Guest Post – How to Create Connection in Challenging Times by Jenni Rose

Two stylised hands reaching to one another, each made up of a word cloud with words such as connectors, unite and work with.
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Jenni Rose,
Lecturer,
University of Manchester.

Jenni qualified as an Accountant with the ICAEW when working in Audit with KPMG in 2008. The main focus of her teaching is in auditing, financial reporting and financial statement analysis, as well as on the MBA at the University. Much of the strength of her teaching come from developing innovative and creative teaching and learning techniques to increase student engagement includuing using the flipped classroom approach and researching efficient teaching excellence.
Profile page on University of Manchester website.

How to Create Connection in Challenging Times

There is no doubt that it is more difficult than usual to create connection – much of our lives are lived online at the moment and we are unable to be in large groups of strangers or with those we love. You might be feeling anxious about missing out on marking important occasions or unsure how to make create the connections we need as social creatures. 

To frame your reflection on this you can first focus on starting where we are then we using what we do have, and moving into doing what we can. 

To ‘start where you are’ consider what connection means to you – does it mean that deep life long friendship connection or the smaller connections we have with strangers in random situations. What kind of connections do you value? How do you feel after you’ve made a good connection with someone? There is plenty of research on the benefits of connection, 50% increased chance of longevity (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Layton 2010), Stronger gene expression for immunity (Cole 1996), Lower level of anxiety and depression (Seppala 2014), Higher self esteem and greater empathy (Seppala 2014) but what are your own personal benefits of strong connections?

Brene Brown is famous for talking about the power of vulnerability and the sense of connection you feel to someone is often in line with the vulnerability you show to the other person. This takes courage and risks being hurt but can really help with connection.

A final benefit for those who are teaching or learning (or both!) is Cole’s theory from 1996 that learning is a social and cultural process. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping track of deadline and company from someone going through the same process as you, there are also benefits of accelerated learning for students who have strong connections to peers (Gowing 2019).

So practically what can we use to feel connection? First, we need to take a look at what we have control over – we only have control over our behaviour, our reactions and what we focus on. Have a look at this video which talks about the circle of control, from our webinar.

Much of our life at the moment is conducted on Zoom, both professionally and personally but how can we best use this? I’d say the careful use of video is important. In class, speaking as a lecturer, I can only use my teaching skills on those who I can see on video or, to a lesser extent, those who talk which increases motivation and accelerates learning. On the other hand, I find a better connection when I’m speaking 1:1 to someone when it is over the phone as I’m less self conscious about what I look like. Work out feels good for you.

Emma Seppala is a researcher focused on connection who emphasises this. She points out that the benefits of connection are closely linked to your own subjective sense of connection. Therefore you need to work out what gives you the strongest sense of connection.

Here are some ways of “doing what you can” …

And other ideas from my own experience and those who came to the webinar:-

  • Look back over old photos and see which evoke feelings of connection
  • Consider how you feel in a room of strangers (do you feel connected or disconnected)
  • Take a walk without your phone – perhaps this will help you feel connected to nature, even though you are on your own
  • Try talking to random strangers or shop keepers (a famously English way to open up any conversation is to discuss the weather)
  • Smile at random people and smile at yourself in the mirror
  • Find others which may have a common interest
  • Try different ways of using social media eg browsing or what you post and what is important to you
  • Try to rekindle an old friendship where you’ve felt a connection 

To conclude, if connection is important to you then spend some time reflecting on what gives you the most satisfying feeling of connection and seek it out. Start where you are, motivate yourself by visualising the personal benefits for you of increasing connection in your life. Use what you have, technology-wise or technology-free, whichever gives you the best connection given the circumstance and how you feel. Finally, do what you can; pick one small action you will do today to increase the feeling of connection in your life and immediately start to benefit from the positivity you have created.

References

Dudley-Marling C. (2012) Social Construction of Learning. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_96

Gowing, A (2019). Peer-peer relationships: A key factor in enhancing school connectedness and belonging. Educational and Child Psychology 36(2):64-77 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316

Sepalla, E (2020) https://emmaseppala.com/connect-to-thrive-social-connection-improves-health-well-being-longevity/Accessed 1st November 2020.

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Three tips for enhancing students’ engagement with feedback

decorative image - two women discussing over a paper.

In my many years of experience as an educator I have spent innumerable hours in writing feedback for students’ work. I always thought this was one of the most important elements of my role as a teacher, where I had the opportunity to provide personalised guidance to students and connect with them on an individual basis.

But the truth is that not all students engage with feedback and perhaps more crucially not all are able to apply the feedback to the next assessment.

