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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!

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

Innovation in Assessment and Feedback

April 20, 2012 2 comments

My dual role as University Learning Development Associate in Assessment & Feedback and Senior Lecturer in Music has led me to run several pilot projects in my teaching this academic year (2011-12), exemplifying innovative approaches to the practices surrounding assessment and feedback. Three case studies are given below.

(1) Using wikis in Moodle to track progress on undergraduate dissertations and deliver formative feedback

Last term I set up an wiki template in Moodle to provide each of my final-year undergraduate dissertation students with a resource that both of us could access and periodically update, for the purposes of tracking progress on their dissertations and offering formative feedback on draftwork submitted.

Major Project wikiThe wiki includes pages for the project’s working title, and a separate page for each of the meetings divided into sections for the date of the meeting, a summary of what was discussed, objectives agreed for next time, and the date of the next meeting (see screenshot, right). It was developed owing to the need to help undergraduate students keep on-track in their dissertation work at a critical time in their programme, and was inspired by the Moodle wiki previously set up for the purposes of recording undergraduate Personal Development Planning (PDP) as well as the University’s use of Research And Progress for postgraduate research students.

One student has engaged with this resource to the extent that he has created several new pages to record his ongoing progress in between supervisory meetings; the nature of the wiki is such that I can review his progress at any time and add suggestions or make revisions as needed. Another student always brings her Wi-Fi enabled laptop with her so that we can make updates to the wiki during our tutorials. Whenever one of us makes and saves a change, the other can instantly see it on their screen, which demonstrates the value of using mobile devices to support student learning – particularly as this student now takes the lead at the end of each supervision in ensuring that the wiki has been fully updated.

This would seem to be a helpful way of time-managing the task of researching and writing a dissertation, not least given that it is a challenging process that final-year undergraduates may be encountering for the first time. It also provides a concise and useful reminder (for supervisor as well as student) of discussions, progress, and objectives set at each meeting, while enabling them to take ownership of their learning. This pilot will be rolled out across the entire module next year and all final-year Music students will be expected to use it; there is also much potential for initiatives of this nature to be extended to other programmes and subject areas.

(2) Curriculum design developed in dialogue with the students: elective assessment components

One innovative assessment model that I have been developing for much of this academic year involves giving students some choice as to how they wish to be assessed. Consultation with senior academic staff within and beyond the University has identified that, while such practices are more logistically complex, it should not be supposed that there is only one way to assess students against a prescribed set of learning outcomes necessarily.

After considering several possible assessment patterns which were discussed with colleagues, I settled on the following model which essentially preserves the 30:70 ratio (standard across the institution) between the minor and major assessment points:EVS graph

  • 1 Written Examination (unseen): 30 marks
  • 1 Elective Assessment: 30 marks – the student chooses ONE of the following options:
    • Written Coursework
    • Oral Presentation
    • Musical Performance accompanied by Written Documentation
  • 1 Project developed from the above Elective Assessment: 40 marks

The Examination provides a common component for all students, irrespective of the pathway they choose for the Elective Assessment. The other assessments have been specified mindful of parity with existing module assessment patterns. The benefits to students are that the initiative enables them to play to their strengths, and to influence how they wish to be assessed and how they wish their marks to be apportioned. The Elective Assessment also permits an additional opportunity for interim feedback ahead of the final Project.

My consultation with the students as to whether such an innovation would be welcomed was revealing: the graphical result (above right) of a poll conducted anonymously using EVS handsets (clickers) speaks for itself.

The focus group that comprised 12 students in my class were also consulted on several other major points of curriculum design, including the content and schedule of the lectures as well as the manner in which they will be taught, assessed, and feedback delivered. They have decided upon all of the lecture topics themselves via a Doodle poll, and have been invited to write supplementary assessment criteria using a wiki; elements of self- and peer assessment will also be included in the module. Having discussed several different forms of feedback (written, dialogic, telephone, podcast, screencast) at the focus group, 33% of students said that they would prefer written reports, while fully 50% opted for dialogic feedback – an unexpected but welcome result.

(3) Student self-assessment of in-progress writing of a research dissertation

Earlier in the year, one of my senior postgraduate research students submitted a draft of a dissertation chapter to me in the knowledge that while some sections were complete, others would need revision either because she felt that they would benefit from further work or because she had yet to complete the research (largely ethnographic, for which she is entirely dependent on the availability of her study participants) that would enable her to finalize her writing.

Since I nonetheless wanted to give her feedback on her work in progress, I formulated the idea of suggesting to the student that after a couple of weeks she should return to the draft chapter herself to reflect upon her writing, and to embed comments electronically using Microsoft Word to identify sections where she felt that further revision would be necessary and to explain why. I would then overlay my own feedback in a similar manner.

In being able to review draftwork that the student had herself annotated, I found my attention being much more effectively directed towards the parts of the chapter upon which it was most fruitful to focus. I felt that I would have made many of the same comments as the student herself, and this means of reflection also enabled the student to ask further questions of her work that I was then able to respond to, and for us to engage in a form of written dialogic feedback (see screenshot below).

The student likewise reported that she found it very useful to return to her chapter in retrospect, and particularly to document the areas she believed required additional work. This is a model of self-reflective feedback that I am now seeking to adopt for future research students.

