Well, another Durham Blackboard users conference comes to an end, and as always there were a few thought provoking ideas. This years’ theme was “AntiSocial” or the way in which those of us responsible for promoting the use of virtual learning environments might make more use of some of the social networking software that is becoming more popular. I’m not going to indulge in a long multi-part blog post because a) it makes for a very dull post, and b) one of the most interesting points made in the conference was that students may still be working in a web 1.0 mentality. That is to say they want to take stuff that other people put up for them, rather than sharing their own stuff of the internet. So in that spirit, here’s what I intend to do with this post.
Firstly if you want to get a detailed account of who said what at the conference go to http://twitter.com and search for #durbbu10. Many of those present (including your correspondent) posted tweets during each of the sessions, and there are some quite interesting points hidden in there although you do lose the narrative thread that a blog post might provide. (But you wouldn’t have read it, would you?) Secondly and more conventionally I thought I’d pick out a few highlights and offer some thoughts on them. In the social spirit though, if you want to argue, (or agree), feel free to comment on the post.
Highlight no. 1 came in Lindsay Jordan’s keynote in which she demonstrated how she had taught teenagers about the menstrual cycle through the medium of interpretative dance. (You really had to be there!). The point for me was that as Lindsay pointed out, she could have just uploaded a set of diagrams on to a VLE, but this way she got the students involved. Of course dance isn’t a medium that readily transfers to Blackboard, but the point was the students could all play a part in the learning experience because they all had a small part in the dance. There are ways for this to be done in technological media. But as I’ve already implied they may not want that.
Highlight no. 2 was from Katie Piatt of Brighton University. She started her session by distributing a collection of random Lego parts to each audience member. However some members received a pre-packed bag of parts. Then we were all told to build a car. Of course the pre-packed bags contained four wheels, a base, some axles and bricks for a body. The rest of us came up with wonderfully creative solutions from the resources we had. Her argument was that if you give students pre-packed learning materials, then they’ll just build with what they’ve been given. If you give them a different selection of materials they’ll come up with something more creative using their own prior learning. Although there is still an element of selection because in fact the random selection I described wasn’t actually random. Everybody got at least two wheels for example, which I suspect was planned. Still the point was well made, that if you don’t do anything different with your students you won’t get anything different from them. Reflecting on this later, it did occur to me though that if you wanted students to “make cars” then the pre-pack approach is probably the right one. Very few of the more imaginative creations would actually have moved. But that’s a very instrumental approach, and unlikely ever to lead to innovation.
The implied question is should we stop giving students ‘pre-packed’ learning material? I don’t know the answer to that but I suspect that things like the NSS and in FE OFSTED inspections strongly militate against that kind of risk taking. This was borne out by my third and last highlight was a quotation from a student. “Why would I want to risk my degree by sharing what I know with other students?” Perhaps that should be a lowlight. It’s depressing enough that students believe that universities have a quota of first class honours degrees and that by helping one another they’ll spoil their own chances. But it also implies a possibility that we could give some form of credit for evidence of public sharing. I’m not sure that this could be in the form of academic credit because it doesn’t really speak to the students’ ability as a social worker, mathematician, classicist or whatever, and that’s what we’re certifying after all. Clearly this needs a bit more thought.
That’s probably enough for this topic. I’ll just take this opportunity to thank the team at Durham for their organisation of an excellent meeting, and look forward to returning next year. And, do please add comments if you want to agree or disagree with me, or remind me of a highlight I’ve forgotten.