • the assessment items for the course
  • their purpose
  • due dates
  • what is being assessed
Teaching quality Quality teaching of the course requires the outgoing course handover to provide access to previous course evaluations and information about when and how the current offering of the course will be evaluated.

 

Timeline For a course to run smoothly a sequence of events must occur and a number of items need to be addressed. This section lists and identifies the dates of these key events.

 

Staff &

Students

New course coordinators need to know the roles and functions of key staff members. In this section staff members critical to the efficient running of the course are listed. New coordinators may not have a clear understanding of the assumed knowledge for a course and what to expect of the students they will be teaching.  In this section the expectations of students are documented in terms of what they already know and what they should be able to achieve.

 

Of course a good handover, like most aspects of quality in learning and teaching, takes time and commitment and should be properly acknowledged in workloads. If done well and consistently, however, the process provides evidence that can be used for a range of purposes.

As we move into work planning for the New Year it is a good time to think about courses you might be handing on and those you might be receiving. How would you like to do course handover this time around?

For more information about the framework and the project, see the CHATTS website.

 

curriculum-as-lived

Today we hear from Associate Professor Suzie Attiwill, Deputy Dean Learning and Teaching in the School of Architecture and Design. Suzie offers us a response to a reflection by Professor Peter Corrigan, around curriculum-as-plan vs curriculum-as-lived.

The following article is composed of two parts. The first is a reflection by Professor Peter Corrigan, a distinguished professor in the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT University. The School’s Dean, Professor Richard Blythe invited him to “prepare a short reflection on his view of a university, calling on his own experiences as a student and also on his extensive experience as an inspirational lecturer and professor”. Richard then invited Peter to present his reflection to the School’s senior leadership group as part of the School’s strategic planning. Following this, each member of the group was asked to write a short response.

The purpose of this process, Richard notes, was “to remind us all of the core values of tertiary institutions and what it is, above all else, that we should be striving to achieve”. It is an important time for these kinds of reflections because universities are in a period of rapid change and every one of us, students included, need to be thinking about the consequences, what we value, and where we would like to end up.

The second part is my response – an inflection as Deputy Dean of Learning & Teaching and an associate professor of Interior Design. As the academic year draws to a close – almost! – this article is poised as an extended invitation to other colleagues to reflect on what we are trying to achieve.

University Reflections: a paper by Professor Peter Corrigan   

Recently when I was approached to consider my university days and reflect on my teaching method, I was reminded of Vladimir Nabokov’s remark that “MEMORY IS MERELY A TOY SOLD WITH A KEY”. All I can offer are opinions which are entirely personal.

At this year’s Venice Biennale, the question was asked “has neo-liberalism caused architecture to lose its moral mission?” In other words, have the architects lost touch with the responsibilities of yesteryear and thrown in their lot with developers, entrepreneurs and multinational corporations? Is the architect simply pursuing a narrow aesthetics at the expense of history, culture and context? We recognize that this is the world of cost–benefit ratios, of public interest versus the private gain. My education led me to believe that ideas would shape the world I would come to inhabit.

As a young man, I received a Commonwealth Government Scholarship and travelled daily by tram from St Kilda to the university (where I was surprised to discover that some students owned cars). Then, the undergraduate architecture degree was a six-year program. The Student Union possessed a very large room containing twelve billiard tables where I spent many dreaming hours sitting in the shadows on banquettes watching what I took to be mature men (often law students who play football) engrossed in competition beneath clouds of cigarette smoke. In this building there was a room given over entirely to the reading of magazine and newspapers, another room was dedicated to the game of chess, and yet others enabled students to listen to recorded music. Rooms were set aside for the playing of musical instruments and a very large space called The Student Lounge allowed for private discussions and the playing of cards. An enormous cloakroom with attendants guaranteed the secure daily storage of personal items and also enabled luxuries such as cameras and cricket bats to be borrowed. Shoes would be cleaned upon request. The engine room of the Union was a vast cafeteria which provided three cheap home cooked meals a day (with daily specials) and incidental home cooked snacks for between times. Above the cafeteria sat an equally large ballroom which was given over to dancing, concerts or large and splendid dinners. There were of course generous-sized toilets, wash-rooms, a laundry and showers. There were meeting rooms, a 500-seat fully operational live theatre-cum-cinema with a fly tower containing twenty five lines and a capacious workshop in the rear, with large dressing rooms located below stage. Students took all of this, plus an art gallery and a bookshop, for granted.

