Who are you travelling with? A guest post by Kirsty Dunnett.
A summary and some thoughts on:
Supporting students in higher education: proposal for a theoretical framework
By J.-M. De Ketele (Université de Louvain, Belgium)
Who are you travelling with? A guest post by Kirsty Dunnett.
A summary and some thoughts on:
Supporting students in higher education: proposal for a theoretical framework
By J.-M. De Ketele (Université de Louvain, Belgium)
I’ve been a fan of using rubrics — tables that contain assessment criteria and a scale of quality definitions for each — not just in a summative way to determine grades, but in a formative way to engage students in thinking about learning outcomes and how they would know when they’ve reached them. Kjersti has even negotiated rubrics with her class, which she describes and discusses here. And now I read an article on “Co-creating rubrics: The effects on self-regulated learning, self-efficacy and performance of establishing assessment criteria with students” by Fraile et al. (2017), which I will summarise below.
Fraile et al. (2017) make the argument that — while rubrics are great for (inter-)rater reliability and many other reasons, students easily perceive them as external constraints that dampen their motivation and might lead to shallow approaches to learning, not as help for self-regulated deep learning. But if students were involved in creating the rubric, they might feel empowered and more autonomous because they are now setting their own goals and monitoring their performance against those, thus using it in ways that actually supports their learning.
This argument is then tested in a study on sports students, where a treatment group co-creates rubrics, whereas a control group uses those same rubrics afterwards. Co-creation of the rubric meant that after an introduction to the content by the teacher, students listed criteria for the activity and then discussed them in small groups. Criteria were then collected and clustered and reduced down to about eight, for which students, in changing groups, then produced two extreme quality definitions for each. Finally, the teacher compiled everything into a rubric and got final approval from the class.
So what happened? All the arguments above sounded convincing, however, results of the study are not as clear-cut as one might have hoped. Maybe the intervention wasn’t long enough or the group of students was too small to make results significant? But what does come out is that in thinking aloud protocols, the students who co-created the rubrics were reporting more self-regulated learning. They also performed better on some of the assessed tasks. And they reported more positive perceptions of rubrics, especially of transparency and understanding of criteria.
What do we learn from this study? At least that all indications are that co-creating rubrics might be beneficial to student learning, and that no drawbacks came to light. So it seems to be a good practice to adopt, especially when we are hoping for benefits beyond what was measured here, for example in terms of students feeling ownership for their own learning etc..
Fraile, J., Panadero, E., & Pardo, R. (2017). Co-creating rubrics: The effects on self-regulated learning, self-efficacy and performance of establishing assessment criteria with students. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 53, 69-76.
As we get started with our project #CoCreatingGFI, we are talking to more and more people about our ideas for what we want to achieve within the project (for a short summary, check out this page), which means that we are playing with different ways to frame our understanding of co-creation and students as partners (SaP).
For the latter, I just read an article by Matthews et al. (2019) that identifies three ways that SaP is commonly being written about. Reading this article was really useful, because it made me realise that I have been using aspects of all three, and now I can more purposefully choose in which way I want to frame SaP for each specific conversation I am having.
In the following, I am presenting the three different perspectives and commenting on how they relate to how I’ve been talking — and thinking — about SaP.
Metaphors are figures of speech where a description is applied to something it isn’t literally applicable to, but where it might help to imagine a different (in this case, desired) state.
“Students as partners” as a metaphor evokes quite strong reactions occasionally, because it can be perceived as a complete loss of power, authority and significance by teachers; and likewise as too much work, responsibility, stress by students. We moved away from “students as partners” as a metaphor and towards “co-creation”, because when speaking about “students as partners”, we were constantly trying to explain who the students were partnering with, and what “partnership” would mean in practice. So while we were initially attracted to the metaphor and the philosophy behind it, it ended up not working well in our context.
Speaking about the “student voice”, on the other hand, is something that I’m still doing. To me, it implies what Matthews et al. (2019) describe: students powerfully and actively participating in conversations, and actually being heard. But they also warn that this metaphor can lead to structures in which power sharing becomes less likely, which I can also see: if we explicitly create opportunities to listen to students, it becomes easy to also create other situations in which there explicitly is no space for students.
