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TRANSCRIPT: Tales of Teaching Online ep. 59: Working with students as Instructional Designers in a professional practice unit

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

Laura Tubino: Hello everybody and welcome to Tales of Teaching Online. My name is Laura Tubino and today, I’m joined by Rob McHenry from the School of Engineering, who will be sharing with us his experience working with students as partners for the design of work integrated learning resources. Hello Rob, and thank you for being here today. Let’s start with a bit of an introduction. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Deakin?  

Rob McHenry: G’day Laura, Thanks for having me. Yeah. So my name is Rob McHenry. I’m the Professional Practice Lecturer in the School of Engineering. I joined Deakin just before the pandemic hit at the end of 2019. After working a bit over ten years in the automotive industry is a powertrain Development Engineer. Now, I work within the school to try and help build our students employability skills and help them prepare for work. And I guess also to try and support our academic staff in terms of professional skill development in our students and sometimes in themselves as well when they haven’t had that experience outside of academia.  

Laura: Well, That’s really important work you’re doing here, especially in getting our students work ready. So what were your goals and key consideration when starting to work with students and partners?  

Rob: Well, I guess it really started out a little bit out of necessity. The COVID hit and students were struggling to find placements. And I was also looking to try and start embedding some learning material into several units related to professional practice. We, myself and Associate Professor Siva Krishnan decided to offer students an opportunity to come and work with us as instructional designers. And we had, we had ideas in place and we had a bit of a framework that we thought of professional practice that we thought we could utilise to help students with their learning and also for us to evaluate. And so we really wanted their perspective, I suppose because we’ve heard and had read in the literature and also heard from others that it can be difficult to get students and even some lecturers to take professional practice learning serious. And so we thought, well, why don’t we introduce the student voice? And we’re really keen to introduce the industry voice as well. And we thought, well, there’s an opportunity here for us to give these students I guess a proximal experience with industry to try and help us.  

Laura: That is a great idea, really valuable. What I’m wondering is, what was your starting point? Did you start from learning roles?  

Rob: We kind of. What we started with really was a bit of an audit, so I was in the midst of redesigning another unit a WIL, placement based WIL unit. And I wanted to try and introduce a framework that we just sort of develop as a spin-off from the Engineers Australia Professional, Professional Competency Standards. They are very good, but they’re really quite lengthy and detailed. And I suppose we wanted to make something a bit more digestible. So we’re sort of testing that out to start with. So we had sort of six key themes of professional practice. Things like self-management. Engineers, why do social responsibility, ability to work in teams, collaborate and the like, project management, things like that. And we sort of, we got students to break up, well this one student to start with is really keen on project management. So they got him to audit his class. His experiences as a learner through his degree like these students are all third and fourth year students looking to graduate soon. We ended up with a couple of masters students as well. So yeah, it was really started with an audit, to be honest, using that framework, there’s definitions of different key skills as written as learning outcomes and we got them to revise where they may have covered that in their learning journey to date. Ideally within their time at Deakin. Just because that’s the course that we were looking to, I guess support the development of. But yeah, but also beyond that,  

Laura: So these were third and fourth year students that were looking to designing learning materials for a year one unit.  

Rob: So yes, first and second year was always the focus. I guess we have a large pathway of students coming from overseas that join our degrees in the third year. And in the School of Engineering, we have a strong emphasis on the project oriented design based learning, pedagogy, I suppose. And a big part of that is where we develop the student’s professional skills, particularly around teamwork and communication. And I guess to an extent, we’re now working on that broader social context side of things as well. Obviously loosely aligns to GLO8. We found , it’s really important to try created online suite of digital tools that we can give to these students that are coming in later on to at least give them a flavour and expectation at the type of the things that we’re looking to develop here at Deakin. And also, let’s talk authentically embed this into a learning for first and second year as well. So everyone’s kind of even, it won’t be entirely even playing field when they get to third year. But at least they’ve got a sound basis of knowledge and understanding or awareness. So through that auditing process we got the students to identify where maybe they wanted to improve or maybe they had a real area of interest. And I guess we started with one student, but we ended up quickly going about ten. So we broke those students up into three or four groups from memory. They all focus on different themes. So we had a few students looking at social responsibility and engineers, couple of looking at communication, some looking at teamwork. I think we ended up sort of throwing self-management in there with teamwork from memory. And they invest, they went and researched a bit of publicly available material and then they also found things that they found interesting and engaging to learn. And we use that sort of experience to try and help them develop some questions that they would want to ask practitioners. So that way, I guess through my network and I guess the broader network, we were able to reach out to industry. And I guess there’s also some great people within Deakin that helped do some mock interviews well not mock, they were real interviews, but I guess in a safer environment internally. So some other lecturers and innocent people within DLF, and a few other areas. They were really helpful to prepare the students, then yeah, we reached out and got the students to conduct these interviews. We recorded the interviews. And then the students would, after the interviews they would analyse them using the Borton’s Model of Reflection. We’ve set up a simple template and there’s a shared templates and they all contributed to that same that same document. And we have a weekly meeting where we discuss because we could end up at one point in time, we probably had two interviews, 3 interviews a week happening. Students who are joining other students interviews is I would go with that one. So is this the real social learning environment that we were trying to foster And we tried, I guess arrow cheaper and I was just to try and encourage your students to think about what it was that we’re learning. What they found was interesting, what it is they want to share with others. So we really reacted as facilitators or guys on the side while they sort of really brought forward what they found was the interesting insights and interesting ways to learn. Yeah, I’ll let you ask a question I get going.  

