10 assessment myths?

I believe that the following 10 opinions on assessment are mistaken. Do you agree with me?

  1. For the sake of fairness, all students should be assessed identically.
  2. The more summative assessment there is, the greater the impact on learning.
  3. If a higher proportion of students achieve the top grade, standards must be slipping.
  4. Once a marking team has agreed upon essay criteria and standards, consensus will be achieved on grades for individual essays.
  5. There are no valid ways to assess transferable skills such as teamwork or communication.
  6. Formative assessment benefits all students in equal measure.
  7. It is not feasible to measure abstract qualities such as personal integrity or multicultural awareness.
  8. It is best to show students their grades before providing qualitative feedback.
  9. If a student has received quality feedback on a formative assessment task, they will be completely prepared to perform better on a subsequent, related summative assessment.
  10. Setting a summative assessment is the most effective way to motivate learners.

 

Case Study: Initiating a Peer Mentoring Program in Higher Education

This case study is a critical reflection on the Peer Mentoring Program (PMP) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). My manager, the Director of the Independent Learning Centre, CUHK, tasked me to scope, research, plan, pilot, evaluate and refine the PMP.

Background to the PMP

The Peer Mentoring Program is a collaborative undertaking between the Independent Learning Centre (ILC), the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) Wellness and Counselling Centre and participating Colleges of CUHK. (To clarify, the College system in CUHK is reminiscent of Oxbridge, i.e. each College is a community with its own hostel and dining facilities, offering pastoral care and extra-curricular learning opportunities.) The pilot PMP ran during the autumn term of CUHK’s 2014-2015 academic year and has continued until the present academic year. The schedule for the most recent run of the PMP is published online at https://www.ilc.cuhk.edu.hk/workshop/pmp/#schedule

In 2014, peer mentoring was nothing new to CUHK. However, the objectives of the pre-existing CUHK Peer Mentorship Program and Shaw College Mentorship Program are more career-oriented; the mentors are alumni of the University and the mentees are senior students. By contrast, the PMP was aimed at supporting first year undergraduates as they adapted from relatively directed secondary education to relatively undirected tertiary education. In other words, the primary purpose of the PMP is to facilitate first year undergraduate students’ successful transition to higher education with an emphasis on learning to learn more independently. Mentoring by senior students is the means by which the transition is supported.

Mentors are prepared for their role by the ILC with support from the OSA regarding the development of student counselling skills; mentors are closely supported throughout the program by an ILC Lecturer. By engaging in the program, it is also hoped that mentors benefit by acquiring or improving a range of skills that are highly relevant to their future working lives.

SO1 : Identified goals for staff and for academic development processes and activities

These were the finalised outcomes of the pilot PMP:

Intended learning outcomes for mentees

  • Development of study skills that are appropriate for higher education
  • Knowledge about campus and virtual learning resources and facilities
  • Appreciation of ways to foster positive relationships with fellow students and faculty members
  • Awareness of campus activities that encourage student involvement

Intended learning outcomes for mentors

  • Initial development of training and counselling skills
  • Improvement of communication skills
  • Increased empathy through identification with challenges faced by mentees
  • Enhanced capacity for reflection on learning

In addition, for mentors and mentees alike, it is anticipated that the Program contributes to the following:

  • Increased confidence and motivation
  • Stronger sense of belonging to CUHK
  • Heightened intercultural sensitivity
  • Enhanced inter/intrapersonal abilities
  • Improved communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills

These outcomes and aims were synthesized from ILC/OSA strategy, ideas from relevant academic literature (that is cited below) and consultation with participating Colleges, as well as through reflection and discussion between myself and the ILC Director.

My involvement as an ILC lecturer in developing the PMP was in line with the mission statement of the ILC to “collaborate with teachers and units across the Chinese University of Hong Kong to provide resources and activities to support and encourage independent learning.” (https://www.ilc.cuhk.edu.hk/EN/mission.aspx) My Director had a long-standing interest in peer mentorships and gave me a direct instruction to develop the program.

The OSA Wellness and Counselling Centre’s interest in the PMP came from a concern to ensure students’ mental wellbeing (psychosocial integration) in the critical period of the first term of their undergraduate careers. As is stated on their website, the Centre “assists students to overcome adjustment difficulties, derive success and satisfaction from their university experiences as well as achieve personal growth and self-enhancement.”

At the University level, retention of first year students is a serious matter, primarily from the perspective of concern for students’ welfare but also regarding institutional financial health. According to statistics published by CUHK online at https://www.iso.cuhk.edu.hk/english/publications/facts-and-figures/index.aspx?issueid=1661 , tuition fees were 24.5% of total University income in 2014-15. Student numbers and retention are also factors in the calculation of government subventions for publicly-funded higher education institutions which, in 2014-15 accounted for 55.1% of CUHK’s income. So, the University has a vested interest in students progressing successfully from initial to second and final years of study.

Thus, it appears that the PMP was straightforwardly a top-down, strategic initiative. Although I had been instructed to proceed with the PMP, I still had a responsibility to verify that a mentoring program would be a wise investment of ILC resources and I needed inspiration on how to design such a program. So, bearing in mind ILC/OSA agendas, yet trying to remain unbiased, I turned to academic articles and reports on peer mentorships in higher education. From these sources, I sought to confirm whether, and understand how, peer mentoring could be an effective vehicle to carry forward the aforementioned strategic goals in the environment of CUHK.

