Educational innovation, development and discussion at ETH

Pilot am D-INFK: Blended Learning Kurs “Didactic Basics for Student Teaching Assistants”

Als wichtiger Bestandteil von innovativer Lehre an der ETH Zürich, haben sich Online-Lernangebote in den letzten Jahren stetig weiterentwickelt. Vor allem der Ansatz des Blended Learning sowie das Konzept des Flipped Classroom, mit der Verknüpfung von Online-Selbstlernphasen und kooperativem Präsenzlernen gewinnen immer mehr an Bedeutung. 

Die didaktische Ausbildung für studentische Lehrassistierende an der ETH Zürich nimmt diesen Trend auf und setzt ihn zielgruppenorientiert um: Daher befindet sich das Kursangebot derzeit im Wandel – aus einer klassischen Präsenzveranstaltung soll zukünftig ein Blended Learning Kursangebot für alle Hilfsassistierenden mit Lehraufgaben entstehen. 

Zur didaktischen Ausbildung von Hilfsassistierenden bietet das LET seit vielen Jahren entsprechende Kurse an, bei denen das Lernen zu ca. 80% in Präsenz und ca. 20% des Lernens online stattfindet. Da die didaktischen Kurse für Lehrassistierenden immer besser besucht werden und die Skalierung der Präsenzkurse eine natürliche Grenze hat, wurde vor einiger Zeit mit der Konzeptplanung eines Blended Formats begonnen. Nach eigenen Videoproduktionen und mehrmaligen Feedbackschleifen mit ehemaligen Lehrassistierenden konnte ein erster Pilot im Sommer 2019 fertiggestellt und im HS 2019 für die Hilfsassistierenden am D-INFK angeboten werden. Für die erste Durchführung entschieden wir uns, Präsenzkurs und Onlinekurs parallel anzubieten und die Studierenden selbst aussuchen zu lassen, welches Format sie bevorzugen: Für den neuen Blended Learning Kurs am D-INFK registrierten sich 88 Teilnehmende, während am “klassischen” Präsenzkurs lediglich 16 Studierende teilnahmen. Bereits an dieser Verteilung beim Pilotkurs wird deutlich, dass die Lehrassistierenden ein flexibles Format bevorzugen, wie wir dies mit dem neuen Blended Learning Kurs “Didactic Basics for Student Teaching Assistants” anbieten. Bei dem neuen Kurskonzept ist das Verhältnis zwischen Online- und Präsenzlernen genau umgekehrt zum bisherigen Konzept: ca. 80% des Lernens findet nun online anhand von Lernvideos und anderen Online-Lernmaterialien statt, während der Transfer des Gelernten in einem Präsenztermin umgesetzt wird und weiterhin Peer Hospitationen (gegenseitige Unterrichtsbesuche) stattfinden, die zusammen ca. 20% des Gesamtaufwands für die Teilnehmenden ausmachen.

Die Online-Lernumgebung in Moodle stand den angemeldeten Teilnehmenden zum Beginn des Herbstsemester 2019 zur Verfügung und begann mit einer dreiwöchigen Startphase, um den unterschiedlichen Anstellungszeitpunkten von Hilfsassistierenden gerecht werden zu können. Nach dieser Ankunftsphase wurden dann im wöchentlichen Rhythmus die vier Kapitel des Online-Kurses veröffentlicht.

Die vier Kapitel des Onlinekurses beinhalten die folgenden didaktischen Themengebiete: 

  • Getting started with your course planning
  • Presentation and communication in class 
  • Activating students in class
  • Feedback & Assessment 

Im ersten Teil des Kurses reflektierten die Teilnehmenden ihre Rolle als Hilfsassistierende und erstellten einen Plan für eine Übungsstunde mit den dazugehörenden Lernzielen. Die Basis für die Erreichung der jeweilige Kompetenzstufe in den Kapiteln wurde durch vom LET produzierte Videos und mit den Videos verknüpften Aufgabenstellungen geschaffen.  Mit Ausnahme vom dritten Kapitel enthält jedes Kapitel 1-3 Videos, welche wichtige Inputs zu den jeweiligen Hauptthemen geben. Am Ende von jedem Kapitel gab es zudem eine Reflexionsaufgabe, die eine individuelle Rückschau der Hilfsassistierenden auf Ihre wichtigsten Erkenntnisse ermöglicht und mit der eine Konsolidierung des Wissens erreicht werden soll.  

