Learning Design Cross Institutional Network #5

On Friday 24th February, my colleague Hannah and I ventured up to Northampton University to attend the fifth Learning Design Cross Institutional Network (LDCIN) event. The LDCIN was formed in 2015, with colleagues from a number of institutions across the world taking place in discussions about learning design in education.

The event began with an introduction from Simon Walker, who heads up the Educational Development team at the University of Greenwich. He discussed the future of learning design; the increased interest with the introduction of the TEF, and the impact big data will have on how we design our courses, briefly touching on the report the Open University have recently published on data analytics and learning design (see below for more information).

Participants who had offered to give a ten-minute overview of their work were then invited to deliver. This session started with Natasa Petrovic, from UCL, who discussed her ABC model for learning design – a process my colleague Hannah had successfully used the day before for her Bristol Futures enrichment course! This model is becoming widely adopted as a method to develop course design, with participants only having to attend a 90-minute to 2-hour session for a complete overhaul of their module. More on this method can be found here.

We then had three further presentations from colleagues across the country. Fiona Hale from the University of Edinburgh presented their new model for learning design, which (she admits) very closely resembles the CAIeRO model, created at Northampton. Adele Gordon from Falmouth discussed their development as a learning design team, and how their focus was on employability above anything else – a method that will hopefully be increasingly adopted across the sector.

Finally, Tom Olney and Jitse van Ameijde from the Open University talked about their work on data analytics and retention-satisfaction. They have created a model for designing activities that ensure high retention and success (the ‘ICEBERG’ model) and have discovered some interesting trends. For example, students have higher satisfaction on courses where there are fewer collaborative activities, yet their ‘success’ (in terms of retention, meeting learning outcomes and grades) is lower. Similarly, more collaborative activities meant lower student satisfaction, yet much higher success rates. The report on designing for retention can be found here. This report will have the biggest impact where universities offer online-only courses, where retention is higher than on traditional courses.

These sessions were followed by a tea break (no biscuits provided!) and then a session from Jisc’s Ruth Drysdale, who posed the ‘wicked’ question of how to evidence the impact of TEL – a question that was best answered by Jitse van Ameijide, who simply said ‘You can’t – and shouldn’t.’ The impact of TEL should only be measured by learning success as a whole, rather than how technology has impacted on learning. This focus on successful learning rather than the impact of various technologies was a key theme throughout the morning, and potentially the focus of the next LDCIN meeting.

Next on the agenda was a session from our hosts, which asked us to answer the question ‘How do you solve a problem like Waterside?’ Waterside is a new university campus being built in the heart of Northampton but, unlike a traditional campus, Waterside will have no lecture theatres – teaching will take place online and via small-group or one-to-one tutorials. All course programmes (over 2,000 of them!) have to be redesigned to fit the new teaching style, which also means that the minds of all academics will have to be won over to face this new and radical change. We were tasked with deciding on the best way to motivate staff to engage with this strategy, thinking about five key areas: grassroots campaigns, community, strategic, faculty-level and research-based.

Our group created three models to engage staff with the new teaching strategy. The first, and least desirable, was a ‘top-down’ model, where senior management forced staff to engage with workshops to redesign their courses. However, this would not be a positive change, and would leave staff feeling demotivated and uninspired. The second was a ‘hand-holding’ approach, where a great deal of resource was added to the learning design team to ensure each academic had a bespoke session to redesign their course, with a number of community groups set up to support staff and provide on-hand advice whenever it was needed. The final approach was champion-led, where each faculty had a self-elected ‘champion’ of learning design, who could create a buzz inside their faculty and be available to support staff at short notice. Technology Enhanced Learning has been engaged with most in departments that have appointed learning technologists, and we believe this model is key to success, especially when it comes to changing culture and mindset.

Unfortunately, we had to leave after this session, but judging from the Twitter feed the afternoon was also a success, with a workshop from Edinburgh’s Fiona Hale on mapping learning activities and anther session from the Learning Design team at Northampton on evaluating learning design support.

In an ever-changing sector, it is essential colleagues working towards similar goals come together to share their experiences, methods and thoughts. I was especially inspired by colleagues at Northampton, who are leading the way in terms of a blended approach to education – I can’t wait to see how the challenge of Waterside works out. The LDCIN will be meeting again in the summer to discuss this and other projects taking place across the network. To keep up to date with the latest LDCIN updates, click here.

Assessment and Feedback: Transforming Curricula and Assessment in HE

On Thursday 2nd February I attended an event at the University of Bath entitled “Assessment and Feedback: Transforming Curricula and Assessment in HE.” There were many interesting sessions , of which the following were some of my personal highlights.

