Blended Learning – Exploring the Experience of Disabled Law Students

Amanda Millmore, Sharon Sinclair-Graham, Dr. Rachel Horton, Darlene Sherwood, Sheldon Allen, Lauren Fuller, Konstanina Nouka, Will Page & Jessica Lane

a.millmore@reading.ac.uk 

School of Law (& Disability Advisory Service)

Overview

This student-staff partnership included students with disabilities and long-term conditions, academics in the School of Law and a Disability Advisor. Student partners ran a cohort-wide questionnaire and facilitated focus groups with disabled students to discover what has worked well this academic year with blended learning and where things could be improved. This work has provided a blueprint for those hoping to use blended learning to deliver accessible education for all.

Objectives

  • To magnify the voice of our disabled students
  • To understand the positives and negatives of blended learning from their various viewpoints
  • To improve current teaching, as well as planning for future teaching and learning activities.

Context

The move to blended learning during the Covid-19 pandemic led to many changes to of the way that Law was taught in the 20/21 academic year. Student-Staff Partnership Group (SSP) feedback indicated that disabled students were affected more than most by this change. This project was an opportunity to understand more about the impact on these students and to amplify their voices.

Implementation

Given the constraints of working during the pandemic, our partnership worked virtually throughout, using only MS Teams meetings and sharing documents. Students designed a cohort-wide questionnaire to find out about the wider student experience with different aspects of blended learning.

This was followed-up by student partners facilitating smaller focus groups of students with disabilities and long-term conditions.

The partnership then assimilated all of the evidence they had gathered to produce short term and long term recommendations as well as highlighting what has worked well with blended learning.

Together we prepared a report with our evidence and recommendations and this has been shared not only within the School of Law but widely across the University, including with the University’s Blended Learning Project, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team and the Committee on Student Experience and Development (COSED), as well as with colleagues in different functions and departments.

Impact

Positives from blended learning were highlighted including the flexibility of pre-recorded lecture videos, which enabled students to stop, pause and revisit lecture materials and work at their own pace and in their own time. Students preferred lecture recordings to be in the region of 20 minutes, as longer than that could pose a barrier for some students.

In the short term the partnership recommended the scheduling of lecture release days across core modules, so that lectures were made available on set days. 194 students were put into 46 study groups and a video to demystify the ECF process was recorded and shared widely (https://web.microsoftstream.com/video/714b6fa4-83f3-457c-a37b-3f4904e63691). These recommendations were all adopted.

Longer term the partnership recommended the consistent use of meaningful weekly plans (now part of the Teaching & Learning Framework for 2021/22) and improvements to Blackboard, notably a uniform layout across modules for Law students, including a single menu location for joining links to online classes.

The project and its recommendations have been shared within the School of Law, across the University and more widely at national conferences, all with students co-presenting the work.

Students were invited to the School of Law’s Blackboard Working Group and have been instrumental in driving forwards their recommendation for a consistent cross-module Blackboard layout for the next academic year. Students are also working with the TEL team to produce best practice videos for staff.

Reflections

This has been a hugely successful partnership project, not merely for the clear recommendations and tangible outcomes which are aimed to improve the experience of all students with blended learning this academic year and moving into the future, but also in the way that it has amplified the voices of students with disabilities and long-term conditions at School and University level.

As a partnership it has been influential, and the recommendations have been heard across the university and many have been adopted within the School of Law, but the positives for the individual student partners cannot be underestimated. They have gained valuable employability skills and experience in project work, presenting at conferences and advocating within meetings with staff. Moreover, as a project in which clear recommendations were given which have been heeded, it has improved the sense of community for all students, emphasising that the School of Law is a space where student views are important and they can contribute to their studies and make a difference.

Focus group participants with disabilities and long-term conditions have been empowered, with 2 first year participants subsequently volunteering for a new partnership project being run in the School of Law, as they can see the impact that their involvement can have.

Links and References

  • Amanda Millmore – “A Student-Staff Partnership exploring the experience of disabled Law students with blended learning at University of Reading, UK “ in Healey, R. & Healey, M. (2021) Socially-just pedagogic practices in HE: Including equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, decolonising, indigenisation, well-being, and disability.mickhealey.co.uk/resources
  • Abstract for Advance HE Teaching & Learning Conference session: Teaching and learning conference – on demand abstracts_0.pdf (advance-he.ac.uk)
  • To follow – links to CQSD TEL videos & guidance (in progress).
  • We are happy to share the project report upon request – please get in touch if you would like a copy.

Xerte: engaging asynchronous learning tasks with automated feedback

Overview

Jonathan Smith: j.p.smith@reading.ac.uk

 

International Study and Language Institute (ISLI)

This article describes a response to the need to convert paper-based learning materials, designed for use on our predominantly face-to-face summer Pre-sessional programme, to an online format, so that students could work independently and receive automated feedback on tasks, where that is appropriate. A rationale for our approach is given, followed by a discussion of the challenges we faced, the solutions we found and reflections on what we learned from the process.

Objectives

The objectives of the project were broadly to;

  • rethink ways in which learning content and tasks could be presented to students in online learning formats
  • convert paper-based learning materials intended for 80 – 120 hours of learning to online formats
  • make the new online content available to students through Blackboard and monitor usage
  • elicit feedback from students and teaching staff on the impacts of the online content on learning.

It must be emphasized that due to the need to develop a fully online course in approximately 8 weeks, we focused mainly on the first 3 of these objectives.

