Remembering My Hat

18th June 2015

Module Workload Workshop

Encouraged by the positive responses on Twitter to my liveblogging of the Queer Kinship conference, here are some notes from a workshop I attended this morning at the OU about managing student workload. Written in slightly fuller sentences, but still a quick and partial account based on what interested me and what was said in my group, rather than aiming to be representational of the whole workshop, still less the OU position. And most likely to be of interest to other educators, especially OU-types.

The workshop was aiming to address these questions:

  1. What factors impact on perceived student workload and how can we manage these to effectively support our students in keeping up with their workload?
  2. How do we effectively manage student expectations around workload?
  3. What elements should be included in IET guidance to module and production teams around managing student workload?
  4. How do we effectively categorise study texts in terms of ‘easy’, ‘medium’ or ‘difficult’ and how do we ensure module teams adopt consistent norms in relation to these?
  5. What should student-directed learning look like and how do we support students in effectively engaging with it

It’s clear that lower workload increases retention (I think the statistic cited was that you get about 4% drop-out per extra hour of content per week) but how low can you go and still deliver graduate-ness by the end? We at the OU still work with the QAA norm of 600 hours per 60 points of credit, but some other HE institutions are moving towards 480 hours. But it’s not always clear how that relates to student-directed study v. module-directed activity.

It is also clear that consistency of workload helps retention. [I’d come across this statistic before and we’d wondered whether that meant you shouldn’t have break weeks, but the people I spoke to today said that this wasn’t the case. Phew.]

What factors impact on perceived student workload and how can we manage these to effectively support our students in keeping up with their workload?

Perceived v. objective is an important distinction, but perceived is very important.

Materials designed to be supportive but non-core (such as guides to referencing, assessment guidance) can add to perception of workload. The trick is to be clear about what it core and what is ancillary or just for support if needed.

Anxiety, stress and feeling of lack-of-control all contribute to perceived workload. Collaborative working can be especially problematic in this respect. So it’s really important to make clear to students the benefits they gain from collaborative working.

Things the module team thinks are easy can be surprisingly hard for students and add to workload unintentionally (e.g. getting to grips with eTMA submission for new students, taking a screenshot).

Referencing module materials! Especially when different modules have slightly different conventions due to having different types of materials.

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This picture, from Normanack thanks, is actually relevant to this post, because a librarian in my group said that he had been asked by a student how to reference a seed packet. An excellent example of unplanned workload for students.

How do we effectively manage student expectations around workload?

At different points – pre-registration, before module start, early weeks, TMA preparation, EMA/exam preparation, for the whole qualification. Knowing what students’ expectations are is itself challenging. Helping them to be realistic without making them think they can’t succeed.

ALs have a crucial role to play here. Module teams can include activities encouraging students to plan out their workload. Peer accounts can be useful (like on the Moon MOOC, apparently, which has a real student popping up throughout). Being explicit about workload.

What elements should be included in IET guidance to module and production teams around managing student workload?

[nothing noted here]

How do we effectively categorise study texts in terms of ‘easy’, ‘medium’ or ‘difficult’ and how do we ensure module teams adopt consistent norms in relation to these?

[I was a bit sceptical of the project of this question. I do think the distinction is really important and one that authors have to constantly think about. Some texts are clearly easier (e.g. newspaper articles) and other harder (journal articles) and this then affects student workload. But it’s very contingent on the student, the module, the level, the qualification context, what the activity is that surrounds the text and what the student has to do with the text. I’m not persuaded this is the kind of thing that can be categorised a priori or assessed without seeing the context]

What should student-directed learning look like and how do we support students in effectively engaging with it?

What do we mean by student-directed anyway? How is it different from ‘studentship’? University norms are 80% module-directed and 20% student-directed at level 1, 70:30 at level 2 and 60: 40 at level 3. We need to tie student-directed study into assessment, otherwise why should they bother? We also need to be clear to ALs that they should give credit for materials which the student has found (especially at higher levels).

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