Dr Alex Buckley from the University of Strathclyde spoke about their use of the TESTA  approach to reviewing assessment at a Programme level. Funded by the HEA, the project, standing for Transforming the Experience of Students Through Assessment,  originally involved four partner institutions, Bath Spa, Chichester, Winchester and Worcester.  It is now used in over 50 universities in an attempt to address deep challenges of assessment which Alex stressed need to be considered at Programme level. 

The TESTA website contains further information and resources on this approach, including a manual on how to implement it. Alex explained that it involves triangulating data from a programme audit, an assessment experience questionnaire for students and focus groups.  At Strathclyde those programmes who have engaged with TESTA have found it an extremely useful diagnostic tool as well as helping colleagues to think differently about assessment. After the process, programme teams have a workshop with educational developers where they consider practical changes that can be made which address the TESTA findings.   The TESTA website contains case studies and best practice guides with concrete suggestions. An example is reducing reliance on formal documentation to communicate standards, and putting greater effort into providing exemplars in order make explicit, and open to discussion, the meaning of assessment criteria and enable to students internalise these through marking exercises and self and peer assessment in relation to the exemplars.

Kay Sambell from Edinburgh Napier University expanded in the afternoon on Alex’s point that we need to facilitate student engagement with feedback rather than simply flagging up when feedback is being provided. However both Kay and Jane Rand recognised that this can be easier said than done. Literature provided evidence of the effectiveness of this a decade ago, Jane said, but much practice hasn’t changed.  

Kay went on to show some practical strategies that can be used. Her work is based on the Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange at Oxford Brookes,  which provides a range of useful resources. She also referred to the work of Winstone, Nash, Parker & Rowntree (2016) entitled Supporting Learners’ Agentic Engagement With Feedback: A Systematic Review and a Taxonomy of Recipience Processes, which emphasises the importance of “proactive recipience” of feedback.

Kay talked about dialogic use of exemplars, which can take different forms; complete or part of an assignment, authentic or re-created, annotated with feedback or not. She went on to give an example of a peer review workshop from her own practice, the process for which is outlined in the photo on the right. Students really valued this opportunity for extended dialogue around assessment criteria.

Kay also referred to the work of Nicol, Thomas and Breslin on feedback production being recognised as just as valuable for learning as receipt of feedback. She recognised that students are sometimes reluctant to engage with engagement activities (such as peer review)! However, when they do engage they find them extremely useful, and she has found that exemplar assignments are highly effective as “vicarious peer assessment”. Kay mentioned the work of Carless and Chan on managing dialogic use of exemplars. This contains analysis of how teachers can orchestrate dialogue around exemplars. They suggest in the paper that ” the dialogic use of exemplars should be a core aspect of teachers’ repertoire of assessment for learning strategies, in that the development of student skills in making academic judgements is fundamental to the university experience.”  This is a point often made by D Royce Sadler, well known for his work on conditions necessary for students to benefit from feedback (Sadler, 1989) . In his own teaching Sadler makes use of a version of exemplars in the peer review of formative writing his students do. He puts his own attempt at the writing task in with his students’ which are distributed and peer reviewed. Sadler describes this in more detail in “‘Opening up feedback: Teaching learners to see“.

References

David Carless & Kennedy Kam Ho Chan (2016): Managing dialogic use of exemplars, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education

David Nicol, Avril Thomson & Caroline Breslin (2014) Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39:1, 102-122

Sadler, D. R. (2013) Opening up feedback: Teaching learners to see” ( In Merry, S., Price, M., Carless, D., & Taras, M. (Eds.) Reconceptualising Feedback in Higher Education: developing dialogue with students. (Ch. 5, 54-63). London: Routledge.

Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 119-144

Naomi E. Winstone, Robert A. Nash, Michael Parker & James Rowntree (2016): Supporting Learners’ Agentic Engagement With Feedback: A Systematic Review and a Taxonomy of Recipience Processes, Educational Psychologist

 

How can we use ‘unconferencing’ to enrich the Bristol Futures experience?

I went to ‘a conference on unconferencing’ (which actually turned out to be an unconference on unconferencing) in Birmingham on 20th January. Having no preconceptions as to what an unconference was, I went with the aim of gathering some ideas around enrichment activities for Bristol Futures Workstream 5.

The day started with a presentation from one of the organisers, Daniel King, on why conferences matter. He identified three main reasons:

  • Career development; networking; status
  • Field configuring; knowledge exchange; gaining a common perspective
  • Cultural management; learning how to act within a certain field

Conferences often work around a set agenda and hierarchy; the few talking to the many. The audiences take a passive role and the conference is a ‘man in suit’ affair, reinforcing existing power relations.

