conference

ELESIG NW “Seek, Gather, Explore”. 15 March

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The ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group) North West group meet at Liverpool John Moores University on 15th March.

ELESIG logo

This was an afternoon event, which began with Dr Amanda Mason & Jim Turner from LJMU feeding back about a project to set-up and run a virtual Journal Club.

Dr Rod Cullen from Manchester Metropolitan University then discussed how they had used data from a student survey to gain some insight into students experience of TEL. A greater level of consistency across the student experience was a key finding – the most vocal reports were often when a student had a good experience on one course and a poor experience on another.

Other themes emerging were communications (clarity around how often & when to respond, for example), VLE content & organisation (timeliness of content, clarity of purpose, organisation, etc.), and an interactive teaching & learning experience (a desire to be involved in learning & teaching, not just passive recipients of information). Most of the issues were around learning design, rather than the technology. One idea was for better discussions with students regarding expectations with technologies, and how they can/should be used in their studies.

Daniel Roberts and Tunde Varga-Atkins from the University of Liverpool discussed a minimum standards VLE baseline. They found that the staff who were aware of the baseline, were generally positive about it, but didn’t want it to be too prescriptive, whilst 95% of students surveyed felt that a baseline was important – again, highlighting the need for consistency (students reported less provision on the VLE than staff thought they were providing).

Ashwini Datt from the University of Auckland then talked about a couple of MOOCs her university had developed and run. She discussed the idea of MOOC blending – where some of the resources for the MOOC were used in “on-campus” courses.

Professor Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University then discussed “rising to the challenge of education in the digital age”. She talked about the diverse ways that learners respond to technologically rich environments, and how it is difficult to generalise.

She felt that learner voices were important, as the student experience is a strategic priority, however internal systems can be slow to adapt to rapid technology changes.

Currently, the focus is on blended learning, digital literacy, distance learning & MOOCs. The goal is to prepare learners for the digital world; a global, networked society. Users need to be confident users of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use.

As with most of the speakers, consistency was again seen as vital. Curriculum redesign was happening with multi-disciplinary teams to help ensure consistency and embedding of digital skills. A mapping exercise using the Jisc NUS Benchmarking Tool was also mentioned.

A very useful session, highlighting again a number of key areas that can help support the student experience and develop vital digital skills.

Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference, 5 – 6 January

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The title of this year’s conference – the 17th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference – was “Ticked Off – Towards Better Assessment & Feedback”. The event was held at the Durham University Business School.

There was an interesting mix of presentations throughout the two days, as well as opportunities to discuss ideas and issues with colleagues during breaks.

The opening keynote was Susie Schofield from the University of Dundee. Susie felt that students could avoid bad teaching, but not bad assessment; emphasising the need for clearly defined assessment criteria.

Susie said that feedback can be harmful – too much, too complicated, too late etc., and that feedback shouldn’t be too positive or too negative. There is also a difficulty in getting students to engage in feedback – they tend to be interested only in marks.

Good feedback should be dialogic she argued, but acknowledged that moving to this approach could cause friction within organisations as it could be seen as a redistribution of power.

She went on to describe a case study where a cover paper was produced for each assignment. Each student was expected to complete the cover sheet, self-evaluating on various criteria and stating what aspect of the assignment they would specifically like feedback on, as well as whether previous feedback had helped inform this assignment. This cover sheet was formatively marked.

On receipt of the marked assessment, there were some additional questions for the students, asking them to comment on the feedback.

Susie stated that the results were better engagement with students & tutors, improved feedback and improved assessment literacy.

There are some more details of the case study here;

Other presenters at the conference discussed different tools and strategies that they had used to support assessment and feedback within Blackboard.

One talk was on gamification, which was described as the use of game-thinking to help promote learning and problem-solve. Some examples of how behaviour can be influenced by taking a game-based approach were shown, and these can be found here; http://www.thefuntheory.com/, with one example below

I also went to presentations around system reporting and the use of design to help promote consistency.

Overall, a very informative and enjoyable conference with plenty of ideas.