Reassuringly, I found compelling evidence that peer mentoring in higher education is advantageous. For example, in 2011 Andrews [not me] & Clark produced a report on funded peer mentoring projects in UK higher education, arguing strongly that mentoring is valuable for student retention and success.

The same report also lent credence to my OSA colleagues’ belief in the timing of the PMP, “The first few days and weeks at university are widely acknowledged as being crucial to student success.” However, the report also promoted a longer relationship between mentor and mentee, so the decision was made to extend the PMP to cover the whole of the autumn academic term.

The ILC’s intention to cultivate self-direction in learning via the PMP seemed to be in line with the conclusions of Andrews & Clark. The transition from secondary to tertiary education can represent a genuine hurdle for some learners and that this is so has been well-documented, for example Smith’s 2004 case study focuses on British contexts but remarks that transition is a global concern because “many of the issues are fundamental to any post-school education system which is aimed at more than a small, socially selected minority of the population.” One viable means to facilitate the process of learning to learn in the new context of higher education is mentoring by students who are in their second or third years of study.

There is a theme running through the body of research that the value of peer mentoring programs is as much for mentors as it is for mentees. Colvin & Ashman (2010) found that the experience of “…mentoring allowed them [mentors] to reapply concepts into their own lives and helped them become even better students themselves.” A Beltman and Schaeben (2010) article highlights that mentors develop personal efficacy and employability skills, and the latter point is reiterated in the Andrews & Clark report. Such evidence supported the belief of my Director and I that we should have, as our secondary aim, the development of mentors’ transferable and employability skills.

By using scholarship, one of Bostock & Baume’s (2016) elements of professionalism, I had verified that the PMP could be a worthwhile project and was better informed about selecting appropriate outcomes and aims.

SO2 : Planned and led academic development processes and activities towards achievement of these goals

Meanwhile, my Director negotiated for the pilot PMP to occur within two Colleges – Morningside College and C.W. Chu College. This was achievable thanks to her infectious enthusiasm, networking skills and status in a strongly hierarchical institution. Without her fulfilling these leadership roles, I would not have been able to make the PMP happen. Also, it was good to start on a small scale, to test out the PMP in a manageable way and later expand it hopefully. It was also decided to leave the recruitment of the mentors and matching with mentees to the Colleges for the pilot run, the reasoning being that College staff knew their students better than the ILC and that a feeling of joint ownership of the Program would be encouraged. One College encouraged mainland Chinese first year students to participate as mentees since there were concerns about their potential isolation in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong.

For the successful conclusion of the above negotiations, the Colleges and OSA required formal proposals. The readings that I had consulted informed the PMP proposals.

For instance, valuable advice on the specification of learning outcomes for the PMP was gained from Corella (2010). Two of the learning outcomes for mentees, namely ‘knowledge about campus and virtual learning resources and facilities’ and ‘appreciation of ways to foster positive relationships with fellow students and faculty members’ were derived directly from this study.

A practical suggestion from Beltman & Schaeben (2010) that my Director and I incorporated was to recognise and reward mentors with a Certificate of Completion. From their respective Colleges, mentors also received a modest financial thank you for their service.

Terrion & Leonard’s (2007) meta-survey of peer mentoring journal articles helped to identify positive characteristics of mentors with more certainty. A list of mentor characteristics was useful both to inform the recruitment of new mentors and to identify objectives for further development of mentors’ attributes during the PMP. Examples of mentor characteristics are academic achievement, ability/willingness to commit time, communication skills, flexibility and empathy.

Two handbooks on peer mentoring and four descriptions of established large-scale peer mentorship schemes on other higher education institutions’ websites also influenced the specification and design of the PMP. As an example of such influence, Utah University explains that their mentors are trained, not merely experienced students, which struck a chord with me.  I reflected upon the significance of thorough preparation for mentors and opted to make it a central element of the PMP. (These less formal sources, like Utah’s webpages, are acknowledged in the reference list below.)

With all the gathered information, I crafted formal proposals to OSA and the two Colleges, which were accepted. A sample proposal is available below as Appendix A. Furthermore, I set about compiling the PMP Handbook, excerpts of which are downloadable below as Appendix B. I reproduce the contents page here for readers’ convenience:

  • Intended Outcomes of the Program
  • Mentors and Mentoring
  • Guidelines for Mentors
  • Guidelines for Mentees
  • Roles of ILC Lecturers
  • Confidentiality Statement
  • Mentor-Mentee meeting form
  • ILC Lecturer-Mentor meeting form
  • Mentor Training sessions
  • Mentee Preparation sessions
  • End-of-Program Mentor review form
  • End-of-Program Mentee review form
  • Mentoring References

The handbook was intended as an introduction to the PMP for all stakeholders, a scaffold of the process for both mentors and mentees, and a handy reference to procedures. Besides the confidentiality agreement in the Handbook, mentors were also asked to sign a research participation agreement in case the ILC decided to publish an article or present findings about the PMP at a conference. The agreement is available below as Appendix C. Promotional posters were made for the Colleges with design and publishing assistance from an ILC colleague. A sample is included below as Appendix D.

