Thursday, 19 December 2013

All I want for Xmas is ..... more statistics!

I have now done a comparison of "digital skills" survey responses between July (pre-course) and December (end of term 1).

The number responding in December was smaller and the age range was slightly different in that a higher proportion of those responding were mature students.

Nonetheless, the responses reveal that - at the very least -  students' familiarity with certain specific online tools has increased (although they may not value or use this knowledge at this stage, at least they have been introduced to the tools). Their level of confidence in searching for and finding information has also increased as has their ability to do useful things like manage emails, synch their calendars to their phones and submit work on line.

Survey questions
Dec 2013
23% >35yrs
July 2013
10% > 35yrs
Specifically taught or used in module?
Confidence with:

Finding books in Library
73 (+5)
Finding sources on Internet
94 (+4)
58 (+4)
Using search terms
92 (+7)
Understanding plagiarism
91 (+7)
Access to technology
57 (+1)
Posting on a blog
48 (+5)
Creating a website
23 (+3)
Posting on a discussion forum
59 (+8)
Synching email and calendar to phone
85 (+12)
Organising and using email
96 (+3)
Creating documents on Word
100 (+2)
Creating PowerPoint presentation
87 (-12)
Submitting work online
77 (+12)
Familiarity with:

77 (+13)
Social Bookmarking
43 (+37)
Google Scholar
59 (+37)
Mobile Bookmarks
60 (+19)
Cloud Storage
55 (+25)
54 (+35)
92 (+3)
65 (+17)
Linked in
21 (+17)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Student Engagement - some statistics

I am currently wrestling with data provided by the VLE, attendance registers, formative assessments and student surveys to try to get a picture of student progression and  engagement.

The module I teach to year one students is not the most popular - I have striven this year to make it a lot more engaging through greater use of technology, more links to video, websites etc and highly interactive classes but still, research and study skills are not particularly sexy. Some students don't see these skills as at all relevant which means they could be in for a bit of a shock next term.

Admittedly many students report that these days they get a good grounding in Harvard referencing at school and especially in Access to HE courses, but judging from the standard of referencing in their first formative assessment, the majority really don't know what they don't know.

An ongoing debate I have been having with a colleague is about the advance posting of material on the VLE. He believes that this discourages attendance and in fact goes so far as to provide only outline notes with clearly highlighted gaps which can only be filled in by attending the lecture (or borrowing the notes of a fellow student). This prompts complaints from students - those whose first language is not English in particular, but also those with dyslexia or other disabilities which make attendance at lectures or notetaking - or both - very difficult.

My own findings tend to suggest that those students who regularly access material on the VLE - reading ahead of the seminars or revising material afterwards - are also those who attend best.

Those who have attended more than 70% of all seminars have on average viewed material in the learning room 26 times.

Those who have attended less than 70% of the time have viewed the learning materials on average around 10 times.

Furthermore, of those who submitted their formative assignment, the average attendance level was 68% and number of views 22. Of those who did not submit, the figures were 42% attendance and 9 views.

Engagement seems to mean engagement across the board. Students are not generally staying at home and catching up via the VLE - at least not on my module - and publishing all of my material on the VLE in advance of the seminar does not appear to harm attendance. In the end of term survey on the class, 72% say they find the materials on the VLE easy to access and 52% say the homework or personal study tasks (which they complete via the VLE) are useful.

Students do though seem to dislike the delivery of the seminars in the Scale Up environment. 58% feel that the classes are NOT well organised (that hurts - I spend hours lesson planning and populating the learning rooms with advance of notice of what we are doing every week) although 74% say they get good tutor support in class and 82% feel they get equally good support outside of class. 56% say they enjoy the group based activities but 96% think the class size is too big. (The room is intended to be for 108 students seated at 12 tables each holding 9 students).

On the positive side, they have not experienced too many difficulties with the Macs (56% say they are easy to use) and 60% say they have learned new ITC skills in the classes.

I have to agree that the size of the class is absolutely overwhelming and the much vaunted advantages of Scale Up seem not to be being realised. It is interesting that since these problems started to emerge I have found some information on line about the well known problems of this style of teaching.

