Friday, 23 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Wednesday pm

After lunch, which again was very nice, it was time for the last two sessions of the conference. The first session I attended was by Clare Horrocks from the School of Media, Critical and Creative Arts, talking about getting a verbal/visual mix in the Communication and Cultural Research module. Clare talked about a number of different resources she uses including 19th Century UK Periodicals which we have a subscription to at LJMU. She uses lots of digital sources and for her the visual layout is as important in teaching as the actual text.

The last session of the conference for me was Steve Moss and Paul Welsh talking about using Blackboard to support the foundation degree in police studies. This is a course that working off-campus I need to be able to support so I wanted to find out more about what they were doing with Blackboard, to aid with any queries I might get from these students. The course has a number of different cohorts, totally around 200 students in all, who start at 5 week intervals. They have set up sections for each cohort with an FAQ section that is continually updated. They used the blog tool in Blackboard for group blogs stimulating discussion around key topics and individual blogs for reflection. Forum engagement is 20% of the mark and currently they are trying to address problems getting the students to engage.

They have overcome many technical issues related to police firewalls as well as our LJMU firewall, but this is always something that needs to be considered before introducing something new. They asked staff who use Blackboard to feed in any good ideas for areas they could adopt for this course.

All in all a very interesting and stimulating conference as always. There are things to bring back to my area that we can use to enhance the student experience, particularly in relation to user education and I hope next year more Library and Student Support staff will be presenting at the conference.

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Wednesday am

So it was back to a chilly Marsh for day 2. Coffee and biscuits on arrival helped a bit. First session was led by Phil Carey and Pat Eastwood and I liked the title of this one "Developing inclusive teaching and learning - a tortoise, mouse or dragonfly?" was interested to see what that was all about. They were looking at inclusivity in teaching and learning and certain metaphors kept reoccurring during the project, that of the tortoise, mouse and dragonfly. They were defined as this:
  • tortoise - tenacious but slow (perhaps a little dull), ability to see the long game, willing to get things done - in some ways it reflected some of their concerns (especially in relation to speed)
  • mouse - scurry around, very busy but not many people notice them, quick, adaptable - could the mouse frighten the elephant of the institution?
  • dragonfly - captures you imagination but can be quite fleeting - was what they were doing sustainable?

Higher Education still excludes lots of people so we need to look at widening participation and enabling access for people with disabilities. We have equality policies, procedures, action plans, assessment principles in place already so we are demonstrating some direction of travel but how we progress this further?

They wanted to include all areas of inclusivity not just disability and raise awareness across the university. Their focus was on the faculty of health and they worked exclusively in the faculty - so it needs to be looked at how this can be disseminated across the university.

We then did a task taking one of the metaphors and considering the qualities that are needed for change in relation to those metaphors, which was interesting. Our group chose the tortoise and focused on the need to see the long game, be tenacious and stay on track, to appreciate that things can take time and not be swayed.

The next session looked at assistive technology and was run by Phil Bakstad and Max Fossard. They talked about technology that can assist students with a particular need but argued we should be promoting inclusion in a general sense. Many of these technologies can be used to help all students not just those with a disability. Inclusive teaching isn't just about satisfying legislation - we have students have individual needs and are from diverse communities and we need to take this into consideration. They demonstrated a couple of pieces of equipment, stressing that there was much more they could show us. We got to play with tablet PCs, drawing on screen with a pen, they could then display all four of the individual displays on the main screen split into four. It was possible to focus in on a particular groups work.

Throughout the presentation they used a microphone and there were speakers located at the back of the room as well as the front. This is really helpful in drowning out background noise for all students. I think we should have employed this technology for the whole of the conference and any future conference. I don't have a particular hearing problem but do find some speakers harder to hear than others. I know using a microphone is a bit daunting for some but to encourage inclusivity we should be doing this as a matter of course, rather than singling out those with hearing difficulties, which can cause embarrassment or make people feel uncomfortable. They also passed around a portable hearing loop kit, which was really discreet and I thought would be useful for staff in meetings as well as for students in user ed sessions. It can be set up in advance so is discreet. Multiple receivers can be plugged into one transmitter.

Recording sessions was also discussed as a really useful way for students who missed lectures to catch up.

I thought this session was really good and gave practical demonstrations of how this technology can be used to help everyone.

