An Understanding of Teaching, Learning & Assessment
A significant factor to the development of my understanding of teaching, learning and assessment processes is my move from Further Education to Higher Education. In my previous role as Head of Department for Arts and Media, I would be responsible for teaching and learning in my area, from supporting NQT’s and PGCE students, carrying out developmental observation, implementing strategy for teaching and learning with the area. As the key Quality and Curriculum contact for the area, my role was to ensure internal verification processes were followed and would liaise with external examiners and verifiers representing the variety of qualifications providers used in the delivery of qualifications.
There are a number of learning theories which influence my approach, I’m interested in a re-reading of Bloom’s Taxonomy for digital learning which calls upon educators to be creative in their delivery. The focus in on active learning and a move away from from more didactic styles of delivery. I don’t believe that lecture halls are as effective in the learning process as rooms, labs or workshops that offer a variety of activity and engagement; and I don’t believe that putting people in rows of small tables in a sports hall to test their knowledge recall is the best way to asses students’ learning.
The move to HE has been interesting in terms of setting out differences in the treatment of Quality and Curriculum. I have had to quickly adapt my thinking and develop my knowledge of the sector during the 18 months in which I have been taken up my post. In my role as Enhanced Learning Development Manager I am fortunate to play a part in the institutional strategy for Education. This includes duties as a faculty liaison for ILIad – Institute for Learning Innovation and Development, attending a number of key committees and working with Associate Deans for Education across faculties. There are a number of activities which I am involved in which provide insight in the educational processes of the University and I will discuss these in order to demonstrate how my understanding of teaching, learning and assessment is developing.
Here are some examples of operational activities and how my role fits into strategy across the University.
Member of Faculty Course Scrutiny Panel.
One of my duties as ILIaD Liaison to the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment where I regularly attend Programme Scrutiny Committee. This is an opportunity to provide feedback and guidance in the development of new course programmes. In my short experience, these sessions explore a number of issues, from recruitment and marketing for the course, to module choice, validation to external and regulatory bodies, conversations around delivery, assessment and feedback as well as student welfare and progression.
It is interesting that often my only opportunity for input is at the point when the course is close to launching. I am keen to find opportunities for enhancement, active learning strategies and innovative methods of delivery. Often the reality is in ensuring the basic requirements are met, including opportunities for students to input into the development of the course as co-creators or ensure there are opportunities for feedback and formative assessment rather than sole use of summative assessment. In other words I’m trying find a way to encourage a move from twelve lectures and an exam to more innovative or engaging methods of delivery.
So far there have been a number of successful interventions and I feel I have made some progress in addressing the discussion around learning styles within the planning process, ensuring that academics are not seduced by the neuro-myth¹ that can affect proper choice of teaching method to ensure outcomes are met in the most satisfactory, suitable and effective way. Many academics include use of LS as it is written into the specification guidance that is provided. I think it is important to discuss a change in the guidance and an opportunity within the programme specification form to describe in a more thorough way, the teaching methods which will be used in the delivery of the course.
Involvement at this level has also provided a basis for the implementation and adoption of new technologies in order to enhance teaching and learning. Many but not all of the strategies that are offered up explore the use of technology to enhance or address a particular area of concern. Let’s explore some examples.
Exploring delivery of blended learning
The key strategic objective for the Institute for Learning Innovation and Development (ILIaD) is in the increase of courses delivered through the use of blended learning. There are a number of factors which have led this to become an objective, but the two to focus on are:
- Increase in student numbers and popularity of modules that are chosen as part of a minor, additional or flexible modular degree programme.
- The use of existing online learning tools, sites and things which reflect use of technology in social, professional and personal spheres.
These two areas are important to address as they signify both institutional and personal reasons for adopting the use of blended learning. There is a willingness for senior executives at University to explore blended learning as part of an economic argument to support the long term sustainability of the institution. New buildings, staff recruitment, compliance with both TEF and REF are issues to which blended learning is a voice worth listening to, but the most important factor for the long term success of a university will soon (if it isn’t already) be the student experience. Since the introduction of fees, students have become customers and stakeholders, there’s no argument that they’ve never been, however the need to ensure a first class education with first class academics and first class facilities is driving institutions towards change.
Creating blended courses at the University of Southampton
The move towards a curriculum that is delivered by blended delivery is supported in a number of ways by ILIaD and the wider university. In many cases projects are engaged on a first come first serve basis with willing educators keen to explore opportunities to enhance their courses. It is interesting to speculate why some educators value innovation, whether that’s the need to keep moving forward and developing their courses due to changes in the specification, in the thinking around particular subjects. Some take opportunities to reflect on the innovation that is happening in industry or sector, with a view to instilling a culture of technology and new ideas within the next generation of professionals.
