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This map has been designed to make it easier for students and staff to find units that include elements of authentic learning. It includes everything from integrated assessment to real-world relevance, so please click around and see what units are on offer!
Here is the same information but in a more accessible format. It is suitable for screen readers:
“The value of authentic activity is not constrained to learning in real-life locations and practice, but that the benefits of authentic activity can be realized through careful design of Web-based learning environments.” – Lombardi
Well, I can safely say this is not how I thought I’d be spending my year but the quest for authentic learning continues. As we all struggle to get our learning and teaching online, I’ve created a handy guide on how to do authentic learning and teaching via the magical medium of the internet. It bears noting that although many of us would rather return to life, as usual, this is a time of considerable opportunity to change the way we teach and learn. The traditional format of lectures and seminars has been broken down and if ever there were a time to try something new, it is now.
Real-world relevance is critical for authentic learning, but it is important not to fall into the trap of making everything about coronavirus. Now is an excellent time for using studying as a form of escapism. However, it is also an excellent time to be teaching about adaptability and how to manage a crisis.
Using stakeholders has become tricky and nearly impossible. With many organisations furloughing their staff, now is not the best time for partnerships but to give an authentic experience, stakeholders can be imaginary. This can be anything from an imaginary business giving them a task, or more broadly how would they tackle an issue and who would it affect. For the unit Managing and Evaluating Development, students usually partner with NGOs, but now are being asked to create their own business plan to start up their own organisation. This allows students to create their own value and assess what is important to them and wider society.
Working collaboratively is something that is now more crucial than ever. Social distancing can be lonely and feeling disconnected from your peers can be very isolating. Giving students an incentive to have regular communication with their classmates, be that via video call, normal call or even email, is an excellent way to not only improve their collaboration skills but also to maintain a sense of community. Also; as online communication is increasingly looking like the future of work, collaborating via online platforms is a crucial way of improving these skills.
It is also crucial that while the contact hours have been limited that students are given the opportunity to feedback and that lecturers can monitor their progress to ensure that students are sustaining their levels of investigation. The Social Innovation Programme run by Bristol Hub has been doing this using a Gantt Chart and tools such as Trello. This is a way of including teaching soft skills and letting students visualise their progress, along with making sure that students are continuing with their work even if they are away from campus.
Although lockdown has it’s challenges, it provides students and staff alike with a lot of time. This time can be useful for reflection: what is going well, how do students feel their course has been affected, what could be improved. Coming out of the Easter holidays, students may find it helpful to consider what they have already learnt and how this can be applied to the final term of the year. By allowing opportunities for continuous reflection, students are placed in a position to make more informed choices about their learning, along with communicating the value more effectively. In other words, authentic learning gold.
Given the unusual circumstances of the entire year, students may feel inclined to stick to the reading list like glue as it’s no secret that many students are driven by their academic results. However, now is not the time for conventional teaching, and by encouraging students to look at multiple sources and perspectives outside of normal reading can help to rekindle students love of their subject, in a time where they are probably not thinking about how History of Art has changed their life. By encouraging them to find sources and perspectives which students have found themselves and are therefore likely to be genuinely interested in, it can also help to cultivate a good online discussion- students (and staff) may be nervous in online group discussions so having something that they have found can be a useful starting point.
The final way in which you can help to make online teaching more authentic is by asking students what they want to be learning. What do they want the rest of the term to look like? Are students more interested in mimicking traditional seminar formats online, or would they rather have asynchronous teaching using videos and podcasts? By asking students how they want to learn, it allows them to reflect on their learning process and think about the subjects they are particularly curious about. It also shows an acceptance that this is not business as usual; not everything about online teaching will work for every student but it is crucial to find a format that allows everyone to engage, even if it’s not in a way in which they are used to.
I hope that this has been helpful, or at the very least food for thought. I would love to hear from students and lecturers alike, how would you change online learning and teaching? What would work for you? What do you want from the final term of this year?
So this is the penultimate episode of The Office! As we draw towards the seasons finale I want to examine a hot topic – work/life balance. And I want to look at it from two perspectives – the students (employees) and my own (the boss!).
Right back in Episode 1 I outlined 7 aims of ‘The Office’ project. They are summarised below as I don’t imagine you can remember them:
Students to take ownership of their own learning
Students to more directly input what they are learning into what they are doing
Students to take ownership of feedback
Students to work sensible (office) hours and not work more hours than necessary
That both learning and assessment will be integrated so students co-learn and
That students produce outstanding projects which totally blow me away. Projects
which look amazing, have clearly used the problems/constraints of timber to
lead to a solution and can articulate this.
That students will be able to speak to their experience in a professional
context such as an interview and that it would add value for them in this
Note item 4, “students to work sensible (office) hours”. The idea was to
create a unit where time is boundaried. Where people come to work, they work
hard, and then they go home and leave their work behind them (and possibly go
for a cheeky post work drink, although without the boss!) Enabling them to
focus on the other challenges that are before them over the course of a week.
Office hours are 9-5 with setup occurring between 9-9.30 and set down
between 4.30-5. All students are encouraged to take an hours break at some
point during the day – this could be a longer lunch break or a shorter lunch
break with a couple of coffee breaks. There are also the lunchtime talks 1-2
which break the day up. And students have other commitments, lectures, project
meetings, interviews etc.
Employees are encouraged to leave all their work at work. This is
facilitated by every group having a large box which contains all of their
resources, from pens to calc pads. From books to notes. And their A3 and A4
folders which contain their work. Every week these boxes are put away in a
store room which is locked up. Employees can, of course, take work away with
them – I haven’t yet started a stop and search policy on bags – but I have
gently encouraged them not to.
