First session of the new semester was the odd one that has me teaching on it. The first part was delivered by the module leader and covered cognitive load theory and what implications this has on the use and design of digital learning materials. Cognitive load theory states that as learning involves effort, there are therefore limits on how much information can be processed at any one time. Sweller identified three types of effort – intrinsic, extraneous and germane. Intrinsic load is that which has to be learned, extraneous load is additional information that distracts somehow (e.g. the overuse of footnotes which requires people to flick between the body and the footnotes), and germane load which front loads some additional effort with the intention of making learning easier and more efficient in the long term. Well-designed learning materials should aim to reduce extraneous load to increase intrinsic or germane load.
My session followed this by demonstrating some content creation tools and giving examples on how they can be used to create good materials. My time was very limited so it had to be a demonstration rather than a guided hands-on session, and I included Storyline, Prezi, ThingLink, Pictochart and PowToon. Each one of these could easily have warranted a half-day session to really get into detail and this is something that we’re thinking about for next year, as the programme leader for the PG Cert and my team will both be part of a new CELT which the university is in the process of forming now. The programme leader was also in this session, primarily with their student hat on, but they were also informally observing me to give me some feedback. That was all pretty positive, saying that I was able to answer all the questions that came up calmly and confidently, which is reassuring, as I personally felt like I fluffed the PowToon part. The application has changed a lot since I last used it in earnest and I hadn’t given myself sufficient time to get used to the new version in my session preparation. I followed up the session by publishing a comprehensive range of further information and self-help resources on the module’s SunSpace site which I pointed people towards.
The final day of the first semester was a little unusual. The morning was given over to a review of the assignments for this module which are to complete the UKPSF form, critique a learning session, analyse a learning theory, and write a report on the experience of peer observation, comparing the experience of being the observer and the observee. Drafts are due at the end of semester 2, with final versions by September. All well and good, and all covered in the module guide. This session didn’t add anything, and yet we did literally spend the entire morning debating it. Strange things happen when you have academics as students.
The afternoon session was more useful. First there was a short presentation on evaluation in general, why and how to do it, followed by an introduction to nominal group technique. A definition of evaluation was given as ‘assessing the process and practice of a prior learning strategy or event by feedback and trying to make objective summaries of an often subjective interpretation.’ This was followed by a discussion on the different types of evaluation – student, staff, data, and self – and the difference between quality assurance, which is backwards looking and tends to be about accountability, and quality enhancement, which is about how to improve and develop your programme or module.
With quality enhancement in mind, nominal group technique was then introduced followed by actually using it to evaluate this first semester. As a group, and with the programme leader absent, we drew up two lists of ten to twelve points of things that are going well, and things which we think need to be improved. These were written on a board in no particular order, then individually we had ten votes, or points, with which to rank what we thought were the most important points. So for example, if you thought that ‘over-assessment’ and ‘use of VLE’ were the two most important things that needed to be improved upon, then you could give each one five votes. The programme leader was then invited back in and the votes were added up to show what we collectively ranked as the most important things for improvement, and what we felt was going well. The outcome of this evaluation will be actively used in the development of the programme for the second semester.
A very interesting morning session for the technology module, EDPM08, covering uses of technology to support self and peer assessment. The great thing about the tutor on this module is that they don’t just know their stuff, they back everything up with research proving that what they’re talking about works. That’s definitely something to keep in mind and aspire to in my own teaching.
First there was a discussion about peer marking, and research that shows that it only takes a surprisingly small number of peer grades to be averaged for it to approximate the grade of a tutor. That’s something that could prove very useful in the assessment for the ArtWorks MOOC that I’ve been assisting to develop. Then we covered the value of real-time formative feedback assisted by quiz tools such as Socrative and Poll Everywhere. And finally, not strictly supported by technology, there was a discussion about comparative marking, giving tutors two papers and deciding which of the two should get a higher mark, but without actually grading them. An interesting idea that I would like to look into further to find out more about how it works.
