You are browsing the archive for workshops.

UAL Course Teams – want to discuss Digital Learning?

September 22, 2016 in Assessment, Digital Identity, Digital Literacy, eLearning, eTeam

If you are a Course Team at UAL and would like to discuss or explore ways of using Digital Learning within your courses – please contact UAL’s Digital Learning Team.

If you would like to understand a little more about how we work with course teams have a look here – or listen to colleagues discussing using digital learning spaces with their students.

The crit and how students receive feedback

January 9, 2016 in PGcert

I read Critiquing the Crit for this topic: Blythman, M. Orr, S. Blair, B. (2007) ‘Critiquing the Crit‘: ADM Subject Centre, Higher Education Academy.

Reading this makes me think about equal participation, something I wrote about in my Topic 2 blog Equalising student participation (including small groups, peer feedback, fostering familiarity and speaking in circles), and how students can feel about receiving feedback.

Out of all the descriptions in the Staff Guide, the one I identified most with was ‘Peer crits’ where:

  • The tutor acts as facilitator
  • Students are divided down into smaller groups
  • Students are given criteria to critique against
  • Students give peer feedback
  • The facilitator feeds into the discussion

It’s a similar model to the peer feedback presentation skills workshops I teach, and the issues raised feel very similar, probably because a core component is about speaking in front of people.

How students feel

I really like one particular quote from Danvers (2003), cited in the Critiquing the crit discussion paper, who says creativity thrives ‘in an environment where the individual feels psychologically and physically comfortable, in an atmosphere of trust, security and openness.’

How can we create an environment where students feel more comfortable about receiving feedback? Part of this seems to be by understanding how students feel and responding by creating a supportive environment.

I collaborated on publishing a book Art Crits: 20 Questions (2013) where we interviewed UK Fine Art staff about the art crit. Jim Hamlyn, Gray’s School of Art, sums up a key point: ‘A lot of the barriers revolve around people’s sense of inferiority, where they feel as though they are in a situation where other people are superior in some way or have superior access, knowledge, understanding or articulacy.’

In an article in Networks Magazine, Perception, Interpretation, Impact (2007), Bernadette Blair says:

‘If a student’s cognitive resources are interfered with in one or more of the crit activities, through either a negative experience or a misunderstanding of the formative feedback, or by being so apprehensive that they cannot listen to or absorb the feedback comments on either their own work or the work of others, then this can impair the student’s performance and learning experience.’

By understanding this, we can create a supportive environment that helps create equality, where each person’s opinion and contribution is heard and valued, where the students feel comfortable sharing their work and the feedback doesn’t feel like judgment but something that helps them learn.

Large groups and dominance

The Critiquing the Crit discussion paper says that students generally found the large crit to be ‘inhibiting when presenting to the whole group, especially for shy or international students’. Large groups require students to broadcast their ideas rather than converse.

‘Strong students can dominate. The overtalker is as much of a problem as the undertalker’, say Blythman, M. et al. Bernadette Blair says something similar in Art Crits: 20 Questions: ‘A bad crit is one where it becomes a performance for the staff or a particularly egotistical student to take centre stage and not actually let anyone else get a word in edgeways.’ (p67)

The peer crit model breaks students into small groups, and giving each student a certain timeframe to speak. This helps give each student an equal platform, where those feelings of inferiority aren’t heightened by students who speak more confidently for longer periods of time.

Peer feedback

When students are with their peers and friends, they feel more comfortable. One of the students I surveyed said: “When I know the people and it is a friendly non-judgmental environment I feel good and I am more able to speak out.”

An outcome from Susannah Rees’s PgCert action research project ‘Improving the Student Experience of Presenting work to Peers and Tutors’ (2008) was that students are more than twice as likely to be more nervous when presenting to tutors than peers. Peer feedback supports learning, if we follow the idea that students who are feeling emotionally comfortable will be in a better position to learn.

Peer feedback also seems to be a tool explicitly valued by students. In the discussion paper, Blythman, M. et al say, ‘Students especially stated that verbal feedback from their peers is critical in enhancing their own learning activity.’

‘Invisible’ teachers

As well as peer feedback reducing nerves, it also helps equalise between the students and staff, reducing the idea of the teacher as authority figure (discussed in Topic 1 and Topic 2).

I like this quote from Jim Hamlyn in Art Crits: 20 Questions: ‘The more I teach the more I realise that actually being invisible is probably the best thing that you can do.’ (p66)

This ‘invisibility’ of the teacher equalisation reduces formality, hierarchy and pressure, and students could feel more at ease talking about their and others work.

Invisible teachers

Bad experiences

I think that the first experience of speaking in a crit or class is extremely important. One student I spoke to from LCF said his first experience of public speaking was an assessment in front of 60 students and 2 tutors. “I just freaked out, shaking, sweating.” His friends afterwards said they were shocked as he seemed so confident in other areas of life. This very stressful first experience meant that subsequently he resolutely avoided speaking in front of a big group.

