Skip navigation

Category Archives: conferences and meetings

A great opportunity to find out more about the Teaching Development Fund projects running at Bath, plus an excellent keynote from Professor Sue Rigby, Vice Principal Learning & Teaching, University of Edinburgh.

Programme: http://www.bath.ac.uk/learningandteaching/courses-development/events/exchange.html

Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23unibathexchange

Advertisements

I was very pleased to be at the launch of LITEbox today; a new initiative from the University of Bath that is  ‘…aiming to provide opportunities for staff and students to learn, share, explore and develop new and existing technologies for learning, teaching and research.’

It is doing this in three ways:

  • space and technology development
  • skills development
  • knowledge exchange

We were given demonstrations of how the newly equipped teaching spaces (of which there will be more) are being used to help support collaborative learning, and how VIA Collage can be used to support students on group projects share their work when using different devices.

We also saw examples of apps for teaching and learning, created by staff and students with the App Factory and the ease of their production.

LITEbox will be bringing  to light more examples of the use of technology in teaching, learning and research very soon, and also supporting new developments, so watch this space*!

*LITEBox: http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/litebox/2015/04/17/litebox-set-to-launch/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%23liteboxbath

Day 1
Jeff Haywood (Edinburgh) talked much about online education and the future of this at Edinburgh. We were encouraged to be cautious about ‘new’ things as they tended not to be truly revolutionary in an educational sense (probably something a lot of us can relate to) and that change in education is slow (ditto). Not surprisingly, MOOCs were discussed: a theme that ran throughout the conference. Haywood cautioned us that whatever we think about MOOCs they are having an effect on the business of universities and cannot be ignored. He also contrasted the type and level of marketing of MOOCs compared with other courses from the same university.

Bryan Mathers spoke of needing a culture that learnt from everything it does, not just its successes, and also measuring properly what it does.

Fiona Harvey (Southampton) summarised what the ALT MOOC SIG has been doing over the past year, forthcoming events (e.g. webinars), and shared her (very useful) collection of links http://www.scoop.it/u/fiona-harvey. A meeting of the SIG later in the day enabled it to start planning future work.


Day 2
The DigiLit Leicester project http://www.digilitleic.com/, from Lucy Atkins, Josie Fraser and Richard Hall, includes the city council, DMU and all 23 secondary schools in Leicester, on developing teachers’ digital literacy skills. We heard about how teachers were involved from the start in developing a framework which would help them to assess their competency.

Catherine Cronin’s (Galway) talk ‘Navigating the marvellous: openness in education’ inspired much comment and conversation. Her key themes were: open, divide, spaces and identity. With thought provoking quotes on openness from Michael Apple (‘Education is inherently an ethical and political act’) and Jim Groom (‘…openness is an ethos not a licence…’) we were encouraged to see openness to include using open resources, sharing materials and thoughts, and enabling students to do the same. The divide included that which is suggested as being between formal and informal learning, with the latter being invalid. Spaces were real/online, open bounded and experienced: were we ever in a space where we felt so ‘other’ we couldn’t breathe? We were also reminded that a learning space (e.g. VLE, classroom) is not the learning space.

Andrew Smith (OU) gave an example of using Twitter to make his active courses visible to a wider audience, raising awareness of the courses and enabling those outside the student cohort to interact with the material.

David White (U for the Arts) looked into pupils’ expectation of technology in the classroom. Pupils have little expectation of technology being incorporated into pedagogy in HE, perhaps because of way they saw teachers use technology in school. Whereas pupils believe themselves to be digitally literate they perhaps are overestimating their true ability. Telling pupils not to Google is ineffective as often it appears to work! Better to help them to refine their search techniques.

Graeme Pate (Glasgow) gave an example of using Twitter with student teachers. Their Tweets were either: reinforcing, questioning (including students answering questions of other students ahead of the tutor) and linking. Though students were keen to use twitter (including in other modules) there were practical issues such as recharging mobile devices (insufficient points), Wi-Fi overload, BYOD disparity (did this disadvantage some?), multitasking challenges etc.


Day 3

Audrey Watters explained that she was a folklorist. Her keynote: ‘Ed-tech, Frankenstein’s monster and teacher machines’ challenged us to examine both our distrust of technology and our fascination. She urged us to love and care for our machine lest they become monsters, and to engage with them not just be mesmerised by the shiny.

