Tuesday 21 March 2017

Success for All?

My blog posts have had a dry run of late: my excuse is that I have been heavily involved for the past 6 months in preparing for the re-validation of our course (in Health and Social Care) whilst my teaching has also been halved, so less to talk about.

I think too that I am going through something of a reshuffle in terms of where I stand on technology enhanced teaching and learning. For the first time in a while I haven't submitted any conference abstracts or even booked myself a place on anything remotely techy.

Don't think for a moment that I have reached a point where I believe I know everything (as if!) or that I am bored with the whole shebang. No  - I think it is simply that my focus has necessarily been shifted to new challenges.

Another issue which I have to recognise is that when I arrived as Course Leader, hot from having delivered a distance learning programme at another institution, I was the Tech Queen in a world of paper addicted Luddites (and that was their description, not mine!).

In the past 7 years I have seen the course move to 100% e-submission of assignments; greatly improved use of the VLE; widespread use of Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Padlet to enhance lectures; lecture capture as standard; more colleagues opting for Scale Up type delivery and several modules now requiring students to submit blog posts, build websites and create video documentaries.

Of course, this wasn't all my doing: we have a digital skills strategy in the University and a project aimed at developing interactive teaching methods, which, together with considerable capital investment in the infrastructure has made a huge impact on what it is now possible to do and I am no longer needed as the pathfinder, or even, too often, as a mentor.

Students too are different now: 7 years ago my intro to digital skills sessions took place in a computer lab where I had to start by teaching students how to switch on the PC. Now they arrive on the first day with their Lenovo Yogas and iPads having already formed social bonds through our course Facebook group.

So what are my new challenges? I think primarily it is about narrowing attainment gaps: between BTEC and A level students, BME and white students, disabled students and not, the mature and the young, men and women.

I don't know if this is even possible but I know there is a huge drive to attempt it and I am really interested in the debates. Widening participation in education is a Good Thing in and of itself, but making a success of University education does require skill, dedication, focus - and I am talking here about teaching staff. It takes effort and imagination to prepare students to succeed.

On our course we have tried a number of new approaches in the past year.

One such was the Undergraduate Research Conference aimed both at developing research skills in our own students and at raising awareness in prospective students currently studying BTEC courses.

Another, was a Welcome Week activity focused on Diversity and Equality. This was based on research suggesting, amongst other things, that opening up discussions about identity and values at an early stage helped to increase students' sense of belonging. To kick start the activity, we used an Open Learn module as pre-reading then simply got students engaged in conversations about what "identity" meant to them. The discussions were fascinating, uncomfortable, moving and hugely valued by the students.

Another recent event was based on the Human Library idea, with students volunteering to be human books for others to explore different experiences.

Obviously, there isn't a silver bullet: increasing the number of BME staff, developing more of a global focus on the course, individual tutor support, more inclusive teaching practices and a review of assessment practices are all part of the recipe for success. I think you will agree we have our work cut out.

And will technology enhanced teaching and learning have a role in all of this?

On the one hand, it can be a great leveller in terms of inclusive teaching - especially simple things like posting lecture notes to the VLE, lecture capture (ok - that's not all that simple) and using Padlet and polling software in lectures. Working in Scale Up with lap tops available also can help bridge the digital divide as I can sit with students and demonstrate, hands on, how they can achieve certain tasks. But our "widening participation" students are often the least confident, the least well equipped with technology, the least proficient in English, and so trying to create a digital artefact outside of class, navigating their way around online platforms, is often the biggest challenge.

So this year I have given my final year students a number of options for the completion of their reflective digital stories that allow them to use simpler technology or familiar formats. Not the end of my love affair with technology, by any means, just a pause for reflection.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Blog wrangling.... a guide for beginners

Ok so this isn't actually going to teach you anything about blogging (or cattle wrangling come to that).... rather it's an account of how I have been getting on with constructing a class blog.

In the past couple of years I have set my final year students a task of conveying their reflections on leadership values through the medium of interpretive dance the photostory. This year I decided not to repeat that exercise (as this particular cohort had already done something similar in their first year) but instead asked them to write a blog post - working in small groups -  about what leadership means to them.

I was inspired to do this by a colleague who had dome something similar with his class the previous year: however, in his case, he had asked his students to develop their ideas in a Word Document which he had then uploaded to a blog he'd created. (Sensible chap it turns out).

Naturally that wasn't complicated enough for me; no, I decided to create a multi author blog which the students could edit themselves. I figured that learning to blog was a useful 21st century skill in itself, so, heck - why not?

I tried to smooth the process along by creating a couple of screen cast videos to show them how to post, step by step, and this has worked well in the majority of cases, but a few are still struggling to create and publish their first post. However, that is understandable. What is surprising (as always) are the unforeseen "challenges" of a multi author blog composed of almost complete blog novices.