The idea of an unconference is to challenge visible hierarchies in conventional conferences, encouraging participation and inclusivity. The participants set the agenda, and little involvement or facilitation is needed from the organisers.

So how did it work?

We sat around in a circle, with post it notes and pens in the centre. There was an empty timetable on the wall, with locations on one side (‘middle bit’ ‘by the plant pot’ etc). Everyone was given the opportunity to ‘pitch’ an idea for a session, which involved writing a short description, question or discussion point on the paper, reading it out to the group and posting it onto the timetable (there was a bit of negotiation involved here, particularly where ideas crossed over and became one session rather than two). The person who suggested the session ‘owns’ it, and is responsible for kickstarting the discussion as well as typing up and sharing the notes afterwards. I pitched a session on how we can tackle the issue of invisible hierarchies within unconferences and how, despite the focus on inclusion, a lack of structure will invite certain forms of elite, such as those with social confidence taking over the discussion.

The sessions began, and everything went really smoothly! Before starting, the organisers had let us know that unconferences operate on a ‘rule of two feet’, which means that if you feel that you are no longer contributing or getting anything from a conversation, you’re entitled to leave it and join another session whenever you like.

How can this work for Bristol Futures?

The unconference format could work really well as a Bristol Futures Enrichment activity for all three of the online courses. The easy going, non hierarchical structure made for really interesting, balanced debates and conversations. Unconferences are designed to facilitate peer-to-peer learning, encourage less separation between different points of the hierarchy (from undergraduate through to academics), and have a focus on experience and views rather than status.

We could hold an unconference (maybe calling them something other than ‘unconference’) for each of the three pathways, encouraging students to pitch topics for discussion. This could be anything related to the content of a course (eg. ‘how can an individual make an impact on a global level?’), the course design (eg. ‘why I didn’t think week two worked well’), or something related to the overall theme that the course has not covered. The students would experience the unconference as an enrichment activity and opportunity to connect with each other and collaborate in a meaningful way. For us as lead educators and learning designers,  the unconference format could be used not only as an enrichment activity, but also as a way of using student insight to inform future iterations of the courses and make changes where needed.

An unconference would require little organisation outside booking a room and providing stationary and simple guidance, as well as little resource in terms of facilitation, as students become facilitators through the unconference format. These events could be held to kick off the course run, as a ‘touch base’ point during the middle of the course run, to round off the courses in a meaningful and useful way, or all three.

The aim of the Bristol Futures enrichment courses is to equip students with the skills they need to be happy, well rounded, resourceful adults. Through participating in an unconference, students will develop many of the Bristol Attributes including:

  • Intellectual risk, through participating in discussions potentially outside one’s comfort zone
  • Active and self aware learning, through pitching suggestions and taking ownership of a session
  • Inquisitiveness and initiative, through discussing a topic and trying to find a solution
  • Collaboration, through working with others in the group to define and run the unconference
  • Influence and leadership, through motivating and directing others to invite effective contributions
  • Responsibility, through managing the sessions without too much input from the organisers

Unconferencing encourages students to interact in a respectful, innovative and democratic way and could make a really effective enrichment activity across all three pathways.

Formative language activities using technology’, a free event organised by the School of Modern Languages and the Centre for English and Foundation Studies

As a language teacher I am always interested in what other colleagues do around assessment and feedback practice so on the 19th of January I attended a free seminar organised by CELFS (Centre for English and Foundation Studies) and SML (School of Modern Languages) on ‘Formative language activities using technology’.

The seminar focused on strategies for engaging students with formative and summative feedback using a range of technologies both in and outside the language classroom.

I took away lots of good ideas but also a couple of questions that remain unanswered. First, are we now more inclined to the idea that best practice may require the use of multiple technologies rather that one solution for all, and second, how can make the environment seamless to our students? and what about accessibility requirements?

my notes on the event

Engaging students with feedback. I know I did not come to our feedback appointment but could you tell me what my mark is?’ Emilie Poletto’s first slide showing a teacher snowed under a huge mountain of paper is a great illustration of the issue; most of the time students tend to concentrate on the end product rather than on their learning process but it is up to us to change this says Emilie ‘we need to change the role of the student from a consumer approach to a partnership’.
So the big question is ‘What strategies can we use to rethink the way we give students formative feedback? it clearly requires more than a new shiny piece of technology. Maggie Boswell says the change must be driven by the learning process not the means of delivery ‘Some might argue for the use of technology to mark student work while others might argue for traditional methodologies. How student engage with their feedback and make subsequent progress is at the heart of my student-driven ongoing enquiry.

