Ask the Experts

Issue 1 - Can differentiation in my classroom work? What is blended learning?

Differentiation, where students within the same class are given different tasks appropriate to their skill level, is a common technique in schools (as I understand it). I was wondering if it is used in higher education, and if so, how it is done and whether there is evidence for it being successful? 

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I think many in our college [Arts] would like to know 'What does "blended learning" mean?'. We are trying to raise awareness of blended techniques, so this would be a helpful question to answer.  

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Issue 2 - Do I need ethical permission for educational research?

When is ethical permission required for educational research/scholarship and when is it not? I'm thinking about Moodle analytics, class sizes, grades. And will journals have the same rules for this as UofG? 

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Issue 3 - Can LEADS support me in educational research & scholarship?

As someone with very little experience in research or scholarship, is there any way in which LEADS would support me to actually carry out my proposed scholarship project? I don’t feel like I have enough experience to do it alone. 

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Issue 4 - What can I do when course evaluation recommendations don't align with the direction of School learning & teaching policy?

What do you do if an evaluation you have done flies in the face of the learning & teaching direction your School is going in? How do you convince others who don't want to listen/ hear that if the School is going in a particular direction we may need to consider how to support students not in favour of that direction?

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Issue 5 - How do I balance teaching on modules undertaken simultaneously by UG and PGT students?

I would like tips on how to teach courses that are open to both Honours and Masters students concurrently. I am due to do this next semester, and this is already causing me all sorts of trouble. How can I make seminars relevant to both levels? My Masters exercises are too complex for the Honours level, but if I just teach to the Honours level students, how can I bring the Masters cohort up to standard? I have a separate Moodle page so that I can adjust readings etc

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Issue 6 - How can I building scholarship into my teaching timetable?

So you've done one scholarship project and your head of school thinks that’s enough; where do you go? How do I get time for scholarship projects in amongst teaching / lecturing / planning / marking etc - how do I build scholarship into my schedule?

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Issue 7 - Where can you publish educational scholarship?

Q: I would very much be interested in a summary of potential targets for outputs, e.g. suitable journals to publish in.

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Differentiation

Differentiation, where students within the same class are given different tasks appropriate to their skill level, is a common technique in schools (as I understand it). I was wondering if it is used in higher education, and if so, how it is done and whether there is evidence for it being successful?

Answer from Dr Iro Filippaki.

Drawing from published research, differentiation has been shown to be successful in HE primarily if the students are aware of stratified options and their benefits, and, additionally, if the ILOs are common for all students, but the path to achieving them differs.

In other words, while it is not viable that students from, let’s say, a Level 1 Biology course are taught different core concepts according to their skill level or background, it would be realistic to suggest that classes contain material pitched at different student levels. This would ensure in-class participation and confidence-building for as many students as possible.

Differentiation is mostly known as the teaching practice of providing students during class with different tasks based on their student performance or level; crucially though, differentiation also refers to the overall teaching climate that may enable all students to capitalize on their strengths, and to correct or compensate for their weaknesses through the classroom environment (Figure 1, Tomlinson and Moon, 2013). 

Research testing of differentiation in an HE classroom is scarce, but a recent research project suggests that differentiation in HE can be beneficial (Arzhanik et al., 2015), mostly in terms of non-subject specific courses (maths or language).

Arzhanik et al. piloted a differentiated maths course that contained tasks with different complexity levels that students from diverse academic backgrounds could choose from; importantly, the learning results that would be achieved through each task were explained to the students.

This research project did have positive results, but did not account for other factors that may have influenced the results (for example, the students’ psychological disposition towards this type of learning, possible collaboration between students, and so on).

Applying the principle - a case study

My own teaching method as the Effective Writing Adviser for International students in LEADS includes offering classes that are somewhat based on a differentiated model of teaching.

Targeted mostly at a non-UK audience, my advice moves in a different direction from the writing advice that LEADS College Advisers provide for their students, despite the fact that LEADS classes may share core concepts.

However, this doesn’t mean that all non-UK students must attend my classes, or that this is the only way for them to benefit from writing advice; by explaining to the students what the difference is between my classes and College Advisers’ classes, they have the option to choose the differentiated strand.