When grounding conversations on accepted concepts from the literature, it makes it a lot easier to argue for them and to make sure they make sense in the wider understanding in the field.
In our proposal for Co-Create GFI, we very explicitly build all our arguments on the concept of “communities of practice”. Maybe partly because I was in a very bad Wenger phase at around that time, but mostly because it gave us language and concepts to describe our goal (teachers working together in a community on a shared practice), because it gave us concrete steps for how to achieve that and what pitfalls to avoid.
Also in that proposal as well as in our educational column in oceanography, we use “student engagement” as the basis for the co-creation we are striving for. In our context, there is agreement that students should be engaged and that teachers should work to support student engagement, so starting from this common denominator is a good start into most conversations.
Another concept mentioned by Matthews et al. (2019) are “threshold concepts”, which isn’t a concept we have used in our own conversations about SaP, but which I found definitely helpful to consider when thinking about reactions towards the idea of SaP.
Matthews et al. (2019) point out that while building on concepts can be grounding and situating the way I describe above, it can also be disruptive.
Of the three ways of talking about SaP, this is the one we’ve used the least. Constructs are tools to help understand behaviour by basically putting a label on a drawer, such as identity, power, or gender. Looking at SaP through the lens of different constructs can help see reality in a different way and change our approach to it, or as Matthews et al. (2019) say: “revealing can lead to revisiting”.
I know it’s not the intention of the article, but I am wondering if taking on that lens just for fun might not reveal new and interesting things about our own thinking…
Kelly E. Matthews, Alison Cook-Sather, Anita Acai, Sam Lucie Dvorakova, Peter Felten, Elizabeth Marquis & Lucy Mercer-Mapstone (2019) “Toward theories of partnership praxis: an analysis of interpretive framing in literature on students as partners”. In: teaching and learning, Higher Education Research & Development, 38:2, 280-293, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2018.1530199
This week, we got super exciting news: Kjersti‘s and my proposal to the active learning call by the Norwegian Directorate for Higher Education and Competence (HK-dir) got funded (perfect timing, since our article on co-creating learning on oceanography was also published this week!)!
Below I’m sharing the translation of an interview that Kjersti gave to the MatNat faculty, but here is a quick overview over what we are planning to do:
The project’s goal is to use “Co-creation to promote active learning and communities of practice” at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Bergen. We work towards this goal in four work packages (called AP (“arbeidspakke”) in my cheesy illustration below):
In many courses at GFI, the seeds of co-creation are in place and being cultivated already. Our AP1 is about supporting and strengthening those efforts by evaluating and iteratively improving them in some specific courses, in order to gain more experience at our institution and create pilot projects that can serve as proof of concept and that we and others might learn from. In AP2, we help ground those efforts by creating supportive boundary conditions at GFI in terms of looking at how the organisation is structured, whether there are places where student voices could be elevated, and whether the administrative framework could better support co-creation at an institutional level. AP3 is then about engaging more and more teachers and students in other courses in co-creation, and supporting this development by creating meeting places and conversations about the topic, and supporting evaluation and discussion of results. Lastly, we are not doing this alone: AP4 brings together expert advice we are receiving as well as our efforts to share what we are learning. We have the support of the iEarth community, and specifically an advisory board with internationally renowned experts on co-creation and leading academic change processes to help us. As our efforts flower and bear fruit, we will produce a range of publications, infographics, “how-to guides” and many other formats to share our learnings with both the scientific community and interested practitioners.
We are super excited to start working on this with our great colleagues at GFI and within iEarth, and most importantly with our students!
If you are curious about our thoughts on how to get started with co-creating in oceanography (or any other subject, really), Kjersti and I just published an article with some really easy and then some a little more advanced examples (Glessmer & Daae, 2021).
Kjersti gave an interview to the MatNat faculty who wrote an article about our project. Here is the translation of the questions she was asked and the answers she gave:
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
The Geophysical Institute (GFI) is a partner in the center of excellence iEarth. Together with Mirjam Glessmer (co-author, and Adjunct Associate Professor in iEarth), I have had the opportunity to participate in many discussions with inspiring researchers in both geosciences and education-related research fields. We quickly got in touch with Catherine Bovill and Torgny Roxå (both Adjunct Associate Professors in iEarth) and the Geoscience Education working group at the University of Oslo. All their expertise in the field of co-creation and changing academic cultures fit perfectly with what we want to achieve at GFI. The application therefore was inspired by, and builds on, positive experiences with testing new ways of teaching in introductory courses at GFI with our colleagues there, and dialogue with colleagues and professionals from iEarth.
What is the major weakness of today’s teaching in your subject, and what do you want to improve?
Teaching at all levels, including at universities, is changing. More and more people are moving away from lectures and instead trying out new research-based teaching methods where the focus is on active involvement of students. Through instructional methods that activate the students, the students practice skills such as discussion, analysis, problem solving, sketching, etc. Research shows that students learn more and better from active forms of teaching, even if they do not necessarily experience it that way, or prefer this form of teaching. Teachers therefore appreciate support and guidance in making this transition to more and more active forms of teaching and learning in dialogue with students and leadership.
What does your focus on co-creation and community of practice mean?
Focusing on co-creation and community of practice is largely about changing the relationship between teachers and students, in order to provide students with the best environment for learning during their studies. The students are our most important “customers”. It is important that they are included in everything that happens at the department and university, that they are seen and heard, and that they are given the opportunity to influence their own studies and thus lives.
“Co-creation” encompasses a wide range of student activity and engagement, from individual activities during a single teaching session to larger activities that take place over long time, where students take on responsibility for shaping their learning together with their teachers. In co-creation activities, all participants have the right to contribute equally, but not necessarily in the same way. An increased degree of co-creation can help make teaching more inclusive and increase student engagement; at the same time, students learn more, they experience learning as more relevant, and they develop as democratic citizens. If you are curious about specific examples of co-creation activities, you can take a look at the article Mirjam Glessmer and I recently published in the magazine Oceanography (https://tos.org/oceanography/article/co-creating-learning-in-oceanography).
“Communities of practice” are groups of people who share common interests, where the participants know each other, collaborate on common goals, and develop through the exchange of knowledge. This means that teachers and students encourage and support each other in various forms of development.
So ultimately both co-creation and communities of practice are tools towards more dialogue: between students and teachers as well as within both groups individually.
What kind of responses have you received to the idea in the professional environment and from the authorities?
The very process of writing the application has affected how we think about teaching. We have had many good discussions about teaching and learning with teachers, students, and administration at both GFI and in the new network of colleagues we have found through iEarth. This has been a great help in the development of the idea and the project application, and we have received a lot of support and encouragement to move forward with our plans.
What is the common denominator for the work packages?
The common denominator for the work packages is a change in relations between students, teachers, and administration. Both students and teachers must want change and learn about how change can happen in a good way for all parties. In addition, we must put boundary conditions in place that make the changes possible at the departmental level.
What is culture created to wanting to change teaching?
Everyone involved with a university has their own opinion on how teaching at the university is or should be. This perception often reflects a traditional understanding of the role of teachers and students, where teachers must lecture on subject matter and students must acquire the subject matter and be measured by how well they can reproduce it. As long as these expectations persist, it is difficult to change the relationships between teachers and students. We want to influence teachers and students to change their focus so that teachers learn more with the students, and the students inspire the teachers. This is already happening to some extent, and through this project we want to support and strengthen this change process.
When the project is finished, what is the most important experience you will have gained?
Through a common and consistent focus on co-creation and community of practice, GFI will provide students with the best prerequisites for learning during their studies. We want to be an educational institution that helps students develop on both an academic and a personal level. This is achieved through a better dialogue between students, teachers, and administration and through a continuous development of the teaching culture at the department. When the project is completed, we hope to see a cultural change towards “more students” that is founded in the department and that continues to grow beyond the project. We also want to discuss our experiences with the higher education community and hope to inspire more people to get involved in co-creation and community of practice with the goal of improving education.
