Jisc Innovation Forum, Keele (Part 3) – Liveblog

This may not make much sense as I’m writing it as people talk. So it’ll have a rather bitty structure. – But I thought it worth a try…

Session 3C
Bridging the gap – Learner Experience

Each panel member to give 10 mins on their area of research or practice
Rob Howe described the E 4 L project being run by Northampton
Nicola Whitton described the Agosi project – alternate reality games
Malcolm Ryan from Greenwich will talk about the SEEL project and
Mabel Agbenoto, a Student from Hertfordshire is giving a student perspective on the Stroll project 

Rob was up first. The E4L project is about the experiences of effective e-learners and was one of 7 projects that were actually funded in that strand.

Focus on 3 key areas
1) Student transitions
2) Student “light bulb” moments – crossover with threshold concepts
3) Shadow technologies – those used alongside institutional technologies and at underground technologies – those banned by institutions
They  looked at HE, FE, and adult and community learning and spoke to a number of learners in each of these sectors (although need to do a bit more work with FE)
They’re also calling them proficient e-communicators. Defined as those students that are meeting the first three levels of a slightly altered “5 step model”
Creating interactive case studies – posted on web site and make comments upon them. 
For today’s session we’re looking at institutional practices. In HE there were very few boundaries, in FE there was a lot more looking down of technology and access.
Look at institutional planning processes from the perspective of the learner – put yourself in their shoes and then design your courses from that perspective.
How do you meet the needs of shadow technologies? Students tending to use web 2.0 and want a divide between the two. Facebook a shadow technology – some students do want this. Institutions need to recognise that students will use tool and then educate them to use them effectively. Student voice a very powerful way of overcoming resistance to change – going into committees and presenting student findings.Project will produce some guidelines about how to incorporate projects into the life of institutions.

Alternate Reality Games for Orientation Socialisation and induction -Nicola Whitton from MMU

 Traditional initial experience doesn’t meed all students needs.
Orientation not a high consideration. Apart from giving students a map!Socialisation – not changed much despite changes in student demographics – very oriented to 18 year old skills
Induction (core learning skills) Problem with this is it’s shoved into one week at the start of the semester.

Looked at alternate reality games
Challenges underpinned by narrative – different for different disciplines

Unfolds over several weeks
Blends the online world and the real world (nothing whatsoever to do with Second Life!)
Gives students a purpose.  Rather than saying “this is a reading list” there’d be two characters in a story who are swapping messages about a book.
At present they’re going through a series of iterative student tests. It’s a gaming environment which provides challenge, context and purpose They create engagement and mystery, they’re essentially collaborative, they’re lo-fidelity in that they encourage a use of range of technologies, and there’s quite a low development effort to produce – story is being fed to players via a couple of blogs. They use actual reality – they enable orientation in the real world, they use the best of each medium, link to community and other organisations

 Some questions

How many people need to take part for ARGs to be effective as games?
Are they effective for learning?
We know ARGs won’t appeal to everyone…how niche are they?
Is there a tension between the underground and the mainstream?


Malcom Ryan – Greenwich

Student Experience of E-learning Laboratory (SEEL)

HEA pathfinder project

Bridging the gap assumes that somebody think there is a gap. If there is, where is it, how big is it, and how are we going to plug it. They found a widely held view that e-learning was being used to enhance the student experience of learning, but they discovered that there was no systematic evaluation of the impact of technology on students. Nobody could tell whether it was making a difference?

Less than 50% of students regularly use their university e-mail account so you can’t assume you’ve communicated with them! Email was the predominant tool used for every conceivable type of learning and teaching experience – gaining comments on draft assignments, organising meetings (and staff were encouraging this)
Research for assigments was mainly conducted through Google and Wikipedia (The students said that tutors told them to. Which is very interesting when you consider how much institutions spend on e-journal subscriptions)

Clear separation of technolgies used for learning and communicating with teachers and the institution, from those used for socialising, contacting family and friends and reluctance amongst some students to use these within formal contexts. But some students did want to know the person behind the lecturer and so would welcome them on Facebook in that sense.

