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SD4ST: Drama for Staff Tutors

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Thursday, 6 Mar 2014, 16:36

Whenever I visit a new place for the first time I'm always a little anxious about whether I'll be able to find it okay.  My first visit to the OU Cardiff centre was on 1 November.  I shouldn't have worried; the moment I left the train station and turned right I could see the Open University logo.  I even manage to find my destination without having to resort to a googlemap.

My reason to visit Cardiff was to attend what would be my second SD4ST event (staff development for staff tutors).  I blogged about my first SD4ST event a number of months ago which took me all the way to Gateshead where the focus of the two days was research (and how to fit it into the role of a staff tutor).  This event was all about motivation and inspiration.

I was particularly attracted to this event since I remember reading that it would involve some theatre.  A number of years ago (either three or four - I forget!)  I attended an associate lecturer development event that was held by the South East region.  I remember being ushered into a very large room where the chairs were arranged in a circle.  I have memories of being taken out of my comfort zone by being presented with drama workshop exercises which included words like zip and zap.  The overwhelming feeling that I left the East Grinstead workshop was being a little puzzled about how on earth I might be able to use some of the stuff I had just witnessed to add a little more 'zip' into my own tutorials.

The Cardiff SD4ST event was being partly organised by the same tutor who ran the associate lecturer staff development event, and I was looking forward to it.  Just like my last SD4ST post this one is intended to act as a simple record of what happened during the day, but it might be of interest to my fellow Open University staff tutors.

Good tutorials

The first session of the day was very traditional but it set the scene very well for the rest of the two days.  We were asked to split into equal groups and asked to consider the factors about what made up a good tutorial, writing our views on a big piece of paper.

Our group came up with a set of words and phrases which I managed to quickly scribble down, both on the flipchart page and in my notebook.  These were: student centred, friendliness, knowledge of module, good structure, enthusiasm, flexibility, ability to connect things together, personal approach, supportive atmosphere and clarity of expression.

After the groups returned, there was a quick plenary discussion and each sheet was blu-tacked to the wall to act as physical reminders of our discussion.

Forum theatre

After a short break we were led into a room that had a configuration that I remembered my AL development event several years ago: the chairs were arranged in a circle!  We were told that three actors would act out a scene from the start of a telephone tutorial that went badly wrong.  I have to admit, it was very bad... Not the acting, I mean; that was very good!  What we were shown certainly didn't create a very good impression and if I had been a student I would have been suitably bewildered.

When the scene had come to an end it was replayed where we were then asked to stop the scene and take over the scene to offer a correction.  An illustrious education staff tutor from the London region took up this challenge!  Other staff tutors were then encouraged to jump in to the tutoring seat to lead the tutorial to a successful conclusion whilst at the same time reflecting carefully on what was happening.

Towards the end of the first session we were given a further question (or challenge) to think about, which was: how to make a good tutorial better and generate a 'palpable buzz' (a phrase that generated quite a bit of debate towards the end of the two days).

Elluminate

The next session of the day was all about Elluminate.  It very soon became apparent that there was a big difference in how this asynchronous tool is used by different module teams.  For some modules it was compulsory, but on others it was not.  After a bit of discussion we were then treated to recordings of two different Elluminate sessions.

The first recording was from a sports and fitness module, and the second was from a languages module.  My own reflection on this was that there were very big differences in how the different sessions were run, and some of the differences come from the differences in the subject matter.

One of the most powerful elements of Elluminate is its whiteboard.  It enables you to create very visual activities and share concepts that would have taken a thousand words to explain.  The language activity that we were shown was truly multi-modal: learners could listen to other students speak to the words that were on the whiteboard and connect different words and phrases up using lines.

Other Elluminate tools, such as the polling function, can be used to quickly gather opinions and relate to materials that may be presented on a whiteboard slide.  One of the challenges lies with making activities interactive especially when the connection between the Elluminate moderator and the participant is distant and the emotional bandwidth afforded by tools such as Elluminate is lower.  I remember some discussions about barriers to participation and the use of the emoticons to assess 'happiness' (or should I say, whether participants are fully engaged).

One of the biggest 'take home' points of the day lies with how Elluminate might be used in a team teaching scenario.  One of the things I've heard about Elluminate it is it is very hard work to keep track of everything that is going on: there's voice, text chat and (potentially) stuff being drawn on the whiteboard.  If there are two moderators, one can be taking care of the text chat (or some of the other tools), whilst the other can be responding to the audio channel.

I remember from my own Elluminate training in the South East region that Elluminate moderators are more producers than tutors.  Moderators are producers in the sense that they produce a session by choosing an appropriate mix of the different tools that Elluminate offers.  The notion of a producer remains firmly stuck in my mind.  For me, it's an analogy that makes sense.

Creativity in face to face tutorials

On the second day David Heley gave a similar version of the workshop he prepared for regional associate lecturer development events.  I'm not going to describe it in a lot of detail since I won't be able to do it justice.

A couple of thing stood out for me.  The first was how the physical space of the room was used.  Space can be used to identify different opinions and present different characteristics.  The idea of a 'spectrum line' can be used to enable participants to think about where they stand on a particular opinion; two sides of the room being opposing views.  We were then asked to use our imagination by imagining a map of the world on the floor of the room, and then asked to stand at various locations.  It was very thought provoking: kinaesthetic learning is both fun and engaging (in my opinion, but perhaps that might be a reflection on my own learning style).

One thing that stood out for me was the idea of using 'broken powerpoint', i.e. you ask participants what is on a series of imaginary powerpoint slide as opposed to simply giving your own powerpoint.  This seemed to work really well and I've been wondering how I might be able to use it in my own interaction design tutorials.  Another related thought that can to my mind was to have a my tutor group create their own powerpoint which might be helpful for both revision purposes and also for those who may not be able to attend a particular session - I've not tried it out yet, but the 'broken powerpoint' activity has certainly got me thinking!

David made the point that the aim of his workshop isn't to encourage participants to use everything but instead to consider how to use parts of it, or even to use some of the ideas it contains as sources (or vectors) of inspiration.  That was exactly how I used it when I attended a couple of years ago.  As a result of attending David's session I gradually managed to incorporate a small amount of role play.  Doing this wasn't easy and certainly took me outside of my comfort zone, but I think that was a good thing.

Forum theatre

After some lunch and a preparatory discussion we returned to our drama room and were then presented with another semi-improvised vignette which seemed to be about poetry.  There was some discussion about the kind of feedback that might have been offered, after which the episode was then replayed.

Towards the end of the day we were paired off and given a role play challenge which related face to face tutorials. I won't say too much about this other that it was quite good fun: I certainly learnt a lot from that exercise. It was really interesting to see so many different topics of debate emerge from a series of short scenarios.

Summary

A couple of years ago I attended an accessibility and human computer interaction event (please bear with me with this: there is a connection!)  The aim of the event was to introduce a science council project to 'the public'.  I mostly expected to get more of an understanding of different technologies and how they might be applied, but I was surprised to see how drama was used to teach students to understand the perspective of users of interactive devices (such as phones and computers).  It was a really interesting approach. 

During the day, we were given a premier of a short film (just in case you might be interested, the video that is mentioned in this earlier post can be viewed through a YouTube link).  At the end of the film we were able to ask the actors some questions (who remained 'in character') about their experience of using technology.  All these goings on reminded me of some aspects of our SD4ST event.

For me, there were a couple of things I got out of the event.  The first was the principle that there are so many different ways of doing things.   I sometimes get into a habit of using technology to help to do stuff.  Whilst tools such as powerpoint and the digital resources that you can create using them can be useful in terms of sharing information with others (through digital spaces such as the VLE), a face to face tutorial offers a richer way to explore and engage with module material.

The other point was the use of drama emphasised the importance of considering and carefully thinking about different perspectives.  I like the connection that theatre encourages practice reflection, and at the same time can permit the exploration of different topics, themes and subjects.

I mentioned technology, and this is the third 'take away' point: the use and mastery of asynchronous tools such as Elluminate (and how to connect their use to module materials in an effective and engaging way) will undoubtedly continue to be a subject for further discussion and exploration.

Congrats to the organisers, Janet Hanna, Annette Duensing, Martin Rhys, David Heley and the three forum theatre actors. All in all, a fun (and useful) event!

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Scholarship for Staff Tutors

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Thursday, 6 Mar 2014, 16:37

I haven't really blogged about 'internal events' before.  I think this is my first one.  Although I've written this post mainly for an internal audience, it might be useful for a wider audience too, although I'm not yet sure whether I'll click on the 'make available to the world' box in our VLE blogging tool.

About a week or so ago I was lucky enough to attend what is called a Staff Tutor Staff Development event that was all about scholarship.  It was all about how we (as staff tutors) might fit scholarship into our day job.

The SD4ST scholarship event was hosted by the Open University office in Gateshead, a part of the country I had never explicitly visited before (other than passing through either in the car or on the train).  The Gateshead office is fabulous (as is the architecture in Newcastle).  The office presented us with a glorious view of the millennium bridge and the imposing Baltic contemporary art gallery.  I'm digressing before I've even begun, so, without further ado, on to describing the event.

Introducing scholarship

The first day kicked off (in the early afternoon) by asking the question of, 'what exactly counts as scholarship?'  An underlying theme was how to contribute to research that might be used as a part of the university REF submission (which is, of course, used to assess how well universities compare to each other in terms of their research output).

A number of different types of scholarship were defined, drawing on a paper that had recently been circulated (or published) through senate.  The paper also included explicit examples, but I won't go through them here.  Here's my attempt at summarising the different types:

  • Institutional scholarship (about and for the institution)
  • Scholarship of teaching (the investigation of one's own, or teaching by others)
  • Scholarship for teaching, or outputs that contribute to teaching materials in its different forms
  • Research that relates to and can inform professional practice (in whatever form this might take)
  • Discipline based scholarship, investigative research which can be understood in terms of adding to the knowledge of a particular subject or area.

The output of scholarship may be presented within journal or conference papers, chapters in books or be in reports.  Blogs can also be considered as scholarship too, but this is a rather difficult category, since it has to be a 'rated blog'.  In essence, an output should be something that can be judged as excellent by a peer, capable of use by others and have impact.

I thought about which of these categories I could most readily contribute to.  I came up with a couple of answers.   The first was that I might be able to carry out some discipline based scholarship, perhaps building on some of the accessibility or computing research I have been previously involved with.  Another idea might be to do some research that might inform the different course teams I'm involved on.  An example of this might have been an earlier blog post on mobile technologies that fed into course team discussions.  Also, given my current duties of supporting course presentations I could also see how I might be able to (potentially) contribute to the scholarship of teaching in a number of different ways.

How to find the time

Although I'm relatively new to the role of a staff tutor (or regional academic), I am beginning to feel that we have to be not only good at juggling different things, but also be able to put on a good balancing act too! 

The reason for this is that our time is split down the middle.  On one hand we have regional responsibilities (helping our tutors to do their job as effectively and as efficiently as possible, and doing a lot of other mysterious stuff, like marketing) which accounts for fifty percent of our time.  The other fifty percent of our time is spent on 'faculty' work.  This means that we are able to contribute to course teams, offering useful academic input and ensuring that our associate lecturers are fully taken into consideration during the course design phases.  We can also use this fifty percent slice to carry out scholarship in its different forms.

Given the different pulls from course teams and regional responsibility there is a significant question which needs to be asked, namely: 'how is it possible to do scholarship when we've got all this other stuff to do?'  The second section in the day aimed to answer this exact question through presentations by two staff tutors who seem to be successfully balancing all their different responsibilities.

The first presentation was by Dave McGarvie, Science Staff Tutor in Scotland.  Dave gave a cracking presentation about his research, which was all about volcanoes (I'm sure he will be able to provide you with a better description!)  What struck me about Dave's presentation was that he was also came across as being a bit of a 'dab hand' at media stuff too, being called upon as an 'expert' to talk about Icelandic volcano eruptions.  Dave talked about how he used his study leave (he uses all of it), and said that it is possible to ask for research leave too (which was something that I hadn't heard about).

The second presentation was by Gareth Williams, Maths and Stats Staff Tutor (or MCT), in Manchester.  Gareth told us about how he managed to carve out (and protect) a 'research day' which he used to speak (and work with) with other academics in his subject area.

I noted down a really important part of Gareth's presentation which summarised the reasons for doing research: that it is something that we're passionate about, that it's fun, it can help us to maintain knowledge, it can be exciting, it can help with networking (and recruitment of good ALs), and help to introduce and advertise the work of the university to a wider audience.

One fundamental point was echoed by both presenters, namely, that research can take a lot of time, can (and probably will) eat into our personal time.  Gareth offers some practical advice, urging us to be realistic, develop multiple strategies (or routes to publication), prioritise workload carefully and, importantly, to have fun.

The final talk of the day was by Ian Cook, who spoke about the universities eSTeEM initiative which replaces earlier funding mechanisms.  eSTeEM lets individuals or group of researchers to bid for funding for projects that may able to benefit the university or help to further understand and promote teaching and learning.

