Every year in June, researchers and lecturers from all over the world meet up at the International Conference on Higher Education Advances (HEAd) in Valencia to exchange ideas about trendsetting teaching concepts and to discuss practice-orientated research findings. This year, the team from lehrblick.de was there too. Of the multitude of papers, three in particular caught our attention.
Mindfulness | Beyond the curriculum
The topic of mindfulness is now increasingly attracting attention in universities as well. Courses on this topic are usually offered in addition to a curriculum, or mindfulness exercises are integrated in a curriculum or course module. Georgia Southern University is taking a new path. This is where the “Brain Booth” initiative was launched, with rooms and activities dedicated to mindfulness appearing all over the campus. The basic idea is for lecturers and students to be able to find different, low-threshold options close by for taking mindful breaks to boost their concentrated focus – low-threshold means that they can do so unannounced at any time. Most of these stations are integrated in libraries, as it is quiet here anyway and there is generally a lot of space available.
Many of the stations were created in a simple fashion without any technical effort. These include the following, for example:
- meditation corners: there are meditation corners available in various secluded areas of the reading halls;
- play areas where people can do jigsaw puzzles, draw mandalas or play chess, for example;
- gratitude log: at different locations on the campus, students are encouraged to think about what they are grateful for.
Other offerings involving more technically outlay were created with the help of money from sponsors. These include light and sound panels or special places where students can dive into a virtual reality with VR headsets.
The first results of evaluations (Karadjova-Kozhuharova & Baker, 2023) prove that the Brain Booth helps students reduce stress, relax, feel calmer and get a new boost of energy and that they are subsequently able to work with more clarity and focus.
Online Spanish course| Asynchronous and synchronous elements skilfully combined
Scott and Jennifer Despain (2023) talked about the further development of their Spanish course at North Carolina State University, which had been held as a purely asynchronous online offering for many years.
The original reason for revising it was the students’ need to have more personal contact with the lecturer in typical asynchronous online courses as well. To deepen the relationship between students and lecturers, various elements were built in, such as
- orientation meetings: At the start of the course there is an obligatory Zoom meeting that is there for the advisers and other course participants to get to know each other, for example. The course structure and content and also the technical aspects are introduced in detail and the course lecturer’s expectations of the participants are discussed. The aim of this meeting is for people to meet each other and to clarify whether the online course format meets the needs of each individual learner (or whether it would be better for them to attend the course in a different format – the in-person course that is also offered).
- Chapter Check-In: In line with the Each Student – A Person objective, there are regular “Chapter Check-Ins”. The students meet up with their adviser for a one-to-one session about once every three weeks. This is a compulsory activity that is included in the assessment. In these Chapter Check-Ins the advisers discuss the students’ personal experience and progress with them (What challenges are you facing at the moment? What’s working well?…). They take a look at the topics that are coming up together and discuss any questions the student has. To finish, they have conversation practice for five minutes.
- Meeting for exam preparation: This is also a face-to-face meeting in the group. This offering is voluntary and is there to answer the students’ questions and help them with any difficulties.
The students experienced the integration of personal synchronous meetings as something positive. In the final survey, two-thirds said that they had looked forward to the Chapter Check-Ins and had felt more connected to their advisers as a result. Because of these one-to-one meetings, 85% of the course participants felt very seen.
As a further element designed to increase the students’ commitment, diverse gamification elements were built into the course. Students had the possibility of earning badges for working through these elements which they could then use to make up for homework they had forgotten to do, for example. First experience shows that this offering leads to more commitment among the students.
One interesting side-effect is that the lecturers are happier with the new course concept as well and say that they experience greater job satisfaction, for example.
Dropout in the case of MOOCs | You don’t have to wait for the referee’s whistle for the game to be over
It was not just practical impulses that were presented at HEAd’23 but practice-orientated research findings as well. In a qualitative interview study, Meghan Perdue (2023) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looked into why only a fraction of the participants who are registered in MOOCs actually complete them as well. It was revealed that the participants have a complex understanding of “completion” that goes far beyond the formal acquiring of the certificate. In fact, they set their own learning outcomes and consider that they have completed the course when they have achieved these outcomes. The course completion is therefore to be seen as relative to their own approaches and interests and could possibly be very different from the targets that are officially set for students in order for them to obtain a certificate. The participants only acquire a certificate if they see this as being useful to them personally or professionally. From this point of view, many MOOCs participants are not dropouts but self-determined users who perceive the offerings in a way that is highly self-regulated.
Would you like a detailed overview of all the papers at the conference yourself? Use the blog’s summer break to browse the volume of all the papers presented at the conference. You will also find our paper in it, in which we present lehrblick.de as an informal educational offering for university lecturers.
And as a successful start to autumn we would like to recommend that you attend the “Tag der digitalen Lehre” (Digital teaching day). On 26 September 2023, lecturers will be presenting their concepts and experience with digital teaching, and will be available at virtual coffee tables for conversation.
Karadjova-Kozhuharova, K. G. & Baker, R. L. (2023, June). Positive effects of mindfulness practices on academic performance and well-being. Ninth International Conference on Higher Education Advances. http://dx.doi.org/10.4995/HEAd23.2023.16244
Despain, S. & Despain, J. A. (2023, June). Nurturing the human connection: Increasing student engagement and personal connection in an asynchronous language course. Ninth International Conference on Higher Education Advances. http://dx.doi.org/10.4995/HEAd23.2023.16366
Perdue, M. (2023, June). Investigating learners’ perceptions of completion and certification in MOOCs. Ninth International Conference on Higher Education Advances. http://dx.doi.org/10.4995/HEAd23.2023.16052
Suggestion for citation of this blog post: Hawelka, B. & Bachmaier, R. (2023, July 27). Trendsetting impulses for higher education – Reflecting on the highlights of HEAd’23. Lehrblick – ZHW Uni Regensburg. https://doi.org/10.5283/ZHW.20230723.EN