Can’t believe we reached the end of week 8 already! Where did this semester go? Did and do we have (too much) fun? This was officially the last time my #lthesep12 class got together face-to-face as next week is fully online and in the following week the Professional Discussions take place. Missing my students already… at least we will have the opportunity to come together again for our Christmas picnic on the 12th of December at 12pm. Yeh!!!
This is our 5th LTHE cohort and I can’t stop thinking how different things are with each cohort. Despite the fact that there is a common thread running through, with a new set of students each session feels completely different. Of course the resources have been enriched and changed, the activities and supporting materials refined too, some removed and new ones added as well. I do want to keep this offer fresh and not just repeat stuff that I have used before. I guess, I have also matured (?) in facilitating this module and feel ok to pick ‘n’ mix more organically and intuitively bits out of my toolkit and re-mix and re-purpose activities and resources that I have created over the last few years. I love looking back at my reflections from previous cohorts and also remind myself of what we experienced together. Looking at the photographs we have been taken and stored in our Flickr album is a great help to re-visualise specific moments. I am so pleased I started capturing these moments from the very beginning and we have now such a rich photo album of the module and our experiences.
This week we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in another curriculum design approach. While last week we experienced storytelling, this week we adopted a Problem-Based Learning approach to investigate assessment and feedback. As many of my students didn’t have first hand experience of PBL, they were asked to access some of the resources in advance of the session and we also looked at the basics at the beginning of the session with one of my students who is an experienced PBL practitioner.
I was observed during the assessment and feedback session with my last cohort by our External Examiner and this is why this particular session was more vivid in my memory perhaps than any other. So, when I started redesigning this session for my current cohort, I wanted to make sure that I would apply the lessons learnt from that peer observation. The key point then was “less is more” throuh decluttering the session. I found that really challenging but I wanted to give it a go. If you would like to read and access all the resources (including video clips from the observed session as well as the open feedback conversation that followed) linked to the peer observation, click here.
Ok, back to now ;) While I was designing this session, I had some extra tools in my bag which I would only use if I spotted a real opportunity and always keeping in mind the main task! This was really hard as I had extra goodies which I wanted to share with my students. I had to burry my excitement and be patient and wait to see if there was an opportunity to bring them out of the bag… so to speak.
1. How did I feel?
Very pleased that my students keep coming to the sessions, first of all, despite the fact that there are plenty resources online and activities that could keep them going on their own… but would they? What is the added bonus of coming together as a class? What do my students think?
Very pleased to see my students bonding and having conversations in advance of the session. Seeing them smiley and positive and keen to get started is really motivating. I love to surprise my students and try and keep my offer fresh and do different things together that make them think and hopefully act too. This is I think the only and most important thing I can achieve. I can’t change anybody and I don’t want to! But if something I say or do, makes my student think and re-think about themselves, their students and their practice this is fantastic. If this thought then extend to deeper reflection, exploration and experimentation, which I have seen happening, it is pure magic!
So, I felt positive but also wanted to make sure that I keep on track and focused on what I wanted my students to learn this week. It wasn’t an easy task since we didn’t only look at assessment and feedback but also we were trying to do this via PBL. Were my plans too ambitious? No. We need to be challenging and we need to challenge ourselves!
I also felt extremely proud of my students, all of them and how they embraced this session. First of all I loved their openness and honesty about last week’s session. It was useful for me to hear different voices about last week’s session and how perhaps some felt that they didn’t get much out of it (I would add yet, as I believe that it will click sooner or later, the proof if this also started coming out during this week’s session). We do need to be brave to ask our students and accept that some of the stuff we are doing or trying to do with them feel a bit strange or pointless. These more critical voices will help us refine our approaches further. It helped me in this way and while in the past, I probably felt hurt, I have now changed and really do see the benefits of all honest feedback as I would like to improve my sessions and maximise what my students get out of them. So thank you for being so honest my dear students ;)
2. What did I learn?
Decluttering is good! The session made me think: do we too often over-stimulate our students? Or is this not possible? In the world of mass-distructions, are we all effective filterers? Can we ignore distructions? Bits that get in the way and hinder us from staying focused and on task? But what would be wrong if we suddenly change direction? What if the big learning opportunities are actually created by some of these distractions that we can’t resist? Not sure if all that makes sense here and I didn’t really plan to write about it but my fingers are hitting the keyboard and I guess I am thinking about these things as well as I am reflecting on cluttering and decluttering. Before Simon observed me last time I ran this session (even running sounds horrible but I am going to leave it!) I never thought that my sessions are cluttered. Maybe I would characterise them full or varied or rich but not cluttered. Cluttered has a negatve aftertaste and maybe that is why I still remember his words so strongly and I think this is a good thing because he did make me look at my sessions in a different light and re-think what I am doing, how I am doing it and most importantly why.
