Constructive alignment workshop

Constructive alignment workshop – Dr. James Garraway

I attended a workshop this morning looking at constructive alignment, with the view to relating it to the work I’ll be doing on my PhD next year. The second of my objectives is to do an analysis of our undergraduate curriculum and then do a Delphi study evaluating certain components of it. After our planning meeting a few weeks ago, we’ve decided to begin working on our curriculum now, in preparation for our HPCSA audit next year.The process is going to be really valuable for us, as we move towards implementing our teaching and learning policy within the department, as well as for me as I try to get a better understanding of how we actually go about graduating physiotherapists.

Here are my notes from the morning.

Intended outcomes ↔ content / learning activity↔ assessment (make sure that they all “look the same”)

Constructive alignment and submission of new programmes on the HEQF:

  • Develop higher level cognitive skills from graduates
  • Explain how competences developed in the programme are aligned with the NQF levels (looking at systematic, coherent and critical understanding of the discipline
  • Map new knowledge onto the discipline
  • Explain the teaching methods, mode of delivery and materials development for the achievement of the stated outcomes of the qualification
  • How does the T&L strategy promote the achievement of the expected learning outcomes?
  • How does the assessment strategy promote the achievement of the learning outcomes?

Activity

What do you understand by “constructive”? Builds on the term “scaffolding”, i.e. knowledge is “built” by establishing a foundation of basic understanding and then gradually introducing new concepts / ideas → ZPD

What do you understand by “alignment”? All the components of a curriculum are aligned with each i.e. beginning (outcomes) looks like the middle (learning activity), looks like the end (assessment)

What do you understand by “constructive alignment”?

Main steps in the alignment process:

  1. Define the intended outcomes (should be described using verbs that emphasise the higher learning activities → avoid “list”, etc.
  2. Choose teaching/learning activities that assist/encourage students to achieve the objectives
  3. Engage students in learning activities through the teaching process
  4. Assess students’ learning outcomes using methods that enable students to demonstrate the intended learning and evaluating how well they match what was intended
  5. Arrive at a grade (summative) or give feedback (formative)

What happens when new outcomes are derived from a “loose” approach to teaching and learning i.e. discussion, etc. The lecturer can’t foresee the outcomes before the course starts, and what impact will that have on assessment?

People learn within a set of rules / environment that is often determined by the discipline, so it can be difficult to transfer “learning / knowledge / ways of knowing” between disciplines and subjects

Constructivism isn’t necessarily about questioning established knowledge, but to engage with it (“play with it”)

Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy

  1. Prestructural (unconnected knowledge)
  2. Unistructural (simple, obvious connections, one relevant aspects)
  3. Multistructural (many connections are made, considered independently)
  4. Relational level (part and the whole are understood, links and integrates several parts into a coherent whole)
  5. Extended / abstract (going beyond – generalises beyond the information given)

Level 1 teachers: make assumptions about what students are i.e. blames the student

Level 2 teachers: make assumptions about what teachers do i.e. blames the teacher

Both of the above perspectives lead to passive students

Level 3 teachers are concerned with what a student does to achieve the outcomes of the course

What is understanding?

Humans are not good at memorising random information (only 7 +/- 2 pieces of random information). But we’re very good at building new information on top of old information i.e. associating new knowledge with old knowledge → ZPD. Knowledge is “constructed”, not transmitted

Learning is a result of what the student does/thinks, not what the teacher does

How do we get students to learn what we want them to?

Teachers intention → student’s activity → exam (it’s the assessment that drives the learning activity, not the teachers intention)

Good teaching gets more students to use higher cognitive processes, that “better” students use spontaneously

Innovative practices in education (colloquium)

Last week I attended a teaching and learning colloquium at Granger Bay, near the Waterfront. It was organised to showcase some of the teaching practices being used at the 4 teaching institutions in the Western Cape. I was fortunate to be invited to present one of the keynotes on Friday morning and since I’ve been thinking about PLE’s lately, that was the focus of my talk. Below you can see the graphical notes taken by Ian Barbour of the 2 keynotes of the conference.

