Transforming Business Education Through Connected Learning – Part 3

In the final part of this blog series, we explore the ways in which the University of Sydney Business School (USBS) developed strategic pedagogical approaches to crack the critical questions posed in part 1: How do designers and educators move away from the didactic pedagogies that teaching-at-scale can privilege and towards a more social, connected pedagogy? How do we design an education that counters the pedagogical influence of institutional space, systems, and expectations that ‘rust on’ one-to-many teaching models? How do we design experiences that help students to make, use and leverage connections to develop employable graduates and leaders for good?

This post will look at the purposeful curriculum design and approaches taken by the USBS over the past three years through the deployment of challenge-based curricula, active teaching and learning, authentic assessment, and a deeper understanding of what we mean by connected learning in the context of business education. For a detailed description of the philosophy behind our approaches, you can read part 2 of this series.

The Connected Learning at Scale Project

The intention of the Connected Learning at Scale (CLaS) project is to create multiple opportunities and spaces where knowledge and skills are shared by staff, students, the community, and the university, to engage in the making, leveraging and application of connections throughout their journey. No single connection is more valuable, more lasting, or more impactful. It is the social process of connecting that matters. It is the social process of being connected through the exploration of the existential crises and challenges that shape our lives that matter. Developing leaders for good who value connection and collaboration matters, not just to the student but to employers, the community, and to society.

The ambition of the Connected Learning at Scale project is to change education and the student experience in the Business School, incorporating all our programs, units, and students, in order to:

  1. Move from the coping with scale model to a designed for scale approach.
  2. Design and deliver an ecosystem of change that deploys ‘a many sizes fits many contexts’ strategic approach.
  3. Reimagine each aspect of the teaching, learning and assessment experience to embed connected learning natively through the program, and in the higher -order qualities acquired by students.
  4. Make this change in a way that clearly engages and partners with students, industry, and academics in a community of co-design.

How are we doing this?

  1. To move from a coping with scale model to a designed for scale approach
    • We recruited a truly multifunctional, hybridised team of educational developers, learning designers, media makers and technologists, in both academic and professional roles to support program teams through complex, customised and challenging change.
    • We changed the modes of delivery in core units away from the use of repetitious streams, repeated lectures, and disconnected delivery. This was a difficult process because these were rusted into programs, teaching identity, rooms, timetables, and student expectations.
    • We began the process of developing our connected learning at scale educational development and design process.
  1. To design and deliver an ecosystem of change that deploys a ‘many sizes fits many contexts’ strategic approach
    • We are designing ecosystems of complex and interactive networks of activity to engage the widest span of the community in addressing critical pedagogical challenges. These ecosystems are driven by relationships, the creation of multiple points of entry in, multiple safe places to land and the rewarding of connection.
    • The teaching, learning and assessment of each unit are designed to suit the needs of the cohort, the affordances of the discipline, the skills of the staff and delivered the broader principles of the project.
    • We are applying more complex and nuanced understandings of what connection means, how connections are formed, the importance of making connections between students, the academy, the disciplines, and society. Most critically, how do these connections become visible and valuable in teaching, learning and assessment in and between units?
    • We are building a support network of synchronous and asynchronous resources, guides, examples, cases, testimonies, and mentors to help staff and students transition safely and confidently.
  1. To reimagine each aspect of the teaching, learning and assessment experience to embed connected learning natively through the program, and in the higher-order qualities acquired by students
    • We approached the redesign of units with three critical principles in mind:
      • Moving from knowledge transmission to information engagement (lectures/streams),
      • Moving from singular and passive learning to connected interactions and active learning (lectures/tutorials/seminars),
      • Moving from delayed and repeated assessment to relevant and aligned assessment, feedback, and feed forward (assessment).
    • We apply these changes to the context of using business education to understand, interpret and solve critical global, local, and personal challenges.
    • The capabilities, transdisciplinary skill and knowledge and experiences that create leaders for good are identified (highly prominent in our Leading in a Post-Crisis World units).
    • We are redesigning spaces for learning to transform the way in which spaces can define activity, the ways in space dictate degrees of interaction and space privileges physical presence.
  1. To make this change in a way that clearly engages and partners with students, industry, and academics in a community of co-design, we
    • understand, share and deeply embed the student voice, their digital stories and the intersections of their work, life, play and learning (see our Work, Live, Play, Learn and Co-Lab projects)
    • bring students into the curriculum design process in meaningful ways, both synchronously and asynchronously
    • enable ‘students as producers’ projects to develop skills in multimedia and digital narrative making.

CLaS Principles

Connected Learning at Scale is built on three principles. We use these principles through the curriculum redesign and transformation process, to inform how we design teaching learning and assessment as well as a lens for the design of the holistic educational ambitions of the Business School more widely (in programs such as our student life and extra-curricular activity). Originally designed in 2018, these principles were the foundations of transforming our large core units of study. When the pandemic forced an online pivot, they were critical in defining how we would deliver online learning rapidly, effectively, and in ways that ameliorated the impacts of social isolation, the loss of the campus as a site of connection, and the fleeting interactions that come from face-to-face university life. They were deployed in part or in full across hundreds of units of study over the course of three weeks and have become a critical foundation of our hybrid design for the new normal of a post-pandemic landscape.

Principle 1: Information Engagement

In this principle, students both individually and collectively engage, challenge, create and interact with discipline knowledge and skills as opposed to having it broadcast at them in a lecture.

