What was the activity?
I set out to make implicit assumptions explicit for the benefit of all students in the first synchronous session of the module. I communicated expectations from a module lead perspective, including ways to optimise our sessions together. Key messages covered how to be prepared for online learning and demonstrate presence, as well as understanding there was a choice of media through which to participate. Important values of mutual respect and inclusivity were highlighted and practical application, such as how to effectively challenge each other, were explained.
Students were informed that each of them brings an important perspective with a valuable contribution to enhance the learning experience for us all. I made it clear that none of us possess all the knowledge but that the goal was to add to our collective understanding and to achieve that, diversity of voices was essential.
I clarified the opportunities for informal and informal feedback, from peers as well as tutors, in the form of comments, questions, challenging perspectives and moments to reflect. This led on to an explanation that the skills being assessed through the summative assignment are developed and honed throughout the course of this module, using both synchronous and asynchronous work.
We looked at a word cloud that I had generated using the module learning outcomes (LOs). LOs are an essential element for all students to grasp. However, the bland format in which they are traditionally presented is not suited to many students and are often skipped over or not referenced at all by the lecturer. In a visually stimulating format, the key skills and attributes that the module aims to develop were visible and their significance represented clearly by their size. Critical thinking, critical evaluation and synthesising skills were the most prominent. We had a discussion of their importance in application to students’ academic careers, as well as their clinical practice to better understand a focus on building skill through the module, not just acquiring knowledge.
Taking inspiration from Billy Wong’s research on the ‘ideal student’ (Wong and Chiu, 2021), I asked students what they thought makes an ideal student for this module. They watched a short video explaining this concept before completing an anonymous online poll. Their answers generated a word cloud instantaneously for the whole class to view. We used the student generated content to discuss their expectations, how that aligned to what had been said already and the potential opportunities.
How did it impact you or your students?
Students informally reported feeling more comfortable than anticipated, some having previously struggled to imagine effective online engagement. Going over expectations appeared to create a strong foundation for the group, rather than just jumping into the learning material. Explicitly displaying and discussing the LOs ensured transparency for all students from the outset with the aim being to remove barriers to assessment and increase motivation.
Students were visibly taken aback and enthused to see content that they had generated being part of the first teaching session. They realised how their ideas were genuinely insightful and relevant, inspiring confidence to contribute. A sense of transparency and mutual understanding was established. Following this, contribution to the discussion of module topics was wide-ranging and vibrant. This set the tone early on in the module that all student contribution was important to drive discussion and enhance learning for all, with the anticipated impact of enhancing inclusion and engagement going forward.
Student feedback: “I just saw this degree as a means to an end, for the qualification. But I don’t feel like this anymore. I find myself being excited about my role again in very turbulent times in the NHS. I find myself empowered. I’m excited to develop myself as a nurse. I want to be better. Whereas before [I] feel like [I] was thrown into it and just left, I am finding myself being hand-held, realising the important discussions being held and why these theories are so important. I never really understood the importance of essays (apart from being forced to pass!) but I feel like I get it now.”
Any advice for others?
- State (what may seem) the obvious in laying out expectations, even at postgraduate level. Don’t take anything that you know for granted. Taking the time to do this saves time answering many questions later on.
- Students often only identify formal feedback routes; it is important to explain there are multiple informal feedback opportunities which are key moments for development.
- Asking students their expectations of the ideal student was so well received, I implore you to do it!
Any other contextual details?
This purely online module is often the first for postgraduate healthcare students embarking on their Masters programme. Some students are returning to education many years after completing their undergraduate degree. Others have never studied in the UK before but have worked in a healthcare setting in the UK.
Wong B and Chiu YLT (2021) The ideal student: Deconstructing expectations in higher education. London: Open University Press