Monthly Archives: March 2015

Practice Passport

If you work at Unitec in an academic role hopefully you have heard of the Practice Passport. This post is a quick go to list of the main topics. We recommend delivery in programme teams to get the most benefit out of this professional development.

You are required to complete 5 compulsory topics:

  • Active learning and teaching
  • Work-based learning
  • Online/blended learning
  • Matauranga Maori
  • Assessment and feedback

There are also recommended workshops:

  • myPortfolio
  • Moodle
  • Blackboard Collaborate
  • Echo 360
  • Turnitin

These are by no means the definitive list. You are welcome to discuss with Te Puna Ako academic advisors any other professional development topics that might be appropriate for your programme team. Here are some ideas:

  • Flipped learning
  • Group work and peer assessment
  • Embedding literacy and numeracy
  • Student evaluation
  • Integrating and assessing unit standards
  • Using new teaching spaces
  • Success and retention
  • Learning design
  • Designing online learning objects
  • Gamification

The practice passport is a great opportunity to really develop yourself, and your programme team.  We look forward to working with you. Contact us!

Bullet points and information design

The informative content we provide for students is quite often text based, accompanied by media. We spend a lot of time writing and rewriting our content, searching for the right order of ideas, the right words, the perfect sentence.

In many cases we use bulleted lists or ordered lists to convey information in an organised way. It creates great whitespace on our Moodle page or Powerpoint slide, and feels more readable than paragraph text. And then, we end up with lots of bullet lists and suddenly, it’s boring.

So how can you transform some of your bullet points to visually appealing content?

The first principle to achieve this is to reflect on the type of information your list conveys. Bullet points, even though they all look the same, can be lots of things: a comparison, a process, a procedure, a list (!) of features, characteristics or requirements. Determining this type of information can guide you to a different view of your bullet list.

Let’s imagine a course about pancakes. It consists of 3 slides all together, each with bullet pointed lists. So every slide looks exactly the same. And still, they are so different in content.

pancakes_slide1pancake_slide2 pancake_slide3

Three bulleted lists that look exactly the same, but convey three completely different types of information. The first one is really a list. The second one is a procedure. The third slide shows a comparison.


As a first step towards conversion, we could stay in the plain text sphere.  We could stay with the bullet list for slide 1, make a numbered list for the procedure and create a table for the comparison, as shown below.


In a next step, let’s make it very visual.  As we want to convey in slide 1 that you need ALL these ingredients, a checklist seems a nice approach. It indicates all these items have to be ‘ticked off’ to be complete.

In slide two, we want to make the sequence of the actions quite clear. While this can be done by the numbers, we have used one of Powerpoint’s Smartart options to show a visual of the sequence. A set of photo’s or a video are also an obvious but more resource requiring option.

Slide three works well with the basic table layout as we are comparing characteristics. By incorporating pictures, we make the slide clearer: comparison becomes easier for the learner.


FYI – no fancy graphics tools were used to create the new slides, all was made using the graphic design functionality in Powerpoint.



Remember when you were at uni?

The tertiary teaching model which many of us experienced as learners was very centred round transmitting information, usually through lectures. Biggs and Tang (2007) identify that this way of teaching focuses on what the student is and what the students’ responsibilities are. So students attend lectures, listen and take notes, do assignments, sit exams – the onus is on the student to perform, in response to one-way delivery of information.

When considering what online taught means, it is tempting to focus on what the teacher does in order to transmit concepts and understandings. Rather than doing this face to face, what does it look like if we transfer it to the online environment? The Blended Learning Moodle page answering ‘What does online taught mean?’ offers some suggestions around how teachers might give input online, create online activities and support learners at their point of need.

However, Biggs and Tang (2007) identify both of these foci (in bold above) as constituting deficit models, and advocate for a focus on what the student does and how well the intended outcomes are achieved. Teaching becomes student-centred and the teacher takes responsibility for identifying appropriate outcomes and setting up activities to meet the required outcomes. The teacher has to decide how they are going to find out if the outcomes have been reached at an appropriate level.

So how does this help us define what ‘online taught’ might look like? Focusing on the student in an online environment suggests the following question as starting points for ‘online taught’.

  1. Thinking about the class/group of learners: What online activities will help students to meet the intended learning outcomes?
  2. Thinking about individuals: What does a student have to do online to demonstrate his/her understanding?

More about this in my next blog post where I discuss the concept of online presence and what it might look from a teacher perspective. In the meantime, read Mark’s recent blog post here for more details on social imaginaries as an important concept for making changes to what we do in education.

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university (Society for research into higher education).

Learning …. but not as we know it

As Unitec moves to new models of learning and teaching our learners may observe, as the late Mr Spock might have, “There’s learning here Jim, but not as we know it.”

The commonly accepted characteristics of learning and its accompanying practices are part of what the philosopher, Charles Taylor, terms social imaginaries – “that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy. … we have a sense of how things normally go, but this is interwoven with an idea of how they ought to go, of what missteps would invalidate the practice.” p18ff

These social imaginaries are deeply embedded in culture and, in modern education, have been developed over 200 years at least. There have been the odd challenges; alternative educational imaginaries advocated by Montesorri, Tagore, Dewey, Vygotsky, Freire and company, however most of our learners have a ‘mainstream’ imaginary of tertiary study – this is what it looks like, this is what our role is, what the teacher does and generally how it works.  They’ve picked all this up from their own learning experiences, older siblings, films, TV programmes, and the general representation of education in society.

Much of our discussion at Unitec currently is about changing educational imaginaries.  In many areas we are advocating a change in the ‘way things usually go’, changing definitions, redefining what makes for legitimate learning, delivery or assessment, knowledge or feedback. Hence resistance from both teachers and learners. Technology for instance allows us to implement new and good things in the way of collaboration and access to information; my caution is that we have to make these changes in an education system, and by implication with learners, many of whom are deeply entrenched in and expect individualism and competition.

Social imaginaries is a useful concept to explore society’s beliefs about teaching and learning and the implications these have for learners’ transition into a different tertiary environment at Unitec. Most learners, unless they’re studying education, never articulate their beliefs and assumptions about learning and teaching. How learners negotiate their way through the system is not primarily cognitive. It is based on the ways in which they “imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions that underlie these expectations.” (Taylor again) In education, these include ideas about knowledge, learning, the role of the teacher, their identity as a student.

Our new models may well challenge this fitting together and we need to be aware of how best to address this.