Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Alterative Assesment Processes for Students Not on Campus Due to COVID-19 Coronavirus

Yesterday I was asked about how to assess students who are unable to get to campus due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Many Australian universities still have an on-campus end of semester paper-based examination. These cannot be administered to students who are isolated for public health reasons.

Athabasca University (where I studied last), has proctored online examinations for undergraduate courses, via a commercial service, ProctorU. There were no examinations for the postgraduate program I took, this having assignments, quizzes, peer assessment, and a live online capstone presentation with Q&A.

It should be kept in mind that an examination is not required at the end of every course, nor is it a good way to assess real-world skills. Many Australian universities, supplement assessment with non-supervised assessment under the category of "take home examinations".

The usual approach with online course is to have regular small, assessment tasks. This is to keep the students engaged, provide feedback, and allow staff to check student progress. Some think this assessment should not count towards the final result and some do. I lean towards the latter, but the small tests should not count for much. It is possible to use an assessment scheme which encourages, or requires, students to do the small stuff, but so that it either doesn't count to their final result, or much. For example, you can make this a hurdle: the student has to do the small stuff, but it doesn't change their final grade.

For some versions of the course ICT Sustainability I set small assessment tasks which only count for a Credit, not a Distinction or High Distinction. This is described in the course notes (but keep in mind that is a graduate course):

With online courses there is always the worry that students had someone else undertake the assessment for them. That worry can be lessened by having assessment spread out through the course, making it harder for students to simply contract out a few big tests. An approach frequently also used is to have the student give a presentation and answer questions. The presentation can be face-to-face, or live online.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Reflecting on Reflecting on Learning

Learning to Reflect" blended module. This is the last assessed task for students undertaking the ANU Tech Launcher program before they graduate. Last semester the students read notes, watched videos, did an online quiz, participated in an on-line forum (with peer assessment), then a face-to-face workshop (run by Tempie Archer, from ANU Careers). They then submitted and assignment (with peer feedback), and repeated the process. That all worked well, but was seem by the students, and my colleagues, as too complex, and too much work. There was too much to read, too many assessment items, and too much peer assessment. Also the tutors, who the students have for face-to-face tutorials, felt excluded from the process.





Resources for New Tutors

I have been a preoccupied providing advice on how to quickly provide courses for online delivery, for students who are unable to get to class due to the Novel Coronavirus. But I need to get back to tutor training. I am finding the online course Contemporary Approaches University Teaching has some good material, but would take some pruning, as it is a 12 week, 24 hour course, not something a tutor can do in a few hours. Some useful resources for students I have found, mostly from ANU's Coffee Courses:
  1. LinkedIn recently predicted that the most in-demand soft skills with employers for 2020 will be creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.Tutoring can help you refine these skills and provide evidence to a prospective employer you are leadership material.

    See: The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020, Bruce Anderson, LinkedIn Talent Blog, January 9, 2020. URL https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/trends-and-research/2020/most-in-demand-hard-and-soft-skills
  2. "... authentic real life assessment tasks should contain the challenges of a real life work context.
    From: Principles of authentic assessment, from Assessment and Feedback, Jill Lyall and Mandy Tutalo, ANU Coffee Course, 2019 URL https://anuonline.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2019/04/30/day-2-principles-of-authentic-assessment/
  3. In Small Group Teaching: From: Good practice examples in Module 3: Teaching practice, Enhancing Student Wellbeing, 2016. URL http://unistudentwellbeing.edu.au/teaching-practice/examples/
  4. Seven Learning Concepts
    1. Deep vs Surface Learning,
    2. Extrinsic vs Intrinsic motivation
    3. Taxonomies of knowledge and learning
    4. Characteristics of Adult Learning
    5. Constructivism
    6. Student-centred learning
    7. Active learning
    From: Why learning theory? Seven Key Concepts for University Teaching and Learning, Jill Lyall, ANU Coffee Courses, 2018. URL http://anuonline.weblogs.anu.edu.au/2018/11/14/day-1-why-learning-theory/

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Ten Tips for Educaitonal Instutions Coping with Off-campus Students

Yesterday I was asked for some tips on how to provide courses for online delivery, for students who are unable to get to class due to the Novel Coronavirus. Here are ten tips, added to those previously provided.
  1. This is Not About China: Procedures should not refer to "for China". Instead "students who can't attend campus". By referring to China, this will stress the students and may make officials less cooperative. Also, it may well be that other countries will be affected, as well as domestic students.
  2. Don't stress funding implications: While there may be a cost to educational institutions, the emphasis should be on helping students, not ensuring cashflow.
  3. Educational standards still apply: Government regulators may have indicated that some rules for international students are being waved. However, principles of quality education still apply, as do professional ethics and the law. A university can't graduate someone who the public depends on in a life and death situation, until that person is fully trained, and tested. The training and testing may be carried out differently but must meet the same standards.
  4. Distance Education techniques are available: There is no need to make stuff up. Some educators have been refining techniques for education remotely over the decades. You can draw on this experience, tools, and techniques. There are likely people at your institution trained and experienced in how to do this.
  5. Contact your overseas colleagues: This is not just a problem for Australia, but educational institutions around the world. You may be able to offer help to those in areas impacted, as well as request assistance from others. This would also be useful for reassuring students, family, friends, and government officials in those countries, that your institution is respecting their local customs and laws.
  6. Do not attempt to circumvent national security restrictions: Nations restrict what services work on-line across their borders. It is tempting to circumvent these restrictions to allow your usual online tools to work for remote students. However, this may be considered a crime. Check for alternatives.
  7. Don't handle this as a "special consideration": Large numbers of students are unlikely to be able to attend campus for an extended period. So you need to design courses, materials, and assessments for this. It is not practical, and is unfair, to have each student apply for special consideration of their circumstances. There will still be a need for such special consideration, in many cases, but educational institutions need to be able to offer an alternative routine for most students.
  8. Deliver clear messages: Students, staff and parents will be stressed. This makes it more difficult for them to understand instructions. Also, rumors will spread. Put out simple clear messages. Have senior staff appear, to provide a human face to the institution. This doesn't need videos, a text statement with a photo is sufficient.
  9. Keep domestic students informed: Domestic students need to feel their education is not being neglected, and excessive resources, and special consideration given to international students. Tell all students what is happening, and offer all the new flexible education options, such as online lessons, to them. Offer virtual mentor and tutor programs to domestic students to help their international colleagues on-line.
  10. Look after yourself and colleagues: Online students expect instant replies from administrative and teaching staff 24 hours a day, and can be scathing in their criticism. Give students reasonable expectations of how quickly they will receive a reply and ensure there is sufficient staff to do this. Try to answer common questions via a forum, rather than to each student individually. Do not reply to intemperate language from a student in haste, or anger.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Ten Tips for Quickly Converting Courses for Online Delivery

