#53ideas 34 – Courses work as integrated systems

Courses are made up of a number of components. They consist of classroom teaching (usually), assessment (almost always), students undertaking independent study (always, though often not as much as is intended), the provision of, or access to, resources of one kind or another that students read or work with, feedback on students’ progress and understanding, opportunities for students to collaborate with each other (more rarely), opportunities for students to make choices and take responsibility for their learning (again, sometimes rarely), opportunities to discuss, some practical or work experiences, help for students to develop the learning capacities necessary to make the most of all the above learning opportunities, and so on.
Continue reading

#53ideas 33 – Motivating students is not magic

Graham has invited a number of well respected international thinkers and writers about university teaching, and how to improve it, to each contribute one idea to the ’53 Powerful ideas’ collection. The first is from Marilla D. Svinicki, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin. Continue reading

#53ideas 32 – Students don’t always learn from experience

Item 31 discussed the general cyclical process that all learners need to go through if they are to make the most of their experience, and learn from it. This item is about differences between learners in how they learn from experience (or do not learn). Continue reading

#53ideas 31 – Much learning is acquired by doing, but seldom only by doing

Early in my career I tried to teach Further Education teachers about teaching. Observation of their teaching once involved watching a welding instructor in his workshop. Much of the time students simply undertook welding. There was some sitting listening to the teacher, but the main learning activity was doing. We take it for granted that acquiring practical skills involves primarily practice – actually doing what it is that we want to learn to do. Continue reading

#53ideas 30 – Departments differ widely in their teaching quality

In traditional collegiate university environments what departments used to get up to in their teaching, and how they went about checking on and improving quality, was largely a matter for themselves and only they knew about it. In such institutions one would expect quality to vary quite widely between departments, though we shall probably never know for sure as so little comparative data was ever collected or collated. However when I used to ask Presidents, Vice Chancellors and Rectors of collegial universities if they could name the best and worst teaching departments in their institution, they could usually tell me without any hesitation. They were keenly aware of gross differences, often stable over long periods. It is interesting to speculate on what produces such wide variations given that funding, qualifications of teachers, qualifications of students, library facilities and so on are often pretty much equal across departments. The raw materials are much the same but departments clearly do something very different with them. Continue reading

#53ideas 29 – Students approach topic areas in different ways

In Educational Psychology textbooks whole sections are usually devoted to individual differences between learners, such as intelligence and personality, which are assumed to be relatively fixed characteristics of individuals. While some of this is interesting, it is often difficult to see what the practical implications are that teachers can actually do anything about. One such individual difference that does seems worth understanding concerns how different students approach whole knowledge areas. This is often termed ‘cognitive style’ and the term ‘style’ here turns out to be crucial, as we shall see. ‘Cognition’ is about how we apprehend the world – how we pay attention, recognise, process information, remember, solve problems and so on. The assumption is that some people consistently do this in quite different ways to others. Continue reading

#53ideas 28 – Making feedback work involves more than giving feedback – Part 2 The students

An earlier idea in this series (No.8) concerned the leverage available to improve student learning by changing students, rather than changing teachers or teaching. Nowhere is this more important than in efforts to make feedback more effective. The previous idea (No. 27) concerned things teachers and course designers can do to make the context feedback is provided in more conducive. This item is about the role that students play in making feedback effective and how they can make better use of whatever feedback is provided. Continue reading

#53ideas 27 – Making feedback work involves more than giving feedback – Part 1 the assessment context

As student numbers increase there are some economies of scale to be achieved in teaching methods (even if this only involves larger lecture classes) but assessment costs increase pretty much in proportion to the number of students. A consequence is that at some point assessment costs (in terms of teacher time) overtake teaching costs. I have come across contexts where the assessment costs very much more than the teaching. But much of this lavish investment in assessment, largely spent on teachers writing feedback, is wasted because students don’t read the feedback, or make very little use of it. National Student Survey scores on feedback are usually amongst the lowest for any aspect of students’ higher education experience, despite all the investment. Continue reading

#53ideas 26 – Students are selectively negligent, and successful students neglect the right stuff

In higher education research there used to be a good deal of focus of attention paid to the phenomenon of curricula being excessively large, and teachers being excessively demanding. Given the low level of student effort common in many degree programmes and universities nowadays (see idea 6) this phenomenon might today be recast as ‘Students do not want to study as much as they ought to’. But not so long ago the demand students faced were commonly unreasonably large, and this had unintended consequences. Continue reading

#53ideas 25 – Fear and anxiety are the enemies of learning

An earlier item focussed on excessively large curricula and their consequences. One of the effects of students perceiving that there is simply too much stuff is that they drop down from a deep approach to a surface approach – settling for memorising so that there is at least some solid ground and some sense of making progress. This drop in the qualitative level of processing of information can be induced experimentally simply by threatening students with a test with unpredictable test questions. Continue reading