The LX.lab’s recent investigation into feedback practice at UTS illustrated that one of the key things which shapes a student’s interest in their feedback is the relationship that they have with the person providing it. This idea pairs with what students miss the most as part of remote learning – you guessed it, it’s a feeling of connection with their teachers.
To respond, we have been looking at design of a process/system that could allow for relationship facilitation through the two-way sharing of information. A teaching opportunity within the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning gave me the opportunity to test some initial ideas as a first small-scale pilot – here are the 3 methods I used.
1. Film a 60-second introduction video
Time investment: 30 mins, Effort: low
An introduction video is a pretty standard tool these days, but it’s also hard to underestimate the value of a friendly personal introduction. The video link was sent in an email with a clear profile picture ‘video button’.
2. Create a personal profile
Time investment: 2 hours, Effort: low
To accompany the video I created a personal profile sheet. It can be taken for granted that learners really are interested in knowing about their mentors. We know that real-world examples are the best and most authentic tool for explaining anything; in that sense, someone who has a role in the area they are interested in offers a real-world example of what it is like to have that identity. Providing this information as optional means that those who are interested can scan through the document, rather than using verbal class time.
In terms of relationship building, we find it easier to build connections with people who we feel like we know and share things in common with. For this reason, the profile aims to provide enough information across various different areas so that students can find at least a few elements that they identify with. By making yourself a little vulnerable and by selective sharing of some personal things, you are also making yourself available to have a relationship with. Ultimately, it illustrates that you are a human with varied experience, interests and passions, and a personal life. It is easier to have a relationship with a person you know than a face that appears on Zoom for an hour every week.
3. Collaborate with students on their personal profile
Time investment: 3 hours, Effort: medium
Another hopeful result of offering this information about myself was that students would be more inclined to offer some information about themselves. This also leans on the fact that people generally like to talk about their interests. Ultimately ~50% of students spent the time to fill out their profiles, which is good result – usual optimal optional survey response level is ~30%. This section is really the core of this relationship management prototype, so it required the most effort.
The profile questions allowed students to tell me a bit about themselves but also provided me with key information to personalise their teaching experience:
- Helping me remember them by collecting individual interests – e.g. Tell me about something you like to do when you are not studying; Tell me about 3 types of media that you like
- Gathering ways I could inspire them through referring to particular ideas – e.g. Can you tell me something about design that you find interesting or that inspires you? Who is your favourite designer/artist/engineer?
- Shaping feedback and teaching based on experience levels – e.g. Can you tell me about something that you are good at? Is there something you think this course might help you get better at?
- Responding to what the cohort cares about collectively – e.g. Do you know the area of work that you would like to get into? What you are most excited to learn about at this point? Do you have any goals?
I also reached out with a quick follow-up message pointing out an interest in common they had communicated and thanking them for taking the time to introduce themselves. This spun off into some short conversations where it was clear that students appreciated the personal contact and that it helped them look forward working on the course together. I also appreciated the chance to chat with them – I too miss those moments when you get to chat with students informally after class.
Looking at the student profiles is an incredibly strong reminder of the differing personalities and interests of individual students. It’s a reminder that learners possess rich background experiences and that they are interested in where your content can add to their skillset. In an online learning environment with minimal feedback it can be easy to assume that people aren’t interested, but with this information I can feel confident that what I’m providing will be received warmly.
Holistically I also now have a much better idea of the general needs of the cohort and what their expectations are in relation to doing a design course. It helps me know that I need to target some key misconceptions (ie. design is talking about visuals, rather than solving problems) so that they can get the most out of the course. Additionally I now know that I can use video-game-related examples because I know that a large fraction of the cohort have an interest in games based on their profile responses, and consequently this is a good avenue to gain their understanding.
One of the other key impacts is that I now have a documented profile that I can develop and refer to when I’m responding to student messages (rather than having to rely on my memory). This means I can give those students advice that matches their specified needs and I am reinforcing the information each time I access it – as a result, I’m remembering names and individuals much better than I usually would.
If you are interested in trialing something like this in your own course, please let me know in the comments section below or just reach out via my email Martin.vandeWeyer@uts.edu.au – I’m keen in running more pilots at UTS in Spring 2022.