Martin Hawksey (ALT) reported on the ocTEL 2014 course, particularly on the use of open badges. Different kinds of badges were made available, ranging in the amount and type of engagement that was needed to be awarded them, from simply checking in (which showed who was ‘there’ that week), through commenting, blogging etc.

In ‘Hygiene factors: using VLE minimum standards to avoid student dissatisfaction’, Peter Reed (Liverpool) asked us, what is the opposite of satisfaction? Herzberg suggests ‘no satisfaction’ rather than dissatisfaction, and this session looked at what students wanted expected from the VLE and hence what absences caused dissatisfaction. It was found that staff were largely predicting what students wanted on the VLE (e.g. lecture notes, past exam papers, further reading lists, timetables, contact details etc.) but greatly underestimating how much they wanted them.


 

Thanks to everyone who put made this year’s conference possible. Next year’s ALT-C with be ‘Shaping the future of learning together’, September 8-10, 2015, held at the University of Manchester.

See you there!

I am glad to say that I didn’t leave Lynn Truss’s talk feeling inadequate when it comes to my skills with the English language. In fact, I felt the emphasis on convention rather than rule was refreshing and honest, reflecting a pragmatic attitude to English grammar and acknowledging changes over time which, doubtless, will continue.

The focus was on the purpose of punctuation: the meaning-making that is an essential process of writing.  Not that perfect punctuation can ensure perfect understanding (‘I know you like the back of my hand’ vs ‘I know you like the back of my hand’) but it can help (‘The Queen: without her, dinner is noisy’ vs ‘The Queen without her dinner, is noisy’).

An interesting point was brought out by a questioner: is this lack of interest in punctuation linked to a lack of interest in thinking of the needs of others? Do we think the recipient is responsible for finding the meaning in a message, rather than it being the role of the writer to punctuate it correctly to give the meaning?

Two questions mentioned ‘text speak’ and how it might be part of the decline (symptomatic if not causal), but another mentioned the telex machine which also used a system of abbreviations. An essential difference is of course the number of people who have some experience of text-speak (either using it or have to decipher it) compared with telex users (who must have been relatively rare.)

The one area where I disagreed with Truss was her imagining of a future where all punctuation disappeared. I can’t imagine, since English took up punctuation to enable it to develop a greater level of sophistication, it reverting to a punctuation-free form again whilst it is still written down.

Bath Literature Festival 2012 http://www.bathlitfest.org.uk/lynnetruss.aspx

According to John Gribbin, those of us entertaining the idea that we might find intelligent life on other planets are destined to be disappointed. There appears to be no sign that another advanced civilisation (Gribbin typifies this as one which has advanced to the point of developing radio telescopes) exists.

His central argument hinges on Fermi’s remark that “If aliens exist they would be here“, not seeing any reported ‘alien sightings’ as credible. We have already started to explore beyond our home planet; it would be reasonable to expect another technically sophisticated civilisation (it would only take one) to have done the same. If they think Earth too ‘infected’ to visit they could have sent probes. If their politics are isolationist, it would have only taken one independent individual (with sufficient funds) to explore themselves (and would all alien civilisations be isolationist simultaneously?) We know that only part of our galaxy is inhabitable, they could have worked that out too, and reduced the time it would take to find us. One possibility exists, that we are the oldest and most advanced of the civilisations in the universe and the others have yet to reach a level of technical ability to explore space; but is this likely?

It’s not a happy thought for us members of the Star Trek generation, brought up with space exploration as just another one of those thing we did. We expected that we would have been on Mars long ago. We didn’t know that we wouldn’t have to worry about aliens because there weren’t any.

[‘The Reason Why’ – John Gribbin; talk given at The Mineral Hospital on March 3, 2012 as part of the Bath Literature Festival 2012]

Since moving to Bath I’ve been privileged to be able to attend Bathcamp meetings (http://bathcamp.org/). I’d picked up on these events via Twitter before I moved here, even before I knew I was moving here, and at the time couldn’t help wishing that I could somehow have the opportunity of attending. And here I am in Bath… which is how life works sometimes.

The theme of Bathcamp 29 was design.

