“Spring cleaning” by Richard Bestfor 2009 CC BY-NC 2.0

Spring is in the air: time for an iLearn unit review

Congratulations, you’ve almost made it to the end of the session. But, before you start thinking about the upcoming break or what you’ll be teaching next year, you should consider sweeping the cobwebs, changing the sheets and opening the windows on your iLearn site. In short, now is a good time for spring cleaning your unit.

The spring clean will help you to address any real or perceived issues students, tutors and peers may have had with your iLearn site. Also, it can be a good opportunity to improve the student learning experience, embed new learning strategies and technologies. Here we look at why and how four unit convenors have gone about revitalising their iLearn units.

Why review?

Much like you would review your teaching at the end of the class, you should think about your iLearn unit, how it supported (or not) your students learning and what you could change to improve student learning. Also, you may want to think about how it could be better integrated into your program or may have to adapt to new student cohorts. For all of these reasons and more, you may want to engage in the process of unit review.

Why do convenors review units?

Lise Barry, Senior lecturer and Director of Learning and Teaching for the School of Law recently reviewed LAWS108 Law, Lawyers and Society. There were drivers of change in her unit that supported a unit review. These included a program review which found that there was too much of an emphasis on essays rather than skills. Also, Lise looked at how many students had accessed their feedback in Turnitin (by seeing a change in the icon) and concluded that not all students were accessing their feedback. Additionally, her tutors had provided feedback to her on the challenges they faced in using various elements of iLearn and how tutorials could be improved. Finally, there were additional regulatory requirements that the program needed to address.

Sara Fuller, Senior Lecturer and Director of Learning and Teaching for the Department of Geography and Planning, will together with colleagues, review two 100 level units (GEOP111 and GEOP181). The main driver of the review is to pilot a wider departmental unit review process, following the establishment of the new department and its move to the Faculty of Arts nearly two years ago. The key issues that will be considered include a review of the learning outcomes, assessment and content alongside staff and student feedback. As part of the review process, they will also take a broader perspective and reflect on the role of these foundational units in the context of wider program level development.

Do any of these drivers sound familiar? Are they relevant to your unit?

“Waking bees” by Kate Miranda 2011 CC BY-NC 2.0
“Waking bees” by Kate Miranda 2011 CC BY-NC 2.0

What information to use in the review?

Where do you start? You may want to start collecting information about your unit to inform your process of unit review. At the end of the session, you may have a large amount of information. It could include survey information from LEUs, reflections and notes that you may have been keeping throughout the session, anecdotal information such as comments from students and tutors, and statistical information from Moodle (we previously outlined the various reports available to you in iLearn in What’s happening under the hood (of my iLearn site?).

What information do some unit convenors use?

Alex Woods, Lecturer and Director of Learning and Teaching for the Department of Ancient History convenes AHIS170 Egyptian Archaeology. Luckily for Alex, she has experienced the unit as a student, tutor and now convenor. This has given her a personal insight into how the unit has functioned in the past and what changes should be made. Alex throughout the session meets her tutors at the end of every class to hear feedback on how students are interacting with the unit and also keeps notes on ideas, suggestions and issues she becomes aware of during the session. She also runs a simple student survey in week 5 to get feedback on the unit. This feedback is sought early on because it gives time for Alex to address any issues and make changes to her unit whilst the session is still running. Finally, all this feedback is collated and discussed with her tutors 2 weeks after the exams are finished, while the unit, students and issues are still fresh in Alex’s mind. Alex believes it’s important to make changes to the unit for next session as soon after this discussion with her tutors is finished rather than wait until the start of the session.

Do you use any of these sources of information when you review your unit? Are there others you use that were not mentioned?

What types of changes have these unit reviews resulted in?

Shawn Ross, Associate Professor in the Department of Modern History has been involved in teaching and reviewing MHIS1115 Big History. Recently the assessment tasks were changed from 3 essays (first due in week 6) to 5 short writing tasks (due every fortnight starting on week 3) and finally to 4 short writing tasks and 1 peer assessment task. The new assessments provide more frequent feedback and improved scaffolding.

Lise, as a consequence of her review, made a number of changes to her unit. These included changing the assessments so they focussed less on essays and more on skills such as client interview skills. As part of Lise’s aim for students to practise their skills, this session she has used the new functionality in Turnitin to accept different file formats. Students submit both a video of their client interview (role play with another student) and also a reflection on their interview to Turnitin for feedback and review by tutors. In addition, Lise has supplemented the Unit readings with specific readings that emphasise skills. Lise has also incorporated skills content alongside the essential legal doctrine in a custom textbook that she developed with a publisher.

Alex is constantly evaluating and making changes to her unit. She believes that a unit must evolve over time and not remain static. Alex makes small, incremental changes, and assesses its impact before making an additional change. AHIS170 has resulted in greater instructional language for students so that they know what they are to do at all times. This helps them spend more time on learning and less on trying to navigate the site to find activities or trying to find out what they need to do. For example, each week has the following headings for her external students “Step 1: Preparation”, “Step 2: Activities” and “Step 3: Engage with your peers” and for her internal students “Before class”, “During class” and “After class”. The changes have included authentic assessment tasks such as a dig diary, and an object study using 3D scanned objects. Alex’s plans for the unit include reducing the number of assessments, so deeper learning occurs.

“Blossoms” by Theophilos Papadopoulos 2011 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“Blossoms” by Theophilos Papadopoulos 2011 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What has been the impact of some of these changes?

It can be difficult to evaluate the impact of changes in units. There are of course grades, student satisfaction levels and tutor and peer feedback. All of these can be useful indicators to convenors.

Shawn started to look at the grade data to determine whether there had been any impact on the student distribution of grades following the changes. In the unit, there was a large student cohort (over 160 students)  and all other variables such as content and convenor were kept constant. He found that the grade distribution has shifted to the right (fewer fails and more credits).

Lise has found that student satisfaction levels with the course have been high and the feedback from tutors are that the unit runs well.

However, an under-utilised source of information for evaluation can be Moodle logs. The data in iLearn can help convenors understand the flow of students through their unit and how useful individual resources and activities are in supporting learning. learning analytics. For more information about how you can begin to delve into the inner workings of your unit read What’s happening under the hood (of my iLearn site)?

What next?

If you are feeling inspired or just curious about a unit review and are from the Faculty of Arts. drop by the drop-in-clinic either on Mondays (1-2) or Tuesdays (12-1) in W6A325. Don’t forget to pick up that broom and perhaps start sweeping some of those cobwebs from your iLearn site.

One thought on “Spring is in the air: time for an iLearn unit review”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *