GLAD Conference 2014 – my thoughts

What is GLAD…? 

Group for Learning in Art and Design 

For those of you who don’t know about GLAD, it was established in 1990 as a grass roots network to improve student experience and stimulate debate in art and design education. This year’s conference theme looked at the studio and what it means to a student in 2014.

So, leaving Maidstone on a 6.25am train (destination Sheffield Hallam University) and retuning home at 9.30pm, we had a very packed day. Along with my co-presenter and work colleague Annamarie Mckie, we presented a poster session entitled a place of my own: reflective, formative online spaces for learning, teaching and assessment.

The poster displays the 3 main stakeholders and the benefits each stand to gain from using an innovative online space within the VLE that tutors can place formative feedback and students can respond. Click on the image below for a larger version – so you can read more about what these benefits are.


See poster above and here’s the background and case study.

The Keynote address – Revisionism v Chaos; The Studio Terroir was delivered by Professor Paul Haywood, Deputy Dean at Middlesex University. I found this talk to be the most inspiring part of the conference. Paul spoke and how a child learns by experience as construct but then is taught from parents etc. how things should look and gave painting as an example. He then took this theory into the artist’s studio and how ‘learning to paint’ has evolved through the centuries. He spoke of the moulded child/artist as being an inhibitor through construct – and does our current model of teaching foster a true creative process. His presentation displayed rich imagery and the red house struck a cord.

The second keynote – Open and Connected Classroom : A Show and Tell Presentation was delivered by Jonathan Worth, a photographer and teaching fellow at Coventry University. He spoke about the power of the virtual world and how someone’s images can be credible, believed and authoritative – or not as the case may be. His work with students explored questions about the benefits of the internet and the power of people connected together regardless of experience or qualification and how this has made a transformative impact on everyone’s lives. It led me to think about social boundaries and the absence of them in the virtual world – one example being the QuizUp app where you find yourself playing with someone in Texas (anywhere in fact) but complete strangers and people having ability to demand a rematch should you beat them, and if that’s not enough a chat tool and discussion board should you want to go deeper with making connections.

In terms of the planned workshops and presentations, the first focused around the technical studio and modes of student learning. I’ve highlighted the key aspects below:

  1. One day un-assessed workshops so students can learn freely and make mistakes – the notion of not being assessed opens a debate about the freedom to explore/experiment without the fear of being penalised.
  2. Google maps used as an icebreaker (for a digital literacy workshop) to see where students are located (even 2nd years)
  3. Pinterest used as collaborative boards to share visual dialogue and output.
  4. How students perceive feedback was another hot topic as some feared technical feedback, which students often sought and valued was not considered by students in the NSS.
  5. Helen Makin from Coventry University stated the delivery of making skills comes no longer comes from academic staff but from technical staff. The attitude from some sees the quality of making is a lesser skill to the conceptual skill. Consequently, technical staff feel somewhat short-changed and under valued – and I can fully sympathise here knowing what they are paid compared to academics.
  6. Students not turning up to workshops was another common problem, but as paying customers they expected workshops on demand and often one-to-one if they missed the planned session.
  7. Technical staff felt they needed more integration with project briefs in order to tailor and maximise learning outcomes – they saw themselves ‘working too much in the dark’,

The afternoon workshop explored the meaning of failing and how this relates to the studio space. In groups, we were asked to write a manifesto, this is our group’s offering:


‘The studio and how to fail in it”

  1. The studio is not destination transition
  2. Celebrate failure with less assessment and more scrutiny
  3. Failure is linked to a learning outcome
  4. Less prescription – allow some privacy
  5. Failure is contingent – students need to know this

Personal Learning Environments

Personal learning environments begin with the interface you are using, so for example my mobile PLE will have different uses to my laptop PLE, and my desktop PLC is different again as this is purely work related. Since moving away from web design and into learning technologies, my repertoire of tools has changed and with that different drivers to learn new tools. So my PLEs reflect my career and interests.

In my diagram I have not attempted to map paths or learning journeys as this would be futile meaning I may be using a number of tools at the same time as well as mixing up tasks – meaning I will answer email, write an essay and dip into the web every now and again for some diversion.

