Thursday, September 06, 2007

Enhancing the learning experience

After live blogging the first hour of yesterday morning and then the key note speech - I then had a session to chair, I can't manage live blogs in that environment - watching time and keeping my laptop on my lap is one task to much for me - so much for multi-tasking.

However the session I was chairing was of such interest to me that I did make copious notes which I am writing this blog from.

I volunteered to chair this session on Monday when the original chair had to pull out due to another commitment. It give me an opportunity to meet people from Ulster and Teeside, where our two new PVCs have come from. It was good to get the gossip on Clive and Brain :-)

It was also good to catch up with Jebar Ahmed who I last met at a conference in Greenwich two years ago.

Though the overall theme was Learning Spaces, I'm not sure that the presentations - as fascinating as they were - actually addressed that issue, but as they were so good I don't think anyone minded.

Jebar was up first his topic was based on a TQF funded project that Huddersfield are undertaking. The project looked at ways of engaging with school pupils of secondary age.

It was an 8 month project which focused on a short-sharp review which informed future strategies.

The project engaged three major actors - HE, Secondary Schools and others, with the stakeholders being:

HE - The School of Education and Learning technology advisers
Schools - 6 schools, students and teachers
Others - LEA ICT coordinators, FE Practitioners, ICT managers in FE partners

The research was undertaken by semi structured interviews and lesson observation, and involved 8 pupils (5 male 3 female). They were split into two groups and given a task of creating a wiki to design an advert for a new brand of chocolate. In addition to the wiki they also used voting pads to interact at various points. Competition between the two groups were encouraged and they used the discussion boards of the Uni's VLE to tell each other what they were doing.

The process was designed to see how engage pupils would become in collaborative problem solving, personalised design for learning and critical thinking.

Jebar's slides showed pictures of the pupils in action, some fascinating mirroring of adult management behaviour and of engaged learners.

The data collection indicated that learners really did feel engaged and had begun to use critical thinking skills that were not usually available to them in the class context. A slide with detailed analysis follows, to detailed to note down but worth following up for future use of our own.

Student responses were fascinating "I think teachers would find this hard, they are set in there ways and it wouldn't be easy to change" but also "I felt we should have written our discussions out not used voting buttons for multiple choice, writing would have given us better preparation for the exam environment". "We don't normally work ion groups, this was an existing challenge to learn to work with others". They noted that Blackboard discussion groups were inefficient and they could find other ways of interacting that would be more appropriate to them. Jebar noted that this reflects other's experience of Bb discussions!

The outcome of the exercises was to review the way Huddersfield does its teacher training. Trainee teachers could see the value of the approach, yet said they spent most of their time facing death by PowerPoint on the course, so see this as a preferred model of teaching that they inflict on their own pupils when they get into school situations!!

At a university strategy the small project has led to proposals to build experience in the use of social networking tools for teaching - so that skills the pupils bring with them as game players and inter-actors can be deployed in learning rather than a structured VLE which is not designed with the end-users in mind.

A radical challenge, but a great piece of research. I hope to put Jebar in contact with my colleague Catherine Naamani who is leading our Blended Learning in Schools project. It would be good data to share, and perhaps replicate the exercise in the Welsh context.

The second presentation was by Alan Masson and Vilinda Ross of Ulster, they were looking at the perceptions of the learning process from staff and students in HE. Using a set of key words around the process of teaching alongside a closed set of leading verbs developed by Sue Bennett the purpose was to get staff and student attitudes to what they saw, experienced and felt were key to the learning and teaching process. A set of Flash cards were created and given to teachers to explore their concept of the teaching process - each card used a key word and a set of the verbs to get staff to reflect on what they do and why. Feedback showed that the ease of use of the cards lead to a much greater awareness of the learner role in the learning process (i.e. it is not passive) and helped the creative thinking process as applied to planning and development of learning opportunities. Being more aware was itself a trigger to action and enhancement.

The exercises has now been undertaken from a student perspective, 2 groups of nursing students, one mature group and one 18-22 group were given blank cards and asked to discuss a case study they had undertaken earlier in the course so that they could explore what they believed were the verbs used when designing that learning experience both from a staff and a learner perspective. On completion these were compared with what the tutors had thought they were doing.

While there was some similarities at the level of the major themes, when it came application of the verbs there was quite a bit of variety. Both learners and teachers felt it was easier to identify the learner verbs that it was the teachers - this highlights that teaching processes are often not as easily understood as learning processes.

The students found the process really engaging, they felt knowing what was trying to be achieved made them more able to engage in what was going on. Phrases like "It helps me to learn better", "I know now what tutors do", "it makes you structure your learning" emerged from the students.

Allan and Vilinda summed up by saying that the implications were that negotiated, articulated engagement between tutor and learner assists both in their learning journey. The work in Ulster will now be broadened out - the cards are available from the Ulster website as a PDF with CC license in place for anyone who wants to use or re-purpose them.

A really interesting approach, with the work we are doing on developing skills in new lecturers and providing CPD for others, then this method might prove really effective.

The third talk was given by Elaine Pearson director of the Accessibility Research Centre (ARC) at Teeside. The talk was very timely for me as we have this week had a staff member join us as Inclusive Curriculum Officer looking at equality, diversity and accessibility in Glamorgan's curriculum.

Elaine was reporting on a project her team had undertaken in creating accessible simulations to raise awareness of the issues facing disabled students. She felt that many staff while conscious of having to take account of disabled students in course design are less aware of the challenges that disabled students can face.

ARC has developed simulations around interacting with the VLE (like us they use Blackbaord). So for example a simulation is provided to reflect issues of viewing the VLE is someone had a cataract or glaucoma. Another looks at issues of motor based response and a further one the cognitive distractors which can face students.

Elaine went on to show some fascinating examples, I'll need to ask our new staff member to go for a visit to Teeside as what they have done is fascinating. One simulation used a fussy screen to help people understand the difficulty in sight, another presented what it might be like to only see a small space in the screen as you might with tunnel vision

The simulations have been well received by staff and have moved them from - why should I make the effort!! - to 'no effort would be to much to help the students learning'. These positive results were also reflected in the post simulation surveys the team undertook.

Wow what a session, I was so glad to be here for all three of these sessions - it just reminded me how much more there is that we at Glamorgan could be doing - time to get on with implementing it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying to see which account I set this blog up with!! To long since I last used it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009 8:20:00 pm  

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