Digital Challenges, New Tech & the Space In-between: Thoughts on JISC Connect More

This week, a few of the TEL team attended the final event of the JISC Connect More series at Nottingham University. The day provided opportunities to connect with peers, share practice and explore new ways to teach and learn using digital technology.

Barriers, Challenges and Aspirations

The first presentation, led by Rachel Challen from Loughborough College, was on the barriers, challenges and aspirations that we face in the field of Learning Technology. Tying together institutional strategies and processes to work effectively within the changing digital landscape requires a lot of people and systems to work together, and it’s a tough job.

This theme continued throughout the day and it was encouraging (I think) to see that we’re all in the same boat – How can we engage with everyone in our institutions to think differently (and cohesively) about Technology Enhanced Learning and digital capabilities? It’s clearly a difficult challenge, and one of the things that’s great about events like this is that we can share the different ways, however successful, that we are trying to solve it. I got the sense that we’re all trying to move away from the perception of Learning Technologists as ‘point and click’ presenters, and embed ourselves much more within the academic community as specialists. Personally I think it’s a great thing, offering better value to the staff and students we work with in a collegial environment.

New Tech!

We also got the chance to try out some new technologies like the HTC Vive and Nao, a programmable robot. The HTC Vive was particularly interesting given the work I’ve already done with virtual reality in the last year. This was the first chance I’d had to use handheld trackers and they enabled me to create something in a 3D space – I was virtually painting, using TiltBrush by Google.

Instead of just having a flat canvas to draw on, I could now interact in all directions – forwards, backwards, up, down and everything in-between. If I drew a three dimensional shape, I could get inside it. I was able to experience the digital world as an actual space in which I could interact and move around, not confined or separated by a twRob VRo dimensional screen. There was a sense I was taking ownership of my own personal virtual space.

And this week, as I’ve watched Pokémon inhabit a shared digital space in the world, I’ve wondered if the convergence of technologies like VR and AR will allow us all to create our own personal digital spaces – They probably will and that’ll provide us with lots of exciting opportunities for creating new digital learning environments.

The Gap In-between

It was interesting to experience new technologies that are heading towards the classroom and at the same time hear how colleagues are meeting the current challenges of embedding digital capabilities within education. There’s clearly a gap in the middle that a lot of us sit in, connecting the dots between ever newer technologies and their educational application. It’ll be fascinating to see what an event like JISC Connect More looks like in 10 years. Over to you Nao…

Digital Derby comes to Buxton!

Monday 23 May, The Learning Curve – Dome floor, Buxton. 12noon onwards.

This is an opportunity for you to meet colleagues from across Learning Enhancement, and discover how our services can support you inside and outside of the classroom.

Staff from across Learning Enhancement will be on hand to give advice, support your development and share good practice.

  • Find out how our learning technologies and learning resources can enhance your work.
  • Staff from TEL, Library and the College Leads in Learning Enhancement will be on hand.
  • Activities and information on Learning at Work week.
  • Find out about our skills workshops and support frameworks.
  • The launch of the Learning Curve.

This event is open to all academic and support staff. No booking required – drop-in on the day.

Programme

  • 12.00 Meet the Learning Enhancement support teams and launch of the Learning Curve
  • 12.30 Blackboard Refresher session [Rob Higson, G16]
  • 13.00 Personal Tutoring – Enhance your personal experience [Duncan Marsen, G16]
  • 13.30 Apps and websites for productivity [Johanna Westwood and Claire Gardener, G16]
  • 14.00 Video Creation using Mobile Devices [Matt Gilooly and Charlotte Ellis, G16]
  • 14.30 Your Library Service: How we can help you in your role [Jon White, G16]

Staff from the department will be at the Learning Curve, 12-3pm. Cold refreshments will be available too.

Learning at Work Week – Digital Derby

This University provides a fantastic array of staff development opportunities, across a variety of approaches, organised by a range of internal providers.  The challenge is often finding out about what is on offer!

