Hearing voices in the VLE – Creating an Audioscape

Here’s the final report from Durham on a presentation from Susannah Diamond of Sheffield Hallam University about the expansion of audio technologies into their learning landscape. Learning is no longer a matter of listening to a lecturer, if it ever was. It requires timely input in terms of guidance, empathy, information, challenges, orientations facilitation assessment feedback and other ways of direction and support. At Sheffield Hallam University, the Academic Innovation team have been harrnessing Blackboard to provide a familiar interface to digital media work and to develop a new pedagogy around digital audio.  Audio as a learning environment is a little bit unsettling because it raised the question of what the learning environment would look like if audio was everywhere  or perhaps more accurately, what it would sound like. In many senses audio is a disruptive technology because it takes us away from our comfort zone of text based resources. Basically they get students to make audio notes, and to store them in a variety of portfolios.


Stages in audio innovation.


Firstly of course, it is necessary to put audio in reach of academic staff and students. They started by using the Podcasts LX tool which is a great tool for academics to post material, provided they’ve mastered the gadgetry to make the recordings in the first place. They then used a technique akin to reverse engineering,  getting students to listen to the clips that had been uploaded and getting students to deconstruct them by asking, for example in the case of radio programmes, how and why were these programmes made?  This played quite a significant part in the second stage which was about promoting creativity in the use of digital media, and encouraging staff and students to take risks. They tried creating  some digital audio learning objects, and rethought podcasts so that they weren’t just a transmission stream from the lecturer to the student, but instead became a medium for digital storytelling  in which they  encouragedstudents to construct stories about their learning

The final stage is the development of a user friendly digital media architecture. Audio technology is everywhere of course, but they did find that they needed to give quite a lot of guidance on working with audio to their users. There were also some surprising discoveries. For example, they had assumed that iTunes would be popular with students.  In reality it turned out that students wanted their  through the VLE, not on their iPods, which again gives some support to the notion that students do tend to compartmentalise their social and academic lives


How do we store and share audio content is also something of a problem. They thought about a number of tools ranging from portfolios to digital repositories. In fact they went with the Learning Objects LX expo tool, which is a sort of e-portfolio tool which contained  audio feedback an alternative to written feedback.  There was a bit of a throwaway comment that audio feedback can make it easier to give bad news as explaining a poor result seems much more human. Well, I don’t know, but it’s worth considering. Another interesting project was the 100 Things project listing 100 things every students should make . (This could cover how to write a reflective report to what’s the best pub in town)


Audio is certainly a technology that we haven’t really exploited ourselves as yet, and while there are some issues around the availability of the recording gadgetry and finding a relatively quiet space in which to make a recording, it does seem to offer quite a lot of potential for meeting different learning styles, and of course to promote accessibility and usability.

Remodelling Teaching, Rethinking Education

CERD organised a one day conference on this topic today, and it proved a very interesting day indeed. I’m not going to say too much here, because we do intend to provide much more information about the day, including papers from the speakers via the web. From my point of view, the first presentation from Professor Mike Bottery of the University of Hull, proved particularly interesting. He was talking about the deprofessionalisation of teaching, or more accurately how teachers are moving away from being regarded as professionals (with all the rights to set one’s own agenda that that implies) to “branded technicians” – essentially people charged with delivering a set of specific competencies to meet a particular demand for a particular type of education. As this is my blog I’m going to reflect on the relevance of is to my own work, which is that this is precisely my concern about what we were being asked to do in the old TLDO. The whole agenda seemed to me that academics were seen as failing to come up with the goods, whereas in my view they quite obviously weren’t. (Also nobody seemed to know exactly what “the goods” were!) and we were faced with pushing a lot of unconvincing agendas about PDP, and skills for example that relatively few people seemed particularly interested in.  The challenge for the EDU is to reclaim its credibility as a professional support mechanism, and I think we are now going some way to doing that by communicating more with our own clients than with external agendas. (Not that the external agenda has gone away, of course.)  The last speaker, Michael Apple also picked up on this. issue, but he was much more concerned with how educational institutions engaged (or rather didn’t) with their communities. He gave the example of how communities in Brazil had incorporated street gangs, (who previously had been excluded, not altogether surprisingly)  into local decision making processes. Clearly that’s an extreme example, but he did suggest that Universities tend to exclude a lot of people who are absolutely essential to their work, (building, catering, gardening, secretarial, staff and so forth) from decision making processes, and they might benefit from a more inclusive approach.  Coincidentally I had occasion to visit another University recently where I noticed that the development unit formally made provision for these staff, and the development programme was structured in the same way as it was for everyone else. Well, it’s not much but it’s a start.

The other two sessions, were a very interesting debate about Rethinking Higher Education presented by Professor Mike Neary, of Lincoln and Dr Glenn Rikowski from Northampton, and a session on workforce reform, social partnership, and the construction of consensus. This last was very much about the research into Trade Union involvement in workplace remodelling in schools, and in truth I didn’t feel I had, or have a lot to bring to this debate. (A deplorably instrumentalist attitude no doubt, but there you are!)  On the other hand, the Rethinking HE session was quite thought provoking, arguing that universities should be the sites of co-production of critical knowledge on the part of both of staff and students. I don’t disagree, but I do worry about the replacement of one orthodoxy with another. Mike was talking about the notion of Mass Intellectuality, or Marx’s notion of the general intellect. The latter gives me pause for thought. I don’t think Marx meant any sort of singular Orwellian “newspeak” or “new intellect” but it’s easy to be interpreted that way. I suppose the same goes for mass intellectuality, but at least that seems to me to accomodate multiple viewpoints.  I think I just have a natural antipathy to anything that smacks of mob rule, and am  rather uneasy with anything that  might facilitate it.

The other thing I was a bit dubious about was beginning with the quotation “We work but we produce nothing” which apparently comes from the student revolts of 1968. But that falls into the trap of believing that corporeality is an essential property of “something”. Work always produces something – even if it’s just a headache! In this case I find it hard to believe that the students’ work did not produce at the very least  a new sense of self among themselves.  (and that quotation, come to think of it!).  There’s a lot more to think about here, though, and I think I need to take it to my research blog for that kind of reflective consideration.

Where does CERD go. Well, we’ve taken some steps towards working with students. Perhaps we should start to give some thought to the needs of the wider university workforce. Let’s face it without the catering staff’s coffee the place wouldn’t run at all!