Tutorial attendance improves

‘Moros y cristianos’, Cuban restaurant, Bogotá, Colombia


The figures are in – tutorial attendance has improved, especially towards the end of semester. The Contemporary Latin(o) Americas subject, while always rating high in end of semester student feedback surveys, has had a perennial problem with tutorial attendance drop-off in the last few weeks. No matter how interesting the subject material, student attendance often dropped to 30 per cent by Week 11. By Week 12 only 20 per cent of students were attending lectures and by Week 13 barely any students attended class at all. A probable cause of the drop off is student stress and fatigue, but also tutorial design: there was simply not enough time devoted to student interaction and student-generated content. The flipped learning experiment seems to have paid dividends. I kept an informal record: Week 11 had 70% attendance, Week 12 had 65%, and the final week is a compulsory test. It’s too early to claim a definitive victory as half the lectures are delivered online, so students really need to attend tutorials to have any interaction, but the new system seems to be working. Attendance is  not compulsory in this subject – the challenge is to make it interesting so that students “want to attend” regularly.


Developing a Captivate lecture on Colombia

Cuban restaurant, Bogotá, Colombia


I am working with Dr Nicholas Morgan from the University of Newcastle, England to develop a comprehensive lecture on Colombia to be delivered through Captivate software and made available globally as as an Open Education Resource. The Captivate lecture is taking longer than expected to put together. I was unprepared for, and had unrealistic expectations about, how much practical work needs to be done to make it attractive and different (and a difference that makes a difference).  It will have several sections, provisionally: history, politics, culture, economics, race, etc. “Culture”, for example, would further cascade into popular music, religious festivals, craftwork, food, etc. The different sections will have audio clips of lecturers’ voices, external links to related sites, digital commons lectures from internationals sites,  and interactive elements for students. I think we can combine knowledges and produce something really valuable. If the project works, I will do the same for the Mexico lecture and also the introductory lecture on “First Contact: the Impact of Iberian Colonisation on the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas”.

Using Pinterest


“Did you find the Pinterest site a helpful tool with your academic learning? If so, how?”

“I like the Pinterest idea and it means you don’t have to physically meet up with group members which is sometimes hard to organize/people can’t be bothered”; “Pinterest was a good platform for posting ideas as a ‘brainstorming’ tool that could be used as a launching point for the individual case studies”; “it was good for providing various representations of Latino culture”; “I think it was a great way to connect with the subject and other students and their case studies’; “Yes, it was an effective visual tool for straight forward collaborating and review of others’ ideas”. But: “No. The assignments have already achieved what needs to be achieved in that regard”; “it needs to be somehow modified with a central email address to allow all group members access as well as making it easier to link it to the CLA(O)S Page”; “I think it’s a good idea but its unfortunate you can’t post pieces of writing or links to some websites. Its very limited to photo/video. Maybe blogs would be better? Like a communal tumblr?”; “We barely used it and felt it was extra, unnecessary work. I understand the premise of the site, for sharing findings and ideas- but my group did that in face to face meetings. If the pinterest site had formed part of the broader tutorial discussion (maybe there could have been a presentation from groups each week? Someway to have the site interact with others)”.

In conclusion, Pinterest has value – it is a useful tool – but its success depends on exactly how it is ‘operationalised’ for maximum benefit and interest. I need to work on this.

Tutorial structure/dynamic

“Do you approve of the changed tutorial structure/dynamic?: beginning with student summaries of set readings; moving to general discussions on the weekly theme; dedicating the second hour to group work? If you changed anything, what would it be?”

“it creates much less stress and it seems like a more collaborative environment”; “Yes I like the informal nature of the tutorial and its structure”; “I think the freedom to pursue a focused learning path guided by a wider subject structure is really beneficial in getting a lot from the subject”; “I also like the student summaries idea”; “I like it because it means I’m not coming to class every Monday at 9am bored out of my brains because it’s, well Monday”. But: “student summaries are good although it means students like me who are a tad lazy take advantage and don’t bother doing the summaries ours”; “I would actually love it if he [tutor] spoke more each week, showed us videos, websites, more visual aids would be good. I don’t think group work in class works too well unless the assignment is specifically done in a group like the first”; “could be improved. For example, one element is allowing students to view lecture Powerpoints at home in lieu of a traditional lecture given in class. In these scenarios, the Powerpoints are often still setup as a list of notes; however, they are missing a person to explain/talk through the notes (as what would normally happen in a class lecture scenario) … feels like we are missing out on additional insights that could be present if there was an actual human running through what they have written. This may be an issue with Powerpoint as a communication platform itself”; “I like the group work hour it’s good however I’m not sure we utilised as effectively as we should have”.

It seems clear that generally the tutorial structure is liked – students responded well to it: mix of reading summaries and discussion; group work in second half around case studies; after week 7, still mix of reading summaries and discussion, but also group building of test bank for final week; discussion of how to structure essay topics, etc. However, more structure needed. I also need to give students a chance to raise more of their own personal interests and ideas. More audio-visual aides would be welcome (students liked the partial screening of the The Gringo in Mañanaland). Perhaps more short video or web page views to prompt discussion around week’s theme. Reading summaries a good idea, but they then need to be better integrated and discussed in tutorial. Students raised the issue of Power Points: Captivate should help make online lectures more dynamic and sound bites of lecturer’s voice embedded in Captivate  might “re-humanise” online lectures.

Group work

“Was the group submission a worthwhile idea? Do you think your group functioned well in this respect?”; “Were you satisfied with the process of building your individual cultural case study from within a group structure? Would you change anything?”

It was useful to brainstorm ideas as a group”; “The freedom associated with the group assignment component complimented the focused learning of the individual task”; “Sharing a general topic meant that we could consult each other on our individual case studies for advice on the content and presentation”; “It was a pretty easy experience in terms of choosing the topic and getting formed into groups”; “I was most satisfied by the fact that our group took a broader social phenomenon and compared at how it was understood in different nation states- I think this should be the example all groups should follow”; “Meant we had to engage with a broad range of ideas including our own, and the comparison of similar forces understood through the lenses of different nations was a worthwhile exercise”. But: “I think the group aspect was somewhat redundant. Perhaps if the assignment was restructured the group aspect would be more relevant”; “the 500 words was the only things we needed to do as a group and it felt it either needed to be longer or something else needed to be included for it to be worthwhile as a group assignment”;“I’d like a little bit more guidance on the presentation format for the assignment. I think an online platform would be best, in some way developing our ICT skills”; “the only thing we had to do as a group was the 500 words [group summary] and that seemed a little pointless as it was so short”; “I think in future a longer assignment would work well as an alternative”; “the purpose of the group component could have been a little more clear … we didn’t really have an objective”; “the whole assignment could typically have been a combined presentation with each person focusing on one aspect of the topic within their major country”.

The results for the group work component are pretty good overall, but still mixed and thus the structure and goals need to be much clearer, so too objectives. Even the doubtful comments suggest a way forward for next year. Perhaps I need to consider a combined project with each student in groups of three contributing a different aspect, instead of individual assignments around a common theme with one small group component. It would mean less marking for tutor, but some students do not like too many marks to be riding on group work (fear of loafers).

Second student survey – hits and misses

Students were surveyed a second time at mid-semester point and after the submission of their cultural case studies, worth 40% of their final mark. The purpose was to gauge their reaction/evaluation of the flipped learning classroom, student-centred learning, group work, tutorial structure, and the use of Pinterest as a group exercise. Sample responses (warts and all):

“Do you now get a sense of how flipped learning can contribute to student-centred learning (students helping to generate course content and tutorial structure)?”:

“I understand that it involves more student preparation as well as more student input especially in regards to discussions and the final exam”; “I like the freedom we are given in assignments”; “I really like how student interests are steering the course”; “it’s good to know we have a hand in developing the [final week]  test questions … it’s less burden at the end”. But: “Tutorials could still be a little more structured”; “I am still uncertain how I can actually personally contribute to the learning structure of the subject. Maybe there could be more of an indication of when it is appropriate to introduce topics of personal interest to the rest of the class and pursue these as a group, and when to just pursue them individually, and when to follow the prescribed course”; “yes, however I think smaller group discussions would be beneficial from time to time, as I tend to loaf in large group discussions, particularly because there is so many vocal people in the class who are always on the ball sometimes its hard to get a word in”.

The reception of flipped learning so far is generally positive, but cannot be taken for granted. I think it will “sell better” if the tutorial dynamic and guidelines are refined. I also really need to book one of the new, flexible learning spaces as the new tutorial structure did not work as well as it could have with the conventional classroom layout.