From unpopular course to meaningful learning experience

Ludmila Kašpárková encountered the challenge of teaching a course on an unpopular topic area that didn’t appear to enthuse students. As an early career academic and part of the teaching team, this was an opportunity for her to participate in course development. Her experience of the new approaches to learning, teaching and assessment are discussed in a study entitled “Redesigning an unpopular university course: ways to promote students’ motivation and quality of learning.”

The existing 12 week core course, on personnel psychology for 3rd year students, addressed the key concepts and theories in lectures and enhanced their higher order thinking skills through participation in seminars. A summative examination was completed at the end of the course. However, class attendance was poor, review of the assessment results suggested lack of depth of study and overall, students did not perceive the relevance of the course content for their future careers.

The impetus to read this chapter came from my curiosity regarding how these issues could be addressed and having experienced similar challenges in the past. The task was to create a learning environment where students would feel motivated to learn and the team could encourage engagement and participation. Kašpárková explains that following review the team prioritised alignment of the course outcomes, learning activities and assessment. This necessitated changes to learning and teaching, such as use of flipped classroom, and continuous assessment.

Flipped learning is an approach I have used, for just such purposes, and was positively evaluated by my students. Flipped learning (or flipped classroom) reverses the traditional approach to teaching and learning. Students undertake pre-class preparation learning activities. The classroom time is therefore spent in active learning, for example, through participation in discussion, presentations or small group problem-solving (Roehling, 2018). For this course, it made for a more interactive learning experience and afforded Kašpárková the opportunity to facilitate in-depth exploration of the module. While this approach potentially promises a more useful and fulfilling learning experience, one disadvantage is that students may still not fully engage in the pre-class preparation, as Kašpárková comments. How engagement was promoted would be an interesting addition to the chapter.

The energy and enthusiasm of the author comes through in the writing and this is admirable as the range of change undertaken was ambitious. Readers planning change will need to give careful consideration to informing and preparing students well in advance, as evidenced here.

Part of the strategy to motivate students was the introduction of continuous assessment. While some may have found the number of assessments burdensome, the variety enabled students to do well. Meaningful engagement in discussion of case studies, and “real-world” examples with timely feedback made authentic assessment for learning (Sambell, McDowell and Montgomery, 2012) a reality.

For me, the key message of the chapter is; whatever perspective we have of a course topic area there are approaches that can turn it into a lively, engaging and useful learning experience.  I was glad to have the opportunity to read about this innovation and it has given me food for thought concerning my practise.

Roehling, P. (2018). Flipping the College Classroom: An Evidence-Based Guide. Cham: Springer International Publishing : Imprint: Palgrave Pivot.

Sambell, K., McDowell, L. and Montgomery, C. (2012). Chapter 1: Designing authentic assessment. Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. Routledge: London.

Patricia M.Perry, Lecturer
Edinburgh Napier University

Early Career Academics’ Reflection on Learning to Teach in Central Europe

SEDA is publishing an open access book online, with a chapter released on its website every fortnight.  Each time a chapter is released it will be accompanied by a blog post published on SEDA WordPress. The book is called Early Career Academics’ Reflections on Learning to Teach in Central Europe, edited by Gabriela Pleschová and Agnes Simon. This book contains case studies by participants of a new educational development programme who redesigned their course sessions to apply student-centred approaches, using innovative teaching methods and stimulate good learning.

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