Not every student knows what they are doing on computers. One of the students in the Greenwich study actually said “It took me a while to learn how to do it”. Malcolm also suggested that dinosaurs (like us – i.e. not the google generation) may be more sophisticated in their use of technology in different contexts.

Interestingly some students gave some interesting and surprising responses. Well, surprising if you generalise about students I suppose  “You can ask questions in lectures and you can’t on the internet. “Turnitin helps me check I haven’t plagiarised by accident” and, perhaps most tellingly “Books don’t crash” 

We are having an intersting discussion about Facebook. If tutors get a question about their course posted on their wall, is it appropriate to answer it publicly. Probably not, but should you keep it on the wall? 

Worth remembering that every student is different – which does raise questions about how valuable evaluation is?

Mabel, from Hertfordshire university. Just completed her degree in Computing and Business

Talking about her experiences as student e-learner. She did a foundation course, which enabled her to go straight into the 2nd year. When she came in she noticed a massive difference between FE and HE. Felt there was a bit of a gap between those students who had done the 1st year in HE and her own ex-FE cohort. They discussed this with lecturers. Her expectations were that there would be more students and less help available, and that they would need to book time with tutors.

They were also warned that the workload would be heavier. And it was. For example they were charged with doing some research in different ways, using podcasts, digitial cameras, basically having the freedom to choose which technology they wanted. They could also post all their findings on the wiki- which was closed, to all but their own tutor. They also posted some information about themselves. Contact details, e-mail addresses and so on.  Instead of having meetings they held meetings online using MSN which was thought to be quite cool. They submitted the transcripts as an appendix to the final report. Most of their groups used their own technology rather than that provided by the university, because it was easier.

On the business side of her course, she reported that there was much less interaction and that students tended to get much lower grade. She thought that this was because it was much harder to contact other students and teachers. In year 3, they still found that there was little interaction. Still very low use of e-mail reported although Mabel said she really didn’t understand why. One thing they are doing at Hertfordshire is using something called personal messaging which notifies you when you have an e-mail. She also said she preferred lecturers to keep out of facebook because she had pictures of her family and her holidays that she was happy to share with her friends. but not with tutors. She did think there was a role though and  suggested having two Facebook accounts, one for work and one for “work”

Discussion: Where are the gaps and how do we find and fill them?

Need to be able to tie different technologies together. What we need to do is get our infrastructure people to faciliate this – you send out an e-mail message, but we need to make it possible for students to recieve them in whatever way they like. (David Miller, Southampton)

But students do tend to change their e-mail addresses, and the only one the University can guarantee is working is the official one,

Peter Bird (MMU) asked about the “staff” experience of technology. Students are better informed than teachers about the new technologies.  What can we do about this?

Staff development – we can feed in the student experience to staff development. Provide case studies in different disciplinary areas.  Nicola wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t a terribly helpful distinction because some students don’t want to engage with technology, and some staff, irrespective of age, really do want to engage with it.

Malcolm thought that the problem was that there is still an enormous untrained and unqualified workforce in terms of learning and teaching in Higher Education, and what the technology does is expose that incompetence, very brutally (Nothing like a bit of a controversy!).

Carol Higgison from Bradford pointed out that technology is not infallible (Hotmail apparently has decided that the University of Bradford is a spammer, so their students can’t get e-mail from it)  Also If you’ve got 4-600 students you can’t deliver personalisation on your own. Mabel confirmed that this was perhaps why she had a less satisfactory experience in the business part of her course.

Mabel was asked what the two most significant advantages that technology had given her in her course

1) More choice in presenting work. She didn’t enjoy writing essays

2) learning how to use the different technologies themselves, which provided her with a foundation for developing further skills

 And, there is the trouble with liveblogging – the laptop battery is fading fast, so I’ll have to sign off now. THere’s about 5 minutes of the session left, so I’ll go in search of a power socket for the afternoon session. If it doesn’t appear here, you’ll know I didn’t succeed!