Sunday, 13 May 2012

FL: Activity 5. Strategies for flexible Learning

FL: Activity 5. Strategies for flexible Learning

 ‘Symbols and Rituals’


This post has been adapted from an exercise I completed in CCEH…

The paper I teach basically looks at how Social Anthropology (SA) can be used to better understand the cultural context of clients and workplace settings in OT.  We explore this by looking at a variety of ‘themes’ including the example of Symbols and Rituals; firstly from a theoretical perspective, and then in the context of the students’ fieldwork placement which they do at the same time as this paper.
The ‘Symbol and Ritual’ theme is important to this course as it’s the first ‘chunky’ piece of SA that students start with. In terms of context, students have just returned from hui and this subject area is important to settle students into the broader disciplines of SA and OT. This part of the course is also important as at the end of the course, students have a choice to analyse this theme (as well as two others) for an assessment that is worth 50% of this paper.

In terms of this activity, what I want to look at is introducing an additional option within this theme of Symbols and Rituals:
  • to help students better understand Symbol and Ritual in the context of OT
  • to offer a chance for students to post an observation early on and receive feedback from me and their classmates (recognising the development of the relationship between students and with me as facilitator)
  •  to test the capabilities of students (i.e. is there a cohort of students who need technological support in interacting with Moodle) so this can be addressed, or are there a cohort of students not understanding this theme (i.e. could offer a focussed tutorial for those who want it?)
Design proposal:

One design part I would like to strengthen is to provide students with the opportunity for feedback. Currently there is no activity or tutorial in this part of the course for Symbols and Rituals which offers this opportunity. 

Last year I trialled the option of having online forums for 3 other themes whereby students were asked to post responses to how they were observing each theme within their OT placement. What I noticed was that students who participated in these forums developed stronger analytical understandings in their final assessment compared with those who did not. Many students also commented via the Student feedback gathered in 2011, that they found these online forums helpful for their final assessment as they were able to go back and re-read the discussions and my feedback. This in turn helped them frame up the more complex task of pulling three themes together at the end of the course.

What I would like to do is to include a discussion forum but instead incorporate a group activity. My idea is to have the students work in groups (of about 3 or 4)  and discuss with each other examples of symbols/rituals in their OT placement and post their comments online.
To help me work through this idea I completed Bronwyn’s Design Planning Matrix below: 


One area that will need to be sorted is how feedback will be offered. I am currently enjoying the group feedback given in the Flexible Learning paper I am doing, where Bronwyn gives an overall summary to the class with hyperlinks to specific students work (in this case a blog) highlighting key points each student has offered. I think this could work well as:
1. This is the first assessed discussion forum that students will post to, so by doing it in a group activity this will hopefully alleviate any anxieties about posting online and if they are not technologically secure in using forums, then their peers could also offer assistance.
2. Group feedback will encourage the class to learn from each other’s postings rather than solely from the facilitator.
Last year the forums were set up so I could easily mark them without students seeing these marks (but they could view their own). Last year I didn’t offer the students to post in groups on discussion forums because it meant that the posting can only be tied to one student’s marks. One idea I have to address this logistical challenge is for one student to upload the post and the others in the group to also post- but to refer the reader to the original post. In this way all the students from each group can generate an individual mark. I will liaise with ECD to work out if this can work.
The reason this forum is assessed is it was thought that it would generate a higher participation rate. This may not be the case however, so having some online forums that are not tied to assessment could also be explored as an option which means I do not have to incorporate the technological options of recording marks.

Mayer (2004). "Should There Be a Three-Strikes Rule Against Pure Discovery Learning?". American Psychologist 59 (1): 14–19.

Universal Design and inclusiveness in learning.

Universal Design and inclusiveness in learning.

I have just worked through the slideshow Bronwyn referred us to: Universal Design for Learning: A framework for access and equity. The slide on page 16 was very intimidating at first but as I worked through it, I could see lots of links which made me feel slightly better! The main theme of providing multiple means of; Representation, Action and Expression, and Engagement made me think about how my current course meets some of these goals. I thought these goals also related well to the other key concepts of  Access and Equity and Diversity and Inclusivity.

