Context & Scale
This pattern is concerned with scheduling all workshops in a large, blended unit each week on a single day. As students spend much of the week working independently on self-paced online modules, this ensures that there is an ‘anchor point’ during the week where all students are synchronised in their activity.
The pattern is suitable for units with a high degree of self-paced online learning where it is considered important for a large cohort of students to be ‘on the same page’ with their learning and progress at a certain point each week. Research has demonstrated the benefits of synchronising activity to support consistency and equity in different contexts, such as reported by (Seabrook et al., 2000) in relation to clinical education.
When combined with a large workshop format and team teaching, this pattern reduces the number of workshops that need to be scheduled for a unit while maintaining an active class environment.
Scale presents numerous challenges for timetabling face-to-face sessions, and as a result, workshops are often scheduled on different days for different students during the week. When students are working on very different timelines, the experience across the cohort can be quite inconsistent, and potentially inequitable.
For example, in a unit involving online pre-work, students who attend a Monday workshop will be expected to complete their pre-work at the beginning of the week, while students who have their workshop on a Friday will have a week to prepare. Depending on when the pre-work is released, this may disadvantage some students. When students are operating on different timelines, it can also be very difficult for coordinators and teachers to ensure that pivotal work (associated with the workshops) is completed by a certain time each week, as the work may be dependent on when students attend their workshop during the week.
Schedule and run all workshops in a large, blended unit each week on a single day. As students spend much of the week working independently on self-paced online modules, this ensures that there is an ‘anchor point’ during the week where all students are synchronised in their activity. To enhance this pattern, adopt a large workshop format that combines two workshop classes together with two teachers. This reduces the number of learning spaces that need to be booked each week by half and increases the consistency of the student experience in terms of the time allowed for them to complete any online pre-work. To support the completion of online activities connected to workshops, combine this pattern with micro-deadlines. For example, if you require students to complete a weekly online reflection, a deadline can be set the day before or after a workshop. That is, the workshop becomes the temporal ‘anchor’ for the completion of small weekly tasks.
Coordinate with timetabling to ensure all workshops are held on the same day.
Consider combining two or more tutorials/workshops with two or more teachers to maximise teaching spaces.
Set micro-deadlines for other tasks in relation to the scheduled tutorial/workshop.
Examples of pattern in use
Foundations of Marketing
This pattern was tested in a first-year post-graduate unit, MKTG5001: Foundations of Marketing with approximately 840 students.
This pattern was iteratively developed and implemented. We acknowledge the unit coordinators and lecturers involved from the Marketing discipline, including Robyn Martin, Paul Henry and Ellen Garbarino.
This unit was previously run as a 3-hour ‘streamed lecture’ each week that included content delivery interspersed with group activities. In 2020 the unit was reshaped to include 1.5 hours of online learning (including reading, videos and a range of interactive activities) and a 1.5-hour workshop each week. Students were required to complete the online work prior to coming to their workshop.
Timetabling face-to-face sessions in a large unit can be challenging. To address this, the unit combined two to three workshops of 30 students into a single large workshop format of 60-90 students and 2-3 teachers. Workshops were carefully designed to provide an active learning experience, and to maximise the benefits of team teaching. Combining two workshops into a single session reduced the number of workshop timeslots needed by half. This allowed all workshops in this large unit to be scheduled on the same day each week. As the workshop was scheduled on a Friday, this allowed all students to work at their own pace on the online modules each week in time for their workshop at the end of the week. This avoided a situation where some students have their workshops at the beginning of the week soon after the self-paced online modules are released giving them less time to prepare before a workshop. Scheduling the workshop on a Friday each week ensured that no students were disadvantaged.
Small, regular reflective tasks were a core feature of this unit. Student were required to complete a reflection based on the weekly online modules in Canvas prior to coming to the workshop each week, and a second reflection after the workshop (before they began the next online module). By scheduling the workshop on the same day each week, this also meant that the micro-deadlines for completing the reflections were linked to the consistent workshop time. Once again, this resulted in a fairer situation for students, as no students were disadvantaged by having reflections due before a workshop scheduled early in the week. It also allowed the coordinators to ensure that this pivotal piece of work was completed by a certain time each week, making it easier for them to monitor student completion and progress. The workshops became a temporal ‘anchor’ for the completion of these small weekly tasks.
To implement this pattern in MKTG5001, the coordinators:
01 > Scheduled all workshops on a Friday each week in a large learning space designed to accommodate active learning.
02 > Combined two or three workshops with two to three teachers (60-90 students) and used tools such as Padlet to share the outputs of activities across simultaneous workshop groups learning in in different classrooms.
03 > Set micro-deadlines for online tasks that were connected to the scheduled workshop.
A range of strategies were implemented in the unit to manage scale while keeping students connected to teaching staff, their peers, and the discipline. As shown in Figure 1, this pattern (referred to here as ‘rhythm in synch’) was implemented as part of an effort to balance the social, cognitive and teaching presence in this unit.
An important resource in the implementation of this pattern was a large workshop space conducive to active learning. Workshops in this unit have been run in parallel teaching spaces accommodating large number of students, and a pilot space at the University of Sydney Business School that includes different ‘zones’ to accommodate different types of activity including lecture/demo (where a shared focus of attention is needed), group work (supported by collaborative pods) and writing/sketching.
Feedback from a formal interview with two of the coordinators of this unit highlighted the effectiveness of the strategy, noting its contributions to supporting both ‘social’ and ‘cognitive’ presence (see Figure 1) in the unit through synchronised workshop activity in an otherwise self-paced unit, and by combining more than one workshop with more than one teacher. This was seen as supporting effective discourse in the unit. Students were aware that all students in their cohort were attending workshops on the same day. They highlighted in surveys and focus groups that this provided a sense of “cohesiveness” in the teaching team and approach.