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Don’t walk away have your say: Learning Development Associates’ Event

January 16, 2013 2 comments

At the end of last year, the Learning Development Associates staged an event:  don’t walk away have your say. We spent a couple of hours collecting input into our projects by stopping students and asking them for their opinions as they walked along the main campus corridor. Participation was voluntary and rewards, in the form of a seasonal chocolate or pie, were optional.

My aim was to get a snapshot of thoughts on my project’s theme: the use of technology in physical learning environments. My hope was that any information gathered would feed into the case study evaluations I am planning for the new year. Read more…

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.

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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