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By Nick Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Law, FBL

I was at a meeting of people involved in various ways in staff development of lecturers and as we as an institution had adopted Active Blended Learning (ABL) as the ‘new normal’ I found myself asking in our break-out group: “ABL WTF?” The response was roughly along the lines of “it’s what you do Nick” and several conversations later I was invited to write this blog post about what I do in the classroom and why.

Firstly, one of the most important answers to the why I teach the way I do is because I enjoy doing it this way and it works well for me and what I teach. I certainly don’t think it’s better than other approaches and I don’t know if it would work for every tutor or every subject.

So, I know what works for me now but it was a long journey. I started teaching the way I was taught within the straight-jacket of institutional policy where I then worked, we had a lecture then a seminar every week for ever every module. The lecture was recorded on VHS tapes and stored in the library, the technology meant I had to use PowerPoint and stand stock still behind the lectern. The hour-long seminars I inherited required that in week 1 we asked the students to read chapter 1 of the assigned text, week 2 was chapter 2 and so on. Students were instructed to answer roughly 10 questions and bring hard copies of their answers. I ran a tight ship, students who turned up unprepared were told to leave – my classroom was an exclusive space for the students that were the easiest to teach. We had roughly 5 minutes on each question then left, job done.

Later in my career, at a different institution, I sat in a staff meeting listening to colleagues report that the foundation students had “gone feral” – a chair had been thrown, a lecturer threatened and they simply would not sit down in two straight rows, shut up and listen as wisdom was dispensed. Of course they wouldn’t, despite being bright and capable and having gone through 13 years of formal education they were in the foundation year because they hadn’t achieved the two D’s necessary to enter straight onto the degree programme. Bored with PowerPoint I found myself eagerly volunteering with a colleague to take on these students who we were to later find out were some of the brightest, most enthusiastic students we’d ever had the pleasure of teaching.

One student in feedback tagged our efforts ‘sneaky teaching’ because without realising it they were learning, we tagged it ‘learning by doing’ and at validation the external panel members commended it. In one module the students formed political parties and competed to be elected, in another they witnessed a train wreck and were the lawyers trying to support the victims, at the end arguing before the European Court of Human Rights that one client had the right to die. We didn’t tell them anything, clients sent letters, senior partners sent emails and we patiently waited for them to ask us to direct them to a source or take through a topic area. That we learn best by doing is nothing new, the Ancient Greek philosophers key principle was that dialogue generates ideas from the learner: “Education is not a cramming in, but a drawing out”1. I came to Northampton burning with a passion to get my students learning by doing because it works and because it engages many students who have been excluded by traditional schooling.

I had started out teaching some more practical topic areas so the ‘doing’ was quite easy to work out but last week I found myself in a first-year workshop dealing with the issues of the nature of law and specifically feminist and queer theory approaches. It was when discussing how that had gone that I was asked to write down how I had done it.

The session needed to get the students to grasp that there are different critical voices within (and outside of) feminism and to get to grips with the skill of applying different perspectives to the law – what they applied the law to was less important. The workshop was two hours long and there were three questions to discuss, we ran out of time in every session and every session was completely different. I could have worried about equality of learner experience, ensuring every student in every session got an identical set of correct notes, and in my younger days I would have done, but my students did get equality of learner experience. They got to choose the lenses through which we discussed the issues, for example one group focused on issues of consent and sexual touching in a social setting, another on the lack of diversity in the judiciary and another on whether the dominant narratives around immigration were racist. It was relevant to all of them rather than just those who related to the lens I would have chosen which would likely be white, male and straight.

The biggest challenge is letting go and empowering students to find their own way through the issues, generating authentic knowledge which may be different from or even challenge my knowledge. Practically it also involves what I dubbed in chats ‘double thinking’, keeping two chains of thought going at once. One half of my brain is following the students journey, sometimes disappearing down the rabbit hole, whilst the other is focused on what we need to cover and trying to keep an overview of the topic all the time working out what questions I need to throw out to keep the two tracks running in the same direction – if I lose the latter the session suddenly loses any sense of direction and this disengages my students. It’s more challenging and more tiring than how I used to teach, but I believe it is a better, more inclusive experience for my students. I wonder what I’ll be doing 10 years from now and how critical I’ll be of what I do today?