The Design Intention of Principle 1

Building on our existing experience in providing flipped content, we design and deliver a truly blended learning experience. We replace the existing repeated and didactic lecture content with interactive, engaging, and inspiring learning objects, aligned and sequenced to support different learning styles and paces. This sets the building blocks for the connected approach by providing for both the discipline-related and research-informed knowledge, and the skills to engage and connect with other learners and practitioners in the field. It recognises that knowledge is co-designed and interpreted collectively, drawing on, critiquing, and synthesizing different perspectives, ideas, research, theories, experiences, and practices.

In practice, this was realised through:

  • Transforming the lecture using multimedia, true flipped learning, developing interactivity and collaboration activities at scale.
  • Designing to provide student agency over navigating content, supporting students to choose their own pathways through the lecture.
  • Building large-scale teaching around the acquisition and sharing of multiple perspectives, rather than a singular figurehead or sage. This invites debate, discussion and engagement between students, academics, and practitioners.
  • Making learning through media truly synchronously asynchronous, where time, space and location don’t limit the capacity to connect and engage with information and each other.
  • Transforming our physical and virtual spaces to be truly agnostic, allowing for students and staff to define pedagogy and activity, rather than allowing the limitations of space to dictate it.

Principle 2: Connected Participation and Active Learning

Face-to-face teaching time, student learning activities and technology are leveraged to build connections and networks to address, debate, and solve critical global and local challenges through innovative pedagogical approaches.

The Design Intention of Principle 2

We will radically transform the face-to-face component of core units in the Business School, through a process of educational design involving socially constructed alignment, staff development, supported student-led learning, and innovative large-scale teaching pedagogies (students as producers, crowdsourcing, solving wicked problems, games-based learning, case studies, and technology-enabled collaboration and problem-solving). We develop innovative approaches to engagement within both large groups and in smaller tutorials and seminars. Engaging program teams as a collective and supported by educational designers, learning technologists and coordinators, the aim of this principle is to develop and embed connections between the large group developments in principle 1 and the larger teaching team delivering learning. This also develops approaches that allow students to create and leverage networks and connections outside the classroom, engaging with colleagues, knowledge in the cloud, their disciplines, and the research that informs them and their personal networks.

In practice, this was realised through:

  • Embedding critical global, local, and personal challenges within class activities, case studies, examples and group work transitioning away from abstract examples or traditional business education cases.
  • Immersing students in different pedagogical approaches including problem-based learning, crowdsourcing, playful learning, peer-based learning, and other emerging approaches.
  • Deploying technological interventions to support connected and active learning and build literacies and opportunities for students to select and use their own technologies for learning.
  • Developing lasting opportunities for students to develop trans-disciplinarity, the University graduate qualities and leadership for good throughout their learning journey.
  • Designing and evaluating transformative approaches to active learning at scale, transitioning these engagements from the ‘tutorial’ to whole-of-cohort leveraging connections and capacity within and through the crowd.

Principle 3: Relevant and Authentic Assessment and Feed-forward

Learning is applied and tested through authentic assessment modes supported by opportunities to receive and share relevant, critical, and affecting feedback and feed-forward from both academics their peers.

The Design Intention of Principle 3

Ensuring alignment with the School and University policies on assessment and feedback, we take a holistic approach to the redesign of assessment, submission, and feedback. Using technology-enabled methods of assessment and feedback where appropriate, this principle will enable authentic design of assessment across units of study. It aligns assessment with the principles of connected learning, enabling an assessment experience built on principles of interactivity, application, engagement, and collaboration. Students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge, skills, and connections to the understanding, analysis, and solving of critical global, local, and personal challenges. Staff are supported to provide better, more timely, and useful authentic feedback to learners and ensure that learners are adequately prepared for assessment but equally are enabled to take responsibility for how they engage in that assessment.

In practice, this was realised through:

  • Reducing the reliance on memory and compliance tests and assessments that reward repeating content back at the marker and encourage contract tutoring and ghost-writing behaviours.
  • Increasing the use of open book and application-based instruments across different forms of assessment, placing value on the skills of critical analysis, collective intelligence and applying theory and scholarship to practice.
  • Increasing the assessment contexts and cases produced by the Business School aligned with the exploration and solving of critical global, local, and personal challenges.
  • Improving the quality of feedback by deploying innovative technologies, developing staff to provide better and more timely feedback, piloting peer feedback and redesigning assessment to take advantage of the affordances of formative assessment, lower stakes summative assessments and progressive assessment at scale (reducing the reliance on high-stakes, post-teaching assessment items without feed-forward).

The Connected Learning at Scale project is now three years into its implementation. In a post-pandemic world, the ambitions of the project have expanded exponentially to find ways to transform all the units at the Business School, irrespective of their size. The Connected Learning at Scale model and the learnings from the project are being used to redesign learning and teaching spaces, altering the dynamics of front to back teaching rooms, changing perceptions of scale and achievable outcomes within large spaces, and rethinking how a block of teaching time can be redefined within newly designed spaces.

The evaluation of the impacts of the project is nascent but ongoing. We know student satisfaction metrics in transformed units are going up. The success of the first phase of the project has led to the Business School pushing the boundaries on design, innovation, and delivery of online and hybridised units. We are engaging pedagogical innovation to expose new markets through disrupting the established model of post-experience education. The project has helped the Business School learn from the pandemic years to design the post-crisis student experience and begin to understand and address the critical issues of social isolation, disconnection, and lack of a sense of belonging caused by the pandemic. But perhaps most importantly, it has enhanced the possibilities of transformative business education to make a difference to students, the university, and the economy/society at large. This approach is creating business, not as usual.

Feature image by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash

Published by Peter Bryant

Associate Dean Education and Co-Director of the Co-Design Research Group

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