My classes include formative assessment for the students who think they need it, as well as writing advice and exam prep.

Feedback has been extremely encouraging, and students often tell me that they need a variety of approaches to digest core material.

For another case study, listen to Dr Joanna Wilson (winner of Best College Teacher (MVLS) in the Student Teacher Awards 2017) describe how she incorporates an element of differentiation into teaching her PGT classes, students in which have a very varied background.

 

 

 

References

Arzhanik, M.B., Chernikova, E.V., Karas, S.I. and Lemeshko, E.Y., 2015. Differentiated approach to learning in higher education. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences166, pp.287-291. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.12.525

Tomlinson, C.A. and Moon, T.R., 2013. Assessment and student success in a differentiated classroom. ASCD. (University Library catalogue entry)

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Blended learning

I think many in our college [Arts] would like to know 'What does "blended learning" mean?'. We are trying to raise awareness of blended techniques, so this would be a helpful question to answer.  

Answer from Jessica Bownes, Vicki Dale, Nicole bio, and Michael McEwan.

Blended learning, essentially, involves combining face-to-face classes with online resources, in contrast to relying on traditional classroom-based learning alone.

Where blended learning is at its most effective is when the online component is well-integrated into the course, and not just an optional add-on.

Within LEADS, we subscribe to Garrison and Kanuka’s (2004, p.96-7) definition of blended learning as the 'thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences', acknowledging that this approach leads to a reduction in face-to-face contact (Graham, Woodfield and Harrison, 2013).

Uploading traditional course content to Moodle on its own is not true blended learning. Rather, optimal blended learning combines face-to-face and online modes of study to engage students in a flexible learning experience, while encouraging high levels of attainment of learning outcomes.

Blended learning has been shown to improve student learning and satisfaction, and advocates of the approach emphasise how quick and straightforward it is to implement (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004; So and Brush 2008).

We think a common worry about using more online resources when teaching is that, by turning to online resources, blended learning makes the student learning experience more impersonal.

However, research has shown that, when properly and carefully implemented, students achieve a greater sense of belonging to an academic community because of the opportunities to collaborate that are facilitated through blended learning.

Applying the principle - case studies

An example of integrated blended learning would be the Academic Writing workshops we run in LEADS for students.

At the moment, we have complementary Sway documents (Sway is a digital presentation platform in the Office 365 suite) for every class available through Moodle.

The Sways are intended to reinforce the learning delivered during each class, and this will be further developed next year with the addition of short instructional YouTube videos, which will address a complex concept related to the class material.

For more case studies, have a look the blended learning section of our website, or this showcase playlist of blended learning projects at the University.


 

You can also explore our student classes mentioned above (organised by subject area and adviser type).

 

References

Garrison, D.R. and Kanuka, H., 2004. Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The internet and higher education, 7(2), pp.95-105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2004.02.001

Rovai, A.P. and Jordan, H., 2004. Blended learning and sense of community: A comparative analysis with traditional and fully online graduate courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 5(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v5i2.192

So, H.J. and Brush, T.A., 2008. Student perceptions of collaborative learning, social presence and satisfaction in a blended learning environment: Relationships and critical factors. Computers & Education, 51(1), pp.318-336. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2007.05.009

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Ethical approval for research into teaching

When is ethical permission required for educational research/scholarship and when is it not? I'm thinking about Moodle analytics, class sizes, grades. And will journals have the same rules for this as UofG?

Answer from Dr Michael McEwan.

The short answer is that although these datasets are routinely collected and made available to you as a staff member, if you want to publish in any form, ethics approval is required. Most importantly, research participants must be told that this will happen.

All data from, or about, human subjects requires ethics approval, unless these are publicly (and lawfully) available.

To take the examples posed in the question:

  • Is assessment data publicly available?
  • Is Moodle data (stats, big data, learning analytics) publicly available?

Since the answer to each of these is 'no', you'd need to seek ethics approval from your College's Research Ethics Comittee in advance.

