COVID-19 created a social dislocation flavoured with uncertainty, a stage of hypervigilance, and we became emotionally exhausted. The evil nature of the media helped to disseminate this collective fear since February this year. As humans, we have a wide range of reactions to challenging situations; I am sure you came across different responses from family members, friends and co-workers.
The most unhealthy reaction is ‘Deny’ as a psychological mechanism to avoid fear, conflict and anxiety. We know COVID-19 it is a highly infected virus that can kill the elder and people suffering from multiple conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cholesterol to cite some examples. Maybe denials are the group of people they believe in urban myths such as ‘vaccines are bad for humans’, ‘the Earth is flat’, ‘Man never landed in the moon’ and all that jazz.
Other people’s reaction was ‘Avoid’ and look after themselves disinfected their hands as much as possible, wearing a mask and isolated from others to prevent contact with the virus. A more balanced reaction is ‘Understanding’ and having better control of the situation by following what the health authorities recommended. Others response was ‘Empathise’ and try to help others in need due to the pandemic. Finally, ‘Approach’ to take care of their wellbeing and find opportunities to rethink life, work, family, hobbies and interests. The most beneficial strategy will be a combination of these reactions, excluding ‘Deny’ as it is a dead-end street.
Psychologists were talking the last few months that a fifteen-minute meditation could help us to identify sadness, worries and fear, which is the first step to work on it. These negative feelings are considered self-sabotage and needs to be erased from our thoughts. Other strategies suggested included singing aloud your favourite music, get physical, avoiding comfort food (alcohol and sweets), and get closer to mother Earth.
What stress does to your body is affecting your immunological system (your defences), and you become more vulnerable to viruses and diseases. This is mediated by the high production of Cortisol that compromises the ability of your system to battle infections. Exercise is one of the best strategies to keep your body running at best. When you exercise, your brain produces a chemical compound called endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in the body. The more exercise, the more production of endorphins and the better you will feel. Being fit is not about the look; it is about looking after your temple that is your body. From the sustainability perspective, the healthier people are in society, the less need for medication and less need for the government to subsidise them. However, pharmaceutical companies will not be happy with that.
Regrettably, when we are stressed and feel insecure about the future, we tend to use comfort food that includes alcohol, food rich in salt, fat or sugar. When eating that type of food, we feel good. But there are side-effects for your health eating comfort food such as increase blood pressure, slow down your digestion and gaining weight. Comfort food will affect the quality of your sleep, as well. As a result, it can affect your mood; you could feel tired, anxious, and unhappy. Avoiding fatty food and sugars two hours before going to sleep will improve your quality of sleep. But it takes a while to see results (2-3 weeks). To cut off your sugar cravings, you could take Chromium Picolinate sold at local chemist as a nutritional supplement.
Look after your diet by incorporating sources of protein, legumes and vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts. There are a lot of Apps that can help you design a well-balanced diet. Some fruits provide ‘negative calories’ which means that the calories contained in the food are less than the required to digest. As a result, you eat them, and you could lose weight. Remember if you are gaining weight, the reason is simple, the amount of the calories you are taking are more considerable than the ones you are burning.
If you manage to change your diet and exercise regularly, your concentration and levels of energy would increase, you will feel more confident, happy and less worried about the pandemic.
If your family members or friends are far away, you can use technology to keep in touch with them. That sense of connectedness is essential for your wellbeing and for them too.
I defined happiness as a combination of good and bad experiences that reshape your ability to respond to life events and makes you strong. We all have a challenging year, but we succeed, and the future is bring for everyone.
Stay safe and until the next article.
Dr Jorge Reyna
I started at UTS in 2015 as Learning Technologist for IML allocated to Science. Three months later, I applied for the position as Lecturer in Higher Education, Learning Design and I was successful. It was a three-year contract that I converted into a tenure position. In 2017, I was offered a permanent role at Sydney University at the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Peter Meier put a case to turn the learning designer positions as permanent.
It was a full-on five years at UTS Science, and I managed to complete my PhD part-time in record time, two years and three months with 11 publications. I merged my role as a Learning Designer with my PhD that was about digital media assignments to learn science content. It was relatively easy to convince subject coordinators to embed digital media assignments in their subjects. These type of assignments are aligned with the UTS Model of Learning: Integrated exposure to professional practice; Professional practice in a global workplace; and Research-inspired and integrated learning and the learning.futures initiative.