There was also a nice, almost throwaway remark about the concept of ‘desirable difficulties’, and anecdotal evidence that students learn more from bad lecturers as it makes them have to work harder to make sense of what is being taught. A kind of unintended experiential learning!
The afternoon session was back to the core module, EDPM05, and the use of reflection on teaching and learning. This was facilitated through an iterative exercise where we discussed where and how reflection takes place, wrote down ideas on sticky card and then worked the cards round on a board to reach some conclusions as a group.
Two sessions today, delivered by two guest lecturers on different topics. The morning was devoted to peer observation and discussed the exercise in general terms, the balance which needs to be struck between institutional and individual focus, and between negotiated and imposed criteria, and then on how it works here at Sunderland specifically. Here there is a standardised form which is part of the academic quality handbook, and everyone has to be peer observed a couple of times every year. One of the assessments for this module is for me to be observed, conduct an observation and write a reflective piece on the experience.
This was followed by a discussion on various quality frameworks and their different purposes which we assessed on a scale of institutional / individual focus, and negotiated / imposed criteria:
- UKPSF: About an individual’s professional teaching;
- NSS: The National Students Survey about their experience;
- TEF: The impending Teaching Excellent Framework which is designed to capture the performance and effectiveness of institutions;
- DfE Teacher Standards: About the role and responsibilities of teachers;
- Oftsed Observation Matrix: About the quality of learning as a result of teaching.
Our lecturer in the afternoon began with a discussion on different types of knowledge in practice, including research based evidence, tacit knowledge (from the work of Michael Polanyi who gives, as an example, the ability to ride a bicycle but difficulty in explaining how), and postmodernist approaches which argue that knowledge is socially constructed and thus particular to a given set of social and historic circumstances.
This was followed with reflective practice, the usual suspects, Gibbs and Schon, and a new one for me, Jan Fook, who writes about critical reflection and the need to unearth and examine the deeply held assumptions underlying our experiences.
Finally there was a discussion about his own research in auto-ethnography, a disciple which combines anthropology with biography to record the experience of being in a particular culture.
Continued our discussion on curriculum design, this time using John Biggs’s idea of constructive alignment. This is the theory that learning is best accomplished by having students construct meaning for themselves, rather than trying to impart or transmit knowledge. The role of the teacher in this model is to be a catalyst for learning and to facilitate the process by providing relevant learning activities and an optimum environment in which learning can take place.
We then discussed the importance of getting learning outcomes right and the need to regularly review and revise them based on student outcomes. A tip given for writing learning outcomes was to avoid using ‘understand’ as the measurable verb, to instead use something which places the focus on a practical application if possible. Again, Bloom’s taxonomy was recommended as a source of inspiration for alternatives.
For the afternoon session there was a change of lecturer and topic, to discuss the scholarship of teaching and learning using the work of Angela Brew as a starting point. The argument here is that, as an academic, you should focus on teaching and learning first, and scholarship will follow naturally. We discussed Foucault’s ideas about truth and the regimes of truth, and how the current neoliberal agenda is repurposing higher education to produce employable and marketable students who will become high earners, rather than the traditional purpose which was to produce citizens capable of critical and independent thought. Tying these strands together, if the neoliberalisation of HE was applied consistently, then teaching would be more highly valued than scholarship or research, as the bulk of university funding now comes directly from students through tuition fees.
The morning session picked up EDPM05 where it left off the week before, discussing curriculum design and setting learning outcomes. There was a discussion on the distinction between learning outcomes which are for students, and learning objectives which are more of a tool for staff when designing the curriculum. Advice given for writing good learning outcomes was to phrase them in the future tense, and make them achievable, assessable and easy for students to understand. It was recommended to build each outcome around a measurable verb, e.g. reflect, hypothesis and solve for high level outcomes, and describe, identify and measure for low level. Bloom’s taxonomy was cited as a source of inspiration in looking for these. In terms of practical considerations and UK HE culture, we were advised not to set too many learning outcomes as they need to be assessed, and too many learning outcomes can quickly lead to assessment overload.