Studies involving human participants are subject to the University’s devolved ethics processes. In such an instance, ethical approval would normally be required from the associated College (i.e. the college where students are registered, or the College in which a staff member is employed).

The key point above is that the possibility of dissemination exists. Often, a teacher in HE will examine their own practice through collection of data from students in order to enhance their teaching activities without ever really planning any dissemination. In the absence of 'going public', a teacher’s enquiry into their practice for the purposes of enhancement is a legitimate and expected academic practice (UKPSF, 'Core Knowledge' Dimension K5) that is normally exempt from a requirement for ethical approval. This would normally be considered a form of continuing professional development in teaching and supporting learning (UKPSF).

For example, anyone studying on the PGCAP is expected to complete an evaluation of practice. Ethical approval is not required, but a consideration of ethics is.

Issues of voluntary informed consent, equality of opportunity, minimised risk for participants, the right to withdraw, confidentiality and anonymity, the impact of dependent relationships, and disclosure should always be at the forefront of any educational study, whether there is intention to ‘go public’ or not.

References

Tomlinson, C.A. and Moon, T.R., 2013. Assessment and student success in a differentiated classroom. ASCD. (University Library catalogue entry)

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LEADS Support for Your Scholarship

As someone with very little experience in research or scholarship, is there any way in which LEADS would support me to actually carry out my proposed scholarship project? I don’t feel like I have enough experience to do it alone.

Answer by Dr Michael McEwanDr Janis Davidson, Dr Matthew Williamson, and Sarah Honeychurch (former Good Practice Adviser)

Michael: This is a very good question! In one sense, it depends on how you intend to carry out your project. For example, if you apply for LTDF (Learning & Teaching Development Fund) funding for a SoTL-like (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) project then you will have access to a member of LEADS staff for advice on developing your proposal. If your bid is successful, you will also have access to a named LEADS colleague for support in your project. If, however, you develop SoTL-type project out with the LTDF call then your access to LEADS staff isn't so automated. Support would normally be available through our network of College Contacts, which ensures that at least one member of LEADS staff is a point of contact for each of the 4 Colleges, but you would need to approach that person and discuss the level of support.

Matthew: It may well be that someone other than your College Contact could support you, or that LEADS may be able to link you up with someone else in the University who is working in a similar area or who is looking for mutual support.  

Janis: In any case, a LEADS contact could act as a critical friend or in some other support role during the lifecycle of the project. This may involve direct support in implementing a project or may involve assistance with ethics applications, or review of draft funding bids.

Michael: From session 2018/19 onwards, we do hope to have additional support avaiable for people who are studying PGCAP courses (either as part of a PGCAP or as CPD). We will be developing a 'follow-on' course from our current SoTL module with the aim of ensuring additional support for participants on this course. Currently, students on our 'SoTL' course develop a SoTL proposal for their summative assessment, but there is no requirement to implement the proposed project as part of this course. The new 'follow-on' course will essentially be a project course whereby student will be supported, through a supervisory model with peer support also, to implement their project and, hopefully, aim for dissemination of their project outputs through an appropriate route. So, in answer to the original question: yes, support is available!  

Sarah: At the moment, LEADS are setting up and 'seeding' an annotated bibliography that we will make available to all staff at the UofG, and we anticipate that this will be a useful resource for anybody wanting to engage with SoTL - so, while this is not one to one support, it will be accessible whenever you need it. We'll publicise it here in the Magazine once it's ready to go!

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When course evaluation doesn't align with the direction of School learning & teaching policy

What do you do if an evaluation you have done flies in the face of the learning & teaching direction your School is going in? How do you convince others who don't want to listen/ hear that if the School is going in a particular direction we may need to consider how to support students not in favour of that direction?

Answer by Nicole Kipar

Since even Heads of Schools are responsible for giving College management the reasons why things are being done the way they are, a strategy of 'show the evidence' might help to support you here, and while 'evidence' is an ambiguous term owing to different understanding of what counts as evidence across the disciplines, this certainly always includes educational literature and practice. It also depends on the evaluation that was undertaken; what type, approach, scope, etc.