As part of my own practice I have taken a 15 minute pause at the end of
every session to reflect on the day’s events whilst heading back to Bath on the
train. About week 4 I started to note that students were raising concerns about
how much there was to do and they started suggesting they would take work home
with them. I tried to tackle this in part by discussing where they felt the
pressure was and adjusting their expectations for the work in hand, something
that I will do more of when I run the unit again next year.
In week 7 I noticed one student stuffing their work folders in their bag
– something I hadn’t noticed previously, and I offered one extra session of
four hours during reading week (week 8) – which two groups utilised.
There have been a few disgruntled rumbles about the early start from
some of the more sporty of my employees (all staff are asked to be at work from
9 as the first task of the day is to agree workload) who have extra curricula
activities on a Wednesday night (I wouldn’t know about that, at Uni I wasn’t in
any sporting teams and I tried to avoid going out on a Wednesday night – preferring
instead Thursday nights when the clubs would stay open later and I could spend
the night bouncing around to Drum and Bass – as an original Junglist).
Last week I handed out a survey to my students (as part of my pedagogy
project) and asked them “How much time did you spend on this unit compared to
other fourth year engineering units?” Of the 28 students who replied only two
said less or the same whilst 15 said a bit more and 11 said a lot more. Whilst
I need to spend time fully reviewing the reasons it would appear that whilst
quite a few students noted they only worked during office hours, many noted
they worked a lot less than a day a week on other units. It was also
interesting to note that much of their motivation to work came from not wanting
to let other members of their group down, a perspective that I hadn’t
considered when preparing the unit.
It is worth holding the above in tension with comments from last year’s
Timber Engineering unit (which I ran as a standard two hour weekly lecture). Students
suggested they were spending approximately 10 hours a week on the unit. So,
whilst the office hasn’t significantly reduced the number of hours they spend
on the unit, I don’t think it has increased it either. What it has done is move
it from an informal environment to a more formal one. My challenge for next
year is then how to help students to do a little bit less on the unit.
Whilst considering the work/life balance of employees (students) is very
important, to ensure that the method of delivery is sustainable it is also
important to consider my own work/life balance. I have for a while now been
wrestling with the idea that I want to care enough that my teaching is good
(not perfect, just good) whilst also wanting it to be sustainable. It’s no good
being great, if two years from now I have to leave and find another job! This
came to the fore for me two years ago when I found myself in hospital with
chest pains. Whilst at the time my results were inconclusive I have since come
to realise that I was suffering from anxiety. Over the last two years I have
both been to counselling (through the University) and spent six months on a
coaching course (through my church). Neither came easily to me, despite regularly
recommending students attend counselling, it took a year for me to attend my
first session, but they have both been highly beneficial.
All of that being said, I am still wrestling with work life balance. I
try and work a 40 hour week (confessing this feels very vulnerable as I know
that this is a struggle for so many), I very rarely work weekends, and I am
trying to tackle my obsessive checking of email outside of work time and wonder
how much is down to me just wanting the dopamine fix our electronic devices
provide when a new massage comes in?
I say all of this as I think it’s helpful context to my own reflections.
Working the office has been different. Not better, not worse, but different. To
enable it to happen I have had to block book a day a week. I also block book a
day a week for pedagogy – which is how I manage to write a blog post every
week, without doing it over coffee on a Saturday morning. The advantage of this
approach is that those days are dedicated, focussed and productive. The
downside is that my other three days can feel relentless. With meetings
starting at 9 and finishing at 5. However, I am trying to always have a lunch
break and I know that for every full on busy day or two there is a day drinking
amazing coffee whilst working on pedagogy – and this is a choice I have made.
The other thing is that as I am the Boss (and not the teacher) I work
when I am at the office. I can’t do big jobs (or confidential jobs) but I can
reply to emails, check things, do those little admin jobs. I do also, from time
to time, nip out for a short meeting. And I invite people to the office for
meetings. Generally this works well. Some weeks it works very well. One week I
packed too much seeing:
One member of the timetabling team
Two separate students to discuss their research projects
Three visitors from BILT
Four students in a group to discuss their design project (a 40 credit final year assessment mentioned in earlier blogs but not part of this unit)
Five first years keen to build a house somewhere out of straw
Six, there was no six, five was more than enough.
That evening I reflected I had packed in too much. Partly because it was
my Birthday and I wanted everyone to share in the cake goodness. So going
forward I have tried to pack in less.
Of course the real proof in the pudding will be how I feel as ‘the
office’ comes round again next year, or the year after, or the year after that.
I am all too aware that what can feel exciting and energizing at first can
become wearying in the end. But I also know that every year if someone asked me
to lecture on concrete I would jump at the chance, because I love it.
I am sorry- I am not sure I have any answers here. Has the office been OK in terms of work/life balance is hard to say. Partly because it takes time to reflect, partly because so much has changed, this year I have become School Education Director – a new role which I am learning to adapt to, last year I was Programme Director, an old role which I knew well. And therefore it is hard to know what of my current sense of busyness is due to my new role, what is due to my new method of teaching delivery, and what is due to my new level of self awareness (I now try and take 10 minutes each morning of quiet contemplation before I start the day).
I do know that I leave for work at 6.15am (I only do this on office
days, but actually it is not because of the office, but this was the best time
for my weekly coaching phone call, and the fact it has coincided with the
office has been helpful) looking forward to the day ahead. That I look around
at different points in my day and just drink in the atmosphere. That as I sit
on the train I feel weary but not dissatisfied. And that I have enough energy
to go again the next day, and the next week.
So as this year comes to an end, I suspect I will miss my office, but I
will also be glad for the break. I will be replete. A feeling I know well,
maybe it’s the feeling of a job well done.
Which brings us to the conclusion of our penultimate post. Next week, a final fair well to ‘The Office’ Season 1.