Last week we had a discussion about teaching practical physiotherapy techniques remotely and one of our participants asked (in the text chat) if anyone had any plans to teach fewer techniques. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the question because the conversation moved on quickly to explore other lines of inquiry, which is a pity because I think it was touching on an important point; are we recalibrating our expectations of the work we’re expecting students to do?
Our students are trying to work from home, in unusual sitations and enviroments, probably surrounded by family members who also have claims on their time (or who may be separated from family), who may be sick, cut off from friends, cut off from employment, don’t have internet access, don’t have laptops (have you tried typing an essay on a phone?) and a host of other problems that are normally an inconvenience but that are now fundamental to their learning.
You probably don’t have time to change your learning outcomes (since these usually need to be approved at higher faculty levels at least, and can’t be applied to the cohorts that they affect) but you almost certainly have some wiggle room when it comes to the content you expect students to learn. Review your regulatory body’s minimum standards to see what content has crept into the curriculum that doesn’t need to be there. You can probably even take a second look at the content that should be included and ask how much of that is essential?
How many assessment tasks do you usually include? You could probably half those. Tests of recall could be replaced by projects that can unfold over time and that demonstrate more authentic understanding. A few high stakes assessments (i.e. exams) could be replaced by more low-stakes assessments. How many readings do you usually ask students to complete? How many of those are essential? In short, there are almost certainly quite a few changes you could make to your programme that would decrease the pressure that students are currently experiencing, give them more time to think, and make this all slightly less stressful.
To be clear, I’m not talking about lowering standards (although I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t consider lowering standards). I’m just wondering if anyone is rethinking what work would adequately demonstrate the achievement of those standards? What does your programme look like when it’s pared down to it’s essentials? Now may be a good time to tidy the curriculum and get rid of the bloat that’s been creeping in over the past few years.
And then, when this is all over, you may need to think about why you’d choose to go back to what you were doing before.
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
I’ve already mentioned that my institution has increased the emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning over the past few years, by placing it on an equal footing with research. This has forced all academics to reconsider their roles within the university, which many have resisted. Luckily (for me) I work in a department where we see these changes as opportunities for growth, rather than obstacles to be baulked at. As part of our response to this challenge, we’ve been working at integrating a scholarship of teaching and learning into our everyday teaching practices, including (among many other things), regular workshops to aid with both staff development and curricular alignment.
Today we had a workshop on using learning outcomes to structure a module, with the intention that we would each take one of our modules and refine the outcomes before working on aligning teaching strategies, assessment and content. I didn’t take too many notes, as we were provided with handouts but here are the notes I did take. Nothing ground breaking if you’ve read anything about learning outcomes before but bear in mind that the emphasis of the workshop was on the application of concepts to our actual modules, as opposed to a purely learning activity.
It is important to expose learners’ current and prior knowledge / understanding before beginning a learning activity, and then try to build on that
We don’t “teach”, so much as we create an environment conducive to students’ learning
Learning outcomes can be useful guides / “maps” for both new and experienced staff members
Objectives (related to teacher) are different to outcomes (related to student)
Programme outcomes (might be found in a mission statement) must be linked to module outcomes
Outcomes must be specific
Use concept mapping to link outcomes, lectures and assessment
Students just out of high school may need to be taught how to learn
Get students to agree to take responsibility for their own learning, possibly in the first lecture, by making explicit what the roles / expectations are of everyone involved
Make a list of the things that bug you about students, and get students to agree to not do those things. Then ask them what you do that bugs them, and agree to try and avoid those too. Ask regularly, “what is working / not working for you right now?”
Benefits of learning outcomes:
Helps to structure the module content
Helps to guide assessment practices
Helps to direct teaching strategies
Provides a measure of accountability
Helps students to focus on what to study / learning outcomes are the “scope of the exam”
Learning activities are “supported” by assessment / assessment drives learning
Many students come into higher education thinking “Give me the stuff, and I’ll give it back to you”. How can we change that mindset?
Look at how SAQA’s level descriptors link to learning outcomes, and make them specific to module descriptors (1st year = level 5, 2nd year = level 6, 3rd year = level 7, 4th year = level 8)
Try to get students to see why the outcomes are important i.e. do they have personal meaning for the students, or are they just words
Review the lecture outcomes at the beginning and end of the lecture. Ask students if they felt that the outcomes were achieved
Over the last week I’ve given my fourth year physiotherapy students 2 assignments to be completed over the next few months. Here is a basic rundown of each.
The first assignment is part of the continuous evaluation for the Management module I teach. The students must create a website for a (fictional) private physiotherapy practice. They’ll be using Google Sites as the platform, which seems to be the simplest approach that removes most of the barriers to creating sites for people with no experience in this regard. I wanted to make the technology as small a factor as possible, which I think Sites does quite nicely. The objectives for the students are that they should be better able to:
Identify relevant information that potential clients would need to find their practice
Identify and make use of professional guidelines on advertising and self-promotion
Learn new skills that will better prepare them for practice e.g. establishing an online presence using freely available tools
Be creative in how they present themselves and their practices
The second assignment is part of the Ethics and Human Rights in Health module that I teach. Students will use a wiki to explore the differences in community-based physiotherapy in South Africa (University of the Western Cape) and Ireland (Royal College of Surgeons), as part of an international collaborative project on Physiopedia. This assignment will focus on groupwork and collaborative learning, using the content as a framework on which to build a body of shared experiences. They will be working with Irish physiotherapy students to create short narratives on the different learning and practical experiences of stutdents working in both countries. The objectives (for our students) that they should be better able to:
Identify relevant sources of information to provide background to the narratives
Highlight the role of the physiotherapist in community-based healthcare settings
Explore and discuss some of the ethical and patient rights issues inherent in the South African healthcare system
Engage in dialogue with students who come from different backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic environments, acknowledging the perspectives of those who experience the world in different ways
Make effective use of technology to community with and share ideas with peers who are geographically dispersed
Participate in the peer review process, by commenting on the work of other groups
I’ll be reporting on the progress of the students as they work on these assignments, and will be making any findings available following their completion.