Over the past three years I have been involved with several curriculum redesigns within AUT’s digital media department. The ones that I have had the most input and influence over would be a visual communication curriculum, which is a pre-requisite for several majors within AUT’s School of communication. It has on average eight streams and as many as five lecturers teaching the curriculum. Another curriculum, creative practice, is the polar opposite, featuring only a handful of postgraduate students working on short but intense projects with a very loose structure. Also, is the various Web Media papers I am involved with as both the paper leader and lecturer allowing me to both set the curriculum and deliver it. Both my PhD and Masters have looked at learning too. Lastly, I have supervised two masters thesis to completion, with a third underway that deal with various aspects of technology in education.
Teaching and assessment processes
An example of my use and reflection of teaching and assessment processes is demonstrated in a publication. As part of rethinking different curriculum within my department, a team of lecturers decide to explore new learning and teaching practices and publish the results as a book chapter. One of the case studies in this chapter came from a class module I designed and delivered for a paper called creative practice. The paper was based on a frame work we adapted from Luckin, et al. (2010).
The course assessment requirements were redesigned from focusing upon the submission of a written Word report on the development process to the establishment of a team-based project eportfolio using mobile social media such as Google Plus Communities, blogs and Google Drive. Students were able to use large screen displays or Mobile Airplay Screens (MOAs) in class to collaborate on their App development and preview their development directly from their mobile devices, rather than asking the lecturers permission to use the lectern to present over a class projector using emulation software as they had previously. As the students didn’t need the use of the lectern or lecturers permission they could take charge of their own learning within the classes as they worked through their assignment. Table 3 shows a comparison of an example of one previous
assessment outline and the redesigned outline based upon our mobile social media framework.
The above table shows a comparison of the change in curriculum activities and assessments, with the original assessment approach situated firmly within a teacher-directed pedagogy, while the redesigned assessment activities move towards student-directed heutagogy.
Students were encouraged to establish their own WordPress blogs as reflective journals for their semester 2 2013 course, to establish Google Plus Communities for their team-based projects, and share documents via Google Drive. Students then invited their lecturers as viewers and commentators on these sites. This represented a significant reconception of the role of social media for online learning, from a focus upon lecturer created forums on the institution’s LMS (Learning Management System) to student-owned social media spaces that the lecturers were then invited into.
One student team extended the use of WordPress beyond a reflective journal to capture and present all the research and decisions made throughout the assignment. They nominated a team member to capture all the information flowing through the various social media streams and class discussions, then edit and consolidate it into blog posts. The blog was made public so the rest of the team could review and amend posts. The result was a professionally presented, clear and concise report of all research and decisions conducted by the team that they used as part of their submission.
The use of a Google Plus Community was particularly important to one of the student teams where one of the team members participated remotely on the project updating their progress, sharing project resources with the rest of the team, and scheduling synchronous Google Plus Hangouts while on holiday in Spain during the majority of the project. This team of 4 students generated 42 posts and 92 comments over the six weeks of the project.
Google drive’s ability to be integrated tightly with Google Plus proved beneficial over other cloud based storage services in this project. As the teams were coding their app there were many assets that needed to be brought together, managed correctly, and updated in consultation with the team. As files were changed they could be linked back into the Google Plus Community allowing for discussion of file changes and then flagging of issues early. In the case of errors created as a result of these changes beyond the expertise of the students a lecturer could be flagged in the discussion and have a record of previous changes that may have lead to the problem.
The Mobile airplay screens did not work as intended within the computer lab setting. The labs narrow paths between desks and the amount of chairs in the room made it very difficult to move the Mobile Airplay Screens. This often saw them become fixed features within the computer labs at the front of the class where there was adequate room, much like one would expect a class projector to work. As each lab is equipped with a projector a similar result could be achieved simply by connecting an Apple TV unit to the lectern. This defeated the mobile aspect of the device, which was disappointing in this particular scenario. The lack of physical flexibility of the room layout limited the deployment of the MOAs, which were better suited to flexible spaces enabling team collaboration.
The student interaction through the MOAs was weighted heavily towards those with Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads due to the hardware requirements for screen mirroring. The immaturity of Android hardware for collaborative screen-mirroring of mobile devices created a rift or divide in the class as those without Apple devices became passive observers or partnered with an iOS mobile device owning student.
Understanding your target learners
I have been involved with three research projects that sought to understand learners and their use of technology. The first was my own masters thesis, which conducted surveys and interviews of learners preferences with screencast distance learning in the field of computer graphics. The other two were masters students I have supervised. The first supervision was of a master’s student was a project that collected information on Pasifika students use of digital media, and how this affected their decisions for further study or seeking employment (link to thesis). The second supervision collected information on adults with low literacy, with particular interest paid to their use of smartphones and internet as the student proposed to create a smartphone application (link to thesis).
