Facilitating Learning Focus On The Learner Assignment

Content Focus (and Interaction)




Whether the learning outcomes for a session or module include declarative or functioning knowledge, almost all of them will be supported in some way by the presentation of information to students. 

Activities which involve student interaction with content can include listening to and/or watching a live or recorded talk, engaging with a written or visual text, engaging with multimedia, or a combination of these. Typically, students are more likely to retain information presented in these ways if they are asked to interact with the material in some way, which is why it is useful to ask or invite questions, or include another activity type after every 5 or 15 minute 'chunk' of information. 

Example: Live Lecture (Online or On campus)

Provide information orally, supported by slides, in 4 to 7 minute blocks, interspersed with short interactions such as asking students to respond to a related question. For example, ask the students a question that requires them to apply, summarise, explain or identify etc. an important aspect of the information just presented. After asking the question, wait 10 to 15 seconds before asking for volunteers, or calling on a randomly selected student to respond. (It may be useful to provide a visual clue for students identifying that after posing the question you would like to them to consider a response and remain silent for the designated amount of time.)
After a student has responded to the question, call on another student to summarise the first student's response. Alternatively, if the first response was not completely accurate, invite the second student to respond to the first student's answer (e.g., "[name] what do you think about that - would you agree?").

This activity would be particularly relevant for supporting student progress towards learning outcomes with declarative knowledge.

Example: Assigned Reading/text

Provide students with access to a text (e.g., journal article, blog, multimedia presentation). Accompany the text with a number of questions which will help guide students' focus as they engage with the text. The questions could be provided for personal reflection, they could be addressed further in a subsequent synchronous session (online or on-campus), they could be presented in the form of an online quiz (weighted or unweighted) or survey, or they could be required as part of an asynchronous activity (online) among other options and possibilities.

The questions posed, and how students are asked to respond to them will be dependent upon what the ILOs require students to do. For example, a unit with an ILO that requires students to 'identify' might have questions that highlight the relevant aspects, or which require students to identify the key ideas in a reading. For a unit with an ILO for students to 'evaluate', however, the questions might ask student to list advantages and disadvantages, or to compare and contrast different approaches noted in the text(s).

Example: Multimedia Content in MyLO 

Use a MyLO Content File (HTML) to pose one to four questions, in text. Ask students to record their responses in a linked, editable MyLO survey. Below the questions and the survey link, embed a short video (from YouTube, MyMedia, Vimeo etc) that contains information answering the posed questions. Ask students to return to their survey answers (with a link) and update them with the new knowledge they have. 

The questions posed will be dependent upon the unit and module/session learning outcomes. For example, ILOs that require students to 'identify' might have questions that highlight the relevant aspects, or which require students to identify the key ideas in the video. For ILOs that require 'critical reflection', however, the questions might ask students to complete SWOT components, or to present perspectives from a variety of stakeholders, fo example.

Interactivity (with Others) Focus




The 'social presence' of a student in a unit has been found to correlate positively with both their achievement of learning outcomes, and their perception of the learning in a unit (Richardson & Swan, 2003). Peer relationships, informal support structures, and teacher-student interactions/relationships all contribute to a student's social presence in a unit. Therefore, including learning activities that foster open communication and group cohesion (as ways of fostering social presence) as well as providing opportunities for active learning are important in every unit. 

Activities that focus on or include interaction with others can support student development of a range of learning outcomes, inclusive of declarative and functioning knowledge. All of these examples could be used in either online or on campus environments.

Example: Facilitated synchronous discussion 

A set of questions are provided to students for consideration prior to a scheduled session. In small groups of 10-20, the teacher facilitates student sharing of responses to the questions, and building upon those responses. Further questions for consideration might be introduced during the session, aimed at furthering the thinking and analysis generated from the discussion.

N.B., Facilitating the sharing of responses is most effective when done skillfully. Therefore, it is likely that familiarising yourself with literature about this will enhance the learning of your students.

Example: Jigsaw collaborative information sharing 

A cohesive set of information is separated into 4 or 5 smaller parts. For example, a written article separated by its paragraphs, a report separated by each section, a video separated into shorter clips. Students are organised into small groups, and each one is provided with one of the smaller parts of information. Students work together to understand the information they are provided with. They also discuss and rehearse how to share this knowledge with others who do not have the information. Then, new groups are formed, each being made up of a single student from each of the original groups. In these new groups, each 'expert' student shares their knowledge with the rest of the group who may ask questions to clarify meaning. 

The teacher may then pose questions for the groups to answer, ask groups to complete a task that demonstrates their understanding, provide their own summary, or take questions from the groups to help solidify understandings.

Example: Group Assignments 

Students are organised into smaller groups of three or four for the entire semester, a week, a fortnight... Each group has an assigned task, and each member an assigned role. (The organisation of groups, and assignment of roles can be managed either by the teacher or the students.) Discussion boards are provided for each of the assigned roles (e.g., project manager, schedule and records manager, presentation manager, researcher) so that these students can share ideas and check understandings with one another to then take back to their group). Opportunities are provided for each group to share their product with the rest of the class, through, for example, an in-class presentation (using web conferencing for online presentation), or a peer-assessment activity (facilitated online or in-class) where each group assesses one another's work using a rubric.

Critical Thinking




Activities that provide students with opportunities to think about or use knowledge and information in new and different ways will support their development of critical thinking skills - one of the main selling points of a university education. Often critical thinking activities can follow on from other learning activities, after students have received feedback from the initial activity.  

Example: Response to an assigned text

Students are initially asked to identify the key ideas in an assigned text (written, audio, video), and share their understanding with a sub-set of the class (e.g., during an on campus (or online) 'tutorial', or on a discussion board). To extend this to a critical thinking activity, once the initial discussion on the content of the text is completed, students are then asked to critique the text based on a provided set of criteria. The criteria could focus on the validity of the assertions made, and their relevance and applicability to other topics covered in the unit and specified situations and scenarios. The critiques could be presented and discussed orally, or initially posted to a discussion board for further analysis and use in subsequent learning activities.

Example: Digital story development 

Students (as individuals, pairs, or in groups) are provided with a scenario or case study which they must analyse. They prepare a 5 minute digital story that explains what the relevant issues are, including the stakeholders, the options, the impacts and consequences etc (as relevant to your discipline and context). These digital stories are shared on MyLO, and used in subsequent sessions for class analysis, for peer-feedback or assessment, for oral advocacy where the author(s) of the digital story respond to questions about the content, defending and explaining their reasoning, or for formal assessment and feedback from the teacher, among other uses. 

Production




Asking students to produce something can be an effective way of assisting them to engage with ideas and concepts at the level you wish them to. It can be a way of facilitating 'deep' learning. Worth noting here, is that with the ubiquitousness of technology and its capabilities now, the requirement of production being predominantly written no longer exists, with the range of possible forms of production ever increasing, bounded only by your imaginations.

Example: Infographic

When students are learning about processes or procedures; dealing with statistics, numbers, and dates; learning about complex ideas with interactions on different levels; or something similar, you can ask students to produce an infographic to explain, describe, and visualise this information. The production of the infographic can be worked on by students outside of scheduled sessions, and should be shared with the whole class through MyLO. The infographics could also be used as a starting point for further analyses and/or discussions.

Example: Oral summary (+ written summary)

Students are each given a specific aspect of a topic, and asked to create a 4 minute oral explanation of it. The oral explanation is then shared with the other members of the class, either as a recording shared online, or through a live presentation during a scheduled session. This can work well when all the participating students are then asked to write a short summary of each of the aspects explained. These written summaries are then also shared with the class online. In addition to providing students with an opportunity to learn more about the aspects, this also provides you the teacher with useful feedback about the aspects which students have not understood as well as needed. This then enables you to plan for additional learning activities that focus on the less well understood concepts.

