Strategies To Enhance Academic Quality
Hello everyone can you give us a little bit about your academic background, your work at RMIT as a researcher, and your work in online learning and teaching. I’m really excited to talk about these topics. So I’ve been in higher education for a bit over 15 years now, I’ve had various roles such as researcher lecturer, unit coordinator, academic developer, and my two most recent roles, the Director of Teaching and Learning at RMIT online and then the Director of Quality Enhancement at RMIT. My research background and the area that brings me the most energy is online learning.
I researched for several years online students and their behaviors through the lens of Goffman, which means that I looked at what they did online and offline, to cultivate or to curate their entire education experience and how they made that both authentic by bringing it into their everyday life, and also what they did in the online classroom with their classmates.
So I used that to springboard into RMIT online and when I started at RMIT online it’s the startup arm of RMIT, and we had I think maybe like nine programs maybe 20 teachers, a couple of hundred students, and when I left, we were recruiting upwards of 900 teachers, over 16,000 enrolments and I think over 300 courses, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to build something from scratch.
I built the teaching model that teachers use to deliver courses, and I built an online coaching model that was used to develop teachers at a rapid pace to teach online, and that ended up being a real career highlight. Within the first generation of the coaching model, our good teaching scores were increased by 20 points and that momentum was able to maintain itself, and today those sorts of scores are sitting in the high 80s, so working with staff to empower and personalize training is another topic area that interests me.
I believe in the relationship between students and teachers – particularly for me, it’s the real lever that helps or that that facilitates academic integrity in the long run. Just as if, for example, your students when you have a relationship with them, they don’t want to, they won’t want to cheat, and equally, they’re more likely to reach out for the support they need, they’re also more likely to find time because they’re enjoying what they’re doing to complete their coursework.
So those are the sorts of things that I enjoy watching play out through both my passions and through the relationships in the classroom. Excellent, thanks for sharing that. I just want to piggyback on something that I probably left out, which is your role as director of quality and enhancement at RMIT.
They get to tell their own story about what their context is, what they want to see in that space, the story about how they continuously work to improve that space and that’s the part that I think is the exciting bit, the other emerging space in academic quality that I think doesn’t get much attention, is the idea on the other end about what academic quality means through the lens of school choice.
So this conversation’s been picked up in the last I’d say decide to 20 years. School choice was often thought of as k-12, but when we start to look at it in HE, it plays out in things like the Times Higher Education or QS rankings so how do parents use these to decide if they’re the ones paying for a student’s university to feel confident in sending their students to a university where they know that they’ll come out with more knowledge or deeper understandings, or certain skills that will get them the jobs of their dreams.
And also then, what are students also looking for in academic quality, and it’s this interesting space where we have students, the government, the universities triangulating together on academic quality to decide what it means, what attracts them about it, and how we maintain this as a sector and as an institution. So I hope for the first time, I may have made academic quality exciting for you. I think you actually did.
So now, let’s look at how teaching and learning would most likely change post-COVID. What is your take on it, and if you want to take the lens of academic quality as well you can do that, but what is your take on how teaching and learning will change post-COVID? Well, I think what I’ll talk about is what I think should change, and how I think that this could then play out in policies that universities make, and policies are a mechanism for helping to uphold academic integrity. So what I hope and think should play out is that as a sector around the world, we have a greater understanding of the student experience.
There’s a body of work in online education that you know when I think of like Cathy Stone’s work about being an online student and working while you’re studying, Shaun Bain has great work on what it means to be a distance student, Caroline Haythornthwaite talks about how online students and distance students, they juggle plates and what and what’s on each plate, Neil Selwyn to some extent, furthers this sort of discussion about what students do in and outside of the online classroom, and it was just overnight that this whole body of work became relevant.
It used to be only relevant to the ones that had an interest in it, and now COVID gives us that moment in time whereas in a global sector we can point to it and say we actually all understand that. You know in Melbourne, we’re locked down, we’ve been locked down since March, I’m doing this from my apartment this video interview, and it was only a week ago that I was able to get my child back in daycare because of lockdown, so I now have that real-life experience of juggling all those plates that are talked about in the literature.
So what I hope this turns into, is we’ll start to see I guess factions – some will run for comfort and they’ll want to re-establish the face-to-face campus as quickly as possible, but whether or not you know, governing bodies who are watching and monitoring the pandemic and the way that it moves around will let that happen is a big unknown, so other camps will run for flexibility and there’ll be a third one that wants to really keep the momentum that we have in online learning and online teaching and creating online experiences, now so it’s an opportunity for the university to recalibrate.
