My role as an Academic Skills Tutor in The School of Applied Sciences involves one-to-one support for all underpinning academic skills. One particular area of concern over recent years has been the maths, statistics and IT skills of students, regardless of whether or not they have completed A-levels prior to starting university. The volume of students seeking additional support reached a level that required intervention at an earlier stage. As a result, I was asked to take on the teaching of maths and statistics for first year Biology and Nutrition and foundation year Science Extended Degree students.
As part of the Research Skills module for first year Biology and Nutrition students, maths is taught in the first term and this is followed by statistical analysis using SPSS software in the second term. The module is structured with a one hour lecture for approximately 180 mixed ability students and a one hour tutorial with groups of approximately 30 students in a computer room each week. For most students this is the first time they have seen the SPSS package and as with most software, it requires practice to become adept. During the first lecture introducing SPSS, the majority of the student struggle to understand as they do not have the opportunity to practice on the software until the follow up tutorial. This results in the tutorial time being taken up revisiting the lecture material and not working on problem sets. The students are expected to then practice in their own time and build upon this basic knowledge each week. In order to try to pre-empt this ‘catch-up’ problem, this activity is designed to engage students with the software before they have the first lecture. By watching the short video clips and working through the data instructions given, it is hoped that the students will at least be familiar with the screens and some of the basic terminology when they get to the lecture, therefore allowing better comprehension on the first session. This will result in the tutorials being more productive and enable the students to progress more effectively during the course (Lameras, Levy, Paraskakis and Webber, 2011).
Initially this could be seen as a behaviourist approach, whereby the students are simply expected to repeat tasks until they are proficient in basic inputting. The aim however, is to follow the approach of Greenco, Collins and Resnick (1996) whereby there are three stages of the education perspective: association, cognition and situation. The students will start with association (a behaviourist approach) which is important for subjects such as IT and mathematics, as a technique needs to be mastered before it can be understood in context. It also fits with Salmon’s first stage of access and motivation (2002). The students will hopefully be motivated to compete the tasks for various reasons; firstly that it is a requirement such as reading around a subject and secondly to make it easier for themselves later in the term as they learn more complicated functions of SPSS and advanced statistical analysis.
The videos have been created using Screencast-o-matic and uploaded into Unilearn with an instruction document. This software has been recommended as it is easy to use and edit. It is a free software that allows screen capture with video and audio and allows demonstrations of software usage. The students can watch the short videos multiple times and practice with the SPSS screen until they are confident to progress to the next task. The tasks has been broken down into small components to avoid over facing the students with new software and technology.
Students will have access to a discussion forum using the Padlet application. This is appealing as some of the forum and discussion features currently available in Unilearn are quite plain (Webb, Jones, Barker and van Schaik, 2004). I have been looking for a novel, more eye catching forum that could be embedded within Unilearn to encourage students to participate in group discussions (Lameras et al., 2011). Research has shown that students who engage more with dialogue through online forums are likely to engage more with their studies and therefore achieve higher final grades (Webb et al., 2004). This will be monitored throughout the two weeks of the task project to ensure the students get prompt answers to their questions to allow them to progress to other tasks (Mayes and de Fritas, 2005).
The visual aspects of Padlet make it more attractive: it defaults to a cork board and the comments are sticky notes. The background can be changed to any preset images and tasks and comment can be posted as documents, images and videos. This is in keeping with Salmon’s (2000) third and fourth levels of online socialisation and knowledge exchange. It also follows Greenco et al., (1996) situational perspective (communities of practice), which encourages learning as a social practice (Wenger, 1998). The main lectures and tutorials are intended to fill the requirements of the second perspective of cognition (constructivist approach), where the learners achieve understanding through the problem sets they are solving. In Salmon’s model, this is the fourth stage of knowledge construction and will ultimately lead to the final stage of personal development. This final stage is crucial for this subject as the knowledge and skills developed on this module will form the underpinning skills of the case study module in the second year and the dissertation project in the final year.
Greenco, J.G., Collins, A.M. & Resnick, L. (1996) Cognition and learning. In Berliner, D.C. & Calfee, R.C (Eds). Handbook of educational psychology. New York: Simon & Shuster Macmillan
Lameras, P., Levy, P., Paraskakis, I., & Webber, S. (2012). Blended university teaching using virtual learning environments: Conceptions and approaches. Instructional Science, 40(1), doi: 10.1007/s11251-011-9170-9
Mayes, T. & de Fritas, S.D. (2005). JISC e-learning models desk study. JISC
Salmon, G. (2002). E-tivities: The key to active online learning. London: Kogan Page
Webb, E., Jones, A., Barker, P., & van Schaik, P. (2004). Using e-learning dialogues in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41(1), doi:10.1080/1470329032000172748
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press