2. Teaching, learning, assessment

CMALT Guidance

Core area 2: Teaching, learning and/or assessment processes

Candidates should demonstrate their understanding of and engagement with teaching, learning and assessment processes. ‘Engagement’ may include using understanding to inform the development, adaptation or application of technology. Note that your learners are the people with whom you work. For teaching staff this will typically be students. For many learning technologists this may be students or the staff that you support and train. This should include evidence of:

a) An understanding of teaching, learning and/or assessment processes.

b) An understanding of your target learners.

Full guidance [PDF]

Original submission

a) An understanding of teaching, learning and/or assessment processes

The Online Masters programmes are based upon a social constructivist model, and as such the group interactions to draw out and encourage students to reflect upon their experiences are a key part of the learning process. As part of the web skills course, I was keen to include student interactions through group activities, not only because the students were familiar with this style of learning, but because it had the potential to add a deeper layer of understanding on top of text-book style materials, by referring to resources relevant to their studies. The Online Masters programmes had previously delivered resource and web search guidance through static help sheets tucked away on the VLE. Often, students would still ask course tutors on how to use the institutional resources, or resort to just using Google or Google Scholar for finding material. The short course specification [Appendix] shows how I have designed the course to include active participation and optional extras for students keen for additional challenges. The VLE technology available allows more interactive and individualised skills-based learning for large numbers of students, more than what is possible either through text books or lecture-style presentations. As such, the Department and University are very interested in the outcomes of this project.

In preparation for designing and delivering training, I completed the C&G 7303 award in Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector [Certificate Appendix]. This is the basic requirement for any post-16 education or training tutor and by participating in this programme I learnt practical skills in course delivery, presentation and teaching and learning concepts. One of the fundamental principles I have used in the development and delivery of the eLibrary short course, is the teaching/learning cycle (identify needs, design, facilitating, assessing and evaluating). Based on the feedback from students [Appendix] in the first cohort, the eLibrary course was modified to better suit students’ working life time constraints and personal learning objectives . These skills I would also later draw on when delivering Department training and VLE induction sessions.

b) An understanding of your target learners

Students on the Online Masters Programmes are public management professionals, as such it was important to ensure that the web skills short course was relevant and concise, to aid in the work/learning/life balance. Prior to writing the short course, I conducted a short survey using the Questionnaire module, which indicated students‟ prior knowledge and what they wished to learn about. The module specification was created based upon the results of the survey [Appendix]. At the start of each run of the short course I also conducted a similar survey along with an introductory group discussion to identify the priorities of that cohort. I designed the course so that the learning objectives of each student could be prioritised as much as the learning objectives built into the course. For example, some students required extra assistance in selecting keywords on which to search, and this was facilitated by a dedicated discussion space.

For the campus-based Department VLE Induction, I ran a computer-room session for 90 first year undergraduates. As the skills and backgrounds varied so much for these students, it was important to develop activities which were inclusive and self-paced, to not hold back advanced students but also not to intimidate those without prior technical experience. I drew upon work done by the University’s VLE team and other departments across campus to produce a how-to guide which was specific to the Department’s context (i.e. using screenshots, navigation instructions and terminology very specific to the Department). To put into practice the how-to guide, the induction included hands-on activities, as a more effective way to deliver training compared to a one-way presentation walk-through of the VLE. I designed the induction activities to be released in stages using Blackboard’s ‘adaptive release’, so that students had to complete the basics (locating the site, finding resources and sign up to a work group) before they could access further VLE tools such as blogs, wikis and assignment drop boxes. This allowed me, in an unobtrusive way, to identify which students required one-to-one guidance and work on their confidence in using the VLE. Extracts of the how-to guide and activity worksheet [Appendix].

Portfolio update

a) Teaching/learning/assessment: Social media workshop programme

In summer 2012, 2013 and 2014 when degree teaching had finished for the academic year, I designed and led a series of workshops to develop technical and communication skills for undergraduate social science students at the university. This involved leading a team of tutors drawn from different parts of the institution to provide a two-week short course that aimed to help social science students convey a particular social concept, create a social campaign or explain their subject via social media. The video below produced by me to promote the workshops provides an overview of the aims and objectives.

One aspect of the course I developed iteratively over the three cohorts was the copyright and accessibility training that I felt was fundamental to equipping students with social media and multimedia skills for the workplace. In the first iteration, I delivered the content as a dry lecture, receiving feedback that students felt it was useful, but from my observations the issues were not affecting the students in a way that might change their attitudes.