Richard Caddick (@richardcaddick) kicked the evening off with a presentation entitled The Value of Imagination which touched on the importance of the interplay between differing fields (eg artist and scientific approaches to cooking). It’s not the first time this has been pointed out and it always makes me think of the lack of design for (almost design-against) cross-fertilisation in organisations; but I digress…

Many interesting points about form design in Forms are Boring from Joe Leech (@mrjoe) based on his experience of designing them and, perhaps more importantly, seeing the user experience test data when forms are trialled. Just as I’m convinced you can’t effectively proof your own writing, it’s got to be just as important to get someone else (preferably a member of the target audience or at least a real person*) to try using a form you have designed. Tips included dropping the asterisk next to mandatory  fields and just putting ‘optional’ next to the others (since real people tend not to look for the meaning of the asterisk, and ‘optional’ is a term real people understand). For the slides that accompanied the talk see: http://joeleech.net/user-experience/forms-are-boring/ which proved that forms are not boring and there really is no excuse for a badly designed form.

Last but not least was Jon Waring on Designing Recognisable Sites that have an Agenda, a really inspiring look at how a creative organisation looks at design when they work with clients. Slides for this talk can be found here: http://www.slideshare.net/3SixtyInternet/measurable-meaningful

*if you’ve scrolled down here to look for the meaning of the asterisk this may mean you are not a ‘real person’. Don’t worry, I would have scrolled down too, and yet I still find I am able to live a full and active life.

This was the title of the presentation given by Adrian Bowyer of the University of Bath at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). Dr Bowyer is best known for the RepRap (replicating rapid prototyper), a 3D printer capable, of amongst other things, of reproducing its own composite parts. However, rather than focus on that, this talk comprised a number of ‘problems’ (or at least, situations) where Dr Bowyer offers his particular insights and possible solutions based on currently available technology or understood principles.

Ideas on which he elaborated including translating glasses (based on holography); explosive-metabolising microbes; robots that created photovoltaic cells from desert sand (laying them as they were produced and powering the robots to continue);  shoes with inbuilt bellows for cooling and a chemical name capitalisation convention to aid pronunciation.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, Darwin, the first machine released by the RepRap project, is currently on show in BRLSI (Queens Square, Bath): http://www.brlsi.org/

More information on the RepRap project can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap_Project

I was attracted to this conference both for the content which sounded intriguing but also to experience a wholly on-line conference.

The presentations and workshops were spread what at first seemed very thinly across the time available. But once I had attended a couple of sessions I began to really appreciated the breaks: it allowed me to keep up with my other responsibilities for the day, catch my breath and gather my thoughts. Each session was very intense with the oral presentation, slides, the synchronous and asynchronous panes to follow. It was a real challenge to take it all in and keep up; how the presenters managed, I do not know. The use of facilitators seemed to be an excellent idea and did at least aid the speaker in the balancing act of giving their presentation with following the ‘conversation’ going on amongst the audience sufficiently well to be able to comment and answer questions.

I couldn’t choose a highlight as I enjoyed all the sessions I attended both for the presented material and the interaction with other attendees. All were thought provoking.

I have attended a number of individual on-line sessions before this conference, many of them using Elluminate (the same tool used here), and though I could never say that I would like virtual meetings to replace all face to face events, I see real benefits. Short meetings are simply hard to justify the time spent in travelling, let alone the expense, and attending remotely may enable some to attend and still fulfil other commitments on the same day. Virtual conferences may enable some to attend events they would not otherwise be able to afford. Who wouldn’t support something that enables conferences and workshops to continue in lean times and possibly attract a greater range of attendees.

But I wonder also if there isn’t something extra to be gained from on-line meetings. It’s often said one of the most important aspects (or at least most often achieved) of face to face meetings is networking. I don’t know if it just the virtual meetings that I have attended, but I notice a lot more interaction, and between many more people, than in face to face events. Of course, what the quality of this interaction is, only time will tell. It would also be interesting to know how presenters feel about the kind of session where the audience can be ‘talking’ even more than they are.

My Tweets on the event

Another packed programme of presentations this year, here are the highlights of some of them:

Ifan Hughes (Durham) spoke about the use of interactive screen experiments and the role of pre-lab tasks to increase the efficacy of the time students spend in laboratories.