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Here are my notes from the 2 days.

Innovation through foundational provision and extended programmes: future trends, threats and opportunities (Professor Ian Scott)

It can’t go on with us doing “more of the same”.

Higher education is elitist, with a tiny proportion of the population being recycled through the system.

We are moving towards mass participation, with all the associated problems that this brings

Innovation = taking new approaches, doing things differently from the mainstream (creative solutions to problems)

The main difference between HEI that do well and those that don’t, is the attention of the institution (Carey, 2008). There is effort and professional accountability, systemic enquiry and research

Success = developing strong foundations and completing the qualification well. Not just about access. It’s dependant on complex issues e.g. teaching and learning approach, affective support, material resources

Future challenges in academic development:

  • Meeting the needs of the majority
  • Low participation and racially skewed
  • Poor and skewed graduation rate after 5 years = 30%
  • Under 5% of black youth succeeding in HE (unsustainable)
  • Makes little sense to continue on our current path, given the above stats

Who should extended programmes serve:

  • Mainstream students who are now failing or are dropping out for learning-related reasons
  • The majority of students who are not graduating in regulation time
  • But EP’s are reaching less than 15% of the intake, even though it’s a majority need (how can we justify the status quo?)

What can be done?

  • Extend the reach of EP’s in their present form, with a focus on improvement?
  • Move to a flexible curriculum framework with a 4 year degree as the core?
  • Can foundational provision be successful with limited student number, and if so, what are the limits?
  • How does this sit with the need for expanding the programmes?

If success is dependent on small numbers, we have a big problem

Institutional differentiation: Looked at stratifying HEI’s, but who would end up in the “bottom” levels. Moved towards “reconfiguring the institutional landscape” through mergers. But there is a danger of institutions losing their way, and not sticking to their mission. Is this a distraction from the central goal of producing more, good graduates?

Implications

Will differentiation lead to further polarisation of the student intake in terms of educational achievement? Because educational achievement is not potential, and is still polarised along racial, socio-economic lines.

Will there be pressure to remove EP’s from “research” universities? → which will result in less funding and educationally disadvantaged institutions becoming the “new mainstream”

Are these bad things?

To what extent can structural change, in itself, make a difference? Are there any alternatives?

Building student confidence through a class conference in an extended curriculum programme (Maryke Meerkotter)

Some students are resistant to the concept of evolution (in biology)!

Initially, 45 students split into groups and given topics for poster presentation. But it was too open.

Next year had more specific guidelines, with more focused topic (53 students), and individual talks about their own poster

This year, conference was very specific. 87 students, so much more structure was needed i.e. specific mammals were assigned to individual students. Questions had to be answered to prevent cut and paste.

Initial intent:

  • Relieve lecture stress
  • Students to engage with “irrelevant” content
  • Raise awareness of importance of course content
  • Allowed students to take ownership of the content, especially when assigned individual animals
  • Practice oral presentation
  • Exposed to poster making skills
  • To have fun trying something new

Initial scepticism and advice:

  • Doubt that it would succeed
  • Too much unnecessary work
  • Needs a good relationship with class, as lecturer should be confident that students can perform
  • Some envisioned chaos, so needed clear guidelines
  • Some advised no rewards, but students appreciated being acknowledged

Setting guidelines:

  • Holiday assignment
  • Written and verbal communication of assignment tasks
  • Guidelines about poster and oral presentations
  • “Computer literacy” = Powerpoint
  • Specific questions needed to answer in poster and presentation
  • Lecturer created a poster as an example, in subsequent years take the best examples of previous years
  • Provided rubrics for evaluation
  • Minimum requirements for posters, and not part of evaluation, so students who could afford more weren’t advantaged

Evaluation:

  • Oral presentations marked by lecturer and teaching assistant (reliability)
  • Audience tested at the end of each session (to ensure attendance of non-presenting students)
  • Posters were peer marked, using similar content as the marking group (each student marked 3 other posters anonymously)

Administration:

