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Students come up with creative ideas for displaying their work

Helping a cohort of 52 business students to design and curate their exhibition of the 11 week Reflective Practitioner module provided an interesting opportunity for students to come up with imaginative ways of displaying their work.

Task   The exhibition design, artefacts and curation represented a piece of course work, and two streams of students were asked to make a joint exhibition. The two groups worked independently until week 10, only being able to liaise in week 11 and on the day of the event. Students elected to take on specific roles and tasks, and had responsibility for devising and making displays. A very large number of artefacts needed to be displayed.

Venue   The Drysdale Lecture Theatre, lobby area and boardroom. We had access one and a half hours ahead of the exhibition opening to the public.

Process   From week 2 students were introduced to the idea of the exhibition, and over the course momentum built, including a vital integrative workshop in week 10 when as many exhibits were prepared as possible. Students also worked in groups on a plan of the space, producing some excellent space designs. Students were mindful of providing a space that would enable up to 60 guests to circulate, plus a reception table, and space for visitors’ feedback.

How students came up with creative solutions

Living  Exhibits  Each student elected to wear a badge inviting guests to interact with them on a particular theme of the module.

Gazebo  For a fantastic central focus, the basic framework of a small garden gazebo was used to display 52 three-dimensional story cubes, representing the special qualities of each student but also, symbolically brought together into a single organisation.

Bathroom suckers We sourced plastic sucker “towel” hooks to suspend lines of cord, from which visitors added their handwritten feedback on luggage labels.

Boxes Large Cardboard boxes were designed by students to display quotes, images and photos.

Lessons Learned  

The opportunity to display their work afforded the learning from the module to be made visible to external guests, to the wider institution, and to prospective students and  parents (it coincided with an open day.) Our students have great ability to understand and collaborate together on designing and enhancing learning spaces. Given the success of this exhibition perhaps we should ensure that any future learning spaces build in to their design ways to display work. Simple ideas can turn a space into a display area, including hooks placed at the top of walls for hanging work, more flexible spot lighting that can be used to illuminate displays and better designed mobile display boards.

   

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Moodle 2: Improving the help functions

January 24, 2013 1 comment

One of the common critiques of Moodle is that when you need some information on how to do stuff, it may take you some time finding what you are looking for and the information may not always be available in the most user friendly fashion.

moodle_docsMoodle 2 promises a range of interesting and useful tools. However at times, might leave us feeling exasperated when we look up that guidance sheet and realise it doesn’t contain what we need. Or that we may be referred to another resource all of which wastes more time. Or that we might have preferred another type of resource for e.g a short video since this may suit our learning style.

The forthcoming move to the latest version of Moodle (Moodle 2) has given us the opportunity to think about the many ways we provide guidance on Moodle and what may need revisiting. Not least of these is the structure of the Moodle guidance area. To address this, the Moodle 2 guidance working group(consisting of Educational Technologists from across the University) have been looking at how we provide resources for staff and students that are both engaging and inspiring, accommodate a range of learning styles and are available at our finger tips.

Currently resources are provided through Moodle in the form of a ‘teaching with Moodle‘ module. The educational technologists in each school provide a variation of this module dependent on their needs. In addition, one to ones and small group sessions are also on hand in schools for staff and students. A recent QAA report highlighted that students had rated the Moodle resources to be helpful. Since moodle is an open source product, there is scope yet, for adapting the guides to meet local needs.

Having taken some advice from universities such as Lancaster, Bath and UCL, the Moodle 2 Guidance WG are structuring a guidance area that will include all the SLE related technologies. The guidance area will adopt a more user friendly format and include how to guides, frequently asked questions(FAQs), demonstration and best practice ideas. A workshop is being planned to help build up the training materials and the guidance will be ready when staff commence training from Easter. More details to follow soon.