Context

The move from a predominantly face-to-face summer Pre-sessional programme, with 20 hours/week contact time and some blended-learning elements, to fully-online provision in Summer 2020 presented both threats and opportunities to ISLI.  We realised very early on that it would not be prudent to attempt 20 hours/week of live online teaching and learning, particularly since most of that teaching would be provided by sessional staff, working from home, with some working from outside the UK, where it would be difficult to provide IT support. In addition, almost all students would be working from outside the UK, and we knew there would be connectivity issues that would impact on the effectiveness of live online sessions.  In the end, there were 4 – 5 hours/week of live online classes, which meant that a lot of the core course content had to be covered asynchronously, with students working independently.

We had been working with Xerte, an open-source tool for authoring online learning materials, for about 3 years, creating independent study materials for consolidation and extension of learning based round print materials.  This was an opportunity to put engaging, interactive online learning materials at the heart of the programme.  Here are some of the reasons why we chose Xerte;

  • It allows for inputs (text, audio, video, images), interactive tasks and feedback to be co-located on the same webpage
  • There is a very wide range of interactive task types, including drag-and-drop ordering, categorising and matching tasks, and “hotspot” tasks in which clicking on part of a text or image produces customisable responses.
  • It offers considerable flexibility in planning navigation through learning materials, and in the ways feedback can be presented to learners.
  • Learning materials could be created by academic staff without the need for much training or support.

Xerte was only one of the tools for asynchronous learning that we used on the programme.  We also used stand-alone videos, Discussion Board tasks in Blackboard, asynchronous speaking skills tasks in Flipgrid, and written tasks submitted for formative or summative feedback through Turnitin.  We also included a relatively small number of tasks presented as Word docs or PDFs, with a self-check answer key.

Implementation

We knew that we only had time to convert the paper-based learning materials into an online format, rather than start with a blank canvas, but it very quickly became clear that the highly interactive classroom methodology underlying the paper-based materials would be difficult to translate into a fully-online format with greater emphasis on asynchronous learning and automated feedback.  As much as possible we took a flipped learning approach to maximise efficient use of time in live lessons, but it meant that a lot of content that would normally have been covered in a live lesson had to be repackaged for asynchronous learning.

In April 2020, when we started to plan the fully-online programme, we had a limited number of staff who were able to author in Xerte.  Fortunately, we had developed a self-access training resource which meant that new authors were able to learn how to author with minimal support from ISLI’s TEL staff. A number of sessional staff with experience in online teaching or materials development were redeployed from teaching on the summer programme to materials development.  We provided them with a lot of support in the early stages of materials development; providing models and templates, storyboarding, reviewing drafts together. We also produced a style guide so that we had consistent formatting conventions and presentation standards.

The Xerte lessons were accessed via links in Blackboard, and in the end-of-course evaluations we asked students and teaching staff a number of open and closed questions about their response to Xerte.

Impact

We were not in a position to assess the impact of the Xerte lessons on learning outcomes, as we were unable to differentiate between this and the impacts of other aspects of the programme (e.g. live lessons, teacher feedback on written work).  Students are assessed on the basis of a combination of coursework and formal examinations (discussed by Fiona Orel in other posts to the T&L Exchange), and overall grades at different levels of performance were broadly in line with those in previous years, when the online component of the programme was minimal.

In the end-of-course evaluation, students were asked “How useful did you find the Xerte lessons in helping you improve your skills and knowledge?” 245 students responded to this question: 137 (56%) answered “Very useful”, 105 (43%)  “Quite useful” and 3 (1%) “Not useful”.  The open questions provided a lot of useful information that we are taking into account in revising the programme for 2021.  There were technical issues round playing video for some students, and bugs in some of the tasks; most of these issues were resolved after they were flagged up by students during the course. In other comments, students said that feedback needed to be improved for some tasks, that some of the Xerte lessons were too long, and that we needed to develop a way in which students could quickly return to specific Xerte lessons for review later in the course.

Reflections

We learned a lot, very quickly, about instructional design for online learning.

Instructions for asynchronous online tasks need to be very explicit and unambiguous, because at the time students are using Xerte lessons they are not in a position to check their understanding either with peers or with tutors.  We produced a video and a Xerte lesson aimed at helping students understand how to work with Xerte lessons to exploit their maximum potential for learning.

The same applies to feedback.  In addition, to have value, automated feedback generally (but not always) needs to be detailed, with explanations why specific answers are correct or wrong.  We found, occasionally, that short videos embedded in the feedback were more effective than written feedback.

Theoretically, Xerte will track individual student use and performance, if uploaded as SCORM packages into Blackboard, with grades feeding into Grade Centre.  In practice, this only works well for a limited range of task types.  The most effective way to track engagement was to follow up on Xerte lessons with short Blackboard tests.  This is not an ideal solution, and we are looking at other tracking options (e.g. xAPI).

Over the 4 years we have been working with Xerte, we had occasionally heard suggestions that Xerte was too complex for academics to learn to use.   This emphatically was not our experience over Summer 2020.  A number of new authors were able to develop pedagogically-sound Xerte lessons, using a range of task types, to high presentation standards, with almost no 1-to-1 support from the ISLI TEL team.  We estimate that, on average, new authors need to spend 5 hours learning how to use Xerte before they are able to develop materials at an efficient speed, with minimal support.

Another suggestion was that developing engaging interactive learning materials in Xerte is so time-consuming that it is not cost-effective.  It is time-consuming, but put in a situation in which we felt we had no alternative, we managed to achieve all we set out to achieve.  Covid and the need to develop a fully-online course under pressure of time really focused our minds.  The Xerte lessons will need reviewing, and some will definitely need revision, but we face summer 2021 in a far more resilient, sustainable position than at this time last year.  We learned that it makes sense to plan for a minimum 5-year shelf life for online learning materials, with regular review and updating.

Finally, converting the paper-based materials for online learning forced us to critically assess them in forensic detail, particularly in the ways students would work with those materials.   In the end we did create some new content, particularly in response to changes in the ways that students work online or use technological tools on degree programmes.

Follow up

We are now revising the Xerte lessons, on the basis of what we learned from authoring in Xerte, and the feedback we received from colleagues and students.  In particular, we are working on;

  • ways to better track student usage and performance
  • ways to better integrate learning in Xerte lessons with tasks in live lessons
  • improvements to feedback.

For further information, or if you would like to try out Xerte as an author and with students, please contact j.p.smith@reading.ac.uk, and we can set up a trial account for you on the ISLI installation. If you are already authoring with Xerte, you can also join the UoR Xerte community by asking to be added to the Xerte Users Team.

Links and References

The ISLI authoring website provides advice on instructional design with Xerte, user guides on a range of page types, and showcases a range of Xerte lessons.

The international Xerte community website provides Xerte downloads, news on updates and other developments, and a forum for discussion and advice.

Finally, authored in Xerte, this website provides the most comprehensive showcase of all the different page type available in Xerte, showing its potential functionality across a broad range of disciplines.

Supporting the Wellbeing of Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners

Will Warley and Allan Laville

Overview

This project aimed to provide Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) on the MSci Applied Psychology (Clinical) course with guides containing evidence-based techniques and strategies to manage their wellbeing and workload over the course of their placement year. Here we reflect on the benefits of completing this project as well as the potential benefits of these materials for future trainee PWPs.

Objectives

  • To create guides which would support the wellbeing and workload of trainee PWPs on the MSci programme.
  • To evaluate the impact of these materials via feedback from current trainee PWPs on the MSci Programme.

Context

In their third year, students on the MSci Applied Psychology (Clinical) course train as PWPs. PWPs are trained to assess and treat a range of common mental health problems and work predominantly in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services. Research indicates that wellbeing is poor among PWPs working in IAPT services; Westwood et al. (2017), in a survey of IAPT practitioners, found that 68% of PWPs were suffering from ‘problematic levels of burnout’. Given the prevalence of burnout among PWPs, it is critical that trainee PWPs are equipped with effective, evidence-based strategies to manage their wellbeing.

Will Warley (4th year student – MSci Applied Psychology) approached Allán Laville (Dean for Diversity and Inclusion & MSci Applied Psychology (Clinical) Course Director) about creating wellbeing guides for trainee PWPs.

Implementation

The preliminary stage of the project involved reflecting on the challenges which trainee PWPs face during their PWP training. As I had just completed my PWP training, I was in a good position to understand the challenges which are faced by trainees. These included: balancing university, placement and part-time work; ‘switching off’ after placement days; managing stress; organisation (in placement and in university); and clinical challenges, such as having a client not recover after treatment.

After reflecting on these challenges, I identified evidence-based techniques which could help students to overcome these challenges and tailored them to trainee PWPs. Using evidence-based techniques, underpinned by a well-founded model (such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is important as techniques/strategies which lack evidence may be ineffective and, worse, could have the potential for harm.

A consistent approach to the design of the guides was adopted. This is highlighted below in the annotated ‘Stress Bucket’ guide:

 

Impact

Current trainee PWPs were asked to provide anonymous feedback 6 weeks after being presented with the wellbeing resources. Their responses are summarised in the infographic below (N.B. one response was excluded from the final data as the respondent identified that they had not used any of the resources).

The small number of respondents (N=5) limits the overall utility of the feedback. However, it was promising to see that 4/5 of respondents had used the information/advice to support their wellbeing.

 

Reflections

Allán Laville’s reflections:

It is really encouraging to see how students have used the resources and that they would recommend the resources to a friend. From previous cohorts, we know that the level of clinical work increases in Spring and Summer term, so it will be very useful to collect further feedback later in the academic year.

Will Warley’s reflections:

Prioritising one’s wellbeing is critical for clinicians at any stage of their career, but it is particularly important during training where many challenges are faced for the first time. It’s therefore very positive to see that the MSci trainees have found these resources helpful in supporting their wellbeing during their training year so far.

Follow up

The qualitative feedback from students highlights potential implications for similar wellbeing-related projects across the university. For example, one student highlighted that it was helpful to know potential difficulties and coping strategies ‘before they became a problem’. It may therefore be helpful for future projects to start by using existing data (e.g. from module feedback) and questionnaires to fully understand the challenges faced by students on that particular course, and then use this information to identify appropriate strategies students can use to overcome these challenges.

Current MSci students will be presented with the final two wellbeing guides at the start of the Spring term. These resources will also be presented to future Part 3 MSci students in order to support their wellbeing during their PWP training year.

Links and References

Westwood, S., Morison, L., Allt, J., & Holmes, N. (2017). Predictors of emotional exhaustion, disengagement and burnout among improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT) practitioners. Journal of Mental Health, 26(2), 172-179. doi:10.1080/09638237.2016.1276540

Organising a Peer Review Event of Synchronous Online Teaching

 

 

Vicky Collins

v.collins@reading.ac.uk

International Study and Language Institute, ISLI

Overview

Each year tutors on  the Academic English Programme [AEP] run by ISLI participate in an internal show case of tips and best practices as a Peer Review event. This year we  chose the theme of ‘Managing synchronous online teaching’  given the level of challenge it presents and creative solutions emerging  to these.  The event included a pre task, live demos and talks throughs, an external list of resources for participants, and a final compendium of curated videos (recorded from the live delivery) for wider dissemination in ISLI.