Nach Abschluss der vierwöchigen Onlinephase fanden mehrere Transferworkshops in Form von Mittagsveranstaltungen in Kleingruppen mit jeweils 20-23 Personen statt. An diesen Präsenzterminen hatten die Hilfsassistierenden die Möglichkeit, die Lerninhalte aus der Onlinephase zu vertiefen und mit Peers sowie den Kursleitenden zu diskutieren. Zudem wurden am Präsenztermin Tandems für die Peer-Hospitation gebildet, deren Ergebnisse wiederum online präsentiert und diskutiert werden.

Bei den Transferworkshops wurden die Lerninhalte aus dem Onlinekurs mit eigenen Erfahrungen in der Lehre verglichen und gegenseitiges Feedback zu individuellen Lösungsansätzen der Aufgabenstellungen, wie z.B. dem Lesson Plan für eine Übungsstunde gegeben. Zum Abschluss des Onlinekurses wurde eine finale Reflexionsaufgabe gestellt, um den Hilfsassistierenden die Möglichkeit zu geben, ihre neue Sicht auf das Lehren und Lernen in Übungen in eigene Worte zu fassen, diese mit der vorhergehenden Sichtweise zu vergleichen und den Kurs in seiner Gesamtheit nochmals Revue passieren zu lassen. 

Insgesamt beinhaltet der Onlinekurs zehn schriftliche Leistungsnachweise, welche von den Teilnehmenden arbeitet und eingereicht werden müssen. Zusätzlich gehören die beiden Onlinebefragungen am Anfang und am Ende der Kurses, die Teilnahme am Transferevent und die Peer-Hospitation ebenfalls zu den Pflichtaufgaben des Kurses. Die Deadline für die Abgabe aller Leistungsnachweise steht noch bevor. Aus diesem Grund ist noch keine Aussage darüber möglich, über wie viele Lehrassistierenden den Onlinekurs erfolgreich bestanden haben. 

Die grosse Herausforderung bei der Erstellung eines Onlinekurses ist die Vorausplanung. Der gesamte Kurs sowie sämtliche Materialien und Abläufe müssen vor Kursbeginn vollständig feststehen. Aufgaben und Leistungsnachweise sollten von Anfang an klar definiert sein, damit die Teilnehmenden den Arbeitsaufwand einschätzen können. Eine weitere wichtige Überlegung ist die der Kommunikation zwischen Kursleitenden und Teilnehmenden: Wie soll die Kommunikation erfolgen? Innerhalb von welchem Zeitraum können die Teilnehmenden mit einer Rückmeldung rechnen? Wie bewerkstelligen wir die Rückmeldungen bei einer Vielzahl an Teilnehmenden? Klar festgesetzte Regelungen sind notwendig, um den reibungslosen Ablauf des Blended Learning Kurses zu gewährleisten. Zusammengefasst muss eine klare Struktur, vordefinierte Prozesse und eine sorgfältige Vorausplanung gegeben sein, um einen Onlinekurs erfolgreich durchführen zu können. 

Anhand des positiven Feedbacks der Teilnehmenden sehen wir in Blended Learning Kursen eine neue Perspektive für didaktische Kursangebote an der ETH Zürich. Zudem haben wir festgestellt, dass der Onlinekurs hinsichtlich Ablauf und Struktur noch weiterentwickelt und ausgebaut werden muss. Beispielsweise haben sich die teilnehmenden Studierenden gewünscht, dass gewisse Inhalte des Kurses bereits zu einem früheren Zeitpunkt freigeschaltet werden sollen, damit die Teilnehmenden diese bereits für ihre erste Übungsstunde als Lehrassistierenden einsetzen können. Die stärkere Orientierung an der Lehrpraxis der Teilnehmenden steht daher ganz oben auf unserer Agenda für die Weiterentwicklung des hybriden (Verknüpfung von Online- und Präsenzlernen) Kursangebots.

