Teaching@Sydney

Welcome to Teaching@Sydney. Stay informed about teaching and learning news and events with this monthly bulletin produced by the Institute for Teaching and Learning.

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ALTC Roundtable: An event to support ALTC Grant Applicants

This roundtable aims to support staff from NSW universities interested in applying for ALTC grants - no matter what stage in the process they are at.

The program will include:

  • Presentations by experts in the field explaining recent changes in ALTC grant procedures, and in dissemination.
  • Presentations by current and recent grant-holders regarding outcomes and process.
  • Opportunities (at 'roundtables') to share ideas and/or expert advice (casual peer review) in relation to preparing ALTC applications.

Numbers are limited, so it will be necessary to register for this free event to be held on 28 September 2-5pm, which is supported by the UNSW ALTC Promoting Excellence Initiative and the ALTC Fellow Alumni. Further information and registration.[close]

This roundtable aims to support staff from NSW universities interested in applying for ALTC grants - no matter what stage in the process they are at. The program will include:...[more]

Hot topic: 9 ways to reduce plagiarism

Following on from last month's item, Views on Plagiarism by SUPRA, this month we feature a short piece by Megan Le Masurier based on her article that appeared in the recent edition of Synergy.

In recent years, public and private discussions of plagiarism within universities have reached a level that could be described as a ‘moral panic’. In both its negligent (unintentional) and dishonest (intentional) forms, there is a perception by teachers that things are getting worse and perhaps students' brains are now digitally wired to cut-and-paste without respect for attribution. The problem seems to have become worse as the number of international students has risen, coming as they do from quite different educational backgrounds, often misunderstanding Western academic (and journalistic) practices of attribution and originality (using your own words).

It is possible however to both teach and design units of study so that exactly what might constitute plagiarism becomes easier for students to understand, and more difficult to achieve. The Plagiarism Project was initiated in my postgraduate unit of study MECO6914, Making Magazines, in 2007 and continued through till 2009. From the scholarly literature and from teaching practice, I devised a nine step program that has reduced the level of plagiarism in my unit down from a high of 12 per cent to less than 1 per cent.

The steps are quite simple. Keep class sizes small and get to know your students. Work with them through assignments – this is called ‘incremental intervention’. Explain exactly what we mean by plagiarism in our particular units of study, and make clear that negligent (unintentional) plagiarism will be treated as an educational not a disciplinary issue. Do exercises that test this knowledge. Identify students who have problems with English language competence, often a signifier of a student at risk of plagiarizing out of sheer desperation. Direct them to the range of support services the University offers, for example the ARTS7000 unit, Academic Communication for Postgraduates. Value local knowledge, be it ethnic, class, gender, age, religion, and allow students to draw on this knowledge in their work. Finally, make the students self-assess their own work by ticking the boxes on a plagiarism check list handed in with their assignments.

A full article on Nine Ways to Reduce Plagiarism can be found in the July 2010 issue of Synergy.[close]

Following on from last month's item, Views on Plagiarism by SUPRA, this month we feature a short piece by Megan Le Masurier based on her article that appeared in the recent e...[more]

Teaching insight and seminar: ‘Oh no, not another group assignment!’

Group work is valuable because it can help students develop discipline knowledge which integrates graduate attributes particularly the ability to think critically and work with others in ways that value their diversity. However if group work (and related assessment) is not designed effectively, it can be a dissatisfying experience for both staff and students.

For students, the biggest concern can be when one or more group members take a ‘free ride’, i.e., they take advantage of the group’s work without contributing. For staff the challenge can be dealing with problems in group dynamics, and assessing groups fairly.

There are several ways to design group work and assessment to overcome these challenges:

  • Make the group work task engaging. Students will be more willing to contribute when the task is as close to a real-world task as possible and relevant to their learning needs, e.g., in health education, students could develop a poster or game for health promotion in schools about some aspect of child or adolescent health.
  • Let students choose their own groups. Students rate group members being their friends as the most important factor in the formation of their group, and friends find it easier to focus their efforts on learning. Self-selected groups also tend to be inclusive, and in one study in an Australian university more than 50% of self-selected groups were a mix of local and international students, while only 6% were formed of entirely international students (Summers & Volet, 2008). In some contexts it may be appropriate for teachers to select group membership, e.g., when it is important to balance students’ prior degree backgrounds across groups.
  • Keep groups small. Smaller groups (3-6 in size) can more easily make time to meet, and there are more opportunities for each person to interact constructively during meetings. Try to schedule some time for groups to meet in class.
  • Engage students with clear criteria and standards for the task by showing them exemplars of previous students’ group work and/or discussing in class the standards of work that you expect. Ideally involve students in negotiating the criteria and standards, particularly for how group process (i.e., how the group works together) will be assessed.
  • Assess both group product and process. Students are in the best position to assess their own and each other’s contributions to the group. There are several ways of adjusting a group mark so that everyone individually receives a fair mark for their work, and one web-based tool is the Self and Peer Assessment Resource Kit (SPARK) developed by staff at the University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney. The way it works is that students’ ratings of each team member are combined to calculate an ‘adjustment factor’ which is then applied to the teacher’s overall group mark to produce an individual mark for each student. Feedback based on ratings early and/or midway through the group project can also help groups to function more effectively.

