1.7 Personalised Learning Contract

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Archetype contract

Introduction

Based on the Ultraversity Project, this collection of patterns identifies the key innovations developed to teach an undergraduate programme of some 300 student researchers, supported entirely online and having collaboration between learners as a central component.

The Essence of the Problem

With learners studying in a diverse range of work-contexts there is a requirements to personalise the learning.  A mechanism is required that allows for a negotiation between the University and the student researcher to ensure that the planned learning activities will satisfy university and workplace requirements.  The essence of this problem is how to enhance the quality of self-directed, work-focused learning.

The Problem in Detail

In enrolling students onto programmes of study, the University is contractually and morally obliged to develop support mechanisms that give the best chance possible of learner success.  The nature of online supported, inquiry-based, work-focused learning requires the development of particular approaches to meet this obligation.  There are many parameters within which personalised undergraduate study has to operate consequently module resources and student activities can be underpinned by a high degree of complexity.  Particular issues that need to be addressed are:

  1. variety of interpretations of module requirements by student researchers;
  2. ethical considerations of planned action-inquiries;
  3. adequate workplace and university student support is in place to enable student success;
  4. pace of study will enable timely submission of assessment products.

The Solution

A learning contract is an agreement between the student researcher and the university detailing the activities that will be undertaken for a particular module.  It is a working-document that ensures clarity and alignment of expectations between the student researcher and the University and that the planned learning is authentic, ethically sound and describes an appropriate approach to meet both University and workplace needs.

Process
1. the student resarcher reads the module instruction;
2. online discussions lead by the learning facilitator elaborate the module requirements, clarify expectations, and address issues raised by students;
3. student researchers draft a learning contract and share key elements in their learning set for peer review and critical feedback;
4. student researchers red-draft and improve their proposal;
5. student researchers check that the proposed activities will meet with workplace approval making changes as necessary;
6. final draft of learning contract is shared with learning facilitator who accepts the proposal or advises on necessary revisions.

Scenario
Nadine is works as a housing officer for a housing association in the West Midlands.  She is preparing to study an action-inquiry module and her first stap is to read the module resources.  In discussion with her colleagues at work she identifies the handling of the complaints procedures as a potential issue she could explore as it has wider implications for improving practice accross the department.  In a community discussion Nadine asked “I am wondering about the boundaries of my inquiry, that is to what extent should it be purly about my own working practices or can I look at the way we handle complaints across the whole department?” a reply from fellow student researcher said “This was an interesting point raised in one of the hotseats.  My interpretaion of this is that there are different views as to how inquiries should be framed.  But what was clear was that you need to be realistic in what you can achieve withing the contrainst of just one module”.  A learning facilitator joins the discussion, “Looking at the practice across your department will be good reconaisance for your inquiry and could provide you with ideas as to how you improve your own practice. When your inquiry is completed you could share your improved practice across the department extending the impact to achieve organisational change.”

With this and other advice Jane constructs her draft learning contract and shares it in her learning set for critical feedback.  She comments on fellow student reserachers prposals and incorporates what she has laerned form their comments into her contract.  Finally Jane shares her draft learning contract with her learning facilitator who approves it but with just a few minor suggestions about how she might evaluate her action and reminds her to share with her workplace advocate.

Reflection on use

Learning contracts are an essential component of this approach to learning.  However, there are challenges about getting student researchers to engage in systematic planning activities in any depth.  This is not a particular reflection on the group of student researchers we have worked with, but more about the enthisiasm to get on with concrete tasks that feel rewarding and valuable. In order to address the issue of motivation to plan we have explored potential models that integrate the learning contract into assessment however we have not yet arrived at a satisfactory solution.