Everything started with a meeting with Ken Rodgers, one of the first academics at the Faculty of Science implemented digital media assignments in Pharmacology 2. Later on, I realised Peter Wang was also involved in the design of the digital media assignment. I merged my decade of experience creating digital media for a wide range of business and clients, with teaching and research interest. Working with Ken, we improved the digital media assignments developing a theoretical model, and we published the first paper at the American Journal of Educational Research in 2016, highlighting the success of the intervention. This evidence-based intervention was an inspiration to seek further and propose my PhD research project. I was lucky I got a scholarship offer at Sydney Uni, but Peter Meier convinced me to stay at UTS Science and became my supervisor. I also got a scholarship offer at UTS Science, but I declined as I was working full time and wanted to do the PhD part-time.
When I started my PhD in 2016, I already knew many Science academics, and it was easy to recruit the subjects for my research. Everything went so quick, and I worked extra hard non-stop 20 hours from Monday to Friday on top of my 35 hours and 20 hours over the weekend. I look back, and I don’t know how I make it happen. I guess not having a family to look after and the self-regulation and motivation I have helped. Also, the support from Peter, and two external co-supervisors, one from Western Sydney University (Dr Jose Hanham) and the second one from Macquarie (A/Prof. Panos Vlachopolous). Both of them are long-term friends, who told you could not have friends as co-supervisors? If you have the discipline and you are focused, the formula will work.
The digital media assignments was a successful intervention at the Faculty of Science but not for the publications or the research, because of my colleagues who believe in me and my ideas, and the support from Peter Meier to the innovation. Up to now, we have 16 subjects implemented digital media assignments at UTS Science and thousands of students completed digital media assignments. Digital media assignments are now ‘business as usual’ in our Faculty. It gave me a tremendous opportunity to teach and interact with students since 2015. The intervention went beyond UTS and reached other Australian universities (Notre Dame, Macquarie, Melbourne) and in Europe (the Complutense University of Madrid, University of Almeria and the University of Stavanger in Norway). I am planning to put the book together in 2022.
During my stay at UTS Science, I have been actively engaged with the educational technology community, presenting papers, workshops, and roundtables at national and international conferences. I heard comments of some of my colleagues telling me how lucky I was going overseas without understanding that having a paper peer-reviewed by international experts and accepted takes weeks of work and preparation for the presentation. As I was sitting within professional staff in an open plan, many of them did not realise I was an academic. Not until I start to hang my publications on my desk labelling ‘research outputs.’
Since I started my position at UTS, I published twelve journal papers, four industry magazine articles, twenty peer-review conference papers. For 2020, I submitted four journal papers and one peer-review conference paper. I am currently working on a list of five manuscripts for 2021.
I was successful in five small VC grants, and we won a couple of awards, one at EdMedia Conference in (2016) and ASCILITE Conference 2017 with Yvonne and Peter. Last year I won the best paper in STEM education at the Clute Conference in Dublin. Also, in 2017 the digital media team I lead won the UTS Citation Award. In 2018, I was invited to be a keynote speaker for the Nordic Edge Conference in Stavanger and presented to an audience of 800 Norwegian Educators. Then I have multiple invitations to present my research at Australian and Spanish universities. I am currently teaching online first year, first-semester Early Childhood students at the Complutense University of Madrid. I met them during my last holidays in Spain in September by a kind invitation of Professor Jose Maria Ruiz Ruiz, an expert in curriculum development and pre-service teaching competencies from Complutense University.
I put my application for Senior Lecturer in May 2018, and I got it. It was exciting to hear from Shirley Alexander over the phone saying congratulations. I finished my PhD in December 2018, and it took a year to get it, Dec 2019. Now I feel I am a ‘bulletproof academic’ with a PhD, publications and experience in teaching. The most valuable lesson that I learnt with the PhD was to be more patient. I was not new to research and, even with English as an Additional Language, I can write 8,000 words over a weekend. I must say, thanks Grammarly and my proofreader.
Due to unresolved team issues, I decided to resign from my position without having a job last November. I was lucky to secure three jobs at once, and I decided to take the opportunity and join the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologist as a learning designer. I will be producing online modules (CPD points), researching self-regulation and motivation, and embedding Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to train future ophthalmologist. I am planning to come back to academia within the next four years hopefully with more publications, grants and experience supervising students. I guess it is desirable to have industry experience. My new organisation values research and innovation, and I will have so much freedom to implement my initiatives.
Before I start my new role, I will go last minute ‘tour’ to Spain in a kind of holiday/business trip to networking and promoting my digital media research. I will be visiting universities in Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Granada, Sevilla and Madrid. I know it is winter but can’t wait to see some friends and research partners there. I feel a strong connection with the Spanish culture; I guess I have the genes.
