On Tuesday, a few student ambassadors along with a selection of CILASS staff andÂ departmental champions, amongst others, gathered in the CILASS room in BartolomÃ© House to watch the video made by a group of Student Ambassadors (of which I am one of the members) to convey student perceptions of IBL. This was shown at the retreat weekend for champions in January, at Higham House, to give them some feedback on how students understand and view IBL (or not!). In return, the champions were let loose with a video camera and made a film in response, filmed and edited by Marie Kinsey from Journalism, which we also watched on Tuesday. A discussion followed about the issues raised, how to tackle them, other problems / positive aspects of IBL, giving rise to some very interesting points. This is a summary of what was said…
Students seemÂ as if they would be less likely to be able to do IBL in the first year of University. This could be due to a variety of things, including the new environment, curriculum, and style of teaching in general. The transition from school to University is already a big step, and students may be used to very teaching-orientated learning. Indeed, one studentÂ when asked what they were expecting from their new University, and why they thought it was a good University, replied that they thought that the teaching would be much better than at A-Level. However, students seem to accept IBL modules more at level two and especially level three. This mayÂ be because by then, they are used to the more open, independentÂ style of teaching at University and therefore accept the idea that IBL is a positive concept.
It was said that one of the reasons why students may be less likely to accept/enjoy IBL or CILASS modules may be due to the lack of feedback they receive. This is especially true in first year. Some research carried out by CILASS suggests that students would prefer more feedback at level one so that they are more aware of how they are doing and where they need to improve. It was pointed out however that often, within certain departments in particular, students are given the opportunity for feedback i.e. during seminars but that they do not necessarily use the opportunity, or do not realise that it is a time for feedback. This suggests that it is important to stress that feedback is available to those who need it, and to advise them how they can get it.
Another idea that I raised was that of IBL improving the learning process by encouraging initiative, team work andÂ independent learning but by hindering it because of the concept of IBL. If students are given the concept and do not necessarily understand it fully or misunderstand it, it may decrease their willingness to learn through IBL and increase their scepticism. This means that although IBL looks to get away from the so-called ‘spoon-feeding’ method of teaching, perhaps the best way to ensure that students understand the concept before they start using it as a learning method, is to spoon-feed it to them. Another way to get around the issue that the term IBL raises would be to put less focus on the importance of explaining the concept itself to them, and concentrate more on telling them directly this is how we want you to approach the module, without necessarily outlining the concept in concrete terms. If it hinders their acceptance and hence maybe even their performance within a module, is it essential that students are aware that they are undertaking IBL?
The most important thing to avoid students being scared off by IBL is to ensure that it is not presented as a novel, ground-breakingÂ idea, because it isn’t. As one person pointed out, we learn through enquiring since we are babies, and this is developed throughout childhood,Â but unfortunately wanes when youngsters are taught for their GCSEs and A-Levels. The focus changes to helping them to learn for exams rather than enquiring to learn in a moreÂ independent, research-based way. This means that by the time they reach University, most young people are quite used to being taught everything they need to know. When it turns out that the method of learning is more student-based and lessÂ directly taught (depending on the discipline, of course), students may be more likely to be nervous that they will not be able to cope with it. So when IBL is outlined in concrete terms, and students are asked to use group work and presentations for their study, they may be more likely to see this ‘new’ way of learning as something with which they may encounter difficulty.
Another issue that was raised in terms of assessment of IBL modules was weighting. ThereÂ are constantly more modules which include some form of IBL in the assessment (e.g. presentations, group projects etc.) but that does not mean that IBL activities are given the recognition they probably deserve. Tutors may hesitate to allocate too many marks to the IBL section of the module because of fear of failure: they may fear the students will be less accepting of this as a form of learning or assessment, or may take such sections less seriously, or actually do less well in those areas, or that the students may fear that they will do less well when working in a group for example than when working individually.
One of the key issues then is the labelling of IBL as an obstacle to its acceptance. There are students of course who are naturally more likely to take the initiative to their own learning by approaching tasks in an IBL way, which cannot be discounted, but many are discouraged when they hear the label. Group work and presentations in particular seem to have a stigma attached to them. As can be seen in the student film of perceptions of IBL, changing the way students were asked about IBL did change the way they responded. When we asked more open-ended, less specific questions related to IBL, they answered in a way that showed they understood what IBL is. Questions which included more jargon, elicited responses which were more vague and showed less understanding of IBL. This may seem an obvious statement, but it provides a possible approach that could be taken to IBL modules: less emphasis on labelling IBL and CILASS and more emphasis on explaining the task at hand.
The information that is available to students about IBL and CILASS is also perhaps too jargon-orientated; one Student Ambassador group started to tackle this problem by making a student-friendly version of the website, explaining the concepts in a less formal, more easily-understandable manner. But there are still areas which need improvement, for example the request for submissions for the journal. The lack of submissions may reflect the style of writing and lack of accessibility of the piece asking for submissions. The same reasoning applies to the leaflets on the Staff-Student Symposium. To ensure applications, it is important to make the style of the writing accessible.
Another point which was raised was the importance of students understanding that the kinds of skills that are acquired through IBL are transferible, and will be useful later on. Part of the problem with the acceptance of IBL may be that students see the IBL activities as less useful than their academic work. They come to University expecting an academic learning process, and may be less likely to understand when they are encouraged to take on activities which seem less academic, as IBL may seem. The tendency may be to attach little importance to the non-assessed work because the concentration is on getting good marks. It may be that students need to be encouraged to recognise the importance of transferible skills within their academic work and especially within IBL activities. IBL in a sense helps students to realise other skills. One way of doing this may be to include some kindÂ of explanation in the module guidelines as to how their work can be interpreted in terms of skills (e.g. team work, communication/presentation, working to deadlines, using initiative). Within certain departments for example, as part of the Personal Learning Programme,Â for certain IBL modules students have to log at the end of each week and create a reflection at the end of the module on how they felt that they met all of the criteria and skills. This is received by students in a variety of ways. Some take it seriously and are more likely to write a useful, in-depth analysis, which helps them to appreciate the importance of their skills, and naturally some do not. So perhaps it would be a good idea to encourage students to do similar reflective, self-assessment exercises for other modules to encourage them to consider the skills they are learning, and even to place some assessment value on this section to encourage them to take it seriously.
It was mentioned that some firms have indeed fed back to the University of Sheffield that in particular, their students when making job applications and at interviews are less apt at drawing from their learning process the skills they have learnt than students from other Universities, which suggests it would certainly be beneficial to encourage students to recognise their own transferible skills.
Overall, the discussion raised several interesting and relevant points. The film group hopes to further this discussion on perceptions of IBL when we will be presenting our film and the staff film at the Staff-Student Symposium, to show what we have found the perceptions of IBL to be but also to hear what those who attend our session have to say about their experiences.
I’m afraid I didn’t catch everyone’s names at the cafÃ© as there were several people I hadn’t met before. I apologise that I have not attributed ideas and comments to certain people. If there is a comment which you made that hasn’t been attributed to you, and you wish me to include your name just let me know and I will edit the blog.