PebbleBash 2016

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I recently attended the above Conference at the Technology Innovation Park, University of Wolverhampton. This Conference was a ‘global gathering’ and brought together established users of PebblePad from Australia and the UK with new users of the system, Canada and America for the first time. PebblePad conferences happen in the UK every 2 years and are renowned for their friendliness, collegiality and the obligatory ceilidh. The two days were brimmed full with the sharing of good practice, inspirational speakers and plenty of ideas to take away. As with any conference, it is good to get totally immersed with like-minded people and hear fresh ideas and approaches to current PebblePad usage from all over the world, by universities and professional bodies alike.

The University of Cumbria has been a user of PebblePad since its inception in 2005, and thus, we were one of the more established users at the event (along with Bradford, Edinburgh and Wolverhampton). We have seen it through its various stages from early ‘Classic’ (remember those plopping pebbles?) to Version 3 (our current version) and to looking ahead at Version 5 which most universities transferred over to this summer. (By way of explanation, we didn’t feel that the product was ‘ready enough’ for our students and staff at this moment in time, as major functions such as ‘Collaborate’ aren’t in the new version yet. They will be by the time we transfer across in the summer of 2017.)

Newer users of PebblePad have solely begun to use Version 5; so-called as it is written in HTML5 which means it will work on any PC, laptop or mobile device and will behave in exactly the same way on whichever device is used. Flash has now been written out of the operating system entirely, which proved so troublesome for Apple-based products for many years. These new users were brimming with ideas of how they currently use the system and are discovering more about it as time progresses. One clear theme that came through is, once students get to grips with using the system, the standard of creative work which emerges out of given tasks is far superior to standard written formats. Version 5 is heralded as the easiest yet to use, with items added via drag and drop.

Some of the ideas being showcased were not new to us, for example, using PebblePad for annual review processes, but others were quite unique, for example, using PebblePad to track dissertation proposals through from initial idea and meetings, through to allocation of supervisors, recording of meetings and collecting all the paperwork surrounding this complex process into one place. What did emerge is that where PebblePad has been enthusiastically adopted, students and staff were reaping good rewards out of the system.

Throughout the course of the two days, I saw demonstrations of how some institutions use PebblePad to map their NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) Professional Standards; others use it to track their TTA (Teacher Training Agency) Professional Standards, and many more use it for a variety of ‘soft’ employability skills – equivalent to our Career Ahead offer. Students in many institutions are ‘gifted’ (yes they speak of it as a gift they give to their students) with PebblePad and are expected to use it to chart their development through their studies. Inspiring talks demonstrated how PebblePad were used for health OSCEs (practical assessments); paramedic training, history artefact creation and website design, dentistry to name but a very few subjects.  All inspiring stuff.

I particularly liked the use Plymouth make of PebblePad. All students compile a portfolio – called their Compass. There are 4 elements to their portfolio and students are tasked with collecting evidence and reflect on the following areas:

  • The Critical and Creative Learner
  • The Sustainable and Global Citizen
  • The Confident and Competent Professional
  • The Resilient and Thinking Individual

If students compile their Compass, overseen by the Employability Skills service they get acknowledgement for the work and recognition for it is added onto their final transcript upon graduation.

A clear pattern emerged, success stories come from institutions who have senior management or service buy-in to PebblePad; where managers model good behaviour; where student support in the use of the system is available and where it is just ‘the norm’. It does make me realise that, in attending an event like this, we are not using PebblePad to its full potential and that it can be used for so much more than it currently is. We will be moving onto a new version of PebblePad next summer and it would be great to get some revitalisation into its use. Showcasing, show-stopping, show-offing  – that’s what it’s all about. Let’s make ourselves future ready in our use of this creative and innovative system. If you’d like to talk PebblePad to me anytime, my email is sarah.ruston@cumbria.ac.uk

All the presentations and videos can be found here: http://www.pebblebash.co.uk/2016/presentations.aspx

ALT conference. 6 – 8 September 2016, University of Warwick

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The theme of this year’s Association for Learning Technology Conference (known as ALT-C for short) was “Connect, Collaborate, Create” (press release)

The conference was three full days of keynote speakers and presentations from individuals and groups from a host of UK and international institutions; including Dan Meer and myself from Cumbria. Our presentation was on the “12 Seasonal Tips” initiative that ran at the end of semester-one 2015. Our “slot” was right at the end of the programme on day three, so we had that at the back of our minds during the conference (best till last?!)!