Ausblick

Für das Frühjahrssemester 2020 ist geplant, den Blended Learning Kurs für Hilfsassistierende aus anderen Departementen anzubieten. Inhaltlich soll die Transferveranstaltung verlängert werden, um ein Microteaching (Simulation von Unterrichtssituationen) einbauen zu können und den Kurs damit noch praxis- und transferorientierter gestalten zu können. Ein weiterer wichtiger Bestandteil der Weiterentwicklung des Onlinekurses ist die Produktion von weiteren Videos zu verschiedenen Themen der Hochschullehre. Dabei setzen wir den Akzent auf realitätsnahe Inhalte, in denen didaktische Themen anhand von realen Unterrichtssituationen erklärt werden. Didaktische Themen sollen daher auch zukünftig weder durch Animationsvideos noch durch idealisierte oder nachgespielte Unterrichtssequenzen thematisiert werden, sondern anhand von realen Situationen aus unterschiedlichen Übungen und Lehrveranstaltungen. Diese realitätsnahe Form von Lernvideos findet sich bislang eher selten, da es nicht einfach ist, die komplexen sozialen Interaktionen im Unterricht zu extrahieren und aufzuzeigen. Unserer Erfahrung nach haben jedoch die realen Unterrichtssituationen einen stärkeren Lerneffekt als nachgespielte Szenen. Und die Rückmeldungen der Studierenden bestätigen diese Überlegung, weshalb wir überzeugt sind, dass sich der Aufwand für diese Art von selbstproduzierten Videos aus pädagogisch-didaktischen Gründen langfristig auszahlen wird.


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“Less content might result in more learning.” Recent didactic course graduates reflect.

Twice a year the programme “Teaching at ETH: Committed and skilled” helps Assistant Professors to implement evidence-based teaching ideas in their classroom teaching. We asked the most recent group to reflect on the most important thing they learned.

Newly appointed Assistant Professors are quickly faced with a range of new tasks they are expected to master. Often without significant introduction, they are expected to develop budgets, plan and teach courses, manage financial acquisitions and hire and train staff in various skills – all the while conducting research and writing publications. The pressure is high as they keep their eye on the prize, namely tenure.

“Teaching at ETH: Committed and skilled” gives Assistant Professors the opportunity to invest some rare time in developing their teaching skills, which for many is a new area of expertise. During the programme’s classroom phase they are introduced to key pedagogical concepts and encouraged to put these into practice in their own teaching environments. They then meet in small groups to discuss their teaching goals and challenges, where they have a chance to give and receive feedback on their ideas and teaching practice.

Over time, not only do their teaching skills develop; many of their previously held beliefs about teaching and learning also change. This was reflected in the latest group’s answers when we asked: “What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to the next course participants?”

Assistenzprofessorin am Departement Gesundheitswissenschaften und Technologie

Prof. Dr Simone Schürle-Finke responded with this gem: 

“Less content might result in more learning. I feel it is one of the hardest aspects of teaching – and I’m still learning, since as passionate scientists we want to tell and teach the students everything. But instead we should shift focus to enable them and give them the tools to learn by themselves, to feel ownership of their knowledge, to critically think and be motivated for self-learning.” 

Interested? The next “Teaching at ETH” programme starts in January 2020. Read more.

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Does anything ever happen after those teaching evaluation surveys?

Maybe you know the problem. You want feedback on your teaching from your students. You want to know what they think went well, and what didn’t. Maybe you need their evaluations for future job applications. In whatever case, in your evaluation a more or less representative amount of feedback and number of ratings would come in handy. But your students are sick of evaluations! They wonder why they have to fill something out which will be of no use to them, and nothing ever comes of evaluations anyway… .