Yesterday I was asked for some tips on how to provide courses for online delivery, for students who are unable to get to class due to the Novel Coronavirus. Here are ten tips, added to those previously provided.
  1. Don't panic: Courses have been delivered online by universities around the world for decades. This includes the Green Computing Course from Computer Science at ANU since 2009 (also offered by Athabasca University in Canada). ANU has a series of short Coffee Courses on how to do this.
  2. Focus on student communication, not content: I spent three years as a postgraduate international online student, learning how to provide online education from Australia to China and India. While there were frustrations with ebooks and videos, the major problem was the crushing loneliness. Being an online student amplifies all the worries students have at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. We need to give students the sense there is someone out there worrying about them. Also , we need to encourage them to communicate with other students. You can build such teacher-to-student and student-to-student communication in as part of a course.
  3. Learning To Reflect VideoIt is Not About Video:  The easiest, but least important thing you can do, is to convert face-to-face lectures to recorded video. Students like having recorded video lectures available. However, don't waste time making high-quality videos: it makes no difference to learning. Provided students see a still image of you occasionally, you do not have to appear in the video lectures: powerpoint slides with audio are fine. Unedited recordings of live lectures are also okay. For the "Learning to Reflect" module of ANU TechLauncher last year, I used video automatically created from the course notes, with a synthetic voice.
  4. eBook for Green Computing Course
    Text-Based Notes Are Key: Provide students with notes detailing what they have to do, and when they have to do it. Ideally, provide this all at the beginning of the course. You will be sending them reminders and updates, but students feel more secure if they have everything at the start. My preference is an e-book, but the format doesn't matter as much as the student being able to download everything, easily.
  5.  Target Smartphones: Students are increasingly using smartphones for study, so make sure your material is suitable. Learning Management Systems, such as Moodle, now supports smartphones, but make sure the formatting you use does not stop this working.
  6. Prompt students to study: Students will be distracted and so you need to tell them what to do, and when to do it. Don't assume the student can find the relevant material, or resource: give them a link directly to what you want them to look at. You can start with subtle nudges, such as "Thank you to the 49 students who have already completed the quiz", them more direct: "You have until 1 pm Canberra time, to complete the quiz, for 1% of your grade". Peer pressure, and marks, are very effective ways to motivate students.
  7. Rationalize assessment: Consider what assessment you can reliably deliver online, and in what size chunks. Are you providing the assessment for formative purposes, to help with study, for summative purposes (the final grade), or both? Consider simple short assessment items and make them easier to mark. Make use of the automated assessment delivery and marking options built into the Learning Management System. I particularly like short regular quizzes (with questions drawn from a bank at random, to make it harder to cheat).
  8. Provide Asynchronous Communication, Supplemented by Synchronous:  I was an online graduate student of education for seven years. Of thousands of hours of study, only a couple of hours were real-time (synchronous) communication with a teacher or other students. Most communication for online courses is asynchronous: you post a message and someone reads it later. This is partly due to the difficulties of getting people together at the same time. It is also due to inevitable problems with online communication. So focus on the asynchronous posts to forums. These can be supplemented with short video recordings. If you have the resources, then add some live webinars, but record these sessions, for those who can't attend.
  9. Use the tools your colleagues use:  Educational institutions provide learning management systems, video recording, webinar, and other tools for online teaching. There may also be other tools in use by your colleagues. These may not be the best tools, but you can get help with them, so it should be your first choice.
  10.  Look after yourself and colleagues: Burnout of online teachers is very common. Online students expect instant replies from staff 24 hours a day, and can be scathing in their criticism. Give students reasonable expectations of how quickly they will receive a reply and ensure there are sufficient staff to do this. Try to answer common questions via a forum, rather that to each student individually. Do not reply to intemperate language from a student in haste, or anger.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

TARDIS to Record for Off-campus Students

ANU One-Button-Studio
If educational institutions need to record audio podcasts or videos, due to the Novel Coronavirus, they can use a TARDIS, as ABC Radio refer to their small soundproof recording booths. Educational institutions can purchase such booths in kit form, or build one in a small store room, lined with sound absorbing panels. The booth may have recording equipment installed, with easy to operate controls, for a One-Button-Studio: insert a flash drive, push the button, and start talking. But before building a booth, or studio, look around your campus and see if there is one already set up.

