Friday, 16 November 2012

ELTC Half Time Report

With a firm nod in the direction of Ian Loasby’s excellent post giving his half term report on tech in the law department, I thought I would do something similar for the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) . Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve been up to in terms of technology

Student Training

Over the last year I’ve been focussing more on getting the teaching staff to engage with technology both inside and outside the classroom: running workshops on things such as Google Docs and Smartboards, producing written guides on how to use MOLE2 or the university email system or providing individual training on any aspect of tech they were interested in.

Yet I noticed that adoption of technology was sometimes hampered by the students’ lack of knowledge of how to use the technology and online services available at the University of Sheffield. This is often not an issue of them lacking technological knowledge, but partly just an unawareness of what’s available to them and partly a linguistic issue as English is not their first language and they are not sure what all the words refer to. Although we do produce a guide to technology that they receive when they start here, often they are too overwhelmed at the beginning of term to look through it.

So, this term we organised for every class in the school to have one full lesson (90 mins) in the computer lab with me so they could get some direct instruction and information. It was quite a lengthy procedure (we have about 25 classes with approximately 16 students in each) but we did it and all students were given a hands on chance to to use their email, access MUSE, my File Store, upload a file to Google Drive, create a Google Document and share it and comment on it. With some of the groups we also had a chance to look at the library services and how to search for articles and journals.

At the end of each session, I got the students  to fill out a short, anonymous questionnaire to find out what they had learned and what they felt more confident doing and the results were generally positive. I’ve also had positive feedback from teachers who say that students now want to use things like Google Docs more to submit essays and homework. 

Heartening results from the student survey

Student Workshops

As a follow up to the class visits, I’m also now running bi-monthly workshops for students on a variety of tech-related subjects, such as Tools for Effective Presentations, Using online services to develop Vocabulary and more effective learning through Google Apps. Unfortunately, these are squeezed in on a Friday afternoon - never the best time for any kind of lesson - but the attendance has been encouraging (between 8-12 each time) and the students seem to have responded positively to them.

Online Writing Advisory Service

During the summer I piloted a programme to provide online support for international students’ academic writing development. You can read about it in this post here. This term we are continuing with this pilot, but this time focussing exclusively on distance learning students to see whether this is a model that would work for them. We’re also training up a couple of members of staff to work on the programme to give it some legs for the future and I’ve been working to create some guides for teachers to help them. 

Guide to help teachers run our online writing advisory programme

Chromebooks (or those damn *&$^&%* things as we are calling them)

We were lucky enough to get 16 Chromebooks bought for us over the summer. We thought they would be a great tool for teachers and students to use in class to do research, webquests or just to check vocabulary in online dictionaries.

Well, that’s what we thought and I’m pretty sure they would be great for that if they ever actually worked. Ever since we’ve had them they have been constantly dropping the wifi connection to the point where they are unusable in class.

Working with CICS, we’ve been trying to find out why they keep doing this: at first they thought it was a log-in issue, in that we had used the same log-in credentials for all the devices and apparently one account can only have three devices connected at any one time. However, we tried them with other accounts and that made no difference, they still dropped the signal. We also toyed with the notion that there was something wrong with the Chromebooks themselves, but it seemed unlikely that 16 devices were all defective in some way.

Anyhow, it turned out it was an issue with our routers at the ELTC, something to do with them not supporting the 5ghz spectrum that the Chromebooks did and so we are waiting now for the access points to be replaced so that we can start using the Chromebooks. I think they WILL be incredibly useful round the school, it’s just been very frustrating not being able to use them at all. 

Our Chromebooks sitting sad and forlorn in the tech cupboard

So, this has been our tech term so far, pleased with the focus on students, not so happy with the Chromebooks but hopefully that will be sorted out in the near future. Next term we are running a new credit-bearing course for Erasmus/Study Abroad students called Learning English through Technology and I’m very excited to be the main tutor on that. I’m in the process of designing the syllabus and I think it’s going to be a very interesting and innovative course.

What are other learning technologists getting up to in their departments?

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