Professional development for quality
enhancement of learning and teaching

Case Study - Report of the participatory action learning (PAL) project undertaken by the transnational teaching team of COMM331 Simulation of a Socially Innovative Enterprise

Overview

COMM331 Simulation of a Socially Innovative Enterprise is an interdisciplinary capstone subject in the Faculty of Business at UOW and at INTI. The core of the transnational subject is an online simulation. The participatory action learning (PAL) project designed and implemented by the transnational teaching team focused on: (1) increasing parity in assessment across sites through co-developing assessment rubrics, moderating and calibrating assessment tasks; (2) Internationalising the curriculum by encouraging students to interact across sites through ‘competing’ in multi-disciplinary teams in the online simulation and sharing their approach to decision-making with other teams, and (3) developing strategies to encourage students to engage effectively and independently with challenging readings. The case study outlines how the professional practice development was conducted and provides links to a sample of some of the resources and materials developed during the PAL project.

Assessment parity and calibration; online simulation; academic reading and writing; transnational teaching teams; capstone subject in business faculty.

Background

The focus of this case study is the transnational teaching team of COMM331 Simulation of a Socially Innovative Enterprise. This is a 3rd year capstone subject in the Bachelor of Commerce degree. The subject enables students to apply the principles of ethical, socially responsible, and sustainable commerce in a web-based designed simulated business environment. Students form multidisciplinary teams to run a simulated business twenty-four hours a day for a period of several weeks. Students are required to make multidisciplinary interactive decisions based on sound ethical, socially responsible and sustainable practice. The purpose of the capstone subject is to: (1) integrate and consolidate learning across the degree program, (2) emphasise socially responsible and innovative commerce; integrate cross-disciplinary knowledge and skills, (3) enable students to work in cross disciplinary teams (management and marketing, accounting and finance, economics), and (4) apply learning to a ‘real world’ issue.

The transnational teaching team consisted of the subject coordinator from UOW Australia, three UOW sessional tutors, the subject coordinator from INTI Malaysia, three tutors/assessors from INTI and two project team members from UOW. The teaching team was extremely diverse in relation to cultural and linguistic background, years of experience teaching in transnational education programs, age and academic qualifications.

The focus of the participatory action learning (PAL) project

The transnational teaching team, designed, implemented and evaluated a PAL project, focused on:

  • Internationalising the curriculum by encouraging students to interact across sites through ‘competing’ in multi-disciplinary teams in the online simulation and sharing their approach to decision-making with other teams.
  • developing parity in assessment across sites through co-developing assessment rubrics, moderating and calibrating assessment tasks.
  • encouraging students to engage effectively and independently with the readings.

What did the professional practice development consist of? How was the PAL project conducted?

The transnational teaching team met via videoconference 5 times during a 15 week period for about 2hours each time. Two project team members facilitated the video-conference workshops and worked alongside the transnational teaching team to design, implement and evaluate the PAL project. In between the video-conference workshops project team members developed scholarly guides and gathered existing resources on the issues related to the PAL project undertaken by the teaching team. Sub-groups of the teaching team met between workshops to progress the project. A shared online space to enhance communication and a shared Dropbox for resources were established.

Principles underpinning practice development with transnational teaching teams

The following principles guided the design of the pedagogical processes used.
The professional development processes and PAL projects:

  • are collaboratively designed and negotiated with all teaching team members.
  • are context sensitive and specific
  • feature curriculum which emerges from and is anchored in the work of the teaching team
  • involve the team members engaging, negotiating and learning together in their daily work context.
  • acknowledge that transnational teaching teams can be learning-conducive sites in which team members interact with multiple new peers who bring different perspectives to new work situations and novel issues.
  • are designed to harness the diversity of the transnational teaching team for maximum benefit.
  • aim to strengthen relations and trust among the transnational teaching team members to enhance their capacity to create collaborative learning spaces amongst students studying in diverse cultural contexts, difference places and shared cyber-spaces.

What worked well?

The regular, facilitated video-conference workshops and meetings with the whole transnational teaching team were perceived as most valuable and beneficial. All agreed that relationships and trust were strengthened significantly and that the improved communication and connections enabled the teaching team members to enhance the delivery of the subject and the learning experience for students. The following comment, from the subject coordinator at INTI is representative of the team’s experience:

It is so useful to get to know people. It is great to have the whole team brought in, communicating with one another, sharing experiences, understanding better the standards, the expectations, listening to one another first hand. I think it helps us empathise with the challenges the other people are going through. The huge impact for me was working together on the marking guide, on the sustained writing. That was really, really useful … working together, communicating made it so much easier for me to perform my role, my job.

The diversity in perspectives across the team and the robust discussions were perceived as useful features of the practice development process.

For example, a sessional team member from UOW commented:

The video-conferences were extremely useful. What I found particularly interesting was the differences of perspectives, it made me have to go back and think about my own perspective and review that and modify it- I found that particularly useful.