These were not discussed when the pilot was mooted and volunteers sought. I guess they were entirely foreseeable in many instances so I feel rather silly for not having looked further ahead.

Where students detail their complaints about the module, they say that there is insufficient support on hand (although most classes have been team taught and include student mentors) and that there is insufficient teaching input (it is designed as inquiry based learning - may be this approach is confusing for first year students in a largely conventionally taught course).

The content doesn't really excite them either. In their comments ("What is your least favourite module and why") many were fairly negative about the module and say that the topics are irrelevant, boring or incomprehensible.

"I do like all modules.l have a bit of problem with the research and professional practise module.It goes very fast and the group is too big.At times l get lost whilst carrying out a takes long to get back on track."
is a fairly typical comment.

One student complained that learning about writing and referencing was only useful if you want to be a receptionist and not a health professional! However, the satisfaction ratings tell a different story:

60% found the sessions on digital identity to be useful
88% rated the sessions on Harvard referencing very positively
92% found the plagiarism and Turnitin session useful
82% were very satisfied with the session on search techniques using the library catalogue, databases and Google Scholar

There was quite a lot of support for sessions we ran on Evernote, Diigo and Google Drive (60% satisfaction for each), but the verdict was 60% against the use of Twitter - some enjoyed it but  the majority found it irrelevant or an intrusion on their private spaces.

A couple of positive comments were:
"its amazing what we can find for ourselves with a pc or a laptop"
 ".. it is more interesting to learn about new techniques and how you go about it,and that can boost my confidence up and be able to do a lot on the internet through my studies"

Generally I think there is something about the readiness of the class to work independently and smaller class sizes may be helpful at this point to be able to give more support to students in carrying out the group tasks. Inevitably there are going to be students who find the topics boring so there is also an argument for putting some of this teaching into drop in workshops or integrating the skills into other tasks - even into other modules?

In the first formative assessment it is really evident that even those who have attended well have failed to really get to grips with referencing, information evaluation and even basic structuring of their writing. They may not find these topics particularly interesting, but they do need some way of developing these skills. I know from supervising final year dissertations that these are not skills that necessarily just develop by themselves over time. I am still instructing final year students in how to search on line databases and some still insist on emailing me with referencing queries (!).

If anyone has cracked this one, please let me know!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Resources to aid engagement #digilit

I created a Prezi with some suggestions for using web based resources in and outside of the classroom:


Sunday, 10 November 2013

A pedagogy for the millenials? #digilit

This week, in the course of some Twitter-based research for my next leadership workshop,  I came across this nice little video about leadership and motivation as it relates to the Millenial generation.

For me it had resonance with teaching and learning in this new age. True I have many students who are Gen X or even Baby Boomers. True, not all Millenial babies are genuinely digitally native in their behaviours, but it is important I think to recognise that we (Baby Boomer staff) are dealing with a new generation and need a pedagogy (or maybe more appropriately an androgogy) that suits the times.

Androgogy is perhaps the term we should apply to adult learners in HE - certainly we anticipate the sort of transitions indicated in Knowles' (1984) definition as students progress through a University education:

1. Self-concept: As a person matures his self concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being
2. Experience: As a person matures he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning.
3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.
4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness.
5. Motivation to learn: As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal(Knowles 1984:12). (from Infed)

but I wonder how much our attitudes towards teaching and learning get in the way of aiding this transition? The chart above (from: illustrates some of the key differences between androgogical and pedagogical approaches.

In a conversation with students earlier this week as part of the Changing the Learning Landscape project we heard of practices in classrooms that still assume a much more passive role on the part of learners, with the "lecturer" still expert and dominating the classroom activity as they did in the Victorian schoolroom.

Trying as I do to teach with technology, to support the development of digital skills and the responsible use of the Internet for research, I can't see how I can achieve my aims without harnessing the students' native abilities and attitudes - making space for them to learn collaboratively, allowing noise - allowing mobile devices - in the classroom, building on their well developed social networking skills to show how these can be used to support research and learning. I was trying to explain how my workshops go to colleagues this week and their response was "yes, but where's the academic rigour, where's the voice of the expert? This might work in something like study skills but would it work in, say, a history degree?"  I wonder why it wouldn't?