Access and Equity:
For me it comes down to knowing who your learners are before you start. As I mentioned in previous posts I have a chance to gather information about my students as my paper is in Semester 2. As we know students come with a range of skills and needs and it’s how these are both catered for that I think can help students to better engage. One year I had a student who could not cope with a lot of information at once. We were able to meet her needs by audio recording all workshops, offering her links to all slideshow materials and by offering additional 1:1 time for her. Additionally I had other students who wanted to move through the course at a fast rate- which was catered for by opening all Moodle weeks (as previously the were only opended from one week to the next) and I posted a section on moodle  that I told the students was purely options and for the ‘keen’ ones. This seemed to work well, and it allowed the students to progress through at their own pace.

This however isn’t the current situation for the cohort of students in Wintec. Their access to the online component of the course is ‘equitable’ as they do have access to Moodle and discussion forums that occur across the entire class, but we do not have any means of 1:1 time or online classes (yet?). The Face to face sessions still offer the ‘glue’ between the different pathways to learning. There have been a lot of technological and staffing challenges (which we still face).   Last year we had a Sociologist teach this course which was great as she came with a breadth of subject knowledge- which allowed her to confidently offer options to students in terms of engaging them with the course. An example would be looking at ‘representation’ – by having alternatives for decoding ‘jargon’ both her and I were able to offer this as we were able to pull apart complex theories or concepts. (Some of these options were done face to face however, we could also look at developing an online activity…?)

Diversity and Inclusivity
Acknowledging the diversity students bring while remaining inclusive is such a great challenge. I think a key example here would be when we go on our noho marae (overnight fieldtrip). We get the full range of capabilities and needs expressed by students and it is a careful balance between supporting and challenging students at the same time. The main idea is respect for each other, but it also includes being clear on expectations and also providing students a range of staff that they can go to for support. The OT school has had over a decade in providing this learning, and every year our team reflects on the process and look at how the experience can be better. What I really like about noho marae is it fully allows us to provide multiple means of action and expression. This is in terms of preparing to go on marae where we have a detailed online component (online book with key links) and interactive face to face workshops, to seminars including the actual experience of staying at a marae.  Another example of inclusive teaching is if a student is struggling with learning their mihi for example, we can offer 1:1 sessions, and also alternative strategies to help them. We also say to students it’s about having a go that counts!

Issues for access and equity
The major issue has been technology between the Otago and Wintec campuses which has at times limited access and/or equity for all students. There have been positive moves for 2012 with the purchase of the departments own video conferencing unit- so it would be good to explore options (it’s not clear about staff access to this for seminars/lectures yet).  There also may be a new staff member in Wintec who can teach this paper, however from what I understand this lecturer’s background is not in Social Anth. How the staff member can access key information and 1:1 time with me as  course coordinator so she feels well supported would also need to be determined and planned for.

What do learners need?
I have found that the learners I have had in this course do enjoy choice in terms of offering different ways to interact with the course. They also liked to have multiple pathways for engagement at key times (such as assessment) which means planning ahead for extra tutorials or face to face time. Another strong message is clear expectations so students do not have to guess if they are achieving in an area, but there is information that allows them to help determine where they are. This year we are exploring the options of redeveloping our marking sheets to better cater for this need.

Examples of Flexible Learning

Examples of Flexible Learning

Sorry for this late post, just catching up on a very busy month. First of all I did go visit and speak with two teachers.  I talked to an old colleague of mine in the Ministry of Education who is an Early Childhood teacher. Although some of the context of what we are learning in regard to a tertiary setting do not translate to an early childhood setting (graded assessment for example) what was interesting was some of her comments about the’ concept of flexibility’ and the ‘assessment of individual’ and ‘group needs’.

I didn’t record this session and I will not use her name however, I noted some key points which I will explore here briefly. Firstly she noted that early childhood education is all about flexibility. Many of our centres have routines in relation to developmental needs (such as kai time, sleep time), however for the learning environment they are continually assessing where children are at and what they can do to stimulate learning. Flexibility sits at the core of ‘Te Whariki’ – our national early childhood curriculum and it seems to be a great balance of allowing children’s individual learning to grow, while meeting the core learning themes within the curriculum. She also clearly articulated ‘who’ her students were and quickly moved from general descriptions (such as age, gender)  into different types of learners. She talked about children she remembered teaching who had strong language skills, to those who were frustrated beyond belief as their language came later for them. She gave one example of teaching children to sign to help them with this frustration.  What interested me was her story of how she felt upset when her son entered into mainstream school and the choice, or flexibility of the education programme diminished as he was ‘trained’ into the compulsory education system. 

This started me thinking about the times when we do have ‘flexibility’ and’ fixed’ types of learning and if we are taught how to recognise them, and how to make the most out of both types of methods. This then lead on to my other discussion with an OT colleague- Alexa who is the other course coordinator I am working with as we combine our papers for next year. I went and saw Alexa in regard to an activity for CCEH, and added this activity for FL into the conversation. This session was recorded and involved a great debate! It was over an hour long so I haven’t uploaded it, however after listening to the conversation I had with her I plotted our currently two separate courses using the table referred to in Casey & Wilson (2005). I thought it would be interesting to see how this might change over time as we critically evaluate and merge our papers.

(Please follow the link to my first attempt at using the table from Casey & Wilson (2005). I will go over this again with Alexa as we develop our new course in more detail.)


In terms of Flexibility both Alexa and I were fairly similar, however I think we sometimes confused ‘choice’ for example “…students can submit an assessment online or via hard copy”, with flexibility. Although choice is an important component of flexibility, I think it goes deeper than this as we have to make sure that the different components are aligned to support flexible options for better learning. For example, if some students submit assessments via online, and others via hardcopy do we have the technological and administrative support to cater for this, or are we at risk of ‘loosing’ some assessments which would undermine this choice? This is a simplistic example, but as we go forward we are trying to make sure any changes we put in place are 'doable' from an institutional and technological point of view as well as being learner centred.

Finally our discussion about ‘learners’ was great. Alexa is the ‘go to’ person for year 1 students so she knows them very well by the time I teach in second semester. We usually meet before I start teaching so she can alert me to any teaching/ learning needs that students have and also identify students who have asked for extra assistance.

Table from: Casey, J. & Wilson, P. (2005). A practical guide to providing flexible learning in further and higher education. Table 2.2 P.7 &8.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

CCEH: Development Ideas

1.      Existing learning activities critically reviewed – what works and what doesn’t.

I had an hour long conversation with Alexa as we took on the challenge of combining “Social Anthropology for Occupational Therapists” and “Concepts in Health”. We completed this activity in March, and luckily I recorded the session so I have had time to go back and listen to it again, reflecting on our discussion. We thought a good place to start would be to first describe to each other what our courses involved and the type of activities we employ to help students engage with key learnings.

Concepts in Health
What we discovered was for Alexa’s course, the title only explained a small part of her course. A large focus of this course is in the area of disabilities and how students are required to understand this perspective from reading an autobiography by a person who has a disability. They are also required to then use this autobiography and explore key health strategies (such as the disability strategy) and how this may help or inhibit quality of life for them.

The other key learning for me is the pace of this paper. This course has traditionally been a ‘5 point’ paper so its pace is slower and the learning focus has been an in-depth exploration into the area of disability.  The main delivery is blended through F2F tutorials where the students apply what they are reading in their autobiography each week to a health strategy and this is supplemented through Moodle packages that students can work through at their own pace.

At the end of the course is an 80% major assessment where they bring this all together based on the earlier submission of their plan (20%). This activity is an individual exercise.

For Alexa it seemed that the deeper understanding of people who have a disability is one of the key strengths of this paper. The practical reality of see how a health strategy impacts on us all, but in particular, people who have a disability is another area of key learning.

Social Anthropology for Occupational Therapists
The purpose of this paper is to look at how Social Anthropology can help us better understand people and culture in the context of OT. OT as a discipline is informed by other key disciplines such as Psychology, Kinesiology, and  Biology. Social Anthropology makes up one of these informing disciplines.  The main focus is understanding people and culture in New Zealand with a particular focus on more recent historical events post-Treaty of Waitangi. Historical events up to Treaty of Waitangi is covered in the first part of the course as we prepare students for their noho marae.