To put this into practice we were given an example from a real-world module which, when inherited by the current programme leader, had 24 learning outcomes, and we were asked to find ways to reduce these. The programme leader actually got these down to 9 by clustering a number of them. Removing any of the outcomes wasn’t a possibility because that would have constituted a major change and triggered a re-validation.
The afternoon session was for EDPM08, the optional module on Digital Learning which I am teaching on, so I was there not as a participant but as a teaching assistant to support the discussions that were taking place. Today’s session utilised an audience response system so there was a discussion about the merits of using dedicated handsets over newer app and text based systems such as Socrative and PollEverywhere. Research was cited showing that such systems increased student enjoyment and engagement.
There followed a live application to get learner’s feedback on a discussion of Marc Prensky’s argument that today’s learners can be classified into digital natives or digital immigrants, depending on whether or not they have grown up with the internet. Critiques of this argument that we discussed included evidence that the multitasking Prensky claims digital natives are capable of is actually detrimental to performance, that he creates an artificial barrier between generations, and that the ability to manage the types of non-linear and non-hierarchical leaning spaces generated by the use of hyperlinking is more a matter of a person’s working memory capacity and pre-existing knowledge than any skills they may have gained by growing up with modern digital technologies.
The first full session of the course introduced us to the UK Professional Standards Framework, or UKPSF, not to be confused with the UK Paintball Sports Federation. This framework is published by the HEA and defines 15 criteria in three sections – Activity, Core Knowledge and Professional Values, against which professional practice can be mapped. To gain Fellowship of the HEA you have to demonstrate ‘a broad understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as key contributions to high quality student learning’ across all of the criteria.
Guidance given to complete the Fellowship application was to provide two examples, backed with evidence, for each of the 15 criteria. So 30 points in total, and for each one you need to answer the questions: ‘What do I do?’, ‘Why do I do it?’, and ‘What impact does it have?’ Helpfully, the mere act of being on this course demonstrates that you have met A5 on engaging in relevant CPD. One down, 29 to go.
In the afternoon we started to discuss how to design courses, and the QAA Quality Code was cited as the starting point if you ever have the problem of having to start from scratch. This was followed by a discussion on how to write good, relevant learning outcomes and how to design the course so that students are guided towards meeting those outcomes. This discussion will be picked up again at the next session.
Because one PG Cert isn’t enough, I am now doing two due to an unfortunate overlap with dates. I’m not going to lie though, this is the one that excites me more as this is for my teaching qualification and HEA Fellowship which has been long delayed. The programme is now called the PG Cert Academic Practice at the university, and all post relating to it here will be tagged ‘PGCertAP’ and can be found in the dedicated tag page. I have a feeling that these posts are going to take a different form from those related to the Leading from the Middle programme (LftM) as there is a great deal of reflective writing being done for the programme itself, outside of my own space; so shorter, more condensed summaries of what the sessions involved I think. I’m still debating on whether or not to openly publish a copy of my HEA Fellowship portfolio as well.
This introductory half day was just for induction and registration processes. There was a run through of the programme and module handbooks, with a particular focus on the assessments. The programme is composed of three modules, a core 40 point module with four assignments – Introduction to Academic Practice (tagged EDPM05) – and for me a 20 point module with one portfolio assignment – Assessment and Feedback for Learning (tagged EDPM06). The third module is Introduction to Digital Learning and Assessment (tagged EDPM08) which, interestingly, I’m going to be doing some teaching on, to give me something formal to reflect on for my assignments in the core module.
The main and most important assignment is to complete a portfolio form to apply for HEA Fellowship, a standalone thing in its own right, but to get the PG Cert I will also need to complete and pass all of the other work.