If you clarify the purpose of group work and assessment with students, make it engaging and fair, then you and your students should find the experience a satisying one that leads to high quality learning outcomes. Some faculties offer guides to group work for students and staff.

SEMINAR: If you would like to join an informal lunchtime discussion hosted by the ITL where you can discuss group work and assessment, please register your interest here. Thursday 19 August from 1.00 pm - 2.00 pm.

Summers, M & Volet, S. (2008). Students’ attitudes towards culturally mixed groups on international campuses: Impact of participation in diverse and non-diverse groups. Studies in Higher Education, 33(4), 357-370.[close]

Group work is valuable because it can help students develop discipline knowledge which integrates graduate attributes particularly the ability to think critically and work with o...[more]

Profile: Director of Social Inclusion, Annette Cairnduff

Social Inclusion Director Annette Cairnduff joined the University with almost 20 years experience in capacity building and community development in the government and non-government sectors.

Annette is leading the University’s programs to build pre-tertiary aspiration and attainment of students from low socio economic backgrounds, Indigenous students and students from regional communities. She is particularly interested in how engagement during the primary school years can impact the expectations of children, their parents and teachers for higher education access and participation. A former primary school teacher Annette drew upon this experience to inform the early design and implementation of Compass.

Annette is also engaged in University development to promote inclusive teaching and learning practice and ensure our programs are accessible and attainable to students of promise.

Annette has a Master of Adult Education in addition to undergraduate qualifications in teaching and community development. As the first in her family to attend higher education she understands the transformative impact it can have. She very much values the opportunity to work with the fabulous team at the Social Inclusion Unit and staff throughout the University.

A reminder that there are eight scholarships of $1000 available to support academic staff in attending one of two forthcoming social inclusion conferences. Deadline is close of business Friday 6 August. Submission details here (PDF). Further information can be obtained from Annette Cairnduff or Simon Barrie.[close]

Social Inclusion Director Annette Cairnduff joined the University with almost 20 years experience in capacity building and community development in the government and non-governm...[more]

Workshop on writing teaching and learning scholarship differently

Would you like to know how to write up your scholarly inquiries into teaching in a way that engages readers?

Please bring your lunch and join us for a practical workshop with Dr Helen Sword. In this workshop, we will explore the elements that make for an effective, engaging piece of writing about teaching, and you will be invited to test those principles against your own work. Please bring along a draft sample of your own writing. Examples include an item for your Faculty newsletter, an article for Synergy, an abstract for a conference or a journal paper.

Dr Sword is Head of the Academic Practice Group in the Centre for Academic Development at the University of Auckland. Amongst other things, she has written about modernist literature and academic writing.

Date: Tuesday 31st August
Time: 12.00 - 2.00pm
Location: New Law building, Room 030
RSVP: To keep the workshop interactive places are limited. Please register.[close]

Would you like to know how to write up your scholarly inquiries into teaching in a way that engages readers? Please bring your lunch and join us for a practical workshop with D...[more]

Signing off at SUPRA, by outgoing President, Nick Irving

During my year as SUPRA President there have been a number of positive changes to teaching and learning at the University. One is a renewed commitment to closing the feedback loop. Students often express a desire to not only see teaching and learning improved for themselves and their cohorts, but also for future cohorts. Conversely, students express negative feelings when they are asked for feedback that is not responded to. The University solicits feedback every year from its students at a variety of levels; through USE forms, PREQ, SREQ, CEQ and SCEQ surveys. The ITL, especially, have been active in encouraging the faculties to respond publicly to student feedback, and it's an immensely positive step that I hope will be continued.

Another very positive change has been the renewed interest across some faculties in student consultation. There is a tricky balance to strike here. It is easy to fall into a token or 'rubber stamp' consultative process. In the past year I have attended consultation meetings in Nursing, which are probably best practice in the University, and seen a new system set up in Arts, where students now have access to the Dean twice a semester. Dentistry have also brought in an external consultant for curriculum review, who has consulted widely amongst the student body.

Students have a lot to say about the way they like to learn and be taught. Building a representative network in each faculty should be a priority. It is better to systematically consult students rather than wait for them to bring a long-neglected negative issue to your attention in an adversarial fashion. Consultative instruments should include talking to a range of students, in a space where students feel they can be critical without repercussion. A tokenistic or ‘rubber stamp’ consultation will only feed student dissatisfaction. The trick is to directly address student concerns, even if they cannot be acted upon. As the University moves into a reflective posture with the imminent release of the White Paper and Strategic Plan, I would like to see students involved at every level of curriculum review.