Objectives

The main aims of the annual Peer review event are:

  • To draw out good practice and reflect on experiences of teaching on the Academic English Programme [AEP] from the previous year or term
  • To foster a team environment by providing for a network to exchange ideas and experiences

Whilst acknowledging that there are many tutorials and training videos available widely to support online teaching, for this peer review on ‘Managing  synchronous online teaching’ we were keen to draw out  tips and practices developed in situ.

Context

Since September 2020, the whole AEP team has been involved in regular live online teaching. This includes all aspects of the Academic English Programme from discipline specific courses to webinars on particular aspects of academic language and literacy.  Prior to this most of our experience and training for the transition to online T & L  was around asynchronous delivery, so we thought a review and reflection of online synchronous teaching was timely

Implementation

I started by researching sub themes within ‘managing online synchronous teaching’ and developed a list from which to solicit ideas for tips and practices from the teaching team:

  • Opening and closing a session
  • Spaces for collaboration
  • Tools for live interactivity
  • Multitasking during sessions
  • Working with longer texts online
  • Teaching to the void: finding ways of connecting to students
  • Staging & organising of activities

 

Soliciting, categorising and developing initial ideas in advance with colleagues helped avoid duplication and also meant I could allocate suitable timings to presentations/demos .  The event was scheduled for 3 hours with rest breaks and question times and held on Teams. Given the commitment of time required, this peer review event takes place in January each year- before the Spring term gets underway and also to boost morale on return from the festive break.

Prior to the event I set a pre task on the topic of ‘What does live online learning look like for our discipline?’ . A discussion thread was set up and colleagues contributed voluntarily .

I also developed a list of external resources on the topic of online synchronous learning to share with participants after the event.

The Peer review event itself was recorded, with permission, and I then curated the individual presentations into 18  bite sized videos.

Impact

A feedback  survey was issued once all resources had been released. This was completed by 8 out of 12 participants.

The aim of the feedback survey was to gauge satisfaction with the event and impact it had on participants preparedness for live online teaching this term [Spring 2021]

In terms of satisfaction, all participants strongly agreed that the event was effectively organized.

All participants strongly agreed [5] or agreed [3] that the event and resources helped them to feel more prepared. Varying levels of confidence in live online scenarios are reflected in participants’ familiarity with ideas presented by their peers. Most reported that between 25-50% of the activities were new to them, and two reported a greater percentage.

Participants listed a range of the tips and practices presented by peers that they would like to try out this term [Spring 2021]

Reflections

One of the most significant outcomes of this was that despite the plethora of tutorials and training vignettes on you tube for example, which  teaching staff can consult, a genuine account of these tips and practices  in situ  is still much  valued.  My colleagues  were able to discuss with sincerity the pros and  cons of practices they had tried in the past term, and how they hoped to continue building on these.  Comments to the pre task  discussion question were insightful and I feel I learnt much from these as I compiled them into a summary. I felt this approach to peer learning was particularly conducive i.e giving peers a space to contribute to a thread, time to read through other contributions, and then for the facilitator to summarise this so we have a meaningful record of our thoughts and ideas. Not everybody in the team had the confidence to present  or demo tips and practices, and indeed there was no pressure to do so, but the pre task allowed for them to contribute to the event in a another form

Follow up

  • The feedback form included an area for participants to share what ideas from the event they would like to put into practice this term. I will informally review this at the end of the term[Spring 2021] and have set up a discussion thread for peers to comment on these
  • Participants have given permission for their videos to be used more widely in ISLI for teacher development purposes.

Learning to Interpret and Assess Complex and Incomplete Environmental Data

Andrew Wade a.j.wade@reading.ac.uk

Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences

Overview

Field work is well known to improve student confidence and enhance skills and knowledge, yet there is evidence for a decline in field work in Secondary Education, especially amongst A-level Geography students. This is problematic as students are entering Geography and Environmental Science degree programmes with reduced skills and confidence around field-based data collection and interpretation, and this appears to be leading to an apprehension around data collection for dissertations. A simple field-based practical where 47 Part 2 Geography and Environmental Science students tested their own hypotheses about factors that control water infiltration into soils was developed. Improved confidence and appreciation of critical thinking around environmental data was reported in a survey of the student experience. Student coursework demonstrated that attainment was very good, and that skills and critical thinking can be recovered and enhanced with relatively simple, low-cost field-based practical classes that can be readily embedded to scaffold subsequent modules, including the dissertation.

Context

The importance of field work is well established in Geography and Environmental Science as a means of active and peer-to-peer learning. However, students appear to have little confidence in designing their own field work for hypotheses testing when they arrive for Part 1, probably due to a decline in field work in Secondary Education (Kinder 2016, Lambert and Reiss 2014). Within the Geography and Environmental Science programmes, there is a part two, 20 credit ‘Research Training’ module that develops the same skills. However, this research training module and the dissertation are seen by the students as being of high risk in that they perceive a low mark will have a significant negative impact on the overall degree classification. Consequently, students are seemingly risk adverse around field-based projects. The idea here is to make field-based training more commonplace throughout multiple modules through inclusion of relatively simple practical training, so that hypotheses testing, critical thinking and confidence with ‘messy’ environmental data become intuitive and students are at ease with these concepts. In parallel, GES module cohorts have increased in recent years and this is an additional reason to develop simple, low-cost practical classes.

Objectives

The aim of the project was to determine if a simple, field-based practical would help boost student confidence around field data collection and interpretation, and hypotheses testing. The objective was to give the students a safe and supportive environment in which to develop their own hypotheses and method for field data collection, and to learn to interpret often ‘messy’ and ‘complex’ environmental data.

Figure 1: The practical class took place on the hill-slope on campus between the Atmospheric Observatory and Whiteknights Lake on the 28 October 2019 over 4 hours in total.

 

Figure 2: Students used a Decagon Devices Mini-Disc Infiltrometer to measure unsaturated hydraulic conductivity to test their own hypotheses about the factors controlling infiltration

Implementation

A practical was designed where 47 Part 2 students, working in groups of four or five, developed their own hypotheses around the factors controlling rainfall infiltration on a hill-slope in the class room following an in-class briefing, and then tested these hypotheses in the field using Mini Disc infiltrometers (Figs. 1, 2 and 3). There was a further follow-up session where each student spent two hours processing the data collected and was briefed on the coursework write-up.

Figure 3: The students tested hypotheses around distance from the lake, vegetation and soil type, soil moisture and soil compaction. Each student group spent two hours in the field.

Impact

Of 40 students who responded to an on-line survey:

  • 37 agreed the practical helped develop their critical thinking skills around complex and incomplete environmental data;
  • 36 agreed they were now better able to deal with uncertainty in field-based measurements;
    and 38 feel more confident working in the field.

Student quotes included:

  • “The practical was very useful in helping to understand the processes happening as well as being more confident in using the equipment.”
  • “I thought the practical was good as it was another way to process information which tends to work better for me, doing and seeing how it works allows me to gain a higher understanding in the processes”

The majority of students gained first class and upper second-class marks for the project write-up and the reports submitted demonstrated good critical thinking skills in the interpretation of the infiltration measurements. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of students opting for hydrology-based dissertations.

Reflections

Confidence and critical thinking skills can be enhanced with relatively simple, low-cost field-based practicals that scaffold subsequent modules including Research Training for Geographers and Environmental Science, and the dissertation, and focus on hypotheses testing in addition to knowledge acquisition. Each student spent 2 hours in the field on campus and 2 hours processing their data, with further time on the coursework write-up. This seems a reasonable investment in time given the benefits in confidence, skills and knowledge. Embedding such practicals should not replace the larger skills-based modules, such as Research Training, nor should such practical classes replace entirely those that focus more on knowledge acquisition, but these practical classes, where students explore their own ideas, appear to be a useful means to boost student confidence and critical thinking skills at an early stage. The practical was also an excellent means of encouraging peer to peer interaction and learning, and this and similar practical classes have good potential for the integration of home and NUIST students.

Follow up

Embed similar practical classes in part one modules to build confidence at the outset of the degree programme and, at part three, to further enable integration of home and NUIST students.

Links and References

Kinder A. 2016. Geography: The future of fieldwork in schools. Online: http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/geography-the-future-of-fieldwork-in-schools/ (Last accessed: 03 Jan 2020).

Lambert D and Reiss MJ. 2014, The place of fieldwork in geography and science qualifications, Institute of Education, University of London. ISBN: 978-1-78277-095-4. pp. 20

The impact of COVID upon practical classes in Part 1 chemistry – an opportunity to redevelop a core module

Philippa Cranwell p.b.cranwell@reading.ac.uk, Jenny Eyley, Jessica Gusthart, Kevin Lovelock and Michael Piperakis

Overview

This article outlines a re-design that was undertaken for the Part 1 autumn/spring chemistry module, CH1PRA, which services approximately 45 students per year. All students complete practical work over 20 weeks of the year. There are four blocks of five weeks of practical work in rotation (introductory, inorganic, organic and physical) and students spend one afternoon (4 hours) in the laboratory per week. The re-design was partly due to COVID, as we were forced to critically look at the experiments the students completed to ensure that the practical skills students developed during the COVID pandemic were relevant for Part 2 and beyond, and to ensure that the assessments students completed could also be stand-alone exercises if COVID prevented the completion of practical work. COVID actually provided us with an opportunity to re-invigorate the course and critically appraise whether the skills that students were developing, and how they were assessed, were still relevant for employers and later study.

Objectives

• Redesign CH1PRA so it was COVID-safe and fulfilled strict accreditation criteria.
• Redesign the experiments so as many students as possible could complete practical work by converting some experiments so they were suitable for completion on the open bench to maximise laboratory capacity
• Redesign assessments so if students missed sessions due to COVID they could still collect credit
• Minimise assessment load on academic staff and students
• Move to a more skills-based assessment paradigm, away from the traditional laboratory report.

Context

As mentioned earlier, the COVID pandemic led to significant difficulties in the provision of a practical class due to restrictions on the number of students allowed within the laboratory; 12 students in the fumehoods and 12 students on the open bench (rather than up to 74 students all using fumehoods previously). Prior to the redesign, each student completed four or five assessments per 5-week block and all of the assessments related to a laboratory-based experiment. In addition, the majority of the assessments required students to complete a pro-forma or a technical report. We noticed that the pro-formas did not encourage students to engage with the experiments as we intended, therefore execution of the experiment was passive. The technical reports placed a significant marking burden upon the academic staff and each rotation had different requirements for the content of the report, leading to confusion and frustration among the students. The reliance of the assessments upon completion of a practical experiment was also deemed high-risk with the advent of COVID, therefore we had to re-think our assessment and practical experiment regime.