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ALT badges. Image from ALT site

I attended a wide variety of presentations, and have come away with a number of ideas and topics to follow-up.

Below is Ian Livingstone’s keynote recording. All the keynote presentations can be seen here.

Digital capabilities and digital wellbeing were amongst the areas being discussed, with presenters talking about how they were approaching designing and running their CPD offer, acknowledging that “creativity takes courage” when it comes to updating or challenging practice.

The question of Open Badges was raised in a couple of sessions, including one run by City & Guilds who highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities of badges.

The use of analytics was a key theme of the conference, and I saw a number of presentations where speakers were talking about their proposed and actual use of data to help support learning, saying that institutions tend to be “data rich, intelligence poor”. One argument was that students are already used to sharing data outside of the institution, and therefore an electronic footprint of student use of institutional systems would be useful to help monitor engagement and support the student. However, it was acknowledged that data ownership and use was something that should be transparent through clear policies / codes of practice.

The shear amount of online activity (as highlighted by the internet minute), was the inspiration to presentations about the use of media to support learning. This included the use of lecture capture and of systems to help “create / publish / share / discover” media within the institution; one institution even providing a “’DIY film school” workshop for simple tips & tricks to capture video content using the user’s own smartphone or tablet. Copyright, together with OER policies and open licences were also under discussion.

Flipped classrooms, webinars and the blend between physical and virtual spaces were also discussed, with the challenge of providing active learning spaces regardless of the environment being a key theme.

There are some other conference blog posts here.

Overall, a very enjoyable, tiring, challenging and informative conference – and the food and accommodation was good too!

Andy White, AQD

Blackboard World 2016: Conference Report

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Esther Jubb gives us the lowdown on the recent Blackboard World conference

In early 2016, without actually expecting to be accepted to the conference, I put in a presentation proposal to the Blackboard World 2016 Conference in Las Vegas.  The presentation planned to talk about the changes and developments that we have been working on in relation to our use of Blackboard during the last 18 months.  In the background, many of the changes that we have been working on is an Exemplary Course Programme and the presentation proposal was to discuss how we were using the rubric that supports this programme to identify and drive much of our work.  Having been accepted to the conference and being briefed on how the panel session would run I packed my suitcase and flew 10 hours to Las Vegas.

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Las Vegas at night. Image by William Zain.

Blackboard World is a very large conference 3000 plus delegates, large expo hall with lots of learning technology vendors keen to talk to you about your learning technology needs (and to give you free gifts; caps, charging cables, t-shirts, bottle openers…) parallel sessions that start at 8:15am and finish at 6:00pm, additional workshops and keynote sessions and lots of opportunities to indulge the geeky side of your personality.

Despite some wicked jetlag I attended a whole variety of sessions.  My first session was an interesting presentation from Charles Darwin University on Developing an Integrated Student Learning Universe; putting students at the centre of all technology developments and taking a 3 layer approach:

  1. Learner engagement needs
  2. Learner facing systems
  3. Underlying technology architecture

I also attended a session from Johns Hopkins University on their approach to supporting staff new to teaching fully online distance learning programmes.  My favourite session, in terms of making me think about my role at the university and how we better make use of learning technology, was run by staff from IBM on design thinking.  Not only was this an introduction to something new….it was an interactive session where we started to engage with the approach of design thinking.

Youtube video quick overview Design Thinking:

Youtube video Tim Brown (creator of design thinking) talking about Design Thinking:

Part of the problem with such a large conference is that it is difficult to choose between 10 different sessions in any one parallel slot and not every session lives up to the description so you then feel that you’ve wasted a valuable session!  My overall reflections on the conference were, that although we do have plenty of work to do in our use of learning technology, we are heading in the right direction; ensuring that the student experience is consistent and what we promise them, using the affordances of the technology to support the learning that our students need to prepare them for their future aspirations, and getting the most out of our learning technologies.  Finally, how did my presentation go?  There were about 60 people the room, the feedback was excellent with all those who provided feedback saying that they thought the session was useful to them, which is what you want to achieve from talking about the interesting and exciting things that you’re doing.

Dr Esther Jubb, AQD