Teacher Reflection

1.    What was the pedagogical strategy that you intended to implement in your course to promote autonomy in your students?  Why did you choose this strategy?  How could this strategy potentially benefit you as well as your target students?

•    I implemented the wikibook project to promote learner autonomy in my course. The wikibook project requires students to get into groups of 4 and write chapters for an academic textbook online together. It gives students autonomy of coming up with sub-topics in the chapter, researching in the related areas on their own, presenting the framework of the chapter as a team, and co-author the chapter with plenty of peer support. This strategy has benefited me as well as my students, as I could learn from the textbook that the students have written, and improve the content and quality of the course year after year.

•    The intended pedagogical strategy for Introduction to Language Studies was blended learning, which combined a wikibook writing project, group research and writing, and class presentations, and online assessment (quizzes). Lixun and I co-developed this particular blended teaching approach in an effort to provide a balance in: 1. Expecting students to learn a great deal of course content; 2. Expecting students to study at least one topic from the course in greater depth and detail; 3. Maximizing the advantages of online learning approaches to create greater efficiency and communication; 4. Providing optimal support for learning content and developing academic writing skills; 5. Expecting students, even in their first year of studies, to learn to develop some independence in their learning. This strategy benefited instructors by greatly facilitating the communication between instructors and students and among students themselves, providing learners with several kinds of feedback for their learning.

2.    Did you explain to your students as to why you wanted to implement this strategy in your course?  If so, in what way did you do it?  If not, why not?

•    Yes, I explained everything to the students at the beginning of the course. We organized an orientation session for the whole cohort of students, and explained to them the rationale behind the wikibook project, the requirements for successfully completing the project, and the detailed schedule of the project. Students are well informed of the criteria for this assessment task at the very beginning.

•    The course design and objectives were explained in a lecture and handouts during the first class meeting, which is an Introduction to the course. Follow up details and answering questions about the teaching strategy and various modes of learning were addressed in tutorials.

3.    How did you monitor the implementation of this strategy in your course?  Were there any particular incidents or student comments/responses that struck you as to whether the implementation of this strategy was effective or not?  If so, what were they?

•    The implementation of the wikibook project was monitored closely throughout the course: there were weekly online announcements informing students about what had to be accomplished every week, and students were required to post their draft chapters online week by week, and other students were required to read the draft chapters and give comments online. Students were also required to give oral presentations in class, and the presentations were formally evaluated on the spot. Feedback on students’ work were given regularly by the tutor through Blackboard or email, especially on academic writing conventions. Most students seemed to enjoy the wikibook project, and found it a valuable and satisfying learning experience. Many students particularly liked the oral presentations, as they could learn from their peers through the presentations. As for the online comments on the draft chapters, most took it seriously and did give constructive comments, but some felt it was too time-consuming and would only skim through the chapter and give some superficial comments. This is an aspect of the project which needs further attention. It is worth mentioning that through the wikibook project academic reading was highly promoted among students, as they clear read a lot more academic books/articles for this innovative assessment task than for other conventional tasks, and their referencing skill was enhanced.

•    Monitoring occurred in a number of ways.  We could check online whether students were completing online quizzes, as well as how often they took the quizzes and how well they did.  Likewise, we could monitor their wikibook chapter writing in great detail, including accessing an electronic record of all entries, edits and when and by whom they were made. We often met with groups to discuss their topics and presentations, and they would communicate any particular difficulties. The oral presentations provided further feedback as to how well groups were working together.  The concern tended to come from individuals who did not like working in groups or who were not enthusiastic about non-traditional learning approaches.  But there seem to be very few such students.  Most feedback directly from students and from the mid-module evaluation is very encouraging.

•    We were constantly monitoring students’ responses and comments on each others’ works. We also give them feedback on their works timely so that they knew how they were progressing in the process. I am not aware of any particular incidents or comments that struck me that the implementation of our pedagogical strategies was ineffective.

4.    Did you encounter any difficulties when implementing this strategy? If so, what were they?  Was it possible for you to do anything to improve the situation?  If so, what did you do?  If not, why not?

•    This is a highly complex strategy, and some students did find it a bit too challenging. After all, most Year 1 students are not familiar with academic writing, and writing a book chapter is not an easy task. For example, many students were confused about the referencing system at the beginning, and would make lots of mistakes in their drafts. To improve the situation, we offered a specific workshop on academic writing to students, and provided a lot of online resources about academic writing. We also summarized students common mistakes and send reminders to all students so that they would pay attention to such mistakes. Also, some students found it difficult to decide on the appropriate sub-topics for their chapters, so they would approach the tutor and ask for feedback. I always gave them very detailed advice on whether the sub-topics were chosen properly, and they found it very helpful. It is crucial that the tutor comments on students’ drafts so as to make sure that their work is on the right track.

•    The difficulties included introducing several learning strategies in a short time, providing adequate support for academic writing, and dealing with individual students who were unhappy with the group work approach. The first of these difficulties was not, however, very challenging to overcome.  Taking time to guide students step-by-step through the expectations proved helpful. Meeting with individual groups to assist them provided important support.  The second problem is not possible to overcome in one semester, as learning academic writing is a long process.  We did, however, offer an academic writing workshop to all students.  We also changed the sequence of assignments, to allow students to complete the group writing before the individual writing, which may have helped them develop confidence.  For the third problem of individual cases, each was handled according to need, with no serious disruptions.

5.    If you were to implement this strategy again to promote autonomy in your future students, would you do anything differently?  Why or why not?

•    We have been carrying out the wikibook project for four years, and every year we would make some adjustments to improve the whole process. We will definitely do it again next year, and we will think again if the current schedule for students to submit their chapters online needs to be modified. We will also think of ways to allow students to give comments on the draft chapters more effectively.

•    We are continually consulting about how to improve the delivery of the course.  We are generally satisfied at having struck a balance, although the data from this project will provide a useful reference as we consult about next year’s groups. I expect the major design features and sequencing of the course delivery to remain unchanged.  We may allocate more time to activities that encourage autonomy, for example, better aligning tutorial activities with other class expectations.

•    Maybe. Because writing a chapter might be too challenging. I will get them work out book summaries. This will be more appropriate to their levels.

6.    What suggestions would you give to teachers who are interested in using this strategy to promote autonomy in his/her students?

•    I would strongly encourage other colleagues to try out this innovative approach, as it highly promotes autonomous learning, and provides a platform for students to demonstrate their talents and accomplish something that they can be proud of. It also benefits the tutor greatly, as he/she can learn a lot from the students’ creative work, which will better inform his/her own teaching. Although this is a highly effective strategy, the complexity of the strategy means that a lot of time and energy will be required from the tutor, and the technical skills for setting up the online platform for students to complete the wikibook project online successfully.

•    I am a strong advocate of the wikibook, group writing and online quizzing strategies and would encourage other teachers interested in these approaches to give it a try.  Naturally the methods need to be adapted to specific course content and objectives, although they prove to be widely adaptable, so that should not be a limitation.

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