The New Learning Space: Experiences of Three Different Classes

January 24, 2013 1 comment

My final blog post reflecting on newly implemented practices last year is a long-overdue write-up of my experiences teaching different classes in one of City’s innovative Learning Spaces, which have been much talked about recently on Educational Vignettes. I have followed the Learning Spaces project with interest since its inception, so I was delighted that in Summer Term, I was able to book one of the rooms, which have been heavily in demand all year.

In May and June 2012, I ran three classes conceived with the new space in mind, which, between them, covered a variety of different fields of study (study skills, popular music, and classical music) and types of teaching (tutorial, seminar, and lecture-based). My view is that it simply would not have been possible to have taught these classes in the same way in a traditional classroom, and that the new Learning Space enabled a more interactive, engaging, and stimulating manner of teaching.

(1) First-year tutor group on SWOT and Time Management, 14 May 2012

First-year tutor group on SWOT and Time ManagementFor this tutorial session, intended to deliver academic skills to first-year undergraduates to smooth the transition to tertiary education, I had prepared two tasks they were to complete in pairs. The one that especially benefitted from the Learning Space was the SWOT task, for which, having explained the basics, I asked the students to write down strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats on separate sticky labels which were then affixed on the wall-based glass panels under headings I had previously stuck to the wall. (We could have used the special pens on the glass instead of sticky notes, but when I tested this beforehand, the writing turned out to be not particularly visible.)

Given that students tend to love sitting behind tables and having the space to put everything on the surface in front of them, I was particularly interested to see that when they entered the classroom, they immediately arranged the chairs in a line, moving them away from the tables and towards the centre of the room (see picture, right). Despite having a relatively large space for such a small group, with several tables to choose from, when I asked them to split up and move to different tables, they all clustered around the same table to begin with and I had to encourage them to break out into pairs. Nonetheless, I suspect that more groupwork than pairwork surreptitiously took place…

The students did acknowledge that the chairs were not at quite the right heights for the tables, and that the two parts of the petal tables made for an awkward height difference for the person sat at the join. I also observed with interest that the student who sat on the highest chair was the one who took the lead in discussion!

(2) Second-year seminar on Television Talent Discovery Shows, 22 May 2012

In my next class in the Learning Space, I adopted a similar teaching method in commencing the seminar by inviting students, working in groups of 2-4, to write down on sticky notes as many acts associated with UK television talent discovery shows since 2000 as they could recall, and then to place them under the headings I had previously put up on the glass wall panels. I asked students to place sticky notes featuring the same name together in order easily to garner a sense of the number of students who had recollected a particular act. The photograph (below left) shows a few of the students in action, some affixing their sticky notes to the wall, others discussing in their small groups or verifying information online via their mobile devices.

Second-year seminar on Television Talent Discovery ShowsThe results of the task were rather revealing, and my feeling is that they could not have been achieved, nor could the ensuing discussion have been as effective, via any other teaching method. For instance, many students remembered recent winners such as Little Mix (The X Factor, 2011), but had more difficulty recollecting some of the winners in previous years’ competitions. Conversely, other notable acts from previous years who did not win their associated show (such as Susan Boyle [Britain’s Got Talent, 2009] or Jedward [The X Factor, 2009]) had evidently remained in their memory. There were other telling outcomes as well, which would have been difficult to predict: as an example, several students recalled The Cheeky Girls, but they could not match them to the correct show (Popstars: The Rivals, 2002).

During the class, I invited the students to walk around the room and look at the finished display on the wall panels for themselves. I had also prepared PowerPoint slides with more exhaustive information about the acts associated with particular television shows and seasons, with which we were able to fill in the gaps. Afterwards, I went round the room video-taping the display before it was taken down, and uploaded the video to Moodle as a permanent record of the session. The classroom’s swivel chairs also helpfully facilitated an impromptu re-enactment by four of us of the judges on The Voice UK!

