Learning design and student engagement
Improving student learning outcomes and satisfaction requires well-designed courses. The Resources, Activity, Support and Evaluation (RASE) model (Figure 1) is a practical, evidence-based course-design model that informs the design of engaging and effective courses and can be used in almost every program and course (Churchill, King & Fox, 2013).
Central to the RASE model is the notion that content or resources are not, in themselves, enough to achieve the learning outcomes. Teachers also need to consider:
- Activity – to help students engage with tasks, such as experiments and problem-solving, that give them the experience to achieve the learning outcomes.
- Support – to ensure that students receive help and tools to solve emerging difficulties. This support includes support from peers, course tutors and technology.
- Evaluation – to provide structured information to guide students' progress and to serve as a tool for understanding what else is needed to ensure that students can achieve the learning outcomes.
Figure 1. RASE pedagogical model
- content, such as lectures, textbooks, journal articles and digital media
- materials, such as chemicals for an experiment or paint and canvas
- tools, such as laboratory equipment, brushes, calculators, rulers, statistical analysis software or word-processing software.
An activity is a critical component for full achievement of the learning outcomes. An activity provides students with an experience where learning occurs as they use resources in the context of emerging understanding, the testing of ideas, generalisation and the application of knowledge. The following are two key characteristics of an effective activity:
1. An activity must be student-centred.
- It focuses on what students will do to learn, rather than on what students will remember.
- Resources are tools in students’ hands.
- Teachers are facilitators who participate in the process.
- Students produce artefacts that demonstrate their learning progress.
- Students learn about the process involved in doing the activity.
- Students develop new literacies.
2. An activity must be authentic.
- It contains real-life scenarios and often ill-defined, ambiguous problems.
- It resembles professional practice.
- It uses tools specific to professional practice.
- It results in artefacts that demonstrate not just knowledge, but professional competence.
Some examples of authentic activities include:
- Designing an experiment to test a hypothesis
- Developing a case study of how a scientist identified a new phenomenon
- Solving a problem such as minimising friction in the design of a wakeboard
- Developing a documentary movie on a specific area of interest
- Designing a poster to promote or protest a controversial scientific issue
- Planning a field day for your cohort relevant to your shared area of study
- Developing software to control the mechanical transfer of power
- Devising a role-play.
Outcomes of an activity can be a conceptual artefact (e.g., an idea or a concept presented in a written report), a hard artefact (e.g., a model of an electric circuit) or a soft artefact (e.g., a computer-based creation). The artefacts that students produce should undergo reviews and revisions before final submission and might involve presentations in class or online. They must be evaluated in various ways so that students can receive feedback in time to reflect and make changes before final submission. Feedback can be given by teachers, peers and/or invited experts from the community or professions.
Support provides students with a scaffold while enabling them to develop learning skills and independence. Clear, comprehensive, and timely pedagogical support can increase teaching efficiency and reduce teachers' workload. Support might anticipate student difficulties, such as understanding an activity, using a tool or working in groups. Teachers can track and record ongoing difficulties and issues that need to be addressed during learning, and share these with students. Three modes of support are possible: teacher-student, student-student and student-artifact (additional resources). Support can take place in a classroom and in online environments such as through forums, wikis, blogs and social-networking spaces.
Support can, and generally should, anticipate students' needs, so that they can seek it out themselves. This helps them expand their own independence as learners while giving them the help they need to learn basic skills. Examples of anticipatory support include:
- A FAQ page
- A "How Do I?" or "Help Me" Forum
- A glossary of course-related terms
- Checklists and rubrics for activities
- Social-networking platforms and synchronous tools such as chat and Zoom.
Overall, support should aim to lead students to become more independent learners. Teachers should give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students' beliefs that they can do well. Students should be encouraged to independently seek help from peers, the library, and other resources before talking to their teacher.
