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.

Capstone Feedback

This week, Ruth Moeller, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College,  shares with us her capstone feedback model.


Picture of Capstones

Capstones Photo credit Ruth Moeller

RMIT is very interested in the employment outcomes of its students, and a lot of research is currently underway to explore factors that effect employability. One of the factors that I have been surprised by is the fact that employers are telling us that graduates have difficulty articulating what they have learnt and how it could be translated into the work environment. (RMIT Graduate Employment Study Draft Final Report, insightrix, 2015)

I find it surprising because isn’t it obvious? You set an assessment task to address a brief, have students work in teams to produce an outcome. Aren’t these activities rich with transferable learnings and experiences; working with diverse others, understanding and meeting client needs, creating a product using the knowledge and skills of your discipline, meeting deadlines, the list goes on. Apparently I get it, but the students don’t, or at least can’t make the connections. So what is needed are ways to help students make the connections between what they do in our learning environments and how that can be communicated to potential employers.

There are a range of different strategies that can be incorporated into your curriculum to help address/support this, but what I would like to offer here is a simple, double edged strategy that I will be trialling at the end of this semester. It involves incorporating an end of course evaluation exercise I commonly do with my students, with reflection and articulation of student learning specifically in relation to workplace and employment contexts.

The feedback model I have used with my classes in the past is based on the premise that, for course feedback to be valuable, it needs to be clear, practical and implementable (whether you choose to action or not). A way of achieving this is to encourage students to reflect on their own experience of the course, but also clarify and moderate it with their peers. Using this model to encourage reflection reduces the likelihood of unsubstantiated and unhelpful comments such as: “it was OK or Things could be explained better”.

What I am planning to do in future classes, is to link this feedback exercise with an the opportunity to analyse and discuss the skills and knowledge they have developed or enhanced, and how what they have learnt can be linked to current or potential employment. (I will link a detailed “How to” to this post but as a start will give you an overview.)

In the last class of semester, I am planning to run an activity where the goals are to:

  • Get feedback from students on their key learnings and their perspectives of the course, its content and delivery, and suggestions on how it could be improved
  • Help students to identify and articulate the knowledge and skills they have developed in this course
  • Link students’ development and learning to their future employment.

My plan is that this activity will be done in two stages. In the first part I will encourage students to reflect and answer the focus questions on their own. Working on their own is an effective way for students to reflect initially on their own experience. In the second part, they form groups to discuss their responses and produce a ‘group’ response to the questions. Working as a group provides an opportunity for the individual responses to be clarified, moderated and validated.

The focus questions that I will provide are:

  1. What I have learnt (formally/informally)? Or had reinforced?
  2. What skills have I developed or improved?
  3. How can this knowledge and skills be used for my future career (does everyone want a career) job, profession, employment?

Now, think about the content and delivery of the course:

  1. What worked well? What should we do again next time?
  2. What suggestions do you have to improveme the course the next time it is run? What changes should we make?
  3. Anything else you would like to add about the course?

Once the students have discussed their responses in small groups, I will open up the discussion so we can explore their learnings and how these can be applicable to life (and work) beyond this course.

I have used this strategy to collect feedback before and it has been highly successful, as it provides tangible and validated feedback. It will be interesting to see how adding the second employability aspect to the activity will go, will it give the students the opportunity to reflect and make connections about the learning and its transferability and in doing so model the communication that employers are looking for?

I have attached the “How to” instructions to run this activity. If you try it too with your classes I would be very interested in your experience/feedback.

Click here to download the “how to” Capstone feedback handout


Share your thoughts and questions on capstone feedback and Ruth’s model in the comments section!

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Going with their flow…

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

(cc) Rafters on the North Johnstone River, in Queensland, Australia. Flickr User, Didrik Johnck.

Rafters on the North Johnstone River, Queensland. (cc) Flickr User: Didrik Johnck.

Next week is the mid-semester break.

By now your students will be in the flow of their study with you. They are likely to have completed one piece of assessment and received some feedback to guide them on to the next stage of their learning or specified what they could have done differently in that assignment. Ideally this feedback will have created an opportunity for them to talk with you and/or their peers about what they have learned and encourage them to confidently tackle the next tasks in the course.

It is possibly tempting to let the flow of the assessment tasks keep control of how your carefully prepared study schedule continues for the remainder of the semester. You have set them on their way but do you really know they are on course, their course?

