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Laptop, a laptop - my kingdom for a laptop

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Several of the modules I teach are Level 1, with students who are new to the Open University. There is a lot to get sorted in signing up to an e-learning course, which I do my best to support my students through. I remind them that once these are done and dusted, they will be set up for the remainder of their studies so not to worry too much.

Easy for me to say! One of the issues which students often face is not having good computer facilities. There is a student grant available to provide students with appropriate resources (ask your relevant Student Support Team for more details). However the grant will only be awarded once you are signed off as having genuinely started your studies - about eight weeks in.

You can understand this from the point of view of the grant funding body, otherwise they might have to claw back money from people whose studies didn't quite get going. For the student, though, it can be tough getting through those first few weeks - not only trying to access the module website but also having to write and submit the first assignment on inadequate or borrowed equipment.

I'm glad I have always been sympathetic to students in this situation, as I was inadvertently plunged into it myself this week sad Some of the high levels of rainfall we've all been experiencing (snowfall in Scotland) got into my laptop and irretrievably shorted out the battery and some other parts dead I have spent the last few days wrestling with a very ancient and slow netbook to keep up with my students' forums (only time I have ever been glad that students are so shy shy about posting big grin), figuring out what is the optimum laptop I can buy for the price that I can afford, and what is the price I can afford - or rather what is the price my bank/credit card will let me afford. 

In my own studies (on e-learning), we are asked to take into account accessibility. People assume this means disabilities, and most of all issues like dyslexia or sight and hearing impairment, which might need us to provide the materials in a different way. However one obvious issue is if you haven't got the equipment or the speedy bandwidth necessary to access online learning. 

Sometimes public libraries will let students have extra time on their machines - maybe the university could approach them to ask if they could provide this at the early stages of our modules, while students are waiting for their computer grants to be signed off. It's not ideal working in a library, and having to run away from a bank of glaring people below the signs saying 'quiet PLEASE' if your kid phones your mobile to ask what's for tea mixed but IMHO it's better than a cronky old netbook dead

It's amazing what we used to do instead of going online. I actually like writing letters, and still send parcels to people and stuff. However I sometimes have to hold onto my letter til payday - seriously, it can cost £3.50 to send a couple of sheets of chat to a friend in the States, then it takes two weeks for the letter to get to him, then it would take two weeks for his reply to get to me if he were as good at going out to cafes and writing letters as me.

Half-written letter decorated with decoupage pictures, a fountain pen and a cup of coffee.

When I started teaching for the OU - back when dinosaurs were just dying out, we did all the coursework by post. I used to get the assignments written and printed on paper (sometimes hand-written sleepy), I would mark them by hand and put them into three or four big bundles in special brown university envelopes, then rush out to take them to the post office and send them to be verified by hand, and then they would be sent back to the students. It has enormously speeded up the process to be able to submit, collect, mark and return assignments electronically.

At least I had actually submitted my own TMA02 slightly early the day before, as I was fed up of it and wanted to get rid of it tongueout I always advise students to put in a draft version of their final assignment (EMA, as it's affectionately known). This can't be picked up early by eager tutors and marked before they have really polished it, so you can get a draft in the bank in case of an eventuality such as I have experienced sad

Now I just have to get used to the new laptop. I am starting to realise that my old laptop had a much higher spec, as well as touchscreen and - an unusual feature - a soundbar instead of tinny speakers.

I hate my new laptop angry It feels like a plodding workhorse, whereas my old one - which I realise now I took dreadfully for granted - was like Pegasus soaring through all my work and studies and fun forums I used to go on in my private life evil But I'm lucky to have this new ... thing. I'm trying to be more careful and not let it get quite so close to the flour-y cooking when I use it to find recipes for teacakes, or take it out in the rain *sigh*.

My old laptop with cat and teacakes *sigh*

Laptop with tabby cat and a rack of teacakes

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Black cat and pink blanket

The Constant Student

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Edited by Anita Pilgrim, Saturday, 8 Oct 2016, 07:29

At our regional staff development event, I had the opportunity to talk to an advisor about getting Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) with the university's support. I have been trying to figure this out for two or three years, with various life events preventing me from getting on with it, so I was delighted to hear that a new fast-track system has been set up to support Associate Lecturers (ALs) in doing this. Applaud provides us with a mentor, forums and other means to discuss how best to go about this.

Chatting with an advisor first was very helpful. She was able to tell me that since I have a ready-made dissertation which I can edit and put in for my application, I should go straight for Fellowship of the HEA, not hang about doing an Associate Fellowship first approve

I found getting onto the Applaud programme very easy. Unfortunately, you need two referees for the Fellowship application and the university were just starting what proved to be a monumental task of changing over the way we organise our tutorials. Both my referees were snowed under with work. I was actually also quite busy, so I pretended that only because of the references, I wouldn't be able to put my application in quite yet and deferred to the November presentation.

