Supporting student learning with Study Direct

Computer keyboard marked 'success'When colleagues begin using Study Direct (SyD) it is usually as a repository for course materials. The VLE does, however, offer a wealth of activities which can be tailored to the needs of students and different learning contexts. RUSTLE has been talking to colleagues from Law and Music who have been using SyD to do some really useful work with their students.

Richard Vogler (Law) has been using quizzes and online submission in SyD to identify which students need support and help them to develop appropriate academic skills. The LLM programme has a very diverse group of students from different academic and cultural backgrounds and there was a need to ‘get them all up to a baseline of academic standards before they start on their formal assessments’.

After face-to-face sessions on plagiarism and correct referencing methods, students take a plagiarism quiz on SyD that asks them to decide which samples of student text are plagiarised from accompanying passages of source material. The quizzes are automatically graded and feedback on wrong answers helps them to learn what is, or is not, good academic practice with regard to referencing sources. Students have to repeat the quiz until they achieve a pass mark and this has had a positive impact in reducing the incidence of plagiarism.

A second activity uses the online submission facility within SyD to give feedback to students on their bibliographic and academic method. Students have to prepare a piece of text on their subject, with a specified number of citations from different sources that they have found. This is submitted as a word file and tutors provide detailed feedback direct to the student via SyD. This is more time-consuming than the automated feedback of the quiz, but Richard says that it has had ‘a really dramatic impact’. Further feedback is offered in a lecture where some examples are worked through showing mistakes and how they could be corrected. Before SyD this activity was carried out using e-mail, which was cumbersome, but now submissions go on the SyD site, all the feedback goes on the site and tutors can easily check the marks given for each exercise and refer back to the feedback given. Richard says this is ‘so much easier and neater, and the students understand it better’.

This is a very developmental exercise and, like the quiz, students can make multiple attempts. Some students who are struggling may take several weeks before they make a submission which is acceptable, but the online marking system allows tutors to identify students with problems and provide more attention and resources to help them. The submission and feedback is essentially a private conversation between teacher and student and the process has proved to be very effective,  allowing Richard and his colleagues to get everyone up to a threshold level of academic skills in a relatively short time.

If your students need help with academic writing skills they can find a wealth of resources on the Study Success at Sussex (S3) website, and international students can sign up for Academic Development Support provided by the Sussex Centre for Language Studies.

Nic McKay and his colleagues in Music have been using another one-to-one SyD option to support the supervision of large numbers of final year dissertations. The dissertation courses run over the whole year with some preparatory sessions on research skills in the Autumn term followed by one-to-one supervision in the Spring and Summer terms. Nic and his colleagues have been using the Journal function in SyD as an online diary to encourage students to record what they are doing on their project and any queries they want to raise with their supervisor. Each journal is private to the student and their supervisor who can review the journal from time to time and give some feedback or refer students to resources.

Using the online journal is a good way to get students started on independent research, allowing them to go from an initial literature review through forming research questions to starting to form a skeletal structure for their dissertation in a way that is much more manageable than in an office hour. Nic says that ‘one advantage of the journal is that everyone can do their thinking in their own time’. The supervisor can ask a question or make a suggestion and the student can think about it and add a response later, whereas asking ‘have you thought about x?’ in a supervisory meeting can be less productive. Tutors too, have time to think about students’ queries and gather relevant resources in a way that is difficult to do in a short meeting.

There are particular skills to this sort of online interaction and Nic points out that it is important from the supervisor’s point of view to be quite concise, but it is possible to fit commenting on journals into odd quiet moments. For students in Media, Film and Music it is particularly helpful that YouTube videos can be embedded in their journal entries so that supervisors can easily access the material that is being discussed. The journal also offers a framework for the face-to-face meetings where progress can be discussed.

If you would like to find out more about supervising dissertations there are a number of useful links on supervising undergraduates amongst the TLDU web links.

Richard and Nic also talked about the challenges of getting students to engage in forum discussions, using SyD to plan and project student presentations and for organising office hours, but those will have to wait for another blog post. If you would like to hear more about any of those uses of SyD, or have a suggestion for topics for future RUSTLE blog posts please add a comment using the link below, or send an e-mail to tldu@sussex.ac.uk.

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