The potential for humiliation and embarrassment is high, and these experiences can stay with you and can continue to block the learning benefits. I doubt that this student would have processed any feedback following his presentation.

Embedding presentation skills in the crit

I spoke to Nancy Turner (previously at UAL, now University of Saskatchewan) a few years ago, who suggested that the crit could be used as a way of embedding speaking skills in the curriculum.

I would like to consider this idea more and develop a new workshop in collaboration with a course. I developed a peer feedback presentation skills workshop for the Introduction to Study in Higher Education unit. If  students participated afterwards in well-structured ‘peer crit’, I think this would provide them with a more comfortable first experience of giving and receiving feedback which can be built on positively as they progress through university.

Inclusivity and international students

December 4, 2015 in PGcert

For the inclusivity topic, I’m thinking about what makes students feel included and excluded in my teaching.

I feel that inclusivity and equal participation (discussed in Topic 2) is a major focus of the presentation skills work I do, particularly the fact that everybody takes speaks equally during my workshops, which are based around peer feedback.

I naturally have empathy for people who find it hard to speak, as I am terrified of public speaking myself, and have researched the reasons why students might feel nervous during my Teaching and Professional Fellowship.

However, I need to make sure I understand any barriers that may relate to disability, language, cultural differences, race, gender, financial restrictions. I want to adapt my workshops to meet the needs of as many students as possible within the same session.

I am going to focus on international students for now, following a conversation I had about the challenges around international students and giving feedback in class (see James’s comment and my response).

International students and speaking

First of all, I do struggle a bit with the term ‘international students’. This is because the category could include a student from America with English as a first language, and a student from China with English as a second language, and therefore the category represents very different needs. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll focus on international students with English as a second language.

I’ve done some initial research around international students and participation, as part of previous projects.

One student talked about language barriers: “I am generally reserved and not self-confident, I am afraid of being judged. Here in London my fears have doubled because my language is not English.”

Another student talked about cultural differences: “There is this common code or belief and because everyone knows it, you don’t have to say it. If a student speaks out they are regarded as being too flashy, not humble.”

During 2014/15, I organised workshops with 244 students. 48% of the participants stated that English was not their first language. 71% of those students felt nervous about public speaking, compared to 50% of the students who had English as their first language.

One good thing is that the workshops already have a positive effect on international students. The number of students with English as a second language who were nervous dropped from 71% to 43%. It’s not as pronounced as the improvement of those who have English as a first language, where the number of students who felt nervous more than halved from 50% to 23%, but it’s still a significant improvement.

A Chinese student from BA Fashion Jewellery at LCF said her confidence had increased because the workshop “Gave the great feedback that I need to improve so it makes me better.”

Understanding the complex interactions

I’m now considering what my next step would be in order to understand any barriers more.

Using the idea of an audit from the NUS report Liberation, Equality and Diversity in the Curriculum, I did a small scale review of my course material and my research methods.

It made me re-evaluate some research I am planning. I wanted to do research with a group of international students to understand the factors that may influence speaking and participation in order to help make my teaching more inclusive. I now feel I should extend the research to a wider group of students, not just international students, as there are a more complex range of interactions at work.

International students may experience feelings of exclusion, for example. One of our class members in the PgCert workshop said that the level of English that students have to achieve “doesn’t prepare you for chatting to your peers”. This is a challenge that affects all students, whether home, EU or international.

There are other issues in addition to language. One student told me that she initially felt resentful towards some of the international students as they were well-off and arrived at university in taxis. In turn, this type of feeling could affect the experience of the international students. “The international students can feel like they’re not valued,” said a PgCert class member, ‘as their peers think they are there because they pay high fees.”

To extend this idea even further, there could also be tensions between students and staff. In Duna Sabri’s Becoming Students at UAL (2015), one Chinese student felt her tutor was prejudiced against the international students. But, she says, “It’s not that bad now, I’m quite getting used to him and the tutor is getting better… because we know about each other.”

I feel that if there is more communication, then empathy increases and prejudice reduces. The more we share openly and honestly, the more connections the students will see between each other.

Collaborate and hang out together

Siobhan asked in our PgCert discussion: “How are you getting the students to collaborate and hang out together? We have a responsibility to support this.”

The presentation skills workshop promote communication between students so I feel that they have a wider role to play in inclusivity. I’ve noticed if we do the workshops early on in the first year, it gives students the chance to talk to people they might not have spoken to and provide mutual support.

Equality and Diversity for Academics – Promoting good relations suggests we “encourage working across difference”:

“Students can be reluctant to work with people who are different from themselves, particularly across perceived language or cultural barriers. Use group work to encourage students out of their comfort zones.”

A very similar point is made in Equality and Diversity for Academics – Inclusive practice, where it suggests we ‘encourage interaction’, allocating teams for group work rather than allowing self-selection (something we discussed in Topic 2).

Using digital to facilitate greater understanding

There are some interesting videos of international students on Commonplace. We could show some of these videos as part of the workshops. For example, the experience and advice from student Angela is really lovely. Angela says: “It’s really important to share, to make speech… Communicate is the only way to improve yourself, to have a much better life instead of hiding.”