Learning at Work week is an international campaign and this year the theme is ‘connect’.  To mark this internal staff development providers are connecting to share development around the University.  They will be setting up stalls in the Learning Curve on Thursday 19th May, 12.30 – 2.30pm so do go down to find out more and to discuss with them any needs you have. A central intranet page has been established as a single point of contact to signpost staff to development available across the University

TEL are also running a series of training sessions, open to all staff. For more information please visit the APP site

Going to the Polls

I had the opportunity to participate at a conference intended to highlight current use of Polling/Voting technology in Teaching and Learning at the University of Birmingham.

The keynote speech was given by Dr Fabio Arico, a senior lecturer in Economics at the University of East Anglia. He talked about how he uses polling data to produce learning analytics and pedagogical research. He has actively adopted the active learning approach in his practice which he says took him 3 years to get it to work. He emphasized that planning is key. The participants were able to practically participate in the demonstration of this methodology. Some Economics questions were presented on the screen and participants were given time to respond using TurningPoint / Responseware, and then the results were displayed on the screen. Then participants were given the opportunity to discuss their responses with their peers or neighbours in the conference room then the same question was asked and participants selected the answers again this time influenced by their discussions. It was interesting to notice the change in results graph with more participants actually getting the answers right after the discussions. Dr Fabio Arico has been able to successfully influence more than 50% of his colleagues to use the peer learning approach. He uses the students’ feedback to improve his teaching.

Another very interesting presentation was given by Professor Prem Kumar, Professor of Physiological Science at the University of Birmingham. He talked about his journey from traditional teaching to using the flipping approach hence the title of his presentation: ‘If in doubt, try, try and then try again: the very real perils and pleasures of adopting a flipped approach’. He particularly mentioned his use of this approach with medical students. Some of the key points from his talk included the fact that, to successfully use the flipped approach, a lot of preparation has to be invested before the session and that the lecturer has to be self-confident and believe in the methodology and be very knowledgeable of their subject. He also advised to ensure there is value added to the session after students have already seen the Panopto videos in their own time.

Other contributors included Bob Ridge-Stearn from Newman University who talked about their attempt to use OMBEA voting tool to run exams of which they experienced some challenges. David Mathew from the University of Berdfordshire talked about using TexWall to help shy students to participate. Annette Margolis from the University of Birmingham talked about her use of Socrative in her classes to provoke debate and to get students’ feedback. I presented on a few quick case studies to highlight the different ways technology is used here at Derby and that includes for: recapping, revision, mock tests, to provoke discussion and to get feedback among other uses. Both TurningPoint and Socrative are popularly used at the University of Derby. Socrative has also been used with collaborative partners in Malaysia.

Those who are using voting technology are clearly seeing the benefits of it in helping students to learn and engage with learning material. While flipping approach is upheld, a point was also raised that different learning styles should be considered as some people still preferred the traditional approach.

Link

On Wednesday 25th March, 12:00 – 13:00 in B110 KR, the Learning Enhancement’s Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team will be hosting the first of their monthly ‘TEL me more’ session for staff.

TEL me more poster

TEL me more poster

These sessions are for you to come and show us how you are using technology to support learning and teaching. This can be something small, which you do as part of one session through to something which you have embedded across a module/programme. Whatever it is, we are interested in hearing from you. We will also be able to show you some approaches and tools which you might find useful.

So if you’re interested in sharing what you are doing or finding out what others are doing, come along to the first ‘TEL me more’ session in B110 on Wednesday 25th March, 12:00-13:00.

It would be good to know in advance if you would like to present, so if you could complete this short form, that would be great.

http://tinyurl.com/telmemore

If you can’t make it to this session then just pop into our office to let us know what you are up to.

Event report: ALT-C 2013

Image of ALT-C 2013 opens at the University of Nottingham, 10th to 12th of September 2013

ALT-C 2013 opens at the University of Nottingham

ALT-C 2013 has just finished having taken place last week from the 10th to the 12th of September and this year it was held in our region at the University of Nottingham.  Three days of ‘no commute’ were blissful, it’s true, but actually the whole conference this year had a positive vibe about it which was great.  Especially given the difficult educational landscape of the last few years, to be in a constructive, positive, enthusiastic environment was very welcome.