Here are a few tips that teachers shared with the audience

  • work with students on assessment criteria and engage them in collaborative learning activities. Give them the opportunity to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to own a plan for improving their competences.
  • ask students to identify specific features for formative feedback so that you can target both the quality and the amount of feedback you provide
  • use personalised feedback, eg video through Mediasite or any screencasting solution
  • use a variety of feedback formats, written, audio and video
  • provide student support throughout the whole process, they may not need help with using the technology but with the orientation, for example finding where they have to go to look at the feedback 

a bit more from some of the individual presentations

Maggie Boswell uses a combination of different feedback formats such as drop in corrective written and voice comments, and a range of technologies like Turnitin Grademark and Mediasite. Turnitin Grademark allows her to annotate essays using both the a reusable comment bank and voice recording features, while Mediasite desktop recorder allows her to create screencast and add audio feedback.

With this combination of methods she provides feedback during TB1 over a twelve-week period on essay redraft and final draft. A couple of tips from Maggie on voice feedback; first, students engage more with this type of feedback because they hear a familiar voice, second, it is important to use the right tone and elaborate on some of the negative comments so that students don’t worry too much about a mistake that may be less serious than they might think. ‘I really like the video feedback. At first when I saw ‘omit’ (grademark drop in written comment) I thought it was really bad, but when I watched the video, I realised it was not such a bad error because of the intonation’. (from student survey collected via Google forms).

Emilie Poletto’s presentation ‘Thanks for the feedback, but what is my mark?” How to help students engage with feedback, was the one I liked most as it goes straight to the point, we spend lots of time providing formative feedback and then realise that students completely ignore it and only focus on the final mark. What can we do about this?

Emilie’s approach, inspired by the work of Alex Forsythe & Sophie Johnson as well as the work of other colleagues in the SML, focuses on ‘feedback action plans’ and student motivation.  Each student gets an individual action plan  to record specific areas of their learning that are routinely discussed with the teacher during individual tutorial. The action plan puts the onus on the students to devise their own strategies, critically evaluate the feedback they are given, build on their strengths and address their weaknesses. Students may not be used to do all of this at first but that they are more likely to engage if they feel they are in charge of the process and get good support from their teacher. Grades are only discussed at a later stage, in fact Emilie doesn’t give students their marks until they have completed the action plan which means students really have to focus on their learning first.   

In terms of working with multiple technologies I liked Jana Nahodilová’s presentation about the use of Blackboard, Quizlet and Xerte: the best parts of all of them to support assessment and feedback. Her approach for providing formative assessment is built on three main areas; Ongoing multi-phase daily process that takes place through teacher-pupil interaction, providing feedback for immediate action (for student and teacher) and reflecting on how to modify teaching activities to improve learning (motivation) and results.
For each one of these tools Jana has identified both advantages and considerations from a teacher’s perspective. Advantages include ‘easy to use and interactive’, ‘great for monitoring’, and ‘wide range of possible activities’, while some consideration are ‘little flexibility’, ‘complex set up’ and ‘lack of the functionalities required’.

More on the range of technologies on show

Blackboard assessment engine available within Blackboard and fully supported at UoB

Xerte online tutorial tool with a range of functionalities for assessment and feedback and fully supported at UoB

Quizlet  free online learning tool particularly used for flashcards to support vocabulary learning

Mediasite fully supported UoB lecture capture tool with a range of functionalities for editing videos and screencasting  

Turniting Grademark, fully supported at UoB grading tool with a variety of functionalities for automated written feedback and voice feedback

Google forms free and easy to use quiz tool available from individual google accounts

Sonocent an audio note taking software with a wide array of functionalities for feedback and assessment such as visual annotations of text and audio

Many thanks to the presenters for sharing their work:

Maggie Boswell, English teacher (CELFS)
Emilie Poletto, French teacher (SML)
Jana Nahodilová, Czech teacher (SML)

Feedback: Encouraging Engagement and Dialogue – notes on a seminar

‘Feedback is good for you, like exercise and broccoli’, said Imogen Moore from the University of Bristol Law School in her seminar on 5th December, Feedback: Encouraging Engagement and Dialogue (quote from Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen). We know it’s good for us but, according to Moore, feedback receives a consistently low score in student satisfaction surveys. So why isn’t it working? Moore offered some really interesting insights that we can take forward when thinking about how to integrate good assessment and feedback opportunities into the Bristol Futures enrichment courses, as well as in the University more widely. Here are some of the main points the seminar covered:

Outdated attitudes
We’ve all had an older family member talk about how things were ‘back in their day’ (in my case, mostly when I’m moaning about my online shopping having not arrived on time). In that vein, Moore suggested that some lecturers are of the opinion that ‘we didn’t get any help at University, why should they?’

