Monday, 12 December 2016

Technologies, peer-assisted learning, FHEA case studies...with a touch of Frost.

This is part of my series of blog posts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.

Reader, I submitted my portfolio! My blog posts on this topic have been intermittent but in case you were wondering whether I’d given it up entirely; while the thought did cross my mind, I am a finisher so I’ve been plugging away at it and finally got it all in.

As I was thinking about my case studies at the end of the last blog post, I’ll write about those here and then write one more which sums up the entire process later.

So, as you are aware by now, if you’ve been reading this, there are several roads to accreditation and I took the one less travelled…actually, I took the APEX Open route which is reasonably well worn by academics and professional staff at my institution. This involved, along with all the other bits I’ve previously mentioned, two large case studies. I chose to focus on the use of technology in the workshop for my first one and, for the second, looked at peer-assisted learning.

Case Study One: Poll Everywhere and Twitter

What I did

For this case study I focused on the use of two learning technologies in the class; Poll Everywhere, an online audience response system and Twitter. I started the session by introducing myself, the topic and the outcomes and providing students with the option of using Twitter via a module hashtag to ask questions throughout the class in case they felt nervous or too introverted to ask in public as, in my experience of working with Level 1 students, this has often been the case.

Why I did it

I used Poll Everywhere for a similar reason. In the first half of the session, I used this to determine what they already know; using Vygotsky’s scaffolding theory of building on what they already know and connecting their learning to previous experience. Once they had submitted their answers we then discussed them as a class, focusing on the pros and cons (currency, reliability, authority, authenticity and purpose), and how to access them.

The latter half was comprised of comparing and contrasting Google Scholar with the Library search engine and a specific subject related database. They were asked which they preferred, how they made them feel when using, which ones provided them with the most relevant results and how they would use them for future assignments.

The main reasons I used these tools was to firstly provide options for the students in how they responded in a classroom setting; to assess what they already knew so I could tailor the rest of my language within the session, for example, I could tell they weren’t used to using journals and databases based on their answers to the Poll Everywhere question so spent more time explaining what these were, and thirdly, to engage the students so they weren’t passive learners.

What impact it had

The use of these tools allowed me to continually assess their learning and knowledge throughout the class. According to feedback questionnaires at the end of the class, all the students found it useful and while they did not mention the use of the technologies the part they found most useful were the elements which included them i.e. “learning the variety of places I can get research from” “describing the differences between each source” “finding out precisely where to get information”.

Answers from L1 students using Poll Everywhere

Case Study 2: Group activities and peer-assisted Learning

What I did

For this case study, I focused on the use of group activities to encourage international students at Masters Level to collaborate and learn from each other as a form of peer-assisted learning. To complete the programme, students are expected to be able search for, gather and critically assess literature in their subject and develop effective, sustainable and independent learning skills and my session enables the students to meet these criteria.

I started by handing out post-its and asking students what problems they most wanted to address in the workshop. I then grouped the post-its by theme, ending with two columns - one was very much focused on specific resources students had heard of and the other on general issues of critical evaluation.

They were allocated ten minutes to discuss in groups the steps they take in dealing with an assignment and what tools they use. They had another ten minutes to feedback and discuss the pros and cons of each method, after which, I showed them how to locate journal articles via the Library search engine and pointed out how to get the best out of the various databases and search engines available to them. We discussed the nature of academic sources, how to critically examine them and use them ethically by referencing appropriately.

Why I did it

The first activity was designed so students would not feel pressured into discussing difficulties and would feel more confident when they saw how others faced similar challenges. My intention was this would feed into the next activity looking at how they approach an assignment and they would be willing to learn from each other. Social constructivism underpinned the teaching and learning philosophy and practice in this session as this approach emphasises dialogue and learning through interaction.

What impact it had
Fewer students turned up than expected which meant there was not as much group learning as I’d hoped; however, the ones who attended told me they were learning from each other; for example, one student mentioned using keywords which prompted another to utilise them  more selectively in future. Students were engaged throughout, asking questions and discussing their experiences. I was particularly proud of this is this cohort tend not to talk very much due to lack of confidence with their language abilities.


Ultimately, while I always take care to thoughtfully tailor my teaching sessions to different and diverse student cohorts, taking into account their prior knowledge and experiences, internal and external curriculum requirements and professional accreditation requirements, and the physical and IT resources available in the design and delivery of my teaching, planning and writing these case studies has given me the ‘permission’ to spend more time deeply reflecting on this.

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