Evaluation of student learning as the semester progresses – formative assessment that helps students build skills in preparation for a summative assessment – is an essential part of effective student-centred learning. Activities should produce artefacts that students can use to display their learning and receive feedback for how to progress. Rubrics enable students to conduct self-evaluation and to participate in peer evaluation.
Putting it all together
The following set of recommendations might be useful to teachers in developing their courses and learning units based on RASE.
Teachers need first to:
- Ensure that the course learning outcomes are aligned with the overall program learning outcomes.
- Identify courses required to achieve learning outcomes.
- Align the course learning outcomes, activities and assessments.
These should be presented in the overall course outline, where details of the course, including learning outcomes, schedule and topics, information about evaluation/assignments and options for support are clearly presented, with the alignments specifically set out.
The course outline needs to explicitly specify what is expected from each assessment and how it will be conducted, so that students have clear reference points for their work.
More information about the RASE model:
- Churchill, D., King, M, & Fox, B. (2013). Learning design for science education in the 21st century. Journal of the Institute for Educational Research, 45(2), 404-421.
- Churchill, D., King, M., Webster, B., & Fox, B. (2013). Integrating learning design, interactivity, and technology. In Carter, H., Gosper, M., & Hedberg, J. (Eds), Electric Dreams. Proceedings ASCILITE 2013 Sydney (pp. 139-143). http://www.ascilite.org/conferences/sydney13/program/papers/Churchill.pdf
- RASE: five-minute video.
Bowers, S., Chen, Y.L., Clifton, Y., Gamez, M., Giffin, H.H., Johnson, M.S., Lohman, L., & Pastryk, L. (2022). Reflective design in action: a collaborative autoethnography of faculty learning design. TechTrends, 1-12.
Churchill, D. (2006). Student-centered learning design: key components, technology role and frameworks for integration. Synergy, 4(1), 18-28.
Churchill, D. (2013, February). A pedagogical model for science educators in 21st century. Keynote, Science Education Conference, Serbia.
Churchill, D., Fox, B., & King, M. (2016). Framework for designing mobile learning environments. In D. Churchill, J. Lu, T.K.F. Chiu, & B. Fox (Eds.). Mobile Learning Design: Theories and Application. (pp. 3-26). New York: Springer.
Fox, R. (2016). MOOC impact beyond innovation. In C. Ng, M., R. Fox, & M. Nakano (Eds.), Reforming learning and teaching in Asia-Pacific Universities: Influences of Globalised Processes in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. (pp. 159-172). Singapore: Springer.
Rapanta, C., Botturi, L., Goodyear, P., Guàrdia, L., & Koole, M. (2021). Balancing technology, pedagogy and the new normal: Post-pandemic challenges for higher education. Postdigital Science and Education, 3(3), 715-742.
Seminars for UNSW staff
The Connections Seminar series and the annual Learning and Teaching Forum provide platforms for UNSW staff to explore different aspects of learning and teaching, share ideas and get feedback on practice and research.
These recordings and presentations related to assessment can be found on the respective Moodle course sites (self-enrolment key provided)
2019 Learning and Teaching Forum
- 2019 Learning and Teaching Forum on 26 November 2019: Challenges of course redesign in revitalising students learning experience presented by Dr Arash Khatamianfar, School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications, Faculty of Engineering. (self-enrolment key: lntforum)
- 2019 Learning and Teaching Forum on 26 November 2019: Co-Design the student learning experience presented by Ms Selena Griffith, Centre for Social Impact, Business School. (self-enrolment key: lntforum)
- 2019 Learning and Teaching Forum on 26 November 2019: Applying Course Design Institute Principles to Course Development presented by Dr Sarah Grundy, School of Chemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering. (self-enrolment key: lntforum)
- 2019 Learning and Teaching Forum on 26 November 2019: Fixing teaching from the ‘back-end’ with some help from your technical team presented by Dr Gee Chong Ling, School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, Faculty of Science. (self-enrolment key: lntforum)