With the pilot PMP schedule agreed (Appendix E) and recruitment on track, my colleagues in OSA and I jointly prepared for the face-to-face mentor and mentee preparation sessions.

SO3 : Facilitated and led processes and activities to achieve the agreed goals

The mentors attended four preparations sessions that took the form of interactive explorations of mentoring concepts and skills facilitated by myself, my Director and two professional counsellors from OSA. Separately, I visited Colleges to brief mentees, also in a participative session.

It was important that the mentor preparation sessions were participatory and reflective to give the participants the opportunity to start developing skills and to acquire relevant knowledge. An earlier edition of Petty (2014) was a source of ideas for session activity design. Should ideas and advice on mentoring have been ‘transmitted’ in a traditional lecture format, I would have been less confident that session content had been absorbed or could be applied successfully. The intention was for there to be constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011) between the session outcomes and the training methods. Fortuitously, the OSA counsellors were of a similar mindset, coming as they do from a profession that, like education, recognises the importance of strong connectivity between theory and practice.

Appendix F is the handout for (half of) the fourth preparation session. This part was delivered by me. It focused on the topic of learner motivation. As can be seen from the handout, the session was activity-based. The objectives were for mentors to understand categories of motivation and factors that influence it and to become familiar with reflective strategies that can encourage persistence in studying. In the same session, OSA training followed and their objectives were as follows:

  • Start to develop communication skills essential for interacting successfully with mentees
  • Raise your awareness of possible difficulties for mentees and identify ways to provide support

Although my OSA colleagues are professional counsellors rather than educators, they did a great job of writing appropriate learning outcomes and facilitating their parts of the sessions. I remained present and was there to provide support, although that did not prove to be needed.

To future proof the preparation sessions, in case there were a change of personnel, I designed PowerPoint slides that contained activity instructions so that other ILC lecturers would be able to facilitate them with greater ease. Sample PowerPoint slides for the second session are included below as Appendix G. (In the event, this was fortunate because I left the employment of CUHK in 2015.)

As part of the preparation, participants were introduced to the mentor-mentee meeting form (Appendix B), a straightforward template to focus and record discussions and action points. Example, anonymized notes from a genuine mentor-mentee meeting appear in Appendix H.

Once the preparation phase was completed, the actual mentoring began. During the first term of the academic year, mentors performed their roles and I was available to support the mentors. My role is described in the PMP Handbook (see Appendix B). During October and November, I scheduled weekly meetings with the mentors. At these meetings, the mentors were free to discuss any issues with which they had dealt. However, they were not to disclose any confidential information about their mentees. In advance of meetings, mentors could identify specific areas where they require more knowledge and request direction from me. For example, to help their mentees, mentors may have needed to know more about term paper writing or examination revision strategies. I also responded to requests for additional meetings at reasonable notice. Where a mentor or mentee had a cause for concern that they wished to discuss privately, they could contact me during office hours. OSA staff also provided contact details in case referral to a counsellor was deemed necessary.

To be frank, there was minimal participation in the weekly meetings and I was not called upon for one-to-one support frequently. I discuss this more in the section below on evaluation.

SO4 : Monitored and evaluated the effectiveness and the acceptability of the development processes and activities

As can be seen in the Handbook (Appendix B), there are two evaluation forms for the PMP, one for mentors and one for mentees. The questions on the forms are designed to gather quantitative feedback on participation rates in the mentoring process and an indication of satisfaction with the quality of preparation and support. They are also intended to prompt students to reflect on the value of their experience of mentoring or being mentored and thus serve a formative function.

To check whether the ILC’s objective of fostering learner independence was being met, mentors were invited to try the Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) before and after the PMP. This online questionnaire is a self-reporting instrument that “measures the complex of attitudes, abilities, and characteristics that comprise readiness to engage in self-directed learning”. It was decided that it would be administered following the first mentor preparation session and again after the conclusion of the Program. A set of SDLRs anonymised results for mentors may be seen in Appendix J below.

After the pilot PMP ended in December 2014, I reflected on the evaluation data and the experience of the Program as I interpreted it, and made the following summary:

Promotion and Recruitment

The promotion of PMP to two colleges was handled very well. Everything was well-organized and in place by the commencement of the program.

College X appeared to be more successful in recruiting mentees than College Y. In some cases, mentees may have been “volunteered” without a clear perception that they were in need of a mentor. On the other hand, some mentors were content with the situation because they considered that one mentee was as many as they could manage properly.

Training for Mentors

The mentors participated in four workshops facilitated by ILC staff and OSA professional counsellors. Feedback on the workshops was mostly positive. The content seemed appropriate. The third workshop, which focused on time management skills, may need more development. Alternatively, the ILC training materials could be redistributed between the sessions so that there is more equal content quantity.

One issue with the training was that not all mentors attended all sessions.

Mentoring Phase

As this was the pilot program, participation was deliberately limited to students from C.W. Chu College and Morningside College. According to feedback from mentors, this was advantageous in that mentors and mentees could find each other easily, although some mentors still expressed difficulties in arranging regular face-to-face meetings. I would suggest more structure for this phase with a commitment from the outset of the program for mentors to meet their mentees a minimum number of times and to document all meetings.

It was also intended that mentors would visit the ILC lecturer once a week. For reasons unclear, this did not happen.

