USING the group work page to engage sponsors

Written by:
Rebecca McKeown, Lecturer in Applied Psychology

My story:

The Organisational Development module forms part of the Information Capability Management MSc and is run once per year at Shrivenham.  The aim of the module is to provide students with the basis for using a systems thinking approach when considering the implementation of information systems within the wider organisational context.  For a number of years, the course has been run using flipped classroom principles e.g. Pre-reading consisting of the theory of systems thinking and introduction to a methodology, followed by practical implementation of the pre-reading during the taught component of the module.

The students were divided into groups of five and each given a ‘live’ case study – a problematic situation – then briefed by the sponsor who was either from the University or from an external organisation. During the taught week, the students were briefed on each stage then left to implement the methodology. At the end of the week, students present their results to the sponsors.  Mostly this has been successful with the sponsors getting some interesting results to consider and the students enjoy having a practical experience.  However, we have found that students were sometimes rushing through the methodology and missing things out.  We found it logistically difficult to spend time, in-between the teaching sessions, to coach each group sufficiently.  An ELF Module MOT offered up a solution – Mahara.


Image: Examples of student work in Mahara

Using Mahara as a place for students to record their progress throughout the week would enable to staff to see what was going on at each stage and provide timely and appropriate coaching.  We could also constantly give formative feedback very easily.

In addition to this, we cut down on the lectures so we didn’t duplicate any of the pre-reading. This gave the students more time to use Mahara and work on the case study.


Did it work?

Like a dream. We were able to access any of the groups work whenever we wanted.  This meant that we were able to provide written formative feedback for them to consider and implement immediately. We were able to keep a close eye on their progress and when we went to see them, we were able to coach appropriately and straight away rather than spending time finding out where they had got to. We felt that we were far more productive.

During the feedback session at the end of the module the students were unanimously in favour of the use of Mahara. They found it easy to use and appreciating having a template to guide them. Some students were cynical before the module, thinking it would be a waste of time and were quite happy to say the experience had completely changed their minds.

The sponsors liked having access to the Mahara page as it enabled them to communicate easily with the students throughout the week and to see progress.  They also felt it was good to have after the event as they will need to go back to the results as they implement change in their organisations. Previously they made notes during the presentation but didn’t have anything else.

My advice:

  1. Make sure you think carefully about why you are using Mahara and what ‘data’ you will want at the end of the exercise. We wanted to know what students were doing at each stage of the module but we also wanted them to be able to use the information from Mahara to write their essays. There was also a requirement for the sponsors to have permanent access to the pages and we had to consider their requirements too when designing the page.

  2. The students moaned about doing the Mahara Induction as part of their pre-reading as there was no explanation as to why they were being asked to do it. In future, I would explain the purpose of doing the exercise beforehand instead of in class.

  3. We found we needed a ‘secret area’ of Mahara. This came about because the groups wanted to store their raw data on Mahara but it would not be appropriate for sponsors to see that data. We resolved it by removing raw data from Mahara but, going forward, would like to see if this could be possible.

  4. During the ELF MOT we talked about assessing the Mahara page instead of asking the students to write an essay.  I asked the students what they thought of this idea at the end of the most recent module.  The answer was a surprising NO! They felt they would spend more time getting the Mahara page right than doing the work if it was assessed – it would detract from the learning experience.

  5. Videoing presentations: The sponsors would like to see this added to the page but the students were resistant to having it done on the module. Discussions during feedback showed that this was because they hadn’t received an adequate explanation of privacy etc, beforehand. We will introduce this properly next time.