A problem based, technology enhanced, collaborative approach makes for a messy and complicated classroom verging on the chaotic at times. It's not always comfortable for me or the learners but I am starting to see some "green shoots" of independent learning and great engagement in the classroom and interestingly it is some of the older "non-traditional" students who seem to be enjoying and benefiting from this approach. Whilst the Millenials may be feeling more  "so what?" about my classes, the older students have been feeding back to me their excitement about their developing digital competence. One student wrote to me this week that my module was "possibly the most interesting and also the most complicated" of all those he was studying. In my book, that's not a bad thing :)

Thursday, 31 October 2013

#digilit #fail Back to the Drawing Board

Artist: Lucy Gough

well, this week I am mostly teaching old school stylee. I am currently designing Powerpoint slides, having handouts printed and thanking whoever stocked the SCALE UP room with resources for the mini whiteboards, pens and board wipes they provided.

Oh and if anyone knows a good joiner.....

So here I am, an edtech aficionado, teaching a digital literacy skills module, in a state of the art classroom, completely stymied by tech failures. On Monday the first problem we encountered was the partition doors between two classrooms refusing to move, so we had to teach 2/3 of the class in the same room as the teaching podium and 1/3 behind a screen - complete with disembodied voice over the speakers (that was after we ran to the shop to buy batteries for the mic which was completely dead on arrival...). By the time I arrived later that same afternoon to teach my second class, the VLE had either gone on strike or been hit by the St Jude weather event as I could not open a single link and the students could not log on to the system via their fancy mac books.

Fortunately I was able to reach You Tube for the video clip I had lined up and we used the aforementioned whiteboards for the interactive group task. But the class dragged a bit as I was defeated by the perfect storm of tech failures.

I have been considering whether Scale Up is the right acronym for me to continue using. The term is virtually a copyrighted one which has fairly strict criteria about the way the process is managed and which I don't really feel I achieve. My students charmingly refer to it as SCUP as that is the abbreviation that shows up on their timetables, and this week I was trying to work out how I could accommodate SCUPPERED as a new name..... please submit your answers in the comments box below:)

I have though considered:

BAGEL - big active group environment for learning (this is particularly apt as the tables in the classroom are round, with a hole in the middle!)

BABEL - big activity based environment for learning (reflects the noise level of 108 students all talking at once!)

or even

LIBEL - Large inquiry based environment for learning (I am hoping some of my critical comments about the project aren't deemed to be libellous)

On a positive note, my third year class seem to be getting into their creative stride - one group posted an Instagram video rather than use the white board for their visualisation of a dysfunctional team: it was a very cool response to the task. This is the part of the module where I start to get excited - when the students take over and get into their projects. My job becomes less about teaching and more about guiding. On this note, here's a nice little piece about project based learning which serves as a useful checklist when teaching this way.

And finally, I recently found out that I won the Vice Chancellor's Award for Teaching this year (one of 5 such awards across the University). The criteria are around creativity, innovation, inspiration, employability and technology. The module I teach to the year 3 students ticks all those boxes I know (she says modestly!) but I feel a little bit as though I have cheated - the real inspiration, creativity and innovation comes from the students themselves. Still, its great to have my efforts and struggles recognised - it will certainly keep me going through the disasters and dark nights of the soul I seem to experience on a weekly basis.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Week Four - Groups

oh dear, oh dear, oh dear..... why is group work at university such a fraught subject?

Well, let's face it, working in teams in the workplace is no walk in the park either. And that's really the theme of the module I teach to my final year students.

The aim of this module and its associated assessment is to experience being part of a project team - and then to reflect on that experience using relevant theory. Normally we look at old favourites such as Tuckman and Belbin, but increasingly I feel that these don't really touch some of the real problems that teams and individuals within those teams seem to experience.