Live Video for Tutorials and Laboratory Sessions Remotely

If educational institutions need to conduct tutorials and laboratory sessions remotely for off-campus students due to the Novel Coronavirus, there are video conferencing and webinar tools for this. Before going out and purchasing a tool, first check if your institution already has one, either bundled with your Learning Management System, or from your network suppler. Examples are Echo360, Adobe Connect, Zoom and Big Blue Button.

These tools do much the same thing. You use a web browser, or downloaded app to send live video from a web camera, and whatever is on your computer screen to students. The students can use a text chat window to reply. There can also be quizzes. All of this can be recorded for later replay. Students can also talk, be seen, and perhaps send what is on their screen, but that gets complicated), especially for large classes. You will want to at least have a moderator to look after the chat, while someone else does the talking.

I suggest using these synchronous tools sparingly, as a supplement to asynchronous online learning. That is, students should be able to watch a recorded video, read some notes, do some sort of exercise step, by step, in their own time. There can then be some synchronous (real-time) activities to help them.

What also helps are activities to connect students to each other online and carefully worded announcements from staff, to the class, to give the sense someone is out there. This is all part of the conventional approach developed for distance education over the last few decades.

The "Learning to Reflect" module I designed  is an example of this approach. The students read the notes, watch the videos, do the quizzes, post to forums, and reply to other students, before the live part. The student gets all the notes at the start of the course. There are also suggested regular posts for the tutor.

Online Exams for Students Off-campus Due to Novel Coronavirus

If educational institutions need to conduct examinations for off-campus students due to the Novel Coronavirus, there are tools for this virtual invigilation, or remote online proctoring. The student has to sit in front of their computer with a web camera pointed at them, while they undertake the test. I have not used such a product, but Athabasca University use ProtcorU. I see the occasional grumble from students on the AU support group, but overall it seems to work.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Role of the PhD in the Modern World

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network for the launch of
"PostAc", to help PhD students into non-academic research careers. Professor Keith Nugent ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, explained that the ANU was redefining the PhD for wider roles outside academia. Professor Elanor Huntington, ANU Dean of Engineering and Computer Science, pointed out she had a Masters of Computer Science as well as a PhD in the more esoteric area of physics. Also she pointed out that the PostAc service will also collect information on PhDs and jobs. Dr Mewburn mentioned they were open to offers from companies, such as LinkedIn, to purchase PostAc.

One option I suggested to Dr Mewburn that PostAc might consider is auto searches. The student may not know what to search for.  Perhaps the tool could read the student's thesis and suggest a job based on that, and whatever else is publicly available on them. This might include hobbies: an academic in a job interview once told me that had no leadership skills, but then mentioned the lead the university alpine climbing team (if you can get people up a mountain, that shows leadership).

PostAcc is a clever hack to overcome a public policy failure. Unfortunately none of the speakers directly addressed this policy failing: universities produce many more PhDs than there are research jobs for. While someone who has an advanced research degree might be able to find a non-research job with PostAcc, it would be better if they enrolled in a degree which suited those jobs. In most cases a coursework masters is a suitable postgraduate qualification for a job. If more specialized skills are needed, then there is the option of a professional doctorate. These are at the same academic level as a PhD (with the title "Doctor"), but the focus is on skills for industry, rather than just research. PostAcc can provide a palliative for the failure to direct students to these more useful degrees, but not cure it.

Reference


Pitt, R., & Mewburn, I. (2016). Academic superheroes? A critical analysis of academic job descriptions. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 38(1), 88-101. URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/1360080X.2015.1126896

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Top Five Factors Associated with Student Success

The top five factors associated with student success identified by meta-meta-analysis by Schneider and Preckel (2017), were: 1. peer assessment, 2. self efficacy, 3. teacher preparation, 4. teacher clarity, 5. grade goals. The first of is reasonably clear, if difficult to implement. Having students peer asses is not difficult to set up, particularly if you have a Learning management System, such as Moodle, to look after the administrative details. However, it can be difficult get some students, and many staff, to accept that students can provide quality assessment.

Self efficacy is easy to recommend, but how do you build students’ belief in their ability? The obvious ways are to state clearly what you want them to do, and give them steps along the way (scaffolding). Teacher preparation and clarity seem obvious, but I see many cases where teachers have produced overly complex lessons, and then compound the problem with long complex explanations of the lessons.

I don't quite understand the point on grade goals. Presumably students are attempting to pass their courses, or where some higher level of achievement is needed, to reach that level. What does worry me is where students have set unnecessarily high goals. As an example, some students will ask for a regrade on the basis they are aiming to get a high distinction (80%) for all assessment items. There are ways to counter this with the assessment scheme, for example having just a pass/fail grade for some tasks.

Reference


Schneider, M., & Preckel, F. (2017). Variables associated with achievement in higher education: A systematic review of meta-analyses. Psychological bulletin, 143(6), 565. URL https://www.uni-trier.de/fileadmin/fb1/prof/PSY/PAE/Team/Schneider/SchneiderPreckel2017.pdf

Friday, January 31, 2020

Digital Professional Workshop in Canberra

The Australian Government's Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) is holding a workshop on what is a  digital professional, in Canberra 1pm, 6 February 2020. Government, industry and academia are welcome. Previously I have helped define what a computer professional is, and what knowledge and skills they require, how to teach and test them, in Australia, and internationally. It will be interesting to consider if there is such a thing as a digital professional, and what they are.
"One thing that has become clear is that without a clear definition of what ‘digital’ means, you cannot design a profession for it.
Everyone it seems has their own version of what ‘digital’ means, and this has a huge impact on our ability to design services to uplift digital capability, to enlarge the digital footprint of government or to develop digital services for all Australians.
The DTA invites you to participate in a workshop to co-design a definition and shared language of digital – one that is fit for purpose for the APS but also resonates with industry and academia."

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Blockchain Law Conference in Canberra 27 February

Professor Sjef van Erp
The Australian National University is hosting a free conference on "Blockchain Technology, Data Management and Smart Contracts", in Canberra, Thursday 27 February 2020.
"Blockchain and smart contracts are technological developments with significant implications for private law transactions in a range of areas. Blockchain or ‘distributed ledger technology’ (DLT) is already being used in the financial services sector and has great potential in a range of areas including land registration systems and global supply chains. These technologies also raise questions concerning data management, data protection, adjudication and dispute settlement."

Speakers

  • Professor Sjef van Erp
  • Dr Phillipa Ryan
  • Matthew Baldwin
  • Hannah Glass
  • Karen Cohen
  • Katrina Donaghy
  • Scott Chamberlain
  • Samuel Brooks
  • Dr Damian Clifford
  • Rajiv Cabraal

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Community Trauma Toolkit for Disasters

Staff at the Australian National University (ANU) have developed a free Community Trauma Toolkit, to help with mental health in disasters. The toolkit covers preparedness for a disaster, as well as during and after. There are resources for parents, doctors, teachers, and others. Provided are summaries, workshop materials, podcasts, and videos. As well as assisting those recovering from bushfires, these materials could be of use for educators dealing with the Novel Coronavirus. In particular there is an Educators workshop, for professional development of teachers. This has a 51 page facilitator’s handbook, 41 pages of activities, a 91 slide presenters pack (with speaker's notes)..

The toolkit is comprehensive, but there are so many materials offered to so many groups, the website is difficult to navigate. Also there appears to be no online delivery option, which will severely limit its usefulness. The materials are designed for face to face delivery, by a trainer, to professionals, who then assist the community. I suggest that the toolkit should have options for e-learning, as there may not be the time, nor resources, for face-to-face training.

An additional difficulty with the toolkit is that modifications to the toolkit are prohibited. The policy of the Australia Government, which funded the toolkit, is to use a Creative Commons license, which provided less restrictive use of materials. As an example, it would be useful to be able to modify the materials to address the current coronavirus situation.

Also I experienced a technical difficulty when attempting to view the workshop slides:  "This error has been reported to Google and we'll look into it as soon as possible. Please reload this page to continue.". W hat the error was, was not displayed.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Keeping in touch with students online in difficult times

Previously, I suggested  Australian educational institutions should be prepared to implement blended/e-learning, if some, or all, students are not able to attend campus, due to the Novel Coronavirus, bush-fires, or other emergency. Some institution plan to switch to online learning, but teachers need to know what to do. The Australian National University provide a series of free online short "Coffee Courses". The course "Engaging students online", points out that online students can feel isolated, but this can be countered by the teacher creating a sense of social presence.The teacher can take a few easy steps to make themselves disable to the student (including literally providing a picture of themselves), and having activities to promote engagement between students.

The ANU's setting expectations and creating space for engagement. Students need to be encouraged to participate, but given some idea of how much, what and where to.

So it is a good idea to provide text, supplemented with small images, as an alternative for those who can't access videos. A student may be relying on their smart phone, rather than a desktop, or laptop, computer, so the content should be formatted to suit a small device.

Students may be in temporary accommodation surrounded by distractions, so any exercises need to be short, and clear.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Educational Institutions Could Offer Blended Learning in Response to Novel Coronavirus

NUS  eLearning Week Video, 2014
NUS eLearning Week Video, 2014
This is to suggest that Australian educational institutions be prepared to implement blended/e-learning, if some, or all, students are not able to attend campus, due to the Novel Coronavirus, bush-fires, or other natural disasters. In addition to allowing students to continue their study, this would have positive mental health benefits, allowing the students to keep in touch, and have something to keep them occupied. There is a precedent for this in Singapore's "e-Learning Week" (Chandran, 2010).

Australian universities, vocational educational institutions, colleges, and many secondary schools, already have e-learning tools used to supplement classroom teaching. However, teachers may need extra support for this, some administrative procedures may need to be changed, and institutions may need wavers for some legal requirements. In particular visa regulations limit the amount of e-learning international students can undertake, and the regulations assume students are in Australia.

Singapore e-­Learning Week


One public health measure for the 2003 SARS outbreak was the closure of educational institutions. In response, Singapore  Polytechnic, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) implemented an “e-­Learning  Week” (Chandran, 2010). This was designed to prepare the institutions for possible future closure due to quarantine, or other public health conditions. NUS mentions "severe haze" as one reason for closing a campus, which has occurred in Australia. NUS provided a short video, explaining the 2014 e-learning week.

Since the first e-learning week in 2006, the availability of tools, and the understanding of their use has increased. Teaching formats, such as the "flipped classroom" lend themselves to the provision of a blended mode of teaching which can become pure online delivery, if required. With this approach, there is no need for an abrupt change in teaching mode: those students who can get to class can have a class, those who can't use the online option.

eBook with Videos

 

Many teachers are reluctant to adopt e-learning due to the time it takes to prepare materials. However, research shows that slick broadcast-quality videos are not required. Students learn just as well with a video recorded by their teacher sitting at their desk on a $50 web camera, or no camera at all (as NUS points out). An approach I have used is to prepare an e-book of notes, and then produce videos from that using synthetic speech and slides. What is most important, as with a face-to-face classroom, is to have activities for the students, working together, and to provide them with feedback on how they are doing.

