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Exploring new approaches to enrich learning experiences

“If a student can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” Ignacio Estrada

With pressure on students to balance study, employment and lifestyle, lower attendance rates at lectures is becoming an increasing concern. Recent studies conducted at UOW have shown significant links between lower attendance and poorer academic performance.

Additionally, the provision of online lecture recordings has also been widely feared to negatively influence lecture attendance and subsequent student achievement.

These circumstances prompted UOW School of Education Senior Lecturer, Dr Michelle Eady, to look at student utilisation of learning opportunities in a second year Professional Development subject EDPD202, offered within the Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree.

Using an Educational Strategies Development Fund (ESDF) teaching grant, Dr Eady created a research team of technology-enhanced learning specialists to adjust the subject’s design.

Up until 2018, students studying the Professional Development subject attended weekly lectures on campus and visited a local school for three hours a fortnight for additional content delivery and classroom observations. More recently those trends started to change.

Working with UOW’s Learning Analytics team, Dr Eady examined the relationship between student attendance, student utilisation of online learning, and academic achievement in a 2018 cohort of students. She says there were some strong correlations between how frequently students interacted with the various avenues of learning and the student’s results.

“In the subject before 2018, students were making up for missed lectures by downloading Echo360 recordings. We also found a significant link between the count of lectures with at least one interaction (attendance, recording or slides) and final mark. Students who entered into the subject with a good academic record previously, but did not engage with the learning material, did not perform as well. We also found, in general, the more lectures a student attended, the more slides were downloaded from the Moodle site,” she says.

 

Transforming subject delivery

Given the importance of student engagement with the Moodle site, the research team transformed the delivery of the subject from weekly face-to-face lectures, to slow-release modules available on Moodle.

Dr Eady says their research revealed that there was a need for an evidence-based, enhanced learning experience that was relevant, flexible and authentic for students.

“Each fortnight, students were given access to an online module that required them to sequentially work through a relevant reading and video lecture, along with formative questions about each. Once they completed these tasks, they attempted a quiz that contributed to their overall grade for the subject. The topic addressed in the online module was then supported by the tutorial and classroom observations during the students’ school visit,” she says.

A positive outcome

As a result of the delivery mode for this subject, data gathered from the 2018 cohort revealed student learning, engagement and academic results significantly improved.

Overwhelmingly positive anecdotal feedback was also received from students about the quality and convenience of the online modules.

Dr Eady says the shift in the way the subject was delivered had several positive benefits.

“It has opened up the opportunity to involve content experts in the subject delivery. Until recently, it’s been challenging for local school teachers and UOW academics to take the time to deliver a two hour lecture,” she says. “However, with the new delivery mode, these individuals have been able to commit to creating a half hour video at a time that suits them, providing a variety of perspectives on the subject from a range of experts.”

A continuous process of learning

Dr Eady’s career in teaching has evolved over nearly three decades. From a teacher’s aide, to primary school teacher and now a university academic specialising in educating the teachers of tomorrow.

Her approach to teaching instils a commitment to teachers as lifelong learners, recognising the profession as a long-term career.

“I believe that education is an area where I can make the greatest impact on society and UOW is the best place to do that,” she says. “I inject my teaching with insights and real life examples to enhance the learning experience. I like to illustrate the theory that is taught, and provide practical experiences in classroom environments.”

Dr Eady is confident the work achieved through the ESDF teaching grant has helped provide an enriched student experience and helps to maintain UOW’s excellent rankings* for teacher education. (* Number one in Australia for Teacher Education QILT 2017 & QILT 2018, number one in NSW/ACT QILT 2019).

“UOW 2030 and Beyond’ discusses the concept of resilient graduates capable of adapting to a changing world. Modern day academics need to proactively respond to this and adjust our teaching to suit the needs of our students,” Dr Eady says. “This project was a positive step in that direction.”

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