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TRANSCRIPT: Tales of Teaching Online ep. 52: Teaching threshold concepts through immersive experiences (Tara Draper and Monique Mann)

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Intro: Digital, student-centred, creative, innovation, imagination, initiative, stories that matter.

Tara Draper: I’m Tara Draper and this is Tales of Teaching Online brought to you by Learning Futures. Hi everyone. Welcome to today’s episode. Today I’m talking to Dr. Monica Mann who was an academic and researcher in criminology at Deakin University. And Monique is talking to us about how she designed her unit to include a digital surveillance immersive learning experience for her students. So welcome Monique, and thanks for joining us.

Monique Mann: Hi Tara, thank you for having me.

Tara: So can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself and the unit that you’re teaching?

Monique: My passion and my research is in relation to surveillance studies and specifically the social justice and human rights impacts of new technologies. And what we can actually do, if anything, to better govern and regulate them to protect human rights and enhance social justice. And I have a really strong nexus between my research agenda, the advocacy work I do, and also my teaching. So in terms of my teaching, I’ve designed and chair the undergraduate unit, ACL304 Crimes of Violence in Society. And it’s been undergoing a constant process of re-designing. So from next year it will be called Surveillance and Social Justice. So it’s a flipped unit. It unfolds across five modules. Each fortnight we have a three-hour seminar or lectorials as I call them. Those modules are essentially an introduction to surveillance historical approaches and theories. So the conceptual framework of the field in relation to surveillance studies. We then look at a range of different spheres of surveillance in society so that maybe e.g. surveillance in the workplace, surveillance in domestic contexts, surveillance in educational contexts. We then dive into marginalising surveillance and issues of social justice. So things such as surveillance of welfare recipients, First Nations People. And then we move on to consider some of the legal framework in relation to human rights and democracy. And then finally, we wrap up the unit looking at resisting surveillance. So what can we do to resist some of the things that we’ve explored throughout the unit. So there’s about 500 students in the units across all campuses, Waurn Ponds, Burwood, and Cloud. And I teach face to face at the Waurn Ponds campus where we have about 100 students enrolled. And I also take the Cloud seminars as well. And then I have a large teaching team particularly about 10 sessionals and markers into the unit. So it’s a third year unit, third level unit in the Bachelor of Criminology. And it’s also an open elective. So we have students from a whole range of different faculties and disciplines. So e.g. law, business, psychology, IT, cybersecurity, media and communications, which I love and this very much reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the field of surveillance studies.

Tara: That’s a great just such a complex set up and wonderful that you’ve got all those students coming in from the different disciplines. It’s a really interesting and topical area from what I’m hearing in the media and everything as well. So it sounds very cool. So talking about the immersive experience itself, what drew you to actually creating that experience for your students and what we’re hoping to achieve? Monique: So the opportunity really presented itself to me. I was approached by my former Head of School, Professor Matthew Clarke. And this also coincided with the development and launch of the Nyaal facility and also the major course review of the Bachelor of Criminology. And as part of that major course review which has been an ongoing process, we were consolidating all of our undergraduate surveillance units. We had to, and we’ve been consolidating them into the one that I’ve redesigned and chair. As part of that process, undertook the complete unit redesign in terms of the unit learning outcomes, assessment and the content and the revised module structure. And so that was really the perfect time to align both the opportunity within the Nyaal facility and developing this immersive digital surveillance experience with the new unit structure and content. So I worked on them both in tandem. And so the immersive digital experience relates specifically to the key concepts or the threshold concepts that we explore in the unit and present them in an applied and real-world way. Enhancing our learner understanding of those key concepts and being able for learners to be able to apply them in their everyday lives and say how they apply was really the main objective and to do it in a really engaging way, making use of the fantastic resource that we have now at Waurn Ponds Campus in terms of the Nyaal facility, I will say however, though we worked on this 2020, 2021. I wasn’t able to actually have students on campus given the two years of lockdowns. It was only in T1, 2022 that I was actually able to show it to students in the facility just because of the practicalities of what happened in Victoria at that time.

Tara: Beautiful. So tell us a little bit more about what’s actually involved in the immersive learning activity from the learner’s perspective. A little bit more about Nyaal for our listeners that are familiar with the facility.