This week's session focussed on choosing the team. Most students had already begun the process and I had provided a Google Spreadsheet on which they could organise themselves. A good number of students hadn't managed this by the day before the deadline so I sent out a reminder and a warning that I would allocate anyone not already signed up. I also stressed that the purpose of the seminar was to meet with other members and work together on the project. This message had a big impact on attendance and in the end there was just a handful of students who hadn't formed a project team.

The seminar itself probably looked from the outside to be rather chaotic - and probably felt that way too for those students still involved in negotiations - and peregrinations around the room - to find a "home".

But by the end of the hour - to everyone's relief - the job was done. Everyone seemed to be fairly happy with their final groupings so I was shocked when the next day one student reported having been bullied by another because she had chosen not to work with her.

The second task I had set the students on Monday was to develop a group contract. All spoke about equal contributions, attendance and above all, treating one another with respect but intergroup groundrules have not been discussed.

What is happening when problems like this occur? What prompts such nasty behaviour? Is there any way that these difficulties can be avoided ? Some colleagues have commented to me that selecting the groups FOR the students is a better option, as it avoids just this sort of problem. See also this paper on Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams which advises a fairly presecriptive approach.

Students in the main though prefer to make their own choices because they know  - by their final year - who they can work with, who turns up and who makes a fair contribution. They have commented in their NSS and end of module evaluations that group work marks are unfair if the group is "landed with" an absent or non contributing member or someone whose work is of poor quality. They also hate it when that person gets a decent grade despite their poor performance because other group members take up the slack. I would also say that in 3 years of teaching this module to 6 different cohorts I have actually only ever experienced one problem group and I have always stuck with self selection.

As I was puzzling over these questions, I was directed to this interesting article about workplace relationships which I think has relevance here. Inter- and intra-group rivalries, bullying, exclusion, and withdrawal have their roots in anxieties about personal competence, competitiveness, envy and insecurities around belonging. These anxieties are as true of the student group as they are in the workplace or the family, but we rarely discuss them openly.

Groups that are forced by circumstances - or their tutors - to work together, need a way of developing a sense of belongingness fairly quickly so they can get on with the task before them. If they spend too long "storming" amongst themselves they may fail to accomplish their more strategic objectives. A quick way of a group starting to feel more cohesive is to set themselves up as separate from all the others.

Within the group, especially if the membership is not self selecting and students do not have existing bonds of friendship, another survival tactic is to develop cliques or to scapegoat one particular individual - again this allows the rest of the group to feel superior, to have a sense of being "on the inside", as they identify others who are on the outside.

The leaders role in these circumstances is to name the process and make it clear that bullying is unacceptable. Lencioni has an interesting take on group development which builds on Tuckman's original model and shows just how dysfunctional teams can become if the forming and storming is not negotiated appropriately - time has to be spent on building trust so that any subsequent conflict can be dealt with appropriately and healthily.

Hmmmm - as someone who hates conflict in all its manifestations, I confess I am not entirely clear what consitutes "healthy" conflict, but I think that what is meant is that dealing with differences of opinion, or deciding what to do when there is a range of opinions, don't have to feel threatening if a group of people have a basic sense that they are all on the same side.

So this will be my theme for Week 5 I suspect.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

#digilit #digital identity Week 3 Digital Citizenship

This week with my final year "leadership" students we have been exploring ideas around digital citizenship and the way leaders use social media. The group exercise this week was to find the blog, Linked In page or Twitter feed of a well known leader and comment on their digital identity. This was a follow up to the work we did last week on our own digital identity.

There are some great resources out there on the whole subject of digital citizenship including this video and this infographic which provide nice jumping off points for discussion.

I fear I am getting to the point now where I feel the need to lecture. Over the next few weeks there is some heavy content that I want to ensure they are getting to grips with on the theory of team work, for example. I don't particularly want to stand in front of them regurgitating stuff they can go away and read for themselves, but I do at least want to give them some pointers on where to start and what the main themes are. I am thinking of perhaps doing some mini videocasts which they can review after the seminars - I really want to keep the class time for group interaction - and my more personal interactions with each team as they get to grips with the tasks.

