Life Sciences: Expanding and consolidating student learning experiences within an online environment
First year Life Sciences lecturers and practical facilitators created a blended online environment to supplement their teaching, learning and assessment practices for a large number of students. The module is structured according to lectures, tutorials, and practical lab sessions.
Weekly topics & homework activities (formative assessment/quizzes)
Students are provided with the opportunity to expand and consolidate their learning experiences, as they progress through weekly topics and presentations; and homework activities. These homework activities (formative quizzes) cover concepts such as: Photosynthesis, Respiration, Mitosis, and Meiosis. The students are provided with grades upon submission. Furthermore, the students are able to view the memo, in order to reflect on learning progress related to each topic.
Practical test to improve scientific writing
An online practical test has also been setup to assist students with the basic principles of scientific writing. The students are expected to peruse a journal article and answer questions related to research skills; and referencing methods.
Gradebook reduces administrative tasks
The Gradebook eTool was used to record the marks of all online activities/tests. This allows lecturers to easily collate and export marks, and view the combined average course grade of all students. Students are able to view the gradebook and monitor their learning progress.
Course resources enhances self-directed learning
In addition, the course resources are structured and include:
- Theory and practical guides;
- Past test papers and memos; and
- Weekly lecture material.
Students are also able to access resources (videos, skills guide and presentations) related to the practical component of the course; allowing students to reinforce knowledge and skills, andextend their learning experience beyond the classroom.
**Did you know? 20 887 users (students and staff) accessed iKamva during the month of March 2018.
As academics, it is important to incorporate learning theories within your teaching, learning and assessment practices. This will allow you to guide your practice but also promote planning; teaching approaches; and enhance students’ learning experience. Lev Vygotsky’s constructivist learning theory emphasises the effectiveness of scaffolding learning material. The CIECT team encourages lecturers to use a scaffolded approach to teaching and learning, within your traditional practices and online spaces. This approach assists students with assimilation, iteration, and consolidation. Furthermore, the lecturer is able to extend learning beyond the classroom.
There are various strategies one can use to present learning material in a scaffolded approach. These include:
- Recognition of prior learning;
- Dividing learning material into manageable sections or ‘chunks’;
- Providing clear instructions with expected learning outcomes to tasks; and
- Presenting/explaining information in multiple ways to further assimilate content.
The ‘Lessons eTool’ allows a lecturer to design an interactive and structured blended-learning environment, enabling students to actively engage with the learning material via the iKamva platform. Hence, content and activities related to coursework can be presented in a scaffolded approach, whereby students are presented with information on related topics/concepts broken down into smaller sections; along with related activities which aim to reinforce student learning.
Using the ‘Lessons eTool’ within iKamva, lecturers are able to integrate features such as Online Tests, Assignments, Polls, and Discussion Forums. The platform also features a checklist, which can be used by students to keep track of their progress within a specific section, enhancing self-directed learning. In addition, it allows lecturers to incorporate a variety of digital media including YouTube videos, and external resources, which students can use to further expand their knowledge and understanding.
Lecturers are encouraged to attend and commit to the design workshops, hosted by the CIECT team. It is important for lecturers to focus on the effective design and development of interactive online environments; and not only dissemination of notes and lecture slides. **The pedagogical value will be explored further within these workshops; and its application within your online environment.
NB: The CIECT Team has embarked on its Roadshow. This scaffolded approach (presentation and structured online environment) was presented to the Law Faculty (HODs & lecturers). Follow-up discipline specific workshops will be conducted for the lecturers; as they have seen the need to create more effective and interactive online environments.
Lecturers within the Department of English aim to provide students (across year levels) – with authentic learning experiences; and extend their teaching-and-learning practices through online environments. The lecturers employ various eTools within iKamva to supplement the process of student consultations; scaffolding of lesson topics; and avoiding plagiarism.
Sign-up eTool: Lecturer, Roger Field has utilised this eTool to create time-slots for student consultations. Various slots are created according to his consultation times, whereby students sign-up for 20 minute consultation periods. Through clear guiding processes, lecturers are able to clarify and confirm student attendance for further discussion and consultation.
Lessons eTool: This eTool was used to structure and scaffold content (lesson topics). The lecturer scaffolds the relevant content by providing an introduction to the topic/specific theme; supported by embedded YouTube clips; and related article/reading.
**This scaffolded approach follows principles of instructional design and learning theories, in order to reinforce the assimilation of the lesson topic.
Turnitin: This platform is widely used across the department as academic writing is an important component. This anti-plagiarism software is used as a developmental approach to assist students with referencing, paraphrasing and overall improvement of writing abilities (i.e. crafting ideas). Often, if students’ similarity index is too high, students are able to refine and edit their work and resubmit – to avoid plagiarism.
**It should be noted that in some year levels, there are a large number of students. Therefore, Tutors are able to provide students with constructive feedback on their assignments. Feedback is imperative, as students should be guided on how to improve their writing skills.
Lecturers are encouraged to attend and commit to the design workshops (eTools and Assessment & Turnitin), hosted by the CIECT team. It is important for lecturers to focus on the effective design and development of interactive online environments; and not only dissemination of notes and lecture slides.