Did we work with the wind? A reflection from our students

A spoon taking out a piece of pudding.

Working with the wind, published in early 2021, detailed the pandemic-related delivery and assessment changes made to AVBS1002 Animal Management, a semester 2 unit of study that I coordinate. These changes were made in an effort to increase student engagement and investment in a heavily practical unit despite COVID-19 restrictions. So now, one year on, we reflect on these changes and how students received them in their next iteration in order to look forward to 2022. In the spirit of near-cheesy references let’s call last year’s article the ingredients and this article the pudding tasting.

Our ingredients for the Animal Management Unit (AVBS1002) were:

  1. To refresh how we delivered content to take our students to our farms and be flexible with our lectures
  2. To change how we assessed students so that progress (or required help) could be followed and detected early
  3. To change the layout of the home page to facilitate engagement by students and to ensure that requirements were clear
  4. To link unit content with career – to instil a purpose for learning.

We reflect on 2021 by surveying our students, with their answers provided here.

Did the provision of pre-recorded lectures alongside weekly live Q&A sessions decrease or increase the interaction you had with your lecturers?

In semester 1 we surveyed students as to their preference for lecture delivery. An overwhelming majority stated that they would prefer pre-recorded lectures, providing flexibility for these uncertain times. Due to this preference I introduced live weekly Q&A sessions to enable interaction for students with myself/other lecturers. From our student response reflecting on the year, this shift from live lectures to a mixed delivery of pre-recorded lectures and live questions increased interaction between staff and students:

  • “I was able to work through the content at my own pace while also having a place where I could ask any questions that I had”
  • “The pre-recorded lectures gave us time to absorb all the information before the live sessions. This helped us to engage more with the content during the live sessions as there was more understanding rather than diving straight into discussion”
  • “The content was delivered well and in good detail, with information taught during the prerecorded lectures and then questions answered during the weekly Q & A sessions”
  • “It was nice to see a variety of lecturers presenting their own topics with so much passion. The Q&A sessions greatly increased this interaction as well as we got to know Cameron, our coordinator very well which was rare within this years online environment”

Do you feel like the spreading of assessments through the semester with no end exam enable you to better track your academic progress, provide feedback on how you were progressing and ultimately achieve greater learning?

Alongside the previous concern we also anticipated decreased levels of participation/engagement and an associated decrease in the uptake and understanding of information that was delivered. To enable early intervention, continued learning through the year, and workload spread, we increased the number of assessments. This also meant a reduction in the weighting of each assessment. All responses viewed this ‘spreading’ of assessments positively:

  • “The set out for the assignments was way less stressful which then lead me to achieving a better result overall”
  • “It allowed me to be updated on the content as we moved along rather than having one exam at the end of the session where content from the earlier weeks may have been forgotten”
  • “We were able to view our marks and feedback bi-weekly, we could track our progress and overall academic achievements in the course. the assessments and quizzes were good and well spread out”
  • “I found this to be very beneficial”
  • “It was so much easier to reflect on mistakes and improve on them (whilst seeing results) due to the ongoing assessments. The lack of end of semester exam i think aided our learning as there was less cramming of knowledge and more deeper understanding of content as we went through it.”

Did the layout of the Canvas home page and drop-in sessions help with your engagement with AVBS1002, with your planning on completing required tasks in the unit, and encourage interaction with your peers?

The diversity of AVBS1002 in terms of both lecturers and topics requires that the Canvas content is presented in a way that ensures expectations, due dates, and information are easily found. Alongside the Educational Innovation team we designed a dynamic home page that was updated each week with all information required just one click away. In addition I held a drop-in session each week with an open agenda for any questions, and for our weekly guests to attend. A special thanks here to our Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott for his participation in these sessions, and to Professor Peter Doherty whose attendance was well received and very timely. Responses to this question ranged from somewhat to yes:

  • “I was able to interact with the teacher and students when I needed to”
  • “It was very easy to navigate the content from the current weeks as it was the first thing you saw when you opened the avbs1002 canvas page. The breakdown of lectures as well the due dates for the assignments and tests in that particular week was all in one place so it was very convenient. The discussion page was also very easy to access, therefore allowing for easy engagement with peers.”
  • “The layout was very well thought of.”
  • “The tabs for different sections made moving around the home page easy and self explanatory, which helped with engagement and completing tasks in AVBS1002 as there was no confusion .”
  • “The task section was really effective to help us plan our time.”

The Animal Management Unit is designed to provide a base for your degree, a broad understanding about production animal systems, health/welfare and genetics. What would you adjust in the teaching of the unit to improve your learning?

With a year’s hindsight and students a little more experienced with online learning we wanted to find out whether students understood the goals of the unit, and felt that they were being effectively met. Responses confirmed that these goals had been met, and also offered suggestions for next time:

  • “Nothing that I can think of, it was well laid out and greatly adapted to the online learning environment”
  • “The only thing I would like the request is decreasing the amount of content for each week. A lot of weeks had content that went over 6/7 hrs inclusive of the tutorials. This was very difficult to take in as the assignments were biweekly. Other than that this was a wonderful, engaging unit and I am very happy to have completed it!”
  • “I think everything was good, maybe less time for the lectures and/or add in more timeslots for lectures in the timetable so that students can have better time management”
  • “I genuinely cant think of anything, it was put together so well and was extremely engaging. My favourite subject.”

So, on reflection, our plan worked. On a personal note, I really enjoyed engaging with the AVBS1002 Animal Management students in 2021. Having said all of this we still have work to do, and more focused lecture time directly linked to hands-on practical experience will be the focus of 2022, building on the above.

A big shout out here to my Animal Management students who completed yet another survey for this reflection and to Dr Alix Thoeming from Educational Innovation for her sage advice and outstanding guidance through 2021.. To all my teaching and co-ordination colleagues, here’s hoping for smooth sailing in 2022 and may all your puddings taste great. I’d love to read your recipe here on Teaching@Sydney, or you can contact me on [email protected]

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