(3) Second-year lecture on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, 29 May 2012

The final class was perhaps the most conventional, and one that I have presented several times in a classroom set out in lecture-format. Nonetheless, I wanted to use the new Learning Space to be able move the tables and chairs easily to create sufficient space for a live task undertaken by several unwitting student volunteers during the lecture. I do recall feeling much more exposed, standing in the centre of a comparatively wide space and speaking to students sitting at tables on the periphery, than I would have done in a room arranged as for a traditional lecture.

Possibly the highlight of the class was the attempt on the part of myself and several students to copy the original choreography of a particular passage of The Rite of Spring, in order to understand the challenges presented by the highly controversial dancing, the way in which it fits with the music, and the disjuncture between the composer’s intentions and the choreographer’s. Needless to say, the idea that ‘learning can be fun’ took on a whole new level. There is some video footage of this, taken by a student on her mobile device – not for the first time – but I very much hope it never surfaces!

Moodle 2: Here’s looking at what’s around the corner

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

ImageAs has already been posted in educational vignettes, Moodle is being upgraded at City University, London in the next three months. Before that happens, all ed. tech teams are on the go trying to ensure that Moodle 2 gets the full body treatment! This blog provides you with an update on what the Moodle implementation working group are doing to provide staff and students with the best possible Moodle 2 experience.

Those who are fanatical about Moodle will know that the latest version was released in late 2010. This version has been hailed as a ‘more improved version’ and the answer to many of the requests from the community of users and that of the technical developers. As an example discussed before, the way we upload files is most certainly going to be faster and better. The ed.tech team at City University, London is taking a good look at Moodle 2 to make this upgrade an opportunity to reflect on what Moodle can offer as a learning environment, what can change, what needs promotion and what needs attention.

The Moodle 2 implementation working group are testing current functionality to make sure everything is as expected.  They will also be testing new functionality to ensure that we can better support our academic staff and students in using Moodle. The testing involves some use of scenarios on schools experience however this is only replicated in some processes. This will ensure that the tools deliver on what is expected. The testing process described has begun and all ed. tech teams are involved. It is anticipated that the testing will be completed by the end of March.

As we move towards Moodle 2, we will be publishing more details on this in the coming months. We will also be thinking proactively about how staff and students will be trained whilst making sure we spend some time hearing your thoughts, sharing with you some exciting new stuff and generally making sure we are listening to you to make Moodle better than ever before. Please do get in touch with us or your ed. tech team if you are interested in knowing more.

7 things you should know about Lecture Capture

January 11, 2013 Leave a comment

OTLTWhat is it?

Lecture Capture includes a range of technologies used for digitally recording and distributing lectures. These recordings involve some combination of text, audio and video. The video could be of the lecturer, a whiteboard, a chalkboard, a screencast or any combination of video feeds available (Dey et al., 2009; Gosper, et al., 2008).

Who’s doing it?

Lecture Capture, though still a relatively young research area, continues to gain momentum across the globe. In London, Institutions such as LSE,UCL, Queen Mary and Imperial seem to be leading the way.

What are the Benefits?

While not intended as a replacement for in-class instruction, lecture capture offers three important benefits: an alternative when students miss class; an opportunity for content review, particularly when abstruse topics are introduced or detailed procedures are performed; and content for online course development.

What does the research say about lecture capture usage?

Pennsylvania State University reports on trends in lecture capture research and provides some common reasons for leveraging lecture capture. These include convenience for students, reviewing for exams, enhancing students understanding of concepts from class, note taking and reviewing materials if students miss classes. More studies as well as insights into other universities usage of lecture capture are now being conducted across the board on lecture capture and can be viewed here.

In a recent small scale study of lecture capture of 1,000 students run by the School of Arts and Social Sciences; results showed that 91% of students used lecture recordings and 93% of students said lecture recordings helped their exam revision and assignment preparation.

Why is Lecture Capture important?

Students generally value lecture capture because it gives them the ability to go back and review lecture materials in their own time at their own pace.  This is particularly useful for revision. Through some of the studies reported above, lecture capture may offer additional support for students who speak English as a second language as well as students who may have learning difficulties.