Laura: That’s really, really interesting. I’m wondering, I’m very curious to know whether the learning materials they came with, or they develop, are similar to the ones we develop or they are completely novel? If I wonder what they came up with,  

Rob: I guess with fast-forwarding a little here. But when they say, I guess a learning was, we went into it hoping students could go through the process of discovery and development, but just in 12 weeks wasn’t enough time. So I guess we’re really fortunate with the SEBE employability guiding plan to be awarded a little bit of money to rehire a few of the students on as partners. One of them was post-graduation. The other two were near graduation. They came on board and helped us. Yeah. So one student being a mechatronics student into programming really like computer games. He really wanted to create a gamified resource. I thought that was pretty cool. He was keen to use a tool called Unity. We fast found that might have been a bit too complicated or complex as our first port of call as a tool. So he did a lot of really good research, the different tools you looked at, H5P and a few others. We settled onto one. He did, he had a great partnership with an old football coach of mine actually colleague at Gemini energy. So when Casey, he’s a Occupational Health and Safety Expert and the two of them work together and creating a, I guess a decision tree matrix type resource that’s now being embedded in some master’s courses. And then another student, he was really into YouTube. He loves YouTube, he loved animation. We realised it was quite an acquired a good artist and drawer so he actually created animated videos with I guess a particular narration style as well. Um, so he created this character as a small alien. He did some other videos with effectively a stick figure. But I guess the world that he created around it was really interesting when he implemented that in a first-year engineering design course unit. And that really got really good feedback for the students in terms of it being engaging in a really good at even the academic staff that support in terms of being a really good conversation starter as well around particular topics. Yeah.  

Laura: Oh, that’s fabulous. Did you so you already implemented these resources?  

Rob: So we put one in we’re in the midst of putting the second one in at the moment. We were a bit more strategic in the way we put the first one in, it says, engineering in society is a new unit myself, Kaja Antlej was the unit chair and I guess Ellen Moon put a lot of work into it last year to develop the unit as well. There’s a few others in the school that helped deliver the unit. That unit is really about introducing engineering students to the broader social contexts. That’s about the concept of social responsibility. And it is a, I think it’s really a threshold concept that a lot of even myself in practice didn’t really pick up until four or five years in and Siva had had a similar experience. And it’s not until that point that you realise the purpose of your work and it really helps with your decision-making in your engineering judgment as a professional. Because you’re often get caught up in your own little world wanting to deliver your thing. But then realising the responsibility of others and how you’ll work will effect the bigger picture is something we really want introduced to our students. So Liam had a really engaging way to try and do that. We implemented, we used his resources within a studio as well to try and encourage further discussion and learning. And it does scaffold pretty well into some of the assessment in that unit as well. So he did a bit of an evaluation. You put a survey out there. He came in observed in the classroom. Yeah. He’s he’s now since written a paper that’s been going to a conference later this year as well. So yeah, that’s been a good experience. Lots of work still to do that make it more effective though.  

Laura: All right, outcome. And what these students, so these students have already finished at Deakin?  

Rob: Most of them have. A really good outcome was that a few other students, a few majority of students went on and either got a job or even some who are still students went on, three of them went and got ambassadorial roles with Engineers Australia, which I thought was really good. There was one female student particular, she was fantastic. We wanted a higher back but she was really quiet and reserved when she came into it and suddenly that we felt that it was really to work with her on, with her communication and her confidence in communicating in English wasn’t their first language. And she she her and her friend to join us. Both of them went on and they both got jobs like immediately afterwards because I just felt their confidence has grown so much and that was really an outcome of them in getting engaged in these practitioner interviews and talking socially with, and learning socially with their friends and getting that practice really just talking in English about this sort of stuff and also learning about practice as well. So a lot of them went on and got jobs. And some took a little less time than others, but they’ve all come back to us and kept in contact in some way, which has been really good, minus a couple. There’s always a few, when you get ten, there’s always one or two that might be a bit of challenging.  

Laura: Yeah, that sounds great. So what was the impact that this experience had on you? Has this affected the way you plan your teaching and learning and new design and learning resources?  

