Some small actions for the improvement of facilitation

 At the end of another semester Shirley and I were sharing thoughts on our own strengths and weaknesses over the last twelve weeks/two modules. We believe, intuitively and based upon recent experiences, that a number of very small facilitation actions have worked rather well. We deliberately published the activities ‘to do list’ out of its natural sequence. Previously, the first module was at the top of the list whilst the second one always came down the list. 

-We believed that the second module was always under-prioritised as a result of this sense of it being constantly second in everyone’s mind. By simply mixing up the list in this way (so the chronologically second module, appeared first) the sense of importance of the semesters second module is visually elevated. Simple.

- We have always (since the start of the BA LTR) had very motivated high achieving researchers. By a process of self selection (motivated learners returning to study) the calibre of researchers is high to start with. This reflects in the grades achieved. For the same reasons the researchers set themselves very high standards. It is sometimes painful then to watch researchers, who have achieved ‘good’ grades, reflecting negatively upon thier achievement. By emphasising the value of every grade, through words, tone and resources, I hope that this semester has seen a greater contentment when marks are achieved. 

- Linked in with this expectation management  is in an attitudinal shift towards fail grades. Whilst staff will do all that is reasonable and more to enable researchers to pass, sometimes researchers fail to get a pass. By taking a reassuring and positive voice, we hope, enables these researchers to gain confidence by building upon their work, to then go on to pass. Time has taught us that a fail or two along the way is not perhaps as ‘big’ or damaging as it might feel at the time. This is particularly true in the first semester when there is so much getting to grips to be done with a return to study, it is also true for learners who have a lot going on in their wider lives (as parents, carers, employees or in other roles). As facilitators we have set out to promote  the sentiment that a fail may well mean ‘nearly there’. It should not mean the end of the road or should be a source of disproportionate disappointment.

- Previously it has been normal for researchers receiving their grades to react in the learning online community. Often immediate post-result postings contain a statement of mark/grade and a reaction. Sometimes this resulted in high scorers suggesting displeasure, which in turn caused distress to lower scorers. Sometimes it resulted in immediate comments that with time might have been wiser to hold back. This semester, the announcement of marks came with the request that discussion of marks was refrained for 24hours. This cooling of period appears to have, it is tentatively suggested, caused more balanced comments upon the marks. Comment is constructive and supportive; the heat of the moment reaction has perhaps been reserved for the private realm rather than the communal. 

- When we were getting the BA LTR course off the ground staff worked very long hours. Our sense of responsibility to researchers was often greater than our responsibility to sustain ourselves! This is not good. In a mutual pledge for different reasons, we decided this term to better manage our working hours. This is not only good for us, but we believe better for the researchers in learning to be self managed. In being clearer about our own availability and not, for example, routinely facilitating in the evenings, a false expectation of 24 hour service is not created and a more sustainable, serviceable course is created. This is essential is the BA LTR model is to be scalable. 

Planning assessment work

A recurring observation for me when reading undergraduate work is that there is often a lack of planning present. There may well be lots of information, some interesting and valuable comments and some treatment of literature, but I am convinced that by offering more time to the planning process, students would both produce higher quality work and would feel more in control of their learning. 

In the production of each assessment product I would hope that everyone has read the resources thoroughly, considered the meaning of the learning outcome (asking what do I really  need to demonstrate) and the assessment criteria (asking what features does my work need to hit the level that I am aiming for?). Then draw up a list or a table of a chart or some tool to help you map out what the key elements of your assessment activity will be, even before putting pen to paper. Sometimes the planning stage can be lengthy but it helps to provide the building blocks of assignments so that when t pen is put to paper, the focus can be on the standard of writing, cohesiveness and conciseness. Without research it is impossible to tell how much planning and what methods are used, but I suspect planning techniques are under-utilised.