Dissertation feedback sample

Dr Christopher Wiley
c.m.wiley@city.ac.uk
20.04.12

Workshop on Assessment Feedback: Centre for Music Studies

December 30, 2011 4 comments

L-R: Dr Miguel Mera, Alexandra George, James Perkins, Harriet Baker, Ruth Ginger, and Martina Baltkalne

On Wednesday 9 November 2011, seven undergraduate students came together for an innovative two-hour afternoon workshop facilitated by Dr Miguel Mera, Dr Ian Pace, and myself (Dr Christopher Wiley) to discuss various issues related to delivery of feedback on the Centre’s BMus programme. While activities of this nature have been undertaken within individual academic modules in the past, this was the first time that a dedicated workshop had been run with the aim of establishing dialogue between staff and students, and working together to maximize good practices.

The students who attended the workshop – Martina Baltkalne, Conaugh Clark, Tim Doyle, and Ruth Ginger from the second year, and Harriet Baker, Alexandra George, and James Perkins from the third year – were firstly given anonymized examples of actual feedback reports written in previous years, which they discussed in terms of the good practices they exemplified and potential for improvement. They were then asked to spend a few minutes designing their ‘ideal’ feedback proforma on a blank sheet of paper, before being presented with six different specimen feedback form templates whose strengths, weaknesses, and preferences they talked through in turn.

Discussion of samples of actual feedback reports

The students were very positive about the Centre’s current feedback practices, and understanding about why it takes time to turn around marking.In the course of discussion of the examples of feedback, the following points emerged:

  • Succinct feedback was welcomed. It is possible to write too much feedback, leading to situations in which students cannot see the proverbial wood for the trees.
  • Clarity was an essential component of effective feedback. Feedback should not simply note that something was unclear, so much as specifying exactly what was unclear and how the student could have made it clearer.
  • Feedback should not merely repeat what the student did in the assessment. A student will already know what they wrote, hence feedback needs to go further than this.
  • There was an indifference to the use of bullet points in feedback. While some students felt that bulleted lists facilitate readability, others observed that they can come across as overly direct or prescriptive.
  • Preference as to the mode that feedback would take was considered to be largely a matter of personal taste. The students agreed that different learners might like their feedback to be set out in different ways.
  • The most suitable mode for feedback was felt to be written report form. The students were not even concerned by the use of the third person as they recognized that feedback should be formal and will be read by third parties (e.g. moderators and external examiners).

The final point was perhaps the most unanticipated, given present trends in pedagogical discourse towards promotion of innovative forms of feedback (audio/podcast, video, dialogic, etc.) as against the more traditional formal written report. Similarly, the use of the third person, which is often frowned upon as being impersonal and not addressed to the student, did not seem to concern them – they did not even notice it until prompted.

These findings do, however, need to be read in conjunction with their observation that a student’s preferred mode of feedback can be quite a personal matter. For instance, perhaps Music students are more accustomed to receiving formal reports written in the third person from the music examinations that they will inevitably have undertaken during their studies prior to the BMus degree.

Discussion of different feedback form templates

The specimen feedback form templates that provided the focus of much of the discussion in the second half of the workshop reflected a variety of different formats for written feedback. The samples comprised versions of our own feedback practices from recent years together with forms in use at other institutions across the UK.

One proforma utilized a series of fifteen tickboxes, which the students found quite prescriptive and were concerned that such an approach could be discharged quite quickly by an examiner and hence might not inspire confidence that due care and attention had been paid to the marking process. Another included a second page of self-assessment to be completed by the student by way of reflection on the feedback received, which our students felt to be a stage too far.

A third approach represented by the set of proformas divided feedback into eight different categories including research, critical engagement, accuracy, structure, and presentation. The students felt this to be too segmented an approach, and hence one of only limited help in terms of enabling them to make connections between these categories. For example, poorly-constructed bibliographic citations might need to be addressed under both ‘presentation’ and ‘accuracy’.

Could this be the perfect feedback proforma?

The students also favoured one feature unique to another proforma: the identification on the report form of a date and time at which the marker would be available to meet with the students to discuss their feedback. They felt that this, and one or two other additions, would be useful enhancements to their preferred proforma. By the end of the session, then, the workshop had developed a feedback form in collaboration with, and endorsed by, the students themselves. This form has now been implemented across the BMus programme.

Final Thoughts

The workshop proved to be a positive experience for both staff and students, not just in terms of developing a standardized report proforma for assessments but also in terms of discussing issues of feedback and assessment. Given the obvious benefit of running such workshops, a second session for students of the BMus programme, specifically focussed on the assessment and feedback of music performance, has already entered the planning stages. On behalf of all the facilitators, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the seven students whose presence has enhanced teaching and learning for the 140-strong student community they represented.

In light of the success of this workshop, other programme teams across the University who are considering running a similar event for their own students would be strongly encouraged to do so. If you would be interested in holding such an activity, and for further information, please feel free to contact me, Dr Christopher Wiley (c.m.wiley@city.ac.uk), in my dual role as Director of the BMus Programme in the Centre for Music Studies and Learning Development Associate for Assessment and Feedback in the University’s Learning Development Centre.

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