“life buoy” by Didier Baertschiger 2016 CC BY-SA 2.0

Help! How do I make more time for teaching?

Are you a time poor academic that feels frustrated when you use iLearn? Do you say to yourself, how can I spend less time doing administrative tasks in iLearn and more on teaching and learning? If so, read on.

As a Senior Learning Designer, I have seen numerous ways unit convenors set up and manage iLearn. I have seen the problems that have arisen, leading to convenors having to spend more time on fixing up their iLearn site, and consequently less on teaching. Over the years I have recommended to convenors a number of time-saving tips to prevent issues arising in the first place. Here are a few time-saving tips in iLearn you may want to consider this coming session to get back more time for teaching.

Set up of iLearn

“toolbox” by John Griffiths 2016 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“toolbox” by John Griffiths 2016 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Problem

Courses are usually copied from past offerings. This is generally not a problem, however, if you set up your site where dates for various assessment tasks, tutorials, lectures and other learning events are scattered throughout your site, you inevitably have to go through all of the newly copied site and adjust the dates.

Solution

Use weeks throughout your unit, these are relative time periods. If you need to include specific days include these in one location at the top of your unit. This will ensure that you only have to change the dates in one location, and you can be sure that students will all have accurate information.

Creation of lecture notes

Problem

Solution

Avoid including dates or even unit codes in your Powerpoint slides. Consider using a title slide that includes the topic title. You can provide the lecture date and other information in the description when you add a file in iLearn. Don’t forget to check the box, Display description on the unit page.

Assessment tasks

Problem

Assessment tasks are scattered throughout the unit in the weeks that they are due. This can make it difficult for students to find the assessment tasks, and they can miss deadlines. Also, if you are copying your unit with assessment tasks scattered throughout, you can spend time searching through the site removing and changing assessment tasks.

Solution

Include all the assessment tasks in an Assessment block at the top of your unit, hence, students only need to look in one place for them, and if you are copying and reusing the unit, you can quickly find the old assessments and modify them.

Also, consider including an Activities block in the right-hand column of your unit. This provides your students with a shortcut to your assessment tasks (and other activities) in your unit.

Forums

Forums can be powerful learning opportunities for students but they can quickly become unwieldy and a nightmare for convenors.

“confusion” by Alex Bellink 2016 CC BY 2.0
“confusion” by Alex Bellink 2016 CC BY 2.0

Problem

Convenors can have numerous forums scattered throughout their unit, this can make it difficult to manage forums. There may be too many forums to check and this may reduce the opportunity you have to facilitate learning in these forums.

Solution

When using forums, think carefully about whether you need one forum (with many threads) or many forums with single threads. There are good reasons for both, but you may be creating more work for yourself if there are multiple forums spread out throughout your unit, to both check and respond to.

Also, consider designing forums so that students answer questions of other students. Why not make it part of the participation mark? For example, students need to make one post and respond to another. This may remove some workload from the forum facilitator and also encourage students to answer posts from their peers.

Finally, rather than responding to individual posts of students, consider responding to the cohort of students, perhaps summarising the issues, highlighting some of the interesting points and perhaps issues that they may not have considered. You can do this through a post or video you upload to the forum.

Marking online-Turnitin

With the new assessment requirement starting this session, that all text-based assessment tasks are to be submitted electronically, convenors may need to consider using Turnitin (iLearn Assignment activity is also available) for their assessment tasks. Grademark, the online marking tool in Turnitin, provides a number of features: rubrics and quickmarks (draggable pre-formatted comments) can facilitate both marking and providing student feedback.

Problem

Convenors can struggle with managing rubrics they use in Grademark. Once the rubric is in Grademark it is not in a format that makes it easy to edit, and expose and share with peers. Rubrics are a critical part of the assessment and feedback in the unit. To have the rubric “locked” in Grademark reduces its potential use.

Solution

First, develop your rubric in Word (or Google docs), this allows you to develop, modify and share with peers. Once you are happy with it, download the Excel template from Grademark and transpose the information from Word to Excel. Then, upload the Excel file, and voila, you have a Word version that you can share with peers and use as a basis for future development, as well as having this rubric in Grademark to provide student feedback.

Note that this method only allows you to create qualitative rubrics, quantitative rubrics still need to be built directly in Grademark.

Also, consider rather than creating a rubric from scratch, do your peers have a rubric they could share with you? You could try contacting your departmental director of learning and teaching in the first instance. Grademark allows convenors to share both rubrics and quickmarks with others.