The next academic institution I attended was Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and here the facilities available to the student body quite shocked me. The Beinecke Rare Book Library (by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM), the Colleges, the Gothic gymnasium (with its competitive swimming pools and basketball courts), the hockey rink (by Eero Saarinen) and the art gallery by Louis Kahn were just the start of it. But these and other extravagances, however, were trumped by the eighteen-hole golf course which I found hard to believe even existed, until I visited it and was told by the resident professional (in a luxurious nineteenth hole shop) that on a busy day, at least 12 students played the fairways. In my first year in the Architecture and Design building, I was surprised by the generous service in its cafeteria and the existence of a nurse in a medical room.  But I did occasionally nap on a lounge on the roof terrace and I marvelled at the size of the in-house library. In my first year I became ill (from the excessive consumption of food and drink) at a Thanksgiving dinner given by an exuberant Italian American family. I was taken to the Yale infirmary, a boutique hospital exclusively given over to students, where I remained for three days. The following year I badly gashed my leg, while crossing Central Park at night, after attending the Rockefeller Center. I was returned to the infirmary where the ugly wound was treated with antibiotics and the latest technology, including a sterile staple gun fresh from the killing fields of Vietnam. Again I was put to bed for three days. All this care was again free of charge. The food, the clean sheets, the peace and quiet, still shine in my memory. I felt a duty of care being enacted.

Lately I have noticed that when I’m under my morning shower and thinking back over this particularly unsettling incident, the scar on my right leg, below the knee starts to throb and I realize that I have turned the key in that particular memory box. These buildings and their floor plans can still be recalled; they remain part of the furniture of my mind. At the time they offered security and identity; they gave promise of a future.

But in the end, it was the intellectual communities that shaped me. At Melbourne, I still vividly remember the political activist and poet (and there did seem to be a natural confluence between politics and culture then), Vincent Buckley. He was a small man with a large head and a commanding presence, who was often to be seen striding across the campus to his room in the Old Arts Building, trailing a retinue who hung on his every casual judgement on “how should we live”. Buckley haunted Carlton’s hotels, its student parties, and academic conferences.  He couldn’t resist a racehorse (“Peter, in Ireland they race around in the opposite direction, and there are no grand stands”). He revelled in life’s contradictions but always seemed at ease. But his relationship to his wife and children, however, always puzzled me. As if intimacy was always a vulnerable and enigmatic thing for him.

Vincent Buckley and his circle, those public intellectuals, those men and women of letters who lived in the service of ideas, seeded ideas into our young lives for us to reflect upon then. Was life really a meaningless experience or not? How do we make sense of the implausible? Students were encouraged to take on intellectual lives in order to prepare for responsible futures. Knowledge, (and ideas) were not simply designed to improve us in a practical or commercial sense. It was valued for its own sake; there was no essential justification for the life of the mind. Our values were informed by our exposure to better minds, minds that knew more than we did, from whom we could learn. And eventually experience would bring our values into sharp relief. These hard won values would eventually form the basis for our life’s decisions, the personal and professional, the good along with the bad.  

An elite university training in an ivory tower confirmed my sense of VOCATION. It also sharpened my CLASS HACKLES. It identified a circle of FRIENDS. It informed my TASTE. It firmly established a sense of SELF. And to this day, these attributes for better or for worse have shaped my architectural practice and my teaching. My university education of yesteryear was designed to prepare me to enter a SOCIETY. Today, our universities prepare students to enter an ECONOMY, and what a world of difference there is between these two things.  

My university education taught me to understand that we think with words and that we need to develop an expansive vocabulary to gain entry to the world of letters and conversation, if we aspire to have minds that can deliver content with authority. Nowadays, conversation seems to be in decline while we inhabit a pictorial world of short attention spans.

My university education gave me a sense of boundaries which also, provided me with a reassuring sense of identity. Today, boundaries and the security that goes with them are far less in evidence.  

My university education encouraged me to develop an inner life: an inner reflective life, that sometimes gave pause, and perhaps even, on occasion, the beginnings of patience.

