Current Projects

Large TIES Projects

Small TIES Projects


A collaborative approach to supporting the First Year Experience across the University

Applicant: Dr Nerida Jarkey
Duration of project: Two years

This project seeks to further improve the academic, social and personal experience of commencing first year students at the University of Sydney, by establishing a community of practice amongst first year coordinators, teachers and units supporting the student experience across the University. With a focus on supporting staff in embedding generic skills into the first year experience, our project involves three main initiatives: building a web resource that brings together key information; creating an email list that offers staff practical suggestions at strategic points in the semester cycle; and organising face-to-face forums for exchanging ideas and sharing good practice in supporting the transition to university.

The project is designed to address an issue of concern, revealed through our examination of the responses of commencing first year students to the SCEQ (1999–2007). Our investigation shows that, while the gap between these responses and those of other undergraduates has closed on nearly all factor scales over this period, the responses of commencing first years to items on the Generic Skills scale have remained consistently and significantly lower than those of other undergraduates.

With the aim of closing this gap in perceptions of generic skills development, we will promote a University-wide community of practice with a view to better supporting the engagement of first year students in all aspects of university life, both inside and outside the classroom, and to facilitating the development of the generic skills and attributes students need to succeed at university and beyond.
As a foundation for our project, we utilise a conception of generic skills and attributes as not simply something to be learned alongside the curriculum, but to be interwoven with it and embedded in it (Barrie, 2007). We seek to promote and extend a model of improving students’ learning experiences through the engagement of units supporting the student experience in collaborative action with coordinators and teachers. The value of this model has been clearly demonstrated in recent and ongoing collaborations between the Learning Centre and faculties. Research on this work reveals a variety of discipline-specific issues in first year teaching and learning, and indicates the benefits of a team approach (Ardington, 2008; Bonanno & Jones, 2007; Ellis, Taylor & Drury, 2006; Scouller, Bonanno, Smith, & Krass, in press). Finally, we also acknowledge and celebrate the key role played in a successful transition to university by the development of generic skills and attributes through experiences of university beyond the classroom (McInnis et al., 2000; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005).

This application is submitted on behalf of the First Year Experience Working Group (FYEWG), represented by the applicants named below. This group was established by the ITL in 2000, as part of an initiative to improve the learning experience of first year students, in light of the strategic goal to attract and support high achieving students and improve retention rates. Since 2006, the FYEWG has operated as an independent University-wide working group.

Arts Network Mentoring Program 2009

Applicant: Dr Nerida Jarkey
Duration of project: One year

Since 2002, the Arts Network Mentoring Program has invited 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.

In 2007 and 2008, we began to extend the ‘Arts Network’ identity beyond the Mentoring Program, introducing a system of regular eNewsletters, at first to all commencing first years and then to senior undergraduates in the Faculty. These newsletters serve not only to give information and advice to students, relevant to the time in the semester cycle and to their stage in their degree program, but also to encourage them to participate in community-building activities in the Faculty.

In our 2009 project we will pilot two additional initiatives designed to ensure that our communication with students really is ‘communication’ and not just ‘broadcasting’. These initiatives involve working with:

  • the student representatives on the Faculty Board and other Faculty committees, to induct them into their role, and support and empower them to ensure they have real voice in Faculty planning and policy;
  • the Education Collective of SASS (the Sydney Arts Student Society) to plan two themed forums (one in each semester) in which students have opportunities to interact with academics and raise questions about issues relevant to their concerns, interests and needs. Possible themes already proposed by students for 2009 forums include ‘understanding standards-referenced assessment’ and ‘planning a degree pathway’.

These two additional initiatives will galvanise the momentum provided by the mentoring program at the beginning of each year, will build on our efforts to date to establish supportive communication with students, and provide a link to other key student activities within the Faculty. In this way, we aim to facilitate a holistic approach to student involvement and engagement with their Faculty.

Project report: Download

Blended assessment for student engagement in the faculties of Arts and Economics and Business (E+B)

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

Assessment is a key driver to student learning. Time-poor students manage their learning around 'what counts'. The forms, frequency and parameters of assessment have therefore a determinant role in scaffolding and giving direction to student learning.

This two-year project proposes a blended approach to assessment, across two large faculties and within degree programs, aimed at keeping students engaged in high level learning. It will develop and trial an approach to academic development along degree program boundaries and centred around the blending of assessment activities, their articulation in 'patterns' and their explicit linking to general attributes through the use of a specialised online program called ReView.

This project builds on current initiatives in both faculties and will create sharable patterns of e-assessment, a methodology for linking assessment with learning outcomes and graduate attributes within degree programs, and recommendations on a workload policy linked to the integration of online assessment activities in degree programs. It will consequently increase and help manage the spread of blended learning (Mode B1) units in both faculties.