Steve Hanson from the Centre revealed some preliminary findings from the soon to be published data on graduate skills in physics, based on detailed interviews with new graduates from around the UK (there will also be corresponding data published on chemistry and forensic science.)

Simon Bates (Edinburgh) reported on the shift there from years of recruiting undergraduates to now being able to select students and the challenges this has brought.

Vijay Tymms (Imperial) looked at whether repeated testing (at school) was leading to a shift from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation in students.

Fredrick Floether (Cambridge), our Student Award winner, spoke about his experiences as an undergraduate. He noted the movement towards documents existing only in electronic form (and the possible advantages of this), more use of animations and use of mobile devices. He noted the increase in online learning, the encouragement of students to take learning into their own hands and increasing interdisciplinary nature of science courses. Also highlighted was the increasing internationalisation of higher education, with students flowing in more directions around the globe in pursuit of their education but also the possible bifucation of students into those who attend a campus and those who teach themselves from online resources.

Dick Bacon from the Centre introduced the new adaptive questions that are now available in Question Bank with a call to try them and perhaps submit more to the collection.

Ross Galloway (Edinburgh) spoke about work with students whose coursework scores were significantly higher than their exam scores. These tended to be students whose qualifications were non-UK and who had taken a gap year, and interviews had shown that they had unrealistic ideas about exam preparation and the time it would take. Interesting, merely interviewing students about this appeared to have the effect of improving their subsequent exam performance, though no other intervention had been made.

Sally Jordan (OU) presented details of work on computer assessment of short-answer questions. She emphasised the importance of modeling answers on the real answers of students, rather than those of staff who answer questions differently. The unintended consequence of this has been the greater understanding of the ways students interpret questions which has been used to improve question.

Ross Galloway (Edinburgh) held a workshop on data handling skills. Discussion amongst the participants revealed the following:  teaching such skills tends to be concentrated in the early years and it is hard to convince  students are they should do some data analysis during the experiment as they would rather do it afterwards once the experiment is complete. At Edinburgh it was found that once teaching data handling skills stopped, improvement stopped also; students appeared not to pick up skills without support.

Robert Francis (NTU) detailed an archeo-astronomy project that was being used with school and university groups. A virtual field trip was built to enable pupils/students to be able to make the most of their field work.

Marialuisa Aliotta (Edinburgh) reported on the use of scoring rubrics, use of which students felt led to reduced variation and fairing marking.

Lynn Moran (Liverpool) spoke about outreach work which had grown from an informal grouping of students and had worked on tackling negative views of science.

Personal response to the opening Keynote of ALT-C 2010:

If he’d just said that we should get rid of bad lectures I would have agreed with him but…

It’s like the calls you hear to ban PowerPoint. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with PowerPoint, there is with bad PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, a call to get rid of lecturers is simply missing the point. We’ve probably all had a bad meal in a restaurant, we didn’t call for a ban on restaurants… or eating.

The only good reasons to stop lectures would be 1) because they do no good/do harm or 2) because we have something better. This morning we were not offered evidence of the first (disappointing as the scientific method was mentioned by the speaker) or ideas for the second (simply saying ‘doing more online’ does not count.)

Lecturing (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way) is varied, because the people who lecture vary, as do the students and courses. You may have had a bad experience as an undergraduate, my experience as a physics undergraduate was a good one; let’s call it quits.

I’d like to suggest the speaker actually takes a look at what is going on in lectures today, rather than reach back for a memory of his undergraduate days. It is pointless to say you are angry at a situation but have no real ideas for remedies. Find out what’s going on and you will see what today’s lecturers are doing with their lectures. You’ll find (even physics) lecturers who know about cognitive overload and working memory, and ones carrying on Mazur’s work. There’s still work to do but that’s what the Centre I work with support. Let’s stop cursing the darkness and light a candle.

And last but not least: physics researchers should not teach because they would be ‘square pegs in round holes’ hopelessly held back by introversion and lack of social skills? Feynman managed both very well, Brian Cox isn’t doing too badly either. There are others less well known if you care to look; I will be meeting some of them immediately after ALT-C at our physics education conference. It’s called PHEC*; we may have no social skills but it can’t be said we have no sense of humour.

*Physics Higher Education Conference