After coffee I went to a session by Carol Maynard and Claire Milsom "Great teachers: how shall we know them?". They said that we are not good at evidencing our excellence relating to teaching and learning. They talked about student evaluations of teaching and how we need to be aware of what they are judging good teaching . Student evaluations are important but we need to add our own ways of evaluating what is good teaching - to support and encourage best practice across the institution. According to the research good teaching is

  • developing critical learners
  • student-focused
  • scholarly - researching your own teaching and your subject area
  • set of virtues - teaching attributes like respectfulness, openness, pride etc.

We engaged in a task to look at what we should be doing to evidence good teaching as an institution, as a team and as a individual - I found the task quite hard not coming from a teaching background but it was interesting to hear what was already in place and what staff thought should be in place.

The final session of the morning was about teaching with twitter by Maria Barrett - Maria used twitter in to different ways for two off her modules. For Music Theatre and Entertainment Management, in the module The Producers she used the twitter community to gauge what the industry looked for in a good producer to bring this into her teaching. She found when she asked a general question she got no response. When the question was directed at specific people more responses were given. She got some responses from key figures in the industry thereby giving some authority/credibility to the answers. Graduates also responding, which was encouraging. the almost liveness of it was a big advantage, rather than refer to something written in a book 10 years ago this was what was needed now. The disadvantage of something like twitter is that's it a public space and views are subjective.

Maria then went on to talk about how she used the for the Contemporary Issues in Arts Management level 3 module. This is a speaker module where various external speakers come in to present to the students. The final assessment is presentation of a paper at the student-led conference. The presentation is 80% and continuous assessment is 20%. Maria offered the opportunity for the continuous assessment to be assessed by engagement with social media (including twitter). The students used twitter in lots of ways from general questions - help anyone got any ideas, to setting up study groups, providing moral support and sharing resources in a public space. The conference communication was also put out via twitter and it was used at the conference, with groups of students tweeting as the students presented their papers. A big advantage of using this was that there was much more awareness of what was happening across the college, others attended the conference from within the college and some "real" guests as well (this was unusual before). Also the Daily Post got in touch via twitter to ask if they could do a feature on the conference.

The advantages is that it allows students to contribute in their own time, in their own place., they could keep connected to the module whilst on placement and it makes continuous assessment more tangible. The disadvantages are that it can be distracting, time-consuming and does need some caution, with regards authority and veracity. Also its not a private site and there are ethical issued of privacy for students information, but we should be teaching them this anyway.

And then it was time for lunch.....

Thursday, 22 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Tuesday pm

After lunch it was time for a bit of mind mapping - well learning about how mind mapping was used with English students. Kate Walchester talked about how mind maps were used as part of a staff research project and a Level 3 independent study module. Level 1 students were asked to create a map in groups exploring what it meant to be an English student. They could use text, symbols, pictures - it was completely open to them. What was demonstrated by the maps was that students have complex lives in which study is only a part. All aspects are integrated and we need to take this into consideration, we can't see study as a distinct aspect. The exercise allowed them to target some of the common anxieties

  • making friends - created an English society
  • huge assignments - led to some year long modules
  • lectures and note taking - tried different lecturing strategies

The Level 3 students led the task with the Level 1s and they commented on how much more focused on particular careers the current first years seemed to be - more than they were when they were in first year. It could be the current climate that accounts for a more strategic approach to university but we don't know. The maps can be used to help students realise their expectations. Where there is a discrepancy between what their expectations are and what staff know English to be they can see where the student is likely to be challenged. For the Level 3 students, they have been thinking about thinking - thinking about their subject and what it means to study their subject.

The next session was led by Alex Irving from the Liverpool Screen School and looked at the harnessing the power of metaphor in HE. She argued that metaphorical language is generally valued less than the literal and yet we talk about the need to be creative. Creativity is seen as a way to manage and cope with the rate of change that is currently happening. Can we teach creativity and creative thought? In an attempt to unlock creativity in students leg serious play and labyrinths were used. Students built a metaphorical model of their own identity. It's argued that learning happens when we create something external to ourselves. Level 3 journalism students created models of their learning journey, past present and future.

The labyrinth encourages mindful meditation. It is different to a maze (something I didn't realise) as it has one path that meanders into the centre and then back out again - so it's a meditative walk. I thought we could do with one of these and wondered if it would help with my attempts at mindfulness, which I'm finding pretty hard right now.

Very interesting - I think we should ditch PowerPoint at the next officers day and get the Lego out.