Each week as we wait for the class to start I conduct some mini focus groups with students to see how they are getting on. They report that they are finding the Macs a challenge even though most are managing to use them effectively in the class. They also acknowledge that in Year 3 there is so much more work to be done outside the official "contact time" - in all modules, not just mine. This group of students are possibly having a harder time in the Scale Up environment as they have not used technology before in the classroom environment (well apart from checking Facebook updates on their phones...) and are more used to a traditional lecture format, but some it has to be said have worked in a workshop setting before and like the more interactive way of working.

This week I came across this lovely Edutopia blog post about student engagement. This was written about US 8th graders but I think it applies equally to undergraduates. In brief the principles are:

1. Interaction with peers
2. Using technology
3. Connection to the real world
4. Love what you do (teacher)
5. Get me out of my seat!
6. Bring in visuals
7. Student choice
8. Understand your students
9. Mix it Up (varied activities)
10. Be human (teacher - have fun yourself!)

I couldn't have put it better myself and I'm pleased and proud that I am incorporating much of this already into the module. Getting them out of their seats is perhaps one thing I might try to do better at... something to think about!

#digilit #digitalidentity Week 2 - they came back for more! this week I planned things better and simplified the task.

I discovered with the smaller seminar group on Friday that the students really like Twitterfall so I used that to gather responses to the task alongside the Discussion Board. I also managed to get Apple TV working and one or two started to ask me to display their work.

I still need to go slower.... what looks like a really simple and straightforward task to me took a bit of explaining, but once they got the hang of it, they were off. I am so grateful for the wireless mic when I need to stop the chatter and give a bit of information/instruction.

I really like that I am not tied to the lectern and can circulate around the class. Everyone seems to be pretty much on task most of the time - and generally having fun doing it.

The technological problems are there - we had at least 10 Macs that had not been logged off so had to be hard-rebooted (switch it off and then on again, basically). One of the screens had shorted and the sound was consequently too low when I showed a video - but IS were round in a flash (no pun intended) and set it all up again for me.

So today was an exercise in reviewing and protecting our digital identity. I used this great resource on Digital Identity for Health Professionals  which I can really recommend. Students took individual case studies and worksheets and concluded by presenting three action points they would recommend to others. They seemed engaged and interested in the topic and curious to Google themselves or check their Facebook privacy etc. I think it was a far more engaging session than would have been possible had I simply stood up at the front and lectured them about the perils of social media.

I have also been really impressed by the way students have engaged beyond the classroom, posting their presentations and discussion threads, Tweeting their thoughts. In order not to exclude students who are not on Twitter, I have collected Tweets into a Storify page and posted this on the Learning Room.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A digital disaster

well that may be a little strong, but the first class in the new teaching and learning environment yesterday was less than smooth...
....and it wasn't the Apple Macs that caused the grief - in fact most students settled in happily to using them and were generally tolerant of the unfamiliar UI . Some had brought their own ipads and laptops too and the wifi stood up to the test.

No - the disaster was in another area altogether and I am left wondering why I never seem to anticipate the unintended consequences of change projects or at least remind myself to expect the unexpected.

The main confusion for the students seemed to be in navigating their way through the VLE. After spending the summer building what I thought a really beautiful learning room it was only when this was tested to destruction by 100 students that I realised my errors. Although I'd tried to put stuff into logical sections and sequences, students were nonetheless frustrated by having to scroll back and forth and wade through clunky breadcrumb trails to complete simple tasks. And engagement with those tasks was miniscule at the end of the hour.

So where did it all go wrong?

I think firstly I was too ambitious in terms of what I hoped to achieve in a first session with a large group, using unfamiliar equipment and an unfamiliar platform. I could have cut down the material by 2/3 and simplified the tasks.

Secondly, I didn't spend long enough explaining the layout and navigation of the learning room.

Thirdly, I do think that if we had been able to get the student mentors in post from Day One, more general support could have been offered which would have facilitated the process. There was some technical help available for the hardware, but noone on hand who could explain how the VLE was meant to be used (apart from me).

And what went well?

Well the session was well attended and the group were lively and engaged with one another in attempting to overcome their various problems (and in working on the set questions, to be fair).

