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Tales of Teaching Online Podcast" Episode 44

10 May 2022

Empowering students to take charge of their own learning

In episode 44 of the Tales of Teaching Online podcast, Associate Professor Julien Ugon shares his insights into promoting student agency in a first-year mathematics unit with Laura Tubino.

A new method of assessment

‘Discrete mathematics’ is a service unit, catering for about six hundred students coming from different faculties each trimester. Adding to its complexity is the fact that many students enrolled in this unit do not really understand why they need to learn mathematics or how it relates to their degree.

Julien’s assessment moves away from the method of a teacher designing tasks that evaluate student competency, to asking students to find a way to evidence their own achievement of competency.

Using technology to outsource low level feedback, his assessment tasks are comprised of lesson reviews that ask students to explain how they learned and what they know. Feedback becomes a negotiation between the teacher and the student, where students need to find a way to convince the teaching staff that they have achieved the outcomes at a certain level.

Anecdotally, Julien mentions that some students decide to spend more time on a topic even though they are told by their tutors they have achieved the outcomes, because they themselves don’t feel they know it well enough!

Challenges and solutions

The main challenge, according to Julien, is shifting the mentality of students and teaching staff involved in the unit. Moving from an academic dictating the content and pace students need to learn at, to students having the responsibility of deciding on the content, evidence and pace of learning is a journey. Once this is achieved, Julien has found this model is easier and more rewarding than more traditional teaching.

In the first few weeks of the unit, Julien focuses on getting students to understand what support they are going to receive. Julien notes that students can start out quite unconvinced by an approach that puts more power and accountability onto them, but often end up very proud of their achievements. He has observed a different motivation to learning, with more students showing a willingness to know as opposed to obtaining a grade.

Listen to episode 44 of the Tales of Teaching Online podcast for the full conversation.

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