Related patterns

1.1 Organise learning places
1.2 Team Teaching
1.3 Exhibition for Dissertation
1.4 Workplace advocate
1.5 Action Learning Set
1.6 Patchwork ‘Media’
1.7 Personalised Learning Contract
1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest
1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry

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1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest

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Hotseat Pattern Archetype

Introduction

Based on the Ultraversity Project, this collection of patterns identifies the key innovations developed to teach an undergraduate programme of some 300 student researchers, supported entirely online and having collaboration between learners as a central component.

The Essence of the Problem

Requiring learners to determine the focus and subject content of their action inquiries raises particular challenges about how they can be supported in relation to specialist knowledge applicable to the context of their studies.  The essence of this problem is how to bring additional expert knowledge in to the online community of inquiry around a specific topic or theme.

The Problem in Detail

The online community of inquiry may not have all of the expertise required to support the learner in their studies, neither is it efficient to arrange for experts to support a learner on a one-to-one basis.  Expertise might be required from practitioners and academics on a diverse range of topics including theory, learning processes, research methods,  methodologies, etc.

The Solution

Bring external expertise to the community of inquiry on specific topics through an online, asynchronous discussion forum.  A high degree of relevance is achieved through framing a discourse that is lead by student researcher questions to which the expert responds.  Thehotseat guest responds in such a way as to relate specific questions to theories, concepts and ideas from their their given topic.  This includes references to research, professional bodies, networks that can be joined and other sources of information.  Other community members  share their relevant experience asking questions and offering feedback with the intention of exploring issues through their grounded professional practice or simple desire to learn.

Hotseat format:
1. engage in dialogue with the student researchers to inform the topics for Hotseat expert guests;
2. fix and advertise a two week period for the hotseat to run over;
3. instruct the expert to provide a short biography and a 250 word introduction to his hotseat topic;
4. supply the expert with instructions on how to access the hotseat and inform them of expectations of their participation;
5. the expectation is that the expert will will log into the hotseat at least every other day (except for weekends and public holidays) over the two week duration of the hoseat and respond to all questions posed;
6. learners read questions and responses before asking a question to avoid repetition and seek to share their own experiences in response to others;
7. at the end of the hotseat, a summary should pull together key ideas, disagreements, and resource references;
8. hotseat is archived as a resource for participants and subsequent student researchers.

Scenario
Nadine has been looking at different action-inquiry models from a theoretical perspective but has no experience of applying them in practice.  She would like some advice about the application of these different approaches to her own inquiries.  The hotseat expert replies to Nadine agreeing that there are many to choose from.  “I usually design an action research process to suit the situation and the intention of the research.  Where possible I like to do this in conjunction with the other participants in the project.  Each of the action research methodologies has its particular advantages and disadvantages – take a look at these web resources that evaluate different approaches.  I can often design a process which incorporates the advantages of several.  In this regard participatory action research can be a generic process into which other processes can be integrated.  For instance, I like the models and processes of action science for developing a critical and supportive climate in the research team.  I agree with DonaldSchon that reflection is important, including the “reflection-in-action” that he encourages.  For some purposes appreciative inquiry is useful in developing a positive and energetic atmosphere.  And so on.”

Reflection on use

In practice, it requires a high degree of organisation to arrange a programme of hotseats that run throughout a programme that are timely for student researchers needs and related to individual modules.  The use of archivehotseats helps address some of these challenges although not being an interactive discussion, some the value is lost.  Staff also gain a great deal from thehotseats as both passive observers and participants in discussions as a part of their own CPD building the overall capacity of the community as action inquirers.

Related patterns

1.1 Organise learning places
1.2 Team Teaching
1.3 Exhibition for Dissertation
1.4 Workplace advocate
1.5 Action Learning Set
1.6 Patchwork ‘Media’
1.7 Personalised Learning Contract
1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest
1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry

1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry

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Introduction

Based on the Ultraversity Project, this collection of patterns identifies the key innovations developed to teach an undergraduate programme of some 300 student researchers, supported entirely online and having collaboration between learners as a central component.

