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The Corporation Game: Learning and Teaching Evaluation

Industrial Design, Semester 2, 2005

Background
The Corporation Game (CG) was a studio conducted in Semester 2 for first year Industrial Design students. The studio was different to usual studios in the program in that its learning objectives were not solely focused on developing technical skills and determining a design solution to a problem or design brief. The course was modelled like a professional training schedule with a structured set of goals and used specific teaching techniques to encourage the development of higher level thinking and conceptual skills of the students studying the course.

At the end of the semester, twenty-two students claimed the CG had changed their lives. This report presents the findings of a study by the DSC Academic Services Group which investigated why students made this claim about their learning experiences in the course.

What we did

What we ascertained

What did the students say?

What did the teacher say?

What works, what could be improved?

Conclusion

References

References

Ballantyne, R., J. D. Bain & J. Packer (1999). ‘Researching university teaching in Australia: themes and issues in academics’ reflections’, Studies in Higher Education (24)2, pp 237-257.

Bolton, G. (2001). Reflective practice: writing and professional development. London: Paul Chapman, Sage.

Hager, P. (2005). ‘Philosophical accounts of learning’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 37(5), pp649-666.

Hativa, N., R. Barak & E. Simhi (2001). ‘Exemplary university teachers: knowledge and beliefs regarding effective teaching dimensions and strategies’. Journal of Higher Education (72)6, p699-725.

Miley, W. M. & S. Gonsalves (2005). ‘What you don’t know can hurt you: students’ perceptions of professors’ annoying teaching habits’. College Student Journal’ (37)3, pp 447-455.

Ramsden, P. (1994) Using Research on Student Learning to Enhance Educational Quality. http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/deliberations/ocsld-publications/isltp-ramsden.cfm (Accessed 7th March, 2006) Reproduced with permission from Gibbs, G. (ed.) Improving Student Learning – Theory and Practice. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff Development (1994).

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What we did

Overview
The Academic Services Group provides support to the portfolio’s academic and teaching staff in a variety of ways to improve learning and teaching practice in the classroom as well as extend the scholarship of teaching. In this instance, two members of the group were invited, as a neutral party, to investigate the learning experience of students in a design studio. We approached the study with the key objective of determining what the students believed had occurred in their learning experience of the course that had brought them to thinking their lives were changed. We contextualised the information we acquired from the students and teacher with our knowledge and expertise in the scholarship of teaching and the nature of good learning. This analysis then brought us to a scholarly understanding of what the students said they had experienced.

Methodology
Six students were invited to participate in a focus group. They were provided in advance with an outline of the issues that would be discussed. The preparatory questions were:
• what happened that was different to other studios you may have studied in,
• what you learnt (particularly now that you’ve had some time to reflect since you completed the studio),
• what you highly valued from the experience, and
• any suggestions for improvement?

Four students attended the focus group which was two hours in length. One student who was unable to attend provided some thoughtful responses around the issues in an email. The focus group discussions were semi-structured but generally followed the issues outlined above.

The teacher was informally interviewed twice, for one hour at a time. Each interview was structured around his narrative of his past and present experiences as a teacher and was interwoven with the influences and the beliefs he recognised underpinned his approach. We often asked him questions to clarify terminology, particularly as his language was grounded in ‘design’ speak, and ours in ‘teaching and learning’, to ensure we had the same understanding of meaning throughout the dialogue of the interview.

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What worked, what could be improved?

From our investigation of the students’ thoughts and the teacher’s reflections about the CG, we believe it is extremely essential that the approaches to learning introduced to the first year students in this course are maintained throughout the program to ensure their personal and disciplinary growth and development can be encouraged and cultivated as they progress through their degree. If these approaches to learning are not explicit in other courses, then it is important that at least some program support and concern is available to students to ensure they can continue their own learning journeys in whatever ways are appropriate to them.

We also recommend that in future renditions of the course that in order to help ensure all students (or as close to this as possible) are engaged and committed to the new approach of learning for the duration of the course that the objectives and intent for learning in this way are clear from the outset of the course. This could be further assisted by defining how the approach differs to previous teaching methods that students may have experienced and by explicitly referring to the awkwardness and discomfort to learners that may result. These conditions could be incorporated into the ‘fine print’ of the learning contract.

We also recommend that some refinement in how the blogs are used as a learning tool is required. They were, by his own admission, time consuming for the teacher to manage. Given that they have such exciting potential as tools for learning, a more productive and efficient application of blogs may be required to ensure the repeated teaching of the course is sustainable.

