Thursday, 8 September 2011

the alternative ALT-C 2011

NTU City Campus, Nottingham

Yesterday I attended a learning and teaching conference at my university in the College of Arts and Sciences. I love these sorts of events - brimming with ideas from people who want to improve their practice and - better still - having put the time and energy into passing on tips to colleagues.

Occasionally it is nice just to hear that other teaching staff are struggling with the same dilemmas or thinking along similar lines. Sometimes I garner nuggets of wisdom and sparkling innovation.

So in the spirit of sharing, here are some of the things I enjoyed.

Keynote speaker was Aaron Porter. He used a useful analogy in talking about students as consumers. being a "consumer" of a university education is not like buying a new HD TV set from a high street store, rather it is like taking out a gym membership. You expect a good level of service and all the right equipment to hep you get fitter, but if you don't put the effort in, nothing changes. And there are differences - you can't get your money back for a poor educational experience and it is very difficult to just pack up and decide to take your custom elsewhere.

Food for thought too in some of the findings from the National Student Survey - for example, that students generally are not told what criteria is used to mark their work but would like to be involved in designing it. That they rate teaching quality as low but don't know much about how their University is rated in terms of it. That students don't know what happens to the feedback they give in module evaluation forms, and that some would like to be more involved in course and curriculum design.

Other great ideas from the day include a wiki set up as a pre induction activity for design and technology teaching students. I was particularly interested in this as I have done the same for my course but with a lot of trepidation. I was impressed that the tutors had managed a 80% uptake in the first year and that the wiki had had strong interactive and socialisation properties. In my wiki attempt I had initially decided against getting prospective students to join up and post discussions, fearing they would find it daunting, but I had directed them to a student-led Facebook page. In reality my wiki functions as a web site that encourages them to undertake a bit of research and download an answer sheet which they can bring to the face to face induction, but the School of Education pre-induction wiki seemed to have a very powerful impact on student engagement. They also continued to use the wiki for collaborative group work  in key level 1 activities, which is also something I could consider as I will be teaching study skills to the same group (and indeed, teaching them how to use social networking tools....)

More on the study skills front and a presentation from the School of Arts and Humanities about developing writing skills using very structured exercises - in pairs or small groups,  to increase confidence. So now I am thinking about how this could be developed using the wiki.....hmmm

Over lunch I was discussing the issue of feedback and in particular the new 15 day turnaround deadline being introduced (something which has also emerged from the NUS Student Experience report is that students want faster feedback) It seems that we are going to have to get creative about assessment and feedback methods - interim feedback which is generic and delivered verbally, for example, with marks to follow.

I have been working on a mark sheet which is pre-loaded with grade descriptors specific to the learning outcomes for the task, in a matrix format - similar to this one. This would certainly make criteria very transparent, going back to Aaron Porter's point, and make marking quicker.

Finally, a session on professional tutoring for trainee teachers. Tutorials are being re-introduced and formally timetabled and as one of the staff who will be involved in managing tutorial groups for first year students, I was interested in hearing how this was working. Obviously there are workload and staffing issues to be resolved to make this a reality but case studies presented by the staff in the School of Education showed how the system could support students to improve grades, make the transition between levels, and link theory to practice during work placements. Students do value individual tutorials especially - and it is another great place for giving feedback on assessment - but we should also consider peer support networks and tutorial groups.

So I may have missed out on ALT-C this year, but I have nonetheless come away refreshed and inspired and ready to start the new term!

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