In this article, we discuss ways in which to share responsibility for learning between teachers and students on a continuum from “just” actively engaging students towards fully shared responsibility, i.e. “co-creation” or “Students as Partners”. We give 13 different examples from our own praxis, starting from very easy things like how to use multiple-choice questions to promote discussion and critical thinking or giving students the choice of several examples from which they can learn the same content, and gradually work our way up to more and more interesting methods, like for example negotiating rubrics of learning outcomes with students.
The article itself is accompanied by a website where we elaborate on our 13 different examples. Check it out, and let us know what you think! And if you have any experiences with co-creating learning that you would like to share, we would love to hear from you and add a guest post on your experiences to our collection! :)
Glessmer, M.S., and K. Daae. 2021. Co-creating learning in oceanography. Oceanography 34(4), https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2021.405.
One of my goals as a teacher is to change culture towards responsibility for student learning being shared equally between teachers and students. This is an idea that is met with some resistance, both from students who need to put in more work, and from teachers. An article by Cook-Sather (2014) sheds light on difficulties teachers often experience when letting go of traditional understandings of the relationship between teacher and students, and adopting this new form of collaboration with students:
Taking on a students as partners mindset is described as a threshold concept for teachers: a gateway that, once crossed, opens up a whole new world. While walking through such a portal is transformative and irreversible (evidence of both is given from teacher reflections after they have adopted the new mindset), it is also troublesome. Especially for new teachers who are struggling with legitimacy issues, accepting students as equal partners can be a daunting and difficult process, where students might be perceived as adversaries rather than partners, or as not contributing any new and inspiring thought.
Crossing the threshold might be aided by academic developers inviting for reflection, or by supporting teachers in taking small actions towards giving students more responsibility on a confined and “safe” aspect of the course (note by Mirjam: for some ideas, check out our collection here!). The beginner-level one-on-one setting of teacher and student in partnership (for example working with student representatives) can then, in the long run, be widened to include more students. Providing spaces for reflection, discussion, and revision within and beyond course settings (for example also including educational researchers) can support the transformation towards students as partners.
Reading quotes from teachers struggling to see the benefit of collaborating with students on developing their teaching opened my eyes to struggles with the changing relationship – especially around seeing the student partners as enemies rather than supportive partners — that I did not anticipate for our own application, but that might quite possibly exist. This might be another aspect of threshold concepts – that it is retrospectively difficult to imagine what life was like before crossing the threshold. Therefore, reading this article was a good reminder that supporting reflections on roles, identities, relationships should be an important part of any project if we want to successfully implement students as partners.
Alison Cook-Sather (2014) Student-faculty partnership in explorations of
pedagogical practice: a threshold concept in academic development, International Journal for Academic Development, 19:3, 186-198, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2013.805694
I love using self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) as a framework against which I check all teaching I develop. Is it even possible for students to feel competence, autonomy, relatedness in the environment I am building, or what can I tweak to create conditions in which these contritions for feeling intrinsically motivated are more easily met? Recently, I have taken on a Students as Partners (SaP) approach, and then came across the article by Kaur & Noman (2020) that looks at SaP through the lens of self-determination theory.
The authors take the three categories and divide them into six themes: Autonomy is described as both agency (as having the real chance of contributing and shaping the learning process) and choice; competence is about gaining confidence and thus acting more confidently, as well as being challenged and rising to the challenge. Relatedness is then about both the environment which is inviting and without anxiety, and meaningful, frequent, friendly and open interactions. They say that as a result of the intrinsic motivation that is made possible by meeting these conditions, student engagement will increase.
Looking at the data from two previous studies, the authors find that more than 3/4 of the students reported experiencing agency, which they linked very closely to agency and accountability beliefs of students. 2/3rds of the students also mention choice as very important: they had control of their learning and felt as if they were “the initiators of their learning”. For the category of competence, the results aren’t as strong: less than half of the students reports feeling confident, and less than a third felt challenged. On relatedness, 3/4 of the students report feeling connected and in a warm environment, and almost half of the students felt that they had more meaningful interactions with their teachers.
