2007 Projects

A postgraduate learning ecosystem model

Applicant: A/Prof Marie-Therese Barbaux
Duration of project: One year

Social software has emerged in the last two years as a major component of the new collaborative and social web environment. The web has changed from a unidirectional communication tool, a read-only environment (Web 1.0), to the Read-Write Web (Web 2.0) that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, had dreamed about. In a similar fashion, eLearning is evolving from its first phase, organised around online courses and institutional learning management systems, to an eLearning 2.0 environment, based more and more on ‘personal learning centres’ where students produce, re-use and re-mix content to share with their peers.

Coupled with the now ubiquitous mobile technologies, such as mobile phones or mp3 players, the new online social software represents a powerful way to interact with students and ‘meet them’ in the digital world they evolve in every day.

The aim of the project is to expand on a pilot project run in two postgraduate units of study in 2006 in the Graduate Certificate in E-communications. A small learning ‘ecosystem’ environment was developed in the Certificate program but was not interfaced with WebCT. It is proposed to design and trial an environment based on the new collaborative Web 2.0 technologies and fully integrated with the University Learning Management System, WebCT, and action research the impact on student learning and tutors’ experience.

Following its small pilot, the META Centre submitted this year a Strategic eLearning project and has been awarded 80 hours of design and development time by the HASS USyd eLearning team to develop the interface between WebCT and selected Web 2.0 tools. If evaluation results are positive, it is intended that the ecosystem model will progressively be applied across all relevant Arts PG units over the next three years.

Arts Network Mentoring Program 2007

Applicant: Dr Nerida Jarkey
Duration of project: One year

The Arts Network Program invites senior student volunteers to help welcome first years to the Faculty at enrolment time, to participate in organising 'Arty Starty Day', a transition workshop for initial orientation and networking, and to provide ongoing support through a peer-mentoring program, especially over the first crucial weeks of the semester.

Students are divided into mentoring groups according to their degree program and disciplinary affiliations, ensuring that groups share common academic interests but are fully inclusive and represent the diversity of the university community. Opportunities are provided for peer interaction, enjoyment and sense of involvement in the learning community through creative team activities.

Since the program started in 2002, our participant numbers have grown significantly each year. We experienced a major increase in 2006 (over 600 first year participants), and anticipate even more in 2007. We have recruited twice our usual number of mentors for the 2007 program (150) to help us cater for the expected increase in first years next year, and plan two further significant changes:

1. Extend the research dimension of the program by:

  • developing shared program evaluation and research strategies with the Faculty of Economics & Business Peer Mentoring Program Coordinators (Ms Jill Kelton and Ms Nadia Bradley) and the Faculty of Pharmacy First Year Experience Working Group Representative (Dr Lorraine Smith);
  • through 'Mentor Taskforce', giving opportunities for program participants to take a higher level of responsibility in the participatory action research cycle used for ongoing program evaluation and improvement.

2. Develop and pilot new systems for program management to cater for increasing numbers by:

  • training 'Mentor Taskforce' - a small group of mentor volunteers to take on extra responsibilities in planning, leadership and events management;
  • training casual staff in use of our new administrative database;
  • using the database to enhance mail, email and SMS communication with mentors, first years in the network, and with all commencing first year students in the first and second semester cohorts in Arts.

Project report: Download

First Year Experience Working Group

Applicant: Dr Nerida Jarkey
Duration of project: One year

The First Year Experience Working Group (FYEWG) was established by the Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) in 2000, as part of a University-wide initiative to improve the learning experience of first year students, in light of the strategic goal to attract and support high achieving students and to improve retention rates. Since the beginning of 2006, the FYEWG has become a University working group that is affiliated with but independent from the ITL.

The 2007 FYEWG project will have two main outcomes:

1. To ensure the ongoing work of the FYEWG and to enhance collaboration with the SWOT Project Group. This will be achieved by:

  • reports on the work of each group exchanged at meetings
  • continuing the initiative begun in 2006 of inviting to each FYEWG meeting a colleague from one of the key service/support units to share about an aspect of their work with first years, with discussion of how this work can support and be supported by the work of the group
  • continuing the initiative begun in 2006 of holding an annual open forum on an aspect of the first year experience, with participation from colleagues from faculties, members of the SWOT Project Group and others involved in student services related to first year support.

