Going to three events in two days, between 15 and 16 June, was
pretty intense but also pretty good fun.
The first event was all about the scholarship of teaching and
learning. A different way of
understanding this is: how to go about figuring out how to best do teaching and
learning? It's important to do research
into this area not because 'learning' has changed, but the ways in we learn
(and the technologies we use) continually changes and evolves: we want to know
that we're doing the right thing.
The second event had a similar theme. It was the Computers And Learning Research Group (or CALRG, for short) conference. CALRG is a long-running research group in the
university's Institute of Educational Technology.
The final event was at the Birmingham regional office, where
the MCT learner support staff are based.
During this event, I learnt about a range of different things - but more
about this later. Actually, there was a
forth event, an associate lecturer staff development conference, which was
organised by the Oxford regional centre (but there isn't the time to write
Linda Price opened the event by presenting a definition of
scholarship: it is a term that describes research and research action. Scholarship regarding teaching and learning
is activity that uses information relevant to our learning and teaching to
inform and enhance our practice. She
also went on to emphasise the importance of evidence. Linda told us that scholarship was a strategic
priority to the university. She spoke of
an internal university project called SHARE, which is intended to help regional
staff with the research activities. An
interesting and thought provoking line that Linda gave us was: 'doctors save
lives, but we can change them'.
The next part of the event was a series of twelve five
minute 'lightening talks' about different research project (I think there were
around twelve!) First up was my
colleague Ann from Manchester who talked about 'perceptions, expectations and
experience of group tuition'. Her
project was to explore different perceptions and opinions about tutorials. This research then has the potential to
inform a new Group Tuition Policy.
Next up was a talk that had the title 'What drives
scholarship?' I seem to recall that the research was looking at the use of
language in assignments, tutor guidance and feedback. A really important subject is, of course,
retention. I also remember references to
Y031 Arts and Languages, Y032 People Work and Society, and Y033 Science Technology and Maths access modules (which help to prepare students
for undergraduate level study).
This was followed by: 'A levels based approach to
referencing and information management'.
Apparently, some students may drop out, or become demotivated due to the
challenge of appropriate referencing.
The national student survey apparently said that different students are
given different advice. The following talk
was all about investigating engagement with on-line library services.
An interesting question, from a colleague in the business
school was: 'why do we keep failing our Japanese students?' One of the reasons could be attributed to differences
between HE in the UK and Japan.
Understanding and being aware of cultural differences can allow us to
gain an understanding of how to support different groups.
Rob Parsons, an associate lecturer colleague from the South
East region spoke about peer assessment.
He argued that the student-tutor relationship can be improved. Themes that Rob's short talk addressed
included active learning, learning communities and engagement and retention.
The university is, of course, a big consumer of technology,
and there is a perpetual need to figure out how to use new technologies and
whether a technology is appropriate for students. One talk that explicitly explored this issue
had the title: Going Live with Google hangouts.
It was then my turn.
I talked about a project that was about the gathering of tutor
experiences of tutoring on a second level computing module, TT284 Web
Technologies (I horrified to discover that, in front of over sixty people, all of my
PowerPoint animations were messed up!)
The talk that went after mine had the title: 'how to get
students to do your iCMA and why that is good' (An iCMA is an interactive
computer marked assignment). This was
followed by 'investigating one to one tuition: initial findings'. This project was from the faculty of health
and social care. The research involved
interviewing students and carrying out focus groups with associate lecturers.
Sometimes low technology solutions and approaches can be
really useful. An interesting talk was 'an
evaluation of the effectiveness of student buddies', which I think focussed on languages
and business modules, specifically L185 English for academic purposes and LB160 Professional communication skills for business studies. The presentation told us about student
buddy training through OU Live and a shared 'student buddy forum' on L192 Bon
départ: beginners' French. This reminds me that some of the
materials for these modules are available for free through the Open Learn
The final 'lightening' presentation of the morning had a
slightly different flavour; it was entitled, 'smarter than the average
ebook'. It was given by a colleague from
Learning and Teaching Solutions, part of the university that provides some of
the technical infrastructure. We were
taken on a journey through different digital formats, ranging from PDFs, epub (Wikipedia) and epub2 files, and then onto OU anywhere. Some experiments have been performed with
ePub3. These are becoming 'websites
wrapped as an off-line experience'.
An interesting point was that 'students are frustrated about
being sent away from the text'. This is
a comment that resonates strongly with me.
I found it difficult to study 'off line' even though I wanted to: I
printed off lots of on-line materials, but I found myself being directed to
various websites and on-line resources.
This is also a comment that arose during my own TT284 research.
One comment I noted was: 'ebook readers are tricky
things'. Different readers do different
things. To close this presentation, we
were shown a demonstration entitled 'how to build a methane molecule'.
After a lunch, it was time for the keynote speech. The keynote was given by our PVC in learning
and teaching, Belinda Tynan. It began
with a question: what does scholarship look like across the university. There are, apparently 15 groups that 'play in
the space' that is called scholarship, and that's just the research groups that
belong to faculties (not to mention the research that takes place in the
library, student services and other departments). An important question is: 'how is the
scholarship impacting the university, and how is it being focussed and
Moved on to talking about the different methods that can be
used in education research. A related question is: how do we learn from each
other, how do we share with each other, and how do we cross boundaries and
disciplines? Another really important
question, from an institutional perspective is whether we are getting value for
the effort that we institutionally put into scholarship. It was a thought provoking keynote and it
really set the scene for the afternoon session (but this was a session I had to
duck out of because I had another commitment: to attend one of those fifteen
scholarship groups that were mentioned about).
The CALRG conference is a three day conference, which means
that I've missed loads of talks. In case
you're interested, the organisers have published a conference programme (CALRG website).
The first talk I attended was entitled: Building
understanding of open education: an overview of OER on teaching and learning. OER is an abbreviation for open educational
resources. The institute of educational
technology hosts a research group that is known as an OER hub (website).
The second talk was all about mobility technology and had
the title: Conducting a field trial in Milton Keynes: Lessons from the
MApp. I originally thought that MApp was
some kind of mapping device, but it seemed to be something rather different. It seemed to be about helping different
people from different cultural backgrounds (or languages) to connect to each
other. I have to confess to being a bit
lost at the start of the talk, but then I discovered that the research was using
some really interesting methods to gather up some qualitative research. (This reminded me about a 'diary study
project' that I've been mulling over for quite some time, but I haven't managed
to get around to doing anything about it yet!)
The third talk was a longer version of the same 'lightening'
talk that I gave earlier in the day.
Talking at CALRG allowed me to talk a bit more about the methodology,
and some really tentative findings since the analysis is still on-going! (This, I think, is one the challenges of
qualitative research: when do you stop!
One answer is: when you see the similar findings and themes emerging
time and time again).
The next talk had the title: Improving language learning and
transition into second language learning, through the language learning support
dimensions (LLSD). This talk used an
instrument (also known as a survey) to help learners understand more about how
they carry out language learning. Since
this wasn't my subject, I struggled to connect with this research, but I
appreciated the idea of using a self-directed too to help learners to reflect
on how they approach a problem.
The final talk of the CALRG session was 'diverse approaches
to using online 'studio' based learning in Open University modules'. In some respects, the 'studio' can be
considered to be an in-house version of the photo sharing website Flickr. I seem to have a memory that it was used with
a digital photography module, to allow students to share examples of their
work. It was interesting to hear that
this module was going to be re-launched as a non-credit bearing module (which
will have the module code TG189). Modules
such as U101 use a version of this tool called Open Studio. I learnt that it has now found its way into a
total of thirteen different modules, and the Open Studio tool now goes by
different names and has a range of different uses. There is also a blog about
OpenStudio that is hosted by the university.
The talk led onto an interesting discussion about
accessibility. Whilst an on-line
environment might itself be technically accessible, the materials that are
transferred to an environment might be fundamentally inaccessible. One thought about how to remedy this is to
try to facilitate collaborations between students.
The final event I'll mention was held in Birmingham, which
is the home of the Computing and IT student support team. The SST comprises of associate lecturers,
learner support staff, advisors and academics.
The purpose of the meeting was to allow the learner support people to
meet academic colleagues (and visa-versa) to learn about how we can work more
closely with teach other.
There were three rough parts of the day. The first enabled staff tutors (the academic
staff) to learn more about what was going on from the learner support
perspective. The second was a short talk
about 'the day in the life' of a staff tutor.
The final section was an update from the faculty Media Fellow.
During this final session I learnt about a project called
JIFL, also known as Journeys from Informal to Formal Learning (which remains a
bit of a mystery). There are also a
number of FutureLearn MOOCs (Massively Open On-line Courses) that are either currently being
delivered, or are in the process of being developed. These have the titles: 'Introduction of
Cybersecurity' and 'Programming one line at a time', which uses the Python
programming language (which is used in M269 Algorithms Data Structures and Computability). Other MOOCs will include one about
smart cities and another about renewable energy.
In other news, there is going to be an update to the OpenLearn
site, where potential students can gain access to samples of OU materials. There is also going to be a new programming
module, which is intended to help students transition from the first level
modules, such as TU100 My Digital Life and TM129 Technologies in practice, to the second level modules, such as M250 Object-oriented Java programming and M269. This transition module will
draw upon materials from an earlier module, M150 Data Computing and Information,
and have a focus on problem solving.
In terms of forthcoming media productions, there was a lot
of exciting news: there is going to be a programme about Algorithms (and how
they relate to our lives), a programme about the life of Ada Lovelace (which
contains a bit about gambling), and a documentary called Game Changer, which is
about the developers of the Playstation game, Grand Theft Auto.