Whilst we have been able to work with some courses at the early stages of planning, many educators are simply looking for a new way to engage, communicate or evidence parts of the course. It’s important to recognise that for some educators, the process is incremental and they recognise that bringing in a blended approach is a stepped-one which is most notable in the adoption of technologies that bring significant benefit to a particular aspect of their delivery.
For instance – Alessia Plutino’s use of Twitter is significant in terms of opening up new channels of communication with her students and connecting them with colleagues in Italy to further enhance their language learning.
Blended Learning is about pulling down those walls which are created by the physical classroom and expand learning and the teaching outside those boundaries.
– Alessia Plutino
Both James Dyke and Alessia Plutino demonstrate the desire to look at their teaching from a different perspective and ensure their students were feeling engaged and challenged in positive ways that affected their experiences of learning. Both admit to taking risks and both were rewarded and surprised in part by the feedback and reaction they received. We created these films in order to share best practice across the institution and wider, with the message being as much around trying out new ideas than simply adopting an approach or style. All of the educators that we have featured have needed to try things that were particular to their students, their subjects and their teaching. Whilst they should be applauded, it again poses a challenge for Learning Technologists looking to replicate and encourage adoption of blended learning and TEL across the institution.
In terms of the future I am very much looking for a senior leadership strategy that puts some targets and attempts to quantify the change to blended delivery. Whilst I would be first to agree with many who suggest that setting these sorts of targets could be futile, I would like to see a bold statement, for instance: “We want 25% of all learning to be delivered online in the next 3 years” or “All students much have online means of feedback to their tutors and lecturers” or even “All exams must be made available to take electronically”. I think it would be positive to see real engagement with these objectives, sparking real discussion and generating the need for creative solutions and answers.
Creating online courses
*note – this section has been moved up to better support an understanding of teaching, learning and assessment processes.
As Enhanced Learning Production Manager my role is to work with academic teams to create learning objects that can be used for online learning. Although in many cases the platform that the learners will access is already in place, for instance Blackboard, there are a number of educators who are exploring how the resources created can be open and accessible to all, regardless of whether they are a student at our institution. In many cases, the audiences that the educator wants to reach is external, whether that’s partner organisations, specialist professionals in the field or outreach audiences, for instance schools and colleges.
Currently the VLE only supports some external users, for instance those with an NHS email address, so we explored the use of WordPress to create courses that can be accessed either through a simple authentication process. We have created a number of courses, including a course for teachers of children who have had Cochlear Implant; a course for Southampton’s LifeLab and a course for Discover Oceanography, an outreach programme for schools from the National Oceanography Centre.
In each project, an individual was identified who would take ownership of the site and support its development within the academic unit or team. It was vital that the platform be easy to use and quick to build. In many cases there was existing material, which we uploaded to the site (sometimes even as .pdf’s) before re-developing in a series of sprints to ensure material was accessible and properly targeted towards its audience. I think finding this individual and establishing a good relationship with them is key to the overall success of the project.
Again, these sites are in development and due to launch over the next few months. It has been a rewarding process. The process has to a certain extent highlighted some of the shortcoming with our VLE and the appetite that educators have for learning to be accessible to all and perhaps significantly, for an online course to look like a bit of the internet rather than a closed system of bespoke navigation, folder-ing and other internal structure that looks out of context with other web pages.
Over the past few months and in discussion with my colleague Adam Proctor, it has become apparent that many VLE’s suffer from the same issues of demanding a large investment of time to build or require the learner to sign up to a particular way of working or accessing information that doesn’t build on the literacy of using web pages elsewhere.
Using H5P to create rich media
One of the most significant developments has been the use of H5P which is a open source tool for creating activities which can then be embedded within a VLE or LMS system, including WordPress. Below is an example of an activity for Cochlear Implants: The Basics which is a course we recently supported.
As you can see, the object is sharable and can be downloaded and uploaded into a new course. There are a growing number of different objects that can be created in H5P and we see it as a way of working that whilst not as sophisticated as Articulate Storyline, it is much simpler and more accessible for educators looking to create learning checks, interactivity and other moments of engagement within their course.
Together with my colleague Alex Furr, we will be talking about it’s use at ALT Conference and look forward to exploring its growing use in online learning.
