Wednesday, October 3, 2012

(19) Week 8: Active Learning

We are progressing well in developing our digital literacies, with only one to go!We will spend four weeks on CREATING, as it is so key. And will be the most fun!

In preparation, it is useful to think about how learning occurs, so we can design effective learning and assessment tasks that ensure students develop the skills they need as graduates.

Historically, teaching at universities has consisted primarily of lecturing. The origin of the word lecture is from the Latin lectus: to read. This method of instruction was developed in the Middle Ages and before, when there were few books and few people who could read.

Image used with permission, Penn State University

While lecturing is a useful method for explaining concepts, it is not the best way to help students learn, practice and develop the skills they will need as graduates. 

Constructive Alignment

In the late 1990's, in his last year before retirement, Professor John Biggs, an Australian psychologist, had an epiphany - described here- that in practice, students don't learn what teachers expect them to learn, they learn "what they perceive the task to demand of them" (Biggs, 1996). Knowledge is therefore not created through transmission, but through the learner's activity

It is what the student does that matters in learning, not what teachers say.

This means that our role is changing; from primarily lecturer to designing learning and facilitating learning.
Biggs and Tang then developed the framework of  Constructive Alignment to guide university teachers in the design of learning and assessment. You may wish to watch this brief video that explains the concept of Constructive Alignment.

In Constructive Alignment, the learning activities and assessment tasks are designed to align with the learning outcomes.
This means:
(1) the verbs we use in the Learning Outcomes are what should be assessed.
(2) the students will be taught and practice that skill so they have the opportunity to develop that skill. 
(3) the content is not assessed, the achievement of the learning outcomes is.

Here is an example of an unaligned assessment task: students write an essay on coaching or nutritional counselling. In this case, the assessment task does not align with the skills of coaching and counselling. The student is practicing something that bears little relationship to the skills they will need to be an effective counsellor or coach. And they are not practicing or showing evidence of the skills and sub-skills required. 
What would be a well aligned assessment task that would evaluate the students' achievement of the learning outcome required to be an effective coach or counsellor?

Active Learning and Neuroscience

Developments in research in cognitive neuroscience and educational psychology in the last decade have also shed light on how learning occurs.

Howard Rheingold
   summaries our current understanding that adults learn by
1.       constructing their own understanding based on their prior knowledge, experiences, skills, attitudes, and beliefs
2.        following a learning cycle of exploration, concept formation, and application
3.       connecting and visualizing concepts and multiple representations
4.       discussing and interacting with others
5.       reflecting on their progress

Further evidence indicates that adults learn best when:
6.       the task is sufficiently challenging to be interesting and engaging
7.       learners receive sufficient feedback, guidance and scaffolding to ensure success (anxiety impedes learning)
8.      learners have the opportunity to receive feedback
9.      learners assess their own performance and that of others

SO, the questions we can ask are
  1.  To what extent is our teaching practice, like our research practice, evidence-based
  2. Do we design students’ learning using one or more of the above approaches?
  3. Can we further enhance the rigour of our teaching practice to ensure our students are being provided the best, most effective opportunities to learn?
There are many active learning approaches that reflect these approaches already in use in SENS. For example:
  • the use of clickers in lectures to surface, challenge and build on students’ prior knowledge
  • discussing and interacting with others in tutorials and prac classes
  • application of learning in placements
  • reflecting on their progress in reflective journal tasks
  • and many of the above approaches are used in Team Based Learning.

So this week we will design a task using Constructive Alignment and Active Learning principles to ensure students achieve the learning outcome. 

Below are a set of steps that will take you through this process. It should take about 30 mins. You may wish to work on your own, or with a colleague you teach with. You may wish to design or redesign a task in a Unit you currently teach.

Record your answers in a Word document then copy and post it in the blog comment area below this post.

Here are the four steps:

STEP 1. Write the Learning outcome

The characteristics of a good learning outcome are:
·         It refers to a specific skill or knowledge performed by a professional in the discipline
·         It needs to be observable. How you can see that a student has this skill?
·         It needs to specify a performance level.

Bad example
“Thinking critically”. This is too vague.
Bad example: “Researching the literature on health promotion programs”. This does not specify a performance level.
Good example: Researching health promotion program approaches in order to   select the best to implement for a particular cohort.

STEP 2: List the sub-skills
What are the sub-skills students need to successfully perform this task? This can be challenging to break down and identify as for you the process is so familiar.
(It is like asking what are the sub-skills in playing a tennis forehand. Ask an experienced tennis player this - they may miss some of the the sub-skills involved and forget that that ball-watching, backlift, wrist turning, follow-through, balance, visualising and consideration of fashion are all vital J )

Bad example:
Essay introduction, Method, Results, Conclusion. (These are task components, not skills.)
Bad example: Research thoroughly, write well. (The skills and the performance levels are both too vague).
Good example:
(a)    Research online resources and databases to locate relevant and high quality information.
(b)   Know  the advantages and levels of effectiveness of health behaviour change programs in various contexts.
(c)    Select the best health behaviour change program to achieve the program goals within the specified context.

STEP 3: Design the learning experience

What will students be doing to learn each sub-skill?

  • Is this a task that requires individual reflection or privacy, and is therefore better if students perform the task on their own?  Or is it a task that is complex and requires discussion and diversity of perspectives, so would be more effective if done in small groups? OR should students begin on their own then pool their resources and ideas?
  • What activities can you design to ensure students practice with feedback several times in increasingly complex contexts?Refer to the Active learning list above
  • What assistance or scaffolding  are needed to ensure all students’ can achieve mastery? This may be resources or people (including peers, placement colleagues, or other members of the students’ personal learning network.
  • How can students perform or demonstrate each sub-skill to ensure they have successfully mastered it?
  • Who will provide feedback – the student or their peers? Placement supervisors or colleagues? Members of the students’ personal learning network? Tutors and Lecturers? (Peer feedback is particularly useful when all students are completing the same task, and when they have a good understanding of the rubric.) 

STEP 4: Design an assessment that provides evidence of students’ achievement of the learning outcome.
  • Does the task measure the intended learning outcome?
  • Is there some choice in the way students demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcome?
  • Is there an opportunity for each student to reflect on or receive feedback?
  • Have the students had the opportunity to consider and demonstrate their understanding of how this assessment task is preparing them for their professional role?

Please post your Task design in the blog comments below. This may also be useful in your Course Design discussions.

You also may wish to comment on the framework above - is it useful? Can you suggest changes?


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1 comment:

  1. I wrote this is for HSE101 Principles of Exercise and Sport Science

    Step 1. The learning outcome:
    • Understand the role of Biomechanics in the Exercise and Sport Science profession.

    Step 2. Sub-skills (there are more sub-skills than those listed below)
    • Understand what Biomechanics is
    • Understand the basics of kinematics (definitions, concepts)
    • Remember some basic equations of motion
    • Know how to apply an equation to solve problem

    Step 3. Learning experience

    • What an online video that introduces what Biomechanics is (some definitions, concepts and examples, ~10 min)
    • Answer two questions about the video and bring to lecture
    • A factual question to simply reinforce memory about something fundamental
    • An understanding question to challenge and use as a re-engagement tool at the start of the lecture

    • Starts with an explanation of what will be done in this lecture
    • Presentation and explanation of a diagram that shows how/where Biomechanics fits into all of the sub-disciplines of Exercise & Sport Science
    • Discussion of the questions about the video (to and between students). Use of Audience Response System (ARS, aka clickers or an app) to poll the group about their answers to the questions, followed by a discussion about the answers
    • Presentation of a kinematics question/problem to students
    • Presentation of most of the information they need (builds on video) to provide a solution
    • 5 min to discuss the solution in small groups (ad hoc peer feedback)
    • Poll the audience using ARS
    • Presentation of a wrong solution and supportive discussion about why it’s wrong (feedback), then the right solution/s. Questions
    • Optional: poll the audience about whether to re-explain some complex issues or move on

    • Some individual work on similar problems to serve as practice and demonstrate individual mastery
    • Peer assessment/feedback of work

    Step 4. Assessment
    • An assignment would be best, but given the constraints of this unit it will have to be exam questions.
    • Questions to assess remembering of important definitions/facts
    • Questions to assess understanding of how to apply an equation of motion to solve a problem