Help ME help YOU

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As a relatively new lecturer, I have not thought much about the feedback I give to students. I have left it up to students to approach me if they have questions on their progress, particularly in the case of assessments. This is partly an issue of practicality: it’s just not feasible to give detailed feedback to hundreds of students. But partly it is also because I have very little experience of feedback from my own University career. I studied for the exam, got the mark I got, and that was the end of it.

After watching a video of interviews with UNSW students, I was struck by the much more sophisticated expectations students have of feedback from lecturers. They look for personalized, constructive feedback on their progress and clear guidelines on what they need to do to succeed.

This point was again brought home during the face to face session, when I had an opportunity to talk to lecturers in other fields. Indeed, one of the most valuable aspects of the FULT program has been the opportunity to gain insights from my peers in other disciplines. This has been a great way of learning about the challenges other lecturers are facing and the innovative ways they are working to deal with them.

I was particularly intrigued with novel online feedback tools being used in other areas, such as Turn it in, peer review, and comment banks. But the tool that got me most excited was the idea of a help forum, where students could post answers to discussion questions and respond to each other. One of the lecturers at my table was using this approach for her course in Medical statistics, and it seemed like exactly the kind of thing I was looking for in my own course in Engineering mathematics. Interestingly, her course was 20 students, while mine had a cohort of nearly 1000. But I could see how a forum could be scaled or split up into sub-groups to work with such a large number of students.

With this in mind, I revisited my “Flipped classroom lesson plan”, in which I described how I would take a particular in-class activity built around the learning goal of categorizing and solving differential equations in real-world engineering scenarios. In the original lesson plan, I had envisioned using an online video summary and quiz as a post-activity exercise. But now I think it would be better to include the students more directly in their learning and have then post questions, suggestions, and “common mistakes” on an online forum. This could be peer-assessed using a simple reddit.com-style interface, where students vote up posts that they find particularly useful. As an added benefit for the students, I could curate and gather the best posts into a sort of “best-practices guide” that the students could use for revision for the final exam.

This would be relatively easy to build into the existing Help Forum discussion board on Moodle, and I am interested in trying it out the next time I teach my large-cohort class. But in the meantime I can certainly provide some basic feedback to students: exam statistics, common mistakes, rubrics, and so on. Because, by providing feedback, a lecturer can put the responsibility for learning in the hands of the student, and give them the power to learn from their mistakes. We can help them help themselves.

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