Critical digital pedagogy in the classroom: Practical implementation

Update (12-02-18): You can now download the full chapter here (A critical pedagogy for online learning in physiotherapy education) and the edited collection here.

This post is inspired by the work I’ve recently done for a book chapter, as well as several articles on Hybrid Pedagogy but in particular, Adam Heidebrink-Bruno’s Syllabus as Manifesto. I’ve been wanting to make some changes to my Professional Ethics module for a while and the past few weeks have really given me a lot to think about. Critical pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that not only puts the student at the centre of the classroom but then helps them to figure out what to do now that they’re there. It also pushes teachers to go beyond the default configurations of classroom spaces. Critical digital pedagogy is when we use technology to do things that are difficult or impossible in those spaces without it.

One of the first things we do in each module we teach is provide students with a course overview, or syllabus. We don’t even think about it but this document might be the first bit of insight into how we define the space we’re going to occupy with our students. How much thought do we really give to the language and structure of the document? How much of it is informed by the students’ voice? I wondered what my own syllabus would look like if I took to heart Jesse Stommel’s suggestion that we “begin by trusting students”.

I wanted to find out more about where my students come from, so I created a shared Google Doc with a very basic outline of what information needed to be included in a syllabus. I asked them to begin by anonymously sharing something about themselves that they hadn’t shared with anyone else in the class before. Something that influenced who they are and how they came to be in that class. I took what they shared, edited it and created the Preamble to our course outline, describing our group and our context. I also added my own background to the document, sharing my own values, beliefs and background, as well as positioning myself and my biases up front. I wanted to let them know that, as I ask them to share something of themselves, so will I do the same.

The next thing were the learning outcomes for the modules. We say that we want our students to take responsibility for their learning but we set up the entire programme without any input from them. We decide what they will learn based on the outcomes we define, as well as how it will be assessed. So for this syllabus I included the outcomes that we have to have and then I asked the students to each define what “success” looks like in this module for them. Each student described what they wanted to achieve by the end of the year, wrote it as a learning outcome, decided on the indicators of progress they needed, and then set timelines for completion. So each of them would have the learning outcomes that the institution and professional body requires, plus one. I think that this goes some way toward acknowledging the unique context of each student, and also gives them skills in evaluating their own development towards goals that they set that are personally meaningful.

I’ve also decided that the students will decide their own marks for these personal outcomes. At the end of the year they will evaluate their progress against the performance indicators that they have defined, and give themselves a grade that will count 10% towards their Continuous Assessment mark. This decision was inspired by this post on contract grading from HASTAC. What I’m doing isn’t exactly the same thing but it’s a similar concept in that students not only define what is important to them, but decide on the grade they earn. I’m not 100% how this will work in practice, but I’m leaning towards a shared document where students will do peer review on each other’s outcomes and progress. I’m interested to see what a student-led, student-graded, student-taught learning outcome looks like.

Something that is usually pretty concrete in any course is the content. But many concepts can actually be taught in a wide variety of ways and we just choose the ones that we’re most familiar with. For example the concept of justice (fairness) could be discussed using a history of the profession, resource allocation for patients, Apartheid in South Africa, public and private health systems, and so on. In the same shared document I asked students to suggest topics they’d like to cover in the module. I asked them to suggest the things that interest them, and I’d figure out how to teach concepts from professional ethics in those contexts. This is what they added: Income inequality. Segregation. #FeesMustFall. Can ethics be taught? The death penalty. Institutional racism. Losing a patient. That’s a pretty good range of topics that will enable me to cover quite a bit of the work in the module. It’s also more likely that students will engage considering that these are the things they’ve identified as being interesting.

Another area that we have completely covered as teachers is assessment. We decide what will be assessed, when the assessment happens, how it is graded, what formats we’ll accept…we even go so far as to tell students where to put the full stops and commas in their referencing lists. That’s a pretty deep level of control we’re exerting. I’ve been using a portfolio for assessment in this module for a few years so I’m at a point where I’m comfortable with students submitting a variety of different pieces. What I’m doing differently this year is asking the students to submit each task when it’s ready rather than for some arbitrary deadline. They get to choose when it suits them to do the work, but I have asked them to be reasonable with this, mainly because if I’m going to give them decent feedback I need time before their next piece arrives. If they’re submitted all at once, there’s no time to use the feedback to improve their next submission.