A CODA

Today’s universities are engaged in an amenities arms race. The University of Technology Sydney in New South Wales recently built a Frank Gehry building, and it is hard not to see this as a public exercise.  

Those employed in university administration now outnumber those employed in teaching and research, which is unnerving, particularly as the bureaucratic burden on academics has also increased.

We live on a large island (considerably larger than Europe) that is remarkably endowed with natural and agricultural resources and we have a small diverse population. With reasonable management and a degree of good fortune, we should have a bright future.

But to fulfil this promise, we need to reconsider the University Project and its present priorities should be examined. We need to look at the values that underlay these priceless institutions otherwise our universities will lose their way. They cannot afford to lose the respect of the society they are meant to serve.

Thank you.

Peter Corrigan

16th December 2014

some notes in response to Peter Corrigan’s text

Suzie Attiwill

An idea of life courses through Peter’s writing. He remarks, in conclusion, “my university education encouraged me to develop an inner life. An inner reflective life, that sometimes gave pause, and perhaps even, on occasion, the beginnings of patience”.

Much of his paper discusses spatial and temporal relations with rooms (many of which are described as vast volumes). These encounters make close distant events (such as “the sterile staple gun fresh from the killing fields of Vietnam” that was used to repair an “ugly wound” and continues to “throb” in the present when he thinks back). There is also reference to an intellectual engagement with questions of “how should we live”.

This focus on life connects with something I was reading recently: “The question of how a life might go is intimate to the fundamental problematic of education …. The word ‘curriculum’ relates to currere and is implicitly concerned with the ways in which the course of ‘a’ life might be composed”.

Experience also permeates Peter’s text. Smells, sounds, volumes, people, programs, numbers of things (billiard tables, lines in the fly tower). Atmosphere. Experience continues to be significant in relation to education, and student experience is a key priority for RMIT.

There is a tendency to understand experience as produced by a centred subject. I’m interested in thinking experience as coming before the individual, through a concept of experience that does not limit experience to the individual but instead addresses the experiential world, an art of pedagogy that is more-than-personal (a quote from the reading I mention above), an approach that opens up ways of thinking and attending to student experience other than placing ‘you’ at centre.

be true

Be true to you Latrobe Street building scaffolding, RMIT University, 4 February 2015. Photograph: Suzie Attiwill Enrol Now / Rule Your World Melbourne Polytechnic advertising, Montague Street under City Link Bridge, 21 January 2015. Photograph: Suzie Attiwill

This involves a shift from a subject/object dichotomy to one focussed on relations; an ecological thinking which attends to social, mental, spatial, temporal, material, immaterial relations. This brings in the idea of institution as a process of instituting – attending to the set-up within which relations can be made.

There are different kinds of set-ups, and a distinction in education can be made between the curriculum-as-plan and the curriculum-as-lived.

These thoughts make another connection with Peter’s reflections – in particular, his critique of the shift from a social to economic model in education. In the move to a business model based on an economy of commerce/ commercial/ commercialization, there is an emphasis on standardization and normalization where everything is testable and assessable, where every attempt is made to erase the unpredictable and unknown.

The curriculum-as-plan is a product of this shift from the social to the commercial. Curriculum-as-lived is another matter. The “question of how a life might go” courses through our learning and teaching and the lives of our faculty.

Reference: Jason Wallin (2013). Morphologies for a Pedagogical Life. In I. Semetsky & D. Masny (Eds.), Deleuze and Education. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Curriculum Renewal to Capture New Opportunities in Screenwriting

Penny Johnson and Noel Maloney give us an update on the major internal review of the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting. It’s interesting to think about the external drivers of this review.

Screenwriting by Jgmz at English Wikipedia

This year, the Advanced Diploma of Professional Screenwriting at RMIT has embarked on a major internal review of its curriculum. There are several compelling reasons for doing this now, ahead of the program re-accreditation process due in 2018.

Industry conditions are undergoing rapid change. On the one hand, traditional screenwriting opportunities in Australia are shrinking. Television drama seasons are now shorter, and feature film projects are increasingly more difficult to finance.

