Examples of teaching innovations
The importance of taking a systematic approach to programme planning, in which appropriate attention is paid to detailed individual module and programme level outcomes becomes very clear when developing new distance or blended learning programmes. In this particular case, the course was designed to be taken on a part-time basis by professionals working within the burgeoning biomedical industry in Ireland (the West of Ireland has the world’s 4th largest Biomedical Devices industrial cluster). Key aspects of the development of the programme include:
- Close engagement with the needs of employers in the Biomedical sector, identifying needs in terms of core scientific knowledge and particular skills, providing a route into research and development as well as management for those from a range of backgrounds (engineering, science, mathematics, business).
- Ensuring that the course structures and requirements suit part-time study and allow for flexibility, using credit accumulation and ‘blending’ whereby much of the content is covered in distance learning materials (combination of printed and online) but practical sessions and intensive workshops take place on campus (on-campus sessions are recorded using ‘lecture capture’ systems and made available later for consolidation or also for those unable to attend on occasion)
- Having a number of ‘exit routes’ at Postgraduate Certificate, Diploma and Masters levels
- Basing the project component of the Masters in the company of the employee, linking with an academic researcher/research group on campus.
- Using ‘Instructional Design’ approaches to designing the actual learning materials, embedding learner activities and providing encouragement and support via online discussion.
- Student evaluation has played a key role in the evolution of this programme as has feedback from the sector and external examiners/advisory group. As a result, for example, there is now a move to provide a fully-online version of the programme which potentially will therefore have a much wider reach, something which is particularly relevant given the multi-national nature of this industry
Grouped student evaluation approach to feedback on teaching and learning
For some 15 years now, academic staff at NUI Galway have been able to avail of a confidential feedback system which is facilitated by an independent (ie not employed directly by the institution) consultant. This is a local implementation of a model (Mid-semester evaluation) developed by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and who advised the local coordinators.
The protocol essentially requires that the independent facilitator visits one of the scheduled lectures/classes and for 15 – 20 minutes speaks with the students (as the lecturer leaves) and asks them to cluster into small groups of three or four and within these groups try to draw up a list of responses to three simple questions relating to the particular lecturer who has sought the review.
- What do you like most about this course and the lecturer’s teaching of it?
- What about this course and the lecturer’s teaching of it needs change or improvement?
- What suggestions can you offer that would make this course a more valuable learning experience for you?
The students write down their responses in each group and the facilitator collects them and collates into a summary report which is then provided to the lecturer only. The document is confidential and no copy is stored by the facilitator. Whilst these questions, and indeed the general idea, is well established in many institutions, the distinctive aspect of this implementation is the confidentiality and this is something which many academic staff appreciate and is often a very helpful first step into evaluation and feedback for many of them.