Let’s assume they have been stimulated and excited by the outcome of their assessment task and there are some intriguing points they’d like to explore more deeply or revisit. Perhaps they have come across some new material that they’d like to incorporate in the learning schedule.

Why not provide a touchpoint and check in to see where your students are at and establish what they might need or want next from the course?

This could happen when you all return from the semester break, refreshed and ready for the final stretch. Have a conversation with your students about their learning in the course so far. Find out where they are at and how they are progressing so that you are all on the ‘same page’ for the remainder of the time you have together.

How could you do this?

Set aside some time and ask them to:

  • outline what they have learnt so far in the course
  • reveal what they would like to know more about
  • identify what they are not clear about or on what they need further clarification

They could work in groups, individually, face to face or online to uncover and share what they know or want to know. Be creative, use technology, role play, or a game to find out what they know or need.

Once you have their feedback, take some time to reflect and diagnose. You may need to slow down or even prepare to change direction.

As a facilitator of their learning, challenge yourself to provide them with the opportunities to fill the gaps they have revealed. Be stunned and amazed by the leads they provide for further exploration. They are adult learners who have individual motivations and personal preferences of their learning requirements. Getting them to acknowledge those needs and identify their own areas of interest will help them to develop as self-regulated learners.

They will also feel valued when you address their feedback. Regrouping like this can bring together loose ends or point them in independent directions for their learning before commencing the final stage with you this semester.

Be partners and learn together.

Enjoy the rest of the semester!

Share your thoughts on coming back from the break in the comments section!
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RMIT’s 2014 Learning and Teaching Expo

Posted by: Meaghan Botterill,  Senior Coordinator, Educational Technology Integration, e-Learning Strategy and Innovation Group, RMIT University.

Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

RMIT’s annual Learning and Teaching Expo is on 2-3 September, 2014. This is a great opportunity to catch up on what is happening both nationally and locally in learning and teaching. Last year the Expo was a great success, so come and join colleagues from across the university to discuss and explore innovative practices that enhance student learning outcomes.

This year’s theme, Designing Teaching, Creating Learning, explores how good teaching design and pedagogical practices create and enhance student learning opportunities and outcomes. There will be an extensive range of speakers, presentations and workshops from across RMIT and the program features the following guests:

  • Professor James Arvanitakis from the University of Western Sydney who was the 2012 Prime Minister’s Teacher of the Year award winner. James’ passion and enthusiasm for teaching is apparent to any of you who have ever seen him present before. He is continually looking for ways to make connections with his students and to make learning relevant, accessible and exciting.
  • Professor Ruth Wallace is the Director of the Northern Institute, at Charles Darwin University. Her particular interests are related to undertaking engaged research that improves outcomes for stakeholders in regional and remote Australia. Ruth has extensive experience in innovative delivery of compulsory, post-school and VE programs in regional and remote areas across Northern Australia.
  • Associate Professor Nicolette Lee is from Victoria University and she is a 2013 OLT National Senior Teaching Fellow. Her project, Capstone curriculum across disciplines, synthesises theory, practice and policy to provide practical tools for curriculum design. It builds on previous and current work in the sector to identify capstone innovations and models-in-use, how standards might be demonstrated through a range of approaches, and providing publicly available and comprehensive practical tools for staff.
  • Associate Professor John Munro is from the University of Melbourne. John’s research, teaching and publications are in the fields of literacy and mathematics learning, and learning difficulties, learning internationally, gifted learning, professional learning and school improvement. His focus on neurology and the brain form the basis of designing explicit teaching strategies to create learning in diverse student cohorts.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about learning and teaching and what we as educators can do to design teaching to create learning and thus enhance student learning outcomes. Registration is essential. The full program and registration form are available here.

Learning and Teaching Expo 

Date: Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 September
Time: 9am to 4.30pm
Venue: Storey Hall, Building 16, City campus
Cost: Free

Registration: Essential
Registrations close Wednesday, 27 August 2014.
Register here now.

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I ♥ RMIT Library

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

Since I was a child, I have always loved libraries. There was nothing better than roaming the shelves for hours looking for books that I hadn’t read and sometimes finding a quiet spot to read right there in the library. I’m still excited by libraries though now I’m usually searching for totally different genres. However, I do still spend hours searching the ‘shelves’ online.