2. To promote the development of foundation generic skills among first year students and awareness of their role in the development of generic graduate attributes. This will be achieved by:

  • organising an open forum on good practice in promoting the development of generic graduate attributes among first year students (Semester 2, 2007)
  • facilitating the sharing of online resources aimed at developing foundation generic skills, with attention to utilising and, if necessary, modifying these resources in contextually appropriate ways. Such resources include the ‘Academic Honesty Module’ designed by the Faculty of Economics & Business, the ‘eSearch to Research Library Skills Tutorial’ developed by the Library in collaboration with the Faculty of Arts, and the ‘WriteSite’ created by USyd eLearning, the Learning Centre and the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculties.

Project report: Download

Redesigning Lectures for Online Mode (Part 2)

Applicant: Dr Susan Thomas
Duration of project: One year

This project focuses on a single UoS, but one of significance to the entire university community. ENGL1000 is a university-wide service unit mandated by the Vice Chancellor and designed to improve students’ academic writing and communication abilities. It is a compulsory core unit for Bachelor of Liberal Studies and Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) degree programs and a popular elective for students across the university. It is offered in both semesters and in Summer and Winter Schools.

There are a number of motivations for redesigning lectures for online mode in ENGL1000. Recent student feedback suggests that many students, especially those enrolled in cross-faculty degree programs such as the Bachelor of Liberal Studies, the new Bachelor of Arts and Sciences and combined degree programs, have difficulty attending lectures due to clashes in timetabling. Students have been extremely satisfied with the highly interactive, two-hour weekly workshops offered at a wide range of times, and with the supporting materials available on the ENGL1000 WebCT site and Write Site. However, they have specifically requested lectures to be delivered in an online mode in order to eliminate the inconvenience of a single lecture delivered at a fixed time each week. Furthermore, while students realize the value of the material presented in the lecture component, an overwhelming number of them question the mode of face-to-face or ‘performed’ lectures in a writing unit.

A successful 2006 TIF grant allowed for half of the existing ENGL1000 lectures to be converted, for a pilot to be introduced to students and staff for feedback. However additional funding and equipment will be necessary for the successful completion of the project.

Tutors’ Development Program - Extension and Collaboration

Applicant: Dr Nerida Jarkey
Duration of project: One year

The Tutors’ Development Program (TDP) in Arts was designed in 2004 to respond to Recommendation 1 of the Academic Board Review Phase 2, by implementing a professional development program for tutors in the Faculty, in cooperation with the Institute for Teaching and Learning. The program involves three meetings early in the semester in which tutors gain an understanding of key teaching and learning principles and are encouraged to develop reflective and scholarly teaching practices. Participants who attend all three meetings are awarded a certificate of participation. The program has been offered in every semester since S1 2004, with around forty new tutors participating each semester.

The purpose of this project is to create further professional development opportunities for tutors through collaboration between the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Education & Social Work. Education & Social Work tutors will be invited to participate in the ‘TDP Foundation Program’ already established in Arts, and both Faculties will offer ‘TDP Advanced Modules’ open to all those who have completed the Foundation Program. One Advanced Module will be offered in each semester, and tutors who complete two of these modules will be awarded advanced certification.

The first Advanced Module – Peer Observation of Teaching (POT) – was successfully piloted in 2006, and a further two modules – on the topics of Group Work and Assessment – have been developed. An award for Excellence in Tutoring has been introduced in both Faculties, and a strategy for supporting tutors in disseminating the outcomes of their scholarly inquiry in learning and teaching has been trialled in the POT module. A number of tutors who have completed the TDP have participated in the 3-day ‘Principles and Practices’ Program offered by the ITL, and some have gone on to complete the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education. Through the extension of the Program we aim to support far more early career academics to gain recognition and qualifications in learning and teaching.

Project report: Download

Upgrade of student self-study facility in META Resource Centre

Applicant: A/Prof Marie-Therese Barbaux
Duration of project:

The META Resource Centre (formerly Language Centre) has a large self-study area, with specialised equipment for language practice, where students do language work from audio materials, either purchased commercially or specially created by their teachers. Over the last three years, a small number of networked computers have been added to this infrastructure and this has enabled students to work with audiovisual language materials as well as internet resources, and has opened the facility to non-language students.

Funding is required to upgrade the whole area and replace the language laboratory equipment with networked computers.

Use of the specialised language equipment has decreased steadily over the last decade due to changing language learning and teaching approaches and the vast array of ‘authentic’ language resources made available to students through the internet. Following the merging of the Language Centre with the Multimedia & Educational Technologies in Arts (META) centre, the facility is also being used more and more for non-language work. The proposed upgrade to computers will reflect this progressive change in the function of the self-study facility.