So what does this mean, and how does it help us? I was most curious about seeing how the authors brought self-determination theory and students as partners together. The numbers themselves are interesting in so far that they tell us something about the two specific courses, but whether or not students feel, for example, appropriately challenged will depend on a lot more factors than on whether or not they are learning as partners, like on the subject, their level of previous knowledge, the actual tasks they are working on, etc.. Just because someone uses students as partners as their framework doesn’t mean that it is implemented perfectly (as with any other framework or method, actually). Also we don’t have anything to compare this to — maybe that’s how students feel about any course, regardless of whether they are partners or not? But I think thinking about self-determination theory in more detail, i.e. what are the different aspects that could contribute to feeling competence, autonomy, and relatedness, and what could help or hinter them, and which of these are more important than others, is useful for improving my teaching practice.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.
Kaur, A., & Noman, M. (2020). Investigating students’ experiences of Students as Partners (SaP) for basic need fulfilment: A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 17(1), 8.
I’ve been a fan of working with rubrics for a long time, but somehow I don’t seem to have blogged about it. So here we go!
Rubrics are basically tables of learning outcomes. The rows give different criteria that are to be assessed, and then performance at (typically three) different levels is described. Below, I’ll talk about the benefits that working with rubrics have for both teachers and students, and give two concrete examples of how we used them and why that was helpful.
One example of where I was really glad we did have a rubric is the project that Torge and I collaborated on: We bought four cheap setups for rotating tank experiments and designed a course around making otherwise really unintuitive and difficult to observe concepts not only visible, but manipulating them in order to gain a deeper understanding. We had written down a rubric pre-corona, but when we went into lockdown in March 2020, having the rubric helped us a lot in quickly figuring out how to transfer a very much hands-on course online. Since we had clearly identified the learning outcomes, it became very easy to think of alternative ways to teach them virtually. The figure above shows part of the rubric, and circled in red is the only learning outcome in that selection (of a lesson that we thought was all about the hands-on experience!) that wasn’t just as well taught virtually. But looking closely at the rubric, we realised that the students did not actually need to necessarily do the rotating experiments themselves, as long as they were doing some kind of experiment themselves to practice conducting experiments following lab instructions. With the rubric, we had a checklist of “this is what they need to be able to do at the end of class” to directly convert into activities. We ended up with me showing the rotating experiments from my kitchen, while the students were doing non-rotating experiments, using only readily available household items, from their homes. Without the very explicit learning outcomes in our rubric, converting the course would probably been a lot more difficult.
Kjersti shares an example of how she “negotiated” rubrics in her GEOF105 class to co-create it with her students:
The goal is to invite students to negotiate an assessment rubric for written assignments. We have tested this out in the following way:
The two criteria most students voted to weight stronger, were the structure of the lab report and the reflection part. I suspect they wanted more points for the structure partly because it is not too difficult, but also because they spend much time figuring out how a lab report should look. I also found it interesting that they wanted more points for reflection. Last year we asked the students to write a reflection paragraph that would not be assessed. We thought it would be stressful for the students to write the reflection knowing it would be evaluated. But, I guess we were wrong!
They also wanted more point for making/discussing hypothesis, using good illustrations and relating the experiment tank to the Earths geometry — all of which are objectively difficult parts of the lab report.
We found two main results after using the negotiated rubric:
We think the students achieved higher scores because they spent more time getting acquainted with the rubric before writing their assignments and could use it more constructively as a checklist.
So those are our experiences with using rubrics. How about you? We’d love to hear from you!
Participation in shared production of artefacts is a great way to learn in a community, because putting things on paper (or, as we will see later, on online slides or physical whiteboards) requires a clearer articulation of the topic of discussion, and a level of commitment to a shared meaning (Wenger, 1998). We give two examples of methods we like to use, and then a trick to break up roles in student groups so it is not always the same person taking notes or reporting back to the group.
