Continuing my series of blog posts exploring ‘Inspiring Students: Case Studies in Motivating the Learner’, this post looks at a case study from Mark W Teale which puts students’ independent study of case examples at the centre of the learning experience.
Reconsidering the role of face-to-face teaching
The aspect of this case study I wish to explore is the use of face-to-face time and structured student independent study through continual assessment. Continual assessment places a lot of work upon students, so the tasks that were chosen in this case study were short written exercises that relate to a weekly case study. Feedback was in the form of a lecture tailored to the task and the opportunity for three minutes mentoring with the lecturer during weekly feedback sessions.
In this model, the traditional lecture was replaced with five ‘keynote’ lectures which aimed to pick out the key content of the course and ten review and feedback sessions which were directly informed by the case study and the students’ reports. As a result, the case study held much of the content which students would need to analyse and demonstrate their understanding from. The lecturer’s role is then not to tell but to draw out the key points from the students’ work, highlighting any gaps. As Teale stated, for the lecturers ‘although arduous, it was enjoyable’ (p.48).
The nature of this learning design requires students to be engaged as if they don’t complete the work out of class, the review sessions will make little sense. If they undertake the report writing but fail to attend class, they will not be able to take their understanding to the required level as they will miss crucial feedback and follow on. Teale suggested less engaged students ‘are penalized by this form of delivery’ (p.49), however the activity which involves looking at real cases and discipline-specific practice is authentic to real world practice. I would argue then that such a learning design necessitates students to be engaged, else they fail to achieve the learning objectives of the module. What’s missing is the usual ‘safety net’ of just learning the stuff to pass the exam. Surely this is a good thing?
Where learning designs that go outside the norm (or expected norms), there’s a potential then for students to slip through the net. However advice from practice in flipped classroom design suggests this may be mitigated against by establishing a learning routine with a consistent approach throughout the module (Strayer, 2012). The difficulty occurs when students are studying multiple modules, each with their own, perhaps conflicting schedules.
Planning student activity
Recent developments at the University of York focus programme teams on programme-level pedagogy, with Student Work as a core component (University of York, 2016). Part of the York Pedagogy implementation process involves mapping programme-level learning outcomes against modules in the programme. Modules themselves also have module learning outcomes that are more nuanced than the PLOs, with Student Work structured to enable students to work towards these outcomes. The mapping process and planning of the module activities requires a consideration of the pedagogies of both modules and programme. Where students are not used to varying pedagogical models, the discord between modules could act as a barrier to student learning. This lends programme design to have a coherent pedagogical approach, as Strayer (2012) highlighted, to encourage students to adopt a particular pattern of working. A programme-level approach to planning work, with a range of different types of learning activity, yet within a consistent structure, perhaps enables students to engage with the course effectively. However, too much of the same thing can get a little tiresome and mixing things up a little is also more realistic.
Engendering a consistent approach, or even adopting a new pedagogy across a few closely linked modules, requires an immense level of buy-in from the academic staff teaching those modules. As Teale noted, lecturers “generally have a degree of freedom” about the learning and teaching methods (1999, p.51). In this respect, there is an increase in personal and professional risk, as the model adopted (or imposed) reflects on the individual lecturer. However, some departments who have adopted a consistent underpinning pedagogy have bought into a particular way of learning and teaching, allowing flexibility for individual innovation, but drawing strength from a combined effort to develop an engaging and motivating programme. One of Teale’s final conclusions notes “development should not stop after the initial thrust, because all programmes need continual improvement” (p.52). As such, when trying a new approach, for instance if you are entering your first foray into the flipped classroom, do not be disheartened if you don’t get it perfect first time. Activities, content, instructions and group dynamics could all need tweaking, which is what makes teaching an interesting profession after all.
Strayer, J.F. (2012). ‘How learning in an inverted classroom influences cooperation, innovation and task orientation,’ Learning Environments Research. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10984-012-9108-4/fulltext.html
Teale, M.W. (1999). ‘Simulation in Management Education’, in Fallows, S. and Ahmet, K. (eds.). Inspiring Students: Case Studies in Motivating the Learner. London: Kogan Page. pp. 43-52.
University of York (2016). The York Pedagogy. Available online at https://www.york.ac.uk/staff/teaching/themes/theyorkpedagogy/