So the muttering of students. However, something actually does happen with student evaluations – even if most students aren’t aware of it. It is rare that someone attends a course twice, and there is little opportunity to find out whether lecturers have implemented their students’ wishes. Therefore, to let students and others know what happens after a questionnaire is submitted and why evaluations are important to teaching quality, we have created a 3-minute video with the help of Youknow (specialists in explainer videos). Please show this video to your students and motivate them to take part in the survey! This is especially useful if you have the opportunity to conduct the evaluation in class.[1]

The challenge for us was to explain the entire comprehensive, stringent evaluation process from survey via publication of findings to deduction of appropriate measures briefly and appealingly. A bigger challenge was to be responsive to students and take their criticisms seriously, while also dignifying the engagement of most lecturers. Whether and how well we have achieved this in three minutes of moving images is yours to decide!


[1] By in class evaluation we mean that you programmed the time your evaluation survey will be send out to students, and you ask them during your lecture time to fill in the survey, via their laptop or smartphone.

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ICED 2020 @ ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is to host a global conversation about how higher education will look in the future, and how universities should prepare.

In June 2020 the biennial conference of the International Consortium of Educational Developers (ICED) will take place at ETH Zurich. The theme of the conference, “The Future-Ready Graduate”, was chosen to inspire higher educational institutions, their faculty and educational developers to reflect on emerging global trends and to consider the changes needed to adjust higher education to new realities as they develop.

What does the future hold? This question has fascinated humans for eons. Many of our questions about the future are unanswerable. However, we can make some educated predictions. Industry leaders are asking themselves how global trends will affect their domains – and so is the education sector.

We live in a permanently changing society which requires new didactic approaches and innovative education concepts. How can teaching staff prepare students for this uncertain future? How will universities adjust to new realities in higher education? What do faculty members need if they are to offer suitable learning experiences that prepare students for changing scenarios?

These topics and more will be addressed at the ICED 2020 conference. The First Call for submissions is now open. It invites potential presenters to share their experiences and to explore the deep and searching questions in the conference sub-themes.

In order to enhance this conversation, students are explicitly invited to participate. ETH is sponsoring 4-6 students from around the world to attend and speak at the conference and student voices will be included in the form of a video at the beginning of the conference. The process for submitting a video or for nominating a student ambassador is described on the ICED 2020 website.

We hope that ICED 2020 conference contributions will provide both inspiration and practical pathways for faculty, administrators and educational developers as they seek to respond to changing future scenarios.

ETH teaching staff can contact LET staff members if they would like to discuss a potential contribution.

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Learning from 18 years of fostering Teaching and Learning innovation

For more than 18 years, ETH has consistently been fostering Teaching and Learning (T&L) innovation through funding provided by Innovedum*. The funded projects have helped to transform teaching practices sustainably both in individual courses and curricula. But what else have we learned from it?

To find answers the Innovation management group at LET has reflected on how this innovation process has evolved. We evaluated 15 years of data and arrived at two key findings. The first is that community building activities (such as our lunchtime seminars and the Learning and Teaching Fair) have become the basis for fostering T&L innovation at ETH. These activities bring together project leaders, faculty members, educational developers and policymakers and provide a platform for teaching staff to share information and insights gleaned from their projects. These events are driven by the concept of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) which aims for systematic reflections on how individual teaching interventions and innovation projects improve student learning. We will continue on this path.

The second finding is that involving students in the innovation cycle has remained a major challenge. Innovedum has experimented with different approaches (e.g. Student Innovedum), but the adoption of students’ ideas within the university has proven to be difficult. So we have started a new project with the teaching commission, an advisory body of the Executive Board, looking at ways that students can be better integrated in the process. First results are expected to be implemented in the Innovedum project cycle in Spring 2020.

For a closer look, please check out the paper which was presented at the EdMedia conference in Amsterdam in July 2019.

Also, if you are an ETH faculty member, we invite you to the Refresh Teaching series, one of the community building activities mentioned above.

*Innovedum is a brand established by the Rector including project funding and community building activities open to all stakeholders of T&L. www.innovedum.ethz.ch

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Dashboard-Bilder in Moodle anpassen

(English below) Lehrende können die Dashboard-Bilder ihrer eigenen Kurse selber ändern. Dies lässt sich einfach umsetzen und hilft Studierenden und Lehrenden, ihre Kurse schneller zu finden. Darüber hinaus wird das Dashboard durch individuelle Bilder visuell ansprechender.