To further assure the quality of his teaching, the teacher may also choose to adopt an explicit reflective practice methodology in his approach to his teaching to further ensure, for his own integrity and satisfaction that his approach to teaching continues to remain strongly aligned with his personal beliefs and values. This approach can also provide an internal dialogue for confidently examining and questioning new strategies and approaches, as well as creating opportunities for articulating and sharing good practice with colleagues (Bolton, 2001).

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Conclusion

The students believed that their lives had changed and there is strong evidence from the data collected in this study to support and understand this declaration. The key reasons for the students to have made the claim appear to rest in the fact that the CG was educationally designed to encourage learning that did not focus on acquiring content and skills, but on deep learning where students were encouraged to think creatively and to explore ideas that were challenging and brought about some shift in personal values and beliefs.

We congratulate the teacher for his careful crafting of the course as a deep learning experience and challenge for discovery for his students.

We congratulate the students who accepted the challenge to learn deeply and discover ideas and capabilities for themselves and as a result emerge from the experience with highly valued and personally meaningful gains.

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What we ascertained

How does this align with the literature?
It was evident from the discussion with the students and the interviews with the teacher that a number of events and situations occurred in the course which enabled highly positive learning outcomes of a deep nature for the students. This conclusion is particularly strengthened when considering the views of Marton et al (1997) and Hager (2005) who pose that the highest level of good learning involves learners undergoing some change or development as a person and where learning is not just the development of “propositional understanding, but [also] cognitive, conative and affective capabilities” (Hager, 2005, p662). As well, Biggs (1999), in his analysis of deep learning includes the development of higher order thinking abilities such as analytical and conceptual capacities as desirable outcomes of good learning experiences.

In CG, the students demonstrated awareness of a number of significant personal changes and developments that they called ‘life changing’ and considered were a result of their experiences in the course. The changes they mentioned were cognitive and affective as well as having significant influence in reshaping values they held personally. Specifically, the changes they mentioned included their enhanced abilities to think creatively and confidently express ideas as well as recognising that they related with more respect and had more value for other students and their views. They also understood that they were developing a more sophisticated vocabulary for expressing their thoughts which increased their feelings of confidence.

Significantly, the students did not talk about knowing more, but talked about being challenged to consider issues from new perspectives. Ballanytne et al (1999) define this particular ability to know differently as a highly desirable learning outcome. Given that the objectives of the course were not to acquire content and skills, but to explore ideas and develop intellectual processes for thinking creatively, discovering and solving problems, these declarations of their learning outcomes are highly meaningful.

When talking about their experience of the CG, the students revealed many qualities of good teaching that they had experienced which resonate with the literature of good teaching. From their study, Miley & Gonsalves (2003) identify that students consider equality, respect, friendliness, accessibility and empathy to be highly desirable qualities of good teaching, each of which was mentioned by the students in CG. The students also alluded that their teacher was organised and enthusiastic, which are qualities considered by Miley & Gonsalves (2003) in their study to be positive indicators of good teaching.

In alignment with the national Course Experience Questionnaire indicators for good teaching, which is mentioned in this study because this survey is used to measure good teaching in the university, the teacher revealed that he paid particular attention to issues of ensuring appropriate workload, providing feedback and designing appropriate assessment for students. Also, in resonance with Ramsden’s (1994) qualities of good teaching, it was apparent the teacher was providing students with intellectual challenges, making them responsible for their learning, showing them respect and concern, understanding what students had learnt and what they needed learn, giving them feedback, monitoring the effects of his teaching and engaging in teaching as a conversation where students could learn and develop. The students’ positive comments about their experience of the learning contract model also suggest good learning outcomes that resulted from a direct intersection with a number of qualities of good teaching that specifically encouraged students to engage in independent learning and intellectual challenge as well as realise there was relevance and respect of their work.

In his narrative, the teacher also revealed qualities of good teaching that strongly resonated with the themes from narratives and insights of exemplary teachers from a study conducted by Ballantyne et al, (1999). These key themes included a love or enthusiasm for one’s discipline, valuing students and their perspectives and teaching to make learning possible (Ballantyne et al, 1999). In their discussion, the students particularly reinforced that they had experienced the qualities of feeling valued and respected and being in situations where they were able to learn.

The teacher designed the studio around the theme of a game and this in itself generated much fun and excitement for participants. The theme kept students intrigued and interested. They weren’t just being entertained in lectures but they were actively engaged in their own learning in the workshops and in the peripheral learning they undertook during the week. They recognised that the issues they were exploring in the CG were relevant and ones to which they could make connections to their own lives and experiences. Relevance and fun are also key qualities for good learning (Ballantyne et al, 1999; Marton et al, 1997).

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