Co-coaching in action 1

Watch, read and think about co-coaching in action

Mary’s narrative

My critical incident came to the forefront after a few weeks of teaching students studying for the BA in Professional Development. These students study the course online with limited face-to-face sessions. The students may work within further education or hold other employment. They have varying qualifications and are now using these and work experience to gain a degree qualification.

As the students are returning to study most need to gain skills in academic writing. To aid this the students construct seven blog posts which feed forward to the summative assessment. There is a timeframe to post, and each student should provide feedback for two students, and the course tutor also comments on these posts.

The critical moment focused on those students who had not met the timeline to gain feedback as the group moved on to the second blog post and how this may influence their involvement with the course and overall progression. My question would be what strategies could be developed to aid this assessment design that also aids the development of communities of practice?

Mary’s reflections

Discussing the critical moment brought to the forefront strategies I have not considered before holding the co-coaching conversation. Sarah’s pertinent questions made me look deeper at the dilemma. My initial thought before the conversation dwelt on the workload externally of these employed students. During the discussion, a range of varying perspectives came to the forefront. The outcome will be to contact those students I taught last session on a different course to identify if they were put out of their comfort zone in putting their views out for all to read as the last course did not employ blog posts. The next matter I had not considered was the structure of our intranet platform and could another system be embedded to offer immediate access to add the blog posts. I will now take this forward and consider some introductory blog posts at the start of the session so they become habitual bloggers. Many thanks to Sarah for allowing me to view thoughts I would not have considered. I will employ co-coaching in other situations.

Sarah’s reflections on conversation with Mary

From this conversation I learnt that educators need to consider the wider context to help to make innovative assessment tasks successful. We didn’t actually talk about the detail of Mary’s assessment task, but instead covered much broader issues impacting on it, such as students’ professional and personal lives, the influence of technology, and the lessons that might be learnt from talking to students who participated well in a previous course. The learner perspective felt particularly important but there are also other stakeholders in such a multilayered scenario who need to be identified and involved to support effective development and implementation of assessments.

Even in this short conversation I felt that Mary was uncovering some new ideas and actions that might help her to develop her approach further. At times I found it quite challenging to refrain from offering ideas and suggestions from my own experience, but I think it was beneficial that I held back and we were able to focus just on Mary’s context and her issue. It felt satisfying to end the conversation with some practical ‘next steps’ identified - I felt that the conversation had been helpful for Mary, and it was very interesting to be part of.

Video transcript


OK. Mary, I think you have been facing some challenges around assessment with your students. What would you like to focus on in our conversation today?


Well, it started early on in the course that I'd just taken over over a year ago. And we have these formative assessments. We asked them to write blog posts, and I set a time frame for when these should be submitted because we want to give tutor and peer feedback. And what I've noticed is that the students, there's sometimes a lag and they are not posting up, which means that others are way ahead of where they should be and then others are not getting the assessment that they need and this has become quite a big issue.


OK. So yeah, if they, the students not all being at the same place and the activity is

is creating problems for each other. Yeah. So. So how do you

feel about this?


What I feel is that they're not getting the best support because when they fall back, they're coming to me, and then it's not forming wider communities of practice. But

also because most of the students that I'm teaching are either working in further

education or they have held employment for quite a long time, they in quite a kind of professional environment and they should be used to offering feedback to others. So I don't know where the hurdle is that they are finding it difficult to post: if it's confidence or if it's they just have lack of knowledge and they don't want to be seen as having that. But the impact is that because these tasks build into

the summative assessment that if they don't get that feedback, then maybe the results at the end of the course will not really reflect their ability.


Yeah, interesting. So you think there might be some hurdles there in terms of students providing feedback for each other. Have you tried anything so far?


What I do is that I've made sure that when those do post up that I comment straight away so that everybody can see it because also I think what maybe is a barrier is that they don't want to give too constructive criticism because they don't know each other that well, and frequently it will be a praise of the blog rather than an analysis of it. And the ones that are maybe replying are maybe giving slightly more

critical construction and analysis, whereas those maybe that aren't replying maybe don't have those skills and that could be one the the areas that's causing them angst or you know just lack of confidence.

