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Stories of Innovation

1. The flipped learning approach

Anthony Kadi overhauls his Engineering subjects

Anthony Kadi at festivalAnthony talks to colleagues at the Learning2014 Festival

Anthony Kadi’s passion for Engineering education, in particular telecommunication engineering and networks, signal processing, engineering practice, led him to completely overhaul all of the subjects he teaches from standard lecture/tutorial/lab mode to utilizing flipped learning practices.

In Engineering Practice Preparation 1, a compulsory subject for 240 students who are about to go on internships, he has revised the structure so that there are six online lectures, six face to face workshop classes plus assessment tasks. Recorded lectures are given by a mix of academics, careers staff and industry so his students have a good understanding of the environment they will soon enter. Students need to engage in lecture review online quizzes and achieve a minimum mark 75% to ‘unlock’ the next video lecture in the series.

For one of their assessments in the subject, students produce a resume which is assessed and must be deemed ‘competitive’ to be accepted. They are provided with multiple rounds of formative feedback before their final submissions.  Prior to the flipped approach, there was typically a 40% resubmission rate for students to produce a competitive outcome. Through increased individualized online engagement, students are now producing better quality outcomes with the resubmission rate dropping to below 10%

In a number of postgraduate telecommunication classes, video lectures have reduced the face-to-face contact requirements on students by 50%. Learning engagement has increased through a combination of individual quizzes and collaborative quizzes, the latter being supported by the collaborative ‘pod’ classrooms that have been built throughout the campus. Students prefer video lectures because they can watch them when they want and wherever they want. International students appreciate them because they can watch them more than once to replay sections they didn’t comprehend the first time.

“Collaborative learning really works”, says Kadi. “I love it when my students argue with each other about what the right answer is during their collaborative quizzes. That’s evidence of them learning – testing their understanding with others and getting feedback. They can access their notes and resources during the quiz. And they’re always keen to find out where they went wrong and why. This would not be possible without the physical infrastructure to support it.”


2. Authentic assessment

Scott Chadwick uses authentic assessment strategies in first year chemistry

Scott Chadwick in his lab Dr Scott Chadwick

Scott Chadwick teaches a first year cohort of undergraduate Chemists. There are about 1200 in total across two teaching semesters.

This year there have been a number of influencing factors which encouraged Scott to reconsider how he teaches the subject.   New laboratory spaces have been built in the Faculty of Science and the number of face-to-face lecture hours has been reduced. Scott noticed a drop in student engagement and was concerned about failure rates.

Previously Chemistry 1 students were primarily assessed on their discipline content and knowledge, with over 70% of the final marks coming from exam or quiz based assessment. This led to a relatively high failure rate ~30%, in addition to a lack of development and assessment of students practical skills.

With the introduction of learning.futures and the move towards more authentic assessment practice, the assessment tasks have been redesigned to produce a more balanced distribution of ‘testing’. This has enabled the assessment of a wider range of graduate attributes, for example students are now assessed on their laboratory skills with the introduction of a practical skills assessment.  

Online pre-labs were introduced, requiring students to complete a series of questions based on material presented in lectures before coming to class. This ensures that students are prepared for the laboratory class and teaching staff can focus on developing their students’ practical skills rather than reiterating lecture material.

The students are also developing their professional identity with the introduction of the Professional Practice Points (PPP) assessment, where students self-assess their own laboratory performance on behavioural skills such as communication, interpersonal skills and team work. The staff members also provide weekly individualised feedback to the students on their performance in the laboratory.

These factors have resulted in a significant improvement in student results (failure rate was reduced by half) as well as staff and student satisfaction. “The introduction of learning.futures activities has had an overwhelming positive effect on Chemistry 1, students are more engaged and more motivated to learn”, says Chadwick. Preliminary feedback from students indicates that by changing the way we approach assessment, we can change the way they feel about a subject. “From hating chemistry in Year 11 and 12, l came into this class thinking it was just going to be a repeat of fails and everything… Chemistry is now my favourite subject so far.” (Chemistry 1 student, Autumn Semester, 2015)

Note:  Scott has just won a 2015 UTS Learning and Teaching Award for his work.


3. Developing skills through practice oriented learning

The UTS Model of Learning is exemplifed in Event Creation Lab, a capstone subject in the Bachelor of Management

Associate Professor Carmel Foley coordinates a capstone unit in the Bachelor of Management (Event Management major) with approximately 100 undergraduate students. An internship is included in the degree but feedback from students indicated that the program was too theoretical and they wanted more practice-based subjects. So this subject was developed as the capstone for their major.

This subject examines various aspects of teamwork and leadership in the context of a practice-based experience of event design and management. The subject content includes a mix of theory and experiential learning as students work in teams to design, project manage and implement an event of their own creation. Each week the students engage in preparation tasks, team meetings and post-class reflection.  Serious levels of collaboration are required as the students take on the various interdependent roles of an event management team.  The student teams use the events to support charities of their choice. Examples of events are Walk on Water, a recycled designer fashion runway event that raised funds for Opportunity International Australia,  Te Amo Latino, a dance party that raised funds for Oxfam Australia, and Mini Games, an inclusive sporting event for children of all abilities that raised funds and community awareness for the Touched by Olivia Foundation.  Finally, students use techniques of personal reflection to evaluate the teamwork and leadership experiences that they have engaged in with their peers over the semester.