On the other hand, there are emerging opportunities for Australian screenwriters to work internationally, which a recent research project funded by the Vocational Development Centre helped identify. New digital platforms and more access to technologies also mean filmmakers have unprecedented access to creating screen narratives. These new platforms are also changing the nature of screen narratives.

Factor into this our changing cohort. Younger students, due to the popularity of media and theatre studies in schools, increasingly have experience in writing and producing screen-based projects. Older applicants are also bringing an impressive portfolio of short films they have written, directed and distributed.

So, the need for a review is pressing. Our program advisory committee (PAC) and the student staff consultative committee (SSCC) have provided useful insights. We have also undertaken a program-wide assessment survey, mapping the types of assessments completed in every course, and this has revealed patterns of over-assessment that need to be addressed.

However, the most useful activity we have done in this process is to consult our teachers. In screenwriting we have a marvelous resource: our mostly sessional teachers are active practitioners as well as experienced educators. Over the past six months, we have interviewed them individually about how we might better equip students to navigate this rapidly changing landscape, and then provided them with transcripts of the interviews to enable further reflection. This process has yielded rich insights and creative suggestions.

This research has produced three key themes we will use in redesigning the program.

Making

The assessment survey reveals an inordinately high number of granulated activities across the program, at the expense of projects that better reflect industry realities. This correlates with increasing feedback from our SSCC to reduce micro assessment, and provide better opportunities for students to make work that will better support their portfolios.

Engaging

Our program has strong industry connections. However, we need to build greater industry engagement for students throughout their studies. The 2014 anthology film project, ‘One Minute to Go’, which we produced with guest director Denny Lawrence in collaboration with 16th Street Acting Studio, was a good start. Next year, in conjunction with the City of Yarra, we will produce a documentary anthology to profile the changing nature of Smith Street, Collingwood. These projects, more than anything else, give our students the opportunity to work creatively and contingently in complex environments.

Integrating

Over the past three years, we have seen an unprecedented number of student-initiated film projects. As well, the highly successful student-led RMIT Screen Network, now in its second year, creates opportunities for students to meet, pitch and develop projects. Despite this, teachers and students have reported a sense of disconnection between these co-curricular activities and our formal curriculum requirements.

These themes produce two key questions:

  1. How can we reshape our curriculum to emphasise holistic, industry relevant projects?
  2. How can we build links between non-assessed activities and our core curriculum that will benefit student learning and employablity?

Over the next month, we will seek to answer these questions through a series of staff and industry workshops. We feel optimistic that many of the suggestions offered so far can be readily addressed in next year’s curriculum. Competency-based vocational education, for all its stringent reporting requirements, allows a degree of flexibility in delivery and assessment. Competencies can be relatively easy to re-contextualise, in order to respond to changing industry and student need.

So far, this renewal process has been a richly rewarding one for all concerned. Our teaching staff and students have welcomed the opportunity to be heard: a reminder perhaps of the value simple, in-depth conversation can offer.

Good homework for an academic developer

Today Meredith Seaman gives us her reflections on a course development project, specifically the learning design map activity used in Global Learning by Design Express projects.

I recently worked with colleagues as the academic developer on a project to support online development of a new unit. The project was underpinned by a model which I have found supports a refreshing and energised space for course design and reflection worth sharing.

The project

The project brief, broadly, was to design a unit – Disaster Resilient Landscapes. The design needed to take into account that future students would be from a range of disciplines and potentially based in different countries while studying the fully online course. The project was part of an RMIT initiative called Global Learning by Design Express (GLbDx) running in the Design and Social Context College. The projects are collaborations designed to enhance aspects of online learning at the unit level over approximately 6 weeks. The projects involve collaboration between academics, education developers from our digital learning team, and academic developers (which in this case was me). The projects also support collaborations with the Study and Learning Centre and the Library here at RMIT.

As is common to all GLbDx projects, the lead academic and colleagues were supported to develop a detailed design of the new course at an early stage. This takes the form of a week-by-week map and looks something like this:

More on the GLbD Express and Course Maps model.

I was introduced to this particular project at the point where a big complex chart, mapping out every aspect of a 12-week course, had been mostly completed. The resulting map was – quite usefully I think – making apparent some challenges.