The fact that students are paying higher fees in recent years was offered as an explanation as to why feedback satisfaction rates are so low; students expect more help because they’re paying more money to be at University. But I think there’s more to it than that. The internet has changed the studying process unrecognisably, and students going to university in the digital age face different challenges to those who went earlier. With more ideas and information floating around in a global space, students are able to combine traditional book based research with online resources and improve their work as a result, but with an influx of information at their disposal, we need to recognise that students might need more direction as to which information is valuable.

‘More’ isn’t always ‘better’
One of the main questions raised during the seminar was how to make feedback engaging and worthwhile. Moore talked about feedback as a ‘dialogue’ rather than a one off, tutor led event, with the student taking an active, central role in the feedback. Here are some of her ideas and my thoughts on them:

  • Reducing the stakes
    • Moore suggested making formative assessments optional in order to encourage growth and dialogue, only putting formal weight on the summative assessment. Her idea is that this will encourage students to talk about how they can improve and see opportunities for growth, rather than give up and lose confidence at the sign of a bad grade
    • My worry here would be that, in the busy lives of students, ‘optional’ could quite easily be taken to mean ‘it doesn’t matter’. Although it’s ultimately the prerogative of the students to engage with their degree, this approach could actually end up disengaging students who have jobs or heavy involvement with societies, who will deprioritise non-compulsory work for something they consider more immediately worthwhile
  • Moving from ‘evaluation’ to ‘coaching’
    • When the focus is on evaluation, students tend to think of their rank or rating, triggering a defensive response. When the focus is on coaching, the student can learn and grown from their mistakes and past efforts. Moore suggested introducing developmental formal opportunities, for example submitting a plan for a summative assessment.
    • I think this is really valuable; sometimes the hardest thing about being a student is to organise your thoughts into a coherent answer, and so having the opportunity to run your thoughts past your tutor is always going to be a positive thing. However, we need to keep in mind that students want grades – would grading something like an assessment plan encourage or discourage engagement with the summative assessment itself?

Should we engage students in feedback policy and practice?
The co-creation of resources has become really popular in materials development over recent years. I found it really interesting to hear Moore talking about how, during her time at the University of Reading, they held student forums with the aim of influencing feedback policy and practice. She recognised the benefits of getting the students involved in the process, in that it increased a shared understanding between students and lecturers, but commented that a negative aspect of the exercise was the fact that students don’t want a direct involvement in actually writing the policies and prefer to take a consultative role. My thought was, why should they want a direct involvement? To me, this is a bit like saying ‘lecturers are happy to provide their opinion on my essay but they don’t want to write it for me’. Co-creation should be a combined effort with the responsibility for certain tasks or processes falling on the right shoulders; lecturers are essentially co-creating a student’s journey through university by providing feedback on their work and, in the case of the University of Reading, students are co-creating policies by providing feedback on the feedback process.

Overall, it became clear that students want specific advice on how to improve, as well as prompt feedback, guidance on how to use the feedback they are given and examples of good and bad practice. As one of Imogen Moore’s students has said, ‘if I knew what I was doing wrong, I wouldn’t have done it’. Online connectivity offers a number of possibilities for online guidance and feedback, and the TELED team are already managing some really useful methods, including audio and video feedback, iPad marking and TurnitIn Grademark. Hopefully we’ll see student satisfaction on feedback improve with more schools and departments, as well as the Bristol Futures enrichment courses, adopting online processes and thinking about how they can best deliver feedback to encourage maximum engagement and dialogue. 

‘Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become’: how can we encourage students to work towards a positive vision of their future selves?

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Astronaut” by J M is licensed under CC Public Domain Mark 1.0

I recently read the biography of Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut. In it, he tells readers, ‘don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become’, referencing his childhood vision of being an astronaut and how he refocused all of his daily activities including diet, school work and free time in the direction of that goal until he reached it.

On 28th November Alex Forsythe, an Occupational Psychologist at the University of Liverpool, led an Education Excellence seminar, Thanks But No Thanks for the Feedback, in the Wills Memorial Building. Alex Forsythe unwittingly channelled Chris Hadfield in her idea that students need to have an awareness of their future selves in order to accept feedback and set goals, touching also upon Carol Dweck’s theory of ‘fixed’ and ‘growth’ mindsets. She recognised the theory’s obvious problems in terms of generalisation but used it as a useful way to understand basic student thinking:

  • A fixed mindset student is more likely to see their skills and talents as fixed and will work very hard to protect their self esteem, perhaps rejecting negative feedback where it needs to be taken
  • A student with a growth mindset is all about learning; nothing is set in stone and they’re open to being challenged and growing in areas they don’t believe to be their expertise

As staff at the University of Bristol, it’s our job to help encourage growth mindsets in students and support them in developing an awareness of their future selves. This doesn’t mean that each student has to be aware of the specific career path they will take, but rather that they are aware of the skills they’ll need for any workplace so that they can work towards becoming an employable, well rounded individual. Through Bristol Futures, we’re encouraging students to develop and recognise specific graduate skills so that they can set goals and react to feedback as positive steps towards developing these skills, rather than thinking of feedback as a negative thing. Most of us have heard about the ‘feedback sandwich’, where negative feedback is framed by positive feedback so that the student doesn’t self-reflect destructively. But framing things in positive language doesn’t challenge students to move forward; they need to be able to receive criticisms constructively and have difficult conversations in future, so why wrap them in cotton wool during education?

The main topic of discussion after the seminar was that, due to the increase in tuition fees, students tend to think of Universities as institutions of teaching rather than institutions of learning. They want more resources given to them upfront as well as tangible, easily evidenced results, with learning outcomes that are directly relevant to something they do or intend to do in their lives. Forsythe also told the seminar that ‘you’re more likely to make an effort towards applying for a job if you believe you’ll get it’. This leaves us with two main questions:

  • Do we need to make the learning of graduate skills explicit throughout the Bristol Futures courses in order to:
    • make the benefits clear to students concerned with dedicating time to something they’re not paying for?
    • allow students to recognise the skills they’re developing and improve their self confidence, encouraging them to set higher goals for themselves in future?

I went into the seminar expecting to get ideas on how we can provide feedback to students taking the Bristol Futures courses, but left thinking that the Bristol Futures courses should develop students’ ability to receive feedback in other areas. It seems to me as though the true measure of Bristol Futures’ success is to go back to the students in ten years time; if they are happy, well adjusted adults, we’ve succeeded.

FutureLearn Academic Network 24th October

The FutureLearn Academic Network event at the University of Leicester  provided a chance to catch up with Futurelearn developments, including:

  • Intended audiences for courses: Several institutions are aiming FutureLearn courses at their own students and/or wanting to track impact of publically available courses on their students.  Professional CPD is another growth area. There are debates to be had about the relative merits of CPD courses being closed or open to a wider audience.
  • Course evaluation and analytics: There were some wonderful presentations on how data extracted from courses can be used to understand learning taking place in FutureLearn courses. Sylvia Gallagher’s research at Trinity College Dublin uses visualisations of FutureLearn discussion to identify discursive themes and analyse whether comments are ‘on task’ (related to the intended learning outcomes). Sylvia is also evaluating the impact of infographics summarising each week of the course. Ben Fields from FutureLearn is exploring time on task; the amount of time that elapses between a learner first starting a step and marking it as complete. This could appear as a report in the platform to aid educator in the future. Southampton University are using data to try to predict dropouts and comparing stated weekly learning time with the actual time learners spend on platform.
  • Futurelearn and relevant external tools: Futurelearn are ready for a further roll out the long awaited group tools. Early indications are they can work for courses where the design is heavily structured towards group work – food for thought for Bristol Futures course design. An external tool called  Georama may also have application for Bristol Futures. It is an  Immersive technology that could give a learner some feeling of engagement with a live event from a distance, for example a field trip. As with the group function, the purpose would need to be clearly thought through. Would a live experience be of enough benefit to enough learners to make using this worthwhile?
  • Methods of accrediting and verifying learning: Professor Mike Sharples (Open University) outlined some future looking research using ‘Blockchain’ technology. Blockchain was developed to verify bitcoins, but is now being piloted to verify learning achievement. Could this become a more mature version of Open badge technology? See The Blockchain and Kudos: A Distributed System for Educational Record, Reputation and Reward. OU experiments include using within an ePortfolio.

Play – notes from a PM Studios lunchtime talk

I attended October’s lunchtime talk at Pervasive Media Studio by Simon Johnson of Free Ice Cream and igfest – about working in real world games. His big hit was the city-based zombie chase game, 2.8 Hours Later (these were heavier with social commentary than I had realised at the time – second version was about becoming an asylum seeker).

I loved his thought that playing a game is like running on a different operating system. And that it can help you see features of the existing operating system – say of a city – that would not otherwise be apparent. Creating a game was also described not as storytelling, but as creating a context in which people build their own stories.

This seems very relevant to thinking about teaching in the digital era, where dissemination of information is no longer such a key concern. We should be designing experiences which shake people out of their set patterns of thinking and allow them to explore new ones, helping them to try out new operating systems, creating rich environments in which they build their own stories.

