By Andrew Middleton, Academic Innovation
Last week I set a challenging assignment for students studying a computer science module. Unusually for this group it required them to work autonomously on a project that was very open-ended. I knew the assignment would provide them with a rich and valuable experience, though I was not surprised by the anxiety I picked up on in email following the posting of the assignment brief in Blackboard. I decided to dedicate the next face-to-face meeting with them to talking through the brief: what was I really looking for? Was it really as manageable as I suggested? How should they go about the assignment?
I’m really glad I put that time aside. It seemed to do the trick. That is, for those who turned up.
A number of students hadn’t turned out for the session. What should I do? Should I say “That’s their loss?” Should I make myself available later so I could give them a repeat briefing, maybe several times? Should I cover the same ground next week? Should I leave them to speak to those who had turned up? I decided, because this was critical to an assignment due to run for four weeks, that I had to give them access to the class briefing as soon as possible and that this could be achieved by recording my talk through of the brief and the discussion around it using the MP3 recorder I always carry with me ( though I could have used the iPhone I also carry as it has a good recorder built into it).
The recording was posted to the module podcast before I left the class. Those who turned up were consulted about this and they had the benefit of being able to ask questions that were important to them in the session and were able to make s start on the assignment planning whilst the class was in session with further support from me. I was able to advise the non- attendees to consult their peers on this and it is entirely up to those who were there to decide what else they will share.
Having gone through the brief and answered questions about it, I became aware that input from a Careers adviser would help to add authenticity in establishing this particular task. I should have thought of this before, but I hadn’t. That input would be valuable now and can’t wait til next week. I’ve arranged to buy an adviser a coffee later today and to get their input in MP3 format. That will be posted to the module podcast from my iPhone as I walk back to my desk.
This post has been written on my phone on my way into work. I feel much more responsive and effective with this technology in my pocket and I can see how such interventions can make all the difference to the student experience and their capacity to immerse themselves in their studies.