Lecturers value the recording of their lectures because it gives them the ability to help students grasp difficult concepts and provide revision opportunities. Some lecturers worry that students may cut classes in favour of viewing captured lectures.  However recorded lectures are being seen as an opportunity by some lecturers to flip the classroom i.e use class time to conduct group activities to supplement the lecture material.

How does it work?

At City University London, the lecture capture system being used is Echo360. This system is integrated into AV Pods in a few rooms. More information on rooms that contain lecture capture are listed below. Pushing a single button is normally enough to activate the system and begin capturing a lecture. Recordings can be viewed on the web or in formats compatible with MP3 players and portable video devices.

Which learning spaces can I use to record lectures?

The lecture capture working group have enabled the system in several spaces across the Institution. This group intends to expand lecture capture next academic year.  The lecture theatres and other rooms that currently hold the equipment for staff to record material for students are:

Oakden, Geary,Oliver Thompson and ELG19 lecture theatre  and The Mill, Goswell Place.

If you have any further thoughts on lecture capture, please do raise under comments. If you’d like to be part of the lecture capture ‘revolution’ please do  contact your ed. tech team.

Twitter in the University Classroom: Live-Tweeting During Lectures

January 3, 2013 3 comments

My second blog post reflecting on teaching innovations of 2012 is dedicated to my use of Twitter during one undergraduate module in the year just passed. My original intention, in embedding a Twitter widget within one of my Moodle pages, was merely to issue the occasional message to students to aid communication of, for instance, my progress with marking of their assessments. However, when I announced our ‘official’ Twitter hashtag to the students, to my surprise and delight, they started to use it not just for my module but to tweet about other areas of the programme as well. Even students not on the module started using the hashtag!

A few weeks into my module, I discovered that students who brought to class mobile devices that were connected to the wireless network (see my previous post on BYOD) had been tweeting on the lecture during the lecture, prompting me to tweet back during the break. At this point, with the help of several colleagues from the Learning Development Centre (thanks are due to Neal Sumner, Siân Lindsay, and particularly Ajmal Sultany), I investigated a means of live-tweeting during lectures without interrupting the rest of the teaching such as my use of PowerPoint and audiovisual examples.

Chris Wiley - Live-Tweeting During LecturesHaving looked into a number of different desktop-based Twitter clients to see whether they would meet my rather specific requirements, I found that Twhirl worked perfectly, with a search set up for the hashtag. I needed to increase the number of seconds for which the desktop alert is displayed, to give the students sufficient time to read it before it disappeared (I have to confess that since the alerts are only visible for c.15 seconds, a student and I had to mock up the photograph, right). I also found it necessary to lower the resolution on my laptop, because otherwise the alerts would have appeared off the far right-hand side of the screen when projected through the teaching pod.

It took a little while to get it just right, but having found workarounds for the various technological and logistical challenges, in several classes (with the aid of my trusty iPad) I provided a running Twitter feed before, during, and after the lecture, which helped keep students’ attention focussed on the key points and issues particularly when audiovisual examples were playing. A few students (though perhaps not as many as I’d hoped) followed my lead and tweeted their own thoughts too, all of which were displayed in real-time on the projector screen at the front of the classroom. We also received tweets from former students who have taken the module in the past, from staff elsewhere in the University who picked up news of the lectures via Twitter, and even, occasionally, retweets from users unknown to us – an ideal reminder that we were discussing real-life issues that have a bearing on the real world, beyond the confines of the University.

Disadvantages to live-tweeting include that the author of a given message is publicly identified rather than anonymous (perhaps this was why some students were using the hashtag only outside the classroom, rather than having their tweets appear on the projector screen during class), and that the tutor cannot anticipate the appearance or content of a tweet so there is a danger that it might interrupt the flow of the lecture. Nonetheless, although an ambitious undertaking it did seem to be an effective way of using Twitter to enhance teaching, without placing it at the centre of teaching. It also provided a novel means of engaging the students – including some who might not have been quick to contribute to face-to-face class discussion.