So, some highlights…

Rachel Wenstone, VP for Higher Education, NUS

The over-riding themes of the conference seemed to me to be about partnerships, co-operation, openness and connection and a large slice of digital practice and these were exemplified by the refreshing opening keynote by Rachel Wenstone – VP for Higher Education from the NUS.  She offered a rejection of the ‘student as consumer’ concept which has been so prevalent since ‘Students at the Heart of the System‘ was published a couple of years ago.  Instead, Rachel talked about students as partners – not just ‘survey fillers’ but as real participants in shaping their use of learning technology… and involved in supporting the development of staff skills too (which sounded like a really interesting idea – and so far a missed opportunity).  Real student engagement, real academic partnerships and real defense against students as consumers.  Refreshing stuff!

Digital practice / practitioners

I also found the sessions on the digital practitioner useful.  It’s good to hear what other people are doing / thinking about the issues attached to digital literacy.  Liz Bennett from the University of Huddersfield offered several different ways of thinking about the digital practitioner and shared the thought that what drives uptake of new technology is not necessarily the skills and functional access to technology, but the willingness and attitude of those who may or may not engage with it.  She also offered the following questions for consideration:

  • How do we move the focus from the tools and skills to practices?
  • How do we cultivate application in situated practice?
  • How do we support risk taking?
  • How does the institution allow for radical form [sic] that are not constrained by the institution’s barriers?
  • How does the institution value attributes of the digital practitioner?

I definitely don’t have the answers to those, but I know that they feel like the right questions to be asking and engaging with.  She also made the point that in terms of developing as digital practitioners mimicry, vicarious learning / unintended exposure to others’ practices, ventriloquism (i.e. adopting new strategies and resources without necessarily buying in to them) and modelling were more effective than staff development courses.  So, an additional question emerges – How do we support a culture where the vicarious, the co-operative and connected informal learning and sharing of practice can take place and develop our digital practitioners?

Image of Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver offering definitions of digital literacies

Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver offering definitions of digital literacies

I also got a lot from Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver’s session ‘Why it’s not all about the learner’ – which, again, focused on digital literacy.  Rather than trying to report the detail of their presentation, I’ll instead link to Lesley’s presentation slides, which include the quotes and definitions which were so useful during their engaging session.  They’ve also got a blog about their project at http://diglitpga.jiscinvolve.org/wp/ which is worth taking a look at as well.  Some key points – really small issues (like logging off times / printing arrangements at universities) have big impacts on student learning space choice.  Control of space is important for learners.  The material campus is now saturated with digital mediation – we aren’t in an ‘optional extra’ culture where digital is concerned.  And finally (sorry for the disjointed points!), the meaning making aspect of digital literacy is important as well as the situated aspect.  Context and purpose – as ever – are vital to understanding of digital literacy.

Stephen Downes

The final highlight – though to be honest, there were others! – was Stephen Downes’ keynote entitled ‘What are Cultures of Learning‘.  He made some fascinating points about the change in MOOCs and what they seem to have morphed into from the origins of his first Massive Open Online Course.  One of which stuck out most of all – that it was a mistake to have called the ‘courses’ – and I think that taps into the heart of the problem of determining whether or not MOOCs are successful.  It’s a little like the oft quoted ‘Everybody is a genius.  But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid’ (Albert Einstein) – if you judge success of MOOCs by completion rates then, as in the analogy used by Downes, it’s a little like judging the success of a newspaper by whether or not people have read every single word, front to back.  Success and effectiveness of newspapers is the impact on society.  Did / does the paper act as an agent of change?  Does the MOOC actually help make change and allow learners to use them as *they* need?

Stephen Downs juggling multiple communication channels at ALT-C

Stephen Downs juggling multiple communication channels at ALT-C

He said that the reason MOOCs ‘fail’ was because they’re courses and they’re trying to do something formal in an environment that is essentially informal.  Additionally, massive discussion forums don’t work for MOOCs because they are an alien space in which people cannot make human-scale connections.  You come across this over and over again – an observable ingredient of something that’s successful turned into a formula for success.  Yet, conveniently leaves out the people and informal connection which truly makes the difference.