Vorgehen

  1. Wählen Sie ein Bild, für welches Sie die Copyright-Rechte besitzen oder eines das frei verfügbar ist. Bitte beachten Sie ausserdem, dass die Bilder auf unterschiedlichen Geräten unterschiedlich dargestellt werden. Wählen Sie also ein passendes Motiv.
  2. Ändern Sie die Dateigrösse des Bildes auf ca. 100 KB. Ideal ist das png-Format.
  3. Stellen Sie sicher, dass die Höhe des Bildes 112 Pixel und die Breite nicht mehr als 350 Pixel betragen.
  4. Laden Sie das Bild hoch, indem Sie beim Zahnradsymbol «Einstellungen» wählen, scrollen Sie runter bis zum Feld «Kursbild». Laden Sie die Bilddatei hoch und speichern Sie danach Ihre Änderungen.

Das Bild wird nun im Dashboard und in den Kursinfos angezeigt.

Demo video

Customise dashboard images in Moodle

Teachers can change the dashboard pictures of their own Moodle courses. This is quick to do, helps students as well as teachers find their courses faster and brightens up the dashboards with individualised images.

Steps

  1. Select a picture for which you own the copyright, or which is publicly available. (Please keep in mind, pictures are displayed differently on every screen, therefore consider selecting an abstract picture).
  2. Resize the image so that it is roughly 100 KB. Ideally use png format.
  3. Ensure the dimensions of your picture are 112 px tall by no more than 350 pixels wide.  
  4. Upload the picture by selecting the cogwheel in your course, select “edit settings”, then scroll down until you see the field for “course image”. Upload your file and save.

It will now be displayed on the dashboard of everyone who is enrolled in this course.  Watch the video above to see the steps in action.

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Student Innovedum inspires deeper student engagement

It was some years ago, that the Teaching Commission asked LET (the unit for Educational Development and Technology at ETH) to consider ways to involve student in teaching and learning innovation.

In response, the programme “Student Innovedum” was specifically developed. Students were invited to develop prototypes of their own ideas over the duration of a semester. It ran for three years and the results of the student projects were presented each year at the annual Innovedum event and the Learning and Teaching Fair.

A group of students stand facing the camera.
2019 Participants. Photo by Heidi Hofstettler

While this did increase awareness of the potential of involving students in educational innovation and sparked valuable discussions at ETH, the actual projects and ideas of students did not come to fruition as had originally been hoped. Supporting the students would have required more resources than were available and placed a high burden of work on the (already very busy) students.

Therefore it was decided not to continue Student Innovedum in 2019. Instead, it is our intention to continue the discussion with students, the Teaching Commission and the Rector of ETH in order to decide how to best honour the original request of integrating students in educational innovation.

A working group will be looking at the latest literature and other inspiring examples from around the world to consider ways of engaging students more deeply and in more meaningful ways in funded educational innovation projects at ETH.

We are still at the beginning of this process but would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who helped make Student Innovedum happen. This includes the wonderful staff at the Student Project House, the Rector Prof. Dr. Sarah Springmann, Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Andreas Vaterlaus, the members of the Teaching Commission, staff at LET and of course all the students who participated and poured so much passion into the process. Thank you to all and watch this space! 

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Case Study – Peer Review Mastering Digital Business Models

As part of a series of case studies, staff at LET sat down to have a conversation with Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Johannes Hübner and Dominik Bilgeri from the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC) to discuss their Mastering Digital Business Model (MDBM) course.

What is the project about?

In this Mastering Digital Business Model (MDBM) course, Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Dominik Bilgeri, George Boateng and Johannes Huebner teach Master’s level students a theory- and practice-based understanding of how today’s information technologies enable new digital business models and transform existing ones. The course contains a novel examination mode, a video group project is introduced as a core element contributing to the overall course grade. In addition, students are asked to participate in a peer-to-peer review of the videos produced by other student groups, which is independent of the grading and is geared towards giving students insights in how other groups solved the challenge. The best-rated videos are then shared with the entire class in the end of the semester.