I could also collaborate with Commonplace to create some new videos. For example, I could ask the students in the video presentation skills workshops I run to film a short presentation on how they feel about speaking. We could then upload the videos on Commonplace and play them back in future workshops.

Collaboration between year groups

Writing about this topic has now made me think further about how students can provide support to each other and foster stronger connections.

In our discussions on sustainability, I talked about a workshop I devised for the collaboration unit for MA Documentary Film, where the graduating students mentored the new students by giving them support and feedback on their presentations.

I could apply the same idea to other workshops. Students from the year above, including international students, could give feedback and support to the new students. I can imagine advice and insights from more experienced international students, similar to those on Angela’s video, could be very helpful.

I want to end on an important question asked in Tell Us About It: Student Stories: “How can we manage/facilitate the student group to be a resource for each other?”

The teaching I do includes peer feedback, mutual support, communication, sharing of stories, increased familiarity and working together. If I can do more work to fully understand the needs of the different students, then I think the workshops can play a role in increasing inclusivity and understanding between different people.

Equalising student participation

October 16, 2015 in PGcert

The big question for me this week is: How do you get every student in your class to participate?

I really enjoyed reading Psychology Teaching: Working in Small Groups written for the Higher Education Academy by Caprice Lantz. It’s great summary of different ideas, combining theory and practical advice. She talks about ‘Encouraging and equalising student participation’ which seems important.

I found that I am already using some of the other techniques around working with small groups, which I think are essential for helping students speak more comfortably:

1) Small groups. The presentation skills workshops I run ensure each student speaks, partly achieved by using small groups. Each student has an allocated time to prepare and present a short presentation in a pair, before joining another pair to practice again, and then moving into a bigger group. This snowball method means that it feels more like a conversation rather than a presentation, even when speaking in bigger groups. Lantz’ survey of literature suggests that small groups should be taught in a maximum of 6 (Bennett et al., 2002 Small group teaching and learning in Psychology).

2) Peer feedback. The workshops are centred around students giving each other feedback on their presentations. Lantz talks about the ‘traditional master-apprentice view of lecturers and students’. This model means the teacher dominates. This is apparently more commonly found among teachers who identify themselves as ‘experts’ (Silver, M. & Wilkerson, L. A. (1991) Academic Medicine). This equality and two way-learning is something we discussed a lot in Topic 1. Small groups ‘establish a more intimate and dialectical contact with academic and teaching staff than more formal methods permit’ (Jacques, D., & Salmon G. (2006) Learning in Groups: A Handbook for face-to-face and online environments)

3) Fostering familiarity. As the students talk first in pairs in my workshops, then gradually add people to their groups, there is an opportunity to get familiar with the others in the group. Lantz says that Giordano and Hammer (1999) and Jackson and Prosser (1985) both advocate fostering familiarity to help ‘reticent’ students to become more participative. As one student said in my research for Teaching and Professional Fellowship at UAL, “I found giving presentations about my work very difficult at the start but as I’ve got to know people, it’s more like talking to your friends.’

4) Circles. The students in my workshop always sit or stand in a circle when they are giving feedback to their peers. Lantz says that circles are widely considered best in facilitating interaction (Bennett et al., 2002)

What matters the most to me is that everybody speaks. This is not about some people being the best speakers, it’s about each student finding a comfortable way to express themselves.

One question that preoccupies me a lot is: How do you equalise between dominant students and quieter students?

Lantz writes: ‘When groups convene, roles are sometimes ill-defined and dominant students have a tendency to take control while reticent students struggle to contribute or fade into the background.’

I don’t really like the word ‘reticent’ as it suggests that the students are unwilling rather than feeling unable to contribute in some way. But it’s true that some people dominate.

Jacques (2007) has advice around verbal and non-verbal ways to discourage excessive contribution: ‘…you can discourage a dominant student by slightly frowning, using a stop hand gesture and making eye contact with other students’. I might try this but wonder if it’s a bit too obvious?

Victoria Kelley, in her PgCert project, describes a technique using playing cards. Each person has 3 cards and puts one down when they speak. This is interesting. My concern would be if you are a quieter person there could be even more pressure on you if you’re the one left with 3 cards in your hand.

Often when people talk about presentation skills, the emphasis is on individual confidence. In fact, there are many other factors that contribute to someone being able to speak comfortably. These include the physical environment (eg is it formal/informal) and whether the group well-faciliated (eg is the group structured so each student is contributing equally). I think allocating roles is a useful idea, and I will do this when we are doing a group presentation exercise.

I’d be really interested in any other thoughts about how you can equalise participation, encourage participation from quieter students and discourage excessive contribution from dominant students…

Word cloud based on people’s responses to the question ‘What makes a great group?’ in our online seminar discussion, Tuesday 6 October 2015. Interesting how much the word ‘leader’ features, especially given the comments above about equalising participation. (I like the way ‘booze’ creeps in there!)

Wordle pgcert

Skip to toolbar