Top tips on saving time and helping students get work done!
Jenni Rose (Senior Lecturer in Accounting and one of the University’s Teachers of the Year 2020) shared a video in which she demonstrated some of the blended learning tools that had worked really well for her last year and detailed some of the ways in which she organised her Blackboard spaces to help students manage their workload. Colleagues have found this 11 minute video to be clear and helpful, and we particularly like Jenni’s discussion of how students responded to the changes. We wanted to share it with you on TEA and find out a little more about Jenni’s perspective on this development work.
What led you to try out the specific changes you outline in your video?
In all honesty – receiving lots and lots of emails! With up to 600 students on a course, I found I was getting a large number of emails with similar basic queries from students, who often didn’t feel clear on what they needed to do. The back and forth that was needed to help clear things up (and the sheer volume of email traffic) meant this wasn’t a great way to give students the clarity they were seeking, so I wanted to try to tackle this by making my course information as clear as possible. It was also to help ensure they did the work – being absolutely clear on what they were expected to do before a lecture meant no discussion or debate needed on this once they joined the session!
What motivated you to share this work with colleagues?
I inaugurated Teaching Excellence Debriefs within my department, and a session in November 2020 turned into a discussion of concerns that students were often not completing the work they had been set ahead of a lecture. I explained the approach I’d started taking, and the positive response this had had from students (who were now so keen on the structured approach I’d set up on Blackboard that they got a bit upset if I introduced something new in a session!). I produced the video to share more detail on what I’d done and how this had gone, in case this could help my colleagues tackle this issue and to give practical tips which worked in engaging students in a large cohort of over 600.
What are the key things students said they valued?
Students said that they found the Blackboard space was very well organised and that the information on necessary preparation helped them to feel clear on what they needed to do and to keep on track. Some students really liked the Piazza discussion boards, while others appreciated the quizzes and other interactive elements such as polls and Mentimeter word clouds, and the fact that these tools made them feel involved.
Has anything changed since you originally posted the video, either tech-wise or in your practice?
I tried out most of these approaches while teaching very big groups (300 to 600) in Semester 1. When teaching smaller groups in Semester 2 I relied less on these tools, as I felt confident that I could take a more personalised approach to engagement. On reflection, students would have benefited from integrating tools such as Mentimeter and interactive videos. Another teaching idea I really want to bring in more is nudged engagement, using techniques where students have to unlock things as they go through the course rather than providing everything up-front, such as having to participate in a Blackboard quiz in order to access suggested solutions. I did a little bit of this last academic year and I’m keen to do more of it; I’m working with Paul Middleditch from the Centre for Innovation and Pedagogy to explore this. I’m really committed to designing my teaching on active learning principles, and this can be a great way of getting students to engage. It would be great to hear from anyone who has tried more of this out about what they did and how it went – just get in touch if you’re happy to share!
On reflection, what would you say are your top tips?
Think really carefully about what you’re asking students to do. Be very explicit about your expectations and how it links into the rest of what they’re learning. Value the input and feedback that you get from your students and try to change things in response to this: if you can show you’ve done this, they will feel valued. I’ve found that knowing what’s expected of them and feeling valued are two vital parts of getting students excited about their learning, so whatever you can do to support these can really help.
If you try something new as a result of watching Jenni’s video and can feed back on how it worked, you can contact Jenni on Jennifer.Rose@manchester.ac.uk (please note that you will need to be logged in to the University of Manchester Video Portal in order to view this video). In her video Jenni also mentions the guidance on Piazza developed by Ralf Becker: you can find out more about this in his advice on how to use online discussion boards effectively.