The students then decided what our “rules of engagement” would be in the classroom. Our module guides usually have some kind of prescription about what behaviour is expected, so I asked the students what they thought appropriate behaviour looks like and then to commit as a class to those rules. Unsurprisingly, their suggestions looked a lot like it would have if I had written it myself. Then I asked them to decide how to address situations when individuals contravened our rules. I don’t want to be the policeman who has to discipline students…what would it look like if students decided in advance what would work in their classroom, and then took action when necessary? I’m pretty excited to find out.

I decided that there would be no notes provided for this module, and no textbook either. I prepare the lecture outline in a shared Google document, including whatever writing assignments the students need to work on and links to open access resources that are relevant for the topic. The students take notes collaboratively in the document, which I review afterwards. I add comments and structure to their notes, and point them to additional resources. Together, we will come up with something unique describing our time together. Even if the topic is static our conversations never are, so any set of notes that focuses only on the topic is going to necessarily leave out the sometimes wonderful discussion that happens in class. This way, the students get the main ideas that are covered, but we also capture the conversation, which I can supplement afterwards.

Finally, I’ve set up a module evaluation form that is open for comment immediately and committed to having it stay open for the duration of the year. The problem with module evaluations is that we ask students to complete them at the end of the year, when they’re finished and have no opportunity to benefit from their suggestions. I wouldn’t fill it in either. This way, students get to evaluate me and the module at any time, and I get feedback that I can act on immediately. I use a simple Google Form that they can access quickly and easily, with a couple of rating scales and an option to add an open-ended comment. I’m hoping that this ongoing evaluation option in a format that is convenient for students means that they will make use of it to improve our time together.

As we worked through the document I could see students really struggling with the idea that they were being asked to contribute to the structure of the module. Even as they commented on each other’s suggestions for the module, there was an uncertainty there. It took a while for them to be comfortable saying what they wanted. Not just contributing with their physical presence in the classroom, but to really contribute in designing the module; how it would be run, how they would be assessed, how they could “be” in the classroom. I’m not sure how this is going to work out but I felt a level of enthusiasm and energy that I haven’t felt before. I felt a glimmer of something real as they started to take seriously my offer to take them seriously.

The choices above demonstrate a few very powerful additions to the other ways that we integrate technology into this module (the students portfolios are all on the IEP blog, they do collaborative authoring and peer review in Google Drive, course resources are shared in Drive, they do digital stories for one of the portfolio submissions, and occasionally we use Twitter for sharing interesting stories). It makes it very clear to the students that this is their classroom and their learning experiences. I’m a facilitator but they get to make real choices that have a real impact in the world. They get to understand and get a sense of what it feels like to have power and authority, as well as the responsibility that comes with that.

The mind of the innocent – student poem

Sometimes a student submits something to me that is so different to what I usually get that I feel a need to share it. This is a contribution by one of our 4th year students, who has kindly agreed to have her work shared here.

The morning after loss is more than obvious
The sombre pierces echoes of the silence
Laid to rest: my buried innocence

Can’t digest the truth I’m told: no more tears as I sit down
The nightmare’s just beginning
The emotions in me die when sanity prevails
Daylight brings some hope but it doesn’t last at all
To heal the wounds time left for me

You can’t change what already happened
I guess that’s the burden I’ll have to live with
Nothing will ever compensate for what I’ve suffered
What’s left for you to offer?

Pain and suffering are blood brothers
Keeping each other away from the cure
Feeling perfect in the short run; dying further in the long term
Hiding from the truth I know, if I put on a facade they won’t know
How I really feel

A field of innocence contains broken flowers
I guess we’ll miss you
After 24 hours

Shameemah Hartley

ALS ice bucket challenge at UWC Physiotherapy

Earlier today the second year physiotherapy students at UWC completed the ALS ice bucket challenge as a way to raise awareness and a small charitable donation for ALS research. As part of the process, they challenged the students from UCT and Stellenbosch to take up their buckets as well. Well done guys, we’re proud of you.

Small group teaching

This is the first draft of an articles that published in my Clinical Teacher mobile app.

Introduction

Small group learning is one of several educational strategies used to promote student learning, as it promotes a student-centred approach in the educational context (as opposed to a teacher-centred approach, in which the teacher determines the objectives, content to be covered and assessment tasks). There are a variety of benefits associated with learning in small groups, which is why they are often integrated into different learning approaches. For example, working in small group is usually an integral component of problem-based learning (Dent & Harden, 2005).