More coffee and then time for more sessions. The first was Jim Turner showing us the innovative learning spaces that have been created around LJMU. He looked at how the different aspects of the Physical, social and cultural act together to aid (or not) learning. Rooms can be amplifiers amplifying the social and cultural aspects, whether good or bad. The aim was to create spaces that aided learning. The students interviewed gave positive feedback on the use of the new rooms. In general space can improve the well being in the group which affects the level of learning. It looks like we have some really interesting spaces in LJMU that provide more opportunities for different ways of learning, than the traditional lecture style. I think we need more of these spaces and I hope the work of the group continues because some rooms across the university are incredibly difficult to work in.

The last presentation of the day was led by Martyn Stewart and Sue Piddock Jones looking at the forgotten students - the 2nd year students. They talked about the "sophomore slump" phenomena which students grades dip in their second year and then rise again in the 3rd year. They are aiming to research whether this happens across disciplines or whether some areas are bucking the trend, thereby giving possible solutions to the problem. Sue talked about the Sport Development course where the sophomore slump doesn't happen. They take a different approach:

  • a 5 week transition period in year 1
  • personal tutor - pdp module, focusing on learning at your best, goal setting and reflection
  • problem based learning module at the start of level 2 (transition again)
  • worked based learning at the start of year 2 for 4 weeks
  • options modules in year 2

Other things to consider are:

  • assessments in year 2
  • marking in relation to level "twoness"
  • expectations at level 2 (staff and students -do they match?)
  • transition to more independent learning
  • curriculum content and delivery

The other question to ask is: is it all about level specific strategies or building bridges between the levels?

An excellent first day - day 2 report coming soon

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference 2010 - Tuesday am

In IM Marsh for two days at the annual Learning and Teaching Conference. I'm being coming to these things for a few years now and it always fires my interest. It's good to know what's going on in other parts of the university - there is so much good practice out there and this is a really good place to celebrate it.

The keynote session was really interesting - looking at student feedback and how what students expect from feedback isn't necessarily what they feel they are receiving. They want feedback and prefer to receive verbal feedback - "it's good to talk" - we heard from students about their experiences of feedback and what they want and then we heard from Alex Spiers and George Macgregor about how to provide verbal feedback via email. It was a very good demonstration of how easy it is to provide feedback in a way that students appreciated. Feedback need to involve a conversation so students receive it in the way that is most relevant to them. We also need to encourage them to make the best of feedback, to act on it and to use it for future assignments.

After the keynote is was straight into sessions on the student experience. The first session was by Phil Carey who is always a joy to listen to. He had looked at the experience of being a student rep at programme level. His focus was in his own faculty - Health and Applied Social Sciences and he interviewed about their experience. Phil talked about their motivations for becoming student reps and what in reality their jobs entailed. The students were all volunteers both for the role of student rep as to take part in the project, so the research needs to take that into consideration. The students saw the role in a number of ways:
  • A voice for fellow students - as a rep, as a consultant on particular issues and an advocate for students
  • A mediator - as a link in the faculty, but also managing conflict and a way to take the heat and anger out of student concerns and present them in a more balanced way in order to be listened to
  • Provide help and support - both as a source of information but there is a pastoral care function too
  • To develop a sense of community
  • Extension of the course team - anticipated the reactions of staff sometimes when concerns were brought to them but also felt as a peer in meetings with academics

They all saw the role as beneficial both for themselves and for others. There are challenges for individuals associated with being a student rep and challenges for the institution in order to support the role.

The second session looked at students expectations and how we managed that. Graeme Mitchell ran this session and he argued that student retention is affected by a number of factors but part of the issue could be whether what they expect of LJMU and university in general matches their experience. He asked the questions - should we meet students expectations whatever they are? Should students expectations change to fit what is a "normal" experience? or should we both compromise? This stimulated some discussion with a couple of good examples of engaging students early on as they arrive in order to help retention. There was some agreement that whatever we did it needed to be done earlier i.e. before they arrived. Is it better that a student who feels their expectations cannot be met doesn't enter the university at all rather than drops out early on?

The examples of good practice made me think that we need to look again at our induction process. What are we doing in Library & Student Support to engage users early on. One of the students in the session said that they are bombarded with information in the first few weeks and told everything they need to know for the next three years and expected to remember it. She suggested that induction should be a year long process. Although we have looked at our initial induction I think more work needs to be done as we still do bombard students with information that at the time they probably fail to see the relevance of. Should we be asking them what they expect from the library service? If we ask current students what and when they felt they needed to know over their first year we could plan better more engaging user education.

Lunch was next which was very tasty although as always there was a bun fight around the bread/salad table (its round and too small)