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JISC RSC SE e-Learning Fair

December 1, 2009

As you can tell from the timelag in posting anything here, I’ve not yet got into the habit of blogging regularly. But am now catching up on the last month.

First up: the JISC RSC SE e-Learning Fair which took place in nearby Wokingham on 29th October, the presentations from which are now online.

The Keynote Speech was delivered by Stephen Sheedy, Principal of Queen Mary’s College, Basingstoke. He spoke of the changes which technology had brought – e.g. for staff, ready access to a range of student records; for learners, ready access to tools allowing them to create multimedia objects (such as video recordings), post them online, and receive feedback, quickly, and potentially from anywhere in the world.

He also warned that these rapid changes require those in education to put in place, and make learners aware of, proper safeguards. And to provide a context in which the technology can be used – IT should not be an end in itself. In respect of  the latter point, he showed a very professional Youtube video created by a teenage learner, using stop-motion animation with Lego figures to tell the story of Beowulf. “But where is the poetry?” he asked. The learner has shown well developed technical skills, but have they grasped the essential point of Beowulf as a piece of literature?

Stressing his belief that education is about developing young people for life, not just training them to earn a living, he said that teachers should insist on the “nobility of purpose” of their work. As one contributor to the conference text-wall commented, this is not a phrase one hears being used very often in FE these days.

Of the other presentations, there were two which I found particularly interesting:

VLE Tracking and Benchmarking – Getting the Most from Your Learning Platform
presented by John Savage & Mike Wilson, Southampton City College.

This looked at how to grade courses in a VLE, using an algorithm to analyse statistics generated from Moodle. The system classifies courses on the VLE as Bronze, Silver or Gold, with the aim of helping staff and managers see what progress had been made, and what they could do to make their Moodle presence more interactive and engaging for learners. There were two important clarification which came out during questions – I was relieved to hear that only staff see the Bronze, Silver or Gold badges, not students; and the VLE managers can use their own judgment to upgrade courses which have interactive features, but where the algorithm has not delivered a high score.

Although Blackboard would generate statistics in a different way from Moodle, I’m sure a similar approach could be developed. I’m not sure however to what extent this system would  be workable at TVU. There is such a diverse range of courses (Programmes and/or Modules), and such a diversity of ways in which Blackboard courses are used, that the bare statistics might be meaningless. But definitely worth investigating. (As a comparison, see this report on a presentation by Kate Boardman, from the University of Teesside, at the 2009 Durham Blackboard Conference: Time For a Reality Check? How Many Courses do you Really Have that Make A Difference to Learning?)

Creating and Building Communities of Practice
Tarsem Singh Cooner, Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Mental Health at Birmingham University.

This was an inspiring presentation in terms of how academics can work together with the technology to create effective blended learning programmes (warning – it requires a significant input of staff time!). Not only that, it made me aware of a rich source of materials for use in the mental health area, freely accessible from the CEIMH website at http://www.ceimh.bham.ac.uk/downloads/

I should also mention Professor Sir David Melville’s presentation, Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World which presented the findings of the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience. This was an interesting presentation, but I didn’t find out anything new, having seen him make a similar presentation at the JISC Conference 18 months ago, and having read the CLEX report.

Finally, as a very pleasant added bonus, in the afternoon I met up with David Finch, now head of IT at Central Sussex College, and someone who was in the same class as me right through secondary school – but who I’d not set eyes on since leaving school over 30 years ago.

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