This project aimed to embed active learning strategies into course design and delivery to cultivate collaboration and collegiality amongst students (first-year pre-service teachers), increase their engagement and encourage them to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help them to have a positive impact on their own students’ learning as future educational practitioners.

  • Course: EDUC1050 Teaching and Learning Tools in the 20th Century Knowledge Societies – 1st year, technology-focused education course (450 students)
  • School/Faculty: School of Education, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: as part of the course redesign in 2017, the hourly face-to-face lectures occurred once every four weeks, with lecture material delivered via short videos uploaded to Blackboard for the other three weeks
  • Active learning approach: online learning videos, in-class discussions and activities, group assessment
  • Assessment tasks: group project work, group presentations, project report, and reflections on group work

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

  • Attendance at lectures has historically been consistently low.
  • The rapid pace of technological change in educational settings means that pre-service teachers (PSTs) need to be equipped with much more than just knowledge and skills in relation to existing technologies. Rather, PSTs need to be lifelong learners who have the knowledge, skills and dispositions to be flexible, adaptable, creative, collaborative, able to solve problems, and be able to take risks and be curious when seeking answers.
  • In previous iterations of the course, data generated through SECaT and SETutor surveys indicated a consistently low level of student satisfaction and engagement.

Project innovation team

Active learning approach

Approaches and processes

The redesign of EDUC1050 was underpinned by three key approaches:

  • Flipped classroom – because of poor attendance at lectures, we reduced the number of face-to-face lectures to once every four weeks, instead of weekly. In the weeks when there was no face-to-face lecture, short learning videos that drew on the required readings for that week were uploaded to Blackboard.
  • Community of Practice (CoP) – CoP theory is used extensively in ICT-enriched university settings. In this project, students formed small groups of three or four members. The first three summative assessment tasks required students to collaboratively develop a digital product in these small groups. These products were: a Pinterest board; a Prezi presentation; and a digital story using a free software program of their choice. All members of the group received the same result for the first three tasks to cultivate a sense of shared responsibility. Students’ final task was graded individually, but required them to critically reflect on the course design.
  • Sandpit-Synergy-Showcase – tutorials were grouped into three cycles of three sequential components building up towards a summative assessment task.
    • Sandpit: in the first tutorial of each cycle, students plan for specific activities towards a set goal; this is underpinned by the principles of Understanding by Design (UbD). Rather than ‘teaching’ students how to use various ICTs using a transmission approach, students instead get into the ‘sandpit’ to explore ICTs together. With their tutor as a critical friend, students draw on one another’s ideas, skills, and interests to experiment, play, make mistakes, solve problems, and plan the digital product they will collaboratively create.
    • Synergy: students share their work-in-progress with their peers and tutor, and, in so doing, provide and receive group evaluations in the form of targeted and productive critical feedback.
    • Showcase: after receiving input from their peers and tutor during the Synergy tutorial, students incorporate this feedback to refine their collaboratively-produced digital product and present it to the class.

This course design combines elements of dynamic group activity as well as guided individual reflection while experiencing the integration of technology and teaching. Therefore this project draws together: Communities of Practice (CoP) theory, the principles of Lesson Study as a potent professional development tool for teaching, and the principles of Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK).


  • We worked with ITaLI's media production team to produce high-quality short learning videos on Blackboard.
  • We drew on course tutors’ areas of expertise to develop the scripts and storyboards for these videos, topics covered included: self-direction in learning, cooperative learning, digital storytelling, design thinking, and the safe and ethical use of ICT.
  • We purchased a set of iPad minis to allow all students to participate equally.
  • The first two group assessment tasks required students to engage with Pinterest and Prezi, while the third required them to develop a digital story using a digital tool of their choice. These included VideoScribe, Powtoon, Photostory, iMovie and so on.
  • Digital tools and platforms such as Socrative, Verso, Padlet, and Google Docs were used to share ideas and provide feedback during the Sandpit and Synergy phases of the cycle.


Tools and strategies

Student perspective:

  • Quantitative and qualitative feedback obtained through SECaT/SETutor surveys and student-led reflections on their experience captured during their final tutorial using digital video recording (with iPhones, iPads).

Lecturer/tutor perspective:

  • Collective biographies: in collective biography, a group of researchers work together on a particular topic by drawing on their own memories. In our case, each tutor wrote a 500-word narrative detailing his/her personal experience as a tutor in the course. We all read one another’s narratives, then met in person in three two-hour meetings, which involved organic, reflective discussion. We kept minutes and annotated one another’s narratives to document emerging themes and ideas.
  • Retrospective Think-Aloud Protocol (RTAP): this approach involves participants recalling what they were thinking during a prior experience. We asked all tutors to record themselves reflecting aloud for approximately two minutes in response to the question ‘What was your experience either as a learner or teacher in a technology-rich teaching and learning environment?’.