I did do a Google Scholar search for articles about 'teaching referencing' and 'online forum teaching', to bump up the literature review section of my dissertation and came up with a few (about which more soon).

Screenshot of google scholar search terms

I was very busy making sure my B presentation students (start in February) finished off their final module assignment, and then setting up for my J presentation (starts in October). Also coping with some 'interesting' problems thrown up by the new ways of organising our tutorials thoughtful. I had an opportunity to apply for a peer support programme to work with other ALs. I was disappointed to be knocked back - especially on the grounds that I hadn't yet done the 3 week Tutor Moderator programme. I explained that the 10 week eLate(D) programme, which I have done, is generally regarded as more rigorous, but it was too late by then, I was just on the reserve list.

When I saw that there were some spaces in the Tutor Moderator programme, I decided to go for it, so that I couldn't be knocked back for not having that qualification as well. It's true that I am so busy I didn't even have time to clean up the cat sick on my kitchen floor last night dead but I'm sure I'll fit in the studies somehow. How hard can it be? big grin My students do it all the time.

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Awww, we are nearly at the end of the e(LATE)D module. sad I'm really going to miss going on the study calendar, checking in with people and reading about e-tivities and online pedagogy.

When I started the module, there was a questionnaire to fill in designed to help you see if you had time to undertake it. I didn't have time to fill that in so I just signed up anyway big grin. In retrospect I see I probably shouldn't have done the module at this particular time, when I am in the middle of teaching a brand new module, my daughter was just finishing primary school and going up to secondary and I had my nephew (with profound special needs) staying on his annual holiday with me. I am so glad I didn't put it off, though, because I would have been sorry to go another few months without the understanding I've gained from the course.

I was done for speeding once, and sent on a speed awareness course. I grumbled that the course wasn't for good people like me, who only occasionally tipped over the speed limit. When I got there I found it was exactly for people like me as it was designed to help good drivers stop the occasional over-enthusiastic use of the accelerator.

e(LATE)D was like that. I know a fair bit about the internet (not as much as my eleven-year old of course), and am a regular user of forums. I thought e(LATE)D would just be a way of rubber-stamping my knowledge. What I found from the start was that it was a great opportunity to reflect on my teaching online and provided many many opportunities to think about my academic praxis as an Associate Lecturer. 

Computer and cub scout top with badges (The E-Learning Mum)

Although I've been a mature student and know from the inside many of the anxieties my students experience, I haven't been a student on a distance learning module myself. Going on the course helped me see e-learning through the student's eyes. I became quite sad when I fell behind a couple of weeks and felt I was missing out - how often have I complacently reassured some student that it's OK to skip a couple of things. When I was in the situation of having to do so, I really didn't want to!

Book cover "What the Best College Teachers Do"

The module is well designed with the inclusion of pedagogic literature. As usual with OU modules, building blocks for writing assignments are set out for you, interspersed with activities which develop skills. e(LATE)D was a great opportunity to consider how to teach, and the principles around which to design teaching. I have a better understanding now of how the modules I'm teaching have probably been designed. I am keen to go and read Ken Bain's work in more depth, and explore further the distinction between social constructivist and critical learning pedagogies.

RSS icon

Of course, there was nudging towards using online applications which I had always meant to get my head around but not quite done yet. I will master the RSS feed one day! I am nearly there with it now, LOL. (I'm wondering if I can use it to make a list of e-learning academic journals, and what has come out in their latest issues. Or would de.licio.us - now 'delicious' be better for that?)

Diagramme of e-project

Writing out my e-tivity (see blogposts below) was an excellent opportunity to reflect carefully on a teaching activity I had always wanted to incorporate into my modules. I got great feedback and support from the others on the module.

I also got to read their write-ups of e-tivities, and this was very helpful to me in considering how I write and how I can improve my own academic writing. I got some excellent ideas from their e-tivities, which I hope to translate onto my own module next year (duly referenced, of course!).

I did think I would get my head around the key technologies (apps?) which are 'trending' in the academic e-world right now. But what is 'hip' today in e-learning is no longer 'bae' tomorrow. (At the time I post, the adjective 'bae' meaning 'cute, adorable, my bae-by' is so cool you can't even google it but by the time you read this it will probably have been overtaken by something else.) I learned more about a lot of apps I'd wondered about, and I found out about new ones. Most of all, I learned to keep looking and exploring in the internet world.

I was inspired by the opportunities e(LATE)D offered to develop my understanding of e-learning and of pedagogies in general. It was an entry point to the literature in my professional field. I mean now to look for opportunities to join communities where I can continue the conversations I have begun on best praxis in e-learning.

Perhaps that is the best end result of a course, that the student emerges not with a body of dry knowledge, soon to be outdated, but as a 'deep learner' (HETL interview with Bain in 2012). Someone who has been able to access 'learning [that] has a sustained and substantial influence on the way they will subsequently think, act, and feel'. 

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