The ease of searching the RMIT library online is just fantastic. You can do it from home, on the train, at work, on another campus – it’s just there. If you want to share the resources that you have found with other RMIT staff or with your students via email, Blackboard or Google Docs/Sites, by using the RMIT URL, they can log directly in to the resource (usually it has “ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/” in the URL somewhere).

Here are some of the ways that the library helps me in my work.

Google Scholar

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.23.43 pmI’m often looking for journal papers on a variety of topics. Now I could go to Google Scholar through the web but if I go to Google Scholar through the library, then I can link directly to all the papers from journals that RMIT has subscribed to – rather than being asked to pay for the article or taking the name of the article and then searching in the eJournals in the library.

eBooks

The library is purchasing more and more ebooks. And if there is a text that you like to use with your students you can request for RMIT library to purchase it as an ebook if it is available. It’s cheaper for students, it’s great to have a basic textbook if you need one and you might be surprised at how many there are in your particular field.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.24.52 pm

To access eBooks, simply type in your topic in the library search and then refine your search by clicking ‘Full text online’.

Videos

There are a number of video resources and databases that you can link to in the library, such as Informit TV News. If you see a news program or documentary on TV and you think, ‘I wish I had taped that to show my students’. Well, you can probably find it on TV News two or three days later. You can then copy and paste the URL into Blackboard or a Google site. Add some questions and start a discussion.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.25.42 pm

Another new video resource, released recently by the library is Informit EduTV. It is an online TV streaming resource and you can find anything here from full movies or documentaries to current affairs from free-to-air and Pay TV channels. Again, you can copy the link and direct people straight to the source.Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 1.26.00 pm

Grazyna Rosinska in a previous post wrote about Kanopy and Lynda.com so I won’t mention them here except for the fact that I have used Lynda.com to help me learn a number of online tools, including WordPress and Google Sites. If you want to learn at your own pace then Lynda.com can be really useful. It’s free for staff and students at RMIT.

Subject Guides

There are a number of subject guides available through the library which can be useful, especially if you are teaching and would like students to have a basic list of relevant resources. If you have not got a subject guide for your discipline, the library liaisons are very happy to help create one for you.

Here is one that was developed to help academics teach in Next Generation Learning Spaces: http://rmit.libguides.com/newlearningspaces.

Here’s another on inclusive teaching practices: http://rmit.libguides.com/inclusive_teaching_practice.

There may be one that you can add to your Blackboard/Google Site for your discipline too. For example, Building and Property: http://rmit.libguides.com/building.

You might already be using all of these tools, but if not, then they are definitely worth a look. And if you are thinking of publishing in the near future, consider publishing an eBook! Here’s a good introductory article from The Guardian that comes from an e-textbook publisher and discusses just what that involves.

Are there other online tools that you find particularly useful in the library?

Share your thoughts on library resources in the comments section!
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Patterns for Change and Innovation

Posted by: Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor, Learning & Teaching, RMIT University.

Click on the image to visit the GLbD site.

Click on the image to visit the GLbD site.

RMIT is a global university of technology and design but how does this translate into our programs and courses? Are they truly global? And are we keeping pace with the changes being forced upon Higher Education?  Changes that are very much driven by technology and online delivery.

Global Learning by Design (GLbD) is a major project of the University that is hoping to address and deliver on these questions. The idea is that programs will be designed for delivery in multiple locations using multiple channels: face-to-face, blended or fully-online.

So how does GLbD propose to do this?  We’ve set up Curriculum Design Teams made up of academic and teaching leads, teaching staff, educational developers, representatives from the Library and Study and Learning Centre as well as production specialists from the Office of the Dean, Learning & Teaching. It’s about bringing these stakeholders together from the start, providing a holistic approach to program development. Not a new concept in designing curriculum, but one that makes sense.

There are many innovative approaches to teaching and learning across RMIT that have resulted in rich student learning experiences. But what we have not been able to do is consistently capture this work and share it! Making it available to other disciplines and Colleges is how this good work can have a ripple effect. GLbD is putting its effort into capturing Curriculum Design Patterns and building a repository for all to access and use.

Avoiding a business-as-usual approach, we’re using particular principles of program management methodologies such as Agile and Lean. These principles have been around for a long time and are now becoming more commonplace in Higher Education.