Rob: Yeah. I guess it really gave me a particularly when working with our first-year unit, those resources that were embedded there, it really even getting a student feedback within the class. I was a little worried being an animation that maybe because we got a lot of material as students as well, that maybe they would find it a bit, maybe not as good, even though it really useful and the academics did as well. So it was really good. You put this confidence into somebody else like I’m still new to teaching and learning myself. I’ve been doing this for two or three years now. At the time was within the first year that we started doing it. So it really helped for my approach to teaching and learning early, having engaged in higher education. So, yeah, I don’t really see any other way now rather than engaging students, whether they, the simplicity of informing what I do or whether it’s to actually fully engage them in doing something like this. I think I’ll always engage students in some capacity. And I’ve always gone in with a mentality that I’ll engage with industry in some capacity as well when I’m developing professional practice-based learning material.  

Laura: So what was the biggest challenge of implementing these students as partners project? 

Rob: Not doing it yourself. At times I did want to jump in. But maybe depending on your mood, you might be a better or not so good facilitator. But the challenge was a lot of the students that came in didn’t necessarily want to do it. They felt that there was the only real option to get a placement so they could graduate. So that was the case for probably half or more of the students going into it. But I guess the upside was seeing how much most of them invested in it and really found the value in it pretty quickly. Um, we had to adapt as we went along as well. I guess to me I just treated it like any other team that I’ve worked in and I was managing that team and so a lot of time involved with it. We’d probably put a few hours a week into it, working with the students. It’s not like a class where you’ve kinda might have a little bit of distance like these people, you’re working intimately with them. And they’ll come to quite regularly, but use of Teams, getting them to try and encourage them to have their own team meetings outside of you and you’re starting to teach them that concept of an escalation process where you work with your peers first before you then go work it out before you have to get your boss. If you tried to develop some of that professional environment as well. Yeah, it’s a challenge in a university environment to do that with students. But that was probably one of the challenges. But we worked through it. We didn’t get all the outcomes we wanted either, I suppose as I said before, the time constraint, how long it actually takes to do some of this stuff. We really had to get a good 24 weeks out of a couple of students to get really good outcomes, which is hard to get that investment in time from the students as well. So yeah, but there’s a lot of resource there, a lot of good information that we can draw upon now and even manipulate in our own way is to try and make it fit not retrofit but fit the needs that we have particular units and stuff as well. So it’s been really helpful sort of process.  

Laura: Are you planning on continuing something similar to this?  

Rob: Yeah. Just I won’t do it to the scale of 10 at once again. That was sort of a COVID necessary kind of approach. It took a lot of time, as I said. But yeah, we’re still we still got one student with us now. And almost I look, I’ve even outside of professional practicing some technical realms, I’ve started working with students in a similar way. But I guess what’s been really encouraging is other academics in the School of picked it up as a bit of a process as well. So Ellen Moon is doing some work for open education to create some open education resources to support outreach, e.g. and she’s confronted similar challenges with getting students to realise they’re in a workplace environment. I guess that’s a challenge for any internal placement I suppose if people ever taken a bit is a challenge that we’ve had, but it’s been good to say out as sort of picking it up. Even in terms of looking at different skill sets for manufacturing and things like that, that David Morton, Andrew Newton have looked at as well. It’s been really good. They’ve sort of the same model,  

Laura: That’s a really good outcome to have such an impact.  

Rob: I’ve read it in a bit of literature. There’s some folks out there. I can’t remember the author at the moment, but they do talk about how students as partners programs on a small-scale can have some good institutional impact as well. It helps bring others along. I suppose in my role where I’m trying to help. I guess embed a bit of a culture of professional practice within the school. It’s nice to see other academics sort of taking it seriously and also wanting to engage in some things that don’t necessarily show up as your traditional metrics I suppose, but they, they come out as being really rewarding and getting great outcomes in terms of teaching and learning. I think it’s great.  

Laura: When people approach you, when your colleagues approach to ask more on this one, What’s your advice for them? What advice would you give anyone thinking about implementing this?  

Rob: Make sure you’ve got the time to do it would be the first thing. That’s pretty much everything I’ve discovered in the last three years is basically got the time to do it. But don’t be afraid to do it. I guess there’s a lot of people wonder. We do a lot of industry engagement to try and get research or whatever. But I haven’t had a single person’s saying no in terms of industry engagement to support learning. And this is a really low risk, low, I guess low effort way for industry to engage, to support learning is to just have somebody to interview them, record it. If you really want to use it for research, go through the appropriate ethics processes as well. But we’re really just using this to inform our teaching and learning and give some students a good experience in the meantime. So, yeah, don’t be afraid to ask those people in your network or ask your broader network just to say, Hey, you’re happy to talk to some students. And some of the students have gotten good networks out of this and have gotten jobs as a result of people they’ve met like this. It’s a really good networking exercise the other way. So yeah, just make sure you’ve got the time and then don’t worry about getting it right. Just do it.  

Laura: That’s great advice. Thank you very much, Rob for being with us today and for sharing your experience.  

Rob: Hopefully it’s helpful for others, but yeah, if anyone wants to contact me, they can tell you can look me up. Don’t know how you share people’s contact details through your podcast, a blog post yet, so it will be there.  

Rob: Awesome.  

Laura: Thank you, Rob.  

Rob: No worries. Thank you. 

15 November 2022

Last modified: 29 May 2023 at 2:47 pm

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