Become a solutions person.. not a problems person

From 11-13 September I had the opportunity to attend ALT’s 25th Annual Conference in Manchester.

I spent three fascinating days listening to talks covering a wide range of projects and technology use. I’m picking out three key areas to mention here as they were recurring themes in the talks that I attended and stood out to me as being most relevant to our work in the TEL team at York St John.

VLE Development

I found Michael Egan’s talk on transforming his institution’s VLE really inspiring. He explained how he’d asked staff to write a wish list of everything they’d love to see in the VLE and then went off and rebuilt it. He made a great point about being a ‘buysman’ not a salesman – getting people to buy into the technology rather than selling it to them. He discussed the importance of being the person who people want to see in the corridor because they have the solutions, not the person that people hide from! The main thing that I took from his presentation was that it’s key to talk to people when  starting to think about redeveloping TEL tools, find out what students and staff want and then work towards those goals.

Michael Egan presenting at the front of a classroom.

Michael Egan presenting

One of the most impressive presentations was delivered by Anders Krohn from Aula. I loved the way he drew the comparison between the physical space of the university and the online space of the VLE. He asked why millions are being spent on the physical university space while university leaders are reluctant to invest in online space where students spend more and more time. While I don’t imagine we’ll be moving to Aula anytime soon, it was a great speech that I won’t forget.

It was great to hear the University of Wolverhampton praising the way that York St John uses the 3E framework to advise staff in how they can use the VLE in different ways. They explained how they had encouraged a new approach to their longstanding VLE WOLF and then got us to devise a training plan for staff VLE use in our own imaginary universities. The main takeaway for me was the importance of always centring all staff development on student goals. What do students need? What can we help staff to develop in order to help our students?

Papers on a table with plan for how to develop staff dev programme for VLE

Planning staff training programme for new VLE in our imaginary university

Lecture/content Capture

Lecture or content capture was certainly a bit of a theme. Loughborough University talked through their move to opt out lecture capture, driven by strong student demand and overwhelmingly positive feedback. Manchester University also discussed their move to opt out lecture capture following an initial partial opt out programme which only kicked in when students with additional learning needs were present in the class.

Karl Luke from Cardiff University talked about his research into the use of lecture/content capture at Cardiff University. It was interesting to hear how he was working with students in his research to find how students were using lecture capture. He commented that students reported that they loved lecture capture even if they didn’t always use it. He noted that students often use lecture capture collaboratively, that they tend to dip in and out of recordings and access other resources alongside recordings. He also highlighted how it is used much more heavily during revision periods in the lead-up to exams.

Melanie Lindle, Rebecca Peake and Ross Mallett’s presentation on using video to facilitate student collaboration demonstrated how it is possible to capture more than just lectures. They have been using a Swivl camera to capture discussions and practical sessions in the classroom in sports and healthcare programmes. The presenters again commented that while students might not heavily use such recordings while the module is running, once it comes to revision they see these recordings as very useful and they also help any students who have had to miss lectures.

Digital Capability

The JISC Digital Discovery tool has just been released and we will be using it at York St John to help develop staff and student digital capability. So it was useful to hear about the University of Derby’s experience using this tool with students and staff. Laura showed us the great Digital Capability Toolkit website they have created.

Emma Purnell from Plymouth discussed how they have been using the JISC Digital Capabilities Framework to build up learner profiles and using Pebblepad to create a programme through which students can address areas where they need to develop more digital skills. They explained how they have been able to embed this into some induction modules and therefore build up a programme for students to work to throughout their first year.

If you want people to have fun - give them the day off. If you want them to learn... engage them with the content. Karl Kapp

Great quote from Imperial College London presentation

Other Inspiration

Monica Chavez from Liverpool University ran a very practical session on the use of digital storytelling in teaching and had us all using Adobe Spark to make short videos. It was great to see how in such a short space of time you can produce something in a team. Easy to see how this could be used to empower students and develop their digital capability.

Marieke Guy’s was one of the talks that impacted me the most, despite the fact it was only about 10 minutes long! She explained how she started as the first ever learning technologist at the Royal Agricultural University and set about having meetings with as many members of staff as possible to find out what they were doing, what they needed and what she could provide. She built up case studies in an attempt to work towards systematic change rather than people ‘just doing stuff’. This is something we are now working on in the York St John TEL team.

If anyone has an example where technology has helped them better fulfil teaching goals and where it is enhancing the student learning experience, please get in touch: tel@yorksj.ac.uk.

Sunset over Manchester with cranes and buildings.

Fantastic Manchester skyline

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