One of Kjersti‘s favourite teaching techniques is the use of whiteboards, especially in GEOF105, a second-year course introduction to oceanography and meteorology (see many examples of great student artefacts on her Twitter; and multiple-choice questions to support discussions as her other favourite method here).
For in-person teaching with group discussions and exercises, the groups can draw or write their main results on portables whiteboards (best trick: Picture frames with just white paper behind the glass! Very cheap, very effective. Great idea, Elin!). When the students are asked to document their results on a whiteboard, they need to be concrete and agree on the level of details they provide.
In our GEOF105 course in undergraduate oceanography, we use many sketching exercises. We find that the sketching exercises provide many positive aspects:
Below, you see an example of one group’s work on coastal up- and downwelling on the Northern vs Southern hemisphere (note the use of appropriate animals to illustrate the hemisphere ;-))
But this type of negotiating of meaning can also happen in a virtual space. We have used shared online slides during group work in both digital and in-person teaching. The slides provide an easy way to provide figures and questions the groups can work on, and you can also add one slide for each group where they write down a summary of their discussion or answers key questions. The sharing of online slides and collaborative writing on them provides several opportunities:
Anecdotal evidence, but students that are asked “which ice cube will melt faster, the one in salt water or the one in freshwater?” without also being asked to sketch the mechanism they base their answer on, almost always get it wrong (or right only for the wrong reasons). This year’s class all came to the correct response based on the correct mechanism (see below)!
Group dynamics can be tricky, and groups very easily fall into pattern that might engage students very unequally. To facilitate shared responsibility for taking notes, sticking to the topic of discussion, or reporting back from group work, you can assign and re-assign the roles based on semi-random criteria. For in-person teaching, you can use their birthday (e.g. birthday closest to Christmas, or ’today’), or other semi-random information to distribute roles. In online teaching, you can also use the students’ physical location as a criterion. You can, for instance, ask the student located furthest south/north/east/west to report back from the group. The students will need to first figure out who is responsible for each role and then follow through with that. Great icebreaker, and not always the same person taking notes or reporting back!
I’ve been talking about the importance of leaving room for topics that students are really interested in for a long time. Today, I want to tell you about my first experience with this:
Back in 2012, in my first year teaching the “introduction to oceanography course”, a student came up to me after the first lesson and told me that she had a part-time job in a company that builds oceanographic instrumentation: She had spotted one of the instruments the company sells on one of the slides with research cruise pictures that I had shown for motivation and could add some details on how it works. I was obviously excited to hear about her experiences and asked a couple of questions, so after a short conversation about how we both thought that knowing about practical aspects of how measurements are done is super excited, she invited us to a guided tour in her company.
A couple of weeks later, the whole class went on an excursion — with packed lunches and the whole class-trip feeling — and my student’s line manager and the student herself gave us a tour of the company. We got to see a presentation as well as doing a tour of the labs. Especially the labs were cool: My student was wearing the special kind of shoes that allowed her to walk wherever she liked, but the rest of us had to stay within narrow walkways that were marked on the floor with yellow tape so as to not bring any electric signals too close to sensitive instrumentation (or something like this, this was a loooong time ago!). And we got to see how the kind of instruments were produced that we would use on our own student cruise in this course only weeks later!
Even though I can’t remember the technical details of what we were told there (but I DO remember how they had different standards to calibrate turbidity meters with and I thought that was sooo fascinating), I vividly remember the excitement of the class, but most importantly the pride of the student who got to show us her company. The next year we went back with the next class I taught, and it was again exciting, but there was something really special about making time and going to the hassle of driving out to visit the company of one of the peers in the class.
So what I try to do now is to create this excitement and feeling of relevance because we are talking about something that came from within the group of students, by opening up opportunities where I explicitly ask for suggestions. I reserve parts of the class specifically for whatever students want to talk about, and whenever students show a special interest in a topic, I am happy to re-arrange my plans to make time for whatever is on their mind. This does get me the occasional “the red thread of this class wasn’t always clear” comment in evaluations, but I think it is so worth it (also I’m working on making the red thread clear when I return to it after any detour I might take to follow student interest ;-)).
What do you think? Have you tried this and what were your experiences?