24 June 2012

Am I really "teacher centred"?

But is it really student centred?

Many reforms introduced under the theory of student centred learning, can sometimes result in more teacher centric realities.  This may still represent a net improvement, but it is at best misleading, and at worst theoretically dishonest to the original intention.

The institute I work for is a large capital city-based TAFE delivering a higher education professional degree. The classroom contains a majority of international students, many of Confucius learning backgrounds.  The institution has an open access policy, with no minimum ATAR scores (High School) or academic hurdles to entry. The largely non academically inclined cohort of students display a strong preference passive learning styles and strongly avoid tutorial room discussion at all costs.  This reflective report will review the feedback and reassess some of the teaching and assessment strategies that are in place for Advanced Accounting Theory.  The problems and solutions encountered are a product of the teaching and learning context. 

Accounting History is more
interesting than you might think
This subject has undergone some intensive reforms over the past 3 years, however reflection undertaken as part of the Tertiary Teaching Practice module has demonstrated that some of these changes may need to be re-evaluated.  Originally the course was 1 hour lectures and 2 hour tutes. The lectures were too short and the tutes boring. To avoid the long silences, the tutorial was compressed into 1 hour.  The peer review of tutes commented that as teacher I posed questions and went on to answer them.  Although strongly teacher centred, this delivery method was deemed appropriate for this cohort as students had previously commented that the teacher’s reasoning was more valuable than their own understandings built of their own construction.  The compressed “1 hour of power” timeframe meant students were more likely to try and write down “the answer” rather than weakly discuss some concept and neglect to record anything.  Thus, despite the strongly passive delivery, student engagement lifted dramatically. This is adjustment to teacher centred delivery consistent with the experience of Arenas (2009).

Potential Solutions 

How can we maintain the engagement levels but simultaneously give students the chance to find their own critical voice?  Any proposal needs to consider structuring learning sufficiently to cater for the academically less prepared cohort of students, including specific consideration for students’ preference for effort avoidance strategies.


The current “1 hour of power” tutorial should be retained in its current format.  It builds engagement and demands attention.  Although it is strongly “Level 2” style teaching (Biggs & Tang, 2011, pp. 18-20), this meets the needs of the academically less prepared in the classroom and provides the structure for learners who need it most.  Many in the classroom are comfortable[1] with it, and although brief, it is an efficient method.

The flip model 

Lecture this
In semester 1, 2013 I plan to introduce a “flipped classroom” (Sams & Bergmann, 2011), as made famous by the Khan’s 2011 TED Education talk (2011).  The basic concept is that online video lectures were set for homework, and the homework activities were performed in the classroom.  This enables better teacher student interaction during class time as the teacher can now focused on students.

My proposal is to scrap the 2 hour face to face lectures all together. Lectures are moved completely online as video delivery (see diagram).  This frees up 2 hours weekly which can become a truly student focused activity period.  Attendance during this time is (for the most part) optional. The activity 2 hour would be timetabled as a lecture, so it enables time for an introductory lecture face to face in week one, a mid semester test, and a face to face final review lecture.

Click image to enlarge
There is a need to ensure that students have actually interacted with the lecture prior to coming to the tutorial to address questions. Online checkpoint tests are the perfect tool to ensure engagement on a weekly basis.  Therefore, students would need to watch the video and pass a small online multiple choice based question test at the conclusion of the video.  Students would be granted unlimited number of attempts at the test.  Questions would be randomised to ensure that the test remains valid. 

Students must have 80% attendance at in order to qualify for a supplementary examination.  The strongly vocational culture of this institution is that of measuring “learning inputs” such as attendance.[2]  Critically, attendance would be only recorded at the tutorial.  To ensure engagement, only students who have passed the online test would be permitted into the tutorial room, and others who have not engaged would be banned[3] for that week (Mazur, 1997).[4]   Administratively, this is not difficult to achieve as the teacher would be able to print off a list from the LMS as to who may be admitted, and who may not.

As the checkpoint tests are hurdles to attendance but no longer form part of the final grade, the incentive to collude is effectively removed.  In fact, allowing for student collusion was part of the original intentions of the test structure (Wong, 2011).  Even still, interactive activity session will more explicitly address goals of student collaborative learning (Biggs & Tang, 2011, pp. 132-157).

The “flip model” is serendipitously optimised for online and distance delivery.  The Bachelor of Accounting program is also to be delivered under a joint venture arrangement with Metropolitan Southern Institute of TAFE with Holmesglen.  The delivery of integrated online lectures and localised adaptive tutorial support means consistency of learning outcomes delivered supported by genuine teacher contact. 