The learning objectives are what should determine the teaching strategy and as such, small group learning should not be seen as universally appropriate for all educational contexts. In addition, the success of small group learning will be influenced by the availability of resources, including physical space, facilitators and materials. In addition, the relative experience of the facilitators can play a major role in the outcomes of the learning experience.

There are four important group characteristics for small group learning to be effective:

  • There should be active participation and interaction among all group members
  • There should be a clearly defined, specific task or objective/s, that the group is working towards
  • The group should reflect on learning experiences and modify their behaviour accordingly
  • There is no defined number of students that should be in a small group, and in fact, the size is often dictated by the availability of facilitators and other resources

Advantages of small group teaching

Students have opportunities to develop important skills for working in multidisciplinary teams. They learn how to communicate effectively, as they are encouraged to discuss new concepts that arise. They learn how to prioritise tasks, which is usually a component of the PBL process (Kitchen, 2012; Dent & Harden, 2005; Crosby, 1997; Entwhistle, Thompson & Tait, 1992; Walton, 1997).

  1. Promotes ‘deep’ learning: Encourages deep learning and higher order cognitive activities, such as analysis, evaluation and synthesis. Engage by being active participants in the learning process, as opposed to passively “absorbing” information.
  2. Develops critical thinking skills: Allows students to develop critical thinking by exploring issues together and testing hypotheses that are difficult to do well in a lecture. This practice develops problem-solving skills.
  3. Promotes discussion and communication skills: Environment is conducive to discussion. Students do not feel exposed or hidden, but are comfortable. Each student is encouraged to actively participate.
  4. Active and adult learning: Help identify what a student does not understand, and discussion aids understanding by activating previously acquired knowledge. Students are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and develop self-regulatory skills.
  5. Self motivation: Encourages involvement in the learning process, increasing motivation and learning. By taking responsibility for their learning they become self-motivated rather than being motivated by external factors e.g. the lecturer (teacher-centred approaches usually do not facilitate self-directed learning).
  6. Develops transferable skills: Helps develop skills necessary for clinical practice, e.g. leadership, teamwork, organisation, prioritisation, providing support and encouragement for colleagues, problem solving and time management.
  7. Application and development of ideas: Yields opportunities to apply ideas and consider potential outcomes. Making connections during group discussion enhances student understanding.
  8. Tutor as a role model: A logical and systematic tutor approach demonstrating ‘transferable’ skills motivates student learning and development.
  9. Recognises prior learning: Students are encouraged to surface their own prior knowledge, including their own perceptions (and misconceptions) of material previously covered.
  10. Social aspects of learning: Participation and social aspects of small group learning means that learning is more enjoyable than solitary approaches.
  11. Encourages alternative viewpoints: Encourages an awareness of different perspectives on various topics and can therefore help develop an attitude of tolerance.

Small group processes

“Appropriate ground rules make students feel ‘safer’ in sharing and expressing their views” – Kitchen (2010)

Students often find that working in small groups is a greater challenge than expected, probably because they are used to situations in which they work as individuals within a group. However, when individual success is dependent on the group cohesion and collaboration, and the group struggles to perform effectively, students may resist the process. It is therefore important to make them aware of the normal progression of group development (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977).

  1. Forming – a collection of individuals attempting to establish their identity within the group
  2. Storming – characterised by conflict and dissatisfaction that may lead to the development of trust
  3. Norming – attempts to function effectively by developing a sense of group identity and norms
  4. Performing – group performs at an optimal level by being focused on the task, and manages disagreement appropriately

The role of the facilitator

“Small group productivity depends on good facilitation, rather than on topic knowledge” BUT “Less than one third (of clinicians) have received formal training in small group teaching” – Kitchen (2010)

The facilitator plays an essential role in small group, and traditionally would design the module. This would include the development or preparation of stimulus material, which can be in the form of questions, scenarios, images, video, research papers or case studies (Kitchen, 2012). In addition, the facilitator would present the objectives of the session, initiate the process, encourage participation, promote discussion and close the session. In these cases, the facilitator is very clearly leading the process and is in control. This approach is probably the one that most clinical educators are familiar with, and derives from a combination of ability, expertise, experience and enthusiasm. However, when the facilitator clearly dominates the process, self-directed learning and interaction between learners can be limited. Increasingly, small group learning is looking to students to provide more initiative, explore learning options, test hypotheses, develop solutions and review outcomes. In these situations the role of the tutor is less clear and will vary depending on the type of learners making up the groups.