The Essence of the Problem

Learning can be ineffective and marginal when it is individual, competitive and isolated. The challenge is to create a co-ordinated, social and interpersonal activity of regular dialogue, reflective practice and moral support.

The Problem in Detail

Learning organisation is traditionally designed to highlight individual endeavour, define a common curriculum and ensure achievement is assessed reliably through controlled conditions. Schools, colleges and universities achieve this in face-to-face contexts by timetabling, identifying class sets of similar capability and examinations. The problem is that this does not suit all learners’ learning style, contextual needs or personal circumstances. This is evidenced in the difficulties faced by learners who are not taking opportunities in statutory or further and higher education. In particular, this pattern address the needs and opportunities of higher education which can address social challenge in a context-based, action-research and online environment.

The Solution

This pattern defines a view that learning should be idiosyncratic, tuned to practitioners in context, placing responsibility on learners to negotiate process, content and award to fit their needs.  Online technology is used to permit rich dialogue and many-to-many discussion and also to free individuals from travel and timetables.  Modeling of desired behaviour is at the heart of nurturing reflective practice, critical thinking and inquiry for improvement.  Develop the online community to make effective use of peers, both for moral support, cooperation and as sources of experience and expertise.  The role of the learning facilitator is a proactive one, they should contact community members who are absent and take responsibility for leading and seeding discussons.

A code of practice
Rights and responsibilities within the community must be made clear and as far as possible there should be symmetry between the different member groups.  The vibrancy of the community is the responsibility of everyone, everyone has a facilitation role.

To be actively facilitated a community should:

  1. agree a starting point of respect and mutual support for all members valuing the knowledge and experience they bring t the community
  2. identify who will take on the co-ordination role for particular activities.  At time this will be course staff, at other times it will be students
    clearly identify the level of commitment for activities, treat this as a contractual agreement
  3. make clear your own understanding and say what it is you plan to do
  4. seek to be critically supportive in responding to others requests
  5. show presence in the community, this is achieved through making overt contributions
  6. summarise complex or long exchanges to help clarify the dialogue that has taken place
  7. seed conversations through introducing ideas/concepts/resources that cold form an interesting discussion or debate.  Don’t simply share the resource, make an initial comment as to why you think it is worth others angaging with
  8. be prepared to intervene to defuse situations that are potentially inflamatory and likely to cause offense and upset in the community

A few points about being a member of the Ultraversity online communities:

  1. the community provides an opportunity for students, learning facilitators, and ‘expert guests’ to engage in open dialogue and discussion in a climate that supports learning and collaboration
  2. the community operates on trust, so we ask that members apply the courtesies they would normally observe in any spoken conversation
  3. be polite and respectful – address your comments to the idea rather than the person
  4. avoid dominating discussions
  5. challenge each other in a constructive way
  6. value others contributions and uphold a culture of mutual respect
  7. follow ethical research processes – seek permission before using others words; acknowledge the use of others ideas
  8. seek to support other researchers and encourage a social aspect to the communities
  9. take responsibility for your own learning – ask for help!
  10. log on and contribute regularly and timely
  11. respect the non-contact time of course staff
  12. use community forums wherever possible and expect responses from course staff and fellow learners within 48 hours on working days (Monday – Friday excluding bank holidays)
  13. use private email sparingly only when a community communications isn’t appropriate, expect response from course staff and fellow learners within 48 hours on working days (Monday – Friday excluding bank holidays) with allowance made for holidays and part time workers

Reflections on use

This approach works well, although as reported often with online conversations not all will participate in part as the environment is very ‘exposing’.  The kind of participation required needs to be clearly explained to potential student researchers during the admissions process.  Learning facilitators must take the lead, acting as a guide, monitoring and identifying when to make interventions.

Related patterns

1.1 Organise learning places
1.2 Team Teaching
1.3 Exhibition for Dissertation
1.4 Workplace advocate
1.5 Action Learning Set
1.6 Patchwork ‘Media’
1.7 Personalised Learning Contract
1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest
1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry