Dr Richard Walker’s reflections on this year’s ALT-C conference:
This year’s Association of Learning Technology conference took place at Nottingham (10th-12th September) and explored the theme of ‘building new culture of learning’ through the use of learning technologies.
Five key strands stood out:
1. Partnership – acknowledging the contribution that students may make to curriculum design and the use of learning technology in course delivery;
Rachel Wenstone, Vice-President (Higher Education) of the National Union of Students made a persuasive case for students to be viewed as partners in the educational process, rather than passive consumers of what higher education institutions offer them. A number of Jisc-funded projects have addressed this theme with their own curriculum initiatives, which have looked to enhance assessment and feedback practices by engaging student advisers and researchers to act as change agents.
Anne Jones from Queen’s University Belfast reported on a civil engineering programme which employed PhD students through internships to design exemplar reports for the course, as well as to design peer review activities. A similar approach was adopted at Winchester for a Law programme, employing student fellows to advise on curriculum design (from term 2 of year 2 with a £600 honorarium), with a specific remit for building in technology usage to the course. In both examples, the speakers made the case that students have a clear insight into their peers’ learning requirements and developmental needs, as well as a grasp of how technologies may be applied fruitfully to online study, and have therefore much to offer the curriculum design process as change agents.
2. Assessment and feedback dialogue – how we may support a dialogical relationship between students and markers through the exchange of feedback – in this way supporting active reflection on behalf of the learner throughout a course of assessment;
Rola Ajjawi from the University of Dundee reported on a Jisc-funded project designed to promote a constructivist feedback approach through the use of technology in their Postgraduate Medical Education online programme. Students were engaged in a dialogic relationship with markers through use of a wiki tool, where they reflected on the feedback that they had received for core assignments. After each assignment they were asked to reflect on 4 questions: How well did the tutor’s feedback match their own evaluation of their work? What did they learn? What actions, if any, will they take in preparation for future assessments? What, if anything, is unclear about the tutor’s feedback? They were also required to self-evaluate their work in a cover sheet pro forma, when submitting a new assignment for marking, explaining how they had addressed previous feedback in this submission. In this way the assessment design intended to feed forward feedback to future work, with the wiki serving as a reflective journal for an individual student and a channel for student-tutor dialogue. This theme is highly relevant to the work at academics at the University of York, as explored by Cinzia Bacilieri at this year’s Higher York-elearning conference in her use of a portfolio space to support peer-tutor conversations on assessment and feedback practices.
Cinzia will be one of a number of academics at York who will be developing their approach to facilitate dialogue around feedback. They will be drawing from the practice of the interACT project and exploring how this can be deployed across individual modules using a variety of feedback methods, including screencast videos created using the Personal Capture tools. Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about this approach or get involved in piloting this approach with your students.
3. Learning analytics – how we may employ course statistics (just-in-time) to help instructors determine whether student online engagement is matching the intended learning objectives;
Patrick Lynch introduced a short paper on the use of learning analytics at the University of Hull to help inform course leaders from the Faculty of Health Care on levels of student engagement with online resources – helping instructors to judge whether online activity matched their expectations of how students were meant to be working online. By drawing out course reports from the institutional VLE (exported in Excel), the e-learning team provided insights on student activity based on a sample of ten individuals from a large module. This data was delivered just-in-time, as the course was being delivered, enabling the course leader to make changes and adjustments to the delivery of the programme if things weren’t going to plan. The statistics coded student activity against 4 dimensions: simply logging in to the course site; accessing the reading pathway for the course – touching on the learning objectives for the week; access to course resources; activity on the discussion forum. Students who had displayed no activity during a specific week’s work were coded ‘red’. Whilst it is highly questionable whether this sort of data can determine whether there are specific issues with the course design or issues with the commitment of individual students, the immediacy of the data enables instructors to reflect and take action – such as following up with students who are perceived to be struggling.
4. Active student learning – transforming the use of technologies to support active student learning
Richard Osborne (Exeter University) described a framework that has been developed to help staff assess the affordances of technology in support of assessment activities, which is presented through a ‘top trumps’ model. The project was conceived as a way of helping staff to develop strategies for work-integrated assessment and the resulting framework offers more generally some sound pointers on the range of web 2 tools out there and their benefits for online learning.
Clive Young (UCL) described how the use of lecture capture technology can be rebranded to create a new culture of active learning, with the focus on increasing student engagement and collaboration. From the passive consumer approach to digesting lecture recordings (a ‘sit back’ mode), Clive outlined the steps that UCL have taken to foster a ‘sit forward’ culture through their REC.all (Recording and Augmenting Lectures for Learning) project. Clive made the case for lecture recording to viewed as a disruptive technology, challenging existing pedagogic models, by supporting alternative modes though flipping the classroom (creation of teacher-led webinar which students view before timetabled lecture slots), creating stimulus resources (bite-sized recordings which students review before a lab or seminar session), and student-created resources. In the first example, one UCL instructor asked students to review the webinar and upload 3 questions each with timings based on the lecture recording to the VLE site; a poll of the most popular questions was then conducted which were then debated in the live lecture slot.
5. Digital literacies – developing the competencies of staff and students to fully embrace the affordances of digital tools and be digitally ready for the workplace.
Maria Papaefthimiou reported on the Digitally Ready Jisc-funded project at Reading University, which aims to raise awareness of the significance of digital literacies across the institution. The project has funded students to research into digital literacy skills for work-based learning and to assist staff in developing courses in industry-related skills. One example of independent research that students undertook through the use of technology focused on reasons why students had not made use of the University’s careers service.