Thursday, 6 June 2013

UL Learning and Teaching Day

I was very pleased to be asked to speak at the Faculty of Science and Engineering 4th annual Learning and Teaching Day, which took place at the University of Limerick last week. The focus of the event, organised by Hussain Mahdi and Michael English, was on Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning.

My own presentation, which had the title Trends in Technology Enhance Teaching and Learning, is embedded below. While developing it, I realised that 20 minutes was too short for me to cover a multitude of trends, so I decided to focus on video in teaching and learning, and the opportunities for video to play a part in content production, delivery, supporting of student learning and assessment. I mentioned a number of video initiatives by NUIG staff, including Conor O'Byrne, Oliver Ryan, Bryan McCabe, Ger Fleming, Susan Folan, John Breslin and John Murray, as well as Anne Wiseman from GMIT.

What I enjoyed about the day, though, was the opportunity to hear from a group of practitioners at a sister institution who have been trying new things in their teaching, and conversing with a group of academics who are committed to improving the experience for their students.

Summary of the Event

After an introduction by Hussain Mahdi, UL Vice President Academic & Registrar Prof Paul McCutcheon opened the event. He congratulated the organisers on making this a regular event, embedded in the academic calendar for the faculty. He expressed his hope that the materials from the event would be disseminated to other faculties within UL, so that the conversation can continue on a larger scale.

Following my own presentation, Angelica Risquez from the Teaching and Learning Centre at UL spoke about Students' Experience of Using a VLE. She reported on the work of a national project looking at VLE usage across a number of Irish institutions. In general, Irish students find a VLE useful for content distribution, announcements, course documentation and assignment submission; but don't appear to be using more interactive features such as social media tools, discussions boards, quizzes etc. The study has not found any correlation between VLE used (Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) and student satisfaction levels. Students want increased usage of the VLE by their lecturers. They find that the VLE gives them good access to their lecturers, but doesn't facilitate improved communication with peers. According to student reports, the availability of course materials on the VLE does not impact attendance at lectures.

Hussein Mahdi responded to Angelica's presentation noting that students expectations are that lecture materials will be provided on the VLE.  But he noted that there are other administrative and pedagogical benefits to TEL.

"Try not to be seduced by technology for its own sake. It is essential that you have a considered reason for using it"

The morning proceeded with a number of talks from academic staff in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Jeremy Robinson talked about two technologies that he is using in his teaching of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Biomedical Engineering: wireless presenting using a tablet and multiple choice software QCM Direct. The first he demonstrated very ably during his presentation. I had the impression that Jeremy enjoys dabbling with technology, but he's not convinced yet of the academic value of his efforts (which are substantial).

Dermot Shinners Kennedy, who teaches first year programming in the department of Computer Science and Information Systems (CSIS), gave an engaging talk about the need to focus on the students and their learning needs, rather than on the technology. In fact, this became the theme for the day.

After a short coffee break, Keelin Leahy of the department of Design and Manufacturing Technology described how she has been flipping the classroom in her course on 3D CAD Modelling. In response to student requests that they wanted more hands-on, practical work, she decided this year to swap lecture time for more practice time. Using Camtasia with embedded quizzes (to check understanding) she prepared an number of videos for students to review before class, allowing a more active and collaborative learning environment. Videos were all less than 10 minutes in length. Keelin found a small to medium effect on outcomes, and students responded well to the new format. Students learned how to think about the subject matter, and Keelin learned more about what topics caused most confusion.

Next to speak was Gabriela Avram, also from CSIS, who spoke about online student portfolios. These are being used in an undergraduate programme in Digital Media Design to support assessment, reflection, deep learning and job-seeking activities. First year students are encouraged to document whatever work they are doing (course related or external). In second year, they begin to reflect on the content in the portfolio and make decisions about what they want to include and why. The online portfolios are used by potential employers in the 3rd year placement aspect of the course, and students further build on the portfolios while on placement. In final year students refine their portfolios while they actively seek employment.

Having tried a variety of platforms for the portfolios, the students are now advised to simply use a Wordpress site, and some training on Wordpress is provided. Students have also used blogger or weebly for their portfolios.

Ross Higgins  spoke about his experiences with podcasting (in fact vodcasting) in a final year Civil Engineering module. This arrangement was to support a particular issue, where the department did not have a lecturer to deliver the module. An external expert was identified to deliver one face to face lecture per week, and the second lecture each week was provided using voice over powerpoint, brought together using Articulate. These were provided within the VLE and students were motivated to review the videos which contained content necessary for a project. The students liked the videos which provided them with the opportunity for self-paced learning and a good revision tool.

Another CSIS lecturer, Patrick Healy, described the development of handin - a system that supports the submission and efficient administration of student programming assignments. He is also developing a system called inspector, a GradeMark-like system used for visual inspection and grading of code.

The final speaker of the day was Con Hussey from Civil Engineering, who brought along a bag of tools including a small axe, a block of wood, a stone and some sticks. He spoke eloquently, without the use of a visual presentation, on the theme of unplugging from the matrix. His warnings about the world of technology were reminiscent of the article The Human Touch by Monke. He argues that we all need to unplug from a world of illusion, delusion and collusion, which prevent us from thinking. Real thinking, according to Con, is the work of brain and hand together. He proposed that the most creative act is to "do nothing"; noting that doing nothing is not the same as standing still.

As he spoke, I just wished that his presentation was being recorded, so that I could go back and review again later.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Faculty of Science and Engineering Learning and Teaching Day, and thank my hosts Hussain and Michael. It is very positive to see these kinds of events, where staff have time and space to discuss teaching and learning issues.

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