Monday, 8 September 2014

TELFest Day One

Today saw the launch of the CiCS Learning Technologies Team’s TELFest (Technology Enhanced Learning Festival). The week will see a wide range of talks, discussions and workshops on a range of learning technologies, designed to help staff at the University make the most of technology to add value to their teaching and learning.

The festival was kicked off by James Goldingay, giving a hands-on overview of the University’s VLE, MOLE. This was a great opportunity to introduce MOLE to staff members who may not have had previous experience of the system, giving colleagues a chance to use it and find out what it can do.

This was followed by a session led by Danny Monaghan, entitled ‘MOLE - Looking Ahead’. This saw the team joined by John Usher from Blackboard, to give update on recent development, and future plans.

Danny gave an update on MOLE's recent move to managed hosting on Blackboard's servers in Amsterdam, which has improved stability and speed of the service, and looked ahead to future plans, including software updates which will hopefully be implemented at the end of the year. As well as general bug fixes, this would include changes in My Grades, to improve access to feedback, a facelift to the portfolio tool, and an improved Student Preview. Perhaps of most interest to colleagues are tools to allow Anonymous and Parallel marking during peer assessment. These features, and the new version in general, will be trialled before software updates are applied.

Looking further ahead, John updated with future plans for Blackboard, largely listening to user feedback, which include a simplified, cleaner, redesigned user interface, which includes new features such as drag and drop when designing courses, improved optimisation for viewing on mobile devices, and a new mobile app. Another plan is the tutor-only app Blackboard Grader for marking on mobile devices. My EDU will be a new product that is "Facebook for the academic world", and Blackboard Analytics will be improved to more complex analysis of data.

This was followed by a useful Q&A with academic users from across the University.

After lunch, today's panel discussion took place, entitled 'The Value and Impact of Learning Technologies in Higher Education'. This was chaired by Dr Christine Sexton (Director of CiCS), with a panel consisting of Prof Anne Peat (Pro Vice Chancellor for Learning & Teaching), Dr Tim Herrick (Education), Dr Gordon Cooper (Biomedical Science), Andrea Fox (Nursing & Midwifery), Dr Bob Johnston (Archaeology) and Louise Woodcock (Academic & Learning Services). It was a lively and far-reaching disucssion, with just some of the highlights below.

The panel began by discussing which technologies have had the biggest impact in learning and teaching, which produced a range of answers, including mobile learning, MOOCs, the speed of connections and social media, but with a theme of greater collaboration being made possible through technology, and a move from front-led lectures.

The discussion turned to the need to keep up with students' expectations, and young people's adeptness with technology, but the point was made that we should not presume that familiarity translates to expertise (TH), and while students may be confident in using web-based technology, they may not be as knowledgable as we think on its finer points (CS). Points were also raised that while we try and bridge the gap of school and higher and education, we also need to look ahead and bridge the technology between education and the workplace (BJ).

During the course of the discussion, topics covered included the future of learning spaces, and why face-to-face contact is still important in the digital age, how student analytics can be used more effectively, and how we can assess if technology is genuinely enhancing learning and teaching. Throughout, points were made that the role of Learning Technologists is integral, with academics needing support to help them realise their ideas. Collaboration between students, academics and Learning Technologists are integral in making decisions (BJ), and we should work with academics' strengths when trying to introduce technology, not see them as a barrier to change (TH).

The session ended with a question of what technology will have the biggest impact in five years' time. Increased prominence of the private sector, and higher education's response to that, was highlighted as a major change, as was students expecting to plug their own devices into the University's facilities. Specific technologies such as Google Glass, and the way we interact with screens, were also mentioned. The session ended with a concern, that perhaps the increased connectivity of students will mean an expectation of 24/7 access to lecturers, and how will be respond to this? (GC).

Ending the day it was Danny Monaghan up again, giving a detailed hands-on session on building interactive tests in MOLE.

This was an excellent start to the festival, with colleagues across the institution attending and engaging with the sessions. And this is just the beginning! The festival continues all this week with a packed schedule, tomorrow seeing sessions on electronic submission through Turnitin, MOOCs, Twitter, social media and peer review in MOLE.

Drop-in sessions will also be run parallel to scheduled sessions each day 10am-4pm in Hicks G29, so if you have a question for the team on pedagogy and learning technology, no matter how basic or complex, then do feel free to come down and say hello.

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