Friday, 27 March 2009

Planning for next year...

In the last session of this term I had a chat with my students about what they liked and disliked about each module I taught. While you always get some people who complain about everything (this is a universal thing, not related to students only) there was a lot of useful positive feedback. From this I thought about how to change the module delivery for my second-year module, Frameworks in English Discourse Analysis for the next academic year. Including, of course, Web 2.0 technology!

One strand of the delivery is reading papers, which I initially discussed in the seminar itself. This turned out to be not a good idea, as it can be tedious, and if some students forgot to do the reading, then all the talking has to be done by me. First solution: do practical group work in the seminars, and ask the students to read the texts afterwards. Then they don't need to prepare anything to benefit from the seminar group session, and they can do the reading as a kind of revision. Disadvantage: they might not do it at all and then lack the theoretical background required to follow the module over the course of the year.

A student suggestion was to organise reading/study groups, where the students meet outside the seminars and discuss the readings/work their way through them, answering tutor-supplied questions. This is already practice in some other modules, and I think it is a good idea. In an ideal world students would do that sort of thing under their own steam, but it can be difficult as it's got to be a team effort. So, one plan for next year is to set up such groups.

I then had another idea: the same students are always together in the seminar meetings, and that is a bit luck-of-the-draw to which group you are assigned. You won't ever meet people from any other group, and hence your overall experience is a bit restricted in that way. So I thought I would compose the study groups across seminar groups. If, like this year, I have three FREDA groups, I will pick two students from each group to make up a study group of six. These students will then meet up, and discuss the reading, reporting back in their own seminar groups. The composition of the groups will change after each half-term, so that people should get to know each other, forming one big learning community.

To facilitate the community aspect I was thinking of using a blog for the module. I am not quite sure yet how best to do that, one blog per study group? One blog for the study groups and one 'official' module blog? Or just one altogether? The latter might make it easier to organise. Only time will tell whether and how that works, and it will of course also depend on the students themselves! And perhaps Wiki pages will be a better medium? Maybe Wikis to collate material, and a blog to reflect on the process?

Another feedback issue was that the students wanted more lectures than just one every other week. Here I will use podcasts to fill the gaps.


  1. I'm all in favour of encouraging students to meet in study groups between seminars. There can be practical problems -- sometimes groups don't gel, or timetabling issues derail the arrangement -- but when it works it's a very good way of encouraging the students to get more involved and do more effective seminar preparation.

    In the past, I have sometimes tried asking groups to post the results of their discussions on Web CT. I tried to keep different seminar groups separate, as I thought students would be more likely to post if they thought they were sharing directly with other members of their own seminar group. This didn't altogether work -- groups tended to get muddled, and I found it was more work than I had anticipated to keep track of all the groups (and all too often I was saying the same thing more than once). Creating cross-seminar groups might help, but you would still want to ensure that moderating contributions didn’t take up disproportionate amounts of your time.

    And using a platform other than Web CT has got to be an advantage.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Yes, these are problems that will have to be dealt with. As for the gelling, I thought that by shuffling the groups every five weeks it won't be too bad if you end up in a suboptimal group, as in total you'd be in 4 different groups over the course of the year. It might even encourage team-working if you're not necessarily together with your best friends. I have come across something else that I might try with the groups, but I'll blog about this in another post soon.

    And the scheduling, there is this nifty web-app that we used to (unsuccessfully!) find a common time for the Web 2.0 course. If students use that one, then it might be easier to arrange times.

    As for the fruits of this labour, I am not quite sure yet. WebCT is definitely a no-go, and I'm hesitating between a wiki and a blog. A wiki would be useful for accumulating stuff, while a blog would be better for charting a progression. Maybe the solution is to use both.

    Finally, making sure it won't eat into too much of my time- I don't have a solution for that.

  3. I'm still trying to bring the ELGG software in for the Arts - that should offer a decent alternative. Watch this space...

  4. I really like your idea of using the web-app to ascertain students' availability (both for the tutor's benefit and their own).

    Bilus: any advice about how to set one of these up?