Were I to take Twitter back into the University classroom in the future, there are a couple of additional possibilities I might seek to implement. One is to pass a mobile device or two round the class and appoint specific students to be responsible for providing a running Twitter commentary for a given lecture. Another is to embed tweets within my PowerPoint presentation via add-in Twitter Tools, such that they are automatically posted (and the alert received) upon reaching the associated slide. Using these Twitter Tools, it is even possible to include a tweet cloud in a PowerPoint presentation, and to embed a real-time Twitter ticker feed at the bottom of each slide, which might ultimately obviate the need to use a desktop-based client. Much to think about for 2013!

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): How Staff are Responding to the Mobile Technologies Their Students Bring With Them to Class

December 23, 2012 2 comments

The end of the year yields an opportune time to reflect upon various teaching innovations that have been discussed, written about, and presented earlier in the year, but which have not yet been included on the Educational Vignettes website. In this, the first of a series of end-of-year posts, I offer some thumbnail sketches of initiatives implemented in my teaching during 2012 to embrace mobile technologies with which students have been engaging to support their in-class learning – but with which, crucially, I was myself comparatively unfamiliar.

It can certainly be offputting to a tutor for the students’ attentions to be apparently divided between the lecture and their mobile devices; but this year I have seen evidence that, far from being a distraction, even the unsolicited use of mobile technologies by students can actually lead to their being more engaged in class. For example, in one lecture, when discussing crossover between classical musicians and popular music, I alluded to a Los Angeles-based string collective, the Vitamin String Quartet, who have released a fascinating series of albums of arrangements of popular music. Moments later, the whole class heard the unmistakeable sounds of a string quartet emanating from one corner of the room – one of the students had looked up the group’s website on her laptop, but had forgotten to ensure that she had turned off the sound…

Another such instance seems rather appropriate to this time of year : I was chatting to a student after a lecture who rather impressed me by dropping into conversation that Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was the only track ever to have reached the UK singles Christmas No. 1 spot twice, in 1975 and 1991. When I asked him how he knew this, he reminded me that during the lecture, I had mentioned that the Spice Girls were the only act to have attained three consecutive Christmas No.1s (1996-98). His interest had been sufficiently piqued by this piece of information that he had used his mobile device to call up a list of UK Christmas No.1s, and noticed the double appearance of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ there.

Versions of the two case studies below were previously presented at the School of Arts and Social Sciences Teaching and Learning Fête on 20 March 2012, and I am indebted to several colleagues at the Learning Development Centre without whose input and advice many of my endeavours this year simply would not have been possible.

Impromptu lecture-capture

Punk rock lectureIn a lecture on punk rock earlier in the year, a few students and I re-enacted the infamous interview between the Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy broadcast live on primetime Thames Television back in 1976. Reconstructions based on archived footage are available, but we decided that it would be more fun and interactive for the students to come to the front and recreate the experience for themselves. Given the relatively large number of people involved in the task, one student remarked that at this rate there would be nobody left in the class – to which I responded that this was very much in keeping with the belief-system at the centre of punk rock: the idea that anybody can get up on stage and be a performer.

Perhaps most interesting was one student who declared that she would be playing a role I had not even considered – that of the cameraman. She filmed our entire reconstruction using her mobile device (from which the screenshot, above right, is taken), thereby taking the notion of student ownership of their teaching and learning to a whole new level. (More recently, another student has written to me that his participation in the role-play was one of the most enjoyable parts of his educational experience – which is particularly revealing in that although he was indeed a part of the scene, and appears in the screenshot above, he actually had no lines to say!) The footage is now being uploaded to Moodle as a helpful reminder of the endeavour, and of the wider points it raised about punk’s do-it-yourself aesthetic.