Monique: So it’s a 360 degree immersive facility where you can show films that you can stand in the centre of this room and it’s all around you. So it really transports you in many ways to actually being there and you have these kind of experience that you’re there. And working with documentary film makers at Deakin, Aubrey Comben and also with a with a production company Jumpgate, we were able to design a film, a short film to show in that, that related specifically to the modules of the unit. And Aubrey went out and he filmed e.g. in Malop Street so the setting was very familiar to students here in Geelong, in the CBD of Geelong. And then we were able to overlay e.g. facial recognition technology happening and the collection of data, the integration of different data sources that really relates to what happens when information is collected in public. And what does that mean and how does that connect to other key concepts such as the panopticon and such as things like the surveillant assemblage, which is really the conceptual frameworks that we deal with in the unit and more broadly within the field. So what I did in terms of showing students this film, and if anyone’s interested in watching the film, it is on DeakinAir. Or if you are at Waurn Ponds, I’m more than happy to take you into the facility and show it show it to you in person as well. But we watched the short film in week one at the very start of the unit to provide an overview, an introduction. And then I also show it to them at the very end, at the conclusion. And in doing that, I’m really hoping to make learning visible to students. So they have that kind of pre and post understanding of what this is, what we’re going to talk about. And this is now what we have throughout the context of the unit and can you see how much you’ve learned as we’ve actually delved into each of the modules across the trimester structure. I showed them the video in a space. And then next to the immersive 360 cinema, there’s a deliberation room and so I take the students into the deliberation room. And I’ve also prepared some associated teaching materials to complement or that speak to the film. And then we unpack the experience aligned with the, each of the key concepts from each module as it’s shown in the film. And I present students with discussion questions that encouraged them to identify and apply those concepts in their life following seeing that film. So e.g. some of the discussion questions that I use, can you identify panoptic institutions in your everyday life? How does the possibility of surveillance influence your behaviour? Are you aware of being watched? What’s your social credit score? Are you a risky person? What digital traces are out there about you? What does this information reveal about you? What is your data double? These types of concepts. What inferences or predictions can be made about you? Do you think those types of predictions would be accurate? So it’s really getting students to think through what they’ve seen in that immersive experience, connecting it very closely to each of, not only like the overarching unit, unit learning outcomes for each module has its own learning outcomes that speak directly to these concepts and getting them to apply it in their everyday life. And think through how these practices of surveillance influence them because they do, they influence all of us. This is the reality and get them to think critically about it.

Tara: Nice. The thing that stands out for me about the Nyaal Institute is that shared immersive experience as well. So it’s that step up from what we know is immersive learning in VR space, in that they’re all standing together and they can point things out and talk about them. And then you’ve also set up that great discussion where they can come in and build from that as well. So that’s brilliant. How have your students actually responded to the experience so far?

Monique: on the whole, really positively. I’ve done, I should also mention it’s really important to not only rely on eVALUate data when you’re trying to measure impacts of these types of teaching innovation. So I also conducted my own surveys after the students had seen the experience and gone through that deliberation session, both in week one and then at the end of trimester. But in terms of the comments that are coming back through from eVALUate and student evaluation of teaching they’re saying things such as, and I’m quoting here, ‘The immersive approach and the Nyaal facility was a really nice introduction and send off to both help kick things off and end things.’ ‘The immersive experience was unique and I really enjoyed it.’ ‘It was a great visual way to understand core concepts.’ ‘I liked how they are real-world examples of how each concept is applied.’ ‘Watching it at the end really clarified or reiterated what the modules had taught.’ ‘Super cool, really interesting video that enables you to think critically about the very beginning of surveillance to the end of how it can be resisted. If it can actually be resisted at all.’ So really positive in terms of those qualitative comments. In terms of some of the evaluation that I conducted myself at the start of the unit, 80% of students that responded either agreed or strongly agreed that the digital surveillance learning experience improved their understanding of the core unit concepts. Similarly, around 80% or 78% responded to the survey either agreed or strongly agreed that they have an enhanced real-world and applied understanding of the unit concepts after watching the surveillance immersive learning experience. And almost 90%, 88% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that the digital surveillance learning experience enhance the overall learning experience. And I did the same survey again at the conclusion of the trimester and similarly the results were the same with students really endorsing that this experience helped improve their understanding of the core unit concepts, enhanced their overall learning experience. So really positively.