Assessment includes self and peer assessment on contribution to the event and teamwork skills as per the criteria below as well as a team presentation and a reflective essay.

example from event creation lab

 “The subject develops interpersonal skills (leadership, teamwork) in a practice-oriented learning framework: teams of students conceive, create, implement and evaluate an event. The subject is well received by students and acknowledged by peers” (pers. comm. Dr Carmel Foley November 2015).

 “I feel that I am much better prepared for any work in event management having completed this subject” (SFS 2009). “I liked how practical this subject was. It allowed real application of events knowledge to a situation and learning how to work with others” (SFS 2011).  “This is the most practical and useful subject I've undertaken during my tenure [at UTS]” (SFS 2014). “It was great to put the skills we have been learning into action” (SFS 2014). “This is a fantastic subject in which I learned lots of practical knowledge and skills required in the event and business industry” (SFS 2014).  “It was wonderful to meet new people and work so closely with some of them. It also forced me to challenge myself and test my abilities which is very important! A great note to finish my degree on” (SFS 2014).

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Student video - Event Creation Lab.


4. Active learning

Megan Phillips uses active learning to prepare students for field trips in Environmental Science

Biosphere field trip -students outside collecting samplesStudents on a field trip

Megan Phillips coordinates an undergraduate subject called The Biosphere with around 110 first year Environmental Science students. This subject has introduced a new, hands-on field trip with preparation activities and post-trip reflection to initiate new students in to Environmental Sciences at UTS.

The Biosphere’s field trip is a keystone learning aspect of the subject, where students experience nature and use scientific enquiry to analyse the world around them. In order for students to maximise their experience in the field, a series of pre-trip active-learning exercises were designed. These include a blend of online learning modules and collaborative team-work in newly built ‘Pod’ spaces. Students focus on “learning to look” through the eyes of a scientific researcher, which enables them to refine their abilities in carefully examining and succinctly recording the species and natural features in a given region.

Megan uses these collaborative spaces to create memorable team learning experiences. In one workshop, she adds an element of ‘gaming’ whereby students race (outside) to collect and observe plant data then return back to their team members to debrief, thereby offering opportunities to co-create knowledge which leads to a deeper understanding.

During the field trip, students produce a Field Journal which details their personal observations, new knowledge and experiences in the natural world. The quality of these Journals has been influenced by the students having had the opportunity for practice and feedback.

“Hands-on field trip experience proved to be an incredibly powerful way for UTS Environmental Science students to learn about the natural world”, observes Phillips. “Students are so much more likely to recall the trees they examined themselves, or the insects they found crawling through the leaf litter, than remember images someone else has taken.” Phillips also says that “The addition of pre-trip learning helped our students develop key field-based analytical skills to carefully examine and record patterns in nature in a useful, easy-to-interpret way - just as a proficient research scientist, naturalist or environmental consultant would”.

And her students agree. “The Biosphere was an excellent subject. It was my favourite out of all the subjects I did this semester. The Blue Mountains excursion was by far the most exciting activity that I came across in the subject as it allowed me to put theoretical knowledge to use when observing physical elements out in the environment.”

“This subject has been a great introduction into my degree and I can only hope the rest of my subjects are just as interesting and engaging as this was.”

“Fieldwork was cool in the way that it engaged you with what you could actually do as a scientist.”


5. Engaging a diverse post-graduate cohort

Helena Heizmann uses learning.futures strategies to engage postgraduate students in Organisational Dialogue

UTS Management Discipline Group learning and teaching award winner Helena Heizmann coordinates an MBA core subject Organisational Dialogue: Theory & Practice. Helena has undertaken a major curriculum revision of the subject (previously named Studies in Business Communication), which was prompted by student feedback calling for urgent action. The feedback had highlighted the dissatisfaction of professional part-time students with content that was not tied to their level of professional practice, while also highlighting a need to more effectively support students with limited business communication experience and competency.

Figure 1 provides a simplified overview of the key changes that Helena initiated in the new subject to more effectively address the needs of both of these target audiences:

changes to course - figure which explains what has been done

A workplace case study forms now the major assessment task in the subject and involves student teams planning and conducting a professional communication audit. Students present and write a report on their findings (50%) and are asked to reflect on their learning and its implications for their own professional practice (20%). Throughout the subject they work in often highly diverse teams and are provided with online materials that support their ability to collaborate across different cultural and professional backgrounds. Helena has also placed emphasis on exposing students to industry experience by inviting guest speakers such as Sandra Nieuwenhuijzen (Head of Maintenance Operations, Qantas Airways) to provide insights on dialogic leadership. 

On her experiences with teaching a large cohort, Heizmann says: “Initially I found it difficult to engage students in a large lecture theatre where most students would naturally feel quite shy. Many are new to the Australian context, new to their program and to concept of working dialogically. I wanted them to feel welcome and positive about their decision to come and study at UTS.” Helena’s lectures are inspired by an interactive and practice-based learning philosophy involving flexible switching between traditional lecture components, video material enabling applied discussions, and experiential peer-to-peer activities.

In line with the UTS learning.futures initiative, curriculum improvements in Organisational Dialogue: Theory & Practice were designed to provide research-inspired and academically rigorous learning in face-to-face postgraduate education while employing technology to create learning efficiencies. The changes to date have been well received by students and recognised by peers as “an outstanding example of curriculum development to address the needs of a particularly diverse cohort of students” (Management Discipline Group Learning & Teaching Award). Plans for the future include the introduction of a ‘Learning Log’ that integrates pre-class learning materials into the assessment design and encourages students’ to reflect on the relevance and future application of their learning.