Why does this happen? In a recent discussion I had with students, one of them mentioned, and I paraphrase: “You don’t need feedback for exams, if you pass them”. So is it clear to students what is the purpose of feedback?

According to Carless and Boud (2018) feedback is

the process through which learners make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies”.

As such, feedback is not something static but a dynamic process that aims to shape an individual’s performance. So what can we do to help students engage with the feedback and enhance their feedback literacy?

Tip 1: Know the value of the feedback you give, make it explicit and clearly communicate that to the students in advance.

First and foremost, as feedback providers, we need to be able to clearly identify the value of the feedback we give. Can the students apply that feedback to another piece of work, would it help them to improve their performance? And if so, do we know when and where the students will need to apply that feedback?

Or are the things that the students didn’t quite get right in this piece of work, only relevant for that module and for that assessment? And as such, the comment from the student above was actually valid? They passed the exam, and the rest is history now.

If we can ourselves clarify and identify the value of the feedback we give, we can then help the students make those connections as well.

Tip 2: Provide opportunities for giving, receiving and analysing feedback.

But even if we can make this clear to students, how can we ensure that the students can break down the feedback, analyse it, and devise their own strategies for improving their performance?

Here is where developing students’ feedback literacy comes into play. Feedback literacy has been seen as “the understandings, capacities and dispositions needed” (Carless and Boud 2018) in order to be able to respond to feedback. We need to guide students in the process of understanding the feedback, as well enabling them to internalise the feedback to become self-regulated learners (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

Several strategies are available to achieve this.

Firstly, by clearly defining the way that students’ work is assessed, through discussion and analysis of marking criteria early on.

Secondly, by offering opportunities to students to compare their work with the work of others (for instance through exemplars, or peer marking activities). By applying the marking criteria themselves, students will be able to identify what areas they need to work on and how to improve their own work.

Finally, by enabling dialogue and discussions (among peers or between students-staff), we can share examples of strategies on how to apply feedback and what actions need to be taken for further improvement.

If you have used any of these strategies in your teaching, feel free to share your experience in the comments.

Tip 3: Provide a supportive well-planned learning environment

Although  there are strategies to support students to develop their feedback literacy skills, Gravett (2020) argues that feedback literacy is better “conceptualised as a complex breadth of dynamic, nuanced, situated feedback literacies” through a sociomaterial lens, where factors such as space, time and power-relations come into play. These factors will vary significantly among students, especially when considering how diverse and heterogenous the student population is.

It is important, therefore, that faculty also aims to provide a supportive and well-planned learning environment that takes into consideration the medium, the space and the time that feedback is given and analysed by the students, as well as who is providing the feedback. Establishing a supportive, caring relationship with students is important to allow students to be receptive to feedback and not scared of it.

What strategies could we use for that? What are the limitations? Add your thoughts in the comments.

In summary, what we need  to remember as feedback providers is that our students will be receiving feedback in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources, but for them to engage with the feedback they will need to identify its value, be able to decipher it and be in the right environment to engage with it. We may not be able to address all of these factors directly, but considering them when planning our teaching may help us navigate through the complexities of students’ engagement with feedback.

References:

Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43:8, 1315-1325, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

Gravett, K. (2020) Feedback literacies as sociomaterial practice, Critical Studies in Education, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2020.1747099

Nicol, D.J., and Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31:2, 199-218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090

Disclaimer: This is an opinion-based post and is not representative of views held by the University of Sussex.  

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“The wheels firmly on the bus” Reflections on teaching a new module in the ‘new normal’

by Jeanette Ashton & Paolo Oprandi

About the authors

Jeanette Ashton is a Lecturer in Law and a Non-Practising solicitor, having joined the University of Sussex after 8 years at Brighton University.  She teaches Contract law, Equity and Trusts and Understanding Law.  Her research interests are legal education, whistleblowing and contract law.  She is Employability lead for the Law School and co-leads the CLOCK legal companion scheme.

Paolo Oprandi is a Doctor in Education with a colourful and varied academic background. He is currently working at the University of Sussex as a Senior Learning Technologist in the Technology Enhanced Learning team. He has an interest in technology in teaching, curriculum design and assessment and enhancing the student learning experience so that students can make the most of their years in education.

“The wheels firmly on the bus” Reflections on teaching a new module in the ‘new normal’

There is no doubt the 2020/21 academic year has presented educators with unprecedented challenges, and I cannot help feeling a sense of relief at having made it through the Autumn semester without, as one of my colleagues said ‘the wheels having fallen off the bus’.  I want to reflect on the effectiveness of learning and teaching techniques I used in delivering Understanding Law, a module for first year non-law students on the Legal Studies pathway, which I convened for the first time.