Activity period

The 2 hours of scheduled lecture now free, can be used to conduct true student oriented activities, group discussion, introductory and some of this revision lectures, and mid-semester test.  There needs to make intentional change of atmosphere in order to contrast with the teacher centred tutorial.  Activity period would be optional to attend, with exception of its mid semester tests (outlined below).

Formative meta-assessment

Students give feedback and grade
past students.  They get marked
on their marking, and marked  on
the quality of their feedback.
Since students do not always naturally teach each other, how can encourage peer assisted learning and at the same time guarantee a high quality delivery and that students stay “on message”? Poor examination performance can often be explained by either the students struggle to understand the concept, or poor examinations technique.  In order to cover both areas, we could let student play the role of teacher and provide feedback to other students.  Currently I publish all previous final examinations and include facsimile student exam answers as examples.  It is easy to turn these into actual assessment questions themselves. 

I propose a new form of assessment which I call “formative meta-assessment”[5]. The student is presented with three items: a question, an answer and a rubric.  The question is drawn from a former final exam question from a previous semester, the answer is of a pass standard and is provided by a student who has already pass the course, and the grading rubric assist them numerically gauge the quality of the answer.  The current student must then judge the appropriate grade for the former student, the answer provide feedback on any good points, and items missed.  The students’ grade received will depend on both the grade they award, and the quality of feedback provided.  This formative assessment could be administered at 2 points through the semester, each iteration would be weighted at 10% each, for a total of 20% final marks.

Click image to enlarge
Students would receive examples on the LMS, and also would have a chance to have a “dry run” during activity period in the preceding week.  Students must think critically about their own answers that they will give in the final examination.  This requires that the current student understands both the original content question, and also what makes for good exam technique. 

Formative meta-assessment is constructively aligned, as there is a task in class which directly applies to the assessment itself, which is then good preparation for the final examination.  It also builds engagement, as students are effectively forced to study early, rather than leaving it all to last minute.

Potential problems

These reforms are not without potential downsides, primarily student workload creep. Simply piling more stuff onto the students does not necessarily mean better outcomes. Effectively, student contact just increased by 2 hours a week but deceptively, most students will believe workload decreased as they will focus on the words “non compulsory” activity session.  Likewise student assessment just increased by two mid-semester examinations.

Increasing workload and further lifting student engagement may mean this subject steals attention from study in other subjects.  This can be either negative (fear of failure) or a positive (attention grabbing engagement). Either way at some point the students’ attention becomes a zero sum resource and other teachers may complain.

It is also difficult to test of efficacy of these measures as outcomes are biased by the cohort, and there is no control group.  Student may complain about access and equity as they are disadvantaged by having to perform the online checkpoint tests.  The Khan Academy model could also be criticised for being yet more teacher centric – not less.  Likewise the student centred approach is also questionable where the teacher used their cohesive imbalance of power to enforce what they believe is in students’ bests interests (Doherty & Singh, 2005).


This document describes a third major round of reforms for this subject.  The report is largely an active planning tool, more than strictly a reflective essay on current practices.  The praxis of teaching means that good planning necessitates reflection in order to guide and subsequently measure improvements.  Without this reflection, the bias towards teacher centred practices would have gone unnoticed and no improvements could have been made.

[1] Although “comfort” isn’t an excuse to permit laziness from both teacher and student alike.
[2] Students continuously harass me about not taking attendance, as they (are trained to) feel that they should be rewarded for simply showing up.
[3] Subject to special consideration or mitigating circumstances
[4] Alternatively, students who had not passed the test, could be admitted, but would not have their attendance recorded.  This is good for inclusivity, but is a weak incentive for economically rational individuals with strong preference to effort avoidance, and high intertemporal discount factors.  

21 June 2012

New identity

Identity 123

Tetracarbon now has a new home - www.tetracarbon.com! and a new email address Phillip@tetracarbon.com

Easy as playing with Lego
The most amazing thing about all of this is how easy and cheap it has become to buy a domain and set up websites. I have to say, I am VERY impressed with Google Sites and the range of Google services which they pretty much give away. It's only $10 for the domain name and the rest of it you can use drag and drop editing. 

Now I personally appreciate a bit of code, but it's a pain in the ass to type out thousands of lines of code. 2 hours of clicking and I have a new site, new domain and email address, new admin, FTP servers, all for $10! I also have a new set of business cards on the draft, but this is thanks to  Photoshop and not to Google. 

It's never been easier to publish and get heard. So what then makes it so hard for most people to have a voice? Moreover why are we still allowing textbook publishers and academic journal publishers to dictate to use how information must be organised. 

One of Karl Marx's key ideas was taking the means of production away from the owners of capital and putting it back into the hands of workers. Funny how capitalism has given me just that! 

-tetracarbon out