A Lens On… Course Design

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.

Designing a course or module that encompasses and considers activities and aspects beyond your subject is a task that is required of academics. Bringing in elements of digital interactions with your students is expected: students are arriving at University with wide ranging digital practices. The Institution requires that part of your course is delivered in a blended or online fashion.

According to the King’s College London/QAA Student Expectations and Perceptions of Higher Education report (Kandiko & Mawer, 2013) students prefer adequate face to face time, and institutions are urged to be cautious in their implementation of technology as a tool to replace face to face interactions.

The report also says that “no students mentioned pedagogical uses of digital technologies” and that students perception of technology in their academic lives is simply a means to access information. This is rather a contradiction to what perceptions we have of students when they arrive at University, and to what some researchers of effective pedagogies have said (check out Re-thinking pedagogy for the digital age, Beetham & Sharpe, 2013)

When you really think about it though, if technology is used well then it is not viewed as a separate element of the students’ learning journey. If it is used as part of that journey (an embedded, invisible practice) – instead of something that sits alongside or even outside of the delivery of learning – then technology can be a tool to enhance what students are achieving, rather than as an annoyance that limits their attention on subject and forces focus to remain on the process of using it.

By following a course design process that facilitates:

  • innovative practice, both digitally and physically
  • flexible, seamless transition between the physical and digital space
  • recording the learning journey to allow for informed reflection
  • constructive alignment of materials, outcomes and assessment

and

  • both physical and digital interactions that transcend their platform

it will enhance your practice and your students’ learning.

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Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/epublicist/8718123610/

Course design processes exist in many HEIs (e.g. Oxford Brookes, Northampton, Ulster, Leicester) and are successfully participated in to create some great programmes of study. Most are based around a team based approach that enables the teaching team to work with facilitators, support staff, and students to build a course/module that includes all the elements mentioned above. The great thing about them is that because the processes are not subject specific, a consistent experience can be created.

The processes are pure design – it is down to the subject specialists to decide what direction they take. Constructive alignment, interactions (both online and face to face) and assessment can be scaffolded using planning and storyboarding techniques. Materials and delivery are designed alongside librarians, technologists, students and technicians.

It’s no secret that the EdTech team have experience in pedagogic design and its integration of technology. We can facilitate the course design processes and are happy to help with the design of your module. Get in touch to learn more.

A Lens On… Learning Analytics

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.

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Learning Analytics utilises the data that passes through University systems and can be used as a powerful tool for learning about students and their achievements. It is used to collect data to measure learning and the contexts in which learning takes place. This data is then analysed and put to use to optimise interactions and opportunities; improving engagement, experiences and ultimately results.

It cannot be as simple as throwing data into some predictive software and asking it to tell you what it thinks though; analysts/experts are best placed to interpret the data, who know what they’re looking for, and align results with the institutional, teaching and student priorities.

An example of analysing an element of learning is measuring engagement. Overall there are three levels that can be measured.

Behavioural
Students who are behaviourally engaged would typically comply with behavioural norms, such as attendance and involvement, and would demonstrate the absence of disruptive or negative behaviour.

Behavioural engagement can be measured by recording attendance at face to face sessions and access to online materials. This can be relatively easy to achieve as long as the monitoring tools are in place.

Emotional
Students who engage emotionally would experience affective reactions such as interest, enjoyment, or a sense of belonging

Emotional engagement is more difficult to measure. Some activities that facilitate tracking include online discussion, interactive activities

Cognitive
Cognitively engaged students would be invested in their learning, would seek to go beyond the requirements, and would relish challenge

Cognitive engagement is even more difficult to measure. Extra curricular activities and ‘extra credit’ work can shed some light…

Activities, systems and mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that the right level of analytics can be performed, and measurements can be determined. This is why smaller pilots should be carried out with tasks designed with analytics in mind; so that settings and specifications can be refined.

There are other reasons to implement Learning Analytics including (but not limited to):

  • Identify students at risk so as to provide positive interventions designed to improve retention.
  • Provide recommendations to students in relation to reading material and learning activities.
  • Detect the need for, and measure the results of, pedagogic improvements.
  • Tailor course offerings.
  • Identify teachers who are performing well, and teachers who need assistance with teaching methods.
  • Assist in the student recruitment process.

Jisc cetis Analytics Series (2012)

Learning analytics has a strong link with pedagogy, and consideration needs to be taken into how the institution would like to improve pedagogically, and consider the method of implementation of a learning analytics process to ensure that it will not hinder, but enhance the direction of its learning and teaching strategy.