  • Assignment of topics
  • Find space for posters to be displayed
  • Due dates for posters to be mounted
  • Loading of oral presentations prior to talks (use email, caution with flash drives, time constraints)
  • Lecturer needs to listen and mark at the same time
  • Students were assigned posters to mark to avoid students marking their friends work

Empowers students to take ownership of course content, especially the “boring” courses. Recommended for small classes

Introducing concept mapping as a learning tool in Life Sciences (Suzanne Short and Judith Jurgens)

A lot of diversity in the course, in terms of student population

Some of the problems:

  • The gap between school and university
  • Testing of concepts reveals confusion
  • Basic concept knowledge is inadequate, lecturers want to make assumptions about what students come into the course with
  • Poor literacy levels for required university levels
  • Low levels of student success
  • Low pass rates
  • Unable to manage the large volume of content
  • Textbook content is “unfriendly”, not contextually relevant, language is inaccessible
  • Poor integration of knowledge
  • Don’t see how biology fits into scientific study
  • Don’t apply knowledge and strategies from other subjects, concepts are compartmentalised

Hay, Kinchin and Lygo-Baker (2008). Making learning happen: the role of concept mapping in higher education.

Concept map: an organising tool using labels to explain the relationship between concepts, the links making propositional statements of understanding. Can be interesting to see how different “experts” in the course see it differently. We need to first negotiate our shared understanding of the course before we can expect students to understand it.

Rationale:

  • To “deconstruct” faulty knowledge acquired at school and reconfigure it
  • Better grasp the relationship between all areas of study
  • Empower students with a learning and knowledge construction tool
  • Facilitate better use of the textbook

Don’t rely on one source

Facilitates textbook use:

  • overview of concepts and relationships
  • awareness of learning strategies
  • active use of resources
  • Assists with knowledge construction:
  • identified major concepts and links
  • identified gaps in school learning
  • useful as studying tool
  • knowledge construction can be individualised
  • Enables evaluation of student learning:
  • view of student understanding “at a glance”
  • encourage discussion of concepts and categorisation

Difficulties:

  • time consuming
  • high levels of collaboration between staff
  • not all student work visually / spatially
  • takes practice to do well

A genre based approach to teaching literacy in a university bridging course (Taryn Bernard)

How do structure a writing course to develop academic literacy, including other cognitive skills in the first year, among diverse student groups?

Students compartmentalise knowledge and find it hard to integrate into other courses. How can this be addressed?

Students want to feel as if they’re dealing with university-level content, and not high school content

Genre:

  • Text-type e.g. journal articles, books, essays
  • Abstract, goal orientated and socially recognised way of using language, limited by communicative purpose and formal properties
  • Social code of behaviour established between author and reader
  • “A term used for grouping texts together and representing how writers typically use language to respond to and construct texts for recurring situations”

Students need to be introduced to the “culture” of academic discourse

Genre-based pedagogy:

Student learning is affected not only by prior subject knowledge and by approaches to learning but also by the ability to deal with text genre (Francis & Hallam, 2000). An understanding of generic conventions increases success at university (Hewings & Hewings, 2001).

It’s important to validate prior knowledge, and many don’t see the purpose in academic discourse. Students sometimes feel it’s “too complex”

Quantitative literacy courses for humanities and law (Vera Frith)

UCT recognise information literacy as being an important graduate attribute

Quantitative information must be addressed in the disciplinary context

The more that content is embedded within a real-world context, the better

Students can be confused between focusing on the context, as opposed to the content e.g. placing emphasis on what they should be learning, with the contextual framework being used

The impact of horizontal integration of 2 foundation modules on first years knowledge, attitudes and skills (Martjie van Heusden and Dr. Alwyn Louw)

Earlier introduction to clinical placements have a significant influence on students professional development, especially in communication

Research assignments for first year med. students at SU:

  • Identify conditions
  • describe disorder
  • use correct referencing
  • submit to Turnitin with only 10% similarity allowed

Did knowledge improve? What about attitudes and motivation? Did it transfer to the 2nd year?

