Conference Reflections: Harper Adams University Learning & Teaching Conference 2017

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Last week was the third Harper Adams Learning and Teaching Conference. This annual event brings together colleagues from across the institution, alongside colleagues from partner organisations in, and beyond, the UK. The conference was jam-packed with awesomeness! Although I couldn’t get to everything, the sessions that I did attend were informative and motivating.

Professor Tansy Jessop started off by inspiring a ‘nuclear climb down’ on assessment, where together teaching staff agree to summatively assess less. The shift away from too much summative assessment, Tansy reminded us, only succeeds if we collectively mean it. If some tutors are stealthily continuing to over-assess, then inevitably students will direct their attention to these activities at the expense of others. She talked about relinquishing assessment driven pedagogies of control, to a curriculum driven more by learning.
The keynote also brought some pragmatic suggestions of what staff can do by way of formative feedback strategies. I sensed a quiet wave of ‘Oh yeh’ moments around the room as the ideas were really workable. Suggestions included:

  • A policy approach of less assessments (the coordinated climb down)
  • Use of public spaces, like blogs, to collate ongoing learning and reading (the audience drives meaningful engagement)
  • Asking students to design multi choice questions
  • Asking students to bring along sources to class and then through group discussion arriving at the ‘best’ sources
  • Working with journal papers to write abstracts or deduce ideas in papers based on abstracts.

My own ‘aha’ moment was to rename every formative assessment, simply as activities that drive learning. I think I knew this already, but it’s easy to drown in terminology and metrics that cloud definitions and purpose. The keynote also highlighted how we might make the most of formative feedback. Humorously critiquing some well used feedback structures (like the feedback sandwich), Tansy suggested that, essentially, we need to become more dialogic around feedback. We need to find ways to have conversations, find out what feedback is useful, encourage students to solicit the right types of feedback and to take control of their learning.

In one of the workshop sessions the brilliantly enthusiastic Professor Kay Sambell encouraged us to consider how we use exemplars. Some sharing around the room threw up some different practical approaches, including using exemplars to: demonstrate the underpinning features of academic writing (e.g. What is involved in making an argument); take the stress out of understanding a task to free up headspace for more detailed and creative aspects of the task, essentially this is about demystifying the task; provide a process of socialisation in to the academic requirements of assessment; and, to provide a starting point. We also discussed some of the limitations of using exemplars, which included: Triggering worry in students who may believe standards set to be unachievable; stifling creativity as students might only see one way to complete the task; and, risking students believing the exemplar to be the finished article rather than a finished article. Moving on from our evaluation, we identified different things to do with exemplars. We were united in agreeing that just giving examples would do little in itself to help students. Active use of exemplars was shown to include such things as:

  • Peer marking to familiarise with task requirements
  • Discussion of different exemplars
  • Rank ordering exemplars
  • Analysing ‘fail’ grade work to help understand what should be avoided

Decisions about how to use exemplars included whether to annotate, whether to provide full or partial exemplars, and whether to use student work only or to consider tutor generated work too. By the end of this session my ‘note to self’ was that looking at weaker work in depth was a valuable step in working with exemplars. It provides a window in to the assessment process for students, it can help them avoid common pitfalls and it can massively raise awareness of issues of academic practice.

Rebekah Gerard’s poster was a great complement to Kay’s session. Bex shows how we can really use live exemplars in a workshop session to improve exam technique. She used a technique called ‘pass the problem’ and her PgC action research showed how students experienced this strategy.  Her poster shows the technique she used for ease of replicability:

Dr. Jaqueline Potter, from Keele University, shared her analysis of teaching excellence award nominations which had led to a better understanding of what qualities students value in staff. The overwhelming message was about kindliness. Whilst students want constructive, joined up and useful feedback, they really want it as a personal, kindly interaction. How to be kind is quite a different matter, but presumably remembering what it was to be a student would go a good way to help to keep an empathetic mindset. After completing our in-house PgC in Teaching and `supporting Learning many colleagues report that their best learning is in the process of being a student again and gaining an understanding of the stresses, strains and liminality of this process. Perhaps to embody the kindness that Jackie’s research has highlighted, we should all be eternal students. My note to self here is to follow Jackie’s lead and analyse the scheme data I hold on teaching excellence – or ask what do students value?

Jane Headley and Rebecca Payne’s session on exemplars was a great lot of fun! By offering a task to us (the task was – getting your team through a piece of A5 paper) and giving each group a different experience with an exemplar, we were able to feel and experience the use of exemplars. Our team had an exemplar in full, but as a team who wanted to be original (I was just happy to pass, but others wanted to excel) we decided to ditch knowledge of the exemplar and add our own twist. The result was redefining team (after all it didn’t say a human version of your team) and to create a stop motion video. This first hand experience showed me that exemplars can show students that a task is possible and that it can then free up the creative mind to do the task differently. Working in a team, and with an enjoyable task, simply added to the creativity. This point too is something we would do well to remember!

For posterity I have retained a conference programme.

LT_Conference_2017 programme

The only bad thing about the day is not being able to get to all of the sessions. Luckily I have previously heard the other speakers and they are all awesome!