Designing a scholarship project

The next part of the day (and a part of the following day) was spent 'in the deep end'.  We were put into groups and asked to work towards creating cross faculty scholarship project which could help us to collectively understand our knowledge of Open University teaching and learning (perhaps through the use of technology).  Following the group discussions, we then had to devise an eight minute presentation to everyone in the room to try to 'win' a pot of imaginary funding.  Here's a rough list of the titles of the various projects that were proposed:

  • Group 1: Can on-line forums enhance students learning?
  • Group 2: What constitutes useful monitoring for associate lecturers?
  • Group 3: Investigate if text messaging can improve TMA (assignment) submission and retention
  • Group 4: Why do students attend (or not attend) synchronous on-line tuition?
  • Group 5: A system for the sharing of media resources between tutors

I have to confess I was involved in group five.

This activity reminded me that different people can understand research (and, subsequently, scholarship) in different ways.   In my 'home discipline' of computer science, research can be considered in terms of 'building stuff'.  This 'stuff' might be a new software system, tool or environment.  The 'stuff' might even be a demonstration of how different technologies may be connected together in a new or novel ways.   I also must confess that my discipline background emerged through our brainstorming activities.

In the end, there were two winners, and it interesting to learn that one of the winning project ideas (the use of text messaging) was the subject of an existing project.  It just goes to show that old adage that good ideas can emerge independently from different (independent) sources!

I enjoyed this activity.  I remember a lot of discussion about dissemination and how to evaluate whether a project had succeeded.  Referring back to the earlier notions of scholarship and Gareth's multiple routes to publication, dissemination can, of course, have a range of different forms, from internal presentations, workshops, focus groups, through to formal internal reports and REFable publications, such as conference and journal papers.

Final presentations

The event was rounded off by two presentations.  Celia Popovic gave a presentation about SEDA, which is an abbreviation for the 'Staff and Educational Development Association', which is a non-profit organisation which aims to facilitate networking and sharing of resources.  Celia begins by asking the question, 'what do you need [to enable you do to your scholarship and research stuff]?' and talked us through a set of different resources and the benefits of being a SEDA fellow.  The resources included books, a magazine, and a number of scholarly journals.

The final presentation, entitled 'Getting Started, Overcoming Obstacles' was by Karen Littleton.  Karen is currently the director of CREET which is a cross-faculty research grouping which comprises of Education and the Institute of Educational Technology (and some others too, I am sure!) 

A couple of things jumped out at me, namely, her advice to 'be pragmatic'.  I am personally guilty of 'thinking big' in terms of research ideas.  I once had this idea to perform some kind of comparison of different virtual learning environments, but it was something that I have never managed to get around to doing, perhaps because my heart sinks when I see all the obstacles that lay ahead of me.

Karen advises us to consider working on a series of smaller projects which have the potential to contribute towards a main goal.  She also mentions the important issue of time and the need to ring fence and guard it carefully, a point that was echoed throughout the two days of the event.

Summary

I'm only just starting to appreciate the different demands on my work time.  I have been wondering, for quite a while now, how to do 'research' within my role as a staff tutor.  What this event told me was that it is possible, but you need to do it with a high level of determination to succeed.

It strikes me that the best way to do research is to make sure that your research activities are aligned, as closely as possible, to some of the other duties of the role.  Of course, it might be possible to do other research, but if your 'job role dots' are not connected together, seeking permission and making cases to go ahead and do your own scholarship is likely to be so much harder.

A feeling that I have always had is that through research there are likely to be opportunities.  An example of this can be finding stuff out that can inform course production, or, connecting to Gareth's example, making contacts may help with recruitment of associate lecturers.  I've also come to the conclusion that network is important too.  Networking might be in the form of internal contacts within the university, or external contacts within either other higher education institutions or in industry.

A really important point that jumped out at me is that you really do need to be passionate about the stuff that you're finding out about.  The word 'fun' was mentioned a number of times too.

As a result of the event I've been thinking about my own scholarly aspirations.  Before changing roles I had some quite firm ideas about what I wanted to do, but this has changed.  As mentioned before, I think it's a good idea to try to align different pieces of my role together (to align the fifty percent of regional work with the fifty percent of 'other stuff').  I hope I'm making some progress in figuring out how to make the best contribution to both courses and research.  I hope to continue to blog about some of the stuff that I'm getting up to whilst on this journey.

I'm also hoping there is a follow up session next year which might ask the question of, 'how is your scholarship coming along, and what practical things could be done to help you do more of it?'

All in all, a really enjoyable event.  Many thanks to the organisers!  For those who can access internal OU sites (and might be staff tutors), some of the presentations have been uploaded to the VLE STLG workspace.

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