Gradebook

One of the more complex tasks a convenor has to perform, is to set up the gradebook for their unit. No single task creates more angst and confusion. There are a number of things convenors can do to make their gradebook do what they expect it to do, with the minimum of fuss.

Recommendations

Set up your gradebook well before the start of the session. Once you set it up correctly you don’t need to look at it again until the end of the session.
Remember that tab Categories and items in the gradebook is your friend. This is the tab you want to use to set up and create your gradebook.

When you are creating your gradebook make sure you have completed your unit guide first. Then have both the guide and gradebook open side by side for ease of reference and to ensure that you have all the relevant assessment tasks with their percentages correct the first time.

When you use gradebook set up the Category first in gradebook. Then when you create the grade items or tasks (quizzes, assignments, Turnitin etc) for the assessments you can allocate them to the relevant category. This allows you to ensure that the grade items and tasks are correctly located in your gradebook.

Set all your assignments out of 100 and rescale them in gradebook either with Simple weighted mean of grades or Weighted mean of grades. This is a much simpler setup and allows grades to be managed in one location. This will avoid any future calculation errors where your gradebook totals to more than 100!

If you have a complex gradebook and or have a number of tutors providing grades (such as attendance) you can use an Excel spreadsheet to record the grades. Then use the import function in gradebook to load them into gradebook.

Quizzes

Quizzes are a powerful learning task in iLearn. However, they are buried deep down in iLearn, making it difficult to know what is in the unit and consequently to edit and improve on them.

Recommendations

Create you quiz questions in a program (such as Word) outside iLearn first and then transfer to iLearn. This way you will be able to edit and modify all your questions in one easily accessible place. Once they are in iLearn whilst you can still edit them, it is not as easy and more time consuming.

Unit readings

Unit readings can be difficult to manage. There can be so many. How do you intersperse them where they are needed? You can use the Unit Readings block on the right but this presents a jumble of links that are unable to be sorted by students. However, you can make it easier for your students to locate your unit readings.

“Readings” by Felix J 2016 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“Readings” by Felix J 2016 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Recommendations

The easiest solution is to provide a link to your unit readings from the library website. If you have provided the library with a list of the required readings they will have created a page that you can link to. Simply go to the library Multisearch on the home page enter your unit code and select the Unit readings tab. Ask the library for a shortened URL for this search result and include it in your unit. Students can sort this list by author and title. Alternatively, you can create your own short URL by following this format. For example, if you want to link to the unit readings for AHIX801 this is what it would look like http://multisearch.mq.edu.au/?course=AHIX801

Another solution is to use iShare to insert the readings in the weeks where they are required. If you want your students to easily access unit readings during the week they need them, use iShare. In Add an activity or resource select an iShare in resource. In the list of databases select Unit Readings and enter your unit code. All your readings will appear. Select the downwards arrow to the right of the title of the article. Using the panel on the right (which should have the topic headings) select the topic this reading it to be inserted in. Select the + sign associated with your article. A link to this article will be inserted in your topic. Repeat for other readings.

What’s my site look like for a student?

One of the best ways to avoid any problems students may have with your iLearn site is to anticipate any future problems. The best ways to do this is to view your site as a student. You will identify any content or activity that may be hidden to students, gradebook items that are visible that shouldn’t be and many other potential issues.

Recommendation

Add a Test students block and Create a test student

That’s all very well but how do I do all this?

If you are interested in following any of these recommendations there are a number of resources and options available to you.

For people that like to work it out themselves, there are useful iLearn Quick Guides that will provide all the information you will need. For those that require more assistance, there is the iLearn drop in clinics between 10am to 3pm during 18 July-5th August from where you can just drop in and get help on any iLearn issue from a learning designer. Also, you can contact your faculty based Learning and Teaching team for help through Onehelp.

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Written by Chris Froissard

Chris Froissard

Chris is a keen and passionate educational technologist. He has worked in many different educational sectors over the years. He recently completed a Masters of Education at Macquarie University. He is one of the Senior Learning Designers at the Faculty of Arts for Macquarie University. His aim is to bring the worlds of educational practitioners together with educational researchers to create effective and transformative teaching and learning experiences.

2 thoughts on “Help! How do I make more time for teaching?”

  1. Chris,
    Great post. Can we have another on uber-ilearn skills? What can be done with a bit of XML or other Web magic to efficiently manipulate grades, feedback and other tasks?
    Cheers
    Mike

    1. Hi Michael,
      thanks for your post.
      I like that idea. I haven’t come across anyone doing that. Do you have some experience or knowledge of this type of coding? The closest I’ve come across is using formulas in the gradebook for complex calculations.
      Cheers
      Chris

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