For the next iteration, I adapted the lecture, drawing upon a colleague’s use of hypothetical situations that show someone breaching copyright, to discuss attitudes to legal issues. In this lecture I utilised in-class polling clickers to present the different perspectives and attitudes of the participants on-the-fly. This was effective in showing that different people regard legal issues in different ways depending on their beliefs and attitudes, therefore the purpose of copyright legislation was to provide a baseline, which still could be waived by the owner of the content if they permitted. The use of the clickers allowed for immediate, anonymous responses so that I could tailor the discussion. Students noted in their feedback how the use of technology contributed positively to their learning.

Time constraints, a common factor in course design, meant that time usually spent lecturing on accessibility was not available for students in advance of them starting work on their projects. To ensure that they were designing-in accessibility from the start, rather than bolting it on afterwards, I recorded a short mini lecture and asked students to complete an online quiz to demonstrate their understanding. The quiz included feedback, supporting students in working out why a particular approach was more favourable than another. In the face-to-face time, I went through the answers to the quiz. This was a more useful exercise for me and the students, as we could spend time unpicking misconceptions either in the course content or, more significantly for me as an educator, in the way I conveyed that content. This is representative of ‘flipped classroom’ teaching with lecture content being delivered out of class and application or development of understanding taking place in lecture.

Beyond the first iteration, using technology has enabled me to address the learning gaps for both attitudes towards copyright and licensing of work, and technical understanding of accessibility for social media. The learning technology interventions were small, but effective in providing a means to address previously identified learning gaps. This iterative approach to activity design is something that I feel is worth encouraging, and has consequently prompted further interest in evaluation and learning design.

b) Understanding target learners: Student surveys and learning resources

I have continued to utilise student surveys to inform the support and guidance delivered to both students and staff. As an example, using survey data on students’ preferences for the use of learning technologies and social networking platforms for learning and teaching I conducted at the start of students’ academic year [see a blog post written on the back of this survey], I advised a lecturer who wished to use Facebook as a learning and teaching space. As there was a mixture of attitudes towards the use of Facebook, I advised that in additional to technical guidance on how to post to a Facebook group, there were clear parameters for engagement (i.e. the social dimension covering interactions, etiquette and anticipated level of contribution), and advice for students on how to secure their Facebook profile. The evaluation for this project was presented at the institutional Learning and Teaching Conference [Presentation on SlideShare]. One of my key learning points from this work was how even with structured support, students still had polarising views on whether Facebook (identified in the literature as a ‘social’ space) should be used for formal learning. As a result, I continue to advise colleagues not to assume that just because most students use an online platform they are happy for it to be used for all purposes.

Similar principles using survey data were also applied to drive change within the department I worked for,  addressing attitudes to a new online reading list system provided by the Library. Whereas there was a substantial administrative burden associated with importing reading lists to the new system, I wished to explore the learning benefits that might exist. After conducting a focus group with student representatives, I was able to show how students’ understanding of the role of reading lists to support learning differed from academic staff. Whilst staff objectives were to encourage reading around the subject, students were not sure how to approach long lists, concerned about not focusing their attention on the ‘right’ readings. By speaking to students, I was able to argue the case that reading lists could be used as a learning tool in their own right by including direction and explanation. I drew upon work by Stokes and Martin (2008) who suggested that reading lists could encourage a transition from novice to expert independent learner by explaining the rationale for why a reading appeared on a list, to show the thought-processes of the lecturer, representative of an expert in their discipline. In particular for first year students, this support by both focusing on readings and using the online system to comment on why readings were included on the list could help them develop skills for finding their own wider reading, a reading list strategy (Chelin et al., 2005). The outputs of this project were written up as a handout made available to staff and subsequently drawn upon by the University Library team when demonstrating the reading list system to other departments. Without an understanding of students’ perceptions of reading lists and identifying the mismatch to staff aims for the reading list, this learning opportunity would not have been developed.

In both these cases, student contributions have enabled me to explore and advise on the use of technology in a pedagogically appropriate way whilst also considering students’ attitudes to the use of this technology. Avoiding making assumptions has furthered the understanding of how students use learning technologies and supported discussions with academic colleagues. I championed this informed approach in an ALT-C paper in 2012 [Presentation on Slideshare].

References

Chelin, J., McEachran, M. and Williams, E. (2005) ‘Five hundred into 4 won’t go – how to solve the problem of reading list expectations’, SCONUL Focus, 36:49-51.

Stokes, P. and Martin, L. (2008) ‘Reading lists: a study of tutor and student perceptions, expectations and realities’, Studies in Higher Education, 33(2):113-125.

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