From the ground up: Tutors improving student experience at the University of Sussex

Academics at the University of Sussex have been finding innovative ways to best support student achievement through the use of technology. In the past couple of years, members of the  Technology Enhanced Learning team have been building a list of case studies of tutors who are using technology to improve the student experience. In this blog post we will be sharing a short synopsis of some of these case studies that might inspire you. Could your teaching or assessment practices be made more effective or efficient with the help of easy-to-use technology?

Sussex Innovations in teaching

Mind maps are one way of  encouraging students to organise their thinking and make coherent disciplinary arguments. Dr Karis Jade Petty (Anthropology) employs a student-led approach to her workshops using the interactive whiteboards to produce mind maps of the ideas which emerge through class discussions. The mind maps help the class collect ideas from the student-led discussions and visualise conceptual relationships. 

Other Sussex tutors are increasingly using the online board, Padlet, in order for students to post ideas and share resources. Dr Susann Wiedlitzka (Law) developed a new module that made the most of technology in her curriculum design. In one of her modules she expects students to post ideas about the topic and share related resources to Padlet before the teaching session. During the teaching sessions Susann also uses the student response system, Poll Everywhere, to gauge students’ opinions and understanding as the session goes along.

Dr Evan Hazenberg (English) is using Padlet as well. He puts students into small groups with the intention that each week, everyone in the group reads a different chapter, writes a one-page summary and posts the summary on a Padlet wall that is accessible to other members of their group. 

We think these innovations make great use of technology by facilitating peer collaboration and deeper learning. We encourage all tutors to consider whether technology could make your teaching practices easier or more effective.

Innovations in assessment

Some University of Sussex tutors have found innovative ways of improving the quality of assessments, using assessment methods that both support the students’ learning and evaluate their skills more appropriately for the subject than traditional assessments. 

For example, there are a number of lecturers who are assessing students through portfolios of work. Some expect a number of submission artefacts to be included in their portfolio, while others require students evidence weekly reflection. Prof. Robin Banerjee (Psychology) uses a portfolio assessment which expects both. He feels portfolios evidence student learning and understanding better than traditional assessments and provoke deeper learning. His assessments require students to create an online journal using Mahara, the e-portfolio system used at Sussex, into which the students incorporate multimedia artefacts such as their reflections, related images, videos and audio recordings and links to relevant materials that they have found. 

Other lecturers are using video assessments to evaluate their students’ understanding of their subject. Prof. Carol Alexander (Accounting and Finance) has introduced an innovative form of assessment to enable her students to showcase and develop a range of skills including independent research. The assessment requires students to produce and present their own research in the form of a short video. Students are introduced to three video production apps (Videoscribe, Adobe Spark and Screencastify) during teaching. She finds that the assessment method intrinsically inspired many of the students to engage deeper in the topic than they would have through traditional assessment methods. 

There are many ways in which students can be assessed other than the traditional methods of essay or examination. Many of these alternatives provoke deeper learning than traditional assessments and require students to evidence their skills in more authentic ways. We encourage all of you who are reading this to consider if the modules you teach are assessed in the most appropriate way or if other methods may be more effective.

Summary

You can find out more about these innovations from the case studies pages of the Technology Enhanced Learning web site. We know many other lecturers through the University are employing similar innovations to improve their teaching and the assessment of their students. If you’re one of them and want to share your practices, please contact the TEL team who will be happy to make a case study of your work. Or if you would like to help to improve your teaching or assessments using technology but don’t know where to begin, contact the TEL team who will help you get started.

Contact the Technology Enhanced Learning team at tel@sussex.ac.uk

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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