Simon Davis and I headed for the Sheffield -L&T conf (see Simon’s post on the opening sessions) and I was struck by 3 things
- there are a lot of people interested enough to come and participate (evidenced by attendees, number of papers etc)
- there have many themes , trials and approaches (as well as rhetoric) in common with York
- it felt like an all-inclusive holiday with tons of pretty fancy food on offer !
I was a tad uninspired by the opening from the PVC4T&L talking of strategy (I usually am) and with his list of 10 (or was it 15) questions – all in small text on one slide(hmm) which were soon forgotten. We also heard about iTunesU which, although not issue free, to my mind is a reasonable way of collating institutional output – but not terribly exciting. Sheffield have invested in this setup but clearly trying to establish its best use, editorial policy and how to exploit their branding and materials.
The most interesting opening session for me was the MOOC set up they are piloting. We heard of a small central team including ex TV production staff, teams of academics immersed in planning and filming and got to see some of the finished result (from their Dentistry MOOC. one of a pair they are launching) which looks excellent and will no doubt be popular. It seems to have a natural collection of audiences (general interest to public and a pre cursor to dentistry courses) and be well thought out and produced (with only the merest whiff of 1970’s BB2 OU tank-top about it). The one thing that struck me as the enthusiastic and talented Chris described the process, was would they invest this amount of effort in a single U/G module and how would their fee paying live customers respond ? Simon and I wondered about the economics, the niche areas and the whole MOOC experience from the US (some institutions are reconsidering just as the UK jumps onboard) – interesting times ahead.
Simon and I shared the first parallel session assessment tools, which unsurprisingly focused in their 2 tools, Turnitin and the Blackboard offerings. We saw examples of online marking/feedback which looks sort of ok but slow (a constant concern when you have 225 essays to mark!), the ability to tailor & add voice annotation is apparently coming – as are many improvements (anonymous marking) from BB which may make this a viable route for many depts. I left this session a bit disappointed that the tech is not going to help many of us with large classes yet. The major benefit appears to be administrative but even that isn’t quite there. Seems the offering are all a bit pedestrian not radical enough to provide different strategy and techniques, rather than just a web based version with what we do already.
My 2nd session was on clickers and had 3 talks – and no clickers. The first was from Plato, an engineer talking about educational theories! The 2nd was about peer assessment, and cleverly using clickers to ‘train’ students to be fair peer assessors -via a set of calibration exercises . Although the clickers were used fairly simply the clever bit I thought was that Sam graded the students on their ability to assess and provide feedback – not on their work – a clever way to avoid unrest. Trish presented some data and wholly inappropriate graphs that demonstrated a good degree of consistency and fairness. This process allowed Sam to speed up the marking of the work (tech drawings) and get improve the engagement of the students with their feedback and marking processes – good work. The final session was from Alistair McMillan who used clickers to reproduce national surveys and explore attitude and opinions with the students in a lecture environment. Some interesting points from his approaches, on the technology, students responses, and lecture time pressure. We had a good chat over a substantial lunch with some black liquid purporting to be coffee, but I have my doubts!
The final session of the afternoon for me was a bit of harder choice, nothing seemed directly relevant to my interest or the depts direct needs (eportfolios, twitter or power learning!) . I was glad I opted for an engaging, and refreshingly open talk by Jenny Burnham – where a concern over the level of ‘Skills for Success’ a sort of amalgam of transferable, job and life skills, led to a small module which gives student a lot of rope. Debates, videos, reports, radio shows and other projects are completed by the students after submitting a CV and application. Some high quality engagement and challenge for the students, with the inevitable cost of academic involvement time in marking (not supervising – this was minimal for these 3rd years). Nice idea, well executed.
We also heard about open badges (http://openbadges.org/about/) – sort of like the scouts meet google. As the badges are secure (ie can only be awarded by you and can’t be forged) they can be used to recognise achievement and involvement at many levels (and allegedly for motivation). As they are open they can be shared online (eg LinkedIn, VLEs,…) and with employers. Getting quite a bit of attention in the last year across various institutions and bloggers
A final session back in the main theatre showcased some student videos (not bad at all) and a question and answer panel, it all fizzled out a bit towards the end
Overall I was most impressed with the engagement of the Sheffield staff with event. The sorts of projects are not dissimilar to those we hear of at York, the issues and concerns are familiar, just seems to be more of a buzz.