Senior Lecturer in Social Policy
Amongst other things, I am heavily involved in teaching undergraduate Bachelor of Social Science students. In that role I am involved in introducing social policy as a discipline, and the broad parameters of Irish social policy, to first year students, and developing their knowledge of core social policy concepts and theories as they progress to second year. I also introduce social policy to mature students embarking on the first year of their professional Bachelor of Social Work degree. Across these settings I work with both small and large groups and with students who come to learning about social policy with a diverse set of life experiences. Working in this context, in my teaching and learning practices I aim to draw on the existing experiential knowledge students have in order to critically explore the basics of social policy as an academic discipline and as a set of practices with very tangible impacts on the life chances of individuals and groups in society. Students will come to and encounter this critical exploration with varying pre-existing experiences and ideas, and in my teaching and learning at introductory level I aim to encourage informed, open-minded and confident critical exploration of the discipline of social policy.
My teaching philosophy is ultimately grounded in a constructivist approach to acquiring knowledge and using students’ ways of knowing and their ‘everyday’ epistemological and ontological views of the social world as a way of stimulating their intellectual curiosity, encouraging a questioning attitude and ultimately facilitating their transition to a social scientific way of knowing and talking about social policy. Developing video feedback as a resource adds another component to how I can facilitate that transition as an accessible, developmental learning tool.
Prior to my engagement with the SPEEDS project my use of technology in teaching was limited to the standard offering of Blackboard, email and PowerPoint. Rather than adding layers and layers of alternative technologies I am particularly interested in how core teaching technologies can be enhanced from the students’ point of view.
As mentioned, I am particularly interested in how core teaching technologies can be enhanced from the students’ point of view. In this regard I have been particularly interested in harnessing the potential of video feedback, as a VLE tool, to first year students after their first encounter with exams in social policy. These exams come quite early in the student experience in first year; after a relatively small piece of continuous assessment for which students receive individual feedback they are then required to ‘step up’ to a three hour exam paper by the end of the first semester. This can cause considerable anxiety amongst students and whilst the majority of students perform very well in this exam, until recently, the only formal feedback students received on their performance was their final mark. Beyond this individual signal students benefit from no other form of feedback, most especially types of feedback that would allow them build upon their learning and assessment experiences in the first semester and allow them to gain greater confidence with the subject of social policy. In collaboration with my first year lecturing colleagues therefore I have begun to record collective video feedback to students after they have received their examination results.
Video feedback allows us to reach the whole class and video, as a form of communication, provides us with much more scope in terms of emphasis, tone and style of communication than delivering collective feedback via the written word. As a form of feedback practice it also enables me, in collaboration with my first social policy teaching colleagues, to reflect on the overall performance of students, to identify and communicate areas of the curriculum that students grasp and articulate particularly well, and not so well, in their answers. Preparing the video, as a collaborative exercise is thus very useful for our assessment practice, it takes our ‘doing’ of assessment beyond the conventional marking of exam scripts as a solo exercise, to share and follow up on our individual impressions and to act on broader patterns. It allows us to point out, in concrete terms, the hallmarks of different grades of answer and more importantly, encourage and direct students to how they might improve in future social policy modules in that regard. Communicating this via video gives us much more latitude to present feedback in an encouraging mode. To date I have received some very positive feedback from students on this use of technology; in particular students appreciate the fuller feedback, albeit in collective terms, than their mark on an exam transcript conveys. Looking at blackboard analytics, inasmuch as it can provide user data, suggests that after the initial posting of the video, students are likely to return to it again prior to further social policy assessment deadlines.
Providing this type of feedback is of course time-consuming. Collaborating on and producing a video resource takes up much more time than standard exam assessment feedback. From a student point of view, while I have received positive feedback I am still left wondering about the students who do not engage with the video feedback and why. Although these questions concern a minority of students I am also left wondering about who these students are most likely to be, particularly if it is the case that this type of feedback does not reach the weaker or less motivated students who may have most to gain.
Participation in the SPEEDS project has provided the gateway to a range of accessible resources, from simply finding out what is available; to inspiring ways to use technology; to the utility of ‘how to’ guides, including the ever-useful UCC instructional design website and the micro-lessons available on the TELU website.