I must say UTS Science academics, professional and technical staff are the best. I truly enjoyed every single meeting, every corridor conversation, many times sharing lunches, drinks, Xmas parties, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work together. I believe I developed a strong relationship with my colleagues, and I know I will be working with some of you with the research we are conducting and possible coming back to teach digital media as guest lecturer.
I want to thank Peter Meier for his support during my stay at UTS Science, and the career advice he provided. I will always remember my expression: ‘Peter, do you have 5 minutes’ and ended up into an hour or more conversation. I want to thank Yvonne and Lucy for the great connection we had working together. I also want to thank everyone: academics, tutors, professional and technical staff and IML colleagues for making my stay at UTS an unforgettable experience.
I am closing a chapter in my life, and now it is time to have a work-life balance and keep building my dreams, always with a positive attitude in life. One last thing as a reflection: ‘Believe passionately in what you do, and never knowingly compromise your standards and values.’
Ladies and Gentlemen, it was a pleasure!
Feeling overwhelmed to design your summer subject in Intensive Mode delivery? You are in the right place. In this blog post, I will share my ‘secrets’ on how to go about this massive task. I have run learning design workshops in Intensive Mode delivery before at Macquarie and Western Sydney University. I also designed a couple of dozens of subjects for summer school (Science, Education, Psychology, and Social Sciences).
Scholars have discussed before the term of Compress Mode (CM) to refer to Intensive Mode (IM) delivery. I personally don’t like to use compress as, in digital media means compromise quality of the product. I believe IM subjects need to maintain the pedagogical integrity and cover the same topics/assessment tasks that are delivered in standard sessions.
Intensive Mode (IM) Facts
Here are some facts on IM highlighted by scholars:
An Effective Learning Design for Intensive Mode (IM) Delivery
But you wonder, what a successful learning design for IM may consider?
Do you think this is a hard? Yes, it is, but it is possible.
A Framework to Guide Intensive Mode Delivery
In 2015, we developed a Framework called ‘A Model for Intensive Mode Delivery’ (MIMD) (Figure 1). The framework considers 4 stages in the learning design process: i) questions to ask before designing the subject; ii) assessment approaches; iii) learning and teaching strategies, and; iv) student support. This model was used to implement IM delivery subjects at Macquarie University, Faculty of Business. The intervention has been published this year as full paper at the EdMedia Conference Proceedings.
Figure 1: A Model for Intensive Mode Delivery (MIMD)
Questions to consider
The first step in our model is a set of questions to help academics to think about learning design for IM:
Intensive Mode requires sophisticated and meaningful assessment design. Including formative assessment, ensure students receive regular feedback to be aware of their progress in the subject. Adopting an active learning design promotes a student-centred model for learning. Assessments should facilitate reflection mostly due to the shortened timeframe for consideration. For example, offering small group discussions and journal keeping as a way forward and designing content to be digestible chunks.
Learning and Teaching Strategies
One of the first things to consider for IM subjects is re-configuring the subject schedule including aligning assessment due dates. Also, it is recommended both curriculum and instructional approaches to be modified in the interest of facilitating different learner profiles. Variety is a learning and teaching strategy that is often mentioned for IM delivery. Variety can be achieved in pace and form of content delivery and using different activities to name a few. In addition to using varied approaches to content is using content that is personalised, aligned to learning outcomes, and focused on depth. Learning resources should also be selected and delivered bearing in mind the time and pace, variety and the student profile.
Student-preparedness can impact engagement in IM subjects. By being mindful of the limited time frame providing more instruction is more, ensuring all materials for learning are readily available (to ensure time is not wasted in searching), and giving and eliciting feedback are strategies for supporting students. Providing students with early access to content is a way to give students a head start. Teacher qualities are one of the paramount requirements for delivering IM, a relaxed learning environment, fostering close relationships and more interaction with peers and their teacher is regarded favourable.
Evaluation ensures to gather student experience in IM subjects for further improvement the following session. This to consider for evaluation are:
I designed an online survey to evaluate IM delivery (blended approach), I will be happy to provide a copy of the questions.
