28th February – Teaching Success!

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Hello blog-world! Here I am again. I thought I’d try and get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) fairly swiftly after the second Engineering MSc teaching session I did with Kirsty this week, as it went really well.

We had already decided to try to get the students to do some group work, so they can get to know each other more as well as bounce ideas off each other. The first week was mostly Kirsty talking and then we were helping them one-to-one, so we thought if we mixed it up a bit it wouldn’t feel too much like they were being lectured. We also decided to try using a Padlet wall during the student discussion and feedback to bring together their ideas, as they happened, in a place where they can see the information easily, rather than referring them to pre-prepared resources or presentations that don’t accurately reflect their questions and responses (the main point of our sessions, of course, being finding out what the students want to know, as well as telling them what they should know – or at least trying to strike a balance between the two).

We designed a little activity where we gave them samples of different resources – including the standard books and journals, but also websites, newspapers, market research reports, patents and standards. This was a good idea because while most of these are available online, it’s often just text on a screen – it’s good to hold the source and see what it actually looks like, how it’s set out and where all the different sections are.

We had a question sheet with some prompts of ‘Things to think about’ – the basic question being ‘Why would you trust this source?’, but framing it with other questions: for example, who establishes a new British Standard? Who writes market research? Who are the intended audience? Where and what is the evidence for their claim? We also gave them some answer sheets to jot down ideas in their groups. It went really well I think – they were really open to discussion and thankfully were actually discussing the sources!

We brought it all together after about half an hour and Kirsty led the group discussion, and asked them to talk her through each source: what they knew about it, what they would look for and why. It was really informative actually, I myself learnt a lot – did you know members of the public can have a say in British engineering Standards? Or that market research includes data on all the major players in a certain field (say, mobile phone manufacturers), their products and market performance? Well, you probably did know that, but as I’ve spent my degrees buried in musty tomes, I didn’t!

Anyway, the students really engaged and were keen to give their opinion and ask questions. Kirsty also decided to give out prizes for the most devastatingly analytical answers, which went down really well – it would seem that introducing an element of friendly competition got the best out of that particular group! While the discussion was going on, I started putting together the Padlet page as we went along. It’s not the most detailed of documents, and there were a couple of things I missed while furiously typing and trying to listen at the same time (such as ‘Google is powered by money, not quality research!’ or similar), but here is a quick screenshot:

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Kirsty said she noticed they were all watching the Padlet during the discussion, pointing out things to add to it, noting down the address and, perhaps most importantly, taking photos of it on their phone to keep, which seems to be the norm now (I still use pen and paper!). Kirsty said it was the first time she’d seen it work as it should – largely, I think, because the room we were in had multiple screens showing the display on the computer I was using, which meant everyone could actually see what I was writing. I think using a Padlet wall on one large projector screen at the end of one of the bigger study rooms elsewhere in the building wouldn’t have worked as well because the students wouldn’t have been able to see. This is related, too, to the students being able to take their time reading text rather than frantically trying to keep up with someone while making their own notes. Either way, it worked really well!

We – or rather, Kirsty – ended with a quick demonstration of how to get to market research databases, standards and patents through the library catalogue, and then everyone dashed away! But we had a quick brew and de-brief and we both thought the session went well: the students were much more relaxed and chatty while remaining focused this week, and hopefully this will continue.

Next week, I might be talking through some of the referencing Powerpoint, as I’ve been largely passive on the ‘leading the session’ front. I feel more comfortable with this after the session this week, mainly because the students seemed that way too. So I will update on the next one after the event. I’m attending the ARLG Yorkshire & Humberside Teachmeet at Sheffield Hallam on Monday, so will hopefully be sharing some of what we’ve been up to there, and maybe getting some tips on how to relax while delivering things to a group of about thirty-five people… All in all, much to look forward to!