Implementation

In most cases, the COVID-safe bench experiments were adapted from existing procedures, allowing processing of 24 students per week (12 on the bench and 12 in the fumehood), with students completing two practical sessions every five weeks. This meant that technical staff did not have to familiarise themselves with new experimental procedures while implementing COVID guidelines. In addition, three online exercises per rotation were developed, requiring the same amount of time as the practical class to complete therefore fulfilling our accreditation requirements. The majority of assessments were linked to the ‘online practicals’, with opportunities for feedback during online drop-in sessions. This meant that if a student had to self-isolate they could still complete the assessments within the deadline, reducing the likelihood of ECF submissions and ensuring all Learning Outcomes would still be met. To reduce assessment burden on staff and students, each 5-week block had three assessment points and where possible one of these assessments was marked automatically, e.g. using a Blackboard quiz. The assessments themselves were designed to be more skills-based, developing the softer skills students would require upon employment or during a placement. To encourage active learning, the use of reflection was embedded into the assessment regime; it was hoped that by critically appraising performance in the laboratory students would remember the skills and techniques that they had learnt better rather than the “see, do, forget” mentality that is prevalent within practical classes.

Examples of assessments include: undertaking data analysis, focussing on clear presentation of data; critical self-reflection of the skills developed during a practical class i.e. “what went well”, “what didn’t go so well”, “what would I do differently?”; critically engaging with a published scientific procedure; and giving a three-minute presentation about a practical scientific technique commonly-encountered in the laboratory.

Impact

Mid-module evaluation was completed using an online form, providing some useful feedback that will be used to improve the student experience next term. The majority of students agreed, or strongly agreed, that staff were friendly and approachable, face-to-face practicals were useful and enjoyable, the course was well-run and the supporting materials were useful. This was heartening to read, as it meant that the adjustments that we had to make to the delivery of laboratory based practicals did not have a negative impact upon the students’ experience and that the re-design was, for the most part, working well. Staff enjoyed marking the varied assessments and the workload was significantly reduced by using Blackboard functionality.

Reflections

To claim that all is perfect with this redesign would be disingenuous, and there was a slight disconnect between what we expected students to achieve from the online practicals and what students were achieving. A number of the students polled disliked the online practical work, with the main reason being that the assessment requirements were unclear. We have addressed by providing additional videos explicitly outlining expectations for the assessments, and ensuring that all students are aware of the drop-in sessions. In addition, we amended the assessments so they are aligned more closely with the face-to-face practical sessions giving students opportunity for informal feedback during the practical class.

In summary, we are happy that the assessments are now more varied and provide students with the skills they will need throughout their degree and upon graduation. In addition, the assessment burden on staff and students has been reduced. Looking forward, we will now consider the experiments themselves and in 2021/22 we will extend the number of hours of practical work that Part 1 students complete and further embed our skill-based approach into the programme.

Follow up

 

Links and References

Can Online Learning Facilitate Meaningful Interpersonal Connection?

Shelley Harris

shelley.harris@reading.ac.uk

Overview

As part of my role as a Creative Writing lecturer, I link undergraduates with professionals from the publishing industry, offering – among other things – extracurricular events for students in the School of Literature and Languages. In the past, these have broadened students’ understanding of the roles involved in publishing and given them hands-on, CV-friendly experience of the skills required in those roles. The goal is to improve students’ knowledge, confidence and employability rather than secure them a job, though sometimes they are given an unexpected leg-up: after a course in 2018, the visiting editor was so impressed by one of our students that he introduced her to a contact at Hachette.

Whatever the specifics of the event, I always seek to bring those professionals into the room – in part to demystify this competitive sector, and in part because, as a ‘high context’ industry (Hall 1977), it has a historically offered jobs to the privileged: those with cultural capital. My aim is to give all our students the chance to accrue such capital.

 

 

Objectives

My ambition for the online event remained the same as its original iteration: to facilitate meaningful connections between our students and the industry guests.

Context

In Spring 2020 I organised an event for Professional Track which – after a panel discussion – would put students into informal breakout groups with early-career publishing professionals. This sort of personal contact is rare, and hugely beneficial for students with an ambition to work in publishing.

The event was scheduled for April, the tea and cake were ordered – and then lockdown occurred. With some trepidation, I redesigned it as an online experience using Blackboard Collaborate. But could an online event really enable the sorts of human connection offered by a face-to-face meeting?

Implementation

TEL’s one-to-one help sessions were a gamechanger for this project, with TEL advisor Chris Johnson offering expert guidance, including the sorts of troubleshooting tips that make all the difference to an online project. There isn’t enough space here to detail them all, but I would hugely recommend making the most of TEL’s expertise.

On the day, the event began with a conventional panel discussion in which I interviewed the guests (an editor, a publicist, a books marketer and a literary agent’s assistant) about their routes into publishing and their experience of work. Students turned off their mics and video, watched the panel and put questions into the text chat, which I then moderated. Next, I put students into small groups using Collaborate’s ‘Breakout Groups’ feature. Each included one publishing professional. I invited all participants to turn on their cameras and mics so that discussion could be more personal and informal. As facilitator, I moved between groups – not participating, but making sure things were running smoothly.

Impact

To what extent was meaningful interpersonal connection facilitated by this online event? Qualitative feedback from students suggests that the ensuing discussions were fruitful. One respondent said: ‘Engaging with the industry professionals in the smaller groups was something that I found to be particularly helpful’, while another said they appreciated ‘talking to individuals with real experience in the sector I am curious about working in.

As with the previous course, one student benefitted in an immediate way; with a guest speaker offering to show her artwork to a children’s publisher. It was encouraging evidence that remote events can bring people together.

Indeed, there were aspects of the online event that seemed to offer advantages over face-to-face meeting; online, there’s a hierarchy of depersonalisation, from a simulacrum of face-to-face (cameras and mics on) through audio only, to text chat which identifies students by name and finally the anonymity of Collaborate’s whiteboard function. This is hard to reproduce in a bricks-and-mortar seminar room – and it liberates participants.