 

1Clark, D., ‘Socrates: Method Man’ Plan B [online] http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Socrates [accessed 4 October 2013 @ 14:37]

 

This post is one in a series of ABL Practitioner Stories, published in the countdown to Waterside. If you’d like us to feature your work, get in touch: LD@northampton.ac.uk

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By Samantha Read, Lecturer in Marketing, FBL

Taking an active blended learning approach to the delivery of my Advertising module for the BA Marketing Management Top-Up programme has enabled me to enhance traditional ways of teaching the subject material for students to make constructive links between areas of learning and engage with theory in a fun and collective way.

Traditionally, I presented the students with a lecture-style presentation of the history of advertising, drawing on examples from the past and present to illustrate how advertising practices have changed over time. The subject material by its very nature is fascinating, from uncovering secrets behind Egyptian hieroglyphics to discussing implications of the printing press and debating the impact of the digital environment on advertising. Yet, without the ability to transport students back in time, it felt as if they were not fully able to appreciate the momentous changes that have taken place within advertising over the years.

Example posters on the History of Advertising

Example posters on the History of Advertising

To support the students in learning about the history of advertising this academic year, taking an active blended learning approach, I used a jigsaw classroom technique to facilitate a whole class timeline activity. Before the session, all students were asked to bring in their own device. Following an initial introduction in to the importance of reflecting on the development of advertising over time, I divided the class into seven groups of three or four students. Each group was then given just one piece of the timeline and had 30 minutes to research the implications of that section of history on advertising practice. This included ‘Advertising and Ancient Egypt’, ‘Advertising and the Roman Empire’, ‘The Printing Press was invented’, ‘The development of Billboards’, ‘Radio was invented’, ‘Television was invented’ and ‘The internet was invented’. Students were then given some suggestions of reliable sources where they could go online to research their given time frame and the importance of using these sources and referencing them was stressed.

History of Advertising in the classroom

History of Advertising in the classroom

Whilst the students worked together in their groups to research and construct a one-page A3 poster on flipchart paper outlining their key findings, I circulated the room to check understanding of the research process and the content. This was particularly important as the majority of the students in the class are international students and unfamiliar with UK advertising practices or some terms that they were coming across. I was also able to check the students’ enjoyment of the task and to ensure that everyone in the group was happy to get involved. In contrast to a large lecture style format, the ABL workshop centred on each individual and their specific progression throughout the workshop session.

History of Advertising Timeline

History of Advertising Timeline

Upon completion of their A3 poster, each group was instructed to peg their work to the washing line timeline I had attached to the back wall by fitting their time frame within the correct historical period. This ‘active’ jigsaw part of the session not only served a purpose to physically place each time period within its context, but also kept the students engaged in a whole class activity; the success of the timeline ultimately rested with all groups contributing. Once all of the assigned time slots were attached to the washing line, each group selected a member of their group to come to the back of the class to explain their key research findings in relation to the significance of their given time period to the development of advertising throughout history. Having a physical timeline to work with helped sustain the students’ interest in the task and the students themselves were able to make links between each other’s posters, adding to their own and others’ knowledge and understanding.

To ‘blend’ this session to the online environment and subsequently in to the next week’s workshop focusing on the nature of advertising in society, students were asked to complete a survey on NILE which compared print and TV toothpaste advertisements over time. They were also asked to reflect in their online journal on any similarities and differences between the UK based ads included in the survey and those from their home countries. Tutor support and feedback was given on this exercise to ensure that knowledge was accurately embedded and contextualised. Students were also asked to collect three examples of advertisements that they came across over the course of the week as a starting point for a semiotic exercise at the beginning of the next workshop.

Overall, I found the jigsaw classroom technique worked extremely well as part of an ABL approach to teaching the history of advertising. Rather than passively taking in knowledge as I had previously witnessed when delivering this session in the past, there was a real buzz in the classroom. The students were all invested in working together to complete their part of the timeline and were even taking photographs of their completed work. One important aspect of facilitating learning for me is providing opportunities for creativity both in the classroom and online, and taking an ABL approach certainly allows for that.

This post is the first in a new series of ABL Practitioner Stories, published in the countdown to Waterside. If you’d like us to feature your work, get in touch: LD@northampton.ac.uk

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Denise Creisson a Project Management Lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Law recently produced a Xerte poster for the FBL Christmas Showcase held on 2 December 2016.

Denise attended Xerte training on 11 August 2016 with Anne Misselbrook the Content Developer at the University, and has been using Xerte e-learning software to produce interactive content for some of the online delivery of BUS2017 Information Technology for Business.

Take a look at the poster created by Denise below.  You can download the PDF version of the Xerte Poster

Xerte Poster created by Denise Creisson, Faculty of Business and Law

Xerte Poster created by Denise Creisson, Faculty of Business and Law

 

 

 

Emma Rose briefly outlines her experiments with Flipped Classroom techniques and what the benefits have been.

 

Students take individual readiness assurance tests, then take the same test as a group. The group use the trademarked Instant Feedback Assessment Technique, essentially scratchcards, so they immediately know if they got the right answer. By assessing the students’ readiness to move on to application exercises we should be able to address gaps in learning early on.

‘Getting Started with TBL’ by Larry K. Michaelson is available here: https://www.med.illinois.edu/FacultyDev/Classroom/InteractiveMethods/Michaelson.pdf

For more information about this assessment, please contact Nick Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in International Commercial Law (Nick.Cartwright@northampton.ac.uk)

This case study is taken from the Institute of Learning and Teaching’s 2015 publication ‘Outside the Box Assessment and Feedback Practices’, available from the University’s Assessment and Feedback portal.

In LAW3019 (European and International Human Rights Law) assessment is by coursework. The first essay (40%) is a set question analysing technical aspects of treaty law. The remainder of the assessment is a research project split into an individual presentation (20%) and an essay (40%).

Students are free to choose their topic, as long as it broadly relates to a current human rights issue. This year, students covered a diverse range of topics including Australian asylum policy and law, extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects, forced marriage, and discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

The feedback from the students has been positive as this allows them to research a topic of particular interest to them, sometimes linking into other modules studied, sometimes to outside interests and future career plans. The external examiner has commented at last year’s exam board and in her report on the creative and topical nature of the assessment. In terms of key skills, the assessment facilitates the development of higher level skills in relation to research, analysis, and written and oral communication.

For more information about this assessment, please contact Kirstie Best, Subject Leader in Law (Kirstie.Best@northampton.ac.uk)

This case study is taken from the Institute of Learning and Teaching’s 2015 publication ‘Outside the Box Assessment and Feedback Practices’, available from the University’s Assessment and Feedback portal.

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“First year BA Advertising are given a live brief to deliver. Last year it was wrapping a taxi – see article here http://www.northampton.ac.uk/news/advertising-students-
take-part-in-a-taxi-wrap-challenge-to-promote-the-university-of-northampton
.

This year they are working on developing a Mascot for the University and using it in a number of promotional situations, such as a Saints game or an awards ceremony. Next year, it will be something different. The main point is that it is real and they have to deliver everything from pitching for funding, through to execution.

I refer to the assessment as ‘Reportage’. A group report documents the steps in the process, with an emphasis on the role their team played. Also, this piece of work includes an individual reflection. I’m not sure that it is earth-shattering in terms of process, but it is authentic, very organic (full of challenge and uncertainty) and the student feedback has been very good”.

For more information about this assessment, please contact Kardi Somerfield, Senior Lecturer in Marketing (Kardi.Somerfield@northampton.ac.uk)

This case study is taken from the Institute of Learning and Teaching’s 2015 publication ‘Outside the Box Assessment and Feedback Practices’, available from the University’s Assessment and Feedback portal.

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In this case study, Louise Atkinson, Research Teaching Assistant in NBS, discusses how she has developed a NILE Organisation for her personal tutees for consistent non-academic communication.  Using it as a pilot during academic session 13-14, she further shares how she would like to develop this approach and use it with other staff within her School.

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Liam Fassam, Lecturer in Operations Management in NBS, has recently been using the Socrative student response system as part of a deliberate effort to increase learner engagement with the subject and provide formative feedback . Liam made a conscious decision to use the beta.socrative.com platform rather than the Socrative app to ensure an easy and quick in-class response. From an initial trial of this software, he has since begun using it on a weekly basis, having found the process so simple and straightforward that the time it takes him to pre-load up to 20 questions for use at the start of a session is down to around 10 minutes.

Initially looking for technology that could be used in the classroom in a way that he believed would be aligned to the demands of modern students, Liam has benefited more widely from this approach as he can obtain weekly analytics that enables him to evaluate student progress and build up a clearer picture over time. Conducting the quiz in groups provides a level of safety for students who may feel unsure as to their understanding or who are uncomfortable with the idea of identifying themselves on an individual basis. This also overcomes any potential accessibility issues within the classes. The group aspect has also given rise to some healthy in-class competition which he likens to a ‘football league’ feeling where groups are vying to be top of the league.

In addition to the MCQ approach, Liam also uses Socrative on an ad-hoc basis to get a feel for student opinion on a related topic.  Where a show of hands around a controversial topic might not produce as accurate a response as he might have hoped for, the anonymity of the Socrative approach serves to overcome fears of potential exclusion or isolation on the basis of ‘non-PC’ answers.

