The Learning Thermometer

Last week I took part in another webinar in the Transforming Assessment series. This one was about ‘The Learning Thermometer’ and was given by Helen Stallman of the University of Queensland. There is more information at

Helen has an interest in students’ mental health and she has done research into the prevalence of ‘psychological distress’ in students, finding, not surprisingly, that students are more likely than the general population to be distressed. It is also not surprising that students’ studies are compromised by their distress – this leads to impaired attention, concentration and memory.

The Learning Thermometer is a web-based tool that students use to

  • Reflect upon their learning;
  • Get tailored feedback about strategies, resources, and support that might be useful to them doing well in their subject;
  • Develop individual learning plans to optimise their success in the course.
  • The Learning Thermometer also provides statistical information to lecturing staff about the wellbeing of their classes, with the idea being that if their students are not engaged or satisfied, they can make changes.

    One of the reasons that The Learning Thermometer was created was a realisation that, with large group sizes, we don’t know our students very well. There are people in risk groups who don’t have problems and people who are not in risk groups who do have problems. We also had an interesting chat about the distancing effect of eLearning. Connectiveness is apparently one of the greatest predictors of wellbeing, so lack of personal contact is potentially a problem. I am sufficiently naive to think that there should be solutions to this problem in the clever use of online communication.

    The interesting thing is that what Helen and colleagues are trying to build in students is ‘resilience’ – and ability to cope whatever the world throws at you [my definition]. So spoon-feeding is not the answer. As Helen said ‘sometimes we behave as if we are teaching Grade 1 kids not adults’. More resilient students also have better graduate capabilities. However, returning to the assessment theme, we need to remember that being assessed and receiving feedback can be stressful – if you take it personally. I think we all know that, but [my interpretation again] the answer does not lie in telling students that a piece of work is ‘good’ when it isn’t. This is a tricky area, but interesting and important.

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