I was freed up to be able to circulate around the room and help small groups where necessary. The vast majority were on task and not simply checking their emails. I did also see some groups leave the learning room to do a bit of googling in order to develop their repsonses to the tasks.(This is a GOOD thing in my book)

I spoke to a small group of students afterwards to get an immediate response. Their feeling was generally "it was a bit confusing but we'll get used to it" no shock horror then.

Nonetheless I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning as I tried to figure out what I needed to do to fix things. I was grateful to Twitter (as is often the case) for a lovely Edutopia post on learning from our mistakes
aimed specifically at the "connected educator" - which in turn led me to find these wonderful TED talks on learning from failure.

I do have some regrets about my hubris in thinking I could manage all of this in a class of over 100, but then I remind myself that the aim of Scale Up is to bring student centred, problem based learning to the large class. I also need reminding that bringing technology into the classroom is essential and an urgent priority - as this article echoes.  Making changes of such an order is bound to be fraught with difficulties.

Afterall is said and done, my big mistake yesterday might not seem much of a mistake at all to others. And I am learning from it. I am going to make some changes to my lesson plans for the coming weeks and I am going to add a screencast to the Learning Room which will explain the navigation.

I am then going to stop beating myself up and remind myself that whilst I have a responsibility as an educator to support and facilitate my students based on the best evidence available, ultimately I have to trust each individual learner to find their own way - and even to make their own mistakes - in the process of learning.

Monday, 23 September 2013

New pencil case

Ah! It's that time of year - a whiff of autumn in the air mingled with late summer sunshine, hungover students arriving for their induction session.... a new pencil case used to be the order of the day, now it's a re-organised virtual learning room.

Over the summer I have had to sharpen up some of my own digital skills as I got to grips with the upgraded VLE (Desire2Learn vn 10). I have to admit to liking what I am seeing - a more intuitive user interface, better overall layout and appearance, some handy new features which allow me to highlight the essentials of each session.

The new VLE layout also complements beautifully the Scale Up or flipped classroom approach that my modules are taking this year as I can create or curate interesting content that is accessible out of class as well as plan, design and publish group learning activities that we will do in the workshops.

For my first year module, the aim is to develop digital information literacy. Where in past years I have had to start with fundamentals like "how to switch on the computer" (I kid ye not...) this time we hope to hit the ground running with an exploration of digital citizenship.

To illustrate the layout of the VLE - and as an example of a session from the module- here is a screen print of one of my new sessions on Social Media and Research:

A key element which is informing the evolving design of the module is students' response to a "Digital Skills" survey which I conducted with them as a pre-Induction activity. You can download the survey here if you are interested.

The responses tell us the sort of things students are worried about and where they already feel confident. A similar module last year attracted some criticism because students felt we were going over ground they were already familiar with. This year we have a better idea of students' capabilities and knowledge before we meet them and so have been able to tailor the module accordingly.

For example, recognising that a lot of them are already familiar with blogging and Twitter, we can now spend more time looking at online identity and using social media for research than we do in teaching them how to use email and submit assignments.

Having today met the first year students face to face for the first time, I am feeling excited about beginning the module next week despite needing to get to grips with the unfamiliar physical teaching environment and wondering how to manage sessions with such large numbers (see earlier posts about this: Enhancement and Risk Management). Designing the virtual  learning room is, by comparison, a quiet, contemplative and creative process which I have actually enjoyed over the summer. Whether the reality matches up to the dream is another matter. I'll be keeping you posted.

Finally, I have to report that the pre-induction Facebook group has been a great success this year. Over 50% of students are already members (and more have joined today since the induction workshop). Students have raised questions about everything from reading lists to bus stops, queried timetables and asked about the difference between seminars and lectures (I forget how many assumptions we make about this kind of thing) and have been holding private chats with one another about their hopes and fears.

Social networking's ability to initiate genuine - and genuinely helpful -  relationships should not to be underestimated - nor allowed to be cheapened by the horror stories about grooming and bullying we hear on the news. The success of the Facebook group really came home to me today when I realised how many faces I already knew and how friendly and at ease the group seemed with me - and perhaps more importantly with one another  - having already made those vital, virtual connections. A great start to the term - and I didn't even need a new pencil case!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

#digilit Connecting for learning

Image c/o Mark Hawksey

I am currently wrestling with the planning for my first year module on Digital Literacy (as it is fast becoming) and I am stuck with a dilemma about blogging.