As part of this newly created examination element, course participants (in teams of two to three students) explain one of the major lecture topics (theoretical lenses) in the first half of their video.Then they apply the same lens by analysing a company, aiming to better understand its underlying business model. Companies are pre-selected and allocated to students for fairness reasons. Every year, we choose a pool of interesting companies in the context of digital transformation, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, e-health, etc.

What motivated you to initiate the project?

The core idea was to improve students’ learning success by using an examination format that not only requires learners to reiterate theoretical contents, but also apply the theory in a practical context. The students have different backgrounds, and do not necessarily have a strong business focus, which means that many of the concepts taught in class may be rather abstract. We used the video format and specific companies as case studies, because we think this is a good way to trigger curiosity, show concrete examples of modern companies in a compact form, and force students to reflect deeply upon theoretical frameworks compared to other examination formats.

How did you do it?

Aside from the weekly input lectures, we ask students to form groups in the beginning of the semester. We then provide a list of theoretical core topics from which each group can choose one. In addition, we randomly assign each group to a case company. The theoretical topic then first needs to be explained in the first half of the video, and then be applied to the case company in the second half. Here we thus used a prosumer approach, where students become part of the course because they create a small section of the content. The best videos are shared with the class, and can be reused as additional learning materials for future cohorts. This set-up generally resulted in high-quality videos, perhaps also since students knew their videos will be used again.

Students also had to review the video projects of five other groups. They had to clearly describe whether and how their peers used certain perspectives (called “lenses” in the course) which played a role in the video and in their feedback. In this way they analysed once more how the newly learned concepts were visible in other companies – a positive side effect being that they also honed their reflection and feedback skills.

Did you have the support you needed for the project? Is there additional support you wish you had had to help you to achieve your goals?

We asked two students from previous cohorts to join us as tutors, and support this year’s groups primarily with technical questions about video-making (e.g. tools, quality considerations etc.). In addition, we designed one of the lecture slots as a coaching session during which we would further support student groups with their questions. In total, this approach allowed us to provide the students with high-quality supervision with reasonable effort.

Please describe some of the key outcomes of the project

To most students, the task of creating a video was new. We received feedback that while the initial effort for learning how to make a video was higher compared to other examination formats, it was also fun and very helpful to really understand and apply the new concepts. They said that they learned things more deeply and more sustainably because they had to consider all details and aspects – compared to the practical exercises they are familiar with in other courses. By carefully phrasing their arguments in giving feedback on peer videos, students became more aware of their own thinking and argumentation.

We observed that the questions asked by students once they start creating videos were different and went deeper, i.e. their reflections were based on many concrete examples of companies, and the concepts were put into perspective. The same sub-concepts have a different meaning in another context, and students now see the overarching principles better and can argue more precisely about theoretical aspects. Without these concrete examples, it would have been harder to concretely grasp the theoretical aspects.

How did the project impact learners or the way in which you teach?

We were surprised by the high quality of the best student videos. The teaching team is now really motivated to continue innovating on our approaches in other courses. We saw clearly that when students are very active we get better results, deeper learning and better reflection.

What lessons learned do you want to share with your colleagues?

It can really pay off to try things and to experiment. We think that nowadays the classic format of passive lectures and final exams may not always be the best choice. We believe the improved outcomes through students who were actively engaged by the video assignment justified the investment in developing new approaches and tools.

When considering videos as an examination format, you should define the entire course/project very clearly. When describing what production options students have for videos, you should be very precise. Offering too many options can be counterproductive. It is better to present 3-4 crystal-clear examples and stick to them.

Also, we would recommend managing students’ expectations clearly in the beginning of the semester, and highlighting both the benefits and challenges of this examination format. Of course, this becomes easier after the first year, when you can draw from the experience of the first cohort, and also provide examples of prior videos to illustrate what is expected of the groups. Because the students are co-creators you get new and relevant content which enriches the course and can serve to motivate both students and teachers.

What are the future plans for this work? How do you plan to sustain what you have created through the project?