The ‘map’ of the 12-week program of study being developed covered:

  • who the likely students were
  • at what stage different learning outcomes would be developed and assessed throughout the course
  • how these learning outcomes aligned with various week by week teacher and student activities
  • and – unsurprising but pivotal – the alignment of assessment tasks and all other aspects of the course week by week.

The map in front of us greatly assisted discussion around the specific needs of the course and cohort.  The range of capabilities we could offer as a project team with diverse experiences and knowledge informed our exploration of many aspects of the course.

It brought our attention to issues such as:

  • Could students get through all the course content in the proposed time frame?
  • Could all the material be covered?
  • Were the assessments manageable for students in the allocated timeframes?
  • What was the best way to convey complex diverse perspectives and resources in a field of contested definitions? e.g. “what is resilience?”

My homework

One key aspect to be considered for this unit was its interdisciplinary aspects. The course would be online for postgraduate students coming from a range of diverse disciplines working on complex real-world problems. As in the real world, the work would be in interdisciplinary teams. The team developing the course was also interdisciplinary.

I was asked what I knew, and what I could find, out about getting interdisciplinary teams to work effectively. An interesting conversation ensued about our knowledge and experiences of good and bad team-work and some principles for good practice. I happily agreed to do more homework on the interdisciplinary ‘problem’ and to provide additional thoughts and resources on what principles and activities could set these teams up effectively and consider ways to scaffold what was likely to be quite intense interdisciplinary group projects.

There are resources very close to home:

  • The Belonging Project, also based here at RMIT, has shared a toolkit for interdisciplinary education and a summary of their approaches. They respond to the industry need for ‘broader knowledge and skills, particularly in those areas where traditional disciplinary boundaries have changed and continue to do so’.
  • The Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE) have also developed a guide to designing courses for interdisciplinary teaching which could be relevant.
  • I’ve also found some frameworks and practical suggestions in the literature, including that students could work in their discipline groups first to create ‘bluffer’s guides’ for students new to certain disciplines, to strengthen their knowledge before working with others (Woods, 2007).

Where next?

We are finding the mapping process a very useful brainstorming and planning technique. More to go on this project, and I look forward to unpacking these resources and others with the teaching team and further supporting the project to see the results. The project is prompting great questions and providing opportunities for us to work through them in more depth with committed and engaged academics.

The GLbDX projects and the approach to course design have in my experience had a really promising ability to prompt rich discussion and brainstorming… with the side benefit of really enjoyable homework being set for academic developers.

Reference

Woods, C. 2007. ‘Researching and developing interdisciplinary teaching: towards a conceptual framework for classroom communication Higher Education. Volume 54, Issue 6, pp 853-866.

Crossing Borders: Empowering Teachers to Support Discipline-related Extracurricular Activity (ECA)

This week Cathy Leahy has interviewed Noel Maloney, program coordinator of Professional Screenwriting in the School of Media and Communication, about his work in researching extracurricular student activity.

Crossing a boarder at the Museum of Modern Art Istanbul. Photo by Cathy Leahy

Crossing a boarder at the Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul. Photo by Cathy Leahy

Recently I caught up with Noel Maloney, program coordinator of Professional Screenwriting in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT University. The focus of our discussion was his role as the Design and Social Context (DSC) Innovation Teaching Fellow 2015, in which he is undertaking a project called “Crossing Borders: Empowering Teachers to Support Discipline–Related Extracurricular Activity”. This project will resource teachers and academics to better manage extracurricular, interdisciplinary projects.

What lead you to your interest in this project?

In the School of Media and Communication, and more specifically within the area of professional screenwriting, there has been a long history of projects or events set up with students, or that students initiate, that are not part of formal learning.

There are several important questions these types of projects raise. What do students learn in this sort of activity that they don’t learn in formal learning environments and how do they imagine it benefiting their employment in the future? How can we best support teaching and academic staff to deliver these projects to provide appropriate environments for students, while preserving their characteristic autonomy?

What can be gained through these experiences?

