Sandi is a lecturer in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington. She is course coordinator for TCHG 301: The learner in context in the GDipTch.
TCHG301-The Learner in Context is the first course of the GDipTch for students in three initial teacher education (ITE) programmes - ECE, Primary, and Secondary. It introduces students to concepts about human development, theories of learning, and principles of educational assessment as these relate to teaching and learning. TCHG301 has over 350 enrolments and caters for a very diverse group of students, aiming to prepare them for their further studies in all sectors for ITE. Adding to the complexity is that the course is delivered in campus and online modes.
The course is four weeks in duration and occurs in January, before the first trimester begins. This brings challenges in terms of supporting students, especially those who are late enrolments, to engage with the course content, as well as institutional systems such as Blackboard, in a very short space of time. This is one of the problems that Sandi tries to address with her innovative approach to teaching in this course. A further, more specific problem in the course was that students did not engage with the reading materials. This was evident in their often superficial and poorly referenced responses in the final exam.
There are two approaches to teaching and learning that Sandi has implemented in response to these issues. To address the challenges of a large, diverse cohort of students across two modes of teaching, and with the need to ensure everyone gets inducted into the course and content quickly, Sandi’s approach to teaching is to place significant emphasis on building strong relationships with students, making herself available and being responsive to the wide range of students’ needs and experiences. As she says, “I go out of my way to be obtainable”. To connect with students, Sandi shares information about herself, for example, the fact that she has recently been a learner in the tertiary environment and therefore has empathy for the challenges of postgraduate study. She also encourages students to do the same, and to use their own experiences to connect to their new learning about education. Focus group students identified Sandi's human, supportive and empathetic approach as being innovative in the tertiary environment. It was not something they had experienced in their previous tertiary studies.
To address the second issue of students not reading course materials, Sandi uses a structured reading support called ‘KCQs’ (Key Concept, Connections and Questions). In responding to each of these elements, the students engage more deeply with readings. They are further supported by other aspects such as an online blog to publish their KCQ and gain formative peer and lecturer feedback. Students are encouraged to make connections between what they read and their own experiences. They also have choice about which readings to focus on.
The focus on establishing supportive relationships with and between the students creates a sense of community that contributes to motivation. Ensuring equity between campus based and online cohorts is important, and Sandi continues to work on achieving a similar level of availability and connection with online students through Blackboard and Zoom.
Sandi has noticed an improvement in the quality of thinking students bring to readings. There has also been positive feedback from students about the KCQs approach. By tracking student achievement, there has been an overall improvement that can be directly attributed to the use of the KCQs. In addition, student engagement has improved and they enjoy the fact that their responses using the KCQs are marked.
As a teacher educator, Sandi is committed to ‘practising what we teach’ and modelling excellent teaching practice. Her pedagogical approach is underpinned by social-constructivism where students are encouraged to bring themselves and their previous experiences to the course to increase motivation, and to construct new understandings. Sandi believes it is important to provide clear expectations and structured support, along with peer feedback opportunities, and choice.
The diverse nature of the student cohort and the tight timeframes meant that the more structured approach of the KCQs was effective in keeping students engaged and focused. In addition, Sandi remains accessible, responsive, and ‘hands on’ with the students which builds positive relationships and motivates engagement.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.