I thought I ought to show my face at at least one session on Learning Object repositories as I’m managing our own LOR. So the session I went to was advertised as having three papers on this very topic. Now, I have to fess up here. For a variety of reasons I had had a very early start to the day, and my body clock is never at it’s best in the early afternoon. To be honest I really struggled to stay awake. In fact I did find myself nodding off a little bit a couple of times. This was entirely down to me, and not the presenters. The inexplicable fact that the topic of Learning Object Repositories does not get my adrenalin pumping is not their fault! Nevertheless through the haze I did glean a few useful nuggets.
Firstly, learning object repositories are not really stand alone items. Well, they are, but often they don’t easily fit into what the teacher wants to do with them – So they really need to be adaptable. Secondly there is a risk that they can become a solution looking for a problem. If they’re not wanted, there’s no point creating them. (If they are wanted, then creating them is a very good idea though. But make them adaptable, and also, as the first paper suggested, give some thought to the different devices on which they might be used.) It’s also an idea to think about how they might be used in a web 2.0 context
In the afternoon, I heard a number of papers. The first was on online silence (What if anything do you learn from “lurking”? Why do people lurk. What do you learn from participating in online conversations”. Was there any correlation between silence and learning styles?) Interestingly, the answer to the last question seemed to be that there was, but the presenter acknowledged that learning styles were situated, and that higher level learning occurred when the student reflected on the entire course. Next up was a paper on Second Life – well, it was more about the SLOODLE project which mashes up Second Life and Moodle. The idea here seemed to be that Moodle (or a VLE in general) provided some of the structure that SL doesn’t in the shape of threaded discussions, chat support and logging, drop boxes and quiz tools. Well, that’s all very well but what’s SL then bringing to the party? I’ve always suspected that SL’s technology is going to be more use in education when it’s taken out of SL itself. I can see the scope for immersive environments in many subjects – but not when you’re trying to run them across 4,000 servers in California or wherever it is – it’s just not reliable enough at present. But perhaps I’m being short sighted – Who would have thought when I first saw the Louvre online back in 1994 that I’d be sitting here blogging about a 3-D world I could move around in. Finished the “academic” work of the day with the presentation on blogging I described in my first post, so I won’t go into it here. So who knows where it will all end.
Wednesday started with a paper on the e-learning benchmarking exercise. I was heavily involved in this, although if I’m absolutely honest, I never really saw the point of it. There’s a lot of talk about “institutions” doing this and that. Actually, what is happening, is that “some people in institiutions are doing some of this stuff”. Of course that raises the question of do we want everyone to be involved, and that was the question under discussion here although it was phrased rather differently “Does this type of programme create a culture of dependency in HEIs, because the programmes are externally funded?” Well, you can’t get away from the fact that the money’s coming from outside as you’ve probably guessed, I don’t think they reach far enough in to do so, but the feeling from those behind the programme was that they had envisioned an “interdependency” culture. – A network of institutions feeding off each other. But that, along with the external funding makes development very difficult to sustain. Having said that, there were some good examples of practice around – I very much liked Leicester’s Carpe Diem initiatives in which (As I understand) they take a whole department and redesign a course with them. That sounds exactly the sort of thing that EDUs should be doing, because the focus is on building institutional capacity rather than just staff development. So perhaps that was the point of the benchmarking exercise!
Next up was an excellent keynote speech from Dylan Williams, at the institute of Education. Again you can see it on the conference web site, so I’m not going to give a long account of it. The main points were that in terms of student achievement, it matters much less which school you go to, than which teacher you get when you get there, and that one of the most important things teachers could do to help students learn was to provide good quality formative assessment and respond to what it told them. This was an excellent talk, and I thoroughly recommend having a look at the live version. There were a couple of good throwaway lines that I liked too.
“Schools are places where kids go to watch teachers work!” (of course it is the kids who should be working.)
“Kids choosing not to ask a question are foregoing the opportunity to get smarter”
In the afternoon, I went to a couple of talks about wikis. It’s funny how these get such a bad press. In our own Blackboard training sessions I’ve had colleagues who won’t touch the concept because of what they’ve heard about the inaccuracies in Wikipedia. There’s some justification in that I suppose, but isn’t it the job of the teacher to correct misconceptions – in fact the whole concept gives the lie to the notion that ed. tech. is going to replace teachers. But one interesting point that came out of the session was that students tended to see Wikis as places for finished work rather than for drafts. The presenter had actually hoped to use it to look at drafts – but then, I suppose, who want’s to mark every bit of paper a student has struggled to make a mark on, or noted. And of course, what student wants to hand all that in? Perhaps attitudes to written work haven’t really changed all that much. The conclusions were that a module leader needed to be clear about
- how to use wikis
- Targeted learning behaviour
- Participation drivers (why would students want to join in?)
Next, I went to a Blackboard sponsored session, where they revealed their latest plug-in. This was something called Safe Assign, which is essentially Turnitin – although it didn’t search as many databases and doesn’t have the on-line marking feature that we’re using in Architecture. (Although I suppose Bb has it’s own gradebook.) I suppose I’ll have to download it and we’ll use it too.
The final session of a busy day was about whether the sector was ready for learners in control. I was a bit late arriving for this session so had to stand at the back in a very hot room, so I’m afraid my notes are not terribly coherent. Although there was another great one liner “We have to address hearts and minds, not sim cards” The one thing I did take away from this session was the interesting revelation that “digital natives” (i.e. kids who are well used to and brought up with technology) seem to be least receptive to on-line learning. Could this be because a lot of the subject matter in HE is conceptually very difficult and not readily conveyable in small bits of information?
Unfortunately my dental appointment obliged me to miss the last keynote, but before heading back to Nottingham station I attended a session on using podcasts for pre-lecture preparation. This turned out to be a report into some research about whether those students who had been given pre-lecture material did better than those who had not. I was tempted to ask about the ethical implications of this, but in fact the results showed a slight improvement among those who had been given the material in advance, it was quite small and not statistically significant. Still, I did wonder what might have happened if there had been shown to be a significant difference.
So, a good conference, and I’m glad I went. I haven’t blogged about the social events, although they were very good and enjoyable, and I did make some useful contacts. But the “holiday” is over now and I really need to get my Ed D head back on. I’ve been sitting at the PC since I got back today indulging in every kind of distraction activity to avoid doing any work, but one potential benefit of blogging is that it gets you writing.