Key findings

1. Increased attendance at tutorials

Drawing on CoP theory to link the Sandpit-Synergy-Showcase cycle to the first three group assessment tasks resulted in very high attendance at and participation in tutorials, even though we did not allocate marks for participation/attendance. This was an unexpected outcome.

2. Transferable skills to support students to transact from formal learning contexts to professional contexts

  • “This was a different way going about university teaching, but as we enter a contemporary world, universities, like schools, need to embrace and come up with more meaningful ways of teaching and communicating ideas. This class I understood the most, whereas some of my other subjects, I felt there were too much going on and couldn't keep up with everything being presented.”
  • “I really appreciated the effort that went into planning this course. There was clearly a strong focus on practically applying the skills we learnt, and deeply considering how these would work in a real classroom. This was extremely useful.”

3. ICT-rich learning environments and experiences can be polarising

In both 2017 and 2018, the approach we took to this reimagined course seemed to elicit either extremely positive or extremely negative responses from students, with very little ambivalence. Some students really enjoyed the flipped approach and learning videos, while others would have preferred ‘traditional’ face-to-face lectures. Similarly, some students enjoyed working in groups and liked the group assessment approach while others didn’t enjoy working in groups:

  • “I liked how we were given the freedom to choose groups and learning area topics each week. We utilised ICT in ways I had never considered before.”
  • “I really enjoyed the 'flipped classroom' approach and thought the lecture and tutorials were very helpful.”
  • “Loved how it encourages teamwork, talking and creativity.”
  • “Allow to change groups for presentations as after a while the same group can tend to be tedious.”
  • “I would, personally, have preferred more face-to-face lectures than webinars.”
  • “… the lectures… should be made completely online.”

4. While these students are predominantly first-year university students who are so-called ‘digital natives’, they do not possess uniform skills in digital technology

  • It made me realise there was a place for technology in teaching and learning.
  • I am now aware of how much I sometimes dislike technology. I recognise that technology is in integral part of our futures, but it still feels really forced (i.e. using technology ‘for the sake of’ using technology).

Project outcomes

Short and long-term outcomes

  1. Increased attendance and ‘buy-in’: group assessment combined with the Sandpit-Synergy-Showcase cycle increases attendance at tutorials and contributes to a collegial dynamic that is similar to the work of teaching practitioners in schools who work together to achieve shared goals.
  2. Additional scaffolding may be required for broader student engagement: as not all students feel confident with technology, it may be beneficial to add a fourth element as the first stage of the cycle (e.g. Skillsbuilder). This stage could involve more explicit engagement with the readings and support students – most of whom are in their first semester of university after completing secondary school – with strategies to help them access key aspects of the literature and to engage with new digital tools.
  3. We are in the process of launching a website (EduTROVE) that will be a compendium of selected digital artefacts developed by EDUC1050 students (2017 and 2018) that showcase TPACK and students’ critically reflective practices.

Other learnings

  1. The Synergy tutorials are critical for providing students with feedback to improve their work-in-progress, but the value of Synergy depends on the quality of that feedback. Sometimes the presenting groups received only very brief, general and encouraging comments from their peers rather than constructively critical suggestions for improvement. Some initial, explicit training on providing feedback may strengthen this aspect of the course.
  2. Many students found it challenging to think beyond the often limited ways they had encountered technology as school students, and tended to reproduce rather than innovate. Many pre-service teachers’ perceptions of using technology for teaching and learning are heavily influenced by their own, sometimes negative or limited experiences as school students.
  3. This course may be better placed later in the education degree as students have little knowledge or understanding of learning theory, curriculum content and documents, and learning technology. Students may find that, as they progress through their degree and begin to develop learning experiences for their own students, they return to the strategies and tools encountered in this course.

Transferability of findings

  • First-year students may need more support to access readings and make sense of curriculum materials. They are encountering a great deal of ‘newness’ in their first semester of university and some were unsettled that this course did not take a ‘traditional’ approach to lectures and tutorials.
  • Working in small groups and linking their in-class activities to summative assessment tasks through the Sandpit-Synergy-Showcase cycle increases attendance at tutorials as students felt a sense of obligation and commitment to their colleagues.

Next steps

  • We have two publications in late-draft stage and hope to submit both for publication before the end of 2018.
  • Complementing group assessment with the Sandpit-Synergy-Showcase course design provides a structure for student discussion and activity and provides an opportunity to give, receive and respond to feedback.
  • Students need more support to develop the skills associated with providing effective feedback.
  • More explicit engagement with and linking tutorial activities and assessment to readings that consider the theory and practice of ICTs for teaching and learning may deepen students’ understanding.