Internationalising pedagogies of academic communication and generic skills through virtual exchange

Applicant: Dr Susan Thomas
Duration of project: Two years

This project was inspired by Susan Thomas’s current participation on a Cross-Cultural Communication project with Stanford University, funded by a Wallenberg Global Learning Network grant. It is modelled on the Stanford program, which features the use of webcams and ‘live’ conferencing contexts within ‘local’ writing classrooms, facilitated by Marratech software. In this state-of-the-art learning environment, students collaborate on written tasks not only with their own classmates in a ‘physical’ classroom situation, but also ‘live’ with peers in the United States, Europe and Asia in a ‘virtual’ classroom.

The project aims to introduce an international context to ‘local’ writing practices and teaching environments, while supporting the University’s three overarching generic graduate attributes: scholarship, lifelong learning and global citizenship. The project would offer students who, for whatever reason, are unable to take advantage of ‘traditional’ study abroad programs, many of the benefits of study abroad without the travel and expense, and would situate ‘local’ learning and teaching practices in a global context by transcending the ‘physical’ classroom.

Project report: Download

Online resource to enhance quality assessment for and of learning in Arts

Applicant: Dr Brigid Rooney
Duration of project: One year

As the largest unit in its cluster, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences seeks to maintain and improve its reputation for teaching excellence. Among the challenges for Arts are its large size and school-based structure. From a wide diversity of disciplines, the Faculty’s 300 (plus) staff work and teach in buildings spread across three postcodes. These conditions make creating a professional learning community with shared principles and standards for assessment very challenging. In its strategic and action plans in 2007 and 2008, the Faculty has committed itself to ensuring clear goals and standards, consistent cultures of marking and quality assessment practices to support student learning.

This project expresses that commitment by contributing best practice, student-focused assessment resources to a new Arts Teaching and Learning website (under construction in 2009). These resources, drawn from a range of Arts disciplines, will be rigorously road-tested, benchmarked and delivered for a range of uses by teaching staff. They will also be designed so they are suitable for integration into programs planned by the Arts Teaching and Learning Network to support the professional understanding of tutors and unit of study coordinators.

The Arts Teaching and Learning website that will host these assessment resources will centralize teaching and learning advice for a range of users, constituting a virtual hub for the Faculty’s disparately located staff and diverse cultures. In that context, the focus of this particular project is to develop the assessment dimension of the site for use by the Faculty community. The delivery of assessment resources online requires the design of a user-friendly website allowing both ease of access and depth of contextual information. This project will thus serve as a pilot for other components of the website, providing a model for disseminating Arts teaching and learning resources online.

Promoting writing across the curriculum and the First Year Experience through the WRIT Program

Applicant: Prof William Foley
Duration of project: One year

In keeping with current university teaching and learning initiatives, as evidenced by the Vice Chancellor’s work slate, the Provost’s implementation committee on generic skills, and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Action Points and Teaching and Learning Plan, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will offer two new academic writing units of study for 2009: WRIT1001 Academic English Language (for NESB students) and WRIT1002 Academic Writing (for native speakers), which have replaced ENGL1000 Academic Writing - one unit in a single department challenged with serving both cohorts across the university.

The Faculty has also created, through the newly formed Arts Teaching and Learning Network, a WRIT ‘Hub’, which will headquarter the new university-wide WRIT program and offer additional e-learning support for students enrolled in the WRIT units. (The WRIT prefix was chosen due to its university-wide ambit, as opposed to ENGL or ARTS.) The purpose of this project is four-fold:

  1. To establish a WRIT website to assist students in selecting the most appropriate UoS for their needs.
  2. To employ an educational designer to a) bring WRIT1001 up to speed with WRIT1002 (formerly ENGL1000), which, as a result of TIES and e-learning support, has become a model of good practice in blended teaching and learning; b) assist the WRIT1001 and WRIT1002 coordinators in making the two units complementary and appropriate for a university-wide audience; and c) to integrate the use of the Write Site into both UoS.
  3. To employ, during its pilot phase in 2009, an administrative assistant to coordinate the functions of the WRIT hub, which will be used for WRIT tutorials, WRIT tutor training, staff development sessions, and out-of-class e-learning access and support.
  4. To situate the WRIT program in a context of international best practice and develop a methodology for its assessment - benchmarking with overseas universities, inviting world experts to review the program, and devising student surveys and focus groups - all of which can be used as a model for the development and assessment of other foundation or ‘generic skills’ units.

Creating vodcasts for Beginner Chinese

Applicant: Ms Irene An
Duration of project: One year

This project addresses issues arising from face-to-face teaching and learning in Chinese:
a) students' listening and speaking skills tend to lag behind reading and writing skills;
b) lack of learner autonomy;
c) lack of authentic and colloquial use of the target language;
d) insufficient cultural knowledge input of the target language.

The project includes: writing vodcast (videos to be published online) scripts based on authentic language use; creating vodcasts including real life dialogues/role plays, discussion of vocabulary, grammar and culture in contexts and related activities; publishing the vodcasts on WebCT sites. The vodcasts to be created for this project will be closely related to the Beginner Chinese syllabus and serve as a necessary supplement to the course.