Victorian Educaiton Pandemic Plan


Victoria's Department of Education and Training has a Pandemic Influenza Incident Response Plan (2016), which includes in the containment strategy:
"If required, schools may be closed on advice of the Chief Health Officer, DHHS. In these circumstances:
  • inform teachers of their obligations during school closures 
  • for students at home, provide access to educational materials including online learning." (page 28)

However, the plan does not appear to have been tested.

 

 References

 

Chandran, R. (2010, May). National University of Singapore'sCampus-Wide ELearning Week. In Global Learn (pp. 2062-3302). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). URL https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/blog.nus.edu.sg/dist/0/119/files/2011/03/national-university-of-singapores-campus-wide-elearning-week.pdf

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Blockchain for Education

Dr Sabrina Caldwell
Greetings from the University of Technology Sydney, where I am taking part in a workshop with members of the International Standards Organization's Joint Photographic Experts Group (better known as "JPEG"), on the use of blockchain. There are image processing experts from around the world, including my colleague Dr Sabrina Caldwell, from ANU.

We were each asked to provide a one page quad chart on blockchain. I am not an expert in JPEG or Blockchain and feel a little out of my depth in this company. So I will stick to an application for education.

Blockchain for education

1. Use case(s)

  • Workers acquiring hundreds of micro-credentials
  • Need to validate micro-credentials globally in seconds

2. Key requirements

  • Scalability
  • Security
  • Regulation

 3. Potential Solutions


  • Open Access Education
  • Open Source Software 

4. Standardisation

  • Technical Standards
  • Mutual recognition between instutions and jurisdictions
  • Support by professional bodies 
 Notes

The Australian National University introduced Micro-credentials procedures in October 2019 (Worthington, 2019).

During their career a worker may acquire hundreds of micro-credentials. These would need to be validated before the worker could undertake a specific job, or task. With the gig-economy, this may need to be done several times a day in seconds, in a country away from where the credentials were issued. This will require a system which can scale for billions of workers, securely, and be recognized by governments around the world. Blockchain implementation of micro-credentials could be aided by open source software for implementation, and open access education to teach its use.

The report, Blockchain Challenges for Australia (ACS, 2019), listed micro-credentials as a potential application for blockchain, requiring low computational power, a high volume of data storage and users,  but low throughput (ACS, p 22, 2019).

References
ps: GovTech Singapore developed OpenCerts in cooperation with the OpenCerts Consortium.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Why Tutoring?

In teaching university tutors how to teach, perhaps the first question is why should they learn this. Tutors are unlikely to go on to a full time career in teaching (very few of those who complete a PhD become university academics). LinkedIn recently predicted that the most in-demand soft skills with employers for 2020 will be creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Learning to teach can help with these. A teachers must be able to design lesson plans (creativity), get students to study (persuasion), team teach and teach students to work in groups (collaboration), change the teaching method and content depending on student needs (adaptability), and use use emotional information to guide  their teaching (emotional intelligence).

Friday, January 17, 2020

Innovators Lunch at the Eighteen04 Co-working Space Newcastle

Today I attended the monthly Innovators Lunch at the Eighteen04 Co-working Space in Newcastle. There were about a dozen people interested in start-ups, from university, local businesses, and some with international venture capital funds. Like similar centers around Australia, Eighteen04 is located in an interesting old building, in this case a former brewery. The Great Northern Brewery Building, is a very solid brick structure with huge wooden posts and beams, located at the TAFE NSW Hamilton campus. You can see the list of future Hunter IF Events.
.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Principles of Tutoring and Demonstrating

In looking for materials to teach computer science and engineering tutors at ANU, I have access to the ten "Principles of Tutoring and Demonstrating" (PTD) modules. I looked at cutting it down to something one tenth the size, suitable for two days. That would have the advantage of consistency with the longer course, which some might then take. However, it was not feasible, but the same major topics could be used (these are much the same as other institution's tutor/TS introductions). One feature worth retaining is that PTD uses the same Moodle based system as the tutors will need to use for part of their role.

Using a conventional online or blended learning layout, this would be something like:

  • Announcements forum
  • Contact your instructor
  • Notes
  1. Preparing for the first class 
  2. How students learn 
  3. Plan a lesson 
  4. Students learning together 
  5. Supporting international students 
  6. Designing Assessment

PostAc Helping PhDs Escape Academia

The app "PostAc" has been developed to help PhD students into non-academic research careers. This is by Dr Inger Mewburn, director of research training at The Australian National University, better known as "The Thesis Whisperer". There will be a launch at CBRIN in Canberra, 2pm, 3 February.