The facilitator/s (often, small groups have multiple facilitators) must all be informed of the objectives of the session. If not, there is the possibility of different groups moving in different directions. This is not as much of a problem if exploration of a concept is the goal. However, if all groups are meant to achieve the same objective, consistency among facilitators is important. For this reason, staff training is vital whenever small groups are being considered as a teaching strategy. It is important to understand that, while content-specific expertise is useful, facilitation skills are essential.

“A fundamental feature of effective facilitation is to make participants feel that they are valued as separate, unique individuals deserving of respect” – Brookfield (1986)

One of the most important roles of the facilitator is to ensure that an atmosphere of trust and collaborative enquiry is created in the small group. This can be achieved by the group setting their own norms and objectives for the session, or if they are inexperienced in groupwork, for the facilitator to guide them through this process. It would also be useful to have the students express their own expectations for the session, especially of their role and responsibilities in the group. As the group members grow in experience, they should take over more and more of the facilitators role, until it may be difficult to tell them apart. As the learners take more control of the group session, more traditional teachers and facilitators may have a challenge adjusting to the new dynamic.

Finally, it is the responsibility of the facilitator to arrive early in order to check that the venue is appropriately prepared for the session. Arriving early is not only useful in order to ensure that the session runs smoothly, but also to set an example for students.

Assessment of small groups

“With undergraduate medical education currently carrying a health warning because of the stress and anxiety exhibited by students and young graduates, any educational process that promotes enjoyment of learning without loss of basic knowledge must be a good thing” – Bligh (1995)

As with all assessment, it is important for students to be aware of the assessment process and outcomes. Teachers and facilitators must decide beforehand on the nature of the assessment task, as well as whether it will be formative or summative, and who will be responsible for conducting it. If the person responsible for assessing the students is also involved with facilitating the groups, it is especially important for students to feel that the environment is a safe space. If not, they may be reluctant to fully participate in the process, as in doing so, they may reveal their ignorance and therefore be vulnerable. This may be addressed by the facilitator being open and discussing their role in assessment as part of the process. If students will be evaluating the facilitators, there may also be a sense of shared responsibility for assessment, thereby “equalising” the balance of power in the relationship.

Assessing the group outcomes is reasonably straightforward and can relate to either the achievement of objectives, or the process of working in a group. Determining the achievement of objectives can be be through student self-report, facilitator observations, or observation by an external assessor. While the assessment of individuals within the group is more challenging it is nonetheless possible, especially when students are able to assist in the process by evaluating their peers. Individual performance can be measured through attendance, contribution or participation, conducting research for the group, and by supporting or encouraging others.

Challenges when working in small groups

“The size of a small group is less important than the characteristics of the group” – Dent & Harden (2005)

When considering implementing small group learning in your course, bear in mind that a change in teaching approach should complement the overall programme strategy and objectives, as well as actually enhance the learning experience. Small group learning should be seen as an integrated component of the curriculum and should be related to other components. In other words, small group learning should be seen as a simple addition.

Often, busy clinical teachers struggle to find the time to implement small group learning strategies, especially when you take continuity of the teaching experience into account. However, this has an impact on scheduling of other teaching activities, which can be challenging to arrange. Careful planning is therefore an important aspect of integrating small groups into the curriculum.

There is a perception that students do not enjoy working in small groups. However, this is possibly based on situations in which students either were not able achieve the objectives, or their learning experience was poor. Careful planning and design are essential in order for the group to successfully achieve the outcomes that are set. Too often, teachers think that group work is about a group of individuals working in a team. It is essential for the groups’ success to be based on cooperative behaviour. In other words, the individuals must work together in order to achieve shared goals that are difficult to achieve as individuals.

Practice points

  • Working in small groups is characterised by student participation and interaction, in order to promote student learning.
  • The size of the group is dependent on the learning activity, although 3-6 students is usually recommended. The size of the group is less important than the group characteristics.
  • Facilitator training is an essential factor for small group success, although most small group facilitators have received no formal training.
  • Integrating small group learning into a curriculum should be carefully considered as part of an overall teaching and learning strategy, rather than as an addition.

Conclusion

Small group work can be an exciting and engaging approach to teaching and learning practice, especially if it is implemented with careful thought and consideration as part of an integrated curricular strategy. The reasons for making the choice should be pedagogical and as such, have educational advantages as the primary motivating factor for the move. Small group teaching has been shown to be beneficial in terms of developing self-directed approaches to learning, critical thinking and reasoning, tolerance of the views and perspectives of others, and the development of interpersonal skills. While there are challenges in its implementation, they can be addressed with thoughtful design and regular feedback from all stakeholders.