We plan to optimize some details of this course, and to go even more in the direction of a flipped classroom to use this teaching approach in other courses. We will create a library of the student videos to provide it as additional learning materials in future editions of the course.

Student feedback

By MDBM Student Cristina Mercandetti (mercandc@student.ethz.ch)

  1. Your opinion about this course and the peer review & video production process – how has it influenced your learning process?
    Cristina Mercandetti: I really enjoyed both the course and the video production process. I think they complemented each other very well and we were able to directly apply the theoretical knowledge learned in the course to work on our project. It helped me to think more critically about the course content, and really dive into some of the lenses and models presented. I don’t think this would have been possible without the video production, so it definitely improved my learning process.
  • Do you think this approach could be used in other courses?
    Cristina Mercandetti: Yes, I think this approach could easily be used in other classes. However, I think part of the fun in this class was that the video production was something very new and refreshing (a side effect was that I learned how to cut a short movie). I imagine that if several classes introduced this it would lose some of its novelty and could be stressful, as it took a lot of time.
  • Final remarks about the course
    Cristina Mercandetti: I really enjoyed the whole class, and heard a lot of good things from other students too.

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Case Study – Peer Review Corporate Sustainability

As part of a series of case studies, staff at LET sat down to have a conversation with Prof. Volker Hoffmann (SusTec, the Group for Sustainability and Technology) and Erik Jentges (Educational Developer) from the Department of Management, Technology and Economics (D-MTEC) to discuss their corporate sustainability project.

What is the project about?

The course “Corporate Sustainability” aims to enable students to become advocates of sustainable business practices in their later careers. Each year it attracts 150-200 students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds and different educational levels (BSc, MSc, and MAS). We adapted the Six Sentence Argument (6SA) method for this course. The method focuses on enhancing critical thinking skills through structured writing and guided, double-blind peer-review.

What motivated you to initiate the project?

We wanted students to get a clearer picture of what sustainability really is. In the course, they develop not only a deeper understanding of corporate sustainability but also the skills to give and receive feedback.

How did you do it?

At the core are four topics that relate to the sustainability of corporations. These are assessment, strategy, technology, and finance. We developed digital learning modules (videos, some with interactive elements) that explain key concepts to support the most relevant and difficult parts of the lecture. Also, we want to develop students’ critical thinking skills. In e-modules, students learn to formulate concise and short arguments with the 6SA method. The core idea builds on the assumption that writing is thinking.

In the e-modules, students face a decision (a micro case based on the lecture content) and argue for their preferred course of action using a logical structure of exactly six sentences. Each sentence fulfils a specific function in the overall argument and has a 20-word limit. A clear grading rubric enables students to assess 6SAs in double-blind peer reviews. These have been continuously adapted and improved since 2015. The specialized online tool “peergrade” also helped us to conduct a smooth process – for both students and teachers.

Through the peer assessment, students engage critically with their peers’ arguments and receive constructive feedback on their own arguments. With the 6SA exercise, students learn to argue with clarity, and it helps them to reflect on the way they and others think.

During the second half of the semester, students work in diverse teams to prepare mock debates, consulting strategies, economic models and campaign videos. In this phase, they are coached by several postdoctoral and doctoral researchers from SusTec, the Group for Sustainability and Technology. The students then present their projects and display their skills in a group puzzle session and are debriefed in the following final lecture session. Students receive grades for both individual and group performance and can earn a bonus on their exam grade when completing the critical thinking exercises.

Did you have the support you needed for the project? Is there additional support you wish you had had to help you to achieve your goals?

The project received funding from different sources. This helped us to hire academic staff to assist the development of new teaching approaches and the production of high-quality videos. In addition, we received specialist guidance in the instructional design and production of videos.

Please describe some of the key outcomes of the project

With regard to our feedback modules, we think that the quality of the argumentation and peer reviews has increased over the years. For example, we learned that the effective design of such peer assessment exercises for students requires training on how to give constructive feedback and that it should involve several feedback loops to support the development and refinement of critical thinking skills. Overall, the course now integrates many innovative teaching elements and was a finalist in the 2018 ETH KITE award.

