Written by Lucie Andrews, English and Creative Writing
The best Blackboard modules are organised effectively, easy to navigate and kept updated. However, I would like to focus on how Blackboard could be used as a resource for study skills and excellent academic practice. During the Student Learning Ambassadors project, we discussed what is a well-designed Blackboard module and some of the feedback included the way we felt that the referencing and citing guide was not easily accessible nor comprehensive enough to cover all student’s needs. We also talked about the idea of including assignment model answers as a template of what needs to be included and how to format assignments correctly. One way to act upon this feedback would be to include a new folder within the assessment and feedback section that focuses on study skills in order to improve Blackboard as a student resource.
When analysing the different approaches to how different departments used Blackboard during the usability testing, I realised there was a useful section in the module menu called ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ in my department of English and Creative Writing that was not in the other departmental menus. Therefore, I would recommend that we should implement ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ across all departments by creating an additional folder within the assessment and feedback section to act upon some of the student feedback. Why should you consider this? And what will this new folder include? As Blackboard is the site used for the learning and academic aspect of the student experience, I believe that all students would gain from a folder dedicated to providing students with study skills and tips that will enable them to achieve excellent academic practice. Within this folder, it would provide a unique list of study skills relating to each department’s needs. Here is a general template of what this folder could include:
a detailed referencing and citing guide that meets each department’s stylesheet
a guide of essential study tips and skills including essay writing pointers
links to workshops offered by the university on study skills
a FAQ on study skills and general module information
As a student, I have personally found that there is mostly a focus on the material covered in lectures, seminars and workshops and a focus on the marks scheme and assessment criteria. However, there is generally less focus on how you can improve your writing/study skills independently and how to write an essay/assessment / referencing to the expectations that meets the standards of university practices. Therefore, this folder on ‘Tools for Academic Writing’ should be implemented in all department’s assessment and feedback section across the University as it would offer Blackboard something new that would enhance the student academic experience, and this would aid students to achieve better grades. Thus, I feel that by implementing a folder dedicated to study skills within each module that is specific to what students on that module need would enhance student’s learning experience on Blackboard and improve its resources.
During last week’s Mini-Fest we run a session entitled ‘Designing Anxiety-Free Assessments’. The session was based on A review of the literature concerning anxiety for educational assessments produced by Ofqual which outlines links between assessment anxiety, students’ performance, and mental health. It also offers possible assessment anxiety interventions which can be applied to both assessment design as well as its implementation.
Based on the review as well as discussions from the session we prepared a list of simple steps you can take to make assessments less anxiety-provoking for your students:
Replace fear appeals with positive encouragement.
Fear appeals, messages emphasising the importance of upcoming assessments, have been shown to contribute to higher levels of test anxiety, lower-class engagement and lower task performance (Putwain & Best, 2011; Putwain, Nakhla, Liversidge, Nicholson, Porter & Reece, 2017; Putwain & Symes, 2014). Instead of motivating students using fear appeals, try rephrasing your messaging into positive encouragement.
Help students set achievable goals.
In addition to providing students with information about how their final performance or paper should look like, it is worth adding some information on what steps they need to take to get there. Breaking assessments down into stages and suggesting approximately how much time they should spend on each part can be helpful to students, particularly those not experienced in managing university assessments.
Facilitate a positive learning environment.
As described in the review ‘positive learning environments can include: designing lessons that focus and building upon students’ strengths and abilities rather than identifying weaknesses; giving positive and accurate feedback; encouraging cooperative rather than competitive peer relationships; and encouraging students to be intrinsically motivated to study, rather than being coercive or focusing on the instrumentality of assessment outcomes(Jennings & Greenberg, 2009 as cited in Ofqual, 2020). How can you foster these elements in your classroom?
Modify the mode of assessment (if possible!).
Several specific assessment-design factors impact how anxiety-inducing they are. Making small adjustments to the assessment mode can make a difference to your students:
Instrumentality (how much impact the assessment appears to have on students’ overall grade): Breaking down or spreading out complex and heavily weighted assessments into smaller chunks will help students with managing their time better and create less pressure on doing well.
Complexity (how complicated the assessment seems to be): is there anything in the assessment design that could be simplified?
Evaluation (whether their performance will be evaluated by others): where possible consider minimising the impact of the social evaluative aspect of assessments by limiting the audience size or allowing students to submit a pre-recorded presentation.
Timing (whether their performance is timed): this one is applicable particularly in terms of exams which usually have strict time limits. It’s worth considering whether timed exams are the best way of measuring student progression on the learning outcome or whether there is an alternative assessment design you could use.
Help students feel prepared.
Increasing feelings of preparedness can also help in reducing assessment anxiety. Some of the things you can do to help your students feel more prepared are:
making assessment clear, detailed and accessible clear;
tying assessments clearly and obviously to learning outcomes;
linking skills they learnt throughout the module to those helping them in assessments;
communicating expectations (e.g. how much time they should spend on an assessment) clearly and repeatedly.
Finally, perhaps the most effective way of making students feel more prepared and help them get used to being assessed are mock exams and other formative assessments (Ergene, 2011).
Provide students with information about assessment anxiety & how to manage it.
Simply providing students with information about assessment anxiety being common among students and giving them links to some resources available to them (see below) can be helpful.
Supporting your Learning module available to all student via Blackboard offers all essential information on assessments including a short section on tackling assessment anxiety.
Quick Guide to Student Success is a good starting point for helping students to build academic skills such as managing their time, effective study strategies and the ability to motivate themselves.
AberSkills pages (accessible also via Blackboard) offer students support on various essential skills including academic writing, referencing or employability.
Researchers at Swansea University want to know what students across Wales think about digital learning. And we’re encouraging students at Aberystwyth to take part in the research.
All AU students are invited to join other students from across Wales in a Zoom focus group discussion. The focus group will be a chance to talk about your digital learning experience over the past year. What has worked well for you and what you need now, to keep learning effectively?
To take part (and receive a £20 Amazon voucher) email email@example.com. Full details of the research will be provided to everyone taking part.
Aberystwyth University is taking part in the Digital Experience Insights project aiming to explore our students’ experiences of technology. The project is based on online surveys designed by Jisc and used by different institutions across the UK.
It allows us to gain insight into how students use technology and to benchmark our results against other HE institutions in our sector.
To support students in this particularly challenging year, we created a Quick Guide to Students Success with tips on time management, most effective study practices and staying motivated. Please share this interactive version of the guide with your students (which is also compatible with screen readers).
Panopto recordings have been heavily used by students even before the move to partly online delivery. This year they rely on pre-recorded content even more. Facilitating active learning using asynchronous materials such as lecture recordings can be challenging. We have previously shared with you the guide on using lecture recordings for students outlining six key strategies helping them to make most of the recordings. In one of our previous posts we have also explored the use of Panopto captions and quizzes which enables your recordings to be more accessible and interactive. Today we would like to introduce you to two additional Panopto functionalities – discussion and notes.
How can we make sure that our students engage with asynchronous online tasks?
Self-determination theory (SDT) by Deci and Ryan (1985, 2002) is one of the most comprehensive and empirically supported theories of motivation available today. Past research indicated that SDT predicts a variety of learning outcomes, including performance, persistence, and course satisfaction (Deci & Ryan, 1985). The SDT-based strategies may apply to a variety of educational settings including online learning environments (Kuan-Chung & Syh-Jong, 2010). According to SDT, when students’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are met, they are more likely to internalize their motivation to learn and be more engaged in their studies.