Patch 5: Reflective Commentary:
As part of my ongoing development as a teacher in higher education, this commentary serves as a reflection on my teaching practices and the impact they have had on my students. The theoretical literature surrounding the pedagogy of learning in higher education gave me a solid base from which to start implementing new approaches to teaching which have greatly improved my own performance and the overall effectiveness of my classes.
Patch 1: Lesson Plan:
This patch gave me the opportunity to plan a lesson in much more detail than I had been accustomed to, and add some variety to my teaching strategies. In the past, I had used short lectures as the basis for group discussions followed by relevant practical exercises and technical workshops. This time I applied the principle of constructive alignment. By using the combination of well-defined learning outcomes following Bloom’s taxonomy (Bloom,1956), with relevant teaching methods and learning activities aligned with those outcomes (Biggs, 2014).
It was obvious that student engagement had increased as a result, as well as overall motivation and interest in the subject matter being taught, in this case, “Design Thinking” and the design process. By choosing active learning strategies to directly support learning outcomes (Young, 2014) students showed a deeper appreciation of the subject material and were more willing to discuss the implications of what they had learned than I had previously observed.
This approach also gave me a greater understanding of lesson timings. Having clear learning objectives underpinning the lesson provided a more structured learning space with which to conduct the learning activities and focused assessment on the students learning needs (Biggs, 2014).
With better organization and a clear lesson structure, I also felt more confident teaching the subject material. This is an area I will continue to build on in the future.
This addresses: A1, A2, A3, A4, K1, K2, K3, K4, K5, V1, V2, V3 and V4 of the UKPSF mapping form.
Patch 2: Threshold Concepts:
Identifying a threshold concept (Meyer and Land, 2003) within my own discipline was an extremely important step in further developing my teaching practice. The core concept of “design thinking” has always been a difficult area for students to grasp. It also connects ideas from other learning components, such as drawing and presentation skills, which allows students to make meaningful connections which are not only critical to their studies, but also for the rest of their professional careers.
The “troublesome” aspect of design thinking, as a threshold concept, particularly interests me in how students react to the idea that design is not just about creating outcomes using computer applications. In the past students have demonstrated discomfort and disappointment that meaningful design is born out of a process of research, experimentation and ultimately the varied exploration of different design solutions, often using nothing more than a sketchpad and one’s own critical thinking (Moon, 2005). This analytic approach, focusing on the thought process behind a design concept, is often seen by the students as a waste of time, when what they really want to do is start designing on their computer. In reality, it is the complete reverse, as the computer ultimately limits the designer to their level of competence with a particular piece of software. A sketchpad, on the other hand, imposes no such limitations and facilitates the exploration of previously inaccessible ways of thinking (Cousin 2006, Meyer and Land 2003).
Being able to improve my teaching methods in this fundamental area of my discipline has been an incredibly positive experience in all aspects. My ultimate aspiration is to
Be able to effectively support my students so that they can approach problems and form solutions which are characteristic of their discipline. Otherwise, if they lack this identification with their subject field, they will be very unlikely to master it.
Moving forward I intend to identify more areas of the curriculum that students find troublesome. Giving the Level 5 and Level 6 students a short survey about which areas they found particularly difficult will enable me to target more threshold concepts within my discipline.
This addresses: A1, A2, K1, K2, K3, K5, V3 and V4 of the UKPSF mapping form.
Patch 3: Effective Learning Resource:
Although technology has always played a central role in my teaching strategies, after creating this learning resource it was obvious to me that I could increase the effectiveness of my teaching by applying some basic principles of good presentation design to aid learning (Atkinson and Mayer, 2004). Avoiding information overload, and using images along with text (Mayer and Moreno, 1998), proved effective when teaching a group of international students with English as a second language.
The realization that I could use the presentation to link all the learning activities together gave me a much better lesson structure. Furthermore, in conjunction with constructive alignment (Biggs, 2014) and well-written learning outcomes, my presentation drastically increased the effectiveness of teaching a difficult threshold concept (Meyer and Land, 2003).
