Connected Learning at Scale (CLaS) is a Business School strategic priority that aims to transform the teaching and learning experience in our large cohort units. The project is led by Associate Professor Peter Bryant and his recent blog post series introduces his philosophical reasoning and the complex ecosystem underpinning the project’s design. The Business Co-design (BCD) team are half way through delivering the five year project and it’s timely to provide an update on our progress.
BCD has collaborated on 25 units across 9 disciplines, working with unit coordinators, tutors, industry experts, students and alumni, to co-design and develop a wide range of innovative interventions. First we engaged with the four large core units of our BCom building on the great work of the award-winning BUSS2000 team by replacing lectures with online interactive modules for students.
We also worked with our new MCom program to co-design the two new core units, the foundation units and most recently, the capstone units which launched this semester. The design began with three simple but essential pedagogical principles and the success of our approach is founded on our flexibility and adaptability. Each unit has been able to contextualise these principles to suit their discipline and cohort, producing bespoke designs that meet their brief.
A co-design approach
We have constantly iterated our co-design approach each semester building on what we have learned through our robust evaluation processes. When we began the project we spent some time choosing the wording to describe the specific design and development stages. There are many such models out there, you may be familiar with ADDIE, or technology integration approaches such as SAMR and TPACK. The BCD team began with Educational Design Research (McKenney & Reeves, 2018) and integrated elements of design thinking to come up with our own approach in the CLaS project.
The team has Human Ethics approval to collect data across the many units under development to ensure that our design decisions are evidence based. Over the past two years we have collected approximately 1,453 student survey responses, had 177 students and 48 tutors attend focus groups, and completed 33 unit coordinator interviews. All of this data helps us continually improve our processes and practices as well as iteratively implement new changes to the design of the CLaS units.
What we’ve learned so far
Our findings are nascent, and we still have some way to go to solve the many complex issues involved in teaching and learning at scale. However, we are beginning to see increased trends in student satisfaction survey scores across the CLaS units. Whilst on a unit by unit basis, findings can be severely impacted by the cohort’s context (pandemic, hyflex, fully online, lockdown etc.), when we look across the project we see themes emerging. We present a summary of some of those themes here, with a focus on issues relating to student engagement.
Student engagement – activities and assessment
Students tend to make value judgements about the content and activities based on what is being assessed and what is being discussed in tutorials. In both cases if it’s not being discussed or assessed then students assume it’s not essential or important and will be less likely to read, watch or take part in any self-paced online activity. Similarly, students put in effort in the initial weeks, but if they find their teachers are not asking about the content in class then students’ input and interest wanes.
Authentic assessments are highly valued by students, and they sustain interest and engagement in the content. In addition, many students valued the opportunity to test their understanding on a regular basis as this encourages them to revise the content.
This theme was particularly prominent when discussing group work for both assessment and class activities. Students feel demotivated when their peers do not participate and they see accountability as a way to encourage participation. For some this presented as using marks for participation but others felt this disadvantages them (particularly international students told us this). There has been a shift though with the move to online through the debate of camera off vs camera on. Engaged students are starting to express the desire for teachers to enforce cameras on in breakout rooms. This is the connection they desire.
Other ways this theme presents is via a growing desire from students for peer assessment in group tasks in order to create accountability.
Students make judgements very early on about the tone of their unit. It is important that students feel a connection to the unit coordinator – especially if they don’t ‘see’ them on a regular basis because of recorded or online lectures. The first video/lecture of the unit can set the tone for the entire semester – first impressions count!
Postgraduate students, especially those with workplace experience, appear to want a more formal and professional tone and are less likely to take something seriously if it doesn’t have this tone. It’s important therefore to clarify expectations around informal responses required in some activities such as first-person language for brainstorming and sharing initial ideas, as opposed to other learning activities where replies need to be supported by references.
Student engagement – technologies
Students found tools such as online whiteboards helpful in comparing their ideas to others and when revising. However, sometimes students got frustrated by the lack of structure within these tools compared to a document or Powerpoint.
The use of online discussion boards is a topic of many research studies. Our students indicated that whilst they read them to compare their views to others, time plays an important factor in their decision whether or not to post. Students prefer to ‘like’ posts rather than repeating what has already been said – somewhat of an issue in such large classes. And when students identify a conflicting viewpoint to their own, they feel encouraged to further investigate/study.
Peer feedback tools are welcomed but students raised the issue of conflict arising if they provide critical feedback. Hence, they would prefer to provide anonymous feedback or unidentifiable (such as scores rather than comments). More guidance on providing constructive feedback was also welcomed by students.
Interaction with content
Students’ perceptions of the technology used to interact or connect with knowledge and information varied widely according to the type of tools used.
Videos are increasingly being used to deliver content. Students reported checking the number and length of the videos each week and making a decision to only watch those up to 10 minutes long. They wanted to control the speed (faster not slower) and requested subtitles be made available. Students also wanted to know the key points or takeaway messages (for revision) and preferred their lectures ‘chunked’ into sub-topics to retain attention. There was some variation however with some students still wanting the entire lecture as one video.
Many of our videos embed reflective prompts and students reported writing in the initial weeks and then as weeks progressed, just writing ‘anything’ to keep the video going. However, they did agree that they continue to engage with the questions even if simply as a prompt to think and reflect internally.
In regard to readings, students reported being less likely to engage with them if there was no exam. Beyond this they may only do readings if the topic is of personal interest. Students also wanted to better understand the purpose of the reading and explained the importance of image quality if a scanned copy of the reading was supplied.
The use of polls for voting was seen as an entertaining way of breaking up content and encouraging curiosity. Students engaged with polls built into online content/ activities even when time-poor.
Sharing the learnings
With such a huge amount of data gathered from across a large range of disciplines and unit levels, it is not simply a matter of coming up with a range of recommendations as the outcome of this project. As previously published on this blog, our outputs will take the form of a series of design patterns. These patterns are co-designed and draw on both the literature and our praxis.
We recently presented our co-design approach to colleagues at UTS as well as a range of showcase sessions here at the university of Sydney and at a number of conferences. Members of the team have publications in press, for example this chapter Using co-design processes to support strategic pedagogical change in business education (Wilson, Huber & Bryant, 2021). Findings are also being shared through the Co-Design: Transforming Education and the Student Experience in Business Research Group.
At a recent showcase presentation of the CLaS project to the ASCILITE Business Education SIG, a participant tweeted “The sooner unis realise that delivering quality education is a team sport, and not a lonesome pursuit, the better off everyone in the system will be” (Kane Murdoch).
About the author
Associate Professor Elaine Huber has been designing curriculum and teaching adults for over 20 years and is currently the Academic Director of the Business Co-Design team at the University of Sydney.