Video podcasting of lecture summaries

Earlier in the year I was loaned an iPad by the School, and set the intriguing challenge of finding innovative ways to incorporate it within my teaching. Personal research soon led me to the Wired Educator blog in which a compelling case is made, albeit in a different context, for using the iPad for podcasting (see here). I have been audio podcasting since 2009 but switched to video (not a medium with which I am particularly comfortable) this year. My rationale for the change was that, while the pedagogical function of podcasting may be largely fulfilled by audio-only resources, images are more engaging for the students, encouraging a greater level of concentration and enabling them to see and interpret the speaker’s gestures and body language. I was also mindful of recent experiences within the institution with lecture-capture, which I have been increasingly using as the year has progressed, and of wider innovations in education such as the implementation of flipped classes.

My mode of operation was to record a podcast of 8-10 minutes in advance of each lecture, providing a summary of the key material and concepts of the associated class as well as discussing the set reading, and to release the recording via Moodle. Each podcast was intended to give the students some grounding in the content of the lecture (as well as to act as a ‘trailer’) and to provide some context on the preparatory reading, but they had an unexpected secondary function as a resource for the end-of-module examination. In the module evaluation, completed one week before the examination took place, one student wrote that “The weekly podcasts which were made were very helpful for revision” while another commented on the “Helpful podcasts on Moodle for revision purposes”.

As noted, many students already owned mobile devices upon which the podcasts could be played, downloaded, and re-watched at their convenience. For the others, I came to class every week with the podcasts pre-loaded onto my iPad (see screenshot, below) and students who did not have the opportunity to watch them in advance, or appreciated a second viewing to refresh their memories, were able to borrow my iPad for this purpose before the lecture or during the break.

Podcasts - screen capture

Self- and Peer Assessment using Turnitin in SEMS: Cengiz Turkoglu

August 1, 2012 5 comments

Cengiz Turkoglu, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, principally teaches final-year undergraduate students and one of the MSc Aviation Management modules, with class sizes usually not exceeding 20 students. Each of his modules uses a similar assessment pattern comprising one coursework plus an examination. For the coursework component, he utilizes the self-review and peer review functions of Turnitin as part of the assessment.

The coursework has an initial deadline of a minimum of 6-8 weeks into the module to allow sufficient time for students to conduct research and write their essays. Once the students have submitted their paper, Turnitin’s PeerMark assignment function allows them to be either paired or randomly allocated another paper, which they are then required to peer-review. Given that there is always a range of standards represented by the students and their papers, one dilemma that Cengiz has faced concerns whether to pair the students randomly or to attempt to group them according to their standard. He never pairs them such that two students are asked to review one another’s papers.

The feedback provided by each student in peer review is subsequently made available to the original author – and the students are made aware at the time of writing that their comments will be released in this manner. At the same time, each author is asked to take a self-assessment exercise that follows exactly the same format as the peer review. As the process is conducted entirely online using Turnitin, it is completely paperless, which reduces the administrative workload and makes for a more sustainable structure.

For Cengiz, self- and peer review are only valuable if they lead somewhere in terms of the assessment process. With that in mind, once the feedback has been exchanged between students, Cengiz gives them a week to undertake further revisions to their original submission should they wish to do so. He asks that they do not rewrite their paper substantively, but confine themselves to minor amendments. Plagiarism of the peer-review feedback is not an issue because all the material is traceable and hence can be attributed. Only after the revised submission has been received does Cengiz mark the work summatively using GradeMark and provide his own feedback.

Detailed assessment criteria are provided, with the marking criteria broken down into six different categories each with their own weighting, of which one category is self- and peer review (worth 10% of the mark). The students are therefore aware from the outset that it is an integral part of the assessment, and its summative nature encourages them to engage fully with the process, since Cengiz’s experience is that students can be very assessment-driven. The questions they are asked for the self- and peer reviews correspond to the other assessment categories, so they judge each other’s paper, and their own, in exactly the same way as the examiner.