An example of that liberation came in two of the small group discussions, when talk was slow to start and the guest speakers asked students to put questions into text chat instead. Conversation picked up, and once it was under way, students were invited to activate their cameras and microphones. On reflection, I’d start all small group discussion like this next time. The feedback below (in answer to a question about the ways in which the online event was better than an in-person one) suggests how much safer this can make students feel, and how it can lower inhibitions about joining in.

Reflections

We all accept that in-person encounters offer us ways of connecting to each other that are hard to reproduce online, but the reverse is also true. It’s something our neurodivergent students already know (Satterfield, Lepage and Ladjahasan 2015), but my experience on this project has made me sharply aware of the ways in which all participants stand to benefit.

The ‘Get into Publishing’ event has left me cautiously optimistic about facilitating meaningful social connections in the online environment, and keen to further explore its unique social opportunities. And, as Gilly Salmon (2011) makes clear, those connections are not just ‘extras’ – they are absolutely central to successful remote learning.

Links and References

Hall E T (1977), Beyond Culture. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books

Satterfield D, Lepage C & Ladjahasan N (2015) ‘Preferences for online course delivery methods in higher education for students with autism spectrum disorders’, Procedia Manufacturing, 3, pp. 3651-3656

Salmon G (2011), E-Moderating : The Key to Online Teaching and Learning. New York: Routledge, p36

Promoting and Tracking Student Engagement on an Online Undergraduate Pre-sessional Course

Sarah Mattin: International Study and Language Institute

Overview

This case study outlines approaches to fostering an active learning environment on the University’s first fully online Undergraduate Pre-sessional Course which ran in Summer 2020 with 170 students. It reports staff and student feedback and reflects on how lessons learnt during the summer can inform ISLI’s continued online delivery this autumn term and beyond.

 

Objectives

  • To design and deliver an online Pre-sessional Course to meet the needs of 170 students studying remotely, mostly in China
  • To promote student engagement in learning activities in an online environment
  • To devise effective mechanisms for tracking student engagement and thus identify students who may require additional support

 

Context

The Pre-sessional Programme (PSE) is an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and academic skills development programme for degree offer holders who require more study to meet the English Language requirements of their intended programme. The programme runs year-round and, in the summer, has separate UG and PG courses. We would usually expect to welcome around 700 students to the campus for the summer courses (June-September); in summer 2020 we took the courses fully online in response to the COVID crisis. This case study focuses on the Undergraduate Course.

 

Implementation

Due to the constraints of the time difference between the UK and China, where most students were based, we knew learning on the course would need to be largely asynchronous. However, we were keen to promote active learning and so adopted the following approaches:

  • Use of the online authoring tool Xerte to create interactive learning materials which enabled students to have immediate feedback on tasks.
  • Incorporation of asynchronous peer and student-teacher interaction into the course each week through scaffolded tasks for the Blackboard Discussion Boards.
  • Setting up of small study groups of 3-4 students within each class of 16 students. Each group had fortnightly tutorials with the teacher and were encouraged to use the group for independent peer support.
  • Live online interactive sessions which took a ‘flipped’ approach, so students came prepared to share and discuss their work on a set task and ask any questions.

In order to track engagement with the learning materials we used Blackboard Tests to create short (4-5 questions) ‘Stop & Check’ quizzes at regular intervals throughout the week. We used the Grade Centre to monitor completion of these. We also made use of other student engagement monitoring features of Blackboard, in particular the Retention Centre within Evaluation and Blackboard Course Reports which enable instructors to track a range of user activity.

 

Impact

Our tracking showed that most students were engaging with the tasks daily, as required. We were very quickly able to identify a small group of students who were not engaging as hoped and target additional communication and support to these students.

Student feedback demonstrated that students perceived improvements in their language ability across the four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and this was confirmed by their results at the end of the course. Student outcomes were good with over 90% of students achieving the scores they needed to progress to their chose degree programme. This compares favourably with the progression rate for the on-campus course which has run in previous years.

Feedback from teachers on the learning materials was very positive. One teacher commented that ‘The videos and Xerte lessons were excellent. As a new teacher I felt the course was very clear and it has been the best summer course I have worked on’. Teachers highlighted Xerte, the Discussion Boards and the interactive sessions as strengths of the course.

The materials and overall design of the course have informed the Pre-sessional Course (PSE 1) which is running this Autumn Term.

 

Reflections

Overall, we designed and delivered a course which met our objectives. Some reflections on the tools and approaches we employed are as follows:

Xerte lessons: these were definitely a successful part of the course enabling us to provide interactive asynchronous learning materials with immediate feedback to students. We also found the Xerte lessons enabled us to make coherent ‘packages’ of smaller tasks helping us to keep the Blackboard site uncluttered and easy to navigate.

Discussion Boards: teacher feedback indicated that this was a part of the course some felt was an enhancement of the previous F2F delivery. Points we found were key to the success of Discussion Board tasks were:

  • Creation of a new thread for each task to keep threads a manageable size
  • Linking to the specific thread from the task using hyperlinks
  • Detailed and specific Discussion Board task instructions for students broken down into steps of making an initial post and responding to classmates’ posts with deadlines for each step
  • Teacher presence on the Discussion Board
  • Teacher feedback on group use of the Discussion Board in live sessions to reinforce the importance of peer interaction

Small study groups: these were a helpful element of the course and greater use could have been made of them. For example, one teacher developed a system of having a rotating ‘group leader’ who took responsibility for guiding the group through an assigned task each week. In the future we could incorporate this approach and build more independent group work into the asynchronous learning materials to reinforce the importance of collaboration and peer learning.

