Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Glasgow Uni launches SoTL website

Is this a first for a UK university? Glasgow has launched a website dedicated to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), punningly called BeSoTLed — and it’s more than just a page with links to some of the (much more plentiful) sites in North America.

This initiative has grown out of a learning community of teaching staff at Glasgow University, particularly Lorna Morrow (psychology), Rob McKerlie (dentistry) and Jane MacKenzie (Learning and Teaching Centre). Congrats to them. These three seem to have an open and encouraging way of describing their involvement with SoTL — for example, I like the way they

do not see themselves as SoTL experts but as SoTL enthusiasts.

Glasgow University seems to have been encouraging SoTL more actively in recent years. It became the only European member of the Building SoTL Communities project, supported by the Carnegie Academy. The six others are all in the USA or Canada. Glasgow also set up a SoTL journal a few years ago — the Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

The BeSoTLed website points to other activities, too — indeed, there’s an accompanying Moodle site, which sadly is accessible only to Glasgow staff.

Good stuff. Which also it makes me wonder why the HEA hasn’t created something like this, as far as I’m aware, as a central resource to encourage SoTL in UK higher education. Of course the HEA has supported initiatives such as this one at City, where we do our bit for SoTL, too, with an international conference almost annually, and schemes for SoTL research and recognition. Among other things.

Two delicious tools: improved search, and an online portfolio

First, del.izzy, which addresses one limitation of the standard delicious search, enabling you to search all of the content of the pages you bookmarked. But they claim they need your password for this.

Second, a clever way of setting up an online portfolio on delicious. Michele Martin outlines how it works, using the optional tag description field to head the page with an introduction, and then tagging anything you wish to show up there.

A neat idea: not the most beautiful, but it works, and is easy to update. It has two other benefits, says Michele Martin:

  • The del.icio.us feature that shows how many other people saved the item acts as a kind of “recommendation” system. […]
  • If people sign up for the RSS feed to this tag, they can automatically be notified when I add new items to my portfolio.

And then of course there’s the RSS feed to do other things with, if you want to take it one step further and embed that somewhere, have it post automatically to a blog… etc

£5.7m to develop Open Education pilot projects in UK

From the HEFCE press release today:

HEFCE has announced an initial £5.7 million of funding for pilot projects that will open up existing high-quality education resources from higher education institutions to the world.

In plain English, this means making available teaching and related material in digital form — for others in HE (and elsewhere) to reuse and adapt for teaching and learning.

The press notice explains that:

Open educational resources could include full courses, course materials, complete modules, notes, videos, assessments, tests, simulations, worked examples, software, and any other tools or materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Also spotted today: Martin Weller of the Open University writes about SocialLearn, the OU’s project to develop a social network for learning — a few steps on from its Open Education initiative, OpenLearn.

Anyone wanting to keep track of developments in Open Education would do well to check Stephen Downes’ invaluable blog, where it features frequently, eg covering recent publications and events.

Changing higher education: the development of teaching and learning

My review of this book has now appeared in the first issue of Networks, published by the Art Design Media subject centre of the Higher Education Academy. It’s on the ADM-HEA website, too, in the resource reviews section, but only as a PDF here. If you don’t fancy the full review, try the first paragraph below for the point made by Lewis Elton.

Review of Changing Higher Education: the development of learning and teaching. Edited by Paul Ashwin. Abingdon, Routledge 2006. £22.99. ISBN 0-415-34129-9

Conference participants were discussing the importance of encouraging experienced academics to develop their teaching. One rose to say: “Some say they have 20 years’ experience of teaching – but in reality they have only one; they have simply repeated it each of the following 19 years.” That remark came from Lewis Elton, a leading figure in the development of teaching and learning in HE, and whose work underlies much of this book. (He was also honoured by a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Times Higher in 2005).

The title – Changing Higher Education – hints at a double meaning. It describes many of the changes that have affected learning and teaching in HE over the past 30 years or so, as well as considering how they might evolve in the future. More actively and engagingly, its authors also offer pointers for staff wishing to examine and change how they facilitate students’ learning.

In his introductory chapter setting the framework for the rest of the book, Paul Ashwin highlights the huge changes that HE has undergone in recent decades. It is not only about the growth of universities, student numbers and diversity, nor confined to policy and funding issues. These are important and have an impact on teaching and learning, but perhaps the most fundamental shift Ashwin charts is a shift in focus (in thinking and research) from “what the teacher did and how they [sic] organised the curriculum for students” to “how students experience their learning environment”.

Against this background, eight chapters go into more thematic detail to cover the development in HE of three main areas: students’ learning; learning technologies; and teaching. An underlying coherence is formed by the connection the authors share with Lewis Elton: they have all been his students and/or colleagues, and draw on his invaluable research and development in this field.

“Aren’t we all learner-centred now?” asks David Boud, who shows how ‘learner-centred’ has meant different things to different people. Combining research findings and his own experiences, he argues that teaching and learning should be viewed “within its broader context and network of social relations” – including where power lies and how it is exercised.

Academics have long wielded power over students through assessment – but we may be missing out if we fail to use participative forms of assessment – essentially self- and peer-assessment, individually and in groups. Vivien Hodgson uses examples from learning sets and online discussions to argue that it can encourage critical and creative thinking more effectively than traditional forms of assessment. That rings true from my own experience of peer assessment and group work, although both need careful attention to the quality of feedback.

The learning of postgraduate research students is the theme of another chapter. I admit to less experience in this field, but it seems this has been true of too many established supervisors! Twenty years on, “the loud cries of the few stalwarts devoted to trying to improve the learning/support of PG research students” have only begun to be heard, says Pam Denicolo. She fears that funding constraints will lead institutions to lay new courses as a veneer on established practice.

The impact of increasing numbers of non-traditional learners is outlined clearly by Will Bridge. What struck me was their influence on teaching and learning for the whole university population – through greater use of APEL (assessment of prior and experiential learning), for example, and the need to deal with wide variations in knowledge when students start a course. Many non-traditional learners also have plenty to offer, such as input from their life and employment experience; let’s make better use of this potential.

Diana Laurillard’s chapter provides a superb introduction to e-learning. She notes how learning quality has often lost out to other drivers of change in this field – and makes a powerful pedagogical case for paying it due attention. As part of her argument, Laurillard shows how poorly equipped academic professionals tend to be as teachers, rather than as researchers. David McConnell concentrates on networked e-learning, touching on key issues faced by learners, such as the social context, collaboration, design and assessment.

Two chapters concentrate on the development of teaching, but with themes of particular relevance to teachers as learners. One shows how and why professional teaching status (and accreditation) has developed in HE – a theme that Liz Beaty weaves effectively with academic identity, changes in HE, and government policy. In the other, Lorraine Stefani outlines interesting debates centred on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). How far do academics understand what it means to take a scholarly approach to learning and teaching, for example? Crucially, she addresses the role of educational development and the difficulties of placing its role in institutions generically or by discipline.

In a concluding chapter, Ashwin sets out two scenarios and four questions that draw on the developments charted by his fellow authors. His “bleak future” is dominated by isolation and alienation, while his “bright future” involves integration and critical engagement. Ashwin’s four key questions – to ask in a critical examination of the development of learning and teaching – concern the values and purposes of underlying models of learning and teaching; collective or individual activity; power relations; and models of change.

Its cover blurb claims this book offers “an insightful framework through which to understand and question current and future developments in learning and teaching in HE”. This is an ambitious and wide-ranging agenda for a slim volume (152pp), but one that it addresses directly and effectively.

For newer teaching staff, Changing Higher Education provides a valuable and concise introduction to contemporary debates in teaching and learning, usefully set in the context of developments in recent years. This is not a ‘how to do it’ book for lecturers, but its top-quality contributors include plenty of references to follow up; its pithy content add value for others, too. It would remain unopened, I fear, by Elton’s academic who has taught the same thing in the same way for 20 years.

Jonathan Hewett

Journalism education: matters of principle(s) from WJEC

Some discussion has been emerging about the journalism education principles (full text here) that were issued at the WJEC — in a few blog posts and comments etc such as those by:

Mindy McAdams (Teaching Online Journalism blog, University of Florida)

Martin Hirst (Ethical Martini blog, Auckland University of Technology)

Rebecca MacKinnon (RConversation blog, University of Hong Kong) — more WJEC reflections here

Guy Berger (Conversant blog, Rhodes University) — article in the SA Mail & Guardian

It was good to meet the latter three at the WJEC.

I have mixed feelings about the declaration itself. It’s more descriptive than aspirational or, indeed, inspirational — an opportunity missed?

More positively, the principles emphasise the importance of journalism practice, “a strong vocational orientation” and “experiential learning” (principle 7), and “strong links to media industries” (principle 8). And “journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners” (principle 3) — although I’m not clear whether this means every individual or collectively.

However, there is no reference to freedom, democracy, human rights, freedom of speech or of the press, censorship, media ownership etc. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the diversity of the organisations involved, including associations from Africa, China, Europe, North America and Russia, and of the political and cultural context in which they operate. I gather that the phrases “civil society” and “public service” dominated the discussions to agree the declaration — and neither appears in that form.

In part, the declaration probably reflects the ‘lowest common denominator’ effect — and key phrases such as “the effective and responsible practice of journalism” “serve the public” and “public interest obligations” are left open and undefined, and thus open to different (even divergent) interpretations. If you’re feeling cynical, try inserting “whatever that means”… (to add to the “where practical” phrases already present in places).

I would have liked it to say more about the teaching and learning of journalism. It can make a huge difference, and tends to be neglected — the focus being mostly on the content. Both need to be seen together, I believe.

Having said all this, it’s quite an achievement to pull together a statement of this kind, however imperfect. Work in progress, you might say.

Another factor is the purpose of the declaration, of course — and when he presented it to the WJEC session, Guo Ke from Shanghai International Studies University emphasised its role in representing journalism education to others. He’s pictured (right) with a slide making this point.

I wonder who will be using the declaration, and how. Some at WJEC suggested it might be of most use to journalism educators in developing countries and emerging democracies, particularly where they face state controls and other constraints. Guy Berger from Rhodes University suggests it could help to “reinvigorate journalism teaching and improve its effects on African media”.

In my situation, I don’t envisage using it much. The priority for editors and employers (of my students) will continue to be questions such as “are you turning out students who can do the job?” and “have they got a solid grasp of news, reporting, writing and interviewing?”

As for the position of journalism in the university world, I suspect academics in other disciplines would look more to what’s going on in practice (outcomes) rather than descriptive statements. But there was plenty of interesting discussion about that at WJEC — a subject for another post sometime.

Finally, a modest prediction for where the WJEC declaration will crop up: look out for journal articles referencing and/or discussing the principles. As well as blogs, of course!

Journalism education principles from the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC)

Here’s the full text of the declaration issued at the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC), which took place at the end of June in Singapore. It includes a list of the 27 associations involved in the WJEC, whose representatives agreed the declaration.

I’m putting comments and other links in a separate post above.

Declaration of Principles of Journalism Education

World Journalism Education Congress
Singapore, June 2007

We, the undersigned representatives of professional journalism education associations, share a concern and common understanding about the nature, role, importance, and future of journalism education worldwide. We are unanimous that journalism education provides the foundation as theory, research, and training for the effective and responsible practice of journalism. Journalism education is defined in different ways. At the core is the study of all types of journalism.

Journalism should serve the public in many important ways, but it can only do so if its practitioners have mastered an increasingly complex body of knowledge and specialized skills. Above all, to be a responsible journalist must involve an informed ethical commitment to the public. This commitment must include an understanding of and deep appreciation for the role that journalism plays in the formation, enhancement and perpetuation of an informed society.

We are pledged to work together to strengthen journalism education and increase its value to students, employers and the public. In doing this we are guided by the following principles:

  1. At the heart of journalism education is a balance of conceptual, philosophical and skills-based content. While it is also interdisciplinary, journalism education is an academic field in its own right with a distinctive body of knowledge and theory.
  2. Journalism is a field appropriate for university study from undergraduate to postgraduate levels. Journalism programs offer a full range of academic degrees including bachelors, masters and Doctor of Philosophy degrees as well as certificate, specialized and mid-career training.
  3. Journalism educators should be a blend of academics and practitioners; it is important that educators have experience working as journalists.
  4. Journalism curriculum includes a variety of skills courses and the study of journalism ethics, history, media structures/institutions at national and international level, critical analysis of media content and journalism as a profession. It includes coursework on the social, political and cultural role of media in society and sometimes includes coursework dealing with media management and economics. In some countries, journalism education includes allied fields like public relations, advertising, and broadcast production.
  5. Journalism educators have an important outreach mission to promote media literacy among the public generally and within their academic institutions specifically.
  6. Journalism program graduates should be prepared to work as highly informed, strongly committed practitioners who have high ethical principles and are able to fulfill the public interest obligations that are central to their work.
  7. Most undergraduate and many masters programs in journalism have a strong vocational orientation. In these programs experiential learning, provided by classroom laboratories and on-the-job internships, is a key component.
  8. Journalism educators should maintain strong links to media industries. They should critically reflect on industry practices and offer advice to industry based on this reflection.
  9. Journalism is a technologically intensive field. Practitioners will need to master a variety of computer-based tools. Where practical, journalism education provides an orientation to these tools.
  10. Journalism is a global endeavor; journalism students should learn that despite political and cultural differences, they share important values and professional goals with peers in other nations. Where practical, journalism education provides students with first-hand experience of the way that journalism is practiced in other nations.
  11. Journalism educators have an obligation to collaborate with colleagues worldwide to provide assistance and support so that journalism education can gain strength as an academic discipline and play a more effective role in helping journalism to reach its full potential.

This declaration was agreed by representatives of the following organisations:
African Council on Communication Education
Arab-US Association of Communication Educators
Asian Media Information Centre
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (USA)
Association for Journalism Education (UK)
Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (USA)
Broadcast Education Association (USA)
Canadian Commission for Education in Journalism
Chinese Communication Association (US-based)
Chinese Journalism Education Association
European Journalism Training Association
Latin American Federation of Social Communication Schools
Brazilian Society of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication – INTERCOM
International Association of Media and Communication Research
Journalism Division, International Communication Association
Israel Communication Association
Japan Society for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication
Journalism Education Association (Australia and New Zealand)
JourNet
Korean Society for Journalism and Mass Communication Studies
Latin American Association of Communication Researchers
Philippine Association of Communication Educators
Russian Association for Education in Journalism
Russian Association for Film and Media Education
Saudi Association for Media and Communication
South African Communication Association
Trans-African Council for Communication

Using a course blog to encourage critical reflection by students — HEA annual conference

hea-logo.gifMore on this theme — notes from my session at the Higher Education Academy annual conference in Harrogate are available here (PDF file).

If you’re reading this post without having seen anything previously about the project, you might find it useful to read the following outline (the abstract for my conference session). Then the notes from my presentation will probably make more sense. Either way, please add a comment to let me know what you make of the project — click on ‘add a comment’ above (under the title for this post) or, if you’re looking at this post on its own, use the comment box beneath it.

To encourage students on a postgraduate journalism programme to engage with their own learning, they were asked to contribute to a blog on three main themes: their own experiences as journalists; published articles/broadcasts etc, particularly to highlight what they were learning and putting in to practice; and contemporary developments in journalism.

The guidelines and assessment criteria explicitly encouraged students to reflect critically in their posts to the blog; to ‘add value’; and to make connections, particularly with their own experience, assignments and ideas.

This session will discuss the main findings of an evaluation of the blog, using an analysis of students’ contributions (more than 400) drawing on the literature of reflective journals and e-learning, and the results of a questionnaire to gauge students’ experience of using the blog as learners. Initial findings suggest the initiative has highlighted valuable potential for reflective learning, with some recommendations for improving its future application.

Readers who have read my previous post (and notes) on this project, based on my WJEC session, will note similarities! It’s mainly a shift of emphasis for the different participants: journalism educators at WJEC; lecturers from across disciplines, with a serious interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning at the HEA.

Teaching and learning for digital (multimedia) journalism

Reflections from a syndicate at the World Journalism Education Congress — I’ve been part of a group of journalism lecturers discussing adapting journalism education to a digital age. Guy Berger from Rhodes University has blogged about this (and other points from WJEC).

The content of what we teach and what students learn (including skills) has formed a large part of discussions — but today we’ve also focused on how: teaching and learning strategies (hooray!).

I argue that teaching and learning needs to reflect more of the characteristics of digital journalism (and Web 2.0). This involves plenty of approaches and methods that have much to recommend them on proven pedagogical grounds, such as:

  • collaborative and interactive student-led group projects
  • open-ended assignments that foster exploration
  • peer feedback and assessment
  • enquiry- (or problem-) based learning (EBL/PBL)
  • students negotiating their own assignments and assessment criteria
  • students as fellow-explorers (even teachers)
  • lecturers as facilitators of learning
  • learning to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information
  • business models for journalism (and ‘new media’)
  • entrepreneurship skills and understanding.

I hope some of this makes it to the final session at the WJEC…

Making every comment count: effective formative feedback to journalism students

This is the theme of my research paper at the World Journalism Education Congress — abstract below, and available here as a PDF.

Making every comment count: effective formative feedback to journalism students — Abstract

Effective formative feedback plays a crucial role in student learning, but it has received relatively little attention. Guidelines on policy or quality have rarely addressed formative feedback in depth, yet quality reviews have consistently highlighted concerns about it, as have student surveys. In addition, trends in assessment imply an increasing emphasis on lecturers providing formative feedback to students, as do other developments in policy (eg professional teaching standards) and practical concerns (eg staff workloads, student diversity).

A number of factors make the topic of feedback comments particularly pertinent to journalism educators.

First, journalism students often produce a high volume of work (as journalistic articles) compared to other disciplines – an approach that serves to replicate professional practice in the newsroom as well as providing the opportunity for intensive experiential learning. This makes for a high volume of work for lecturers to read and comment on.

Second, this work often requires detailed scrutiny, because accuracy and succinct writing are rightly emphasised as essential elements in journalism. So assessment and feedback in journalism arguably demand more time and more detailed comments than in other disciplines.

Third, many journalism educators (almost all in higher education in the UK) are journalists by profession and may not have much background in formal education. Despite the growing professionalisation of university teaching, some lecturers may thus lack in-depth prior experience and/or training in the provision of feedback to students.

Fourth, the application of a scholarly approach to journalism education, as a form of scholarship of teaching and learning in the discipline, appears to have been slow to develop.

This paper presents the findings of a study of the content and quality of formative feedback, which involved the development of indicators that were then used to categorise and analyse a sample of written feedback comments to postgraduate journalism students.

The research identified areas of good practice, as well as suggesting some gaps, which can grouped under four themes:

  • How far does the feedback make clear to students why/how they are succeeding or failing?
  • How far does it link students’ work with their wider progress and the module/course curriculum more generally?
  • Does the feedback encourage dialogue?
  • Does the feedback engage students with the content and with their own learning?

The research also raises questions about the availability of suitable tools to review feedback, for both individuals and institutions. More systematic reviews and support for good practice in feedback might help; encouraging lecturers to keep copies of feedback on which to reflect critically, for example, perhaps using indicators such as the ones from this project. They could discuss with colleagues what is often an individual process rarely seen by others. Some established institutional processes could take more systematic account of feedback, too, including programme evaluations, external examiners‚ reports, and student evaluations.

Using a blog to encourage critical reflection

This is the theme of my presentation to a Best Practices in Teaching workshop at the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC).

The project has involved using a blog not for students to publish their journalistic work but for them to reflect on their practical journalism — primarily as a tool for enhancing their learning.

Notes from my presentation are available as a PDF here — intended particularly for those at the WJEC teaching workshop. I’d be particularly interested in having your comments, whether you came to the WJEC session or not — please add them below.