Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Solstice 2010 - afternoon

So after lunch it was time for the second keynote, Peter Hartley from University of Bradford talking about "how far have we travelled?" He was very entertaining to listen to and talked about a number of ways in which we have travelled. He talked about the explosion of the myth of the digital native, referring to a paper he co-wrote with others from University of Bradford "Defining 'generation Y' towards and new typology of digital learners" - there are really four subgroups of students: digitally inexperienced, digital experienced, digitally reluctant and digital socialites. The digital socialites are probably what we mean when we talk about digital natives. We need to cater for all four groups

He asked whether we had evidence of major change? There are certainly pockets of interesting things going on but we don't yet have the consistent engagement across the curriculum. Technology has transformed and there are lots of really good examples of practice but the really big issues are still the same, like lack of institutional support.

He asked do we need to reconstruct the VLE debate - what do students leave with? How do we move from student dependence to student independence? Do we need to wean them off the VLE slowly through their life at uni?

Learning spaces - how many do we need? We need and archive/museum, a playground (somewhere safe/walled off), the saloon (open to the world) and private space (refuge)

After that it was time some fab fun playing with Yahoo Pipes with our own Jim Turner - this was great because it was interactive and I was pleased to have created my very first pipe - shame it was on the training account so I'll have to do it all again. This is something I definitely need to explore further and play around with.

After a break it was time for Jeffrey Lewis talking about delivering learning materials to the workplace. They wanted to change the delivery method of a course for dental technicians. The cohort of students were geographically dispersed and travel to campus once a week was time consuming. The delivery method was changed to using Adobe connect Pro, video conferencing - traditional lectures or practical demos were delivered straight to the workplace. Lots of images were also made available via Blackboard - I found out that PowerPoint does photo albums, which I didn't know, and it compresses them for you so that it loads much more quickly. Useful tip. Everything is recorded so they can be revisited by students as well. Students can access all the materials from work. They also have a mentor in the workplace.

Collaborating with dental hospitals and dental schools they can pool resources and students can use other organisations for practicals if they are not able to do what they need to in their own workplace. Students get support from their workplace as well as getting all the support from the university they would get if they attended in person. There is a need to support the employer as well, they need to be on board.

Students are performing better in practical and written work that those attending each week. So far feedback from the students has been positive.

The final session of the day was by Ulrike Zwiers talking about using EJS animation in an undergraduate engineering course. The courses are large with strong time constraints and mixed ability students. The curriculum is abstract so motivation is not high with the students. They used easy Java simulations to create learning units aimed to engage the students. Ulrike showed us some examples of simulations that had been created and whilst I have no knowledge of engineering I found them interesting as they were very visual and can understand how these can be used to increase motivation in their students.

Using this software doesn't require any programming knowledge as it creates the code for you. Student are then able to create simulations in workshops. Students found the workshops challenging - but that was the idea. They did rate them as helpful and encouraging although they complained about the lack of German tutorials for the software - this has been addressed.

After a quick summary of the day it was time to head home. All in all a very enjoyable event with some interesting presentations. It's good to see what others are doing and think about how you can apply them in your own work.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Solstice 2010 - morning

Arrived at my first Solstice Conference in sunny Edge Hill University and sat watching the ducks as I was very early. After registering, coffee and biscuits it was time for the first keynote - this was Gilly Salmon, from the University of Leicester, who I realised I'd heard speak before though I can't remember at which conference. Gilly talked about the tree of learning - the roots being the thousands of years of history that are behind us and that given this history it's no wonder that change is hard. She said from the roots the tree goes in different ways
  • informal knowledge sharing from chained libraries to creative commons
  • work based and vocational learning - she talked about a virtual oil rig they had set up and said that you don't need lots of money or need to do difficult things to get something really useful out of using technology. She talked about using E-book readers for distance learning courses, which I thought sounded like a really good use for them - all the materials the student needed was downloaded to the e-book so was in their hands
  • Universities - we need to think differently for the 21st century - the old models won't do
  • Schools - the "hole in the wall" experiment uses resources as a spark for learning

Gilly said we need to constantly evolve - what worked this time might not work next time so we need to be a position where we are flexible enough to move and change where needed.

Most new technology isn't built with learning in mind so there is no pedagogy attached and what this means is you have the opportunity to be creative and create the pedagogy. You need evidence to prove the value for learning in order to get the university to recognise the value of it.

University of Leicester have a Media Zoo where staff can go to test out explore and experience technology and how that can be used to enhance their teaching and learning.

The first breakout session I ended was led by Paul Lowe from University of Arts, London who talked about Open-i which is a virtual community of practice for photojournalism. They wanted a space to mix established practitioners with apprentices to share tacit knowledge (storytelling, dialogue, debate and discussion). By engaging in the practice individuals were able to move from being an apprentice to an expert. The community is a global network and was set up completely separate from the visiting lecture programme. The community mixes high level thought leaders, academics, practitioners, MA level students and editors (and other people who use photography) - its a horizontal slice through the industry. This feeds the curriculum, teaching the students what they need to know to work in the industry.

They use Wimba classroom for webinars discussing the key issues in the industry. The pedagogy that had been used for teaching and learning was used for the community. This is supported by a social networking group on the Ning platform with discussion forums and personal pages. Paul talked about how they tried to stimulate asynchronous discussion but it didn't really take off and the feeling was that this was because this type of activity takes place elsewhere. The unique element was the webinars so focus was placed on that. These now run regularly.

The feedback has been mostly positive with negative feedback only relating to the technology. All the webinars are archived and people who had problems with the technology or who were unable to attend live have used this. In terms of staff time, they used a community coordinator (a day a week), a project evaluator (about 10 days) and a project administrator (a day a week). Paul stressed that if funding was an issue and you could only pay for one post the administrator is key. As he pointed out many staff would be happy to be community coordinators as part of their role anyway. I thought this was a really interesting presentation and enjoyed it.

After coffee it was time to two presentations around the active learning theme. The first presented by Martin Jenkins of University of Gloucestershire. Martin talked about the motivations for encouraging and active learning approach across the institution:

  • learner empowerment
  • collaborative learning
  • development of reflection skills
  • employability
  • student motivation

Digital storytelling was something that really took off in the institution. He asked whether it was active learning or active teaching and stated that active learning shortens the distance between student and staff. What is really important is an exploration space for staff and purposeful support - this includes management support as well as educational development support. I was a little disappointed given the subject matter that this presentation wasn't more "active" itself.

The second presentation in this section was better as it gave real life examples and with a number of presenters the change of voice helps to keep your focus. Angie Daly and Jo McNeill talked about digital storytelling. Students in HE who had been in some way involved in Aim Higher created digital narratives reflecting on their own experiences. They showed two videos, which were works in progress from students, who talked about their experience of deciding to go into HE, how the process was for them and what their future plans were. It was really good to see a practical demonstration of a digital narrative.

Collecting data in this way means that you give away some of the control and hand over some of the research to the subject of the research. However it is very rich data, there is something very powerful about the human/personal voice and you don't get the same impact with written piece of work.

Then time for lunch in the Garden Cafe which was very pleasant indeed