Recognize or identify something that they’ve been shown before
Whereas students who understand can:
Justify a claim
Connect discrete facts on their own
Apply their learning in new contexts
Adapt to new circumstances, purposes or audiences
Criticize arguments made by others
Explain how and why something is the case
IF understanding is our aim, THEN the majority of the assessments (or the weighting of questions in one big assessment) must reflect one or more of the phrases above.
In the Applied Physiotherapy module that we teach using a case-based learning approach, we’re trying to structure our feedback to students in terms that help them to construct their work in ways that explicitly address the items listed above. We use Google Drive to give feedback to students as they develop their own notes, and try to ensure that the students are expressing their understanding by creating relationships between concepts.
One of the major challenges has been to shift mindsets (both students’ and facilitators’) away from the idea that knowing facts is the same as understanding. As much as we try to emphasise that one can know many facts and still not understand, it’s still clear that this distinction does not come easily to everyone. Both students and some colleagues believe that knowing as many facts as possible is the key to being a strong practitioner, even though the evidence shows that decontextualised knowledge is not helpful in practice situations.
The list above, describing what students understanding “looks like”, is helpful in getting our facilitators and students who struggle with the shift in thinking, to better grasp what we’re aiming for.
I just wanted to share a thought while preparing our case notes for the Applied Physiotherapy module we’re developing. One of the designers made a note of the “guideline answers” for facilitators to some of the questions that we might use to trigger students’ thinking. I wrote the following as a comment and didn’t want to lose it when the document is finalised, so I’m putting it here.
“I think we should make sure that, in addition to the ‘answers’, we should identify the main concepts we want students to understand. Remember that we’re using our paper patient (i.e. the case) as a framework for students to learn about concepts. Then, they apply those concepts in the real world to patients. They reflect on those real-world interactions and identify dissonance between their experienced reality (the patient contact) and their abstract conceptions of reality (how they originally conceived of the patient contact). After the patient contact, they feed back to their small groups and facilitators, who together help students create new relationships between concepts. So, in short, the clinical concepts are learned initially through the paper patient, tested in the real world with an actual patient, discussed online (maybe) and then brought back to the classroom for further reflection and refinement. The next week they are exposed to new concepts that build on their previous experiences, and then they get to test those abstractions in the real world again.”
I’m trying to take an intentional approach to using Laurillard’s conception of academic learning that I’m exploring in “Rethinking University Teaching”
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):
Construct an hypothesis
Test the hypothesis
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.
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?
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
Feedback from students
Peer review of teaching
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