CMS1008 (Building Professional Nursing Attributes A) (250 students), CMS1100 (Communicating in the Sciences) (50 students), CMS 1000 (Communication and Scholarship) (many students over the years, now she sometimes takes tutorials of about 20 students each), Module 8, ENG2002 (Society and Technology) (200 students)
Jill's courses are about embedding and scaffolding literacy skills and competencies into discipline-specific courses. Embedding skills means understanding where students are ‘at' (for example in terms of their levels of academic knowledge) and then making explicit the requirements and giving them opportunities to become familiar with the academic language and skills they need to master and demonstrate to succeed at university. For example, the assumptions underlying referencing are unpacked in class and any differences between students understanding and the university's are addressed. Scaffolding means structuring students' learning step by step, with smaller, more easily accomplished tasks first. Formative assessment helps here. For example, the assessment for one of Jill's communications courses (an assignment plan) might be integrated with an assignment on another of the student's courses (the full assignment) so students can become familiar with developing a thesis statement and their main points before developing body paragraphs.
Jill's courses are designed to develop the skills needed in academic life such as note-taking, reading, summarising, evaluating, referencing, distinguishing between qualitative and quantitative approaches, assessing sources for currency and relevance, etc. These early academic skills courses are the foundations on which students can build their academic achievements throughout their program. They boost student confidence for the rest of their study, and these skills are also embedded in the discipline-specific course to add to their credibility and relevance
The most important objectives are to help students develop their academic literacy, teamwork skills, cross-cultural communication skills and learning skills, as well as developing a self-awareness about how their own worldviews and belief systems can affect both their learning and their future professional practices.
It's important to Jill to make a human connection with the students and to empower them. Jill addresses specific objectives through assessment which she sees as an essential learning tool and which is integral to her approach to teaching. There are generally no lectures or exams and these courses are very student-centred.
Feedback is integral to the courses. Students carry out reflective exercises in each tutorial and they hold informal discussions about the assignments on their other courses. Jill also collects SELTS, carries out research studies on the students' experiences of the courses and encourages students to participate in an end-of-semester online survey. There is a lot of evaluative feedback in the portfolios that students develop (in Nursing, for example) and comments are sometimes left on the message board. All these taken together form an ongoing feedback loop. If a student is experiencing a problem Jill tries to act straight away to help.
For Jill, any course delivery is always a collaborative team effort. This is especially so in embedded and/or scaffolded courses. For example, CMS1008 required collaboration with the whole Nursing team. The teaching teams delivering these courses met on a weekly basis for discussion and feedback. Jill says Birgit Loch and Linda Galligan have been particularly helpful, and Jill says she has learned a lot from them about how to use different teaching tools, especially technological ones.
Jill sees the development of her courses as an ongoing process and she constantly adjusts in response to student feedback. The courses are popular and have received good feedback and Jill's teaching has been recognised at the national level with her Carrick award.
Some qualitative comments from students include the following:
Jill teaches us in a way we all understand. She allows us to ask questions, discuss what we are talking about…this really helps my learning. (CMS1000 Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) 2005)
Jill has made this subject fun and interesting and that has made me want to achieve to the best of my ability…thank you for always believing in everyone and helping me achieve my best….the course is student-friendly, which is an incentive to come and do the work. (CMS1007 SETS, 2005)
Jill made the transition into uni a much smoother and less stressful experience. I have used skills that Jill taught me through my entire 3 years at uni. (Student Feedback Questionnaire (SFQ) 2006)
Hi I am just writing to say that I really like how this course helps out with the other courses we are undertaking. It makes so much more sense to incorporate all courses work together- and especially having CMS help with other assignments!
Jill's work during tuts is great and although it must get hard to stay on top of everything- I thank you for your hard work in keeping the site info up to date. (Bulletin board, CMS1008, 2007)
I am grateful for the support offered in CMS. It has provided me with a greater level of confidence and courage to pursue my goals. I have also gained an understanding that education will assist me in being able to make a stand for something I believe in and to be able to support my belief with evidence and knowledge. Jill has had the most influence because she is so real. (Portfolio Feedback (PF) CMS1008 2007)
Jill provided learning for us actors to be engaged and motivated. She inspired me by giving us respect and providing time so we could talk. (CMS1000 acting student (SFQ) 2006)
I think CMS has been invaluable. The assignments have been directly related to my current studies in other areas of the program and will be most useful for future studies. (PF CMS1008, 2007)
Problems and advice for others
The courses are very time-consuming and Jill found herself working seven days a week at one point with electronic submission which meant being tied to a computer. However student feedback is overwhelmingly positive for electronic submission. The original conception for the student portfolios turned out to be too demanding for the students at this level and Jill adjusted them to make them smaller. Some students also had some initial difficulties using ICT and so Birgit Loch developed some video snippets using Camtasia, giving detailed demonstrations with audio commentary.
General comments and recommendations
Jill says that the most important aspect of delivering a course is to take a student-centred approach. This is about making a connection, meeting the students where they are, and recognising who they are – without this you cannot work with them. It is a complex social, interpersonal and cultural process. She says it is vitally important to make all documentation and all processes explicit and transparent. Jill also believes strongly in the techniques of embedding and scaffolding as she finds that these empower the students, which for her, is the most important aspect of teaching.