The next stage in my professional development will be to build on this framework by introducing greater variety in the active learning techniques I use as well as creating a greater variety of presentation material to support deeper learning. This will then be made available through the institutions VLE, providing a valuable resource for international students who may need work at a slower pace (Scudamore, 2013).
This addresses: A1, A2, A4, K2, K3, K4, V1, V2 and V3 of the UKPSF mapping form.
Patch 4: Guidance Notes – Teaching International Students for the First Time:
This was a fascinating area for me as my classes are predominantly comprised of international students. Being able to understand the particular difficulties they face in a learning context has given me more insight into ways I can improve their learning experience by employing more inclusive teaching practices (Bell and Kipar, 2015). For instance, group work has always been challenging and shifting the focus away from the final outcomes and towards the design process has had positive results by removing a point of contention. Paying more attention to the diversity of team dynamics and encouraging students to celebrate their cultural identity will also increase participation and cultural awareness.
Using the first lesson for student introductions, getting to know the students, managing their expectations and assumptions, and discussing the ground rules is something that I have now adopted as standard practice as highlighted by my teaching observation (Carroll, 2008).
This addresses: A1, A2, A3, A4, K1, K2, K3, K4, K5, V1, V2, V3 and V4 of the UKPSF mapping form.
Patch 6: Teaching Observation and Practice:
For my observed teaching I delivered my lesson plan from Patch 1 and used my learning resource from Patch 3. The teaching observation went smoothly as I had planned my lesson thoroughly with clear and simple learning objectives. This proved effective as the class was almost entirely comprised of international students who speak English as a second language.
After the presentation an open discussion was conducted around the threshold concept of design thinking. During a particularly lively open discussion the students were initially resistant to the core concepts of the theory which presented a challenge to their established view of what it means to be a graphic designer. Some students initially rejected the design process concepts in favour of a simpler and faster approach which they believed would yield the same results. Something that caught me unprepared was the passion aroused by this challenging threshold concept and as a result the discussion became quite heated with a small number of students holding stage whilst others stopped participating. The class was then shown a video documenting the design process used by a high profile design agency. Some students were shocked by the amount of work involved and the rigorous process employed. The following activity involved the practical application of the design process in a real-world context whereby the students were given a short assignment to complete which focused on the design process not the actual outcomes. Removing this final stage from the brief allowed the students to fully engage in the process itself without the distraction of producing any digital media. This way the computer was only allowed to be used for research purposes and the group work that followed could be focused entirely on concept analysis and critical thinking (Moon, 2005). Moving from group to group, checking progress and providing formative feedback allowed me to keep the students focused on the achieving the learning outcomes and sustain their participation in the learning activity.
The final assessment was conducted after the students presented their research findings, design concepts and sketches. Followed by peer review and my summative feedback. There was a marked improvement over previous years with more than half the students scoring highly in terms of design process appreciation and applying a systematic approach to creating design solutions. The remainder attained above average grades. The learning outcome aligned to group participation and discussion yielded average results due to some off-topic discussions and disruptive behaviour. As pointed out by the observer, further clarification of classroom conduct is needed as well as greater inclusivity during open discussions. The observer advised me to start the students off in pairs to avoid the problem of one group member dominating the discussion or to formalise the group structure by assigning a team leader or spokesperson who would record the minutes of the group discussion.
This was the first time that this Level 4 group had undertaken such an activity, and the feedback I received from the students was positive. Further clarification on how to conduct effective research analysis was requested by several students, which will allow me to improve the lesson further.
This addresses: A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, K1, K2, K3, K4, K5, K6, V1, V2 and V3 of the UKPSF mapping form.
Enhancing Learning and Teaching through Reflective Practice (MOD001545) has had a very positive effect on my ongoing development and teaching effectiveness. The application of the theories I have learnt has allowed me to improve the organization and structure of my classes, clarify the intended learning outcomes and improve student engagement and motivation.
My commitment to improving the quality of my teaching and providing my students with an excellent learning experience as outlined by the UKPSF, will require ongoing reflective practice. Therefore, some additional areas I wish to develop further include using a wider variety of active learning approaches, further development of strategies, course material and effective learning resources to increase inclusive learning.