Learning and Teaching Conference: the hidden curriculum

Discusses the presentation of hidden curriculum and how it might be overcome in our own practice.

One presentation at the conference stood out for me as it sought to help students overcome transition to university from school in a way which we often don’t think about. The presenters use of TEL would help overcome any barriers for students developing their ‘academic identity’ in belonging to the university, and gave me some ideas about how we could integrate their ideas in our courses.

EPIC: SELLL’s answer to enculturing undergraduates in academia

Dr Heike Pichler and Dr Rebecca Woods, SELLL (in addition, others from SELLL were involved in the project), discussed the hidden curriculum and what can be done to expose it to students. ‘Hidden‘ is because we don’t make it explicit in our curriculae.

The hidden curriculum consists of all the unofficial expectations academia has of their students, including an expectation that they will speak our academic language. We expect students to know what we are talking about when we use university jargon. For instance, how many students know what a DPD is when they arrive in Fresher’s Week? We talk about modules, but we don’t necessarily mean the same thing as ‘modules’ in Canvas which they meet as soon as they join a course.

The presenters have come up with a solution:’EPIC’. Part of this project is a jargon-buster, acting as a glossary for acronyms most academics take for granted, some very specific to SELLL. You can find it on their school blog: https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/epic/jargon-buster/

Image shows Jargonbuster from EPIC

So where would this fit with technology use in FMS? A simple solution would be to put our own glossary on our Canvas induction areas or school blogs. How about an icebreaker in induction week to get students involved in finding out what our acronyms mean? Perhaps a Padlet embedded in Canvas for students to post their long versions.

Another aspect of the hidden curriculum the presenters flagged is assessment: do our students know what we mean when we ask them to write reports/essays/presentations/lay presentations etc? Being fluent in academic language and competent in the activities of academia is likely to increase success rates. We can use our Canvas assignment pages to make explicit what we expect them to do in terms of their output, and signpost where they can get help with study skills and writing development at the library (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/resources-and-study-support/). Of course, that doesn’t mean students will actually read our materials, but it may be helpful.

Using discussion boards

Discussion boards seem like a good idea, especially when students are distant to campus as posts should be able to increase collaboration as well as socialisation. But so often students fail to use them despite the work staff put in to set them up. So how can we engage our students to post on the online discussions?

What are your goals?

Before you set up a discussion board, consider what your goals are, as well as what the students might expect to get out of using the discussion board. Are you trying to check student knowledge and understanding? Develop better contact/collaboration between members of your group as a community? Answering queries? All of these and more…

Decide what you and your students should get out of discussion board use, and then think of tasks accordingly. For example, you could start with an icebreaker board to help socialisation, not necessarily related to the course, such as ‘using the student lists provided, contact two other group members and with their co-operation find out and post two facts that no-one else will know about them’. This promotes a feeling of safety when posting; without this safety students seem as shy as when being asked to talk in class.

For knowledge and understanding activities it is better to use reflective tasks rather than knowledge answers which may end up very similar to each other. For student questions on course content, and especially assessment, set up boards which can be contributed to anonymously: this provides a safe space without risk of ridicule.

Example of discussion boards in Canvas

Manage expectations

If you expect students to contribute to the discussion boards, tell them so, both in synchronous sessions and on Canvas. But make it easy for them to contribute by having tasks which encourage participation. Boards which students know will contribute to learning for assessment are likely to receive more posts. If you just ask for knowledge answers, the answers tend to be given in full by keen students, with later posts being ‘ditto’ rather than useful commentary, so make them apply their knowledge in some way.

Also remind them about netiquette; good manners online is just as important as in face-to-face situations. This also contributes to the idea of a safe space for posting in.

Teaching presence

When you set up your discussion boards you need to decide how much input you need, and are able, to provide. No input is not an option if you expect students to post because it is demotivating as a student to not receive some sort of feedback or encouragement. As part of expectations management, let students know how often you will look at the board, and if you will provide class or individual feedback. If you have a large class you won’t have time to read every post. You might like to consider putting students into groups with a spokesperson in each group to summarise the group’s posts for you to read. Or get students to peer review each others’ comments. You can weave their answers into one feedback post.