The diversity of the COMM331 transnational teaching team affords a learning-conducive site. This affordance was created through interactions with multiple new peers who brought different perspectives to new work situations and novel issues.

Situated work-based action learning projects such as co-developing the marking guide and rubric, enacting marking parity processes, and calibrating assessment approaches across sites was perceived to be particularly useful .The success of this aspect of the project is evident in the change in assessment practices and outcomes. In previous iterations of the subject there were large disparities between the grading of assessments across sites, with the grades awarded by the academics at INTI being markedly higher than those awarded at UOW. At the end of the session in which the PAL project was implemented the disparity between marks had disappeared. This transnational teaching team reports that the calibration of assessment expectations and standards attained through the PAL project has been translated into the next iteration of the subject. (Such assessment calibration practices may need to be repeated when significant change in the composition of the transnational teaching team occurs.)

What were the challenges?

Sometimes the poor quality and unreliability of the videoconference connections created frustrations and challenges for the team. Frequently, facial features would disappear, the frame would freeze, the sound would distort, or the connection would be lost. On one occasion, a group of strangers appeared and joined the videoconference. These technological glitches disrupted the workshops and meetings. As the subject coordinator at UOW commented:

It is funny how a project designed to tackle transnational issues has transnational issues.

The misalignment of the session and the difference in length of the session across the partner institutions made student interaction in the online simulation difficult and the learning potential of such intercultural interaction for students under-realised. Despite these difficulties the potential of such an online simulation was demonstrated in the results from the student survey. Many commented on the value of the simulation and having students from other countries participating in the simulation. Students expressed a desire for more interaction with students from other sites and suggested it would be beneficial for their learning in the subject.

The difference in perspective in relation to assessment and the assurance of learning was both a challenge and strength for the COMM331 teaching team. Despite co-developing a marking guide and rubric together, when team members from both sites marked the same assignments and then came together to discuss and calibrate their assessments there were significant differences in the marks awarded by academics from INTI and UOW. The previous practice in the partnership was that the UOW quality assuror would change the marks without consultation. In this project, robust discussions occurred across the team and it was quite challenging for the teaching team to grapple with their differences. The dominant power relations were disrupted with both INTI academics and sessional staff from UOW having a voice, providing feedback and listening to each other. The team commented that having people facilitate the processes was helpful and although difficult and confronting, these discussions were amongst the most productive of the project.

Aspects critical to the success of the professional practice development

The transnational teaching team identified the following aspects as crucial to the success of the approach:

  • Regular team workshops and meetings via videoconference.
  • Facilitated group process.
  • Honorariums for subject coordinators and full-time staff and payment for sessional staff.
  • Support and resources provided by the facilitators.
  • Designing, implementing and evaluating projects with clear deliverables that are important to the everyday work of the teaching team.
  • Opportunity to ‘sit around the table together and thrash issues out’.

Areas for improvement

The transnational teaching team identified the following ways for improving the project:

  • Cross-site visits by academics at various points in the program’s evolution.
  • Align the sessions as much as possible.
  • Video-conference facilities in lecture theatres and improved technology.
  • The practice development should occur in the first transnational iteration of the subject.

Outline of workshops & links to materials developed

Introductory workshop: Before the 1st workshop participants were asked to complete 7 questions to stimulate reflection and discussion amongst members of the teaching team about internationalisation of the curriculum in COMM331 Simulation of a Socially Innovative Enterprise. The questions were adapted from Leask’s (2010) Questionnaire on Internationalisation of the Curriculum. The introductory workshop focused on outlining the broader Office for Learning and Teaching project, getting to know one another, goal setting, speculation about what might be different if the project was successful and identifying possible topics for the action learning project. Click on the following links for a sample of the documents and resources used for the 1st workshop:

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    Pre-workshop questions for teaching teams [PDF 318KB]
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    Transnational teaching teams 1st Workshop agenda [PDF 214KB]
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    TTT Workshop 1 presentation [PPT 3,657KB]
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    Guide to Action Learning [PDF 185KB]

Workshop 2 focussed on choosing the action-learning project and planning the implementation of the project.

Workshop 3 focused on assessment parity and calibration. The transnational teaching team marked a range of assessments using the rubric that the team had co-developed since the last videoconference workshop. The meeting also discussed including teams from across sites in the IDLE simulation leader board and possible ways of sharing students’ decision-making in relation to the simulation of the smart phone company. Links include:

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    Guide to Parity in Assessment [PDF 225KB]
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    Capstone marking guide template [PDF 121KB]

Workshop 4 focused on strategies for encouraging students to engage more effectively with the readings and the progress of the simulation. Links include:

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    COMM331 Effective Reading Workbook 2013 [PDF 519KB]
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    COMM331 Effective Reading Rossetto presentation [PPTX 919KB]

Workshop 5 focused on discussing the preliminary analysis of the survey of students in relation to their experience in a subject that that is taught transnationally. It also evaluated the key aspects of the project, its impact on the teaching team, the subject and the students.