Thursday, 2 October 2008

Engaging students 101?

It's been a while since my last post, mainly because I've been back at work preparing for a new semester of teaching (it was Freshers Week last week too) and my upcoming wedding. One of the things that has preoccupied my mind recently has been the issue of innovation in education and how to translate that to student engagement.

I run a large core module for my second students (MAC201 Media Studies 1) which I have modified this year to include an hourly workshop which focuses on helping the students apply what they have learned to an example. I did this mainly because I had a lot of students come see me through the course of last year needing personal tutorials outside of my established office hours and seminar times, effectively doubling my work load, but also because I recognize that not all students are suited to the lecture/seminar/independent study format. A quick show of hands in the workshop on Wednesday revealed most of my students hadn't been to the scheduled screening or read the required reading material.

This isn't in itself unusual. However, there are 180 students on this module and only about 35 turned up for the voluntary session. Now, either this is because 140+ are so confident that they know what they are doing or that the 35 that turned up were those with doubts and were seeking clarification, or that it can be difficult to engage students in the first week back. Who knows? Despite this, I felt the session went well and next week's session will build on the groundwork covered yesterday.

NB: any students reading this can go to WebCT VIsta/SunSpace and access the additional resources I placed there for you yesterday afternoon

I'm also developing a new module at level 3 (MAC309 Media Studies Special Topic) and I've been thinking about a completely different way to engage students and assess them. I've been taking my inspiration from two people in particular, namely Howard Rheingold at Berkely and Stanford University and Tarleton Gillespie at Cornell University. Rheingold delivers two courses, one in Digital Journalism and the other Virtual Communities/Social Media, and its the way he gets the students to interact with the course and its materials which I think is innovative and advantageous. Both of those courses are powered by Socialtext wiki software, and require students to actively participate in their own learning by keeping a blog and a personal wiki which is assessed at the end of the term (along with other modes of assessment too).

What is impressive about this model of engagement is that it encourages the students to take owenership of their own learning and evidence it on a week by week basis, with plenty self-reflection regarding the learners individual responsibilities to themselves and their academic development. I'd like to roll out a similar format myself. Week 9 of the Social Media course even has students meeting in Second Life! There may be problems in implementing this as I am not sure if we have a wiki or if the University's PCs are up to scratch to run Second Life. My 6 month old iMac on my desktop at work can hardly do that.

I think that this kind of course delivery would help to avoid the the situation I had in MAC201 earlier on in this post when the vast majority of students failed to turn up. I'm going to keep an eye on the attendance for this module and see how the students engage with the material. I also have an online discussion space setup in WebCT but, historically, this has been poorly utilized by students. Time will tell if these measures will help the students.


Philip Young said...

Fascinating stuff, Rob. We used PBwiki in MAC250 last year and will do so again on its successor, MAC299. I am also runnng a blog alongside all my modules this year. I think the thing that will really make people engage properly is understanding RSS - without an aggregator it is very difficult to keep track of all this activity.

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