Misc details

  • Simon emphasised the idea of fun – not “serious gaming”. Similar to Nic Whitton’s emphasis on playfulness?
  • His Cargo game, a city escape game focussed on how to build/undermine trust in a group, was designed to create a chaotic environment to test disaster relief principles.
  • igfest – a festival of interesting games that ran for several years. I think there were more frequent meet ups too. This gave game developers a play-testing community by regular events and some regular participants even became game designers.
  • Hat game – gps tracked bowler hat, whoever kept it longest would win (but there were unintended consequences… the hat-wearer ran away – the prize was too big)
  • theTweeture – such an advanced bot that people thought it was a puppet
  • A couple of the games were intended to help people conceptualise complex ideas: a hoop-rolling game set in a quantum computer; Calibration which puts the scale of the solar system in human terms.
  • He’s developing a conference-based game for the ODI to be played at the UN conference in March.

Learning design cross institutional network

On Wednesday 6th July I attended my first meeting of the Learning Design Cross Institutional Network, kindly organised by Lisette Toetenel of the Learning Design team at the Open University, and hosted by UCL.  The network has only been going for a year, but with an ever growing focus on systematic enhancement of teaching and the student experience across the HE sector, learning design is becoming a field of great interest to many institutions, and this was reflected in the attendance at the event, which was double the number of the previous meeting. Participants came from a range of organisations, including Liverpool, Edinburgh, UCL, Oxford, Greenwich, Northampton and the Open University.

So what exactly is learning design and why is it of such interest?

Fiona Hale from the University of Edinburgh has recently carried out a review of relevant literature and resources as well as interviews with practitioners across the sector, and opened the day with a summary of her work which is informing developments of the Edinburgh Learning Design roadmap (ELDeR) at her institution.  Fiona acknowledges the importance of learning design research but prioritises learning design practice which she defines as

the process of designing learning experiences (planning, structuring, sequencing) through facilitated activities that are pedagogically informed, explicit and make better use of technologies in teaching

(Learning Design Scoping: Final Report)

It is a creative process and distinct from development of courses, although it may involve prototyping of activities and getting feedback on these.

Why is this sort of process seen as so valuable? Firstly, research by Fiona and others has shown that traditionally course design often “just happens”. When there is an explicit design process this tends to be focussed more on content than thinking about the activities students will be undertaking in their  learning. Learning design foregrounds activity as opposed to content, on the basis that it is the activities which help students to engage with content. Content alone is not learning. 

Secondly traditional design practice often happens in silos, with individual academics working in isolation. Sometimes the person designing is not necessarily the person teaching, which can lead to a lack of coordination. The facilitated process Fiona and others use is a collaborative endeavour, involving as many colleagues from the unit and/or programme team as possible working together with library staff and learning technologists. Collaborative design has been shown to be effective, for example through the success of Gilly Salmon’s long-established Carpe Diem approach. (http://www.gillysalmon.com/carpe-diem.html )

Thirdly use of a structured process is easier to evaluate and scale as well as being easily shareable.  In Fiona’s case her team have been facilitating the workshops initially, but because there is a standard model and resources, they are now being cascaded down to facilitators in Schools, which has increased capacity and spread effective practice.

So what sort of approaches are other institutions taking?

At Edinburgh the process involves a workshop which takes place over two days, similar to the Northampton CaIeRO approach, both of which are based on Gilly Salmon’s Carpe Diem model.  Others use shorter interventions such as UCL’s one and a half hour ABC workshops. These do not provide an opportunity for any actual activity prototyping  though, in contrast to the approaches used at Edinburgh and Northampton.

All of the approaches are very active, with participants able to make use of visual resources such as activity cards to try out different sequences of types of activities in their designs. This hands on approach is quite different from other purely discursive review processes, and feedback from participants illustrates that they find this very effective in helping engagement and productive outcomes. 

Learning design as product

In addition to the process, learning design can generate a product, for which Dalziel uses the analogy of musical notation.  In the same way that musical notation attempts to capture the energy and complexity of music, a learning design representation tries to capture “the great ideas of teaching to be shared so that we can build that community knowledge”.

“Learning Design – conceptualising a framework for teaching and learning online” (2016) ed Dalziel 2016 )

Different attempts have been made to represent learning designs, including through use of tools like LAMS and the Learning Designer.   Helen Walmsley-Smith from Staffordshire University is one of those who are looking at challenges of categorising learning designs. In order to demonstrate this point Helen invited participants to have a go at analysing and categorising a series of descriptions  of learning activities. This revealed that the different ways that colleagues talk about teaching and learning can present challenges, as can the way teachers describe activities in their instructions for students. 