PostAc could be useful not so much in getting PhD students jobs, but  getting them thinking about jobs outside academia. At PhD final seminars I routinely ask students how they will apply the results of their research. In the past many would have not thought beyond publishing their work. They had a vague idea that as they had a PhD they would be able to get a university job. They had not yet faced the fact that their chances of getting a secure job at a university were minimal, and they needed to look father afield. About the only doctoral graduates not in this situation are those who do a professional doctorate related to a profession, where there is a demand for graduates. But a doctoral education for most is a PhD, and not a guarantee of a job.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Cognitive Dissonance to Save the Planet from Environmental Catastrophe Through Educaiton

Penzenstadler, Betz, Venters, Chitchyan, Porras, Seyff, and Becker (2018) suggest under-graduate computing degree programs are failing to address social and environmental issues and inducing some cognitive dissonance would help motivate students. The authors reference my course "ICT Sustainability", where like others, where the students are already assumed to be motivated by a wish to do good for the environment. In practice I suspect some students are instead by the assumption that a course on sustainability must be easy: but they soon learn soft skills, are hard. ;-) More seriously, the authors conclude that their project-based course design fits well with sustainability topics (I agree, and this has been explored in some of the ANU TechLauncher projects). They also suggest more interaction with
the students before a summer school for preparation: however this may be difficult to achieve (my preference is for a blended approach, where the students are formally enrolled online and directed to study materials, rather than expect them to do pre-course work).
 
Chalmers University of Technology
"Sustainability has become an important concern across many disciplines, and software systems play an increasingly central role in addressing it. However, teaching students from software engineering and related disciplines to effectively act in this space requires interdisciplinary courses that combines the concept of sustainability with software engineering practice and principles. Yet, presently little guidance exist on which subjects and materials to cover in such courses and how, combined with a lack of reusable learning objects. This paper describes a summer school course on Software Engineering for Sustainability (SE4S). We provide a blueprint for this course, in the hope that it can help the community develop a shared approach and methods to teaching SE4S. Practical lessons learned from delivery of this course are also reported here, and
could help iterate over the course materials, structure, and guidance for future improvements. The course blueprint, availability of used materials and report of the study results make this course viable for replication and further improvement." 
 
From Penzenstadler, Betz, Venters, Chitchyan, Porras, Seyff, and Becker (2018)

References


Penzenstadler, B., Betz, S., Venters, C. C., Chitchyan, R., Porras, J., Seyff, N., ... & Becker, C. (2018, May). Everything is INTERRELATED: teaching software engineering for sustainability. In 2018 IEEE/ACM 40th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering Education and Training (ICSE-SEET) (pp. 153-162). IEEE. URL https://pure.hud.ac.uk/ws/files/12607064/interrelated_teaching_software_final.pdf

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

What Skills and Knowledge do Tutors Need?

I was asked to help with training of university tutors for computer science and engineering. So I looked at some of the training materials used around the world. But what do tutors need to know and be able to do? The term "tutor" is used by Australian universities for casual contract staff, usually later year undergraduates, and graduate students, who teach small groups (tutorials, or workshops), or supervise in a laboratory. In the USA these are referred to as Graduate Teaching Assistants, or just Teaching Assistants, and are usually PhD students.For simplicity, I will use the term tutors.

Tutors may take on many roles, apart from teaching small groups, including giving lectures and in some cases running whole courses (under the supervision of a Professor). However, my interest here is in what a beginning tutor, who has been asked to supervise a small class needs to know and be able to do.

UK Professional Standards Framework 


The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) breaks what a university teacher needs to be able to do into three categories: Areas of Activity (A), Core Knowledge Professional Values (K), and Professional Values(V):

"A The Areas of Activity
  1. Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
  2. Teach and/or support learning
  3. Assess and give feedback to learners 
  4. Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
  5. Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices 
K. Core Knowledge
  1. The subject material
  2. Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
  3. How students learn, both generally and within their subject/ disciplinary area(s)
  4. The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
  5. Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
  6. The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching
V. Professional Values
  1. Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
  2. Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  3. Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research,
    scholarship and continuing professional development
  4. Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice"
From:  UK Professional Standards Framework, HEA, 2011

Under the UK PSF Graduate Teaching Assistants (ie: tutors) are expected to have covered at least two of the five Areas of Activity (A1 to A5), core knowledge of the subject matter and how to teach it (K1 & K2), a "commitment" to appropriate Professional Values (V1 to V4), professional practices, subject and pedagogic research and/or scholarship of these, professional development activity (A5).

Areas of Activity

 The Areas of Activity seem a good place to start. It may seem curious that the first item on the list is not teaching (it is second). This may be because tutors, and university teachers generally, do not simply teach pre-prepared materials, they design activities for their students, and in many cases, carry out some of the assessment. So A1, A2 and A3 would appear essential for a tutor.

It is less clear that tutors can, and should, develop learning environments and approaches (A4). Beginning tutors will not have the experience, or training to do this. More clearly, tutors should be undertaking continuing professional development (K5).

Core Knowledge

Obviously, the tutor will need knowledge of the subject their student are to learn (K1) and how to teach it (K2). Undergraduate students who are tutoring will generally be at a later stage in their studies at the same institution, in the same field as the students they are tutoring. Thus these tutors will be familiar with the subject matter. However, PhD students may have finished their studies years ago, in another country and in another part of the discipline, as so will need to study up on what they are teaching.

Practitioners from industry may also be less current with the subject matter, however they will have a depth of practical experience, which students value. Subject matter knowledge is something I don't think needs to be covered in tutor training, except to say the tutor needs to review the teaching materials.

More problematic are methods for teaching and assessment (K2). Practitioners, and PhD students may not be familiar, or comfortable, with modern teaching and assessment methods. These tutors may assume students attend lectures, and assessed via examinations and individual assignments assessed by staff. However, a constructionist approach is increasingly used, particularly in fields such as computing and engineering.