Live sessions: student feedback showed clearly that this was an aspect of the course they particularly valued. Both students and teachers felt there should be more live contact but that these do not need to be long sessions; even an additional 30 minutes a day would have made a difference. Teachers and students commented that Teams provided a more stable connection for students in China than Blackboard Collaborate.

Blackboard Tests and monitoring features of Blackboard: these were undoubtedly useful tools for monitoring student engagement. However, they generate a great deal of data which is not always easy to interpret ‘at a glance’ and provides a fairly superficial account of engagement. Most teachers ended up devising their own tracking systems in Excel which enabled them to identify and track performance on certain key tasks each week.

 

Follow up

Taking into account the feedback from this year, materials developed could be used in future to facilitate a flipped learning approach on the course with students studying on campus or remotely. This would address the calls for more teacher-student interaction and enable the course to respond flexibility to external events. Currently, we are applying lessons learnt from the summer to the delivery of our Pre-sessional and Academic English Programmes running this term.

 

Links

The Pre-sessional English and Academic English Programme webpages give more details about the Programmes

Pre-sessional: http://www.reading.ac.uk/ISLI/study-in-the-uk/isli-pre-sessional-english.aspx

Academic English Programme: http://www.reading.ac.uk/ISLI/enhancing-studies/isli-aep.aspx

Misconceptions About Flipped Learning

Misconceptions about Flipped Learning

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, colleagues in UoR are called to adjust their courses almost overnight from face to face teaching and to fully online ones. As the immediate future is still full of uncertainty, UoR (2020) teaching and learning framework are asking us to be creative in our pedagogical teaching approaches and to come up with strategies that would make courses stimulating and engaging. Flipped learning is one of the approaches suggested in the framework. With that in mind, I have written two articles about flipped learning published here and here.

Flipped learning is a pedagogical approach which comes timely during Covid-19. The advancement of internet technology, online learning platform and social media combined with growing exposure to flipped learning pedagogical approach promote the adoption of flipped learning during this pandemic. However, despite its popularity and published literature about flipped learning, it is evident that there are many misconceptions about it as it remains a somewhat poorly-understood concept among many.

In this last article, I thought I write and share with you some of the misconceptions about flipped learning that I resonate most. At the same time, let us reflect on them and see how we can overcome them if possible. Your feedbacks are always welcome and please do send me your thoughts via w.tew@henley.ac.uk

 

Misconception 1: Flipped learning is about putting video contents online

Reflection: This can be the most popular format to do flipped learning, but it is NOT about putting videos online and having students do homework in class (or online during this pandemic time). Referring to UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, we are encouraged to prepare our teaching and lectures in a video format. This format works well with flipped learning instructional strategy for delivering our teaching contents but flipped learning can be about much more than that. Colleagues can opt for videos or just text (readings) materials if they flip their lessons. For example, we can make good use of BB LMS platform to include online reading materials using talis aspire, journal articles, case studies, news that are relevant for our students. In another word, flipped learning does not necessarily use videos entirely.

 

Misconception 2: You need to be in the video

Reflection: This is not necessary the case especially so many of us are just shy and ‘unnatural’ in front of the camera, just how I feel for myself. This is why voice recorded PowerPoint format can be a ‘lifesaver’ to many of us. Having said that, having you in the video adds a personal touch to the learning materials for students. For example, wearing different hats when you are filming your videos make it more interesting to ‘draw’ students’ attention to your contents and lessons. Try it, you probably earn a “Mad hatter” title from your students. Just one of my crazy ideas.

 

Misconception 3: You need to flip your entire module 

ReflectionMany of us assume that we need to flip it for our entire module for entire academic year. NOT entirely necessarily so! The whole idea about flipped learning is to foster student-centred learning and teaching can be personalised to suit the students’ needs and learning pace. Therefore, you can flip just one concept or topic, one entire term or some weeks. Remember, the focus is on the students’ learning needs – one size fits all approach definitely does not fits in a flipped learning environment.

 

Misconception 4Flipped learning is a fad and people has been doing this for years in the past

Reflection: This is what my initial thought when I first come to know about flipped learning. A fad is defined as “a style, activity, or interest that is very popular for a short period of time”, an innovation that never takes hold. Flipped learning is anything but this. The evidence that it is still actively studied and researched today proves that it is not just a fad. Talbert (2017) argued that flipped learning is not just rebranding of old techniques. Flipped learning has its pedagogical framework and values in its effects on learning. In brief, the definition of flipped learning (refer Flipped Learning Network, 2014) has differentiated it with any learning theories.

 

Misconception 5: Flipping the classroom takes too much time

Reflection: To be honest, I do think this is true. Preparing for flipped learning and flipping the lessons involve a lot of energy and time. Based on my own experience, I personally can testify that it can take a significant amount of time. This also subjects to how tech-savvy is the teacher and how much of the teaching content needs to be flipped. However, the fruit of the hard labour and time investment, once designed, it will save time. Irony, isn’t it. That’s my experience. What I am trying to show you that once you have it done, you will be able to use the same content over and over again, year after year. Then, any updating and changes to the contents will not take as much time as creating everything from scratch again.

Finally, I hope you enjoy my series of flipped learning published on this platform. I sincerely urge you to consider flipped learning pedagogical approach during this pandemic and please do not hesitate to be in touch to continue this conversation.

References

Flipped Learning Network (FLN). (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ , Reproducible PDF can be found at www.flippedlearning.org/definition.

Talbert, R (2017) Flipped Learning: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. Stylus Publishing, LLC

UoR (2020) Teaching and Learning: Framework for Autumn term 2020, available at: https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/leadershipgroup/autumn-teaching-proposal-v11.pdf