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Australian Inspiration Day 2020: All about teamwork

Our first Australian Inspiration Day together with Deakin University and Griffith University was also the first one in the midst of a global pandemic. Despite being planned in Amsterdam, we were incredibly happy when our Australian partners proposed to have an online webinar. It was heartwarming to see that nothing can stop dedicated teachers and pedagogy professionals to come together to discuss the best ways to advance education through online, active learning

Whilst it is impossible to convey the conference in its entirety through a blog post, we would like to share the best takeaways from this experience.

Why explaining the importance of teamwork is crucial - the experience of Deakin University

When Dr. Tiffany Gunning decided to improve teamwork among engineering students she received an interesting feedback: students thought it was useless. They wanted to become engineers, why “lose time” on teamwork?

Dr. Gunning changed her approach and started positioning the concept of teamwork in the list of must-haves skills in the workplace. This approach paid off and students started being more favorable towards group evaluation and peer reviews. Entering Feedbackfruits, Deakin University started to scale up the Peer Review tool to the whole faculty.

They were able to provide teachers and supervisors with accurate feedback on peer evaluation from students, as well as developing critical thinking in students through their engagement in self and peer evaluation.

“This experience taught us that students need to be included in the decisions of introducing concepts such as peer and self evaluation into their courses” said Dr. Gunning “to be able to maximise their engagement and achieve the best learning results”.

Moving away from passive experience with interactive Document Tool

Using Feedbackfruits Interactive Document and Group Members Evaluation tools, Jess Co - lecturer in the Management Department at Monash University - was able to engage students in various ways. One of the best ways to engage students, for her, was to use comments and multiple choice questions using the Interactive Document tool. Those questions were built to associate real life examples with the content of the paper students had to read, in order to let them think critically about the content and evaluate it in comparison to a real world situation.

Also, using discussion prompts throughout the document proved to be a valuable tool to engage students in discussing questions or comments. “Students used this feature a lot” said Jess “It works even better than forums: students would not use those, but would use FeedbackFruits a lot instead!”.

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Incentives, training, support, group tasks covering, and integration with synchronous sessions

To get the best from a pedagogical tool is not always easy. During this Inspiration Day, we were able to listen to some great suggestions from all presentations on how to present tools to students and what preliminary steps should be taken.

  1. Incentives are key - Especially for fresh-students, engaging with a new tool could be difficult. Indicators of completion or grades (formative rather than summative) can go a long way in their tool adoption
  2. Training - Giving a week or two to students in order to get comfortable with the tool has been proving most valuable regarding students’ adoption and learning outcomes
  3. Support - Not only students, but also teachers will need support every now and then. Having a “response team” or a well organized online support system will help reduce hiccups and better the overall experience.
  4. Group task covering - It is good practice to point students to the rubric so that they can have a clear understanding of what they are expected to do. When peer evaluating or reviewing, students must know what they are being evaluated on as well as being aware of how to evaluate other students.
  5. Integration with synchronous sessions - Peer Review and Group Member Evaluation tools can give their best when also the context of a more traditional teaching is included in the course design. Information from the tools should be easily retrievable to answer students’ questions, and the content can be modified according to face-to-face discussions.

Peer Learning helps to consider what others think

Kirsten Black, technology Enhanced Learning Designer for Victoria University, noted that Peer Learning strategies by using Feedbackfruits tools helped paramedic students to have a better understanding of their works, and improved professional behaviour - students care about what their peers think about how they completed their tasks, nudging them to better themselves. While Feedbackfruits, in the words of Kirsten Black, “proved very efficient”, here are some things to be mindful of:

  • Which kind of grades to give - Teachers should be careful about choosing summative over formative assessments: not every part of a peer review or group member evaluation needs to be graded, to avoid unnecessary focus on the grades and instead rising the attention to participation and collective thinking and enrichment
  • Complexity of grading possibilities -  At the same time, the different kinds of grades that a teacher can use might be confusing for students: a clear explanation on how they will be graded is definitely a best practice here

The power of Dotank: the story of John Liu

Creating pedagogical tools that can work for different universities is no easy matter. John Liu, Digital Learning Fellow at the MITx, is an exemplary sample on how to use DoTank to create the tool teachers need for their specific course. John used the Dotank to develop a project to enhance student discussions that could satisfy the requirements he had set. This is how it worked:

  1. Definition phase - John arrived with a very structured idea about the tool he needed. Of course, the more organized from the beginning, the better, and the DoTank first step is always to define what to create in detail, to define the project and its scope to get the best benefit from it.
  2. Design Phase - The design department starts giving form to the ideas created during the definition phase, so to give an idea on how it would eventually look like
  3. Product Team Phase - Here, the tool is created, and finally piloted as a beta version
  4. Validation Phase - The university tests the product on the field. John Liu brought the new Discussion tool at in MITx and tests how it performs in real courses
  5. Deployed -, If the tool is satisfactory, it is deployed as a finished one and then enter the “basket” of pedagogical tools at dispositio for the teachers that take part in the Dotank community

Just-in-time feedback: the answer to improve learning

Thanks to the Automated Feedback tool, students can receive just-in-time feedback. This increases the quality of students’ production, as they learn quicker from their mistakes. It also lowers feedback pressure for teachers and allows them to disengage from repetitive feedback, increasing the quality of feedback overall. Automated Feedback might be of low professional quality, but serves the purpose of guidance. Peer feedback is successively useful as a mid-professional feedback, to clear from repetitive feedback and leave teachers, with their higher professional feedback, free to help students improve their critical thinking.

In Conclusion

We are extremely grateful for the occasion to talk with our Australian partners even during these peculiar times. It was amazing to see professors and experts coming together to share their knowledge and experiences - which you can find in full here. We look forward to the next Inspiration Day!

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