The mentoring phase may have been too short. Mentors commented that they spent the first few weeks just getting to know their mentees and building good relationships. It might be better to extend the program into the second semester.

SDLRS

This online inventory was easy to administer, and the results were conveniently reported with some statistical analysis. Unfortunately, there was a security issue with SDLRS which cannot be resolved through further email communications. However, it may be worth risking and trying it again with the mentors. I believe that the use of SDLRS adds weight to the argument to extend PMP into semester two, so that there would be more of a gap between taking SDLRS the first and second times. In this way, the results may become more meaningful.

SO5 : Identified any appropriate follow-up development process or activity

As is mentioned above, there were problems in administering the SDLRS a second time. However, that issue was resolved, and the instrument could be used twice on every run of the PMP, to see whether mentors reported increased self-regulation after experiencing the Program. I was keen to retain the SDLRS because it provided a means to cross-reference with related questions on the mentor evaluation form (Appendix B). Moreover, results from a more objective instrument such as the SDLRS, should they positive, would be helpful in promoting the PMP to additional Colleges.

For logistical reasons, it was decided by senior management that the PMP would continue as an autumn term offering only. ILC lecturers’ attention would be needed elsewhere during the spring and summer terms. Although from my perspective I would have preferred extending the PMP into the spring term at least, I had to bear in mind the operational priorities of the ILC and remind myself not to become frustrated. As one of my peers on the SEDA Supporting & Leading Educational Change course has pointed out, though, a viable way forward would be to make the PMP self-sustaining, and for the ILC to gradually recede as College staff took over. Shifting the responsibility for mentoring the mentors, currently assumed by an ILC lecturer, to the Colleges, may also make it easier to keep in touch with mentors during the actual mentoring phase. CUHK has a large campus on a hill and it may have been an inconvenience for mentors to visit the ILC once a week.

Although I would have liked to develop the PMP more, the fact is that I left CUHK in January 2015. Fortunately, my colleagues at the ILC have persevered and succeeded in attracting  S.H.Ho College to participate in the Program, too. Another innovation that they have made is to include a final session for mentors during which they can all reflect together on the experience, which should be fruitful. To celebrate mentors’ completion of the PMP, Certificate award ceremonies were photographed and uploaded to College websites. Doing this also served to promote the PMP across the University for the next run in 2015/16.

I now work as an academic developer at the University of Reading (UoR) in the UK. The experience of developing and implementing the PMP at CUHK had convinced me of the value of peer mentorships. As a result, I was delighted that a briefing on peer learning and mentoring is included in the UoR’s Academic Practice Programme (APP), a taught route to Higher Education Academy Associate and full Fellowship. Last year I invited the coordinators of the University’s Student Transitions at Reading (STaR) mentor partnership and Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) scheme to address APP participants, who are mostly probationary lecturers, in order to raise participants’ awareness of the value of peer mentoring. The coordinators’ presentations were also mapped to the Higher Education Academy’s UK Professional Standards Framework. Appendix K evidences the invitation with an email thread.

Currently, I am recommending the extension of UoR’s STaR mentor scheme to students who come from a partner institution in China to spend one or two years of their undergraduate programmes in the UK. Mentoring could act as a catalyst to engage both UK and Chinese students in internationalisation. My promotional activities are also evidenced in the Appendix K email thread.

Reflective commentary

Composing this case study, receiving peer feedback on it and reading chapter two of the set text for this course (Neame & Forsyth, 2016) have been valuable exercises for me to make explicit and to question the roles that I adopted as an academic developer in the development, implementation and review of the Peer Mentoring Program. I identify my Director’s orientation as principally managerial and political-strategic whereas my approaches were a combination of interventionist and democratic. I was given a clear mandate to create and run the PMP and I had most say in the design of mentor/mentee preparation sessions, but I also collaborated with OSA counsellors, crafted an evidenced proposal to persuade collaborators and was flexible about incorporating local environmental considerations.

Given that, I think it is fair to say, the culture of CUHK is such that staff are comfortable when initiatives are led by those in authority. Hong Kong lies somewhere between Western and mainland Chinese higher education institutions in terms of the autocracy of its administration (Postiglione, 2017). It was therefore appropriate for me to fulfil the roles that I did, rather than attempt to assume the roles that my Director had adopted. In another higher education environment, I may have had more leeway to instigate a novel program or project. The lesson learned is that I should pay close attention to the working culture in which I operate when selecting suitable and feasible roles. I am now aware of a range of roles and in future intend to adopt and combine roles in a more informed and explicit manner.

Writing this case study also made me realise that earlier experiences in one’s career as an educational developer can inform later ones. Although I regret that I could not develop peer mentoring further at CUHK, at least I was exposed first hand to its potential. With my awareness raised, the topics of mentoring and peer learning were obvious choices when the opportunities arose at the UoR in the UK to inform the practice of early career academics and to endorse the extension of mentoring to international students.

References

Andrews, J. & Clark, C. (2011). Peer mentoring works! How peer mentoring enhances student success in higher education. Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/what-works-student-retention/Aston-What_Works_Final_Reports-Dec_11

Beltman, S. & Schaeben, M. (2012). Institution-wide peer mentoring: Benefits for mentors. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 3(2), 33-44.

Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. McGraw-Hill Education and Open University Press.

