“Support tickets” in production classrooms

I’m just doing my annual module review forms for 2014-15 and so I’m being asked, by the form, to note any examples of “good practice” in the way I’m delivering the material. Now obviously I’d hope all of my teaching practice was good, but I take the question to actually mean “what do you do that’s interesting that other people might consider doing too?” Here’s one of the things we’ve been doing that others might like to try: support tickets in production class rooms.

The context in which we use this is a skills based level 4 / year 1 module that teaches introductory HTML, CSS and a little bit of PHP (within the production of WordPress sites). It’s a large class, mixed ability, with students on very different trajectories: some will stop here, knowing a little about web production, others will go on to develop this is their main area of practice. The design of the module is 5 weeks of 3 hour workshops where we introduce core skills and then 3 weeks of 8 hour production days — open studio time where students respond to a web design challenge.

Production days are intensive. Some students are still developing core competencies and need support in overcoming barriers to their learning and attainment whilst others are racing ahead pushing beyond the core material and hungry to learn more. This means that we might have one student who is stuck writing HTML to produce a hyperlink on their page, another struggling to understand the box model and another asking for support with a WordPress functions file.

The support ticket system operates using post-it notes. Whenever a student has a query, they need to write a ticket on the post-it and then add it to the support queue. Here’s what I’ve said about this in my annual review

Students are encouraged to articulate technical queries in writing, and then submit this as a “support ticket” to a “queue” on the classroom wall.

Many times students can resolve their ticket before they submit it, simply by thinking through the problem rather than raising their hand as soon as they reach a block.

Students can also see how long it will be until their query is resolved as it is in a clear queue. This allows them to set aside the problem for a while and move onto something more productive (rather than just putting a hand up and waiting).

The support ticket system also facilitates peer support: students can see their classmates’  problems and have been known to offer solutions to one another.

Finally the support ticket system allows staff to quickly spot patterns and common queries which might be best resolved in one response to the whole class. Ad hoc presentations and workshop tasks can be designed that respond to a  clear gap in the knowledge of the class.

This system was devised and refined with my colleague Nick Moreton, with whom I share the teaching on our first year new media production skills module. We’ve run this system for three years with four class groups per year and it has proven a very effective way of supporting students in skills based teaching. And it uses post-its which, lets face it, are the best single learning and teaching technology ever devised 😉