I attended the Cardiff Technology Enhanced Education Conference 2011 on Friday. The main themes for this years conference were Enhancing the Student Experience, Educational Theory and Research, Developments in Media and Technology and The Lecture. What stood out for me this year was there was much more emphasis on educational theory and practice throughout all the presentations. Last years conference was very interesting but there was perhaps too much time spent on the tools used. As a result this year we got a lot of very good debate on how technology did or did not enhance education but the driver was firmly educational theory.
This conference was of more importance on a personal level because I demonstrated the LanSchool classroom management software at the Media and technology fair in the afternoon. This was an opportunity to speak about the trial project at Cardiff University and spread the word on the effectiveness of computer management software within the classroom. In the three years I have been using the software it has evolved from simply a tool for controlling into much more of a teaching tool. It was great to be able to speak to so many people about the software and I’m sure that a few more departments may be using it soon.
The first talk of the day was about Enhancing the Student Experience. It was refreshing and interesting to have four students appear and share their experiences with us instead of the usual ‘results from a questionaire’ lecture. The audience was able to ask many more questions of the panel.
The main point of interest for me was that the students felt there should be more help available to guide them through the simple, basic computer skills required to write their first essay, skills such as headers and footers, or footnotes etc. It strikes a chord with the IT Skills support that I provide for the MA students at Cardiff School of Journalism. I know that the levels of skills vary greatly with this group of students. It should be taken for granted that home students, who have been educated to A level standard, have these basic essay/IT skills but actually it seems that many do not. Because this need has been identified, some departments are providing a study skills week during freshers week while others are incorporating it within lessons. Its an area I shall follow up and perhaps consolidate with the work done with the MA IT Skills format.
A second point that was raised was that the students had realised that they had to adjust to become independent learners, something that was very different from the way they had previously learnt at school. Being at university is about growing up and making a step towards your own, independent life. I suppose students dont automatically see the act of learning as something they would do independently in the same way as leaving home and paying bills and cooking. This may be because they have been taught in a non-independent way previously. Im not an expert but there seems to be a gap between learning at school, further and higher education. Its as though students need to be re-educated to learn in a university way. Perhaps re-educate is too strong a word but some work needs to be done during the progression of university studying to explore what students understand about how they learn indipendently.
The second talk of the day related to Educational Theory and Research. Naomi Dunstan and Dr Kelly Page spoke about their differing experiences of using technolgy to within teaching, Naomi using Facebook with a WordPress orientated module and Kelly using a wiki for a business module. The main talking point was how to get students to engage with technology to enable learning. In Naomi’s case Facebook became integral tool, firstly to communicate with students but then also to organise events, link to related articles, share ideas and much more. An interesting point that led to the adoption of Facebook was that emails sent to the students Cardiff accounts were not being read. The students were not in the habit of using their Cardiff email accounts preferring to use their own accounts or Facebook. Naomi set up a private Facebook group and within minutes most of the class had joined.
Like it or not, Facebook is the way most of us and certainly most students communicate. Its available on most mobile phones and integrated into the design. As a result its accessable much more readily than web based email. (I just tried to log in to CardiffMail on my phone but I couldn’t, the page is not designed for mobile!). So in reality a computer is required to view email which adds another layer of distance to the tool. It seems obvious but if the students already widely use a tool why not incorporate it into the learning experience. As long as its managed properly, with privacy setting creating a wall garden, there should not be a problem.
A comment was made later in the day that a Facebook style tool should be incorpated into the VLE. Whilst I understand the logic that keeping a tool within Blackboard enables containment of infomation posted to it, I disagree. The point of using Facebook is to use a tool that the students are already using, therefore no new web address to remember to go to, no new username and password to remember, no new learning involved in using the tool. The result is students dont have to think about how to use the tool but get straight into the using it as a learning tool.
The conference ended by looking at how the traditional lecture style of teaching could be improved. A very badly presented powerpoint was used to introduce the subject with the slides put on automatic timing meaning each slide and its commentry was rushed and poorly delivered (next years conference is sure to end on a talk about how to effectively present with powerpoint!). The format of the ‘goldfish bowl’ was put forward as a method of improving the lecture. An interesting ideas were a small group sit in a circle at the front of the class and debate the topic. The member of the audience can only participate in the discussion by tapping a memeber of the circle and replacing then at the front.
This format raised a noumber of questions and possible problems,
- The class would have to prepare beforehand to be able to discuss effectively.
- The tutor would be required to guide the descussion at times.
- Students that did not normally particiapete in discussions (for what ever reason) could be more put off from participating.
- The layout of the furniture could inhibit students to get up from their position in the audience (as it did for us in a lecture theatre with long rows of fixed seats and benches).