An understanding of your target learners
*the two following sections which contain examples of projects with learners have been placed together to support an understanding of target learners.
Learning checks, feedback and how students reflect on their own learning.
One of the key recurring themes that is highlighted in the results of the National Student Survey and often raised in scrutiny committee or course feedback is the need for better feedback. There are some notable challenges encountered in the process. These are addressed as:
- What is good feedback? Educators and Academics are often unsure what good feedback looks like. It should be defined as feedback that will enable the student to progress and improve but very often it is delivered in a way that students are not able to apply, but instead it is given as a measure of progress, for example – Excellent, Average, Poor.
- Feedback needs to be prompt and there needs to be time to act. Currently there is an emphasis on summative assessment which means struggling students get few opportunities during the semester to address issues. Opportunities for formative assessment provide students with the mechanism to progress at a manageable pace and ensure they don’t get left behind.
- Channels for feedback. Students need a variety of channels of communication, it’s not enough for a lecturer to say ‘my door is always open’. Instead there should be a variety of ways to receive feedback and crucially for the student to provide feedback on the feedback. Technology has a role to play here and commercial tools such as Unitu can support this, closing the feedback loop and ensuring the student has a voice. There are some good examples of using social media to provide feedback to students, including use of Piazza (as used in one of the courses I teach in – BIOL3060 – Science Communication – see below) but I’ve also seen use of Twitter and Facebook as well as tools within the current VLE.
Reflective Practice and Portfolio Creation in Audiology.
A recent activity has been in addressing the issue of reflective practice and portfolio creation for Audiology Placement Students. This support was provided to the team following concerns around recent NSS scores and the need for Audiology placements to be more effective in preparing students for clinical practice. Students typically wrote essays with little qualitative reflection, often looking back following the ending of their placement rather than keep a log or diary. It was important to identify and explore the use of online portfolio to provide a space for students to gather evidence and record meaningful reflection.
Together with staff in The Institute for Sound and Vibration’s Audiology Department, we have begun to implement the use of Pathbrite portfolios and used the key features of courses and grading rubrics so that students can upload and create content, gather evidence and include written reflection. Pathbrite was in part chosen because it was already in use within Humanities and elsewhere as a tool for students recording non-programme specific activities, including work experience, membership of clubs and societies, support roles – notably iChamps.
We are still at an early stage in the project, the first cohort are currently using Pathbrite and anecdotal evidence suggests that it has been relatively easy to adopt. Students are now uploading evidence, using it for their portfolio for reflection and receiving feedback from the course tutor.
In many ways the most difficult barrier has been an understanding on the students’ part that there are alternatives to the previous method of recording and submitting material and many of the initial offerings have been simply uploading or typing in long text-based reflective pieces.
Alongside the technical tasks of setting up the course and teaching students how to use the tool, work was undertaken to ensure students understood the reflective cycle as outlined both by Gibbs² and Johns³. It’s also been interesting to read papers on the use of reflective learning in other aspects of health care education.
In this 2003 paper, a group of nurses participated in a study using reflective journals. Tested against a control group who did not use reflective journals, the experimental group performed better against a number of criteria, including the ability to explore alternatives of action and their response in similar future situations. These two areas highlighted the importance of learning critical skills and the ability to view situations from different perspectives, in other words ’empathy’.
Journaling is encouraged as a strategy to enhance reflective learning and critical thinking
Fakude et Al⁴
Since the very start of the project the students have been encouraged to take photos, record audio or video, make the portfolio their own, but only a few have done this. It may be that they do not fully understand the opportunities afforded to them and may not value the photo or video as much as written material. We need to ensure they understand that the object or artefact that they upload is not as valuable in itself as the reflection to which it inspires or connects.
One example is Catherine’s portfolio, she has uploaded scans and readouts as well as short essays. It is important to to add some reflection and think about the significance of this artefact. Once she is able to do this on a regular basis she will build up a substantial body of reflection that will be useful for some time. There are good examples of image + reflective text, but I’m really keen to see someone explore the technology in a way that adds much more value to their placement.
