I attended the 5th annual University of Huddersfield Teaching and Learning conference yesterday, its theme this year was the connection of research and enterprise to teaching and learning. The conference was held in the new Business School building which has just opened for students this coming academic year which proved to be a great venue, as everything was in once place, and has lots of daylight and social spaces. The conference as always is a great way to network and share ideas and good practice with colleagues, and is always well attended and excellently organised. Last year they went with a totally open ‘unconference’ format where none of the session except keynotes were planned ahead, and people suggested their own ideas for sessions on the day – and moving around between sessions was actively encouraged, though being very British we didn’t exploit that as much as perhaps we should have, and most people stayed put in the session they started in. I liked this format, and volunteered a session (on the use of twitter) which generated a lot of useful discussion, but apparently the open format was not liked by all. This year they decided to adopt a hybrid model with keynotes and two parallel sessions planned with calls for presenters in the traditional conference format and two parallel sessions in the open unconference format. This seemed to work really well and hopefully acceptable to most people. There seemed to be less people volunteering session titles this year though, not sure if we exhausted topics last year, or there was just a general reluctance or hesitancy of people to take the lead. I hung back in a hope that enough people volunteered, so I could attend other things but when there was a slight shortage of sessions I offered to facilitate one on how we could encourage staff to use more learning technologies in their teaching.
The conference had an official twitter hashtag which was widely publicised on the website and in all conference rooms – this was a noticeable shift from last year, tweeting seemed much more accepted and prolific and drew people in from outside the conference to the discussions and talking points, there was even an iPad or two around. Even so I think there were no more than about 10 people regularly tweeting at the conference.
The other interesting feature of this conference was to employ graphic facilitator, Nick Payne, to build up a graphical representation of the conference. He started with a very big blank piece of paper in the morning’s keynote and slowly built up a drawing representing the conference themes and the things he heard discussed and presented on during the day. He even attended some of the sessions, and talked to the facilitators to get a feel for the discussions and themes of the day. It was fascinating to see the drawing develop throughout the day.
Overall I thought the conference was really well organised, had a good vibe to it, the format worked really well, and I had a enjoyable day networking with colleagues, many who I knew but some that I hadn’t met before, thanks to all those involved with the organisation.
Dave White – 2nd Keynote
Dave considers whether we should we be thinking about learning first then adding the tools to facilitate. However he thinks we as humans are good at talking about tools, so he doesn’t mind starting with the tools. He makes the point that technology is owned by all not just geeks.
He questioned the notion about students as consumers, and considered this quite a dangerous idea as we have never done what students what they want, they just want to pass the assessment. What they need is collaboration, group work, ‘messy things’. Do we pander do them or challenge them? Students demand content, so they can just pass but if you just provide this they drop out (e.g. online courses with no interaction). They need to collaborative even if they don’t recognise this. If you are being innovative, of course it is going to be messy and disruptive. We don’t understand people’s motivation to engage. Students and tutors have all sorts of reasons not to engage with activities.
Dave says that we end up with 2 camps (1) What we need is quality and consistency, we need to embed v (2) no we need to innovate, we need to do new stuff and not stuff that reinforces old pedagogies. We actually need a combination of both of these, we spend too long arguing between the two rather than talking to find some common ground. Innovators and pragmatists have to talk to one another if we want to move this forward. ‘Good’ stress and anxiety motivates you, so we shouldn’t avoid putting students under a bit of good stress – as it pushes their comfort zone and helps their learning. They used to say ‘content is king’ but that is when content wasn’t freely available everywhere, now it is not necessary. Small talk is all part of being human, look at the conference attendees talking and networking in the breaks, and this is why twitter works so well – it isn’t the content that it is important – it is the connections. We therefore need to teach students how to build these networks and create a personal learning network to take forward after their time at University.
Other points made from parallel sessions and discussion:
Video Lecture Capture: Video lecture capture was popular when used for revision and not as a substitute for live events. However this gives students a choice – as some will prefer the live experience and others will like having a recording that they can view in smaller sections and stop and rewind as necessary. It was found that a side effect of videoing lectures was that tutors can review and improve performance, as many had never seen themselves teach before, so it became a source of professional development. In this particular study they found that students would rather watch them than download (i.e. did not put the lectures onto their mobile devices). They also found the live lectures helped students to concentrate on live lectures rather than having to take notes. The disadvantage to the lecture capture as that it inhibited risk-taking (and excellence) in lecturers.
Twitter used in Education: The session on the use of twitter in education found that staff liked twitter but students a bit less so. Students are not all ‘digital natives’ as often assumed, and some students did not want to engage with social networking sites. Twitter is not yet widespread and Facebook is dominating social networking so they found that most students did not check it often enough and were not in the habit of checking it. Some students used twitter to follow celebs but Facebook offers greater functionality. A possible solution for this is making use of twitter feeds into either a Facebook page or to the VLE so that those not checking twitter or not using twitter do not miss out.
Breakout session – debate : This breakout session was run by James Clay and Bex …. The point they made was that snow caused many HEIs to close in January this year, and that closure of educational establishments had also happened recently due to flooding, no water and swine flu, and that we should be doing something about it. It is no longer an excuse that if the physical sites are closed that all educational activity should stop, we should prepare for it and make a lot more use of e-learning. The message that came out in January when we got the bad snow was they were closing the University not just the site. Everyone (well most staff and students) just took the day off. The attitude was that because physical site shut down that everything stopped – this does not need to be the case.
The question was raised as to how we engage all staff in the use of learning technologies. It was observed that the only people interested in technology attend technology training sessions and visit Learning Technology websites, so how do we reach the ones that we really want to convert? Most people seem to take the softly, softly approach working with those who are interested first then gradually drawing others in.
One of the main points made was that people easily blame the technology when something goes wrong with it but how many blamed face to face teaching when the snow comes or fire alarms go off? No one – it is just accepted as one of those things. People will easily find excused not to engage.
It was that we must set boundaries about responses to emails etc, as some tutors respond very quickly and at all hours of the night, this then sets up an expectation for other tutors to do the same, this does not always happen then students are disappointed.
Plymouth Elearning Conference – Post 1
The conference started on a very positive note with three main messages:
- E-learning has now moved from margins to mainstream
- Students leading very digital lifestyles, so let us harness this
- Technology enhanced learning now has a very high priority in the University Sector.
Josie Fraser was the first keynote speaker talking about social media:
Josie talked firstly about the ungoogleable man, raising a few questions, firstly does he exist – as even though he may not have an online presence many of his friends and family may have and they maybe tagging photos of him on Facebook or flikr or mentioning his name in their blogs. If he is not online he may not be aware of the digital identity that others are creating from him. The second question is – is this a good thing he can’t be found on Google? It may protect his privacy a bit not able to being found or followed, and make him less vulnerable. However do the advantages of being online outweigh the disadvantages?
Why is digital participation important? Well the functions and processes of an institution are often organised round networks rather than physical spaces, it is not what you know it is who you are connected to that is important so you can ask experts in your network. Participation in online activity provides both escape from social isolation and other people and somewhere to escape to.
Josie provides a few interesting statistics:
- In December 2009 there were 3500 million users on Facebook
- Within Facebook there are 69M active Farmville users, compared to 18M users of Twitter
- In October 2009 1 in 7 page views on internet were to Facebook.
- In 2010 half people on their mobiles were using Facebook.
- People are being creative online 40% people upload things online
Online identities are an interesting concept: it is a process of creation – not just reflection of what we are like. The act of representation is a powerful tool – not fixed but not as fluid as some may think. We tend to re-inscribe social norms into cyber space, for example we do not abandon our physical bodies in social space, people talk about food, coffee and use things like four-square to let people know where they are. Digital Literacy is very important keeping safe and protecting your privacy online. Online identity (described by Danah Boyd) is:
- replicable (can be taken out of context)
- scaleable (not confined to people f2f)
- delocateable (lack of relevance as to where you are)
Communities are very positive and powerful things. Many of us benefit from being in education technology communities, reading and commenting on blogs, contributing to wikis and engaging with twitter. However they are not all positive – e.g. those around anorexia, people post photos of themselves, and there are discussions based around how not to be discovered losing weight, how to lose weight, etc. Would closing the community sort out the problem? Probably not as it is a very complex situation.
Post 2 on the rest of the conference to follow
Twitter has really increased my enjoyment of academic conferences and made them much more useful learning experiences. I think Twitter has helped in the following ways:
Knowing which papers to go to: through my twitter network I have build up a respect for certain people and so I know which sessions are going to be good. Before twitter I often chose sessions based on their titles, and have been hugely disappointed in the quality and lack of research people do before putting a conference paper forward – if only they would have taken a couple of hours to look at papers, they would have realised that what they are saying has been said many times before or even worse misguided. Anyway with twitter I have usually already earmarked which sessions would be useful for me – and am much less often disappointed.
Networking is much easier as you already (sort of) know a lot of people: It is really nice to attend a conference where you meet many of the people that you network with on twitter. Meeting people that you have only met on twitter is interesting and other people have already mentioned this in their blogs, but it is strange. You feel you know these people really well in some ways but not at all in others. Some people are very professional tweeters and you don’t get to see much of their personalities, most however reveal at least a bit of their personality and non-working life, so you do feel like you have got to know them. I always feel a bit strange talking to someone from twitter for the first time – where do you start? The other thing is that I am never sure if they follow me back, so may know absolutely nothing about me, and I know the name of their great-auntie’s cat. It is fun to sit in session and work out who is who, and see who else is tweeting in the room.
Use of twitter within a conference – backchannel. I love that you can interact with other twitter users whilst listening to a conference paper – get their thoughts and reflections about what is being said, seeing who agrees or disagrees with what is being said, and learning by discussing what the paper is about. The other benefit is that you can follow what is being said by people you don’t follow by following the hashtag on twitterfall or similar. Additionally if you are at a session which is a tad less inspiring, you can follow other sessions via twitter and engage with them.
Conferences you can’t attend: One of the best things about twitter is you can get all the interesting things said at conferences that you can’t attend by following the hashtag, plus people kindly send you links to recordings of sessions, links to resources talked about, links to presentation slides etc, and their reflections on all of these, so you really feel you benefit from the conference without having to attend. I am not suggesting that face to face conferences do not have their place, but if you can’t attend (and no one can attend them all) –this is a really good second best.