Example: One minute paper

During a lecture, or within a module on MyLO, ask students to stop and spend one minute (and no longer) responding to a key question about the topic being covered. Students then pass in their writing to the teacher. 

The one minute paper can be written on a piece of paper, but works particularly well on campus when students are asked to submit it through the survey tool in MyLO. This makes the collection and reading of the papers easier for you the teacher, and makes it easier to analyse the responses and respond to them in the following scheduled session.

Problem Solving




Presenting students with a problem, scenario, case, challenge or design issue, which they are then asked to resolve, address, meet, or deal with provides students with a visible and clear reason for learning. If, in order to solve the problem, they are required to have knowledge, understandings and skills, that they don't currently have, they are likely to be motivated to gain them. The scale and extent of the problem, and the amount of scaffolding provided by you, the teacher, will need careful consideration and reference to the learning outcomes of the unit, module and/or session.

You may find John Savery's (2006) article Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions a valuable and useful read.

Example: Simulation 

Students are provided with a scenario, and they then interact with people and/or machines who respond to their choices and actions as if in real life. After the simulation has ended, the student reflects on the consequences of their choices and actions, often in response to questions from their classmates or teacher(s). 

Example: Case Study

Students, either individually or in groups, are provided with information about a person or organisation, and are assigned a role that is relevant to the case of the assigned person or organisation. The students must then analyse the case, and make recommendations to stakeholder(s), propose a solution, or present a design or plan related to the case. 

What students are asked to do in relation to the case will depend on the discipline in which they are studying, and the unit's intended learning outcomes.

Example: Class Solution and Consequence

During a live lecture or tutorial, the teacher presents a scenario, and seeks responses from the class about possible approaches/responses to it. After collecting the responses (made verbally and recorded by the teacher, or sent using an audience response system such as MyLO surveys, clickers, or Lecture tools (which are currently in use across UTAS)), the teacher then asks for verbal responses about what the consequences might be for a selected answer. This continues as each of the main responses are analysed and the consequences considered.

Using effective questioning and discussion facilitation skills will enhance this sort of learning activity.

Reflection




Reflection is an activity that supports the development of students' meta-cognition, that is, their understanding of how they think, learn, and understand. The process of reflection starts with the student thinking about what they already know and have experienced in relation to the topic being explored/learnt. This is followed by analysis of why the student thinks about the topic in the way they do, and what assumptions, attitudes and beliefs they have about, and bring to learning about the topic.  

Stephen Brookfield has a number of useful publications about the use of reflection and reflective writing for learning and teaching which you may find useful, including: Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting (1987) ISBN 978-1-55542-055-0, and Teaching for Critical Thinking: Helping Students Question Their Assumptions (2011) ISBN 978-0-470-88934-3.

Example: Self-Assessment

After students have completed a learning activity or assessment task, provide them with a set of criteria to use to assess the quality of their work. Ask students to write down a comment about the quality of their work (process or product). Then, ask students to think about why they achieved that level of quality, and whether they could do something differently in the future to achieve a different/higher level of quality. Students may be asked to make a record of this reflection.

Example: Reflection on Learning

After students have received feedback on an early assessment task or learning activity, ask them to use the DIEP model (Boud, 1985) to write a reflection about their experience of completing the task or participating in the activity. Ask students to use the reflective writing process to assist them to replicate approaches that worked well for them, and/or to avoid approaches that did not help them to learn and perform well.

This focus would be most appropriate for students who are in their first year of study at university, and especially for those in their first semester.

Example: Prior Understanding 

Towards the start of a new topic or module, present to students the name of the topic, and/or some key words of relevance to the new module. Ask students to reflect on what they currently think about this topic, how they feel about it, and why this might be the case. Ask students to predict what they will learn about, how they feel about that, and how they expect to feel about the experience of learning about it.

