A Lens on… Learning Technologists

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 wider HE sector.

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In this post, we are focusing on the role of the Learning Technologist in HE. The Association for Learning Technology provides this definition as a starting point:

Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology.

In UK Higher Education, there is usually a function within the institution to support this. Yet, because the practice is so broad, it could be situated anywhere from within Learning & Teaching, Library Services and IT or embedded within the faculty and that can depend on how it supports strategy and how well the function is understood. And role names could vary from Educational/Learning/Academic Technologist/Advisor/Consultant

A ‘Really Useful’ place to gain a deeper insight is  The Really Useful Ed. Tech Book. In his chapter on the structure and roles of Learning Technologists, Peter Reed describes a continuum of job variation from IT focused, which might include server and web development to Education focused, which might include learning design and pedagogy and everywhere in between (Reed 2015: pp. 41 – 51).

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The Really Useful Ed. Tech Book islicensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This can make things confusing, as many understand the role of IT support and are aware of the VLE, but not always aware of the range and depth that a Learning Technology service covers. These issues are put succinctly in this timely post by Bex Ferriday, which asks how can we help people better understand the role of the Learning Technologist… not just someone who can fix computers!

At Falmouth, we provide an overview of the team on our site. The Educational Technology team operates within the wider ICT department, though we are closely aligned to both ICT and Learning, Teaching and Employability strategies. The team has a broad experience that covers Reed’s continuum of job variation and we find ourselves dealing with things like configuring authentication to the VLE to testing out new technologies with academic staff to hosting workshops in learning design for blended and online modules/courses. One of the most effective routes into working with our academic staff we have found is by working with our PGCHE. Many of our Focus On… initiatives have been born out of the PGCHE Summer School, where staff are given the space to explore and experiment with learning technology. 

We pride ourselves on having an understanding of technology and being able to act as a bridge between technology and pedagogy; being able to explain things clearly to an audience with varying digital practices.

We’d love to hear how it’s approached in other UK HEIs by response to this post or on Twitter.

A Lens on… play for learning

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.

Play is an essential part of childhood development. Play encourages social, physical, cultural, emotional and mental development and is enshrined in the United Nations Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989). It is defined as activity associated with recreational enjoyment or pleasure and can be voluntary or intrinsically motivated. It is appealing to play as it has less construct and there isn’t a right or wrong way to do it.

Play isn’t confined to childhood as Chrissi Nerantzi, Principal Lecturer in Academic CPD at MMU notes “Play helps us go back to who we really are as human beings, full of life, curiosity and wonder. Creatures who are not afraid to be different, even silly at times and ready to try different things.”

Within the University, space needs to be created to facilitate play. This could be through accredited routes such as a PGCHE or through educational development workshops. At Falmouth, we’ve seen constructs from PGCHE cohorts of paper aeroplanes and boats, giant bubbles, campus maps made of waste materials, pop up galleries and bridges built out of straws that have resulted from collaborative challenges and playful activities.

Technology can facilitate and encourage play through game based apps or by using devices to document processes, communicate and collaborate with each other. Our ‘Hunger Games’ scavenger hunt creates a space in which to play with communications technology and the team provide iPads and logins for common social networks, so staff can have a go without signing up for services. Using Open Source Technologies might also facilitate this. For example, you might set up Pinry to explore Pinterest like curation or Diaspora as a short messaging alternative to Twitter. Sandstorm also lets you play with a range of web tools, without having to install or configure them.

Play lends itself to a constructivist approach, where the learner is the information constructor and learning can happen through multiple attempts and failures. Lego Serious Play has been used in the business and education sectors for a number of years now and facilitates the creation of lego artifacts to promote shared understanding of a concept or goal. The first playful learning conference took place this year and there is also a G+ Community for playful learners.

Institutions and individuals need to make space to play, as it can help us reflect upon and transform our educational practices in new and creative ways. For more information on any of the approaches and tools listed, contact the team.

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A Lens on… Inclusivity

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.

This week is World Autism Awareness Week and in deference our lens shifts to Inclusivity and Inclusive Educational Practice. The effects of recent cuts to funding for Disabled Students (DSA) mean that institutions must re-appraise the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that the Equality Act (2010) requires to be be in place.

Inclusivity, by definition, means that everyone regardless of origin, background or ability is included in whatever activity it is that is being delivered. So, inclusive practice is about making sure that technology is used to create activities and materials that everyone can access and make use of. But it is also about using pedagogical techniques that ensure everyone can get involved and their contributions are valued equally, whilst making the most of individual strengths for the benefit of the whole group.

Inclusive practice within teaching may include providing online course content in a variety of formats and making this accessible on a variety of devices. The Open University have recently implemented a system to present VLE content in accessible formats and tools such as Gitbook facilitate publishing material in web, pdf and ebook formats. You might also find our post on re-designing learning content for online delivery useful in this regard.

Where large amounts of text are used, Educators might consider a screen capture using Snagit or an audio recording with Vocaroo. A transcript should also be provided and for video, services like Youtube and Vimeo provide automated closed captioning. For presentations, recording a Movenote to accompany the powerpoint will enable students to refer back to the lecture material and you might encourage your students to make use of tools like Cogi to record their own notes.

The JISC/NUS Digital Experience Benchmarking Tool provides examples of institutional inclusive practice that ranges from ‘developing to ‘outstanding’.

Key to an ‘outstanding’ institutional approach is to involve students with a diverse set of needs in developing the digital environment and that all technological investments consider the impact on access, inclusion and equality.

JISC have also published some helpful guides on getting started with accessibility and providing an inclusive HE experience. The inclusive HE would; ensure that lecture/seminar materials are available online prior to the lecture, provide an institutional means of lecture capture, support students in note taking and in their own lecture capture and provide policy on the creation of learning materials and accessibility standards.

Many universities have already made progress in promoting inclusion, Oxford Brooks, Plymouth University and the University of Sheffield are just some of the institutions who have provided guidance for staff to help develop better academic practice in this area.

At Falmouth, the team are working with our BA (Hons) Business Entrepreneurship staff and students to reimagine large text resources, traditionally given as core reading. Learners are co-creating video, audio and interactive images formats that make the learning more accessible and facilitate development of new skills in media production.

Accessibility is also a core consideration for Moodle, the software behind Falmouth’s Learning Space and the Moodle community publish information on how the platform meets particular global standards for access and inclusion. Birmingham City University have also added some guidelines for accessible Moodle courses.

If you are interested in developing your inclusive digital practice, please check out our good practice principles from this IDPD post and contact the team.

Further Reading

What equality law means for you as an education provider – further and higher education (2010) Equality and Human Rights Commission

Bhagat, D & O’Neill, P (2011) Inclusive Practices, Inclusive Pedagogies: Learning from Widening Participation Research in Art & Design Higher Education CHEAD/ Ukadia Croydon

Inclusive curriculum design in higher education (2011) – Higher Education Academy

Exemplars of inclusive digital practice from the JISC Digital Student Project (2015)

A Lens On… Flipped Learning

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.

The flipped classroom is not a new method for learning, and actually refers to techniques that have been used for a while now. You may or may not realise that you’re using these techniques in your teaching. If you’re not, then the best reason for adopting a flipped approach to teaching and learning is that it offers pedagogical advantages. Within this post I am going to focus on a few different ways that learning can be flipped.

Knowledge transfer → knowledge assimilation, and just in time teaching

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CC-BY-NC 2.0 licensed image by Derek Bruff

From the image you can see that Mazur proposes is that knowledge transfer should be covered prior to attending class, and that the class time be used to help students assimilate what they have read or watched prior to coming to class. The ‘flip’ is simply that knowledge transfer happens outside class, and knowledge assimilation happens in class.

Mazur puts emphasis on the assimilation of knowledge within the classroom through peer interactions. Content and readings that the students need to receive are disseminated prior to a class based session and students are expected to engage in that transfer of knowledge. Within the class he then poses questions and problems and polls students on their answers (so they commit to an opinion). Once that is done the students discuss between them and the ones that understand articulate it to the others. The questions and problems that are asked during the class time are usually based on results of quizzes that students are asked to complete before the lecture. This type of learning is referred to as ‘just in time’ teaching as the schedule and questions for the class session are often not determined until very close to its delivery.

Blending ‘just in time’ teaching and peer instruction are not the only approaches, and whilst there is no one correct way of doing things it’s probably safe to say that an approach which sees the students actively engaged in class, rather than passive, is likely to lead to them learning more. A visual idea of how the flipped classroom could work based on the above, is given below:

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Farmer, 2015

This brings me onto Experiential Learning. This certainly isn’t a new idea, and was first talked about in the early 1900’s by John Dewey:

“The Teacher and the book are no longer the only instructors; the hands, the eyes, the ears, in fact the whole body, become sources of information, while teacher and textbook become respectively the starter and the tester.  No book or map is a substitute for personal experience; they cannot take the place of the actual journey”  (Dewey, 1915, p74).

Fast forward 100 years, and the same things are being discussed, just in a slightly different contexts. Technology is now part of the delivery of a flipped environment, using tools to engage the learner with materials and activities outside of the classroom, allow synchronous and asynchronous discourse, and acquire knowledge.

There is a lot of overlap in the phrases used for things like experiential, active and flipped learning. There are differences, but the general consensus is that getting students to access content and engage in activities designed to develop their understanding before class, and then using the class time to discuss and engage in depth brings issues, ideas and questions to the surface. The pre-class content and activities develops their knowledge and understanding more effectively when discussed and reflected on in class (Farmer, 2015).

Flipped learning offers the best of both online and face to face learning. In a similar vain to the message in the Lens on… Blended Learning post a while back, flipped learning should offer a seamless transition between the students’ own learning environment and the classroom. Each should compliment the other, with purpose and meaning being paramount. Students should be able to have the opportunity to experiment with ideas to learn through doing, in a supported environment where they learn from everything they do, apply their knowledge into problem solving, and assimilate their knowledge to develop it into concrete experience (Kolb, 1984).

Whilst researching for this blog post, what I didn’t find is much research about flipped learning in arts and creative subjects. There is a lot of information about the marked improvement of results and performance in science, technology, engineering and maths areas. It would be interesting to work up reasoning behind the lack of literature around flipped learning for creative subjects: is it because the nature of these disciplines is already experiential, and active? Engagement within a class environment is participative, and less didactic?

Educational Technology are very interested in learning more about how you engage your students inside and outside the classroom. Do you encourage a dynamic environment within your teaching spaces? How do you think it improves what you do and how your students learn?

Comment below or get in touch to tell us more 🙂

References:

Dewey, J., Dewey, E. (1915) Schools of To-morrow. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company.

Farmer, R., (2015) ‘What is the Flipped Classroom?’. LearnTech blog, [blog] 16 Jan 2015, Available at: http://blogs.northampton.ac.uk/learntech/2015/01/16/what-is-the-flipped-classroom/ Accessed [24 March 2016].

Kolb, D. A., (1984) Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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.

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