Monday, 23 September 2013

New pencil case

Ah! It's that time of year - a whiff of autumn in the air mingled with late summer sunshine, hungover students arriving for their induction session.... a new pencil case used to be the order of the day, now it's a re-organised virtual learning room.

Over the summer I have had to sharpen up some of my own digital skills as I got to grips with the upgraded VLE (Desire2Learn vn 10). I have to admit to liking what I am seeing - a more intuitive user interface, better overall layout and appearance, some handy new features which allow me to highlight the essentials of each session.

The new VLE layout also complements beautifully the Scale Up or flipped classroom approach that my modules are taking this year as I can create or curate interesting content that is accessible out of class as well as plan, design and publish group learning activities that we will do in the workshops.

For my first year module, the aim is to develop digital information literacy. Where in past years I have had to start with fundamentals like "how to switch on the computer" (I kid ye not...) this time we hope to hit the ground running with an exploration of digital citizenship.

To illustrate the layout of the VLE - and as an example of a session from the module- here is a screen print of one of my new sessions on Social Media and Research:

A key element which is informing the evolving design of the module is students' response to a "Digital Skills" survey which I conducted with them as a pre-Induction activity. You can download the survey here if you are interested.

The responses tell us the sort of things students are worried about and where they already feel confident. A similar module last year attracted some criticism because students felt we were going over ground they were already familiar with. This year we have a better idea of students' capabilities and knowledge before we meet them and so have been able to tailor the module accordingly.

For example, recognising that a lot of them are already familiar with blogging and Twitter, we can now spend more time looking at online identity and using social media for research than we do in teaching them how to use email and submit assignments.

Having today met the first year students face to face for the first time, I am feeling excited about beginning the module next week despite needing to get to grips with the unfamiliar physical teaching environment and wondering how to manage sessions with such large numbers (see earlier posts about this: Enhancement and Risk Management). Designing the virtual  learning room is, by comparison, a quiet, contemplative and creative process which I have actually enjoyed over the summer. Whether the reality matches up to the dream is another matter. I'll be keeping you posted.

Finally, I have to report that the pre-induction Facebook group has been a great success this year. Over 50% of students are already members (and more have joined today since the induction workshop). Students have raised questions about everything from reading lists to bus stops, queried timetables and asked about the difference between seminars and lectures (I forget how many assumptions we make about this kind of thing) and have been holding private chats with one another about their hopes and fears.

Social networking's ability to initiate genuine - and genuinely helpful -  relationships should not to be underestimated - nor allowed to be cheapened by the horror stories about grooming and bullying we hear on the news. The success of the Facebook group really came home to me today when I realised how many faces I already knew and how friendly and at ease the group seemed with me - and perhaps more importantly with one another  - having already made those vital, virtual connections. A great start to the term - and I didn't even need a new pencil case!