Henk, a Lecturer in learning and teaching enhancement, talks about his development of academic communication templates and a system for peer-led tutorials.
Henk is developing communication templates for academic writing, to be integrated into courses delivered in ICE. Staff can insert their own course content into the exercises to ensure relevance. They are designed to be used either as a whole package or individually where there is a need in a particular area. They cover topics such as grammar and style, question analysis, essay structure, paragraphs, referencing, report writing and oral presentations.
Henk is also involved with developing Meet - Up (formerly called PALS). This is a system using Wimba (and prior to that MSN Messenger) to provide a supportive and non-threatening learning environment for off-campus students, in the style of a tutorial, but with a peer leading the group – typically a second or third year student who has successfully completed the same course.
In addition, Henk is re-developing online resources for the Learning Centre (formerly called ALS online) for students.
The target audience for the communication templates is wide, as all staff can access it through open courseware. It's suitable for all foundation level students and any other students struggling with academic communication. It's also Moodle compatible and can be linked from there.
For Meet - Up via Wimba, the target is mostly off-campus first year students who need the social support of a network of peers. Meet - Up is also offered in a face-to-face format on campus.
The online resources are aimed at first year students and provide a resource bank for all students and staff.
Learning goals and objectives
The templates are designed to improve student communications skills, both written and oral. Meet - Up is to provide learning support and build a learning community – the Wimba version is also helpful in overcoming some of the technophobia new students might be feeling. The online resources are designed to allow dipping in and out to provide support on a particular aspect of academic study. The objective is to provide comprehensive support for first years, and more focused support thereafter.
Who did/does what?
For Meet - Up, Henk and Lindy select the peer leaders and train them in how to run the discussions, in which the off-campus students must participate.
All members of the academic learning support team in LTSU have contributed content to the online resources.
The templates and online resources are still in development. Henk would like to see more uptake of Meet - Up but it depends on staff awareness and interest, and there is also a cost to faculty attached, albeit a small one.
Problems and advice for others
Problems have included finding a way to make sure students and staff know these resources are available to them. Financial constraints have limited the uptake of Meet - Up, and these types of learning resources are often on the margins of lecturers' thinking.
Henk says that when implementing any type of technology-enhanced learning, it's important to take the time to do it properly, because half-hearted attempts will result in technologies that are of limited effectiveness. Spending a bit of time on development can make all the difference.