The Sustainable Business Initiative’s Teaching in Practice Session (TiPS) was launched on 11 February 2016. It was a great privilege to host guest speaker Professor Kevin Morrell who shared his views and insights on striving for excellence in big group teaching.
What do you need to successfully deliver big group teaching? Professor Kevin Morrell says its ‘stamina, self-belief and resilience’.
Using the case study of an undergraduate course he taught to more than 400 students, he considered how the lessons he learnt might apply to attendees’ own field of teaching and personal techniques.
What are the main points we took away? What ideas can we build on that might work in the Business School context?
- Diversity: What are the best approaches to working with students form different cultural backgrounds? How can teaching styles and assessment approaches be adapted? Kevin considered these challenging questions and aimed to deal with them in the design and development of the course, lectures and assessment. He took into consideration the cohorts backgrounds and perspectives and tailored in a way he felt would work well.
- Assessment: With such a big group – careful thought was put into the assessment aspect of the course. He settled on an approach comprising of an individual essay (70%), a group project (20%) and a group presentation (10%). To cater for group’s diversity, he set an ‘authentic’ group project where students were required to develop a single country investment fund. This incorporated problem-based learning, inspired work-related aspirations and allowed for academic content to be ‘smuggled in’. The winning team was awarded a prize.
- Language: He stressed the importance of terminology. Talking to their aspirations of being future business executives, he incorporated every business speak wherever he could. For instance, the prize was an ‘elite award’, students were in ‘syndicates’, as opposed to groups, and they worked to a ‘brief’, not an assessment. This improved the students’ employability students, who felt more confident in their understanding of real life challenges.
- Student Anxieties: Naturally, individual anxieties occur in the group work setting. Anxiety was heightened in his course as students encountered their first university assessment. Kevin dealt with this by being very firm on the fact that the academic staff were there to support academic matters and not procedural complexities. From the course design, he aimed to mitigate these anxieties by using an algorithm to segment students into groups and ensured every group developed a team charter to take ownership of their project and individual actions.
- Peer Assessment: Kevin ‘strongly recommends’ this approach for group work. It is about the symbolic value of awarding marks as well as the empowering students. He feels it is important that we share some power with students as a sign of respect and value in their input. Various peer assessment approaches were discussed which provide students with insights into due process, equality, good judgement and fairness.
- Recruit a Colleague: Teaching a big group is taxing and takes ‘stamina, self-belief and resilience’. To manage the psychological burden, it was suggested that having another colleague on board to share some course responsibility is beneficial.
With these main ideas in play, the group had an engaging discussion and brainstormed new approaches and the lessons learned in their experience.
It was a pleasure to learn from Kevin, who has done a remarkable job at advancing the field of big group teaching and it was pleasure to learn more.
Hazel Christie from IAD has written an in-depth blog on TiPS 1 and it is well worth a read.
If you are a University of Edinburgh academic and interested in finding our more you can come along to the next session on ‘Blended Learning and Learning Communities’ on 24 March. Contact SBI to confirm your place.