Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Winter TELFest - Day One

Yesterday saw the launch of 2015's Winter TELFest, an "mini" three day festival following from the success of the CiCS Technology Enhanced Learning Team's festival of technology in learning that took place in September 2014.

The day started with an Introduction to MOLE by Zafer Ali, giving the basics of the University's Virtual Learning Environment. This was followed by a packed session, delivered by Danny Monaghan and Pete Mella, exploring how to make Exemplary MOLE Courses. This included such topics as improving course structure, using assessment, and adding rich media. Danny introduced Blackboard's Exemplary Course Programme, giving future plans to create an institutional peer review system to share good practice in creating MOLE courses.

This was followed by the lunchtime launch event, introduced by Patrice Panella and officially launched by Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning & Teachning, Prof Ann Peat. Prof Peat highlighted the importance of changing alongside students in a rapidly changing world, and talked of future strategic plans, including the University's Digital Learning Group, which includes MOOCs and iTunesU.

The theme of lunchtime's presentations was sharing practice. The first speaker was Prof Alistair Warren of the Faculty of Science, discussing the recent project his faculty undertook as part of the AchieveMore. Led by his colleague Luke Wilson, this saw the entire faculty's first year cohort - some 1,400 students - engaging in reflecting practice around a groupwork assignment. The assignment was geared around helping new students transition from school to University, building on a variety of learning skills.

The sheer number of students led to a significant challenge, and it was identified that the reflection had to be collected electronically. PebblePad was chosen as the ideal system, with its emphasis on reflection, accessibility and MOLE integration, and ease of managing and reporting on submissions. This proved to be a very effective tool which worked without any major problems, although useful feedback was given in ways the system could be improved for this kind of project.

Next up was Gary Wood, of University of Sheffield Enterprise, talking about the student-generated AllAboutLinguistics website he led as part of his former role in the Department of Linguistics. This was a student project identifying a real need - not only to introduce first year students to the varied topics surrounding Linguistics, but to create a real-world resource that would fulfil a knowledge gap in A Level students on what Linguistics actually entails.

Gary used Google Sites to create the website, which was intuitive and easy to use for students, without any coding skills necessary. Using page-level permissions, the site was set up students could see, and get inspiration from, other groups' pages, but only edit their own. Students were encouraged to incorporate a wide range of multimedia in the site, using a range of technologies including YouTube, Dipity, Hot Potatoes, Soundcloud and Screenr.

The project proved very successful and popular with students, who appreciated the authentic experience of creating a website for a real purpose. As one student told Gary, they found it more worthwhile than creating an essay that will "sit in a drawer gathering dust". It was great to see how engaged students were in this project, and the positive impact it had on the School's web presence. Gary left with an inspirational quote: "“Empower students with tools, opportunity & freedom, trust them, and they’ll show you how awesome they can be”.

Finally the Department of Hispanic Studies' Dr Rhian Davies gave a talk on the Adaptation & Transformation module she created with Claire Allam of LeTS, which was launched to help engage students studying Spanish literature. Quoting a student who described studying literature as "torture", the module sees students studying works by Galdos, Rivas and Lorca, using video as a creative medium to bring this works to life in a modern setting. This has seen students interpret the source material in surprising and innovative ways, with one work used to explore topics as diverse as same sex marriage and immigration.

The module allows students to collaborate on literature study, with feedback clearly showing this allows for greater understanding. Aside from that students find it fun, and are deeply proud of the work they create. One student invited all her family and neighbours round to watch her group's video - would anyone have shared a traditional essay in the same way?

The final session of the day was Danny Monaghan on Blackboard's new features, that came in with the 2014 upgrade of MOLE. This includes anonymous and delegated marking, a new group management tool, and lots and enhancements of existing features.

As well as this, TEL staff were on hand for drop-in sessions, and there were great networking opportunities throughout the day.

A great start to the festival, with two days to go! For more details see here.

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