Research assignments contributed to improved student attitudes

Saw an improvement in writing and research skills

Assignments promoted self-esteem, increased background knowledge and allowed students to ask informed questions

Foundation matters: issues in a mathematics extended course

Important to be aware that students come into the course with mixed abilities, which affects how they perceive the course

Language support for communication skills of foundation Engineering students at CPUT (Marie-Anne Ogle)

Students ability to study is crippled by their lack of confidence in their ability to speak well

Problems:

  • Students don’t speak or hear English often
  • School teachers don’t give presentation training
  • Student lack self-esteem / confidence
  • Students don’t have an understanding of their own problems
  • Only 1 language lesson/week in a very crowded timetable

Rules:

  • Transparent goals
  • Everybody must talk
  • Students choose the subjects they want
  • Intensive reading programmes to support this
  • Students manage their own library
  • Students take over the class towards the end
  • Fun for self-motivation

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Use of clickers in Engineering teaching (Daniela Gachago and Dr. Mbiya Baudouin)

Useful because:

  • Results are anonymous, instant, recorded for later
  • helps to increase attention span, keeps students focused
  • Every opinion counts, not just the correct one
  • Works well with interactive learning and teaching style
  • Direct feedback about students conceptual understanding

Good feedback tool for students, identifies misconceptions instantly that can be addressed immediately, students also become aware that others have similar problems i.e. they’re not alone

Important to use equipment to stimulate discussion

Mazur sequence (see also this transcript of Mazur presenting on using technology to engage students, as well as this video presentation).

You can forget facts but you cannot forget understanding

Use of clickers must be must be accompanied by discussion

“The more a lecturer talks, the less a student understands”

Students enjoy the experience of using new tools in class, very positive response, but they do need a short introduction

Challenges:

  • System takes time to set up, and technical troubleshooting not always easy
  • Can waste time
  • Questions need to be changed often
  • Type of question asked needs to change
  • Can have “clicker fatigue”

Using clickers as a tool in classroom instruction to facilitate student learning (Mark Herbert)

Focus not on what student don’t know, but what they require to develop into successful practitioners of the discourse

Students exposed to how knowledge is constructed, structured and communicated

Lecturers facilitate student learning

Students must prepare for lectures (but do they?)

Constructive feedback given regularly and as soon as possible

Class attendance improved

Student interaction can stimulate learning. Students will often find the correct answer when discussing among themselves, without lecturer involvement

Student confidence increased as a result of using clickers

Innovative pedagogical practices using technology: my personal journey (Ingrid Mostert)

Blended learning model for ACE in mathematics

Bulk SMS (e.g. Frontline)

Off-campus access can be hampered with slow loading times, different to intranet

Someone else has already solved the problems that I have. The more people who know about my problem, the quicker it’ll get solved.

Moodle has a module for mobile access, which allows students to participate in forum discussions through a mobile interface

Can use mobile tech to conduct surveys. Is there a cost for students? Yes, but it’s minimal relative to SMS

Sharing experiences make the load lighter

Exploring the extent to which clickers enable effective student engagement (Somikazi Deyi, Edwine Simon and Amanda Morris)

Use real world events / contexts to make coursework relevant. What is important to students? Use that as a scaffolding for the course content

Planning is important

Students engage more deeply with complex questions. We should challenge them and raise our expectations of what they’re capable of

Difficult to draw conclusions after one session. Need to follow trends over time

Realise that other people have different perspectives and world views

Try group voting as opposed to individual voting

Opencourseware Consortium panel discussion at UWC

Last Friday I was fortunate enough to attend 2 panel discussions on the use of OER in higher education. It was a bit of an occasion as one of the panels included a few board members of the Opencourseware Consortium (on a side note, UWC is a member of the OCW Consortium). This post is really just a few of the comments made during the panels.