When you comment, try to keep the discussion going, rather than just providing the answer which tends to kill any further discussion: think commas rather than full stops. Ask open questions to keep the discussion moving on, and make it human (‘I always find this difficult….’ when the class is struggling).

Discussion board example (used with permission): ask questions to elicit further responses

You will always have some students who ‘lurk’, failing to post anything at all themselves. You can minimise this by making the discussion boards a safe space for posting, and providing encouragement to participate with enthusiasm for the subject and student contributions.

Overall, discussion boards are a useful tool to keep an eye on student learning and engagement, although they do require much staff input to ensure student participation.

Copyright

The cross-university LTDS Flexible Learning 2020 course has information for everyone on copyright at this link. But there are some aspects likely to be more specific for FMS which are discussed here.

Copyright
Copyright is the legal right of the creator of an original work to the exclusive rights for its’ use and distribution. It does not protect an idea though, just the expression of an idea whether they are in the form of a journal article, a book, an image, a video or any other media.

This means that you may not indiscriminately use any image or other media you find online.

Don’t run the risk of legal action; check provenance and obtain permission!

Creative Commons

When media are marked ‘Creative Commons’ or ‘CC’ this means that you are allowed to use the material with provisos according to licence type, whilst the creator retains the copyright of the material.

Creative Commons has a searchable database where you can look for materials which are legal to be used under CC licences; you can find it at this link. It covers YouTube, Wikimedia Commons and Flickr amongst others. Canvas has a searchable database of CC images, to access these select ‘Unsplash’ when you click the image icon in the text editor.

There are different types of licence which govern what you are allowed to do with the material, shown in this video:

Other free sources of images

There are several searchable databases where you can find images for use in courses. Some of these are detailed below, which may be of interest to bioscientists and medics.

Wellcome Images

The Wellcome Image library has thousands of images available under CC licences, from historical medical images through to electron micrographs. Their website is at this link.

Getty Images

Some Getty Images are available for free via this link.

You will need an account, and you are only allowed to embed certain editorial images for non-commercial use; however there are still plenty to choose from! The embed option (</>) is present when you click on the image if you are allowed to use it; see red circle in image below:

Copy the embed code and paste into Canvas.

Images without an embed code must be paid for.

Radiopaedia

This provides a huge collection of X-rays which can be used for free, as well as articles and diagrams. The website is at this link.

Public domain

Some materials are in the public domain which means they can be freely used. It is polite to attribute these materials to their author.

Most images created by employees of the USA government are in the public domain, e.g. those from the National Institutes of Health.

Some materials are so old that the copyright has run out (more than 70 years). A good example of this is Gray’s Anatomy, available online at this link.

Rightslink

If you cannot find a free source you will need to obtain permission for use of images. This will sometimes require a budget.

Journals which are not Open Access (most of these are Creative Commons, but do check because not all have their images as CC) often have a ‘request permissions’ button, as shown circled in red on the BMJ below.

Image showing 'permissions' button for an online journal article
This image is used with permission! (logged as 18797960 [ ref:_00D205YOi._500D01fS0ch:ref ] on 20.2.2018).

This will take you to a Rightslink login; you can create an account for free and this will allow you to say what you want to use the image for, and what type of institution we are: despite charging for courses we are a non-commercial institution. Complete the dropdown boxes, then find out from ‘Quick price’ whether the licence is free or not, and act according to your budget. Remember to print the licence or at least store the licence electronically as well as filing the email you will be sent as well.

The licence will tell you the wording to use beside the image. An example can be found here: NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP LICENSE

Other permissions

Other permissions may be harder to obtain due to lack of attribution. If created by a named academic they can generally be tracked down to their institution and if you email them permission is often readily given; hopefully we would be as obliging if the request was made to us.