Friday, 18 November 2011

Designing Interaction, how can we do it well? Does it really happen? Changing our processes

I've spent a lot of time over the last 12 months looking into a course, trying to analyse what it's in it, what's not in it, what it should have it in it, and what we can lose. It's made me reflect on how we design interaction, and on the fact that often it appears that we don't always design it as carefully as it should be, or at all?

Being a somewhat orderly and process driven person, I started looking at processes by which I documented design so as to find a better way to document what I was doing and reflect on what I could be doing. I read more by John Biggs and his views on constructive alignment and worked on refining documents which I had developed to guide teachers through the process of designing for interactivity in their subjects and courses.  It seemed to me that if I could develop a way that I could document what I was doing and lay it out in a linear way to organise my thoughts, actions and resources I could ensure that I was teaching what students needed to know in such a way that they were interested, engaging in active learning by applying theory to practice, and building skills and knowledge in relation to their profession.

I checked out what others were doing and read more about mapping but it seemed that mapping wasn't enough.The process had to be more about an analytical process, not just a tickbox that noted that I had complied. I wanted to think more about what did I want a student to do, to know and to value and ensure that I provided opportunities for students to explore all areas and be engaged in their learning. The process below eventuated where objectives meet standards, and delineated what levels students should be achieving, ensuring the subject fits into the course and how it matches objectives for the course. Then I thought about how assessment should match the objectives, after all that's why students are learning, we need to know that they can do and know what we are teaching.  It was important then to think about how to teach the content, skills and the values to complete the assessment in such a way that students gained skills that would stand them in good stead throughout their lives.

Subject Learning Objectives
AQF Standards for this subject
Level of thinking required in the objectives
Course Learning Objectives that match subject learning outcomes
Assessment meeting the subject learning outcome (description of how the assessment meets the learning objectives)
Learning experiences / activities that meet assessment requirements
Topics relating to the learning experiences
Enter the subject learning objectives
Enter the generic AQF standards that identifies the standards which the level of this degree meets,
Match the generic standard to the objective and ensure that the objective meets the AQF standard for the degree level rewriting if required
Identify the level of thinking the objectives require from the students
Match the course learning objectives up to the subject learning objectives
Document what assessment will meet the subject objectives and describe its contents
List all the activities students will engage in including readings, lecture activities, tutorial activities, online activities
Relate to topics to be delivered

There is often an argument that learning should be for learning's sake but I would argue that often at the beginnning of a course students attend to gain a qualification that will give them a profession. It is up to the teacher to ensure that the environment for learning encourages them to want to learn, show its relevance and motivates students to pursue more out of pure interest.  We need to look at how we can make that to happen.

If we haven't looked at how we teach, or facilitate, or offer opportunities for students to explore we run the risk of offering boring, disengaging learning.  We need to put ourselves in the students' shoes and see what they need and want to know and we need to make it interesting.

As a teacher I haven't had to write many essays in my working life but I've had to put reports together, describe student progress, develop programs, discipline students, catch plagiarism, engage students with ICT and much more. Yet so many institutions assess primarily by essays. I hear arguments that there needs to be academic writing in a course and I agree but maybe there are more interesting and professionally relevant ways to do it. Instead of asking a student to write an essay about cyberculture in the future, ask them to develop professional development for others and justify their actions in a request for funding. The same arguments apply but the purpose is more relevant.

The learning activities section above is a way of capturing all the ways that students are engaged. It also a way to see if there's something to lose or something to gain. This section needs careful consideration and careful documentation. This is an area that also plan for succession. What happens if you move on? Do students get continuity, does the following teacher have to reinvent the wheel? Planning for succession also can mean planning for cohesion between different components of a course. Thinking about how it all goes together can make a difference in a subject that students can relate to and realise how it has relevance to their professional lives.

Planning for interaction allows us to weed out, plant new and grow new ways of engaging with our students!

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