So, what’s the catch?  Well, at the moment Liam has experienced no technological glitches or difficulties, but that may be because he has only used it on-campus in Northampton where students have access to digital technology and a strong wifi connection. He would like to introduce its use off-campus, engaging his online learners around the world, but is aware that they may well experience bandwidth issues.  Another plan is to look at ways of embedding it into NILE.

His advice for those who are interested in trying this out? Just do it! And if you do, be consistent because once you start, your students won’t want you to stop! In short, beta.socrative.com is a really good tool for subject-matter validation and Liam was genuinely surprised at the level of learner engagement and acceptance.

So if you are looking for a quick polling tool that makes use of devices already owned and brought to class by your learners, then why not give this a try?

Last December, Economics Lecturer at NBS, Dr Kevin Deane, took the unusual step of abandoning 4 weeks of his timetabled lecture programme and replacing it with a group exercise culminating in an academic poster exhibition (see this blog posting for more details!)

The exhibition was a real success, particularly for a first-time event, as evidenced by the comments from the students and other NBS staff who attended the exhibition.  That said, Kevin has some definite changes and improvements he would introduce next time around.  But, in these days of NSS scores and working to improve the student experience, the big question to be answered is … what did the students think?

Generally, their reflections mirrored those of Kevin himself.  Apart from an appreciation of the refreshments (!) the following comments are worth mentioning in response to the question of what was good about the task:

  • One student responded by saying that the good thing was the “big range of information exchanged and displayed, very insightful. Food was good, getting tutors and guests involved.”
  • Another enjoyed the fact that they didn’t have the pressure of an assessed assignment.
  • “People did them relatively well. Rewards were good incentive”.
  • Another student commented that it “was a great insight into a variety of economists.  It provided me with a better understanding of these economists and their philosophies.”

There were some technical hitches on the day of the exhibition itself.  In particular, Kevin had been expecting the room to be ready when he and his students arrived, but an error in communication meant that an hour was lost having to set up the exhibition boards.  This did have a significant knock-on effect for students as the first hour of the session was lost.  This had been scheduled for a student-student presentation of each of the posters, which would have provided the primary opportunity for students to learn about those other economists being studied by their peers.

The following student comments on what could be done differently/better mirror Kevin’s own reflections.  Specifically, the students were keen that copies of the other posters were circulated – something Kevin had already planned to do.  This is of particular importance pedagogically – where students are creating and generating module content which forms one jigsaw piece of the whole picture, ensuring that each student has access to the full and final picture is essential.  Another comment was that it was rightly considered unfair that some students were asked to produce posters on economists that had already been studied in class whereas others were starting from scratch.  Looking ahead, Kevin would ensure this didn’t happen again and recognises that it was purely circumstantial, arising from the decision to move away from lecturing to the poster exhibition after the lectures had begun. In itself, this was engendered by student feedback indicating that the lecture approach to this topic was dry and uninteresting.

One final comment worth addressing directly was that students considered the poster to be “too much extra, [it was] not part of our course.”  This feedback reflected a failure to appreciate that this poster wasn’t actually ‘extra’ work per se, rather a change in the way the module content was being taught. In future, Kevin would draw attention to the fact that the requirements of producing a poster are no more onerous in terms of the expected study time than indicated in the module spec: 4 students per group x 3 hours per week of independent study x 3 weeks = 36 student study hours per poster.

Other negative comments included the following:

  • It was a lot of work, for no obvious reward in terms of assessment.
  •  Lack of assessment meant no incentive to produce high quality.
  • Doing a poster on one subject was limiting.
  • Some people didn’t even go.

Having allowed time for both his personal and the students reflections, the following changes would, Kevin believes, improve the exercise next time around:

  • Ensuring that the dedicated time for student-student presentations is preserved to ensure that all students receive the benefit of the work done by other groups and learn about all the economists studied in the module
  • Explicitly recognise the focus that students place on assessment and grades and therefore turn the task into the first assessment for the module and run it earlier in the academic year when students were not under pressure to complete assessment tasks for other modules
  • Ensure that the key points are captured in a summary ‘timeline’ lecture that places them all in context.

Probably the biggest objection he has to overcome is the idea that this task placed an additional burden on students and this really boils down to managing their expectations more explicitly. A clearer explanation and on-going reminder that the poster itself should be the final product of 36 student study hours (9 per student) would go a long way to removing this objection and engendering in students the realisation that this level of work and time investment is, ultimately, what they are at University for!