I want to convince students that blogging is A GOOD THING in and of itself - to help them reflect on their learning. But without an incentive (i.e. grades, or at least sweeties) it feels to me unlikely that they will buy this.

I am also suggesting that blogs can be a rich source of service user experience (I teach on a health and social care course) alongside more academic texts, and this I think will be of use to them.

So if I ask them to blog but never read their blogs or offer feedback they will rightly ask "why should I?". And if I do start down that road with 100+ students, have I realistically got the time to invest in such an activity? (er, "NO" is the correct answer to that)

Then this morning I happened on a Tweet from @NikPeachey sharing a link to this MindShift blog piece on the importance of connection:

One common wrinkle with the Donate step in Schneiderman’s framework is that many teachers and students simply launch their products onto the Internet, and most of the time they land like a tree falling in an empty forest. In the best learning environments, sharing work doesn’t just mean posting on the Internet; it means building connections with a wider community, so that sharing becomes part of a set of relationships and patterns of exchange. Mobile computing devices let students take those connections with them wherever they go.
(How Tablets Can Enable Meaningful Connections for Students and Teachers By Justin Reich and Beth Holland)

I don't have the perfect solution as yet, but I do think that the connecting and developing a network bit is what I am really after rather than getting students to write a blog solely with the aim of earning brownie points.

Reich and Holland recommend Twitter as a means of connection:

 a collaboratively produced stream of tweets from students can become a running record of classroom life through pictures, text, questions, and conversations. It also provides a mechanism for modeling the connections that we hope young students will make as they progress in their education.

This fits better with the idea I have already had of encouraging students to work in groups and post outcomes using tweets and hashtags. If I add to this an encouragement to microblog using Twitter (or tweet links to longer published blog posts) AND develop a PLN (personal learning network) on the same platform, this could start to look like a plan.....

The serendipity element of Twitter which brought this tweet into my consciousness this morning is the very thing I want to convince students about. The stuff people share has a direct impact on my practice, practically every time I open up Twitter. And I know from retweets, replies and post views that sharing my own struggles and discoveries has some impact on others. This feedback loop is what keeps me motivated to go on learning, developing, sharing.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

#digilit #digitalidentity 2FB or not 2FB?

My relationship with Facebook is undergoing a change. I have set up a closed group for incoming first year students and we have 40 members already, with still a month to go until Induction. Also, unlike last year's experiment with a FB Page, there is quite a bit of discussion and some messaging going on which is mainly around joining and preparing for the course. We don't have any student mentors on the group as yet as we are still in the process of recruiting these for our Digital Literacy project, but I am hoping once they are on board we (tutors) can relinquish control and quietly slip away.

On a personal & professional level I also sense a change. In the last few months I have joined more professional FB groups, liked a lot of education related FB Pages and find myself sharing posts from fellow educators and techie types whose posts I find relevant and interesting - much like on Twitter.

Twitter would still be my first port of call for interesting ed tech links but it is surprising how much goodness is emerging from good old FB. Earlier this year I had considered leaving it all together but now I'm possibly more hooked than ever.

Apart from the whole student engagement advantage of having a new students' Facebook group, my aim is also to use the group in my teaching this year - in particular to kick start a debate about digital citizenship and digital identity.

A resource I am planning to use is the "This is Me" workbook  which draws on examples of profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In and asks students (or health care professionals or the retired etc) to consider the impact of their own public digital personas. It's a really useful and simple downloadable text which should work well as either a class based or homework activity.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

#ocTEL Week 9 Risk Management

This week's activity is called"Cheating Murphy's Law". I was about to embark on the first activity - reviewing a previous project and saying where it had gone wrong, what I would do differently etc when real life intervened and I was suddenly confronted with a possibly very risky turn in the development of the Scale Up project.

It may not seem like a big deal, but the IS people have decided they want to get Mac Books for the new classroom.