Regardless of the latter, is there literature that would support your findings? Are there other educators that have engaged with the same area that you investigated and had similar findings? Is there support for the direction that your evaluation suggests, i.e. are there institutions that have successfully gone down that route?

It's difficult to convince people away from established conventions and understanding with the outcome of just one investigation, and your findings will have more impact if they are reflected in similar research and practice. Good practice-focused journals are: the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

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Teaching modules undertaken by UG and PGT students simultaneously

What do you do if an evaluation you have done flies in the face of the learning & teaching direction your School is going in? How do you convince others who don't want to listen/ hear that if the School is going in a particular direction we may need to consider how to support students not in favour of that direction?

Answer by Dr Jessica Bownes and Dr Scott Ramsay

There are two opposing approaches you could adopt here, and your choice hinges less on empirical evidence (which isn't abundant on this particular topic) and more on whether you're happy to segregrate the cohort for groupwork and other activities.

The case for keeping them together

Students in a PGT class are already of a more mixed ability than we often think about. There will be some who have an UG degree in a directly elevant subject, and those who have a less closely related degree. Similarly, in UG classes, a student who has not formally studied for 25 years might be sat next to a student who achieved a clean sweep of As in their school exams. To ensure that the Masters students are up to the appropriate standard, you might ask them to do more advanced things like lead the discussion of the seminar topic in their groups. This way, the Masters students will be compelled to come prepared, having (hopefully!) done some in-depth reading and formed an academic opinion, while the Honours students can still fully participate in the seminar and learn from their peers.

The case for keeping them apart

Depending on the particular cohort, you may feel it would be better to allow them to work in UG and PGT groups. This would certainly allow you to create completely different challenges based on the same common subject material taught in lectures. In designing their tasks, remember the general kinds of abilities Masters students should be developing over and above Honours students: more evaluation; more synthesis of their own conclusions and ideas; more critical judgement of what they're learning about. This list of assessment command words organised relative to their inherent difficulty (i.e. Bloom's Taxonomy) might help you formulate your ideas.

Whichever choice you go for...

In deciding what to ask the PGTs to do over and above the work of the UGs, look at the aims and outcomes of the different Programmes they're enrolled on. Base your differentiated activities around developing those particular competencies through the different academic activities and assessments you ask them to carry out.

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Fitting scholarship into my teaching timetable

So you've done one scholarship project and your head of school thinks that’s enough; where do you go? How do I get time for scholarship projects in amongst teaching / lecturing / planning / marking etc - how do I build scholarship into my schedule?

Answer by Dr Matthew Williamson

For staff on Learning, Teaching and Scholarship contracts, there is an expectation of ongoing scholarship, so a conversation with your head of school in this situation would seem appropriate. Scholarship is one of the criteria for promotion on this track, and contracts allow for a certain amount of time (differing with grade) to be spent in scholarship.

Don't forget that scholarship doesn't just include research-type projects. As the promotion criteria says, it may include "peer-reviewed journal publications of national or international standing; external policy and professional reports; monographs, text books, book contributions; [and] professional guidance on learning and teaching (such as QAA, HEA reports/guidance)".

In terms of working time in your schedule, different people do this in different ways. Some block out some time each week, others might try to get one or more concentrated 'blocks' of time. I would advise trying to make proper time to think, research and write whatever you have decided to do, and to treat this as sacrosanct in the same way that you would marking or time in a classroom. Being strict about not agreeing to do other things in your 'scholarship' time can really help, and just keep reminding yourself that it is a key part of your work, the University values it, and you need to do it if you wish to be promoted.

Have a look at the Scholarship ot Teaching & Learning strand in the LEADS CPD series for ideas on to take your scholarship forward.

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Fitting scholarship into my teaching timetable

Q: I would very much be interested in a summary of potential targets for outputs, e.g. suitable journals to publish in.

Answer by Nicole KiparJanis DavidsonVicki Dale, and Nathalie Sheridan

 

Good journals to start with include:

JPAAP in particular was established to provide a supportive environment for those new to publishing in academic practice, and PESTLE is a suitable outlet for small scale evaluation within a course.

Some other good L&T in HE journals to submit to are:

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