On-line video clips for learning archaeological excavation methods

Applicant: Dr Sarah Colley
Duration of project: One year

The project aims to develop online digital video (DV) resources to support learning and teaching of archaeological excavation methods. We are currently editing our own video of 2007 excavations of a nineteenth century archaeological site at Old Marulan, NSW. This externally funded project will produce a set of edited and labelled video clips in PAL-DVD format archived on DVD and mini-DV tape by early 2009. The clips show professional archaeologists demonstrating excavation procedures which our archaeology students need to learn. We request funding for further professional editing input to improve the audio quality of the clips for learning, to manage IP permissions, and to convert the digital resources into formats suitable for sustainable archiving on University servers and delivery over the internet for learning and teaching.

Academic language and literacy support: A website for international and local students

Applicants: Dr Bronwen Dyson, Dr Betsi Beem, Dr Megan Le Masurier, Dr Ahmar Mahboob, Ms Louise Katz
Duration of project: One year

The Project would design an accessible, comprehensive and up-to-date website to improve international and local students' access to academic language and literacy resources. The site would feature three main components to which new resources could be added as they become available:
1) faculty-level assistance
2) support from the University and beyond
3) common student needs/difficulties and advice on how to address these needs.
It would be initially developed for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences but its flexible architecture would facilitate adoption by other faculties. To develop the site, the project would employ a writer to locate resources/other required information and write the site and position the content. The Project is valuable because the rising cultural diversity of the student body means that there is an increasing need for academic language and literacy support, but this assistance is currently either dispersed or fragmentary.

Thinking statistically (without the mathematics) in Socio-Legal Studies

Applicant: Dr Deirdre Howard-Wagner
Duration of project: One year

The aim of the project is to develop teaching and learning modules, in the form of online tutorials (audiovisual), a teaching/learning manual, and SPSS computer laboratories, that can be used by students enrolled in SLSS2601 Socio-Legal Research - a core unit that must be completed by all students to fulfil the requirements of the Bachelor of Socio-Legal Studies (BSLS) - to learn to think statistically (without the mathematics).

One of the learning objectives of this unit of study is to provide students with an understanding of statistical inquiry and how to think statistically (without teaching students how to calculate statistics using statistical formulas). Students will conduct a study of the relationship between binge drinking, social norms, and crime and risk-taking behaviour, which will include active participation in the study through completion of an online survey using Survey Monkey, and practical step-by-step assisted learning in using SPSS to enter and analyse the data collected from the study, as well as interpreting and writing up the findings of the outputs generated from SPSS. Students will also be taught how to contextualise the findings of the study alongside existing research. The project will develop complementary teaching tools to assist students in achieving these learning objectives. The teaching tools will be designed to teach BSLS students about quantitative research and how to conduct statistical analyses of quantitative data using SPSS. While students will be explained the logic behind particular statistical formulas used to calculate say a mean, mode, median or chi-square test of independence, students will rely heavily on SPSS to compute the calculations. They will be required to present the material in an assessable report, which contains a review of the literature, methods section, results and discussion.

Academic Honesty: Supporting student learning about plagiarism by supporting tutors

Applicant: Dr Rebecca Johinke, Dr Nicola Parsons, Dr Katherine Bode
Duration of project: One year

Plagiarism is a longstanding issue in education. New technologies have only compounded the problem, making it one of the most serious assessment issues in twenty-first century universities. Although there are no precise figures for incidents of plagiarism at Australian universities, research from the United States, South Africa and Finland (Park 2003) indicates that plagiarism is becoming increasingly common at tertiary institutions around the world. Plagiarism is an especially pressing issue for essay-based disciplines, because it is so easy for students to search the Internet for essay material and copy and paste. Even when tasks are thoughtfully designed and correspond with best practice in formative and summative assessment paradigms, plagiarism still proliferates.

This project responds to the challenge of combating plagiarism in two ways: first, by treating it as a problem in student learning and, second, by supporting sessional tutors (hereafter 'tutors') in educating students about the issues involved in ethical academic writing. This project builds on the success of the 'Preventing Plagiarism: Ethical Academic Writing' project, sponsored by a Small TIES grant in 2008. We've been encouraged to extend the focus of our workshop from the Department of English to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences more broadly because of the success of the pilot workshop and the encouragement we received from A/Prof Simon Barrie (ITL) and our project mentors Christine Crowe (Director eLearning and Academic Development, Teaching & Learning Network, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) and Penny Russell (A/Prof in the Dept of History and past Associate Dean, Teaching & Learning, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences). Christine Crowe has indicated that a seminar on plagiarism and assessment would make a welcome addition to the Faculty's Tutors' Development Program. This TIES grant will give us the opportunity to develop a more inter-disciplinary workshop and the focus groups will allow us to evaluate and improve the resulting workshop and resource pack. Implementation of this Tutor Development workshop relates directly to a number of the Faculty’s Teaching and Learning Strategic Goals, 2007-2010, especially best practice in assessment and policies to enhance student learning.