Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:
- [implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
- [maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.
The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.
From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:
- All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
- All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
- The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
- Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
- Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)
From a wider educational development perspective:
- [With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (184.108.40.206)
Learning technology messages
- [People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
- [The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
- The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
- The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)
We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.
But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.
Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.
The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!
I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.
There is still a hard day’s work ahead before the introduction to the PCTHE for 2010-11. For some reason the VLE and wiki are not developing themselves. Packs for the day do not seem to be reproducing like the little bunnies I wish they were. The to-do list of best intentions is shrinking to only those that absolutely have to be done to ensure neither humiliation nor the sack hits me.
But that is not the whole picture. We have a remarkably good team and a robust programme. This is the fifth time we have run this version of the course. The design is dialogic and largely peer tutored. We all have to dig into ourselves to find both our well established coping strategies and something new for this year.
And, we have. It might be a bit close to the QA wind – nearly a minor change – but we have introduced two important variations to the programme: a base group position paper on how our assessment practice is an example of good teaching, and base group seminars. We are quite keen to see the seminars at work. We have conceived of these as a means by which our learners can influence the curriculum. This is really an anticipatory manoeuvre in advance of launching the revised course in 2011-12.
Implicit in all that we do is that there is something of value in higher education; it is not just higher skills training. Even if precarity increases and unrepentant financially-driven managerialism presses on all sides there remains something worth doing in the academy. We may end up gipsy scholars chewing off our own legs for the chance to bite the hand that feeds us, but there are principles – or “course values” to be upheld: an instrumental focus on the learning of others, experiential rather than didactic learning, reflective practice, critical thinking (and theory), delight in diversity, and learning communities.
So, here we go again.
Posted via email from George’s posterous
I recently met with a student who had been unsuccessful in achieving the criteria for one of the assignments on the PCTHE. Most of my comments are of a general nature regarding the writing of a course review, so I thought I would post them.
- Back up your assertions with evidence. As teachers and students in higher education we must be familiar with the many forms that evidence can take. Avoid unsubstantiated statements and in every case where an assertion is made, think of how it might be evidenced.
- In general we are interested in your experience, ideas and theories, not your ability to reproduce the theories of others. Theory is simply an answer to the question “why”? That is, one of the principal purposes of theory is explanatory. It does help to recognise the theories of others that came before and have also experienced similar questions and come up with their own explanations. One of the principal theories that underlies this course is Constructive Alignment. Frequently problems in course reviews arise at least in part due to a lack of such alignment. And, a solution might, in part, lie in taking an aligned approach to course and assessment design and implementation. Remember there should be alignment between objectives – or “intended learning outcomes” (what the learners should be able to DO), learning activities in the classroom (or wider teaching environment), which allow the students to practice the objectives, and assessments which allow the students to demonstrate that they can do what ever the objectives suggest. Assessments should be backed up with criteria by which that doing can be evaluated.
- Tell the story. Start at the begining:
- In the first paragraph state the key point of the paper (write this after you have written the rest)
- I first taught this course …
- It attracts such and such kind of students. Be as precise as you can with the observable demographics: age range, gender mix, full-time/part-time, in employment or not, etc. Avoid simplistic psychometrics (learning styles, etc) unless you have a particular reason to use them.
- The course as inherited had these characteristics:stage, CATS points, programme context; external professional bodies (referees); aims (what you and the referees want to achieve); learning objectives (what the students must DO); teaching activities; assessments
- The course as inherited had these problems (whatever they were). Provide evidence for how you know these were problems: i.e. attendance, participation, engagement, outcome (exam) results, informal feedback, your own observation, discussion with students, discussion with colleagues, etc. Draw on the writings and theories of others to show that these problems are not unique to your situation. That is to say, use outside authorities to show that your problems may be generalisable to a wider context.
- In light of the students and the problems observed, you have made the following changes: changes implemented during operation in the first year (i.e. through reflection IN practice); changes implemented in a revision (i.e. through reflection ON practice)
- Evaluation: how will you know the changes have been effective?
- Next steps
A. J. Cann asked 200 first years, “…to draw a mind map of their personal learning environment (PLE).” The PLE chickens come home to roost
He says, “following what these students were reading on Google Reader and bookmarking on delicious throughout the past term has been a fascinating and for the most part rewarding experience. The students however, hated this task, and comments on the module questionnaire show a complete lack of understanding why reflection on learning might be valuable.”
“Clearly formal education alters a PLE. We just don’t know how, or how much.”