This can be useful to go back to towards the end of the module or topic, to ask students to reflect on if and how their feelings and understandings have changed.

In order to complete this assignment I decided to observe one of the students from the elementary group. Her name is Diana. She is 21 years old. Her background is as follows: * Diana’s first language is Kazakh, but you can say that Russian is her first language as well, since at home she uses the first one, and for education – the second. She is fluent in both languages. * Diana still has one more year of university to go, she studies history and plans to continue her education with MA program. * Diana comes from a big family; she has 1 older brother and lots of male cousins.

She is an active member of student body of her school. * In terms of culture, Diana is a bright example of blended and merged Kazakh and European cultures. * Her main motivation lies in continued education, since in Kazakhstan it is impossible to enter a MA program without a satisfactory grade in English exam. * Her aspirations are to be a professional historian, and in order to do that she needs English, since being used as a lingua franca it facilitates both travelling and professional development. * Diana is mostly visual and audial learner.

From this profile, we may say that Diana’s background strongly affects her leaning style. From her family she has learnt that communication is the key to surviving into a boys’ world, and she has learnt to speak their language. She has been a Vice-president of student body in her university, which means that she is an active listener, speaker and observer; therefore, the best way for her to learn is to observe real-life examples and learn via guided discovery with lots of practice. As Scrivener mentions, it is essential to define student’s motivation, which can be intrinsic and extrinsic.

In terms of motivation, I can say that her extrinsic motivation comes from necessity to enter an MA program in University, because it is expected by her family; and her intrinsic motivation is driven by Diana’s passion for travel and independency. Learner’s strengths and weaknesses. The student’s main strength is that she is not afraid of speaking and making mistakes. Being an elementary level student, she makes regular mistakes corresponding both to the level and to being a Russian language speaker (Learner English, Swan, M and Smith, M CUP).

Language Firstly, Diana does not use the verb be in the sentences, where it is appropriate (“My specialty at university history”). Secondly, she attempts to use the past simple tense, but cannot form it properly (“I was study”). Thirdly, Diana has problems with plurals, she forgets to use the –s ending – “I was study in two school and it was…” Fourthly, she struggles with some vocabulary, namely she does not make difference between the verb live and the noun life (“… we dicided who is who and what to do in live).

Skills Diana tries to use new words immediately, but sometimes is unable to produce them correctly. During the observed lessons she could not say couple of words correctly, namely, she pronounced fear as /fju/, and lawyer as /’l? uv? /. She tends to use contraction “wanna” every time she says want, even when there is no to after it, e. g. “I wanna sister” instead of saying “I want a sister”. She confuses introductory words, for instance when she explained to me what she likes about university better than about school, she used question word “What about” instead of simply “About”.

And the last, since none of her first languages have strict word order requirements for building sentences, Diana struggles with making correct sentences in English (“A lot of think decided parents for us. ”) Helping the learner For further work, I will use the following problems: use of be in sentences where it belongs and word order. For use of be the following activity can be done: Fruit basket. Aim: To drill and produce correct form of be in sentences.

It will be suitable for the student because it’s a social activity and she likes interaction, it’s also sufficient practice in both producing and listening, because then she will start to pay attention to how be is used and become more aware of it. In terms of personal support, I would ask her to go over the rule again, to put together a chart of how be is conjugated. After that I would ask her to name when be is used in the English language (e. g. to say who we are, where we are, how we feel, for weather, etc).

For word order: Pair work and competition Aim: To get Diana to structure sentence correctly, i. . put subjects, verbs and objects where they belong. It is helpful because it is very visible and there will be a lot of controlled practice and drills that will model correct structuring. In terms of my support, I would start with a warmer, elicit what subject, verb, object, etc. is on an example of a sentence earlier provided by class. Then elicit that in English the sentence structure is very set and we cannot swap words. Write “I ride a bicycle” and compare it with “Bicycle rides me. ” Then pair Diana with a student with strong sentence building skill and run the activity.

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