Um, I mean to aid this what I did after that was post up exemplars of a blog post. You know to give them some exemplars because often, as you know, when people are working online, once that first person posts, then you tend to get other people that will have a look and say ‘mine’s slightly similar’ or ‘mine’s not far off’ and they'll post up. So by giving them an anonymous exemplar I thought that might help them to interact a bit more with getting their their posts up. Within the deadline because like everything else with the assessment we have a deadline and you know these time frames are to make sure that they are not falling behind so you know, if they're not up and doing this first then um, I'm not quite sure what I can do to change it.

I thought that I had might be that the first week we introduce a blog post that is about myself. So I see that they've got the right skills up and done and I haven't done that, we've just gone straight into the coursework. So it could be a hurdle with the IT not using how to use the system. The discussion boards maybe need to be more transparent and things like that that you know, may come about. And you know, luckily this year I have got a class representative who you know has commented on this, which is something that I was aware of. So I'm pleased that other students are aware now that others are not posting up and they're not giving the feedback that they should be or gaining the feedback either.


Yeah, OK, so there's lots in there actually isn't there. I mean, what do you think are the key issues for you? You mentioned things like relationship building. You've mentioned the type of feedback people are giving, but is there anything particular there that it would be interesting to find out more about do you think?


I think initially I think I need to do blog posts in a more relaxed environment and so they maybe post two things up that are linked to a task to the first reading or something like that, just a response. So as they get into the habit, I think doing that becomes habitual and once you've started doing it, it becomes a lot easier.

I mean there may be external factors, you know, people's workloads. They're not the same space, um.

The other, the thing I don't want to get into the habit of doing though is then differentiating those that are ahead in the blog posts because the idea of the online course is although we set timelines it is very much at your own time and your own pace and that as well. And these are guidelines, but I think they're quite specific to them and I'm not quite sure how I can totally reinforce that when people have got other factors going on in their lives and that as well.


Yeah it's typical of a dilemma isn’t it that there some things that are completely outside your control and you can't have any influence over. But I like that idea of the the relaxed, you know, starting off in a relaxed way, that sounds very interesting. I'm wondering too, you talked about talking to the students and your student Rep there, is there anybody else who could help you with the challenge?


Umm. I'm not quite sure because some of the students that I have on the course, I had on a different course the year before and they were quite active on that. So what I think I need to do is I think I need to get the feedback from the students who didn't post early that I knew last year were taking part to find out if it is external factors this time, or if it's just a different format and in the last course they didn't use blog posts or discussion boards as much. And it might just be that they are not fully aware of the support that this gives them and the collaborative learning that we want to take together. And they may feel that because this is an online course with not as many inputs, that there's not the need to partake as much as they should it’s taken more a solitary, you know, kind of task.


Yeah. So that's would be a good way of talking to some more of the students and is there anybody else that you think might be able to help sort of beyond the students?


Speak to, maybe find somebody else that's running a similar course, you know, completely online and see what they're uptake is as well. I mean, I have worked in other online courses before that used discussion sites and they're always is a, you

know, a disparity between who is posting and who's not posting. And I think that's something that maybe just is, you know, um part of online learning, you

know, and I'm sure a lot of the literature will say that you know, that you'll have the

perpetual lurkers that will put the assignment in at the end but not contribute as much. Um, you know that, or I think maybe at the very start of the course, I don't know whether we sign some sort of learning agreement or something that they say, you know, that they, they, they will post by this time. As we've seen, you know, with other of our online partners that we work with and other European universities that they make it, you know, an agreement that people have to work to a certain

point. Um. And that would be that I was thinking.

The other thing is maybe the actual, um, the blog post, the way it's designed on our Internet doesn't look very appealing. And I wonder if there's another platform that I could use that would maybe make that more beneficial. You know, they're all used to working on Teams which we don't use, but that might be a way of working it better or something that they don't have to log into like a WhatsApp group Facebook page or something that's more readily available than logging into your university Intranet.


Loads and loads of ideas there, Mary, you're talking about technology, literature and other people who might be able to help you. I'm wondering which ones are appealing to you at the moment, which ideas are emerging there do you think might be most useful to take forward?


The first one I need to go back to is the students that weren't blogging and find out first and then take it from there. If it has been using the system, if it's access to coming onto the site when they haven't got time to do it, if they're away elsewhere, um, it could be anything like that. I think for me just now it would be their circumstances and if it was technology then to look at platform that would make it a lot easier to participate on


Excellent. I think you've got some really clear first steps there. That's great. So good

luck with it, Mary and thanks for talking to me today.


Thank you very much Sarah.

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