How did the project impact learners or the way in which you teach?

When students are able to write better and concise arguments that convince critical readers, and if they can give constructive feedback to arguments that are being made to justify strategic decisions, then they are able to actively shape good decisions in a company setting – they can be change-makers for corporate sustainability. The students were motivated by the new teaching approaches such as the supporting videos, interactive questions inside the videos, and the critical thinking exercises. Peer assessment is “homework” for the students, but they know that they can earn a bonus on their exam grade – and they are already rehearsing for some parts of the final exam.

With regard to students’ learning, the peer review process itself is convincing. What is unique to our teaching situation is the incredible diversity in the classroom. A 19-year-old Swiss environmental science student may be sitting next to a 25-year-old Chinese student who is pursuing a master’s degree in management, who in turn sits next to a 35-year-old American part-time student with a PhD in chemistry and a management position with responsibilities for 20 employees in a multinational company. Peer feedback is a powerful solution to bridge these gaps of different levels of experience and cultural backgrounds. It allows younger students to write a creative and brilliant argument without being intimidated by more senior students. It allows a shy and quiet student to gain confidence by formulating a convincing argument whose strengths are recognized in their peers’ feedback. It creates a space for older students to learn how to coach younger classmates with constructive feedback to improve their reasoning.

That is why at D-MTEC, we use peer feedback in other courses as well. Students learn more when actually giving feedback compared to when only submitting an assignment.

What lessons learned do you want to share with your colleagues?

At the beginning, it was a lot of work and many people were involved, but it was worth it. Today, with regard to the critical thinking exercises, we have continuously refined our processes. Every student writes three reviews, thereby ensuring that everyone also receives much more feedback than a single lecturer could provide. The main work for lecturers is providing an overview of the themes in the arguments and summarizing the activity for all students. This lets them know that their individual contribution becomes part of a collective intelligence. There are always truly smart and innovative solutions that need to be shared with the whole class. Also, there is little effort involved in re-grading/moderating student questions about feedback, because we train students to write helpful and considerate feedback and make them aware of that they also have to learn how to receive feedback, especially if it is feedback that they don’t want to, but need to hear.

For the production of videos, we recommend planning enough time and engaging with video experts and instructional designers early on. Especially writing a concise script for a short video requires a surprising amount of time until it effectively conveys your key points.

If you are interested in applying these concepts in your own courses please contact LET.

Note: The project received funding from different sources (Innovedum, Emil Halter Foundation, ETH Critical Thinking Initiative).

Additional resources and comments

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Flash apocalypse

(image credit: http://catayst.net.nz/flashapocalypse)

Flash

Flash in all its forms will no longer be supported by Adobe or any internet browsers by the end of 2020. This has prompted a clean-up of any Flash files on our own Moodle system. For years Adobe Flash was considered state-of-the-art for interactive web content. As time goes by new standards like html5 and webGL have been established and the Flash technology was shown to be vulnerable to attacks. Therefore it was not surprising that about two years ago Adobe announced the end of Flash by 2020.

Since this announcement, all the big and important webservices like YouTube and Facebook have updated their websites using html5 and other technologies. Therefore, it is likely that in the coming months the newest browser versions will prohibit using Flash by default and some of them will kick this functionality out completely. (Microsoft announcement, Google announcement, Mozilla announcement)

Apocalypse?

Just as most other universities did, we at ETH have seen a lot of project developed in recent years. Flash has been used to display movies, present animations or create interactive objects and simulations. Latest by the end of 2020, (but probably earlier) these will no longer work.

In the spring of 2019 we had a look at all ETH Moodle courses and contacted teachers who were still using Flash in its various forms. We have found individual solutions for each case and Flash will vanish on our Moodle server in the next weeks. ETH lecturers who use Moodle who have not been contacted by us, should not have any problem with the end of Flash in your Moodle courses. When in doubt please contact us.

If you are using flash in other websites, we recommend following the “three f”-model presented by Nikki Sinclair from Catalyst: https://catalyst.net.nz/blog/3fs-surviving-flash-apocalypse

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