One of the frameworks that has proven widely useful in helping to categorise learning activities and thereby help with achieving balanced learning design is Diana Laurillard’s:

 

Laurillard types of learning

(Adapted from: Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a design science: building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology )

We have used both this and the eight learning events model in a number of contexts including workshops and the TEL essentials online course, as ways of helping colleagues think about different ways in which TEL can effectively support learning.

8LearningEventsModelGraphicv2

(Leclerc and Poumay (2005) The 8 Learning Events Model and its principles  http://www.labset.net/media/prod/8LEM.pdf)

Diana’s framework is used in the Learning Designer tool, which allows colleagues to visualise through a pie chart the proportion of each different type of  activity in their course. This can then prompt reflection, for example if there appears to be a dominance of “Acquisition” type activity , this may lead to consideration of balancing this more with discussion or practice. 

Future of learning design

Diana provided the final presentation of the day, which looked to the future of learning design. She sees it as an essential to enable scaling up of engagement with learning technology, and to help good pedagogies to cross to different subject areas and contexts, for example between online and blended courses. She ended by suggesting some ways in which MOOCs could help, for example in sharing ideas and designs, and taking advantage of analytics to further research evidence of effectiveness.

(Slides and audio from presentation by Diana Laurillard)

This was an extremely useful day, and provided a great opportunity to meet colleagues who are both starting out on the learning design journey and others who have significant experience and for whom this process is really gaining traction and leading to better designed courses.  Many thanks to all of the contributors. 

We are very keen to trial one or more of these approaches at Bristol, and would love to hear from any colleagues who may be interested.  To find out more please email:  roger.gardner@bristol.ac.uk

Schools and eLearning – Education ICT 2016 and visit to Microsoft

Last week I attended two events in London that gave a flavour of eLearning and the school sector. The first event was a conference entitled Education ICT 2016, the second was a visit to see education experts at Microsoft, who are doing a lot with schools and increasingly with Universities. Things are changing fast in schools, particularly with the use of tablets by students. We can learn from what is happening in the sector, and there is interest from schools in what we are doing in HE.

Education ICT Conference 2016

Pete Herbert and I presented at the Education ICT Conference in Westminster On Wednesday 29th June. We had the tough job of following an excellent presentation from  Dr Neelam Parmar, Director of Elearning at Ashford School. Neelam described her engagement in with staff to identify pedagogic approaches and develop workflows for a variety of apps used in class on tablet devices. Many of these apps are free and could be of use in HE.

Pete and I spoke about scaling up the digitisation of content through Mediasite and our aspirations to move beyond simply capturing content to doing something more transformative. Pete illustrated the scale of use of Mediasite at Bristol, which has had over a million views, and also described how academics here are:

  • using analytic data to determine the areas students return to in the recordings to ask questions about why students might focus on those elements, eg is there a concept they are trying to better understand?
  • using flipped techniques and video feedback. In other words, changing teaching practice through the technology.

We alluded to aspirations to partner with students in areas of course and material design and how we are learning from MOOCs to change what we deliver to our own students. I was then on a panel session with some challenging questions from the floor about how we engage staff and students in change, and how students can partner with us in making change happen. Coincidentally, one of the other panel members, Kevin Sait, Head of IT Strategy at Wymondham High Academy Trust, delivered part of the session I attended at Microsoft on Friday.

Visit to Microsoft

This was an opportunity to see what Microsoft are developing for the education market. The visit was arranged and attended by colleagues from IT Services. Colleagues from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

We enjoyed a demonstration of the Microsoft Surface Hub. In effect, this is a very advanced electronic whiteboard with powerful video conference functionality built in. The responsiveness of the touch screens in particular was impressive. This has been the main disadvantage of screens I have used in the past. The video conferencing (built on Skype) included Xbox technology that tracks the user to determine which camera to use. You can see that in the right sized classroom, and with the right use cases, this could be an extremely effective tool. They could, for example, support those teaching across the clinical academies.

Kevin Sait demonstrated a range of Microsoft collaboration tools built into Office 365 and Sharepoint. Of particular interest to one colleague was Sway (part of Office 365) billed as a digital storytelling tool. Much of the collaboration with students in Microsoft schools centres on Onenote, through which students can build and share content. Other colleagues could see huge potential of the cloud for collaborative staff activity eg collaboration on exam papers.

There are some differences between Schools and Universities (for example, class size and types of teaching space) but there is much we can learn from what they are doing in schools. University student expectations will evolve as a result of what they are seeing in schools. We can start experimenting with tools like Onenote and the office 365 package, which, like Google apps, have great potential for both staff and student collaborative activity.