Introducing Flipped Learning

Dr Paolo Oprandi and I have explored the flipped learning approach. Many advantages have been found with this approach including more students meeting and exceeding the learning outcomes (Lee & Choi 2019) and more students taking self-regulated learning approaches to learning (van Alten et al 2020). It is a curriculum design where the content that the student is expected to learn is presented before a face-to-face session via a recorded lecture presentation, an academic paper and/or any other medium that students can engage with in their own time. The face-to-face session is used to discuss, analyse and critique the learning material with the tutor present. It is called a flipped curriculum design as it sits in contrast with curricula that present the learning material during the face-to-face teaching session and confine opportunities for students to discuss, analyse and critique the material to homework tasks and reading groups when the tutor is not present. The major worry for academics taking this approach is that students engage with the learning material before a taught session.

Planning the module delivery

With the benefit of having attended various TEL training sessions during the summer, I decided to utilise Panopto to frontload preparation via short, pre-recorded lectures.  To facilitate communication and engagement I planned to use the Padlet tool and Zoom quizzes within live, follow-up lecture sessions.  When planning the module, for around 75 students, I did not know who would be delivering the four two-hour seminars, so I took the decision to run these as synchronous online sessions.   

The key objective of Understanding Law is to give students a solid foundation as to how law is made, interpreted and developed, an overview of human rights law, and the different types of public and private law, alongside a working understanding of the court system of England and Wales.  This equips them with the legal skills necessary for the subsequent modules on the Legal Studies pathway.  The usual form of delivery is via live two-hour lectures and two-hour seminars.  Particularly as this was my first time convening the module, and mindful that arrangements for students starting in September were uncertain, for each topic I decided to record 3 x half-hour content sessions, with a Padlet wall on Canvas for each, which I would then use to build a live dual mode session, complemented by an in-lecture quiz. 

Students’ views

To find out how the students felt about the flipped learning approach and the effectiveness of the Padlet tool, Paolo and I drew up a Qualtrics survey, to ask how this approach compared with other modules without pre-recorded material, how effective they had found Padlet, and their thoughts on the live session quizzes.  The response was low, to date only around 15% of the cohort, and this may be partly due to survey fatigue, and perhaps if I had been able to see more students in person, they would have been more inclined to complete. 

Students’ views on pre-recorded content

Despite the limitations however, the qualitative responses are interesting. On the pre-recorded content, a common response was that this enabled the students to manage their time, work independently outside of the live lecture, pause and take notes, and replay parts which needed clarification. 

In our study, students were able to access the pre-recorded materials ahead of the live session and the corresponding seminars. I had the peace of mind that, whatever the semester might bring, the content was there. Many of the students appreciated the recorded lectures saying,

 “[They gave] context to the required readings”

“I was able to take notes effectively at my own pace, since I was able to pause the recording and re-listen to parts I was unable to understand the first time I heard it.”

The live sessions that followed the students watching the pre-recorded lectures worked well. However, one respondent, whilst stating the benefits of doing the work in their own time, felt that the pre-recorded content ‘lacked a personal feel’. The first of these was online only, while room capacity issues were finalised, and the remainder were dual mode, though in person attendance dropped off towards the end of the module, with the majority of students choosing to access via Zoom. 

Personal reflection and students’ views on Padlet

During the sessions I used Padlet to ask questions of the students’ understanding and students to pose questions back to me. The combination of building in additional content to address questions raised on the Padlet wall, Zoom polls to check understanding, and questions via the Zoom chat function in the session, facilitated engagement and connection, albeit in a different way from usual. 

This was the first time I had used the Padlet tool.  At the beginning of the module, students needed a lot of encouragement to post questions, and it took a little time to direct students away from emailing questions to me, and instead to post on the Padlet wall.  However, once they got used to this, comparing with my experience of other modules, this proved more effective than the Canvas Discussion Board.  Perhaps this is because it is more visual, sitting alongside the topic materials, rather than accessing via another window.  It was also easier to see other students’ questions and to know that these will be covered in the live follow up session, avoiding duplication. The students appreciated my efforts; one stated,

“[Padlet] was a really effective way of bringing up a question and making the seminar more useful”

On the live session quizzes, the responses were largely positive, for example,

 ‘I found it motivating to stay on task and up-to-date on lectures’

‘I was able to check my own understandings of some terms and the system of English Law’. 

One student stated that the questions were simplistic and that there wasn’t an incentive to get the answers correct, but hopefully they found the seminars, which required them to analyse a case on the theme of the legal topic area, more challenging.  I deliberately made the quizzes anonymous, to encourage students to answer without fear of getting the answer wrong and participation in the lectures for the quizzes was always 80%+, which was encouraging. 

