Thursday, June 02, 2011

Learning University Teaching: Lesson 1

Today was the first of a four day introductory course in university teaching. The course started promptly 10am. There were about 25 students and one teacher in a room equipped with hexagonal tables seating up to six, and an interactive whiteboard.

The course ran until just after the scheduled finishing time at 3pm. While there were morning and afternoon breaks, as well as lunch, this made for a long day. This is a style of intensive education which I don't like to deliver and do not like to attend. At least in this case the four one day sessions are spread over a month, with time for reflection in between.

The course materials were presented in the form of slides on screen, with paper copies handed out. Apparently these are also provided on the ANU's Moodle Learning Management System, but I have not yet been able to access the course web site. There were 76 slides for the day, which is not excessive. There were also ten pages of other materials handed out, as well as a three page reflective learning template to fill in. The form being on paper caused me some problems, as I am not used to writing by hand, but it only required a few sentences. Apparently I will be able to fill this in online, when I have access to the system.

Apart from a white-board and the interactive white-board being used (essentially as a projection screen), there were no gadgets used. It was useful not to have too much technology distracting from the fundamentals. In that spirit I avoided turning on my net-book computer to take notes and noticed far fewer iPads in evidence than the average event I attend.

One of the major issues for me in learning about teaching is the use of technology. It appears that I am the only student in the class who is designing and delivering pure on-line courses. Much of the terminology discussed and issues raised seem irrelevant to me and discussions from a bygone age. This reminds me of the situation about 15 years ago when I started using e-mail seriously: I could not understand why those around me spent so much time complaining about problems with paper based communication and simply stopped using it. This course presented well known, decades old evidence that lectures are a very poor way to teach and discussed how timetabling clashes caused problems for staff and students, so why not simply stop doing this?

However, some issues with learning do not change, as they are about people. The guidance provided in university policies on teaching, with chalk and blackboards or with computers. However, some of the terminology could be made more applicable to the new ways of teaching, by replacing references to "lectures" and "attendance" with more general terms. The principles of education still apply, even if the students do not sit in lectures and do not attend the campus.

The day ended with a discussion of the student survey system used by the ANU. This has a Student Experience of Learning Support (SELT) for course evaluation and a Student Experience of Teaching (SET) for teaching evaluation. The SELT is standardized across all courses, whereas the are different SET questions for different types of teaching (I use the one for on-line courses). Detailed statistical reports are provided to the teacher and at an aggregated level to the university hierarchy. It was useful to have the graphs explained. It was also useful to have it pointed out that the results may be used for selecting staff for promotion (although this is not applicable to Adjunct staff, such as myself). Apparently any student or employee of the university can access the aggregated SELT reports for the university (but my user-id does not permit this).

The first day of this course did not cover a lot of content which I had not seen before. But it was useful to discuss the issues. Assuming I can get access to the course web site, I will continue with the course. One issue I have yet to resolve is what the "negotiated assessment items" are.

While useful, course takes a very time consuming approach to teaching education. This might be enhanced by some templates which incorporate good practices , into which designers could insert their content. Also there does not appear to be a clear business model evident in the course: is it course designers or course delivers the course is aimed at?

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