I also loved his points about ‘Why the Web Won’:

  • big is beautiful – one network prevails – think Facebook
  • scruffy works: let the links fail to make it scale
  • democracy rules: open, free and universal
  • but we lost (for a time) conceptual and contextual – the semantic web

From being a ‘MOOC failure’ myself, I can feel a renewed interest in the thing that got me fascinated by technology enhanced learning in the first place – people learning together and being amazing together, discovering new potential and possibility, connection, cooperation and community – without ever having met.  Enthusiasm being shared is a powerful catalyst.  I would never have thought of an astronaut tweeting from space being a ‘MOOC’ – but Chris Hadfield’s incredible Pied Piper job of playing a tune that everyone wanted to follow, is a slice of learning and sharing which was freeform, scruffy and big.  And not a course in sight.  Fabulous exciting stuff!

Oh, and Stephen’s also a multi-communication-channel-juggling genius.  He actively used the back channel and drew on his experience of the conference to create a performance not just a presentation!  It might be a bit Marmite… with some people disliking the distraction element – but I thought he was fabulous.  If you’re going to be all about open and online… you have to live by it, don’t you! 

So, overall ALT-C 2013 in Nottingham  was well worthwhile.  20 years of ALT, celebrated with constructive, thought-provoking opportunities for meeting with colleagues and making new connections.  Even if the weather in the East Midlands let us down, ever so slightly!!

Event Review: A Personal Voice? – Effective audio feedback

I recently attended a one day event funded by the HEA at the University of Leicester all about audio feedback. It was an interesting day where I got to hear what practices exist at other institutions and to pick up on some key areas to think about when considering using audio feedback. So here is a summary of some of the key things I picked up on.

Fear – Getting over the microphone in front of your face, the sound of your own voice and the pressure of recording something permanent are the first stumbling blocks. Perhaps try  engaging with podcasting as a precursor to providing audio feedback, this will help you to get familiar with your recorded voice and also with the audio technology you are using.

Time – The time saved through recording the feedback, as opposed to typing, can often be outweighed by the additional time needed to upload and distribute the files to the correct student. This is largely dependent on the technology you are using but also on the number of students you are feeding back to. Continue reading

Flee to the high ground! A technology Tsunami threatening HE fast approaches!

On Thursday 21st June, I attended the JISC RSC East Midlands e-Fair – http://moodle.rsc-em.ac.uk/ – and was introduced to the indomitable and controversial figure of Bob Harrison – http://www.setuk.co.uk/ for the first time. Bob is an Education Advisor and Consultant with a distinguished pedigree in FE. Explosive from the start, he managed to entertain, inform and wind people up in his keynote speech – http://moodle.rsc-em.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=215, which is what you want from an opening presentation. I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, particularly his observations about the need for pioneers who address the analogue thinking which informs much educational technology policies. His call for such individuals was refreshing and had me totally captivated. However, in the back of my head I had this niggling voice that told me he was going to spoil it all by making grandiose claims about the zeitgeist defining powers of technology in education. Continue reading

Event Review: ALT Large Scale Curriculum Redesign 21st May 2012

I recently attended a one day event organised by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) about large-scale curriculum redesign where technology plays a central role. There were various talks through-out the day from FE institutions who had set about delivering chunks of learning online. Worcester College of Technology talked about their PAL Packs, developed to provide 15% of every course online. South West College, Northern Ireland, presented their ‘virtual week’ where students were able to access all their learning from home. Leeds City College discussed how technology was driving large scale organisational change as well as transforming learning across their various campuses in Leeds.

Continue reading

MELSIG comes to the University of Derby

Continuing its commitment to provide the UoD with a forum in which to share good practice whilst debating current innovation in technology informed pedagogy, LEI hosted an event at Derby by the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MELSIG) on Friday 20th April.

Ben Sams at the MELSIG Event

An independent organisation focusing on the use of digital media to support teaching and learning in HE, MELSIG brings practitioners together from across the length and breadth of the UK. This was the first time the group had visited the University and they left proclaiming it to be “up there with the best of their events!” Having attended previous events and deciding that theUoD had a great deal of innovative practice to share, Charlie Davis and Glenn McGarry, both LEI, invited MELSIG to Derby and with the help of various colleagues organised the event. Continue reading