The students were asked to rate the effectiveness of the Padlet tool.  Again, acknowledging the low response rate, most responses were ‘highly effective’ or ‘somewhat effective’, with a couple of respondents answering ‘neither effective nor ineffective’.  As I had set up the Padlet walls as anonymous, to encourage students to post questions no matter how minor they might be, it is impossible to say how many students engaged with the Padlet.  The anonymity was appreciated by at least one of the students who mentioned,

[I found it] good for asking questions anonymously”

However, even if a student did not personally use a Padlet wall, it was effective in ensuring they were all able to access the same information, either through the live session, which they could also access afterwards, or by the answers on the Padlet wall itself, as per the Assessment Padlet wall below:

Screenshot for padlet wall with Q&As on assessment.
Assessment Padlet

Final reflections

My concluding thoughts on the learning and teaching experience of the Understanding Law module this semester are that I did not feel I built the same connections with the students as in ‘normal’ times, with solely in person two-hour lectures and the rapport which those bring.  However, despite that, I feel that the overall learning experience was positive, that the students were on the whole engaged, and the feedback from the tutors running the seminars supported this. 

I am looking forward to seeing the AB1 assessments and feel confident that the module has succeeded in getting the students where they need to be for the rest of their pathway programme.  The Padlet tool has been effective in facilitating communication with the students and in giving them the opportunity to play an active role in shaping the live sessions (Fuchs 2014)  I have already designed the Padlet walls for my two core spring law modules, but this time giving the students the facility to edit and respond to posts to help each other, which I hope will facilitate collaboration. Now just to plan the rest…….

References

van Alten, D.C., Phielix, C., Janssen, J. and Kester, L., 2020. Self-regulated learning support in flipped learning videos enhances learning outcomes. Computers & Education158, p.104000.

Fuchs, B., 2014. The writing is on the wall: using Padlet for whole-class engagement. LOEX Quarterly40(4), p.7.

Lee, J. and Choi, H., 2019. Rethinking the flipped learning pre‐class: Its influence on the success of flipped learning and related factors. British Journal of Educational Technology50(2), pp.934-945.

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Introduction to the University of Sussex Scholarship Framework

Welcome to the DARE to Transform Blog.

The blog is one of the University’s outlets for sharing scholarship of teaching and learning. It forms part of the activities of the Development, Advancement and Recognition in Education (DARE) to Transform Network which was established in 2019 to serve as a scholarship and pedagogical research incubator, through the establishment of a community of practice and range of supporting initiatives to advance teaching, learning and assessment and encourage educational experimentation and enquiry.

Boyer’s groundbreaking work, recognising the different forms of scholarship within the academy and how they intersect (Boyer, 1990) led to the the development of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as a discipline in its own right. Scholarship should also be viewed as a proactive concept, such that, knowledge is actively and continually developed, applied and improved, and collaboratively shared with the wider community. This increasing focus on SoTL has led to the development of Education and Scholarship career frameworks within Higher Education including the University of Sussex. The framework for scholarship that Sussex has adopted evolves as colleagues progress through different career levels, moving from a focus on developing the academic’s own knowledge and practice to influencing and leading the field. The Sussex model of scholarship builds on the DART model (Kern et al., 2015), adding mentoring and leadership into the development process. This approach recognises that the curriculum, systems of assessment, student experience initiatives, widening participation activities and community engagement endeavours represent key avenues for both scholarship and pedagogic research.  Social media channels, digital repositories, online journals and other digital platforms provide multiple mechanisms for disseminating outcomes of scholarly activities into society, culture, professional networks, research communities and the wider HE context.

DARE to Transform comprises a number of different streams of activity to support colleagues in developing their scholarship, including a mentoring scheme, invited seminars, case studies featuring scholarship stories and internal and external scholarship opportunities.

The DARE to Transform blog has been established as an open, online publishing outlet for both early career and experienced colleagues across the University to share and disseminate scholarly outputs.  These may address a range of thematic areas and take the form of reflective posts, opinion pieces, educational resources or initial findings from action research.  Should you wish to write for this blog or get involved in any the activities associated with DARE to Transform please email DARE@sussex.ac.uk

You can find further information relating to the blog scope and style guidance here.

DARE is coordinated by Dr Susan Smith (Business School) and Dr David Walker (Student Experience) with support from colleagues across the institution.

References:

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.

Kern, B., Mettetal, G., Dixson, M., & Morgan, R. K. (2015). The role of SoTL in the academy: Upon the 25th anniversary of Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1-14.

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