Staff and students I have interviewed for this project value their participation in discipline-related extracurricular projects in several ways. These projects are seen to enhance student experience and create a sense of participation and belonging. They develop employability skills through managing contingencies, developing agency and working collaboratively with people across various disciplines, in environments that often simulate industry conditions but are safe. Students experience a certain freedom in these activities. They also provide an opportunity to showcase work. While students are not formally assessed in these projects, they still find opportunities to  reflect and contextualise their experiences. In these projects students typically make something from beginning to end and this is highly valued. They experience working in a really intense way, and dealing with chaos. These were not negative problems. They talk about these challenges in a very positive way.

In addition these activities build up the profile of the programs, and for the teachers and academics concerned this can work very much in their favour. It can put people and programs on the map.

What are the challenges for staff to support these activities?

Time and money.

Often staff are not allocated time in their work plans to run these sorts of projects. Inevitably they sit above and beyond their formal duties.  This is one of the operational aspects that this project can look at and highlight. Also, these projects often require funding, and a high degree of pre-planning, if they are to be effectively resourced.  

What activities have recently been undertaken in DSC?

Two of the larger projects are:

  • The “9 Slices” project, bringing students together across a number of disciplines to produce a book in nine days as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival.

  • A Fashion and Textiles event, where students work collaboratively in a global environment to deliver a “Fashion Challenge”. This project has run over a number of years, originally with RMIT University and Salford University in the UK, and more recently expanded to include Columbia College in Chicago.

Other activities include:

  • The RMIT Screen Network, a university wide initiative for media students
  • Young Ones, an online magazine developed by VE design students
  • A film anthology, One Minute to Go, produced by screenwriting and screen production students, with performers from 16th St Actors’ Studio.
  • A photobook project between writing and photography students
  • Various study tours


What are the outcomes you are hoping to achieve through this project by the end of the year?

There will be a symposium in late November, as well as resources to help teachers and academics better manage these activities.

The symposium will bring together both Vocational and Higher Education staff involved in these initiatives, providing a supportive environment to present and share their experiences to a wider audience. There is a growing enthusiasm for this type of opportunity: it’s something that has always been there, but when you start to talk about it, people light up with its potential.

Inspired and want to know more?

If you know of a discipline-related, extracurricular project that deserves mention, get in touch with Noel Maloney, noel.maloney@rmit.edu.au. Or come along to the symposium that will be held in late November.

Towards sustainable assessment: some thoughts

Dr Peter Rushbrook, Deputy Head, Learning and Teaching at RMIT University’s School of Education shares some thoughts and references about sustainable assessment. 

image depicting a session in a workplace training centre at a major Singapore supermarket chain.

This is an image depicting a session in a workplace training centre at a major Singapore supermarket chain. The trainees are undergoing assessment of their checkout skills, including managing cash and customer service. This is a simulation but the skills learned are put into practice quickly in the demonstration store next door.

Thinking of assessment for, as and of learning (Earle, 2006), not just of learning, is no longer new. What is new are approaches to assessment that build on this basic premise to support Twenty-first century learning. Paying attention to assessment is critically important for adult learning as David Boud (2010) points out,

Assessment is a central feature of teaching and the curriculum. It powerfully frames how students learn and what students achieve.

Assessment is a process, not just an end result.

Assessment for longer term learning focuses on higher order thinking and skills, such as exercising judgment in context. It develops independent, confident practitioners ready to transition to the next phase, ready to work independently and with others to make informed judgments (Boud 2010). We need to focus not just learning how to learn, but on the subset of learning – how to assess (Boud 2000). We need to move away from multiple choice questions and away from assessors looking for answers from an answer sheet. Such practices do not reflect the increasing cognitive (Darling-Hammond, 2014) and complex psycho-social demands required of our workforce. They fail to contribute to the application of learning to contexts outside a classroom or test environment. Essentially, we need to move from narrow assessment to assessment for deeper sustained learning.