More PLE Diagrams from edtechpost

In terms of VLEs v PLEs, I believe there is room for both, as Martin Weller refers to in his Using learning environments as a metaphor for educational change, the embed code allows the cloud based tools into the VLE and likewise, data can be pushed out to FB (if it really has to, but I’m not in favour of this).

In terms of students knowing all about using these wonderful tools, I wonder just how true this is. I suspect many don’t know how to discern found information just as many will not use social bookmarking tools such as Diigo or micro-blogging such as Twitter for learning. I ‘m in favour of supporting students to use these tools when they first arrive at university so they get a good grounding and realise the great benefits of sharing information. I am speaking from a learner perspective as I had no real idea how powerful social booking and networking was in a formal context.

In terms of issues, some students will require more support and course teams should be aware of this.

Validity and critical debate

Looking at Educational Research

– The validity of the problems being investigated

Using the study Kennedy et al study First year students’ experiences with technology: Are they really digital natives? Firstly, I would congratulate Prensky who first coined the term digital natives, it has great appeal but it’s meaning is also somewhat sinister; to think of this younger generation becoming divided through technology does have shock value.

I can fully agree that there is ‘an assumption’ that students brought up with the Internet are adept at using it’s tools. See JISC’s ‘Google Generation’ is a myth. However the argument as always, depends on content. They are adept with the tools they see a use for, we have to ensure they know about ways these same tools can be used in a learning context.

– The appropriateness of their methods

Kennedy et al methods steered their research into identifying the technology tools they felt should be included (p. 116, table 5) but it does not account for the incidental learning these or other tools generate to which there is no way to measure. Also, I would argue that the question presented to these 1st year students “To assist me with my University studies, I want to be able to use…” and it goes on to list an array of technology tools and ideas about using them. How can these students know the implications of each? How are they sufficiently able to know the answer and does this not indicate we are allowing students to make choices about their education when we ourselves have no clear idea about how technology can enhance learning and bring about an improved life – because ethically, these two factors are interwoven.

– The plausibility of their interpretations of the results.

I think the Kennedy et al report is very sound and measured against the rapid pace technology moves. They talk of more research to determine the specific circumstances under which students would like their ‘living technologies’ to be adapted as ‘learning technologies’. My concern here is the unknown dimension, we seem to be going with the flow, thus embracing and embedding popular technologies mindlessly and it is worrying. What real use it twitter and facebook in education I wonder?

Define learning

My search on defining learning led to a host of learning theories that define learning in different ways. Depending what is entered into the search engine i.e. learning, learning styles, learning theories, learning methodologies, learning frameworks,

My Google search – Google serves up different results with information pertaining an overview of these many theories. The list below show some of the most common theories.

  • Behaviourist Theories
  • Cognitive Theories
  • Constructivist Theories
  • Descriptive Theories
  • Design Theories & Models
  • Humanist Theories
  • Identity Theories
  • Learning Theories & Models
  • Motivation Theories
  • Paradigms and Perspectives
  • Social Learning Theories

My Google Scholar search – using the same search terms will provide a very different set of results and as the term Scholar denotes, the results provide scholarly papers and links to journals of the various theories and research in the subject.

My OU Library search – using the same terms in the OU library is very different again and tricky if searching by subject, as learning potentially comes under a host of sub titles in the education section. Either way, the search will produce countless papers on the subject and the content is likely to contain heavyweight peer-reviewed theories that are well respected in academia. This search is unlike Google or Scholar as it takes time and some knowledge of the subject and author to produce fruitful results. I would argue the searches in the OU Library are excellent for well-oiled academics use to searching in this manner and familiar with the protocol these type of databases use. But to the everyday student at undergraduate level, the searches are mind blowing and ‘one visit to a journal database is one too many’ given their archaic and clumbersome nature. Week 1 reading (Teaching/reaching the Net Generation and The Google Generation) support this argument and I don’t think it will goes away quietly.

screen grab of OU Library
OU Library search online collections by subject

My own definition (shown below) of learning fits into a number of my found learning results, only the terminology is different.

Observation – using my senses to find out new things

Experimenting – playing, trying something out and responding or making associations to my acquired knowledge and to explore further using this knowledge

Participation – using knowledge to participate with other things such as other technologies, environments or people

Collaboration – working, sharing, communicating and interacting in joint ventures with or without people

Socio-cultural theories

Does learning happen within the head of an individual, or is it mediated, situated and distributed?