Looking at the value of lecture capture

Looking at lecture capture led me to ask questions about the technology’s effectiveness. I can’t help feel that lecture capture is  counter-intuitive, since we know transmission based learning is less effective than active learning (so, why would we invest more in it and replicate it?) and we know that concentration spans for online engagement don’t readily lend themselves to hour long broadcasts (my own concentration sees frustration after 15 minutes!). Nevertheless adoption is on the increase  and students clearly appreciate the opportunity to apply catch up TV principles to learning – they value the flexibility.

As lecture capture heads towards the mainstream, I thought it useful to look at the evidence of the benefits and challenges of this technology, especially in light of a prediction that we may begin to move away from capturing lectures to viewing lectures as performances – something Professor Phil Race constantly emphasises with the idea of making the lecture unmissable and engaging.

My reading notes can be downloaded but the headline points were:

  1. More research is needed in to actual, rather than perceived effectiveness of lecture capture.
  2. Students appreciate lecture capture and believe it helps learning but the actual impact is unclear. Critically there is little or no evidence that lecture capture really impacts performance. Some subsets of users appear to show higher scores, but this may be associated with their diligence rather than the impact of heavy usage of downloads.
  3. The circumstances in which lecture capture is effective and the reasons for it are also unclear. Research suggests that content heavy subjects are best suited to this technology and interactive subjects less so, and this makes good common sense. By implication then, this point raises the question would lecture capture lead to a less interactive delivery style?
  4. Lecture capture is suspected as having a connection with more effective note taking and students appear to selectively watch lectures to address tricky concepts. These recurrent findings, irrespective of the growth of lecture capture, point to the value of addressing how students take notes as an academic skill and raise the question of how media can be used to address difficult concepts in watchable and debunking, even (dare I say) enjoyable ways.

If they are useful please help yourself to my lecture capture quick notes.

Thesis research: Are you using technology to provide student feedback?

My ‘work in progress’ thesis for my doctoral studies at University of Liverpool is entitled Faculty experiences of feedback technology: A critical realist perspective. I have had a personal interest in feedback technology for some time, and through a process of practice based research and reviews of the literature it became clear that the lecturer or faculty voice is under-represented. Often feedback technology appears to be evaluated in terms of the student benefit rather than the experience of staff engagement. While there is a lot going on in the sector about making digital forms of feedback systematic, I was keen to discover what happens when staff have choice about the technology employed in feedback:

My research is therefore asking

  • What influences the choice and use of technologies for feedback?
  • What are the reflective processes through which practices develop?
  • What is the impact of faculty engagement with feedback technology?

Beyond answering these questions the research also seeks to shed light on beliefs about feedback and faculty relationships with technology for pedagogic practice.

So far I have undertaken ten narrative style interviews where staff engaged with a range of technologies (inc. Jing, GradeMark, Dragon, Pebblepad, Track Changes, audio) have shared their motivations for engagement, some of the barriers to practice, and some of their underpinning beliefs about both feedback and technology. They have shared the deliberative process about how technologies were chosen and they have shed light on the institutional factors which shape practice.

The critical realist approach to analysis (particularly using the work of Margaret Archer as a theoretical framework) is particularly revealing the compexity of interaction between individuals,  institutions and the wider environment.

 I will release parts of the research on this blog as they develop, but I am hoping to interview a few more individuals who are involved in using technology for feedback within UK HEI’s (and will offer a token voucher as a token of appreciation). If anyone can help I would be very pleased to hear from you at larnold@liverpool.ac.uk and I can provide more details.

Jing – Better late than never

Having used Captivate for screen capture I never really saw the need for any other software of this type. However I have been experimenting with Jing, after seeing it used by Russell Stannard, and I have been mightily impressed! Essentially this super simple software allows you to take a video of your screen with the ability to add real time audio, and then with a one click upload the video is placed in to a cloud space, thus generating an access URL for sharing. Super quick, super intuitive! As a cross platform user it is helpful to be able to use a single cloud account to upload from my different machines and without the need for Mac and PC licenses at a high cost.

So far I have used it to create a video of where to find information within our intranet and have created a ‘catch up TV’ screen cast for those unable to attend a face to face session last week.It is so easy to use; I have no hesitation now about using this to facility to offer formative feedback students submitting draft work.

Jing in action
Jing in action screenshot

Ithoughts HD Mind-mapping

After never being very satisfied with the online mind mapping software that I have tried – finally some intuitive software that my seven year old can use. ithoughts HD cost £6.99 but does exactly what it says on the tin. The iPad is perfect for mind mapping as ideas can be shifted around the page in a very straight-forward and playful way, no clunkiness. For anyone interested in visual representations of their ideas I would definitely recommend this.

Interacts neatly with Dropbox.

Export maps as pdf, jpg or a whole menu of other file types.

Hyperlink content with ease.

Screen shot below.

20110812-110605.jpg

Migration

Previously, and now for some time, I have been using ‘iblog’ in conjunction with .Mac web space to maintain my blog. Being located in one place most of the time meant that I liked the consistency of this arrangement. A few days ago, since upgrading my operating system, the upload process seemed to only partially complete. What bothered me most was that the files (images and text) were very difficult to unpack and reassemble; it was very complex to track which files were missing. It has ultimately been quicker to start again. Like many things, what initially seemed to be a stress has played out rather well.  The use of word press will allow me to make entries from multiple locations, unlike the previous configuration.  The search, category and control facilities are improved and the move has caused me to back up material (which otherwise I am not great at doing). I will now gradually migrate content access from the old blog. Apologies to those who need to change their RSS.