Cengiz has found this to be a very valuable exercise. It sets the students thinking about how to frame feedback, offering helpful advice to the author rather than simply giving praise or criticism. It also encourages them to consider issues such as whether the author understood the question and maintained focus, how well they researched the subject, and how coherent the arguments they presented were, based on their own reasoning or factual information they identified during their research. (The criteria matrix used by Cengiz is shown below; this is also entered as the rubric in Turnitin.) While students are variable in their engagement with the process, Cengiz notes that the best self-reviews and peer reviews recognize areas where the submission can be improved.

Turnitin screenshot - criteria matrix

Cengiz argues that the value of this assessment model is that it provides a simulation of real-life scenarios. In safety-critical industries such as aviation, for example, maintenance engineers are expected to inspect each others’ work on a regular basis, and the peer review process is widely used particularly by design engineers. In addition, all engineers should be expected to reflect upon, and to strive to improve, their own performance in order continually to develop themselves professionally. They may not necessarily always receive the most favourable advice from their own peers, so engineering students are prepared effectively for the profession through nurturing skills such as being able to evaluate the feedback they receive and to make their own judgement when taking decisions.

Cengiz justifies equalizing the weightings between the coursework and examination (originally weighted at 30% and 70% respectively) by citing the introduction of the requirements for self-assessment and peer review as a reason to give greater weighting to the coursework component. He strongly believes that examination is not the only suitable assessment method for his modules as the nature of the topics he teaches is such that they require understanding and the ability to apply this knowledge to real-life scenarios, rather than merely memorising content from text books or course notes. After studying on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice programme delivered by the Learning Development Centre at City University London, Cengiz has become an advocate of self-directed and reflective learning, and he encourages his students to become more critically self-reflexive so that they can learn from their own experiences.

If you would like to know more about this assessment model, Cengiz is happy to be contacted by e-mail: cengiz.turkoglu.1@city.ac.uk.

Christopher Wiley and Cengiz Turkoglu

Use of the Personal Response System for Formative Assessment in Optometry: Dr Byki Huntjens and Dr Steve Gruppetta

With the recent founding of the University Personal Response System (PRS) Steering Group, co-chaired by Dr Siân Lindsay and Farzana Latif, this would seem to be an opportune time to profile one of the innovative approaches implemented within the University in using PRS technology for formative assessment.

Dr Byki Huntjens and Dr Steve Gruppetta are lecturers in the Division of Optometry and Visual Science who have introduced the PRS to undergraduate students in order that they may receive immediate classroom feedback during Clinical Skills and Optics lectures. A PRS handset is given to the students (against a small deposit) throughout their degree programme, and is registered to their name to enable responses to be matched to individuals. Each lecture features a succession of multiple choice questions (MCQ). Byki’s practice is to start later lectures with a set of MCQs covering the previous topic plus the background reading for the class, and test the students’ understanding of the new topic later on during the lecture. Steve includes material that potentially encompasses the previous lecture, the current lecture, or even paves the way for a new topic to be discussed. The end result is a series of technology-enabled formative assessments.

Although only the group scores are shown during lectures and the progress of individual students is not revealed, the results of the quizzes are uploaded to Moodle each week by topic and the students are thereby able to check their individual score. This enables them to track their progress over time, and doubles as a reminder of the topics to which they need to direct particular attention prior to the examinations. The Moodle grade book also shows the students’ ranking among the whole group, leading some of them to become slightly competitive. Indeed, the element of competition is actively nurtured – the top five students with the highest marks in the year are awarded a prize at the divisional Prize Giving event.

