To keep or not to keep?

I am always intrigued how some topics seem to just come at you from all (or at least several) directions, just to fade out of focus again once you have engaged. So this week it seems to be all about reflecting this academic year (and a bit) and the things we want to keep or stop doing in the coming months. Our head of subject wrote to us to reflect on this prior to the teaching team meeting, and we were also asked about it during this week’s LTHEchat. It’s still a bit early for stocktaking for me as I have planned formal evaluations of my courses, but this is how far I have gotten for now:

Image shows a curious cat standing on her hind paws, her white fur creates a lovely contrast to the dark green Art Nouveau wood carving of the bookshelf. Her tail lays on top of a blue book which is the top book of a small pile. She looks upwards as if she has discovered something she is about to jump at
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Digital Storytelling

One of the courses I am leading is a 20 credit postgraduate course about designing educational inquiries (SoTL projects) it is a very intensive course that aims to bring colleagues from different disciplinary backgrounds onto even ground and have some theoretical and practical tools to use for designing SoTL projects. Particularly the first half of the course is quite heavy on reading, getting heads around concepts and new language. So with the support of my wonderful colleague Dr Amanda Pate I used digital story telling to frame the gamification (Sway opens in new window) of this course. If you would like to access the gamification templates and background story follow the citation at the end of this article [1]. Translating digital storytelling into a Sway presentation I used of a combination of media resources—again a big thank you has to be extended to my colleagues from the media team for just having the right feeling for my quirkiness and integrate things like a dragon fly-by cameo. The videos serve to scaffold the story and introduce the gamification, there is also an h5p map which follows the course outlines, character cards, coins and doubloons and dragon eggs.

Both the digital storytelling and gamification were generally well received. One of my colleagues from another department was acting as a peer observer on the course and provided feedback, which seems to reflect the students’ experience as well. While the digital storytelling was well received, and it was combined with an MS Teams classroom, in which each week of the academic year has a separate channel containing the activities of the week so in my view was highly structured, the feedback was that structure was missing and to move this back into our VLE. When speaking to my peer observer they explained that the issue was organising files, materials and folders in MS Teams. Now keep in mind I also made use of MS Teams OneNote class-book, all I can say is that I don’t seem to be the only one to really hate OneNote. But since we as academic developers hold this meta-level position of teaching our own courses while also supporting colleagues to develop courses and pedagogies, I felt obliged to provide the opportunity of experiencing an MS Teams classroom including OneNote and I structured it as advised in a generously given training session. Anyway, I moved materials into the VLE and a more familiar format. Given the cognitive load issues in this exceptional situation this might be another reason for the confusion. I will evaluate the course changes in more depth and be able to provide more insights later in the year.

Podcast

Another aspect was that my students are also peers and colleagues, so their workload is similar to mine, now combine this with oh a pandemic, home-schooling, caring, or general joined trauma, keeping up with course work on top of all of this seems more a struggle than usual this year. So I decided, also to counter the text heaviness of the first semester, and reduce screen-time to record some of our course handouts and materials, and also some of my explanations as short-ish podcasts. All I can say for now is that l don’t seem to be the only one who listens to CPD while doing laundry. So yes, that is success in my book.

I am not yet very good with these podcasts and there was not much time for me to actually do any editing, and I think I might have had my mic settings wrong a couple of times, and last week when I recorded I was so exhausted and tired myself, the speaking speed is really slow–which might reveal itself as either good or bad–the evaluation will show. However, despite all the hiccups the learners showed appreciation for this.

Responsive Planning

My course evaluation came back positive but with barely any participation in it, I am wondering if this has to do with the fact that this year, more than usual, I am checking in with the learners and constantly adapt to the everchanging circumstances. Changing submission deadlines for formative assessments, changing how I organise peer-feedback…

Oh you might actually be interested in that so side-story:

Three women sitting on a rock at the sea shore watching the full moon as it is lid with dramatic sunset colours.
Photo by Max Ravier on Pexels.com

A different peer-feedback method

For peer-feedback I usually use the build-in Moodle function (which I forgot what it is called because the name has as usual in Moodle nothing to do with the actual function). Anyway–Moodle rant over–that’s what I do. The issue is that despite assigning three peers per submission it can happen that some people still don’t receive any feedback. I anticipated that this pattern could be more prevalent this year; with everyone struggling to manage workload. So, a bit more work for me but by the looks of it a much more successful peer-feedback process was the following: After I shut off the formative assessment tool. I randomly assigned learners into private MS Teams channels. Only the members of the channel can access the documents and communications happening there. I added between 3 and 4 learners to each of these private channels. I posted the task to share their formative with one another and negotiate how they would provide feedback on their formative assessment within this space amongst themselves. I have to admit I was a bit nervous trying this out, wondering how this would sit with the course participants. But within the hour of setting up these channels activity already began, rendering my worries naught. It seems to have generated rather lively discussions. Again this is one element I want to evaluate in more depth to understand how this worked for the course participants and what the potential pitfalls of this are.

My colleague and I and also I in the research course kept adding material and resources as the need emerged during course discussions. In the creative pedagogies course for instance we set up an Active Learning Sandbox to show more strategies and teaching methods than a 10 credit course could possibly cover. I also offered office hours, and kept encouraging course participants to get in touch if there was an issue. And I just scheduled some catch-up sessions for learners who due to workload issues have to work their way through materials in their own time.

So yes, this academic year has been a bit hectic, fractured, more stressful, the workload to support all of this is much higher than simply running weekly face to face sessions in a classroom. I think there is much more learning to be had, for going forward but also more reflection and evidence needed to make informed decisions about elements that are useful and should be kept and things that can be dropped without feeling guilty: side-eyeing OneNote here.

[1] Sheridan, Nathalie (2021): Gamifying a Course Template and Instructions. figshare. Collection. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5287198.v1

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