So - first problem: I send out invites to the blog to the students' Uni emails and they then set up a Blogger account using a different ID (particularly if they have created a multi-access account/password), so it's quite tricky (but not impossible with a little lateral thinking) to work out who is who.....

Then because they are working in groups I have to set up a spreadsheet that records who is working with whom. Again, not too difficult as they email me with the details, but a bit of extra work.

The real doozy is how they then seem to get lost somewhere between setting up a Blogger ID and accepting my invitation and end up creating a completely separate blog !?!?! I have managed to guide most of them back to the correct site - and one student decided she liked hers so much she is going to carry on using it as her reflective space for the remainder of the year - but I really didn't see that coming.

I have had some positive feedback from students: some have really enjoyed learning a new skill, especially, the older students in the group who worried they weren't cut out to handle this "internet technology thingy". There are also some really creative, fun, engaging and reflective posts being published, so the exercise is achieving its main aim. But I am left wondering what if anything I could do to make things run a little more smoothly next year - short of asking them to send me a word document which I upload....

And maybe some of the learning that comes out of these missteps will actually prove valuable: one student told me that she had previously been asked to write blog posts for the charity she works for - but only in a Word Document and never actually posting and editing on line herself. She was really pleased that she had now had this experience of actually contributing to a "live" blog - and indeed of setting up her own (which, naturally, she did by accident!).

The next stage is to try and get the students to leave comments for one another (I admit, I am going to moderate these!) and I will give each group feedback in the form of comments too. Once everyone is happy with the finished product, I am going to ask their permission to publish the blog so that they can see their efforts out there in the public sphere.

*UPDATE* here's the link: https://leadingteams2016.blogspot.co.uk/

Thursday 6 October 2016

Office Mix is Awesome

Had a very frustrating day yesterday trying to edit and upload a short screencast video to show my students how to post to a blog. I used ScreenCastOMatic (works just fine!) but then really struggled to edit it in Movie Maker (admittedly an old version that really doesn't work well with Windows 10). Adding an audio track also proved impossible as the Windows 10-provided Voice Recorder kept crashing on me. So I tried downloading other recommended Windows movie maker apps but found them too irritating with in app purchases and ads etc.

Next I uploaded the video to old favourite WeVideo online platform: all went smoothly but couldn't for some reason manage to publish it with an audio track (it's never failed me before.... I'm beginning to dislike Windows 10......)

I ended up doing a second screencast of my screen cast (!!!!) this time with audio, editing the video also using ScreenCastOMatic and then finally publishing that to YouTube. I know I could have done a voiceover from the get-go but there were reasons why I couldn't that I won't bore you with.

Anyway, a relatively happy ending.

But then today I remembered someone mentioning Office Mix. So - I downloaded it, watched the introductory tutorial videos, created a screen recording within a slide, with audio, uploaded it to Office Mix online, copied the link into my learning room and "Voila!!"  I think it took about 20 minutes.

Oh - and it's free!

So happy am I that I am going to recommend this to my students as the number one tool for creating their digital stories next term :)

In the meantime, the students are about to embark on creating a class blog about leadership values. I decided to move away from the simple photostory we had done in the previous two years, partly because this cohort already did that in Year 1. And because I think writing for an audience is a useful skill which is a little more taxing at this level than a simple photo +caption artefact.

More on this in my next post :)

Friday 30 September 2016

Building Students' Research Skills - Reflections

An unintended consequence of the Undergraduate Research Conference we ran in April is that it is being held up as an example (within my University at least) of how we can prepare and support BTEC students in their transition to University AND of widening participation.

I say unintended because the original plan was simply to try and get our existing students engaged in research. Inviting local colleges to participate - especially those in disadvantaged areas - and focusing on current BTEC students ticked the boxes around widening participation for our Schools Colleges and Community Outreach team, but the focus on research skills also provided extra study skills support for those current undergraduates with a BTEC background.

I was invited (along with my colleague Sarah Barkley from SCCO) to talk about the event at a recent BTEC Symposium - here is the Prezi:

Saturday 3 September 2016

#altc Tell it like it is!

oh dear! I have been quiet recently....

well, the new academic year looms and even before I get to experience that particular joy, I have a session to deliver at ALTC in Warwick next week - on the theme of Digital Storytelling (of course).

You can get a preview of my presentation via the Prezi below. It includes a short video with highlights from this year's crop of stories. For more posts on my journey, click on the digital storytelling label below.

What's next?

I am going to be using the same assessment with my final year students this year - I think both they and I have found it to be a very creative and engaging task, and as a way of reflecting on learning it is proving to be very effective: far more so than the traditional assessments I have used in the past.

This year's batch are going to be especially interesting as this is the only cohort that will have completed a digital story in both years 1 and 3. I hesitated for a while about whether to ask them to repeat the assignment but I think doing so will allow both them and me to compare the two artefacts and measure the distance travelled....