Context & Scale
This pattern would be most suited to a postgraduate unit, or later undergraduate unit, where students are starting to think about the range of different professional contexts they will be entering. It encourages students to explore a collection of potential topics towards the end of a semester and reflect on their learning needs, before collaboratively choosing the topic or topics they will engage with. It supports reflective skills and develops learning-seeking behaviour. It addresses the CLaS principles of Information Engagement, and Connected Participation and Active Learning.
The entire decision-making scaffold and choice mechanism is hosted in the LMS. The larger the cohort, the richer the reflective discussions on what topic/s will be most suitable for the needs of the cohort as a result of the increased number of ideas and contributions, resulting in more complex reflective practice at scale.
Students getting involved in the creation of their curriculum, even in a small way, is an example of students as partners co-creating their learning environment with educators. Such an endeavour has been shown to increase student engagement and foster self-efficacy (Cook-Sather et al., 2011). Care is taken to explain the purpose of the activity, so students fully appreciate the value of engaging with it (Roberts et al., 2016).
Students close to entering the workforce need to develop learning-seeking behaviours, to reflect on their learning journey and to identify gaps in their knowledge. They will soon enter an environment in which these skills are needed so that they can effectively seek and gather new knowledge to support their problem solving. Large student numbers can make it difficult to support students in developing and applying these skills.
Students are given a choice of what to study in the latter part of a semester, supported by a decision-making scaffold. The scaffold models a reflective and collaborative decision-making process, developing students’ capacity to identify their own learning needs and seek the resources that will best suit them. It also models collaborative skills by demonstrating the points in the decision-making process at which discussion with others is most valuable.
Identify the point in the curriculum in which a variety of topics could equally cover the required learning outcomes (usually later in the course after core content has been covered).
Step back to approximately four weeks before the collaboratively chosen topic(s) will be taught.
Place the decision-making scaffold into the LMS and introduce it in both the lecture and tutorials. The scaffold should begin with an overview, followed by opportunities to explore and collaboratively reflect on the choice of topics, with a further opportunity to later collaboratively reflect upon/discuss the choices after they are made.
Remind students each week to engage with the decision-making scaffold until the poll closes. The scaffold can be iteratively released each week if desired.
Teach the chosen topic(s). The week the chosen topic is to run, begin by summarising the process to ensure that all students are aware of why and how the week’s topic has been chosen.
Examples of pattern in use
Intro to Dashboarding and Data Visualisation
This postgraduate unit provides students with an introduction to dashboarding and data visualisation. In the semester when the development was implemented, there were 480 students enrolled in the unit.
In Week 6 of the Unit, a model called ‘Working Together’ provided the decision-making scaffold. Students had until Week 8 of semester to make their decisions about which topics they would like to be taught in Weeks 10 and 11.
We would like to acknowledge the unit coordinator, Stephen Tierney, who initiated and co-developed the intervention.
The Working Together module contained the following pages on the LMS:
- Overview, which contained a rationale for the module and described the steps the students would take.
- Reflection, where students could share their learning goals and needs, guided by some prompt questions
- Explore, where a set of videos and other resources showcased the possible topics and a discussion board was available for further thoughts and questions from the students
- Decide/Share, containing the decision poll, and an interactive way for students to share how they had come to their decision, see the screenshot below.
- Review/Recommendation, where students could reflect on the decision that was made, and suggest other topics future students might like to explore.
A number of tools were used to support the decision-making process. Both Padlet and Ed were used to host collaborative discussions. A polling tool (Atomic Poll) was used for students to make the topic choice selection.
Student feedback was collected through student surveys. Survey questions related to the scaffolded decision-making process, and the responses (n=29) were overwhelmingly positive, with over 80% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that: the process helped them reflect on what they were interested in in the unit; it helped them become more interested in the topics covered in weeks 10 and 11; and helped them connect what they were learning in weeks 10 and 11 with their own personal goals and interests. Of the Reflect/Explore/Decide steps, while none were rated as being significantly more helpful than another, around 70% found them to be moderately or extremely helpful individually. A little over a third of the cohort (n=175) voted in the topic choice poll.
As one student noted, the process also allowed students to identify peers with common interests:
Having an input into some of the topics to learn in the later weeks of the course was a nice addition to a subject and also seeing the results of what fellow students chose gives some insight into what is potential common interests. – (Comment from student survey)
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