Tara: Wonderful. I know there is limitation, Nyaal being what it is, a fixed building based at Waurn Ponds. I know that you’ve been challenged by the students that are located at Burwood or online and can’t come to Geelong, so how have you been managing their experience to try and give them something that’s close?

Monique: This is a really tricky one and I think limited by just the reality of the situation and the facility is in Waurn Ponds. There’s not an equivalent facility at Burwood. And also we obviously have a lot of Cloud Cloud-based students as well, so I’m really mindful of these issues of inequality in terms of the learning experience by providing to different cohorts of students. So you can watch the digital learning experience on DeakinAir, but it’s not really the same as being in the facility, the 360 immersive facility and being able to have that shared experience, as you mentioned with other learners, other students, and those deliberation sessions as well. In terms of kind of thinking moving forward, there is the possibility that we send Cloud or Burwood based students cardboard cutouts that you can connect to your phone that create a sort of augmented reality, virtual reality experience. This is something I think more broadly when we’re, when we’re designing and using these immersive experiences within the Nyaal facility, we, we really have to address the challenges that it is at Waurn Ponds. So I think there’s a bit more work to be done here. I’m certainly happy to share these types of ideas that I have. But that’s something that we will need to be addressed I think moving forward.

Tara: Beautiful. So I’ve actually I have watched the video without my cardboard cutout. I’ve got to say it is still a great experience. Don’t don’t undersell it. I think it is a really useful experience for the students who can’t join it at Nyaal but obviously being immersed in it is either an even better experience. So looking forward to hearing what your students think of the cardboard cutout VR goggles as well. Because I think that’s really cool. So overall just some summing up. What have you learned and what would you change or tell others from this experience?

Monique: I really loved working with the team, Aubrey is fantastic and also the production company and just being in dialogue with them throughout the process. So I think that that team experience and particularly being one of the first, if not the first at Deakin to have designed an immersive learning experience for students. They were great, That was amazing. And so I would really encourage anyone interested in, in doing this to reach out to Aubrey and chat to him. I think really just having an understanding or thinking about why you’re doing it and what you want to achieve, and how that also fits within scholarship in terms of the pedagogy, pedagogical literature as well. I think I would also advise people to conduct their own independent evaluations and not only rely on SET’s, so that you can demonstrate the impact in terms of your learners and continually refine your approach. Which I think we should all be doing over time in terms of our teaching practice. I think what’s worked for me is closely connecting the immersive experience to those core concepts that relate and speak directly to the unit content, the unit learning outcomes, and then also are reflected in the assessment as well. So you have that real clear constructive alignment and communicating that explicitly to students so they know the purpose of what, what’s going on and what you’re hoping to achieve as well. And I was very open to students about the whole point of me doing this is to show you these concepts, how they apply in the real world and how that relates to the unit learning outcomes in the module learning outcomes and the assessment. So it’s very clearly communicated to them. And I think the students really appreciated that and they were able to understand what the point of it was. Overall, I would just suggest if you do have the opportunity to work with Aubrey and the team and use the Nyaal facility, be creative and have fun. Demonstrate your passion for the area in which you’re teaching and working and have fun. Because I think more than anything, that’s what’s conveyed to students. And it’s a fantastic opportunity to be able to produce something like this.

Tara: Thank you so much Monique. This has been a wonderful conversation and I think what you’re doing is just brilliant. Yes. Like Monique said, we do encourage you to reach out to Aubrey and team and the links to their contacts will be put into the blog as well. So thanks again, Monique and have a great day.

Monique: Thanks Tara. I also just wanted to say if any academics want to speak to me about the experience and unpack some of this a bit further I’m more than happy for them to reach out to me and we can go through it. If you’re at Waurn Ponds and more than happy to show you the film in the space.

Tara: Wonderful. Thank you so much Monique and I will be taking you up on that. Thanks very much.

29 November 2022

Last modified: 1 December 2022 at 5:00 pm

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