References and other sources

Getting over a theory of student learning styles

learning_stylesSome interesting points from a short blog post on learning styles.

The periodic critiques of the research make the same points. 1 We don’t know what learning styles are. Researchers haven’t agreed on whether they are attributes, preferences, habits, strategies, or biological traits. We don’t know if they are cognitive, neurological, psychological, or situational. 2 The reliability and validity of the many instruments created to measure styles are regularly challenged. 3 No convincing data links learning styles to improved learning. Since the 1970s, critics have been making these points. They pretty much conclude that if you want to predict achievement for a particular learning style or match a teaching method to a learning style, you would have as much chance of success using signs of the zodiac.

And…

One of the outcomes of students making decisions about how they will learn and what standards of performance they will strive for is customization. Students do the customization within the teachers’ framework. Teachers don’t attempt to do the impossible—predict students’ learning variations and design appropriate exercises. The teaching task becomes how to design a classroom situation that maximizes students’ opportunities to choose and to learn from the results of those choices. Teachers then can focus on their most creative work—observing students’ actions and interceding to correct them. What do learners do with course materials? How do they tackle problems? What assumptions do they use? What do they do when they fail? Answers to those questions would most definitely improve our teaching.

I’m unconvinced that learning styles have a role to play in teaching practices. How are you going to change your methods of teaching depending on the distribution of students among the various learning style categories? Even if the concept of learning styles is real, if it’s not going to make a practical difference to teaching and/or learning, I don’t see how they can be relevant. Isn’t it enough to accept that people learn in different ways, and to design learning opportunities that allow them to learn in ways that suit them?

Making mistakes can be a Good Thing

One of the changes we made in our curriculum this year has been to work on creating spaces where students are willing to “have a go” at figuring out a clinical problem that we give them. We realised that students were reluctant to try because they were worried about failing the challenge. They didn’t want to stand out as “not knowing” because they believed that everyone else did know. There was a culture of fear around making mistakes.

We’re now trying to get students to see that making mistakes is actually a great way of learning, if you pay attention to what went wrong, and then try to understand how you can prevent the same mistake from happening again. It emphasises the process of learning (i.e. figuring out a problem through iterative attempts at finding a solution), rather than the product (i.e. coming up with the “right” answer).

In the beginning it was difficult for students to feel safe enough to have a go at figuring out the problem, but we’ve come to a point now where it’s just normal. We normalise not knowing the answer as part of a developmental process of coming to know it. And, it’s really working well. Which is why I was excited to read this article about how making mistakes can help with learning.

It turns out there are two responses to making mistakes:

  1. Focus on the negative outcome as a problem that needs to be solved. What happened, and why did it happen?
  2. Focus on the negative outcome as a threat. Escape feeling bad by not thinking about the mistake.

And, there are two good predictors of how certain people will respond to making a mistake:

  1. If you believe that your intelligence can change with practice and effort, you will pay more attention to mistakes and benefit from having made them. If you believe that intelligence is fixed, you are more likely to ignore mistakes and therefore not improve your performance as a result.
  2. If you are more experienced at a task, you are less likely to pay attention to mistakes and more likely to show a confirmation bias (e.g. you believe you know what you’re doing, and so ignore indicators that contradict that view).
I really do believe that in low stakes environments, which most higher education contexts are, students should be encouraged to at least make an attempt at solving a problem, so that errors in reasoning and performance can be identified and then clarified. Obviously there are high stakes educational contexts where mistakes, no matter how beneficial for the learner, are always bad. Surgery is a simple example that springs to mind. The key is in ensuring that the student feels safe to fail. Without this sense of safety, they will continue hiding their ignorance in the belief that they are supposed to know what the answer is, rather than believing that they are part of a process of coming to know.

Here are the original studies:

  • Moser JS, Schroder HS, Heeter C, Moran TP, Lee YH (2011). Mind your errors: Evidence for a neural mechanism linking growth mindset to adaptive post-error adjustments. Psychological Science, 2011
  • Downar J, Bhatt M, Montague PR (2011). Neural correlates of effective learning in experienced medical decision-makers. PLoS ONE, 6 (11): e27768

Content isn’t important, relative to thinking

I just had a brief conversation with a colleague on the nature of the teaching method we’re using in my department. Earlier this year we shifted from a methodology premised on lectures, to the use of case-based learning. I’ve been saying for a while that content is not important, but I’ve realised that I haven’t been adding the most important part, which is that content is not important, relative to thinking.

Of course content is important, but we often forget why it’s important. Content doesn’t help students to manage patients (not much anyway). The example I often use is that a student can know many facts about TB, including, for example, its pathology. But, that won’t necessarily help them to manage a patient who has decreased air entry because of the TB.

What will help the student is the ability to link data obtained from the medical folder, patient interview and physical exam, with the patients signs and symptoms. By establishing relationships between those variables, the student develops an understanding of how to proceed with the patient management process, which includes treatment. There is very little content that the student needs in order to establish those relationships. In those situations, what the content does focus on is a recipe list of commonly used assessment and treatment interventions, which the student can memorise and apply to a patient who presents in a certain way. This is NOT what we want though. This approach doesn’t help students’ adapt and respond to changing conditions.

Knowing the pathology of TB may tell the student WHY there is decreased air entry to the basal aspect of the lungs, but not WHAT TO DO about it (unless you want students to follow recipes). Clinical reasoning is the important part, not content. This is what I’ve been missing when I tell people that content isn’t important. It’s not, but only relative to thinking.

Bring your own device

For the past 2 months we’ve been operating under a bringyourowndevice (BYOD) policy in one of the modules I’m co-ordinating. Actually, it’s the module that I’m evaluating for my PhD, and the BYOD policy is just one component of a completely restructured approach to the curriculum.

Some background: Physiotherapy students work to solve clinical problems (in the form of cases) in small groups. They set their own learning objectives related to management of the patient in the case, and have to do basic research after identifying gaps in their knowledge around the case. They work in Google Docs to collaboratively develop case notes based on their research, and we (the facilitators) provide feedback on Docs to help guide students towards developing a reliable set of notes.

We had to make sure that we had reliable wi-fi in all the venues we’re using, which meant having a router installed in someone’s office to make sure that we had the coverage we needed. We knew that we’d never be able to provide the devices for the students, so we told them that, in addition to using the recommended textbooks for the module, we’re encouraging them to bring whatever devices they own, to use in class.

So far it seems to be working well. Students began the module by setting group norms, one of which (we were surprised to see) was that students using the devices had to be using it for the benefit of the group. We’ve had cases where group members have asked their peers to get off Facebook / stop SMS’ing and start researching. We don’t police the students and trust that they’re using the devices to advance their groups understanding of the case. We also see them updating their case notes during the class, and setting each other homework tasks.

I’m going to be including a few questions around our BYOD policy in the focus groups I’ll be running in a week or so, and will comment on the results here.

Developing compassion and empathy as part of a Professional Ethics module

I’ve been spending some time this week working with our 4th year students in the Professional Ethics module. One of our biggest challenges is that our students (and most other students in healthcare programmes) see characteristics like compassion, empathy, courage, shame, and emotional response as something that they need to “have”, like a stethoscope or comfortable shoes. I’m trying to get them to see that these are really “ways of being”. Being a caring person isn’t part of your job, it’s a part of who you are. Perceiving and responding to the suffering of others isn’t something that a professional code of conduct can help you with.

I’ve been trying to explore these ideas using music and videos in the classroom, along with reflective writing exercises and, as I’m such a big fan of two of the videos I used recently, I thought I’d share them here.

Teaching and learning workshop at Mont Fleur

Photo taken while on a short walk during the retreat.

A few weeks ago I spent 3 days at Mont Fleur near Stellenbosch, on a teaching and learning retreat. Next year we’re going to be restructuring 2 of our modules as part of a curriculum review, and I’ll be studying the process as part of my PhD. That part of the project will also form a case study for an NRF-funded, inter-institutional study on the use of emerging technologies in South African higher education.

I used the workshop as an opportunity to develop some of the ideas for how the module will change (more on that in another post), and these are the notes I took during the workshop. Most of what I was writing was specific to the module I was working with, so these notes are the more generic ones that might be useful for others.

————————

Content determines what we teach, but not how we teach. But it should be the outcomes that determine the content?

“Planning” for learning

Teaching is intended to make learning possible / there is an intended relationship between teaching and learning

Learning = a recombination of old and new material in order to create personal meaning. Students bring their own experience from the world that we can use to create a scaffold upon which to add new knowledge

We teach what we usually believe is important for them to know

What (and how) we teach is often constrained by external factors:

  • Amount of content
  • Time in which to cover the content (this is not the same as “creating personal meaning”)

We think of content as a series of discrete chunks of an unspecified whole, without much thought given to the relative importance of each topic as it relates to other topics, or about the nature of the relationships between topics

How do we make choices between what to include and exclude?

  • Focus on knowledge structuring
  • What are the key concepts that are at the heart of the module?
  • What are the relationships between the concepts?
  • This marks a shift from dis-embedded facts to inter-related concepts
  • This is how we organise knowledge in the discipline

Task: map the knowledge structure of your module

“Organising knowledge” in the classroom is problematic because knowledge isn’t organised in our brains in the same way that we organise it for students / on a piece of paper. We assign content to discrete categories to make it easier for students to understand / add it to their pre-existing scaffolds, but that’s not how it exists in minds.

Scientific method (our students do a basic physics course in which this method is emphasised, yet they don’t transfer this knowledge to patient assessment):

  1. Observe something
  2. Construct an hypothesis
  3. Test the hypothesis
  4. Is the outcome new knowledge / expected?

Task: create a teaching activity (try to do something different) that is aligned with a major concept in the module, and also includes graduate attributes and learning outcomes. Can I do the poetry concept? What about gaming? Learners are in control of the environment, mastering the task is a symbol of valued status within the group, a game is a demarcated learning activity with set tasks that the learner has to master in order to proceed, feedback is built in, games can be time and resource constrained

The activity should include the following points:

  • Align assessment with outcomes and teaching and learning activities (SOLO taxonomy – Structured Observation of Learning Outcomes)
  • Select a range of assessment tools
  • Justify the choice of these tools
  • Explain and defend marks and weightings
  • Meet the criteria for reliability and validity
  • Create appropriate rubrics

Assessment must be aligned with learning outcomes and modular content. It provides students with opportunities to show that they can do what is expected of them. Assessment currently highlights what students don’t know, rather than emphasising what they can do, and looking for ways to build on that strength to fill in the gaps.

Learning is about what the student does, not what the teacher does.

How do you create observable outcomes?

The activity / doing of the activity is important

As a teacher:

  • What type of feedback do you give?
  • When do you give it?
  • What happens to it?
  • Does it lead to improved learning?

Graduate attributes ↔ Learning outcomes ↔ Assessment criteria ↔ T&L activities ↔ Assessment tasks ↔ Assessment strategy

Assessment defines what students regard as important, how they spend their time and how they come to see themselves as individuals (Brown, 2001; in Irons, 2008: 11)

Self-assessment is potentially useful, although it should be low-stakes

Use a range of well-designed assessment tasks to address all of the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for your module. This will help to provide evidence to teachers of the students competence / understanding

In general quantitative assessment uses marks while qualitative assessment uses rubrics

Checklist for a rubric:

  • Do the categories reflect the major learning objectives?
  • Are there distinct levels which are assigned names and mark values?
  • Are the descriptions clear? Are they on a continuum and allow for student growth?
  • Is the language clear and easy for students to understand?
  • Is it easy for the teacher to use?
  • Can the rubric be used to evaluate the work? Can it be used for assessing needs? Can students easily identify growth areas needed?

Evaluation:

  • What were you evaluating and why?
  • When was the evaluation conducted?
  • What was positive / negative about the evaluation?
  • What changes did you make as a result of the feedback you received?

Evaluation is an objective process in which data is collected, collated and analysed to produce information or judgements on which decisions for practice change can be based

Course evaluation can be:

  • Teacher focused – for improvement of teaching practice
  • Learner focused – determine whether the course outcomes were achieved

Evaluation be conducted at any time, depending on the purpose:

  • At the beginning to establish prior knowledge (diagnostic)
  • In the middle to check understanding (formative) e.g. think-pair-share, clickers, minute paper, blogs, reflective writing
  • At the end to determine the effectiveness of the course / to determine whether outcomes have been achieved (summative) e.g. questionnaires, interviews, debriefing sessions, tests

Obtaining information:

  • Feedback from students
  • Peer review of teaching
  • Self-evaluation

References

  • Knight (n.d.). A briefing on key concepts: Formative and summative, criterion and norm-referenced assessment
  • Morgan (2008). The Course Improvement Flowchart: A description of a tool and process for the evaluation of university teaching