The session began with a welcome message by the university’s Chancellor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a wonderful man who is always a pleasure to listen to. Something he said struck a chord with me, as I’ve been reflecting on this issue with my students in the ethics module I teach. He said to remember that we are not second rate, and that we don’t have to apologise for who we are. This is important because so often I find that my students lack self-confidence and seem almost apologetic for even being here. The history of this particular institution seems to haunt them, and they can’t seem to shake the belief that their degree isn’t worth the same as one from another university. This is obviously a deep issue that I’m not going to go into here, but I just wanted to mention that comment.

The Vice-Chancellor also made an interesting point in his short welcome address. That is, a redistribution of wealth from the rich 10% won’t significantly improve the lot of the poor 90%. Only by empowering the majority of the people to make their own change, can the country move forward.

The other comments I made a note of included the following:

Andy Lane (Open University, UK): OER is not just good to do. It’s about some form of social justice.

Neil Butcher (OER Africa, South Africa): Curricular frameworks must drive the development of OER i.e. content is not the focus, content comes after pedagogy

Derek Keats (Wits University, South Africa): 1) When content is free, students can use scarce financial resources to acquire technology, which opens up access to an even greater body of content. 2) When institutional strategy is developed around OER, faculty pushback can be reduced

N.B: 1) Institutional pushback is reduced when the OER conversation happens around better ways of addressing faculty and student needs. 2) The content is infrastructure.

Philip Schmidt (Peer 2 Peer University): When lecturers become "internet superstars", they can teach a greater body of students than any traditional lecturer could teach in a lifetime. This reduces the emphasis on formal recognition of professional development.

Ultimately, OER is about content, but I’m more interested to know if it has a role to play in changing teaching and learning practice?

Reflections on improving teaching practice

Up until today, I was kind of maintaining 2 blogs…this one, and a reflective commentary that I included in my teaching portfolio wiki. The portfolio is something that our faculty suggests we keep for when we apply for promotion, etc. but I thought it could be something more. So when I started teaching in 2007, I thought about putting all of my teaching-related activities online in a public wiki, both for my own archiving purposes and for anyone else who might find it useful / interesting. Over time, it grew to become a portal to some of what I’m interested in. For example it’s also where I document my PhD progress, and my Open Textbook project. I’ve decided that since I was essentially doing the same thing in 2 places, albeit with subtle differences (evident only to me), it was time to post those reflections on teaching practice in one place, which from now on will be here.

One of the resources I enjoy most is the Tomorrow’s Professor blog, which is almost always a great starting point for a few minutes of reflection. I’ve just finished reading this post on improving the teaching of poor teachers, taken from the book A Guide to Faculty Development: Practical advice, Examples, and Resources by Ann F. Lucas.

One of the first points made is that poor teachers will often externalise the blame for underperforming students, often citing low student motivation or high teaching loads as the reasons for this. Effectively, this frees the lecturer from any responsibility to improve. When I first started teaching, I remember clearly how my tendency was also to look outside of myself for the problem, and it was only with a great deal of personal honesty that I could admit to myself that I wasn’t always doing a very good job. Having no teaching experience other than the teaching I was subjected to, I had taken on the role that had been modeled to me as a student, with most of my colleagues having the same viewpoint. There was no incentive to change teaching practice, especially not at the expense of research activities. This is changing at UWC though, with both grassroots programmes and upper management policies rewarding a scholarship of teaching and learning.

When you think about the misguided notion that knowledge of a subject conveys some kind of ability to teach it, you begin to understand how deeply entrenched is the centrality of content in a standard curriculum. What the universities are saying is that you don’t need to be able to teach in order to transmit content, an idea that is hardly ever challenged by our students, who seem to accept (and expect) that their experience of higher education will be a continuation of the previous 12 years of learning. Maybe that’s because the voice of the student is often missing from conversations on improving teaching practice? To address this issue in our department, we’ve taken steps to not only formalise our student feedback process, but to implement it in a way that facilitates engagement with that feedback by eliminating the more repetitive tasks associated with it e.g. data capture and analysis. I believe that if students are give the opportunity to be more involved in the teaching and learning process, to see their concerns addressed and suggestions valued, they may move to a space where the rewards for their participation are clear to them, and are no longer things that need to be externally motivated.