The sector has looked at learning analytics over the last few years as a tool to achieve better experiences for students. The realities of using the huge amount of data that institutions collect is shrouded in ethical and legal issues but luckily, the good folks over at Jisc have done a lot of the leg work and developed a Code of Practice for learning analytics as part of their ongoing Effective Learning Analytics project. This code of practice is in place to advise UK HEIs about the legal and ethical considerations that need to be included in the implementation of a learning analytics strategy.

See some of Team ET’s previous work on Learning Analytics with the Jisc Learning Analytics Network and its pre-project work.

A Lens On… Digital Wellbeing

Digital Wellbeing
Image: CPD needs heirarchy by @simonrae

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and also at projects being undertaken within the sector.

The student experience is increasingly mediated through use of technology; timetabling systems, online learning, Student Information Systems, Customer Relationship Management software, mobile devices… all things that staff and students will need to engage with in one form or other to navigate their way through life at University. ‘Digital Wellbeing’ is concerned with exploring and improving these interactions in a personal and social context.

Social media tools are incredibly useful and popular in teaching and learning, but are often built around a Culture of Participation; the more ‘likes’ you get the more influential you are. This in turn exacerbates the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) – if you’re not connected then you’re not part of the crowd. Some technologies are designed to help us improve our wellbeing; running trackers, calorie counters, sleep timers all attempt to provide us with feedback based on quantifying our day to day activity, but do they in themselves enhance our wellbeing?

Technology proliferation and a participation culture within the HE sector, can lead to increasing anxiety amongst students and staff, so there is an increasing need for the individual and the institution to recognise and makes steps to mitigate this. JISC/NUS’s Student Experience Benchmarking Tool can be a great conversation starter in this area; note where you are on the scale of First Steps to Outstanding and plan to improve.

Digital Wellbeing Benchmark

Some courses at Falmouth University are addressing this head on by encouraging group discussion around stress and anxiety; there are various signs up inviting people to meditation groups and the University promote both internal wellbeing services and external Talking Therapies like BE|ME.
Wellbeing Services

A recent #LTHEChat that explored Digital Wellbeing asked participants to reflect on technology that enhanced their wellbeing, many focused on social connectivity that isn’t restricted by place/time and the ability to share. In thinking about how technology detracted from this, answers centred around not being able to ‘switch off’, being ‘all over the place’ and a saturation of ‘info’ and ‘spam’ that could be considered digital noise.

So how do we manage our digital wellbeing? Suggestions from the chat were to set time boundaries for checking social media, literally switch off devices and step outside the bubble of your own technology use. It is also important to encourage discussion and development of our digital capabilities and as JISC/NUS suggest, provide space for self-reflection.

Falmouth’s Student Union have identified ‘Mental Health Support’ in their Top10 issues for 2015/16 and have also established a ’Green Living’ project and ‘Digital Detox Series’. These events focus on removing oneself from the day to day technology and engage in outdoor making and horticultural activities as a means to improve wellbeing.

Digital Detox

The series was organised by a recent graduate who I had the opportunity to ask about the concept of Digital Wellbeing. He talked about access to the internet, movies and online games as “another layer of insulation from the outside world, a further excuse to stay indoors.” and “a constant stream of stimulation, rendering anything outside of a virtual world boring.” He acknowledged the benefits of online learning and video/audio chats, but said that above all the means of technology to play music was one thing they couldn’t be without.

I also talked to a member of academic staff, who saw the benefits of technology in making you feel connected and providing avenues of accessibility, which chimes with the #LTHEchat. She also mentioned the negative impacts that mobile technology can have on our physical health, such as carrying the items, using the items incorrectly and sharing workstations adding “Right now, my laptop is on my knee and I am looking down at the screen. That can lead to a form of whiplash but in slow motion – accreting over the years.”

As working online is such a part of our daily lives, we’re often using the internet as a distraction instead of taking time away from the screen. A common theme was that access to online stuff can “suck you in”, so techniques that break tasks up such as Pomodoro can be useful. Our staff member has introduced “an early morning switch off policy – going for a walk/run instead…I feel better for it”. They suggested that less or better use of email could aid wellbeing, but although this has been discussed over a number of years, it remains hard to implement.

It’s fantastic to see this concern being raised at national and institutional level and the JISC/NUS tool leaves us with an important consideration regarding implementation:

“Most of the ‘outstanding’ practices involve staff and students working in partnership. The partnership needs to be meaningful in order to work, which means that both groups must listen, recognise each others’ skills and resources, and be willing to compromise. “

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