The 8th annual Learning and Teaching conference at Sheffield University focussed on learning technologies this year and myself and Rob Stone from Psychology were kindly welcomed to attend as a guest delegates. I’ll put a couple of blog posts together on the different sessions I attended though overall the thing that struck me was the range and quality of presentations and the levels of enthusiasm and engagement from amongst the academic community with this conference, e-learning and learning and teaching more generally.
In his brief intro to the conference PVC for Learning and Teaching, Professor Paul White, highlighted the institution’s newly developed elearning strategy and then posed 10 key questions to ask before deploying technology to support learning;
- Can technology inspire learning? Isn’t it the subject matter that counts?
- Is the prime use of technology to entertain and capture attention? In what ways can it enhance learning?
- Can the use of technologies only create superficial learning or can they aid deep learning too?
- How can technology enhance student understanding?
- How can technology enhance student skills?
- Are we in danger of making students technology-literate but weak in discipline understanding?
- Don’t technologies become obsolete too quickly? Is investment in them worth it?
- What might be the “perfect blend” of technology enhanced learning and “traditional” learning?
- Through technologies, how can we reach out to new types of students, through new types of programmes?
- Can we maintain, or enhance, teaching quality, student engagement, and student effectiveness through the use of digital technologies?
Paul’s intro led onto Sheffield’s entry into the “MOOCosphere” (don’t blame me for the term, it was lifted from the title of the presentation). Sheffield will be working with the FutureLearn consortium to provide free Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), with their first course, “Discover dentistry” due for release in March this year (see trailer video below). They have clearly provided a good deal of resource to MOOC production with a dedicated team to support their development with overall intention that this will raise the institution’s profile (supporting recruitment) and because it’s “the right thing to do”, with other benefits including;
- Finding new learners in new markets
- Highlight Pedagogic innovation
- Enhancing the experience of existing students
- Showcasing excellence at the University
- Disseminating research
Along with delivering MOOCs, Sheffield will also look to increase their public profile through the launch of their presence on Apple’s iTunesU which is made available to millions of users worldwide through their iTunes store and app for mobile devices. Once again the focus here is on making their content available to wider audiences for free for reasons of philanthropy and to raise “brand awareness” for the institution and personal profile for research and teaching for individual academic contributors. While the drivers are similar to MOOCs, the educational resources found on iTunes differ from MOOCs with more unstructured presentation of resources and lack of support within iTunesU “courses”. Academics were encouraged to get involved and contribute content and resources to the platform with suggested types of content ranging from professionally produced documentaries and public lectures to “at desk recordings”, expert interviews or screencasts tutorials.
Will Sheffield’s entry into these two very public spaces be worth the time and effort? What will be the impact (positive or negative) on their public profile? Only time will tell though the fact that 80% of visitors to Sheffield’s web presence are from the UK, while 87% of visitors to their iTunesU content are international, certainly seems to indicate where the benefits may lie.