When we looked at existing areas for Social anthropology – there is a wide range of activities- they fall into :
·         Hui – Group activities including noho marae and Treaty of Waitangi workshop. Individual activity where each student looks at mihi. Currently not assessed
·         Online discussions – working through self directed packages via Moodle - individual.
·         Assignment 1- Activity is in groups, but the assignment is produced individually.
·         Assignment 2 – Activity is individual and assignment is produced individually
·         Final Presentation – Individual presentations.

The pace is very different in this paper. It is demanding as we cover a wide range of material, however all the assessments link to each other (like Alexa’s).
What works well is that we engage students in a range of debates and topics that allows them to gain skills and knowledge in how to become culturally capable OTs. They can clearly articulate the difference between culture, ethnicity, nationality in relation to people and to location (workplace/ groups). They also have to use reflective skills in looking at what they bring to the paper.

In terms of what ‘doesn’t work’, both Alexa and I have redeveloped our papers recently so that feedback from studnets about 'what hasn't work' has been 'worked on'. What may not work however, is how the new paper is combined. For example we don't want two different themes running side by side with no relationship between the learning, and we don't want students left with trying to work out how the different modules relate to one another within the new course.

2.      Proposed learning objects, media and activities are described, as well as the way in which they will be used.

For our new ‘combined’ paper- Alexa and I debated at length the purpose of this paper. We struggled with the idea of being told on one hand that this isn’t a re-write of the programme so we are just required to bring them together; alongside the other message to not ‘plonk’ our papers so one follows on from another. My other struggle is that because my paper is firmly situated in the theoretical discipline of SA- it was hard for me to understanding where the new paper was coming from. The new combined paper is called; “Concepts in Culture, Society and Health”. My question was what concepts are we using here? The new paper’s title had no mention of Social Anthropology or of Disability which are the two dominant themes in our papers.

What we have proposed is to keep the learning within the area of SA. OT school has clearly articulated that they want to keep this area as part of their ‘informing disciplines’ they offer at year 1, and to look at health and disability as a module within the overall paper.

Both Alexa and I agreed that this could be a way forward, however we are concerned that the different ‘pace’ of learning may be lost as Alexa’s paper becomes potentially squashed into 4 weeks instead of over 14 weeks. We are both flexible in the type of media/activities used and debated what alternatives we could explore. For example in 2013, it has been decided that Hui will be assessed- so I thought to cater for this the online discussions will not be assessed- but allowing students another option for engagement if they wanted. Alexa talked about using other media instead of an autobiography which wouldn’t require students as long to work through. For example, short stories, blogs, Youtube.

What we both struggled with however, is what we were prepared to loose with changing the structure. For example, I could change the requirement of Assignment 1 within my papers so that it becomes not assessed but an activity we do in a tutorial. I am reluctant to do so as from feedback from students, they found this one of the more rewarding assessments and it can be used for their future practice. Alexa was unsure if changing the media used for students to explore disabilities would mean that a deep level analysis would be lost.

We also discussed the sustainability of this paper- for example – are we asking too much of students in this paper?

To help us progress some of this thinking we have asked for a meeting between two other colleagues in the department who were part of the original group who had combined these papers so that we can check if we are on the right track.

3.      Reflection on resourcing, including any new technologies, staffing and training provided.

Both Alexa and I felt the resourcing and either access to or use of new technologies were provided for in these papers. The support in place through Otago Polytechnic was great in helping develop new learning media, and the resourcing offered by the department was a good balance to support blended learning. We have already been told the number of F2F hours (97) in total and once we take out hui, we are left with about 5 hours per student per week. We do need to go through the ‘operational’ side of this paper in depth to see what impact it has on how we can deliver- and although we would like to maintain the ideal scenario of choosing the best method of delivery for the learning, there are times we may have to compromise on this ‘ideal’. This is in particular as we come to terms with how to best meet the needs of students located at WINTEC. I have asked for more guidance on this, as although we agree that we want both cohort of students to have the same learning outcomes, does this mean that they have to be delivered in exactly the same way??

Staffing at Wintec continues to be a challenge and I think it’ll be a huge challenge for existing staff to pick this new paper up to teach. We are exploring options this year, as a new staff member will be teaching SA, so watch this space….!