Now we need to think about these policies and the flexibility they provide for jugglers and I think now we actually have a moment in time that’s actually’s turning into a long time – it wasn’t just a few weeks, this could go on for years – that we can use to substantiate more flexible policies.
Yeah I totally agree, I think COVID has actually encouraged – I’ll call it ‘encourage’ because that’s the way I see it – encouraged the change in the modality or the mode of teaching, so we’re now moving into a situation where governing bodies, institutions are gonna have to rethink how they’ve done things in the past, and the old or the traditional face-to-face mode might actually change as well. So we’re just going to move, I know you’ve already mentioned a few bits around academic integrity,
So let’s look at your experience working with students in the online space and for you, or from your experience, what are some reasons students cheat and are there a module in academic integrity supporting improving that, if there is, do you have any stats to show that that’s actually working or are students cheating even more Traditionally, you know from the literature, and practice supports this as well, Students cheat because often they don’t believe in themselves or their ability to perform in an assessment situation.
Time management is another reason, and the third common one is relevance – finding that what they’re doing is relevant to their goals and to their personal circumstances what’s interesting is if you flip that on the head, students’ views of effective teaching especially effective online teaching, are teachers that adapt to students needs, provide meaningful examples and motivate students to do their best, so there’s a nice link there between what happens and why, and what the preventative measures are which would be to build those relationships with our students. So across the sector, we’re seeing universities introduce the sorts of modules or credentials that you’re talking about.
RMIT has one the University of the Sunshine Coast just made theirs mandatory for every student, and I suppose the act of completing the module once is one thing, but how that goes on to be embedded into the students’ practice. So you know, our teachers in the classroom having those conversations about how to prepare for an assessment, or the skills you need or what you need to evidence, so that sort of needs to be more than just a module.
It needs to have tentacles that spread out into the curriculum so that it’s a conversation that’s happening everywhere, like we are all responsible for academic integrity – our support services, our teachers, the students the student support networks, so it’ll take some time I think before we can really draw any sort of tangible evidence on if those sorts of badges or modules are having an effect.
I think a more interesting way would be to start mapping when we’re recording academic misconduct cases, can we map it to the assessment type? You know, is there, does a university have a certain fabric to its identity or the students that they recruit don’t respond well to certain assessments, or you know, what is it about there, what are the more creative ways we can look at this How can we design an assessment that’s so authentic it’s impossible to cheat? I’d much rather see the sector start to solve those challenges as opposed to starting designing proctoring tools that scan your bedroom before you sit to take a test. Perfect.
I think that actually leads me to my next question which is which piggybacks on your background in coaching academics when it comes to online teaching, so what is your approach when you’re coaching or supporting academics with redesigning the content, whether it looks and take into the consideration student experience, the need for quality and especially delivery in the online space?
So you’d probably know more than me about design Chuks, you’re an amazing learning designer, so when it comes to design, honestly my advice is always to keep it simple Biggs’ constructive alignment – align your course and have good assessments and moments that lead up to those assessments or those pathways, but where I think the nuance comes in that is the feedback loops.
We often talk about low stakes and high stakes assessments and in order to get students comfortable with the higher stakes assessment, we need to have those opportunities to practice what they’re doing and anytime someone’s practicing something a skill or working with a new piece of information, the feedback loops have to be there and someone that I always turn to for what to do with feedback loops is the work by John Hattie.
Thinking about ways to both design courses and deliver them that’s giving multiple opportunities to get feedback on tasks, on processes, on self-regulation, and of course affect to keep the motivation up, keep students coming back for more because when students feel good about their learning experience, that is what keeps them moving.
I think we also forget a fair bit of learning is uncomfortable and it should be uncomfortable, but we still need those mechanisms to recreate that comfort so that we don’t lose students, and I think human motivation in minds that are the work of Carol Dweck – is often nice to bring into that space, and then specifically for online learning, anything out of the University of Edinburgh they have for example an online manifesto and if you’re moving into the online space.
So if we want to get the most out of someone it’s often tapping into what interests them at that moment in time and being able then to reflect and build on that, and once you start getting those loops in motion, you can really hit a rhythm. I think we found that online courses and online teachers after about three times teaching, and these would be in six to ten-week courses,
That they hit – both the course and the teachers – hit a rhythm in the approach and the delivery. Often, you know, it makes delivering a course three times to start understanding how students understand in your course. Yeah, I think people learn from their mistakes or learn from the feedback students give them, and hopefully improve their courses.