The students have shown excitement during the PRS quizzes and appreciate the immediacy of the feedback, the anonymity of the process, and the way that it articulates the lecture by providing an interlude. Steve has developed the practice of making the PRS quizzes, which he calls the ‘Optics Challenge’, distinct from the rest of the lecture by changing the background of the slide from white to black (see screenshot below). The students’ responses are also used by the tutors to adapt subsequent lectures to the level of understanding of the specific cohort; this has prompted a change of direction on several occasions. In addition, this information has enhanced the support that the tutors are able to offer when students have sought extra help.

The Optics Challenge Leaderboard

Byki delivered a presentation on the use of PRS technology for formative assessment at the Fourth Annual ‘Learning at City’ Conference on 13 June, 1.20-2.00pm (the video is available here).

Christopher Wiley, Byki Huntjens, and Steve Gruppetta
with thanks to Siân Lindsay and Farzana Latif

Learning Space Design at City, what students really want

July 20, 2012 3 comments

In a very recent report from the Students Union to Senate, one of the 5 student community themes put forward concerned  Learning and Social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration.

“Students expect facilities which are fit for purpose, welcoming, comfortable and focused on their needs. We would like to see an Estates Strategy which looks at existing spaces as places where achievement is celebrated. The long term plans for new spaces should reflect students’ desires to come together to study, eat and socialise.”

There are some excellent learning spaces at City, however still far too few are distinctive enough to make a memorable impact on actual or prospective students. We may not be able to do much with our historic building stock, so it is all the more vital that new and refurbished spaces go out of their way to represent and reinforce the values of academic excellence the university now has committed to. Many of our spaces expect students to learn in a physical environment that is vastly different to the world in which they will be putting their knowledge to use: a world of collaboration, exploration, creative thinking, flexibility and ubiquitous digital resources and communication. Increasingly our students are coming from High Schools and Academies with world class design of physical learning spaces, their expectations of City in this respect are rightly high.

Students want learning and social spaces that reflect the value City places on quality education, interaction and collaboration. City students have also identified a set of key values that encouragingly resonate with the Universities strategic vision.

Interaction, opportunity, identity, energy, excitement, enrichment, buzz, pride, inspiration, belonging, personalisation, participation, boundary breaking, diversity, lifelong friendship.

If we take these key values and apply them to the design of learning spaces, City could achieve a distinctive vision for a menu of learning spaces that promotes and supports educational excellence. By Learning Spaces, we should include social spaces, both indoor and outdoor spaces, and Virtual Learning Spaces. Even corridors offer untold opportunities for learning, with student and staff curated exhibitions that celebrate their achievements and act as a forum for sharing knowledge and ideas. As an institution we are on the cusp of major space building and refurbishment, with the opportunity to enrich the students’ experience through ground breaking space design that reflects what the students really want.

The LDC’s Learning Space Project has done a considerable amount to engage staff and students in this process, with for example a very productive Space Design Forum, and the resulting two pilot spaces.  Feedback from students show that inspirational space is hugely important to their learning. Students are also looking for interaction in learning spaces. At City we have a greatly underused potential resource for interactive learning: the walls and vertical spaces. When refurbishing existing spaces or designing new ones, it is vital to view the walls as an interactive learning resource. Presently many existing classrooms and lecture halls have constraints over the use of walls and teachers and students are not allowed to use bluetac. The décor and treatment of walls takes precedence over learning.

Interactive use of walls in a research university (Southern England)

There is also an important emotional component to learning space, which can have a great impact on energising both students and teachers. This includes the air quality of the space, lighting, the use of colour, and flexible space with freedom of movement. Rather than the draining effects of rows of fixed tables and chairs.
All City Schools now subscribe to the principles of high engagement learning. Participation is a key principle, needing all our learning spaces designed to support and promote it. Forward facing classrooms, fixed rows of seating, lecture theatres that seem designed to prevent team working and collaboration between students, all work against participative learning
Students want a diversity of learning spaces, reflecting the diversity of their learning styles and needs. They also identify pride as key to being part of the City community. Imaginative, distinctive and memorable learning spaces are essential to communicating City’s vision for educational excellence.

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