Bostock, S. and Baume, D. (2016). Professions and professionalism in teaching and development. In: D. Baume and C. Popovic, ed., Advancing practice in academic development, 1st ed. Oxon: Routledge, pp.32-51.

Corella, A. K. (2010). Identifying college student success: The role of first year success courses and peer mentoring. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 202. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/305183569?accountid=10371

Colvin, J.W. & Ashman, M. (2010). Roles, risks and benefits of peer mentoring relationships in higher education. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 18: 2, 121-134. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13611261003678879#.UzPbnk3NvIU

Neame, C. & Forsyth, R. (2016). Needs and opportunities for development. In: D.Baume and C. Popovic, ed., Advancing practice in academic development, 1st ed. New York, Routledge, pp.17-31.

Petty, G. (2014). Teaching today: A practical guide. Oxford University Press.

Postiglione, G.A. (2017). Education, ethnicity, society and global change in Asia: The selected works of Gerard A. Postiglione. Routledge, p.153.

Smith, K. (2004). School to university: an investigation into the experience of first-year students of English at British Universities. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 3, 1, 81-93.

Terrion, J.L. & Leonard, D. (2007). A taxonomy of the characteristics of student peer mentors in higher education: Findings from a literature review. Mentoring and Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 15:2, 149-164. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cmet20

Mentoring programs

Ottawa University, Canada http://www.sass.uottawa.ca/mentoring/undergraduate/study-skills.php

Utah University, USA http://orientation.utah.edu/first-year/mentors/

Curtin University, Australia  http://mentoring.curtin.edu.au/

Aston University, UK http://www.aston.ac.uk/current-students/get-involved/mentoring-at-aston-university/peer-mentoring/

Mentoring handbooks

Fletcher, S. & Mullen, C. (Eds.). (2012). The SAGE handbook of mentoring and coaching in education. London : SAGE.

Sanft, M., Jensen, M. & McMurray, E. (2008). Peer Mentor Companion. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Appendices

Appendix A – Proposal

Appendix B – Handbook Excerpts

Appendix C – Research Participation Agreement

Appendix D – Promotional Poster

Appendix E – Schedule

Appendix F – Preparation Session Handout

Appendix G – Session Notes on PowerPoint

Appendix H – Mentor-Mentee Meeting Notes

Appendix J – SDLRS Results

Appendix K – StaR Mentoring and PAL Email Thread

Word count

Introduction 311

SO1 871; SO2 667; SO3 631; SO4 608; SO5 567

Reflective commentary 350

Total 4004

 

Does Differentiated Instruction belong in higher education?

The arguments for…

  1. In higher education, learners are predominantly adults with a clearer idea of what they wish to learn compared with children. According to the adult learning theory devised by Malcolm Knowles in the 1960s that popularised the term ‘andragogy’ (vs ‘pedagogy’), one characteristic of adult learners’ motivation is the willingness to learn when the subject matter is relevant to their perceived needs. In this regard, differentiated instruction (DI) offers an advantage in that, amongst the repertoire of DI strategies are some which differentiate content of learning for individual students. As an example, following a pre-test of relevant knowledge, lecturers can ‘curriculum compact’, i.e. excuse a learner from studying particular content because they have already exhibited sufficient mastery, thus buying time for them to acquire other knowledge. A second DI strategy that applies here is the ‘learning contract’, the negotiation of which factors in a student’s needs and interests. So, DI does offer a range of techniques to tailor courses for individual adult learners.
  2. At colleges, polytechnics and universities, student populations are often highly diverse. Besides readiness, interest and learning profiles (Tomlinson, 2005), there are numerous other factors that distinguish students from each other:
  • nationality
  • physical disability
  • specific learning disorder, e.g. dyspraxia
  • age
  • gender
  • socioeconomic status
  • ethnicity
  • religion
  • mode of study, e.g. part-time
  • etc.

In this situation, it can be argued that the question is not whether such diversity should be catered for but how it should be catered for, and DI is a rare example of a systematic yet versatile response that is available to higher education lecturers.

  1. Educators in higher education can draw confidence from the insights gained by researchers who have looked into the impact of DI in school-level education. There have been positive findings about the effect of DI on motivation, for example. (For a list of key findings about DI, see my blog entry on the topic.) Although it may be retorted that primary and secondary level education is not sufficiently relatable to higher education, it is interesting to note that in other areas, research discoveries from elementary and high school education are highly respected at university level, e.g. Black & Wiliam’s seminal work on the effectiveness of formative assessment.
  2. There have been some experiments with DI at tertiary level with positive results. As an example, Ernst & Ernst (2005) reported that “students generally responded favorably to the differentiated approach, reporting higher levels of intellectual growth”.

The arguments against…

  1. Another assumption about adult learners in Knowles’ andragogy theory runs counter to the one of the main tenets of differentiated instruction. Adult learners, says Knowles, need to be self-directed in their learning whereas in DI, the person making decisions about learning is usually the instructor, with some input from learners. Since DI was developed for younger learners, the element of control by teachers is stronger than one would expect to encounter in university settings.
  2. There have been some experiments with DI at tertiary level with negative results. In the same paper, Ernst & Ernst (2005), flags were raised about the increased time commitment needed to implement DI and it was reported that “instructor’s concerns related to the fairness of the approach”.
  3. There are alternatives to DI such as Universal Design for Learning and the increased use of Technology Enhanced Learning in order to accommodate individual learning differences.
  4. Compared with school teachers, university lecturers may not always know their students that well. This is because student cohorts may be large, contact hours may be lower, and students may go AWOL from time to time. If the lecturers are not that well informed about the learners, then any attempt at differentiated instruction would be based upon assumptions. By contrast, primary/elementary school teachers will have much greater opportunity to find about their learners and therefore apply DI more meaningfully.