With a constructionist approach the focus is on students undertaking projects, working in teams. There may be videos and computer based instructional materials, in place of lectures, and peer assessment of project work. This can be very confronting for tutors who have not learned in this way, especially when challenged by students who are not familiar with it either. There is a temptation for the tutor to fall back on what they know, giving lectures, and marking student work, instead carrying out their expected role.

Those teaching tutors, I suggest, should lead by example. Giving lectures to tutors telling them they should not give lectures will not send the intended message. Instead the same approach with videos and online materials should be used for teaching the tutors. The tutors should be given group activities to undertake, with most of the learning time spent on this. Even if their training is not to be formally assessed, they should be set the task of assessing each other, so they have experience of this.

How students learn (K3) need not be covered in detail. Some tutor training courses make the mistake of assuming they are training education academics, rather than practitioners. I suggest it is better to briefly mention learning theory, and then apply it, via the tutor training materials and activities. Similarly, learning technologies can be introduced by using them as part of the tutor training. Ideally the same tools should be used for tutor instruction, as they will use for teaching students.

Methods for evaluating teaching (k5) and quality assurance (K6), should be confined to peer review, which can be practiced during the training, and whatever standard evaluation surveys the institution uses. Those training teachers should resist the temptation to turn them into apprentice education researchers, or assistants for the trainer's research projects, as few of the tutors will go on to a career in academia.

Reference

Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK professional standards framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. URL https://documents.advance-he.ac.uk/download/file/7013


Monday, January 6, 2020

Available to Help with Distance Educaiton from Sydney During Bushfire Emergency

Preparing web pages
for Defence Exercise K95
I was in Sydney when the smoke hit Canberra, and will be working from here until conditions improve. As I have some experience in distance and e-learning, I would be happy to help out any Canberra educational institutions needing to provide remote access for their students (although most are well equipped for this already). If staff or students in Sydney needed face-to-face support, I expect one of the local institutions would loan us a room. As a member of the Australian Computer Society I can also make use of the ACS Hub at Barangaroo.

If any emergency or relief organizations need extra help with just-in-time online training of staff and volunteers, I would be happy to help.

My skills in design of military and emergency websites are a little rusty, but if anyone needs help with that I would be happy to do so.

ps: The photo is from when I was at Mallacoota in 1995, preparing web pages for a military exercise.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Facilitating Blended Learning

To see if the Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) course materials could be adapted for classroom teaching, I started with the FLO Fundamentals course. 

I copied the e-book for "Week 1 Overview". FLO has the e-book broken up into very small segments, each designed to be readable without scrolling. I find this format very annoying, as so many button clicks are needed to get the screen-fulls. Instead I prefer one e-book for a whole module, arranged as conventional long pages, which are scrolled (this also makes editing much easier). So I pasted the Week 1 content into one new e-book page.

Next, as this is to be about more than online teaching, I searched for all occurrences of "online" and deleted them (about 40). As the course may not be in a weekly format, I replaced occurrences of "week" with "module" (thus Module 1, Module 2, instead of Week 1, Week 2). 

The result is mostly readable, but some manual editing would be required, to have this cover both online and classroom teaching. For example this sentence makes little sense for face-to-face teaching (without the word "online"):
 "It is important for learners to understand that we are actually present and active in the online class as we are not visible to them.".

It would be tempting to add "face-to-face" to this. But instead, I suggest generalizing the concept:

 "It is important for learners to understand that we are active helping with their learning, even when we are not speaking to them."

The point here is that students assume that teaching only happens when the teacher is telling the student something. So the teacher needs to give students the sense that they actively monitoring a classroom discussion, be it online or face-to-face. One problem new teachers have is making their presence felt without constantly interrupting the student discussion, stifling it (this is something which many senior professors have never learned). One approach I suggest is to wait for a scheduled, or natural break in the discussion, and then provided feedback which quotes students contributions.

I suggest terms need to be explained in course notes. For example, the section on "feedback" does not actually say what feedback is, or what it is for. There is little point in going into the finer points of good feedback, if the reader doesn't know the basics.

Also I dislike inspirational, and overly long quotes in course notes, so I would want to cut those down. This also avoids having to manually check global edits (such as deleting "online") has not effected a quote. The remaining text is a bit wordy, and I would like to cut it down by about a quarter. However, even with these few simple edits, the notes read reasonably well:

Notes: Facilitating Learning Fundamentals

Building Community

Overview

Setting the stage...
We begin by introducing some important topics in teaching and learning:
  • intended learning outcomes
  • building and sustaining an learning community
  • providing feedback
Throughout the workshop you'll be asked to participate in or facilitate specific learning activities. Take time to reflect on these important topics and see how they affect the learning experience - both from a facilitator's and a participant's perspective.

During Module 1, you'll explore concepts and research associated with facilitation, learning and the Community of Inquiry framework. You'll begin to develop and participate in the learning community. By the end of the Module, you'll be connecting with the other members of your facilitation team, sharing your first "nuggets" of learning, and self-assessing your participation.

Notice what the facilitators and your colleagues did this Module to develop the learning community. What worked for you (e.g., features of the course itself, activities, timing, certain moments or postings)? What could have been done differently?

Learning Outcomes

A learning outcome provides a description of what learners should know, understand, and be able to do in a course or program (Huba and Freed, 2000). Learning outcomes place the emphasis on what learners will obtain in the learning process, not on what the instructor is attempting to do in the course or unit.

A learning outcome establishes the basis for fair learner evaluation. Formal and informal assessment processes provide both participants and facilitators with opportunities to check that learning is aligned with learning outcomes. As learning facilitators, we have a challenging task to incorporate assessment in a way that is both constructive and supportive of our learners. This is especially true in the environment where our learners may feel increased isolation and concern. You made find it helpful to reflect on the following questions as you prepare to teach your course:
  • How do the outcomes inform and focus the course's learning activities?
  • How do I keep learners focused on the outcomes?
  • How do I ensure that ongoing assessment and feedback aligns with the learning outcomes?

Module Activities

During this first Module, the Facilitators will guide you in a demonstration learning activity about community. The purpose of this activity is to show you one way of facilitating a learning activity in a short period of time.
Note:  Each of you will have an opportunity to facilitate a Module long learning activity during this workshop. You can review the details of the process in the Workshop Handbook:  Activities: facilitating page and you will find further guidance in your team planning forum in the Facilitation Teams Workspace tabbed page.
Your activity facilitation team will post detailed instructions and a schedule above the activity forum.
Focus for the Activity
You’ll be asked to explore your own perceptions of learning communities and the role an instructor can play in building community.
Goals
During this Module's discussions, you'll be asked to:
  • share your ideas and experiences around learning communities
  • explore different aspects of the Community of Inquiry model
  • think of ways that an instructor can develop and maintain an learning community

Community Building


Developing a supportive and connected learning community is a key factor in helping learners feel comfortable and willing to fully engage in learning activities. Preparing a statement on a given topic and posting it for everyone to see can be an intimidating experience for a learner in a new group, particularly for those who are relatively new to the environment. When people know a bit about each other and have had an opportunity to interact informally, a sense of camaraderie can develop which encourages people to feel comfortable enough to take risks and explore ideas.

Many programs begin with a face-to-face course or residency so learners have met each other in person and have begun to form a cohesive learning community. As an instructor you might be the "stranger" who needs to get to know your learners.
We build a sense of connection with our learners through presence, interaction and commitment to a common purpose in a given space and time. Non-verbal and verbal cues of welcome, invitation and encouragement contribute to the tone of a face to face class. In the environment most of these communication tools are at our disposal if we just know how to employ them:

  • Providing brief audio and video introductions to both the course and yourself as an instructor help bring your voice and personality to the class. Learners can do the same.
  • Make your intentions and expectations explicit.
  • "Silence" in an course, (a lack of messages, responses to messages or other interactions), can be construed – and misconstrued. In addition, it is easy to misunderstand a written message and draw negative conclusions. When a person is feeling anxious, the likelihood that they will interpret things negatively increases.
Mike Thompson (1:24)
Our job as learning facilitators is to be obviously supportive, both of the group and of the individual. The kinds of learning activities we choose play a significant part in the development of a sense of community. Learners cannot be passive knowledge-absorbers who rely on the instructor to feed information to them. It is imperative that they be active knowledge-generators who assume responsibility for constructing and managing their own learning experience. In a learner-centred environment, many of the traditional instructor responsibilities such as generating resources and leading discussion shifts to the learners. Success in an learning environment depends on the use of instructional strategies that support this shift in roles.
How do you create and sustain communities?
Patricia McClelland (3:46)
Beth Cougler Blom (3:41)

Presence and Learning

It is important for learners to understand that we are active helping with their learning, even when we are not speaking to them. We want them to know that we are reading their postings, watching activities unfold, and taking note of the process of learning. This is referred to as "instructor presence". Throughout this course you will find tips and strategies to establish and maintain presence without being overbearing or stifling learner initiative.
Doug Hamilton (1:03)

Developing a sense of community can begin from providing opportunities to create connections between participants and between participants and the course content. Don't be afraid to use your imagination and get creative; bring who you are to the online environment. At the same time watch that you don't overwhelm the group with additional activities that burden them. Keep it simple and make much of it optional.
Beth Cougler Blom (2:43) 
Alicia Wilkes (1:20)
Doug Hamilton (1:28)

Facilitation

This resource contains five very short video clips (three on this page, two on the next) from faculty. Sit down and take a relaxing 10 minutes to hear a few of their thoughts. Keep their insights in mind as you work through this Module's activities.


Doug Hamilton (1:02)




Jen Walinga (1:18)




Alicia Wilkes (1:28)

Providing Feedback

Feedback is essential to learning. It lets people know whether they are mastering the outcomes and indicates whether or not remedial or additional action is required. Feedback can also encourage learners to stretch and reach new heights. Feedback is like water or air for learners; they need it to survive.
Feedback can be inspiring to learners. It can assist struggling learners who need more encouragement and positive reinforcement. It can also help learners better appreciate the specific strategies they need to use to improve their skill level or performance. Nevertheless, if not done with sensitivity, respect, and empathy, feedback can also be devastating. Poorly planned, or awkwardly phrased feedback can confuse and demoralize a learner.
To be effective, feedback should be positive, concrete, and specific. Feedback should also be instructive. Like asking good questions, providing feedback also enables participants to reflect on their learning and determine possible follow-up actions and strategies.
Alicia Wilkes (1:04)

Optional Reading and Viewing

The following optional readings and videos are provided as references for the topics discussed in this Module's Overview.
Facilitation
Videos
  • Excerpts from 2008 Facilitation Strategies video - (6 min, Youtube)
    0:11 - "How do you help students interact effectively in an course?"
    1:20 - "How do you sustain discussions?"
    1:45 - How do you keep a presence in discussions without taking over the conversations?"
And just for fun....
  • (3:08 YouTube video)
    Note: Calling all Elvis fans....(funny because it's true?)
Community
Community of Inquiry Model
Feedback