It's been a challenging and rewarding year at SUPRA and with many changes on the horizon for both the University and the sector, it's only going to get more interesting. I will watch the White Paper process and the development of the Federal Government's Higher Education program with interest.[close]

During my year as SUPRA President there have been a number of positive changes to teaching and learning at the University. One is a renewed commitment to closing the feedback loo...[more]

The latest issue of Synergy

The latest issue of Synergy sets a new direction for the magazine, one that champions the significant range of the scholarship of teaching and learning at the University of Sydney. Readers will find a wide selection articles that all involve systematic reflection on aspects of teaching and learning in higher education, and provide a foundation for advancement in approaches and practice. This year for the first time, Synergy includes examples of the scholarship of teaching and learning from projects completed by university staff who completed the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education in 2009.

Articles by Baguley et al., Dean et al. and Nguyen et al. all explore ways to overcome challenges of teaching and learning in clinical and workplace settings across a range of health professions. Articles by Evans et al. and Peralta et al. focus on enhancing student engagement in campus-based settings, while Oliver and Coyte, and Thomson explore advances in teaching and learning approaches in Business and the Sciences respectively. Ginns provides an interesting theoretical framework to explain the success of practical tips for supporting deep learning, and Le Masurier’s article describes practical, integrated teaching strategies to help students avoid plagiarism. Finally, the articles by Bridgeman and Rutledge, and Eapen explain and describe powerful methods for giving more effective and useable feedback to students across a range of assessments.

We hope that you enjoy reading the insights contained in this edition of Synergy and welcome your feedback. Expressions of interest and contributions from staff and students are invited for the next edition of Synergy, and all readers are encouraged to read the revised aims and scope of the magazine. We look forward to continuing to showcase the range of scholarship of teaching and learning at the University of Sydney. View SYNERGY online.[close]

The latest issue of Synergy sets a new direction for the magazine, one that champions the significant range of the scholarship of teaching and learning at the University of Sydne...[more]

VC award winner profile: Dr Dieter Hochuli

This month we continue our series of profiles of the 2010 VC's award recipients and introduce Dr Dieter Hochuli from the School of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science. Dieter received a Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision.

During his interview for this piece Dieter explained that in order to develop a supportive lab environment, he does several things, including weekly lab meetings and social events. “We have a weekly lab meeting in a coffee shop to get away from the distractions of the lab. Even when I’m busy with coursework teaching, I know I have that weekly timeslot to see my students collectively. We discuss lab housekeeping issues and we have scholarly discussions. We celebrate each others’ successes like papers and grants. We also do social things, like kicking around a football on the front lawn. Prospective students come too and past students are encouraged to participate.”

Dieter noted that this time together helps students develop collegiality: “Students can get very project-focussed, which helps them finish in 3 years, but they can lose the capacity to converse with colleagues in the discipline. It’s good if everyone feels moderately comfortable with what everyone else is doing – they share references and have an active involvement from a scholarly perspective. My students help each other with their projects and the senior students help mentor the junior students. New students don’t want to ask ‘dumb’ questions and that’s where the senior students can help.”

In reflecting on the purpose of doctoral studies, Dieter believes that “a PhD is one of the few times in their career that students can sit down and read a whole lot and have time to think and reflect. As supervisors we need to cherish and protect that opportunity for a student to learn their discipline.”

If you want to know more about Dieter’s teaching you can contact him for a chat or read his award application in the ITL front office, Level 3, Carslaw.[close]

This month we continue our series of profiles of the 2010 VC's award recipients and introduce Dr Dieter Hochuli from the School of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Scien...[more]

Project spotlight: Using student demographic data for more effective learning and teaching

Our students are more likely to engage with content that is relevant to them, extends their prior knowledge and experience, and connects with their future goals. Similarly, teaching is likely to be more enjoyable when we have a deeper understanding of who our students are, what their interests are and where they are going. To enhance the likelihood that all of the above can happen, it would be valuable to know:

  • What units our students have previously studied?
  • What units are they concurrently studying?
  • What majors are they taking?
  • What languages do they speak at home and what countries do they come from?

Such information can be used to create tailored learning experiences where students find the content of their studies meaningful and relevant.  In turn, students are likely to be more motivated, engaged and take a deep approach to their learning (Biggs, 2003).  

The answers to these questions are available from FlexSIS (the University’s student database). However, it can be a struggle to extract meaningful answers from raw data unless you have the systems in place to easily clean and interrogate data. The "Knowing Your Students" initiative in Economics and Business provides staff with the answers to these questions and many more. A report is delivered to all Faculty unit coordinators early in semester (view example PDF 57KB). The hope is that information opens up opportunities for teaching staff to reshape and enhance learning activities and assessments to better connect with their unique student cohorts.

The report provides teaching staff with lists both of the units previously studied by students as well as those units they are currently studying. One aspect of effective teaching involves harnessing the interconnectedness of knowledge where connection is made between new learning and the old (Biggs, 2003). One Econometrics lecturer, for example, noticed that a large proportion of his students were taking another Econometrics subject concurrently. He was thus able to link the knowledge learnt in his unit to what students were learning contemporaneously in another.

An enhanced understanding of our student cohort can help curriculum planning in several ways. During this project, many staff were surprised by the range of ages, cultures and languages represented in their classrooms and have sought to consider this diversity more carefully in their teaching. Others have given consideration to developing different case studies more closely related to students’ country of origin.

Garth Tarr or Kellie Morrison would welcome the opportunity to discuss the application and relevance of this initiative for other faculties. If you would like to find out more about the “Knowing your students” initiative, please visit the website.

Reference: Biggs, J. (2003). Teaching for quality learning at university.  (2nd Ed.). Berkshire, UK: Open University Press.

Project team: Garth Tarr, Kellie Morrison, Henriikka Clarkeburn, Kai Kiemer and Philip Seltsikas.[close]

Our students are more likely to engage with content that is relevant to them, extends their prior knowledge and experience, and connects with their future goals. Similarly, teach...[more]

Forum on evaluation of research in Work Integrated Learning

The NSW Chapter of ACEN (Australian Collaborative Education Network) is holding its next Forum on Evaluation and Research in Work Integrated Learning (WIL) at the University of Western Sydney, Parramatta campus on Tuesday 10 August from 10:00am to 4:00pm. This is a topic which is likely to be of interest to members of the university involved in various forms of Work Integrated Learning such as internships, practicum, field placements, work experience, engaged units etc.

The cost is $100 which covers morning and afternoon tea, lunch and parking. More information and registration
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Freny Tayebjee or Theresa Winchester-Seeto[close]

The NSW Chapter of ACEN (Australian Collaborative Education Network) is holding its next Forum on Evaluation and Research in Work Integrated Learning (WIL) at the University of W...[more]

Journal article review: Embedding self-regulatory strategies instruction

Masui and De Corte (2005) report on an instructional intervention embedded within a first year Belgian university business economics program. The experimental group received instruction in metacognitive skills (orienting, planning, self-checking, and reflecting) and affective skills (self-judging, how to make choices or to value, coping with emotions, and attributing constructively). Their results on pre- and post-tests of these skills, as well as achievement in the subject were compared to two control groups. This publication records only the results for two skills (of the eight) – namely marginally higher levels of reflection and constructive attribution and greater feelings of control, than control group students, and higher examination results.

Metacognition, and its closely related construct self-regulated learning, are hard to ignore in the learning literature as empirical research consistently shows that students with better metacognitive or self-regulatory skills achieve better learning outcomes.

Metacognition may be conceptualized in two components: knowledge about cognition (strategies available and suitable for the task) and regulation of cognition (Baker & Cerro, 2000). Affect can be widely defined as emotion.

The encouraging news for us as university teachers is that certain teaching and learning activities (aka ‘classroom interventions’) have been shown to improve students’ metacognitive skills and knowledge. See Rummel, Levin, and Woodward (2003) for an example of an activity for improving undergraduate essay writing by using mneumonic pictures, or Ge and Er (2005) who report on the successful use of computer-related support to scaffold problem solving processes in university students.

A particularly important outcome of wider research in this area is the growing recognition (e.g. Pintrich, 2002; Randi & Corno, 2000) that these skills and knowledge should be taught within the usual content-based classes rather than in generic/separate strategy training – this has implications for our curriculum planning at degree, year, and unit of study levels.

References

Baker, L., & Cerro, L. C. (2000). Assessing metacognition in children and adults. In G. Schraw & J. C. Impara (Eds.), Issues in the measurement of metacognition (pp. 99-145). Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.

Ge, X., & Er, N. (2005). An online support system to scaffold real-world problem solving. Interactive Learning Environments, 13(3), 139-157.

Masui, C., & De Corte, E. (2005). Learning to reflect and to attribute constructively as basic components of self-regulated learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75(3), 351-372.

Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 219-225.

Randi, J., & Corno, L. (2000). Teacher innovations in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 651-686). San Diego, CA: Academic.

Rummel, N., Levin, J. R., & Woodward, M. M. (2003). Do pictorial mnemonic text-learning aids give students something worth writing about? Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 327-334.[close]

Masui and De Corte (2005) report on an instructional intervention embedded within a first year Belgian university business economics program. The experimental group received inst...[more]

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