So, what to do? Adopt or ignore DI?

As I have proposed in another blog entry, entitled Can differentiated instruction lead to self-directed learning?, I suggest that DI could serve as an interim measure in higher education. There may be many university students who are already self-directed but, given the increased access to higher education compared with a generation ago, it is reasonable to suppose that a more directive approach such as DI could be appropriate on occasion and for particular learners.

References

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

Ernst, H.R. & Ernst, T.L. (2005) The promise and pitfalls of differentiated instruction for undergraduate Political Science courses: Student and instructor impressions of an unconventional teaching strategy, Journal of Political Science Education, 1:1, 39-59.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2005) How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Key research findings about Flipped Learning

Students supplied with video lectures came to lessons better prepared than when they had been given textbook readings.

(DeGrazia, Falconer, Nicodemus, & Medlin, 2012)

Students preferred live in-person lectures to video lectures, but also liked interactive class time more than in-person lectures.

(Toto & Nguyen, 2009)

According to Bishop & Verleger (2013), who conducted a meta-survey on research into Flipped Learning, there has only been one empirical study on the influence of flipped classroom instruction on objective learning outcomes:

Students in the flipped environment scored significantly higher on homework assignments, projects, and tests.

(Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, 2009)

There is a need for a scientific research base if Flipped Learning is to be taken seriously by decision-makers in schools, colleges and universities.

Additional support for Flipped Learning comes from Clintondale High School, Michigan, USA, which took the extraordinary step of converting to a Flipped School, i.e. Flipped Learning is the sole method employed:

The failure rate among freshman math students dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent in one year’s time.

Finkel (2012)

References

Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. (2009). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs effective for evaluations during the 2010-2011 accreditation cycle. Baltimore, MD.

Bishop, J.L. & Verleger, M.A. (2013). The Flipped Classroom: A survey of the research. 120th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

DeGrazia, J.L., Falconer, J.L., Nicodemus, G., & Medlin, W. (2012). Proceedings from ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition 2012: Incorporating screencasts into chemical engineering courses.

Finkel, E. (2012). Flipping the script in K12. District Administration. Retrieved from www.districtadministration.com/article/flipping-script-k12

Toto, R. & Nguyen, H. (2009). Proceedings from Frontiers in Education Conference 2009: Flipping the work design in an industrial engineering course. San Antonio, Texas.

Flexible design of self-access learning centres for longevity

This article is not a discussion about the efficacy of self-access learning centres. (In recent years, some universities have backed away from physical centres, switching to online resources instead.) Instead, my assumption is that there is value in making available spaces for independent learning equipped with suitable resources. Moreover, my focus is on the secondary/high school level of education rather than on tertiary.

My concern is how relatively small educational institutions can maintain and develop quite costly self-access learning centres in the long-term. Initially, when an institution establishes such a learning facility, its novelty value stimulates student participation. However, this enthusiasm tends to peter out. Therefore, I suggest a way to keep such facilities well-utilised and worth the investment.

That way is flexible room design.

Some physical learning centres are beautifully designed, with sculpted furniture, carpets, etc. and work well as inviting environments. Here is an example:

picture-7

On the down side, rooms like this usually have fixed furniture and are space-inefficient, in other words there are relatively few seats and computers. (With the increased use of tablets and other mobile devices, however, a low number of networked PCs is becoming less of a concern.)

Another common room design is almost indistinguishable from a traditional computer lab; desktop computers are arranged in rows or in clusters, like this:

picture-6

The room can accommodate many learners but is not that enticing and restricts interactions. Yet the main problem, to my mind, is both designs’ static nature. Compare this learning centre:

picture-1

picture-2

The computers are around the edge of a large space. The furniture is movable and can be flexibly arranged. At the front of the room is an interactive whiteboard. So, this room can easily double as a classroom that is ideal for, e.g., project classes, enquiry-based learning or academic writing lessons.

Such versatility means that more use can be made of these expensive facilities. The room still operates as a self-access centre during lunchtimes and after school.

Here is an alternative design that is also flexible:

picture-3

In this room, the desks and wheeled-chairs can be moved easily and there are power sockets in the floor for laptops and tablets. Some paper-resources and a few desktops are present on the edge of the room. Again, there is an interactive whiteboard and other AV aids at the front.

Finally, here is a smaller space that is very versatile:

picture-4picture-5

This room is intended for small group work, consultations, meetings and club activities as well as individual self-access learning.

In sum, flexible room design is one measure to  make it more likely that the facilities will continue to be genuinely useful for learners and schools.

Motivation for secondary/high school students

During my years in schools, it has been my observation that motivation is a particular challenge for students aged 14-16. This view is based upon my experience as a teacher and teacher trainer in Japan, the UK, Singapore, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China. Whether learners are in secondary or high schools, this age group must study a broad range of subjects, some of which they enjoy and others not, according to individual interest and other factors, e.g. the syllabus, the learning and teaching methods but perhaps most importantly, the qualities of their teachers. Twelve and thirteen year olds, by contrast, are still fresh to the “big school” and seem more content to follow a prescribed diet of studies. Seventeen and eighteen year olds are focused on school leaving examinations. Of course I am generalising but I do think it is worthwhile to reconsider how to stimulate the enthusiasm of 14-16 year olds.

Option 1 is to tell them to be motivated, basically. It has not failed to amaze me that many teachers act like motivational speakers and assume that pep talks work. Maybe they do, I do not have data to contradict that assumption. However, I have observed this approach meeting a stony silence from many adolescents. They may be at an age when it is just not cool to follow adults’ advice. However, in some environments this is the accepted way to encourage learners.

Option 2 is for teachers to strive to make their subject as fascinating as possible. For some disciplines, for example language arts, there is flexibility over choice of content. So, some teachers work hard to research their learners’ interests and select, e.g. reading texts that are more likely to be engaging and provoke a reaction. Skilled teachers of all disciplines can also spice up lessons through clever task design, making the learning interactive and fun in spite of the students’ indifference to the lesson topics. This is basically my approach, too, but I admit that it doesn’t always work.

Therefore, I wondered whether I could get learners in this age group to reflect upon different types of motivation and come to the realisation that a particular school subject may still be worth applying themselves to even if they don’t have interest per se. I put together a session for learners with some tasks to complete that hopefully led them to this realisation. My workshop was entitled Motivating yourself to learn and its objectives were as follows:

  • Realise what motivates you to study
  • Understand definitions of types of motivation
  • Become aware of connections between subjects studied and types of motivation
  • Find reasons for positive attitudes to studying all subjects

The description of four types of motivation is debatable, of course. There are rival theories of motivation with different categories but I felt that these 4 types were accessible enough to 14-16 year olds.

I attach the learning materials Motivation_HO1 Motivation_HO2 Motivation_HO3 Motivation_HO4 and PPT show Motivating yourself to learn from that workshop for your consideration.

Do you think that these reflective exercises could positively impact on teenagers’ motivation to study?

 

What is ‘global competency’ for university students?

Francois Ortalo-Magne describes global competency (GP) as (partly) “an appreciation of the diversity of the human race”. Similarly, Richard Yelland says that GP is “to have an understanding that different cultures do things in different ways”.

The above views are not controversial to me. Cultural norms exist and, for an outsider, behaviours can only be understood by reference to the culture in question. Such ‘cultural relativism’ has been accepted in anthropology since the early twentieth century (Franz Boas). However, although knowledge about cultural diversity is an important starting point, one wonders how a higher education institution could prepare its students to appreciate the rich diversity of world cultures while avoiding the pitfall of stereotyping. The solution, it seems to me, instead of getting students to learn about a multitude of cultures at a superficial level, is to equip students with tools of enquiry to learn about aspects of given cultures in more depth as and when they need to do so during their working careers. Competency is thus partly at the level of metacognition; one should have the ability to step back from a situation and question whether there is something that one is misunderstanding, something related to the target culture, and then research it. Healthy scepticism can also be encouraged, too, in case the situation is atypical for that cultural setting.

Otherwise, as Pavel Zgaga mentions, GP is in danger of being characterised in such an abstract, decontextualised fashion that it will become unfit for any specific purpose. If GP relates to the whole world then it can only be relevant to truly global matters. However, that will be a minority of situations. More commonly, one, two or several cultures would be involved in a situation and then GP would be better understood as “relating to all parts of a situation” (Cambridge English Dictionary) or, in other terms, relating to the perspectives of the stakeholders. Incidentally, being able to take differing perspectives into account is an oft cited attribute of critical thinkers.

Let me provide an example. I conducted research (Andrews, 2005) on recently qualified teachers of English who had trained in the UK and had consequently taken up teaching positions overseas. Although they were appreciative of the teaching knowledge and skills that they had acquired during their training courses, a perceived shortfall was the lack of preparation they had received to adjust to different working practices in other countries. Expectations of what made a “good teacher” and “good employee” differed enormously between, e.g. a private South Korean language academy owner and their foreign teaching staff, and could result in conflict. Had the teachers looked into the educational traditions and values in that society, they may have relaxed in the light of their findings, or simply left if they found it unpalatable.

Awareness of other cultures, although an essential foundation, is still insufficient. Competency also implies procedural knowledge, or skills, and appropriate attitudes. At one institution where I was employed, in Hong Kong, the relevant graduate attributes were phrased thus:

Our students are expected to have a deep understanding of Chinese culture and with it a sense of national identity and pride; they should also have an appreciation of other cultures, and with that appreciation also a high degree of inter-cultural sensitivity, tolerance and a global perspective (my emphasis). The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Reference

Andrews, P. (2005). Effective online professional development for novice English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers. The Teacher Trainer. http://www.tttjournal.co.uk/

Ways to tackle plagiarism

 Some recommendations:

  • Investigate the extent and nature of plagiarism & collusion in your institution.
  • Commission lawyers to investigate related legal issues in your country – copyright, paternity right, database rights, moral rights, data protection, deception/fraud, derogatory treatment.
  • Develop an easy-to-understand definition of plagiarism that is highlighted and clarified. Be aware that there will still be ambiguities.
  • Clarify which kinds of resources may be used without naming author, e.g. collective works such as yearbooks.
  • Develop disciplinary procedures that are transparent to students & staff. Discipline could include learning as well as punishment.
  • If non-compliance is detected, investigate reasons for non-compliance & the intention of the student.
  • Discuss common issues in order to raise awareness, e.g. the thin line between collaboration & collusion.
  • Promote academic integrity as part of Integrity as a desirable quality of all graduates of your institution. Academic staff can lead by example of course.
  • Teach students critical analysis, how to build an argument, citation and referencing skills & provide them with ample practice activities that are discipline-specific. This may be initiated in language & communication subjects, but can continue in all subjects.
  • Put emphasis on teaching students time management skills. Also, avoid giving students multiple concurrent deadlines for submission of work.
  • Invest in detection software and train staff in its use. For deterrence purposes publicise that your institution uses this software but do not advertise its limitations. Decide how the software is going to be used, e.g. random samples or comprehensive checks.
  • Require students to submit written work/images electronically together with a declaration that it is their own work. Establish a searchable database of student work for each course. Make new students aware of the existence of the database. Inform students of the reason for collecting their work (data protection issue).
  • Train academic staff to be sensitive to changes in discourse style.
  • Design assessment tasks that minimize the effectiveness of plagiarism or collusion.

 

 

Key research findings about questioning skills to promote higher order thinking

A study in the 1980s revealed that over 90% of questions posed by teachers prompted factual recall only.

Dains, D. (1986). Are teachers asking the right questions? Education 1, (4) 368–374.

Another study of that period revealed a figure of 75-80%.

Dillon, J. T. (1988). Questioning and teaching: A manual of practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

When teachers increase the time allowance for students to think before they reply to questions, responses become longer and reach a higher cognitive level. Similar benefits occur when teachers also wait a few seconds after students have answered, plus other students become more participative.

Rowe, M. B. (1974). Wait-time and rewards in instructional variables, their influence on language, logic, and fate control: Part one—Wait time. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 11, 81-94.

Rowe, M. B. (1986). Wait-time: Slowing down may be a way of speeding up! Journal of Teacher Education, 37(1), 43-48.

Teachers have a tendency to echo student answers; when they do not do so other students are more attentive to their peers’ responses.

 Craig, J. & Cairo, L. (2005). Assessing the relationship between Questioning and Understanding to Improve Learning and Thinking (QUILT) and student achievement in mathematics: A pilot study. Appalachia Educational Laboratory (AEL).

During discussions, thought-provoking statements are viable alternatives to questions in order to stimulate student participation.

Wilen, W.W. (1991). Questioning skills, for teachers. National Education Association of the United States.

Individual, pair or small group interviews conducted by teachers reveal students’ awareness and understanding and provide an opportunity for teachers to notice and develop their questioning competency.

Moyer, P. & Milewicz, E. (2002). Learning to question: Categories of questioning used by preservice teachers during diagnostic mathematics interviews. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 5, 293–315.

I have attached a lesson observation form based upon the above research findings:

Questioning skills observation form

Concept checking – a valuable technique for any educator

In this entry, I will demonstrate the art of concept checking, i.e. using questions to elicit whether students have understood a difficult concept, or are able to distinguish commonly confused concepts.

Concept checking is a tried and tested technique in teaching grammar and vocabulary. Personally, I learnt the technique when I was training to become a TESOL practitioner. There is a good description of concept checking for language teaching at http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/checking-understanding

However, in this entry I would like to show how concept checking can be used for other subject teaching. In every subject there will be terminology that is hard to grasp or is easily confused with a related concept. For instance, how about “Internet” and “World Wide Web”? In everyday conversation they are used interchangeably but they are not the same.

My example concepts are ‘plagiarism’ and ‘copyright infringement’. These two concepts are often confused or conflated no matter how clearly they are presented. On more than one occasion I have been tasked to help university students and lecturers comprehend the difference between them.

Step 1: Present the concept(s) as clearly as possible

“Plagiarism occurs when someone tries to pass off another person’s work or ideas as their own without acknowledgement.” http://edc.polyu.edu.hk/PSP/teacher.htm

“Copyright infringement occurs when someone copies, publishes or distributes a piece of writing, music, picture or other work of authorship without permission.” http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/copyright

Step 2: Pose concept checking questions

What kind of offence is plagiarism – moral or legal? (moral)

What kind of offence is copyright infringement – moral or legal? (legal)

Who carries out punishment for plagiarism? (higher education institutions / the academic community)

Who carries out punishment for copyright infringement? (courts of law)

How can plagiarism be avoided? (acknowledge sources)

How can copyright infringement be avoided? (seek permission or pay)

Is there any flexibility in plagiarism rules? (No)

Is there any flexibility in copyright law? (Yes)

Reasons for concept checking

  • It intercepts and corrects misconceptions at an early stage, prior to application of knowledge and assessment.
  • It informs decisions whether to re-teach the concepts in another way or continue with, e.g., additional input.
  • It is a tool for formative assessment.
  • It can improve learning.
  • It is a diagnostic tool for differentiation by readiness.
  • It is a tool in inquiry-based learning and other inductive approaches.
  • It is a model of effective study skills.