However, giving students an authentic voice means having to address them. I’ve had a few students openly reject the idea that they are at university to exercise their minds, and that instead, I should just pour forth the knowledge they require to be good physiotherapists. In these situations, it’s all too easy to throw your hands in the air and shout: “Why should I care if they don’t”? But isn’t the whole point of the job to guide students to a place where where their preconceived notions of education and the world are challenged? If we’re not up to the challenge, should we rather consider employment elsewhere?

SAAHE ’09: abstract for oral presentation

Here’s the abstract I submitted for SAAHE ’09.  It was submitted for consideration in the Innovations and work in progress category.

Title
The use of blogging as a reflective tool in physiotherapy ethics.

Context
The use of social software in higher education facilitates collaborative learning practices and mirrors the social constructivist principles of education by encouraging deeper engagement with both content and individuals. Reflection promotes higher order cognitive skills that promote critical thinking, and together with ethical reasoning has been shown to contribute to professional development and clinical practice. A blog is a service that allows a user to post ideas online, as well as solicit feedback from others that serve to contribute to an ongoing discussion. This allows for a rich, diverse stream of ideas that provide further inputs into the reflective process.

Aims
The main aim of this study is to evaluate the use of blogging as a tool for enhancing physiotherapy students’ reflective practice during an ethics module. By participating in an online, networked conversation on human rights in healthcare, students will discuss some of the problems inherent in the South African healthcare system, as well as recognise and acknowledge the different viewpoints of others.

What was done
A blogging environment was created to allow only students and the lecturer access to post, read and comment on reflections. Articles relevant to the ethics module were provided for students to read and to inform their reflections. They are required to read and comment on the reflections of their peers, facilitating an ongoing conversation around the topic. On completion of the assignment, students will be asked to evaluate the process.

Impact
With the move towards a more networked society and the increasing use of online tools in education and practice, educators must take cognizance of new approaches to teaching and learning. The use of blogging as a tool for reflective practice has shown positive results in other disciplines but has not been evaluated in physiotherapy education.

Take home message
The use of blogging as a tool for reflection brings significant advantages to the process that are not easily leveraged with any other medium. The characteristics of the platform allow for collaborative discussion, immediate feedback and encourages deeper engagement with the content, all of which facilitate more meaningful interactions and stimulate professional development.

Principles of good assessment

I attended an assessment and learning workshop today and while the presentations were informative, I just wanted to highlight the principles of good assessment taken from my faculty’s assessment policy.  Since I don’t have a background in education, guidelines like these are incredibly useful when creating assessments for students.

  1. Responsibility for assessment – the module co-ordinator is responsible for designing the assessment and mark allocation.
  2. Assessing against outcomes – performance should be measured against pre-determined expectations of achievement (learning outcomes).
  3. Assessment criteria – the expectations of the assessment, including the specific criteria of judgement, should be available to students to ensure transparency.
  4. Validity and appropriateness – the assessment methods and tasks should accurately match what is being assessed (knowledge, understanding, content, skills, behaviour, etc.)
  5. Authenticity of evidence – measures should be taken to ensure that the evidence produced by the student is attributable to the student.  With group work, the lecturer must verify that each student has made a fair contribution.
  6. Formative and summative assessment – assessment should judge students’ performance (summative), as well as provide feedback to enhance learning (formative), although not simultaneously.  Students should be aware of whether they are being assessed formatively or summatively at each assessment.
  7. Continuous assessment – should have a strong formative focus and be undertaken over the course of the module.

For me, just knowing about these guidelines has already made a significant difference in how I approach the assessment of students.  Clearly, it’s not enough to re-use old test papers and merely change the scenarios.  We need to make sure that we’re actually testing what we set out to test, as well as linking the assessment to the curriculum and learning outcomes.

One other point I want to mention is a comment made by one of the presenters, regarding the importance of testing students interpretation of the course content.  This is one way to make sure that students actually understand what they’re writing, rather than just regurgitating bullet points.