Information on Global Learning by Design can be found here along with a list of all the Colleges’ projects for 2014. If you are interested in how you could get involved in GLbD, contact your Deputy Head/Dean Learning & Teaching. We’ll be posting an update on the work from specific Curriculum Design Teams later in the year.

Share your thoughts and questions about the project  in the comments section!
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Discourse diversity across L&T cultures

This week’s post comes to us via Karen Dellar, Barbara Morgan, Alison Brown and the team at the Study and Learning Centre at RMIT University.

Making the implicit, explicit – discourse structures across cultures

Most students initially find the transition to academic discourse and writing styles challenging. This transition can be more problematic when students are new to the Australian educational environment. Many international students are unfamiliar with lecturers’ expectations and visit the Study and Learning Centre’s busy drop in service for assistance with academic writing.

One student who is now receiving credits and distinctions recently reflected on her previous failure in a number of courses. We asked her what it was that helped her achieve better marks. She said quite simply: ‘I now know what they want!’

Acknowledging diversity – similarities and differences

This student’s experience typifies the challenges often faced by students in not knowing what is expected when they transition to study in a new culture. The first step towards creating a truly inclusive learning environment is to acknowledge the similarities and differences across learning cultures (and there are many) and then to make the differences explicit. Key differences relate to  discourse styles and expectations upon the reader-writer relationships. The way we shape or tell a story depends upon our cultural and linguistic context and the unspoken patterns we have learnt.

Across cultures there are different expectations of how texts are structured. We expect that all texts have a similar framework to our own…until we are faced with something different. It is surprising to realise how much of our knowledge of text organisation is implicit and culturally specific. English language readers have an expectation about how quickly you get to the point, and when you do, how explicitly this is done; the order that concepts are introduced; the amount of preamble or background that is necessary; the amount of repetition that is effective or the extent of digression that is permissible. As teachers we expect our students to conform to these expectations.

In the words of an international student:

In the Subcontinent (Pakistan and India) the way we are taught to structure our essays is, we don’t come to the point directly: we have to develop this major build-up, before coming to the point…otherwise our lecturer won’t think we have put in enough effort…but over here the thing was that ‘bang’ – go to the point directly and then you can start explaining… (Learning Lab International Student Stories)

model1_image

Model 1: Direct, linear approach. Here’s the flower. These are the main points…

Assignment structure is culturally specific

It is often assumed that students whose first language is not English have difficulty with their

Model 2. Here's the garden. Let me take you for a walk and I'll show you something..

Model 2: Explanation before getting to the main point. Here’s the garden. Let me take you for a walk and I’ll show you something…

studies because of their language. This is not the full picture. What is commonly overlooked is that students from different cultural backgrounds are often unaware of the academic expectations of their new educational culture. In particular, the discourse structure can be unfamiliar and different to what they know.

The models here give a visual representation of two common ways of structuring academic writing across cultures.

Model 1 is a simple representation of the approach to organising material in the Australian educational context. The student is expected to present the main point first, followed by explanation and analysis.

Model 2 is another representation of what is common in many other cultures. In this model the student builds a case through background information, explanation and analysis and finally presents the main point.

Put simply, the measures for ‘good writing’ in an Australian university are often quite different from the students’ previous experience. International students are often disappointed at their poor marks in first year as they take some time to work out what is required. In the case above, the student repeated first year having learnt this lesson the hard way. A better solution would be for students to be explicitly taught what is expected and for it to be acknowledged that their understanding of academic writing on arrival may be different to what we expect.

For more on helping your students structure their assignments visit RMIT’s Learning Lab. For diverse cohorts a good starting point is International Student Stories. As well, you will find resources on assignment genres that you can use in-class and direct students to for self-study.

References:

Arkoudis, S & Tran, L 2010, ‘Writing Blah, Blah, Blah: Lecturers’ Approaches and Challenges in Supporting International Students’, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 169 -178.
Fox, H 1994, ‘Listening to the World. Cultural Issues in Academic Writing ‘, National Council of Teachers of English, USA.
Ramburuth, P 2009, ‘The impact of culture on learning: exploring student perceptions’, Multicultural Education and Technology Journal, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 182 – 195.
Ryan J & Carroll J (eds) 2005, Teaching International Students: Improving Learning for All, Routledge, London.

Share your thoughts about discourse diversity and your tips for conveying your expectations in the comments section!

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