Assessment needs to do double duty: both for credentialing and learning purposes. This includes: formative assessment for learning and summative for certification; focusing on the task and developing lifelong learners; and attending to the learning process as well as the content. Assessment of this nature requires the collection of a range of forms of evidence over time to assess the understanding of a learner, as well as equipping the learner with skills to self-assess. This has profound implications for the design of learning. Boud (2010) suggests there are a number of principles of assessment which we can drawn on and adapted to our context and purpose:

  • assessment is used to engage learners in learning that is productive.
  • feedback is used to actively improve learners’ learning
  • learners and educators become responsible partners in learning and assessment
  • learners are inducted into the assessment practices and cultures of performance for work
  • assessment for learning is placed at the centre of curriculum design.
  • assessment provides inclusive and trustworthy representation of learner achievement, providing reliable evidence of performance
  • when assessment is a focus for those involved in curriculum assessment of student achievements is judged against consistent national and international standards that are subject to continuing dialogue, review and justification within professional communities

A new emphasis and direction towards workplace and other forms of blended learning and assessment (classroom, workplace and/or e-environments) in countries such as Singapore (where I am currently working on some assessment research in its Continuing Education and Training sector) signals a move away from a heavy reliance on classroom assessment, and a reimagining of the possibilities of teaching and learning practice. Outcomes through devolving assessment responsibility to learners and ‘outsourcing’ further aspects to employers and industry have the potential to increase learner employability and improve the learner experience – through carrying over into work the skills required to self-monitor developing skill sets and domain knowledge, as well as self-direct integration within new workplace contexts and communities of practice. RMIT is well on the way to exploring these possibilities within Work Integrated Learning (WIL) and similar programs, but may benefit from uniting current thinking within an overall philosophy of sustainable assessment (and learning).

References

Boud, D. (2010). Assessment 2010. Australian Learning and teaching Council, UTS.

Darling-Hammond, L. (Ed). (2014). Next generation assessment. Moving beyond the bubble test to support 21st century learning. Jossey-Bass.

Earle, L. (2013) Assessment as learning. Sage Publications

Earle, L. (2006). Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind. Assessment for learning, assessment as learning, assessment of learning. Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth.

Design your Class

This week Thembi Mason, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching for the School of Education in the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, shares with us a new class designing tool created in a recent project.

 

Getting students to actively engage in their learning is what we want as academics. Active learning of students enables them to think deeply, engages them in original thinking and allows them to transfer their knowledge to new contexts (Hansen & Moser, 2003). Active learning strategies sit within the constructivist approach to learning where students build on their existing knowledge to further their understanding. Preparing students for active learning requires academics to carefully assess how students can build on their existing knowledge through scaffolded tasks such as discussions, group work, analysis, reflection etc. There are a number of learning strategies that we can use with students to encourage them to actively participate in class and outside of class, in online and in face-to-face sessions.

As part of an RMIT Learning and Teaching Investment Fund project, Transforming teaching practice through professional learning for Next Generation Learning Spaces, an interactive “Design my class” tool was developed, providing a fun and engaging way for academics to plan their classes. The tool allows you to design a multiple-activity, student centred, inquiry-based lesson through the use of easy drag and drop elements.

 

The layout is simple. A list of themes are provided in the right-hand side menu under the heading “I want to get students to:”, for example, reflect, build ideas together, conduct research, work in groups etc.

When you click on a theme, a list of learning of learning strategies that you might like to use appears, for example, the Muddiest Point, KWL Chart, PMI etc. You can then drag these learning strategies over into the class designer.

The class designer is broken into three distinct areas: introduction, activities and summary. By breaking the class into three areas, it prompts you to think about each section of the class. For example, the introduction might involve activities that tap into the students’ prior learning about a topic, learning from a previous class and/or giving an overview of the learning outcomes for the current class. The activity section continues with what you will get students to do. Think carefully about the focus of the learning strategy or the task you give them. Is it suited to the type of thinking needed by students in your discipline area? By using these strategies you are apprenticing students into the kinds of behaviors and knowledge that they will need to move into the discipline. The summary prompts you to review the learning that has occurred during class and perhaps to ask students to reflect on what they have learnt or what their muddiest point in the class was.

Notes, resources and the time allocated for each activity can be edited and customised. There is also a ‘Your Choice’ activity which allows you to type in any activity you may like to use.

Once you have completed your class design, you can easily print this as a PDF file, or export it as an Excel spread sheet. You can also save it into your browser cache if you use the same computer for each design. This will enable you to search for previous class designs which you can then further edit and refine.

So if you are looking for some inspiration and some learning strategies to get students to take an active approach to their own learning, give the Design my Class tool a go. It is still in beta mode so if you have any suggestions on how to improve the tool or any other comments please let us know (thembi.mason@rmit.edu.au).

 


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