Lecturer Sofie Hondeghem has been using the Brightspace platform with her second-year Bachelor’s students on the Economic English 2 course. The course is well-populated, with 450 students working in 12 parallel groups currently taking it. Along with Hondeghem, there are two other lecturers who teach the course. Hondeghem explains the difficulties this poses for feedback and marking.
“When I started teaching 15 years ago, the whole year was spent teaching. You would have one exam at the end of the year and that was marked manually, so you’d have a few weeks to mark all the exams.
“Now, teaching has changed. We’ve moved from simply imparting knowledge to teaching students skills. If you want to teach skills you have to offer the opportunity to practice, to perform peer evaluation and self-evaluation. If, as we did in the past, you aim to teach knowledge you can test a student once to get a snapshot of what they have learned up to that point. I think the way in which we are doing it now is better for students, more interesting and engaging. However, the work load for teachers has increased substantially.” — Lecturer Sofie Hondeghem, Ghent University.
With the University pushing forward an active learning teaching initiative, Hondeghem saw a prime opportunity to manage the marking and feedback work without compromising on the quality of the learning experience for her large number of students.
“In our second year we have focused on presentation skills and essay writing skills. Obviously, both of these are very intensive correction-wise. If you want to enable individual presentations, you have to organise many classes just to get them all scheduled. If you want students to write an individual essay you’d need you to correct that for 450 students. That’s not feasible.”
Utilising the Brightspace platform’s Groups functionality, Hondeghem and her colleagues split the them into groups of 100 students and, using the flipped classroom approach, had these group members access rich content such as videos within Brightspace.
“We used this approach when teaching the students about topic sentences,” explains Hondeghem. “We wanted to have some tasks performed individually, and some in groups to avoid joyriders,” [certain students relying on other members of their group to do all the work].
On the Brightspace platform, individual students would watch a video explaining the topic, and offering a few examples by way of demonstration, as well as providing a checklist of what constitutes a good topic sentence. Then they would perform multiple-choice exercises to identify the sentences in a paragraph. This then progressed to active writing, where learners would have to write the topic sentences themselves.
From there, each student would be asked to prepare an individual paragraph summarising an essay that they were to bring to class.
“In this model, the class itself becomes a workshop,” explains Hondeghem. “The groups read the outlines and filled out the checklist that we provided through Brightspace. At the end of the workshop, they had to choose one of those paragraphs as their group’s contribution, which they then uploaded to Brightspace.”
Using this flipped classroom approach and the Brightspace platform, Hondeghem condenses the work of 450 students into that of 100 groups—a far more manageable marking and feedback task for the three-strong teaching team.
“It’s already a lot easier for us correction-wise. With Brightspace, we are correcting group by group within the platform itself. There is no need to extract the information as a Word document. It’s much easier to give feedback.”
Hondeghem also praises the look of the Brightspace platform, as well as the more detailed trackable metrics it offers.
“The largest difference from our old LMS is layout. Brightspace is cleaner, more attractive and there are many templates to choose from. It’s a lot more useful. Also, there is the ability to track whether students are working in their modules or not. With our old learning platform, we could only check whether they had answered the questions correctly or incorrectly. Now we can see how many times they are performing the exercises and what mistakes they were making. These new, personalised metrics provide great value for us in understanding the individual strengths and weaknesses of our students.”
As part of the initial rollout, UGent encouraged Hondeghem to provide tips and run demos for other members of staff. She’s also beginning to experiment with the additional functionalities of the Brightspace platform.
“We have been also working with the discussion forums, monitoring threads where the students discuss things among themselves. In this way, we can step in to give direct feedback as necessary.”
Hondeghem is also planning to utilise rubrics, which allow a lecturer to establish set criteria for grading assignments, display the number of points students were awarded for each criterion after an assignment, and to provide customised feedback.
“Rubrics is something that is completely new. I’ve just made a rubric—which is a scoring guide used to evaluate the quality of student responses—and intend to use it in the next academic year. Based on the assignments I was correcting this year I drew up the variables and the criteria, and it looks like it’ll save us a lot of time and make the correcting a lot more efficient in the future. We’ve only begun experimenting with the features and as time goes on I see even more efficiency gains and more engaging experiences for the students.”