Now admittedly, some staff in certain specialist areas do use Macs with their students. And some students may well be au fait with the operating system and key board in the Mac environment, but the vast majority of my students are not. I can immediately see a big risk of students being turned off, anxious and frankly perplexed - especially when all of the computers they are able to access in the University's public spaces (such as the library) are Windows based PCs. And let's not even start on staff reactions! Apart from that handful of Art and Design lecturers involved in the project, the majority are Windows PC users: that's the kit we have on our desks at work (and usually at home). It is hard enough getting staff to engage with technology without adding a further obstacle.

Of course IS have reassured us that the Mac Book has "dual boot" (OK so long as we know how to do that) but it doesn't have a dual keyboard...... Is it just me or does this seem a bit daft?

So: Murphy's Law - what can go wrong, will (and especially if the decisions affecting teaching and learning are left to people who don't actually teach or interact with learners). My Risk Log is embedded below -

Friday, 7 June 2013

#ocTEL Week 8 Enhancement

If you didn't already realise it, I am a big fan of virtual learning, TEL, MOOCs, PLEs etc so I have enjoyed this week's assignments - especially the videos about Saylor and Udacity.

I admit I haven't  really thought in terms of reducing costs as far as my project goes, although I know that in my previous job, the decision to deliver the course for NHS managers using a predominantly e-learning approach was based on cost factors.The decision to use more technology in my teaching is really about increasing the sense of fun and interactivity that students get from it and decreasing the amount of time I stand up  in front of them reading from slides.

Weirdly the climate in HE now is so heavily influenced by NSS, Unistats and KIS data that any curriculum decisions which reduce f2f contact in favour of more online, problem based, collaborative, digital approaches are actually being overturned. We are being required to add in hours of lectures and seminars in modules where you would actually be expecting much more independent learning of the students (a final year dissertation, for example) despite the huge cost in terms of staff hours (which are scarce) and rooms (even scarcer).

But cost is of course a factor in many decisions. This week I have been involved in discussions about using a MOOC-like resource as a way of attracting teens into my subject area - a pre-university taster delivered on line. Attracting more students is going to be essential for some courses to stay economically viable. And arguably it is more cost effective all round if students end up choosing the right course first time round.

So... back to the week's activity: the enhancement I am most hoping for from the redesign of my module is that it will actually be much more fun, more media rich and more interactive, both in the classroom and out of it. One thing I have really appreciated from my involvement in three MOOCs since January is the wealth of freely available educational material (ie no cost!), including games, simulations and videos, which can be integrated into the learning environment.

I do think that the redesign of the module is going to be fairly costly in terms of time that I and my team spend in planning sessions and building the learning room on line, but hopefully this will have a long term benefit.

Today I have been at a workshop discussing how to embed Ditgital Literacies in the curriculum. As part of this - and in connection with the Scale Up project - I have recently helped put together a bid to fund student mentors to work with new undergraduates on the development of digital literacies in transition. The use of students as change agents to mentor other students (and staff) is an exciting idea and if successful I hope to engage the student mentors alongside other teaching team members to contribute to a project blog. Recording and reflecting on our progress through the project is going to be an essential part of all of our learning.

I was also inspired by a conversation I had with a colleague about engaging students in decisions about assessment design, something which I think has real potential to increase student engagement - in fact involving students more as partners in all aspects of the curriculum design is a challenge I think I'd like to give more thought to.


Finally, some news - related to all of the above - I am going to the PLE conference in Berlin in July. I attended the inaugural one in Barcelona three years ago so it will be interesting to see how the debate has moved on. I used to think in terms of a dichotomy between VLE and PLE but I now feel that digital literacy implies the management of a PLE (personal learning environment) which actually includes the institutional VLE among its many components. I also used to think that PLE as a concept was a long way from where my students were (or vice versa) but now I see these converging as I witness more and more students arriving with mobile devices and we as a University start to think about digital enhancements to the curriculum that extend beyond the VLE. 

ps: random picture from my recent holiday in Tarragona - street furniture which has been "enhanced" at minimal cost by local graffiti artists: I thought it was a good metaphor for the week's topic! :)