My piece of evidence charts the results of my own visual field test carried out with the help of a staffmember. It shows that my ability to see the visual field is within normal limits. I have placed italongside a chart- given to me by my supervisor- which shows a visual fields chart for a random test patient with advanced peripheral field loss. I chose this example because I felt it would not have been appropriate to have a record of the real patient’s results that I referred to in my reflective models, so it is meant to best represent this person, to highlight the high degree of difference between the two.I found it helpful to complete the visual fields test myself, having already seen many patients doing the test and commenting on it, often negatively. The test was indeed uncomfortable due to having to retain still focused vision and keep my head harnessed in one place. This developed myunderstanding of the subjective experience of the procedure and it made me think about thedifficulties the test may pose to those with physical disabilities, weakness, memory problems, etc. The experience meant that if I were to instruct a patient doing the test I would pay extra attention tothe positioning of the equipment/chair, offering patients breaks, and asking them if they were okay,etc.Catherine – Audiology Student
It’s worth also noting that the tutor and I have discussed some of the issues with this style of working, that students who are high-achievers are often reticent to add something which is personal or solely qualitative, they’re looking for the right answer when there simply isn’t one. However, these reflections form the basis for their understanding of patient care and it is important that they see themselves as practitioners for whom all experiences are opportunities for learning.
It is important to recognise the challenges facing the target learners in terms of their adoption of new technology. Digital Literacies plays an important part in this, especially the mis-perception that students are digital natives, a phrase coined by Marc Prensky and now widely discredited to the extent where we understand adoption of certain technologies is as challenging for students under the age of 30 as it is to everyone else. Whilst students may transition in to HE with a certain understanding of the use of social media and the world wide web, their use is not framed within the context of learning and education. Learners creation and use of media is around capture and enjoyment rather than reflection. Even students who have studied creative arts often see a disconnection between the camera in their pocket and the one that they have to sign out of the technician’s cupboard. One of the key aspects of my role is to help educators and learners recognise that the best technology to create media with, is the one they already own.
My own interest in this work is around the opportunity to use media as a form of evidence. I have been encouraging students and researchers across the institution to use video and podcast to support reflective practice and this will be discussed elsewhere.
The project is continuing and has become part of a wider trail for Pathbrite across several areas. There is now a special interest group which has come together to share experiences of educators, staff and users, with a report due in September that will be sent to ESEG – Education Systems Executive Group.
Science Communication for students in Biological Sciences
BIOL3060 is a module designed to encourage students to become good communicators, science speakers, storytellers and to understand theories and practices of Public Engagement.
My role is to teach students how to create short videos around a variety of Biological and Medical Sciences themes or concepts. Specifically the students are asked to focus on the work of a researcher or team working in the Institute for Life Sciences at the University of Southampton.
There have been three cohorts who have attended workshops on how to make a video, we look at the process, from writing and development of ideas, scripts and storyboards, pre-production planning, shooting, editing and other post-production processes. Technology enables students to complete this assignment using easy to access and cheap to use mobile technology. The focus for the student is in making clear and effective decisions – where to film, how to line up the shot, what shots tell the story, how to get good audio, what questions to ask their interviewees etc. By making better decisions we can add real production value to our films.
Technology plays its part in all aspects of video production, from use of smart devices to capture and edit, software and apps such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie and even sites like Powtoon, Adobe Spark Video (Former Voice), all contribute to effective and engaging video.
The success of the project has been due in a large part to the enthusiasm and creativity of the students who enjoyed doing something normally not expected in a Biological Sciences Course, as well as working together and managing all aspects of production, the project has been key to understanding the importance of the quality of the content produced for public engagement. One of the highlights of the project was a screening of the work before their peers, tutors and friends, and listening to the comments that came back. There were many questions about engaging the right audiences, ensuring the scientific integrity of a piece of media and therefore its effectiveness in communicating concepts and ideas.
Whilst the emphasis remains on supporting staff with the development of their courses, there are plenty of opportunities within that to focus attention on new technologies and further innovations that could provide in the long term faster, more effective and more engaging means to design curriculum, deliver learning, capture feedback, assess and accredit.
There are three objectives for me in this area:
- Support TEL within programme board and programme scrutiny
- Identify and share best practice in blended learning and adoption of technology
- Further explore new technologies (i.e. H5P and others) with a view to assessing viability of adoption and use in teaching & learning.
One of the main lessons that I have learnt during the past few years has been that the very tools that educators need are also the tools that researcher’s need. In a research intensive university these are often the same people. Learning objects can be created that are useful in a number of ways, including teaching & learning; as a means for reflective practice; to highlight ideas and concepts in support of articles and submissions; to support funding bids and collaboration; for public engagement, student recruitment.
Those open enough to see the potential of these digital objects and understand which media delivery is the most effective, albeit video, podcast, animation or graphic; are able to communicate with a different audiences in an effective and engaging way.