Learning is mediated, situated and distributed from a range of interactions and processes that include a range of learning theories as table 1 illustrated in the Conole et al 2004 paper, p19 (see below).

To test this theory, my learning on this course is mediated by reading the course material, collaborating in the forums, engaging in dialogue, undertaking the activities, comparing my findings with the course group.

It’s situated by always being there online 24/7, and my laptop interfaces with the course site no matter where I am. I use Google docs to backup my work, so I live with the knowledge that’s it’s safe no matter what (I accidently trashed all my work on my last course and had to but special software to retrieve it… lesson learnt).

In terms of distributed, I see this as a shared concept whereby peer learning takes place alongside the wider network of resources such as online databases, journals, conference papers, websites and all the rest of the resources to hand.

What does a test or exam measure?

Depending on the context of this question, but assuming it refers to a student’s exam or test, it measures the amount of knowledge the students has accumulated about the subject, process or theory. This process of testing cannot always be accurate as under stressful conditions students may well forget certain things and only remember afterwards. Living in Kent, we still have the 11+ and perhaps this demonstrates that testing based purely on recall does not a) suit everyone or b) entirely fair.

Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design – Summarised version of key learning theories and models, their characteristics, and how they might be realised in the context of e-learning Theories

acting, thinking, feeling association, reinforcement, trial and error

human development, communication, explanation, recombination, contrast, inference and problem solving

self-directed learning through interaction with an environment, construction of conceptual structures through engagement

teacher becomes facilitator, learner engages in discovery through action via collaboration and interaction

Socially situated learning:
social interactions, social participation, learning by observation, interpersonal relationships involving imitation and modelling

Experience as foundation for learning, transformation of experience into knowledge, skill, attitudes, values emotions, reflection, problem base learning

Conole et al 2004 paper, p19
G. Conole a,*, M. Dyke a, M. Oliver b, J. Seale a

H809 so far

Turkish highways

It’s tough and there is a whole set of new terminology to learn besides feeling a little out of my depth.

Perhaps the hardest challenge is the papers, reading the first few made no sense but reading them again you sort of get the idea of what they are trying to say.

I liked the idea of just using 5 papers for reference for the TMA, this made me go back to them several times and squeeze a bit more. It also helped control that swamped with papers and quotes feeling. This is my second course on the OU and it’s interesting to see how different this is to H808… Far more is focused around research papers and being selective about them.

The refworks thing is slowly getting there but the hardest job I have is finding my way around the OU Library. I don’t think I’ve spent enough time really getting to grips with it; to me it’s all a bit of a muddle. I’m going to try out their Safari work-through tutorial to see if this makes a difference. It recommends a minimum of 10 hours to do all 7 sections. I’ll report back with my findings. I’ll try doing a section in my lunch hour which might be better than doing it at the weekends which are normally reserved for the H809 activities.

I expect for the experienced researcher, finding stuff is fast and easy. Still, I’m leaning lots and new doors are being opened so all the hard work is paying off. Learning loads from my cohort and the range of discussions in all three groups are the richest source of peer learning I’ve come across, so I’m totally converted and I have the guys to thank:)

It’s such a relief to get the first TMA out-of-the-way. I’m excited by my proposal, will be interesting to see what Rhona makes of it – and how doable it is.

The sun’s out now, so time to pack away the laptop and get a life again!

How are VLEs used?

I’ve been pondering this question for some days now and think I’ll use it for my TMA01. I’m not so convinced every institution is uses VLEs as intended. Moreso, I believe some are used as glorified and very expensive document systems.

I also feel some institutions believe they should “be seen” to have VLEs but in reality, manage quite well without. After all, students go to university for face-to-face teaching, not spending hours in front of a screen in semi isolation surely?

‘Who’ in fact, are institutions keeping happy by having VLEs?

Yes, there are many questions here, and I expect to touch on many, but to begin with, my focus will be HOW institutions are using VLEs. The five papers I’ve chosen for this research question is listed here:

  1. 2008 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK
  2. ‘Disruptive technologies’, ‘pedagogical innovation’: What’s new Findings from an in-depth study of students’ use and perception of technology.
  3. The development of technology enhanced learning: findings from a 2008 survey of UK higher education institutions
  4. Effective Practice in a Digital Age – JISC
  5. Death of the VLE?: a challenge to a new orthodoxy