Within my own thesis, learners were surveyed and interviewed to collect information about there preferences and ideas for improvement. The survey was conducted first and used to shape the questions for interviews. This activity and its reflection lead to a list of recommendations being created for learning computer graphics using screencasts based on what learners perceive as beneficial. This list of recommendations is as follows:
- Integrate demonstrations and practice.
This needs to happen on both a pedagogical level and physical level.
This requires the integrating of the following factors:
- Objectivist learning model’s ability to transfer procedural knowledge efficiently and effectively.
- Constructivist learning model’s ability to facilitate much deeper knowledge and develop tacit skills.
- Problem based learning.
- Learning by mimicking.
- Provide several mechanisms to check practice and to provide feedback.
- Advocate and educate learners on available help systems.
- Provide learners with controls.
- Video controls.
- Navigational features.
- Provide a non-linear lesson path.
- Present professionally.
- No vulgar language.
- Offer positive humour and restrain from negative humour.
- Prepare lessons in advance to recording.
- Provide means for learners’ orientation.
- Provide a menu.
- Provide an index.
- Start videos with sign-on messages.
- Provide landmarks.
- Present materials in a consistent fashion.
- Provide means for both offline and online delivery.
- Build resources that can be easily updated or replaced at low cost.
Another example of coming to understand my target learners comes from my time as paper leader for visual communication, a large paper with eight streams and a team of up to five lecturers. When I first came on to take over the paper, it was undergoing external moderation. The report generated suggested numerous changes and highlighted many problems as the curriculum was outdated and desperate need of a re-write. The most significant problem highlighted was the amount of time allotted to learning the skills required of our students was no where near enough. This single 15 point paper is responsible for getting students visually literate. With no room to extend the length of the paper, I had to figure out how to get the students where they needed to be, without overloading them. My initial response was to run a flipped classroom, pushing all the technical knowledge into online screencasts to be completed in the students own time, with classrooms running theory and discussion groups, coupled with work on their practical assignments for the paper – more like a studio environment. The online activities were supported with online forums and personal wordpress blogs. Class activities included using apple tvs for students to share content.
The result of the first round was borderline rioting among the students. I was initially lost, as I had implemented the same measures at postgraduate level, which received near perfect scores on student evaluations. I found this both alarming and fascinating. Why were there such discrepancies among students?
After countless student meetings with students and with lecturers I came to several realisations about the nature of the specific learners we were dealing with. Being an introductory paper, students expected education similar to their school experiences. The flipped social constructivist class was too far removed from their experiences at school which many students reacted to fearfully. These fears were compounded by the fact the paper is used to separate the “wheat from the chaff”, so to speak, with student grades being used in a competitive manner to qualify them for their majors. Another problem was the students perceived value in such an approach. Novice students felt cheated that someone was not teaching them the screencast materials in class. They felt they had paid to learn these skills so someone should physically be there to train them. What I found most interesting is the level of student work was noticeably better than the previous years, showing the new approach was more effective, but still the students felt like they were receiving less than previous years.
The following year produced a much happier cohort. The curriculum was changed to be more inline with students perceptions. Everything was the same except the screencasts were replaced with live demonstrations. Interestingly, this minor change had a massive impact on student perceptions. Despite essentially receiving the exact same message only in person, all the problems evaporated. This gave me a unique view on the nature of our learners. I now ensure I am careful about what pedagogical underpinning I choose based on the level of the papers. If I had to relate this back to theory, I would say Vygotsky’s theory on the Zone of Proximal Development could explain my experiences. Essentially the novice university students did not have the appropriate scaffolds to learn in the curriculums initial form, seeing the learning fall beyond their zone of proximal development. This would explain why the post graduate classes run the same way worked, as being post graduates, the students had the appropriate scaffolds to see the learning fall within there zone of proximal development. Given this, I now ensure I gradually introduce different learning models to students as early as I can, to ensure that as they progress through the years, there education can shift from an objectivist didactic approach to constructivist and life-long learning.
Luckin, R., Clark, W., Garnett, F., Whitworth, A., Akass, J., & Cook, J. et al. (2010). Learner Generated Contexts: A Framework to Support the Effective Use of Technology for Learning. In M. Lee, & C. McLoughlin (Eds.), Web 2.0-Based E-Learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching (pp. 70–84). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-60566-294-7.ch004