Timing Activities that will Occur in IM Delivery
It is important to ensure that the workload of IM subjects is equivalent as standard semester/sessions. You don’t want to give the students the opportunity to think IM is easy than the standard session. We will put an example for you to visualise what I am saying:
Let’s imagine a standard session is 12 weeks. Each week students will have 4 contact hours on campus (F2F Lectures, Tutorials and/or Practicals). Then, it is recommended for them to spend 6 hours of self-directed learning activities. So, a week of study during the standard session will be 10 hours, multiply by 12 is 120 hours. If your subject for summer session will be delivered in 4 weeks, it means the workload per week for the students will be 30 hrs. So, this means students will be only able to enrol in one subject at a time for summer.
When I was the Blended Learning advisor for Western Sydney University, using this rationale, we developed the SUNSET Tool. In a nutshell, this tool is:
You may use this tool to design your summer session, it is free! Bear in mind, a summer subject should have the same assignment structure than the standard session, and this is called assignment integrity.
Welcome videos are essential to set the scene and expectations. The welcome video needs to be uploaded a week before the summer session starts. Figure 2 presents video watching patterns for summer sessions (WSU, 2014). The first peak was reached a week before the semester and the second peak when the semester started. Additionally, weekly video to remind the students to be on task has been proved to be beneficial. You don’t need to produce fancy videos, you can use your laptop camera and summarise the expectations for the week. Is not the same missing a week in the standard semester than missing a week in IM subject.
Figure 2: Number of students who watched the welcome video for six different subjects
Possible Issues with the Design of Summer Subjects
In summary, IM delivery brings opportunities to rethink the learning design for our subjects and sometimes help to ‘dump’ subject content that we are emotionally attached. The world has changed, and we need to make education relevant to the times we live. Remember, a good learning design takes time, and it is an iterative process.
Finally, if you go to the beach this summer, don’t forget your sunscreen!
As usual, happy to answer any query you may have.
Working in the field of learning design for almost a decade, I decided to write a conference paper on developing compelling subject outlines for EdMedia 2017. This blog post is a summary of my upcoming publication to help academics to implement blended learning initiatives.
There are strategic writing rules to engage students in reading subject outlines; the first rule is to write the content succinctly, which means clear writing using active sentences to attract student’s attention. The writing needs to stay focus, distill content and eliminate redundancy. It is crucial to use a conversational style and means writing the information as having a conversation. This principle is called personalisation in multimedia learning and has been found to have a positive impact on learning. Using precise terms when writing and considering the audience is important as it may be students with English as an Additional Language (EAL). They will respond better to terms that are easy to understand and quick to read. Finally, keeping sentences short and to the point helps readers to understand and engage with the content.
Subject Learning Objectives
Design learning outcomes that are measurable can be challenging. Often tasks are confused with learning objectives. Also, vague words are used such as ‘be familiar’, ‘have knowledge’, ‘demonstrate understanding’ or ‘appreciate’. These words cannot be measured by assessment tasks. Active verbs need to be used to write learning outcomes. The SOLO Taxonomy (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) is a model that describes levels of increasing complexity in student's understanding of a topic (Table 1). Other taxonomies include Bloom’s Taxonomy and SAMR model.
Table 1: SOLO Taxonomy and the levels of understanding
Writing realistic and measurable subject learning objectives will facilitate the mapping of assessment tasks.
Teaching and Learning Strategies
This section is a core area of a subject outline, and the intent is to communicate to the students how they will be learning during the semester. This section needs to spell clear how the learning design is organised. It is highly recommended to write this section using elegant, professional, expressive, readable and understandable language. Key concepts to consider to write this section are:
Each assessment task should be linked to the relevant subject learning objectives, Faculty/School graduate attributes and with Course Intended Learning Outcomes (CILOS). Constructive alignment ensures that learning outcomes are aligned with assessments and task the students will perform during the semester. This approach is globally required in higher education institutions, as it will ensure the quality of teaching and learning.
Authentic assessment is a task that represents a real-life scenario and should satisfy the following criteria:
I usually introduce the GRASP Model to my colleagues to facilitate the design of an authentic task:
Table 2: The GRASP model to create an authentic task.
Good examples of authentic assessments can be considered:
Following these recommendations will ensure your subject will be (or close to being) blended learning compliant. Teaching is not only about knowing the subject content but understanding basic educational principles to engage students in active, meaningful and transformative learning. Designing a perfect subject outline is an iterative process that can take several semesters to polish.
Educational technology has the potential to improve learning in higher education. We need to make education relevant to the times we live. Technology has created a new order in society; we cannot deny this to a future generation of professionals. Just to bear in mind, first is pedagogy and instructional approaches, then embedding the technology in a meaningful way.
The full paper will be published at the The Learning and Technology Online Library in July. Happy to send a copy of accepted manuscript on request.