Building confidence in learning is VITAL by Carol Brown

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I and a teaching colleague recently attended the University’s Learning and Teaching Conference 2014 to share some of the methods we use on the Go Higher programme. The weekly Knowledge Reviews which feature on our social science modules prompted interesting debate and underlined the value of blended learning (combining online and face-to-face tuition).

Go Higher is a demanding fast- track course and getting together with students face-to-face on only one day a week brings challenges. We not only have to keep them on track of what needs to be done and engaged in the programme, but we also have to ensure that we build in the necessary feedback on their performance against the tasks we set. Pedagogical principles underline the importance of regular feedback so that students are clear about what they are being asked to produce, that standards are clearly set out and students can assess how they are doing against targets.

Our students come from very diverse backgrounds and many are returning to learning after what can be considerable time.  Confidence is often the first barrier to be overcome and good feedback – little and often – is essential to building self-assurance.

One way we achieve this is by briefing online tasks face to face, usually linked to that week’s lecture session, which students are then asked to answer online. For example, students may be asked to research a particular issue or answer a set question, articulating their answer or views in a short written piece submitted via the VITAL system, known as a Knowledge Review. (VITAL is the University of Liverpool’s online environment that students log in to access resources, schedules and other course material, and to upload work).

Individual submissions are then available for their fellow students to see and to compare and reflect on.  This gives us, as tutors, the opportunity to feedback weekly on their work, continuing the interaction – encouraging, motivating, clarifying or congratulating –  at a point as close to completion as possible.

The power of using the VITAL system to continue the interaction online throughout the week ensures that the dialogue is ongoing between the tutor and student.  It also prompts interaction between students as they compare and discuss great ideas and interesting analyses presented by their peers. The Knowledge Reviews provide a vehicle for students to use to navigate through the module in bite-size pieces; they give a clear line of sight about what is expected of them and whether they are meeting these requirements.  That continuity is essential and really helps to build confidence in students.

Alison Mayor, a Go Higher student 2013-14 who is now studying for a BSc in Psychology, explained:

 Getting regular feedback is so important, particularly when you start and you haven’t got a feel for what the tutors are really looking for.  The online options really work and are a channel of communication that is open all week with the tutors. The knowledge reviews build a body of content that as a student I referred to when I completed my final assessments. By the end of the programme, I could see my progress by reviewing the knowledge reviews – they clearly showed my progress.

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