We do need to trust our students and this is something I have discovered a while ago but the idea resurfed this week. We need to trust them that they do want to learn and give them the time and space to do so. I think this happened despite the fact that some might have felt that they didn’t have enough time this week. Too much time can also be bad and the more time we get the less some of us might do, so productively doesn’t really increase with the time available. What we need is focused time on activities and I think we got that.
The PBL groups worked well together and everybody contributed to the task (I made some observations regarding how the chairs operated within the PBL groups which correspond with previous similar situations and evidence to me that PBL as a one off might not be the most effective way to build more generic skills but I suppose, there is an opportunity to take some of the PBL roles out and use them in other collaborative learning activities that will enable students to develop a variety of skills. I think there is an opportunity there for me to do this a bit more in future sessions!!!) and sticking the instructions to the tables this time, did work better than last time. Also the roles where there and the simplified FISh model developed in collaboration with Lars Uhlin worked better than more complex and more widely used PBL models. Structure and scaffolding of learning is important but I do think that too much complicated structures turn learners into robots and this is not something I would like to encourage. Definitely not!
I loved how my students in all 4 PBL groups, and then the two supergroups we formed to share the findings with each other, decided to use storytelling as a way to do this. I didn’t influence them or made any suggestion. Was this a conscious decision (based on last week’s approach) or did this happen naturally? As we humans love stories anyway? I would love to find out. Especially as we immersed ourselves into storytelling with and about students experiences at uni… I am pleased I recorded both and share them with you here. They are both wonderfully creative with powerful messages and I would also love to find out what my students’ students would say watching these. Could any of you share these with your students and let me know their reactions?
3. What would I do differently?
Overall, I am pleased with what we achieved during this session. Mixing PBL and storytelling, the second, thanks to my students ;), to investigate assessment and feedback practices in HE worked really well. I am pleased I decided to declutter the session, use FISh, the simplified PBL model but it did feel strange that we didn’t make a proper feedback sandwich, with proper bread, lettuce and the rest (but the metaphorical feedback sandwich was discovered by one of the PBL groups with a little help from the Sandwich fairy ;) I also didn’t share the magic white sauce story with my students, which is a shame, I think…
So, what would I do differently?
- It would have been useful to have a set of resources within the classroom, a mini resources-bank or mobile library with books and journal articles around assessment and feedback beyond the digital resources in the classroom.
- I could also invite students to participate in this session and perhaps I could ask the Student Union to help me find a few who would like to take part in this week’s activities.
- Another idea that just popped into my head would be to invite 2 academics who experience a dilemma with their assessment and/or feedback practice and use their story as a trigger, so that the problem is definitely authentic. Actually the more I think about it the more convinced I am that I should give this a go with my next cohort.
There is always room for improvement. ;) Looking forward to planning some of the above ideas with the next cohort. Exciting and excited again. This is the way it should be…
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She loved to experiment.
One day visitors from far far away arrived. The little girl’s mother was still at work when they knocked at the door. The little girl opened the door and had an idea. She was excited and wanted to cook something special for the visitors. She had never cooked before…
So, she boiled pasta, like she had seen her mother boil pasta many times before and created the magic white sauce: just butter, milk and flour… loads of flour…
The little girl’s mother arrived when everybody was eating happily pasta with the magic white sauce. She got some too… Her face turned green and her eyes almost left her face… No, she didn’t like it and made sure everybody else knew this too… and the magic white sauce became a favourite topic in conversations.
But not for the little girl.
The little girl was sad and hurt.
The years passed and the little girl grew up. The story about the magic white sauce was living on. Her mother continued sharing it. She found it so amusing. The big girl didn’t find it amusing at all.
The big girl continued experimenting in the kitchen and loads of people loved her food – but not her mother.
The big girl stopped cooking for her mother a long time ago. Nothing was good enough! The big girl was also tired of listening to her mother praising the culinary wonders of her little sister.
Her mother never understood the real power of the magic white sauce… did you?
Last week’s #coresep11 session of the @pgcap made me think and reflect about loads of different aspects of teaching and learning and my own practice.
One of them was a question raised by one of our students, which stayed in my mind since then. The more I started thinking about it the more I felt that there is something here that could be done to organise my own thinking and perhaps start something off that others might find useful as well. What I am attempting here will be just the start and I am inviting everybody who is reading this, to contribute their thoughts and ideas linked to what I am presenting below. The plan is to continuously update this post and co-create a rich resource that might help us all in our practice.
I guess, you are wondering what this is all about. Well, the question that stayed with me is the one around receiving feedback from students. Usually we teachers are the ones providing feedback to our students and often this is problematic too but I am not going to focus on this here.
Students are usually asked at the end of a module or programme to fill out an evaluation form. I see value in creating opportunities for an ongoing dialogue and conversation with the students to enhance practice and respond to the needs of individuals and a specific class. I am not suggesting that we will have to agree with all feedback received but it can become an additional resource and perspective to our own evaluation and will definitely help us reflect on our practice and be aware of certain views and how students experience our teaching.
- How can we engage our students in feedback activities that will help us evaluate our practice and move forward?
- What options do we have?
I am starting this ideas collection hoping that others will contribute their thoughts as well. Everybody who contributes will be mentioned and a link can also be added to their online space. How does this sound?
Ways to get informal feedback about your teaching practice from your students
Just before the end of a session, ask our students to write a short statement about your session. Give students about 5min max (no more time is needed) to capture their responses on a sticky note and place them on a door or a wall and then leave the room. All stickys are anonymous and this fact might encourage students to be more honest and critical but not necessarily constructive. Please be aware of this.
- instead of asking students to write something down, you could ask them to doodle their thoughts on this. You could provide crayons, coloured pencils or coloured pencils too. Access an example here.
- consider using electronic sticky notes too. Especially useful for online or blended settings but also for face-to-face situation. Stickies can be added any place, any time, which might also be attractive for some and encourage more reflection before posting the feedback. There are a number of free options available to get you started and some of them don’t even require registration and students can add anonymous stickies if they want to. A link to a e-noticeboard collection can be accessed here.
These stickers are great. You can find them anywhere, the blank yellow and light blue stickers. I bought them from http://www.ebay.com (cost: under £5) and are available in all sorts of colours. No, the smileys and saddies were not there when I bought them. I added them and that was the fun part. I have now about 1000 of these stickers.
Hand them out and create a table with basic module activities such as
- online learning spaces
Then ask your students during a break, before the start of a session or immediately afterwards, to post smileys and saddies into the different columns based on the and resond to comments left by others if they know the answer.
- Choose different colours and draw different things with different meanings depending on what you would like to find out.
- Why not use different shapes and/or symbols? You will find loads of ideas on eBay, just look for stickers.
Lego blocks are not just for kids but they are also an excellent way to turn feedback into a more creative and reflective activity. If you are not convinced, check out Lego serious play. Hand out little bags with lego bricks at the end of a session and give your students 5 min to create something that represents what they think and/or feel about your sessions.
Variations of materials. Instead of playdough you might want to use:
- drinking straws
- aluminium foil
- or anything else. The options are endless.
… if they are short and to the point! Think in advance what you really want to find out and have a focus for your survey. Don’t try to get feedback on every single aspect of your teaching in one survey. You might create a series of mini surveys, each with the different focus point. Does this make sense? I have used www.surveymonkey.com for a while but the free version makes the analysis and evaluation a bit tricky, so I am actually moving towards using GoogleDocs because the analysis of data is more streamlined.
- Consider creating a printable survey.
- You could also ask a group of students to design the survey and then use it for the whole class.
You might consider organising an open and honest chat with your students at the end of a session or at some other time in a different location where everybody will feel more relaxed and comfortable to contribute constructively. In order for this to happen, you need also to have created first, I think, a learning community. You might want to make some notes during this or record your conversation so that you can play it back later and help you reflect on what has been said. This way of receiving feedback from your students will also enable you to discuss their thoughts and ask for clarification if needed and explain certain aspects of your practice if required.
- Group tutorial chat
- Focus group
- Individual chat or during a one-to-one tutorial
- Invite a colleague to have a chat with your students
- Use a web-conferencing tool
Ask your students to keep a reflective journal about the module or programme of studies. You will see that some will also start commenting on their learning experience and express likes and dislikes. Why not set up a class blog (I guess you could use www.wordpress.com or any other blogging tool and remember it doesn’t have to be all written. Try www.ipadio.com as well and create and audio journal) to reflect on the sessions together with your students. This way you can model reflection and encourage your students to provide their input and comment on your thoughts.
- Encourage students to keep a real notebook to capture their reflections off-line if they prefer to do this but it would be useful to gain and insight into their thinking during the module/programme of study.
- A scrapbook is also another way to create a more visual artefact of the process of learning and reflections.
Do you love taking photographs? Have you thought about starting a collection that could be used in your teaching to get feedback from your students? Start with this use and soon you will discover that the images will also be useful in other situations. Don’t worry if you don’t have many photographs yet. There are many out there on the web you can use. Always check the copyright notice and you might want to check out the ones made available under creative commons. You will find loads. Check out flickr and sxc. When you put your collection together, think of different moods and objects and styles individuals can relate to that will trigger reflection. Print them out and laminate them so that they last longer. Then at the end of a session you could spread them on the floor or on a desk or put them on a wall and ask your students to pick one that symbolises how they feel about the sessions so far or about a particular session or a specific aspect of your teaching. It is up to you.
- Use postcards instead, these can be from different places, activities, objects, paintings etc.
Game-based learning is becoming more popular. I am not sure how much it is used in Higher Education at the moment. However, I am seeing great value in using games for receiving feedback from students.
Think about games you have played. It might be a board game, a card game or a more physical game. This is up to you. You might want to develop a game in collaboration with your students. Think about games you have played and could adapt to gain useful and constructive feedback. Or come up with your own orginal idea and develop it into a concept. Think also about for how many players your feedback game will be and how many groups you need. Keep in mind that games will require more time to develop (unless you have one already) and play but they add a fun element to the process and might make students feel more relaxed too.
- Digital games
- Mixed-reality games
Could you hang a flipchart on the wall and ask your students to write or draw something that will tell you what they think of your teaching? You might want to leave the room when this is happening because some might want to keep their anonymity. This is up to you.
- You could also ask your students to create a mindmap on a flipchart on which you could provide some branches to make a start inviting them to focus on different aspects of your teaching.
The traffic light system is used widely in schools for behaviour management, assessment and check understanding. I think it could also be very useful for getting feedback from students about their learning experience. You might want to create laminated traffic light cards on which students can record the following using a non permanent marker.Later you can wipe the responses off and use the cards again.
- green – really love this
- orange – not sure about this
- red – have a real problem with this
You might decide to change the above statements.
However you decide to collect feedback from your students, I think it is a worthwhile activity if you want to find out how they feel and are keen to enhance their learning experience before the end of your module or programme so that you can digest it and explore opportunities to enhance their experience by making adjustements to your practice.
Remember to use the feedback collected in combination with your own reflection and evaluation. Also discussing your sessions with colleagues as well as carrying out peer observations will help you gain a richer picture and multiple perspectives. If there are more critical comments try not to take them personally. At times you might feel upset but try and understand and think ‘How would you feel if you were in their shoes?’.
Remember you asked your students for feedback because you want to develop your practice further. I think it would be useful to clarify this at the beginning so that your students understand the purpose of this activity. Then they will be more constructive.
Also it is important to get back to your students and share with them in what ways the feedback has been useful for you and what you intend to do with it.
If you lay the foundations of a learning community and turn teaching and learning into a partnership with your students, students will take more responsibility of their learning and soon discover that you need to work together and one way of doing this would be to keep an open and honest dialogue. There is no right or wrong way of getting feedback from students – whatever works for you and your students.
Also check out ESCalate’s page about Student’s experience and student feedback where you will find a number of case studies, including one from me.
Let’s be creative!
Please add your thoughts on the above and further ideas. Why not share what you have tried and how it worked.