Reflective formative spaces moulded around course pedagogy

Using Campus Pack Learning Objects

With a bit of imagination and clear idea of a course’s pedagogic remit, building learning spaces around specific learning outcomes is a breeze using Campus Pack Learning Objects. The trick behind this ease of flexibility is getting under the hood and changing a few settings according to the type of interactivity desired. For example, a tutorial blog can allow the tutor to post up notes (and any relevant media) that feed forward (Murtagh and Baker, 2009). These face2face one2one tutorials are normally given with a laptop to hand, notes are taken by the tutor and posted up, students respond with the comments tool by a certain period (if requested). The benefits to this method mean tutorial notes are held centrally and online; act as an aide memoire to both tutor and student of what was discussed; allows the student to reflect and articulate how they intend to take their work forward; provides a recording mechanism which is useful when several tutors are giving feedback over the course of a project. Additional support staff (study development tutors/disability tutors) can also access the feedback first-hand and discuss this with the student, often contributing with posts so feedback is collective and everyone is on the same page. Thus, taking a heutagogic approach consistent with Bandura’s (1986) conceptualisation of self-regulation, involving self observation, self-evaluation, and self-reaction, learning is student centric and self disciplined.

Presentation given at Durham’s Blackboard User Conference 2015 demonstrating Unit Feedback, Tutorial Log, Personal Development and Work Placement Blog learning spaces.

By integrating the student’s private feedback areas within the university’s virtual learning environment (VLE), staff and students can access a ‘trail’ of feedback – all in one place thus ensuring students and all the teaching support teams have 24/7 remote access. This student-centred place also becomes a deeper space for autonomous learning and continuing dialogue between students and staff, thus creating an ‘inside-out’ (Higgins, Hartley and Skelton, 2001) approach to assessment feedback, which embraces reflection, criticality and student ownership to learning.

Reflective formative spaces moulded around course pedagogy

WHO BENEFITS: Reflective formative spaces moulded around course pedagogy

Alongside benefits to the student, university and course team – as shown above, this learning and teaching intervention has greatly increased student satisfaction at UCA. Students’ perspective of course organisation and management has greatly improved and administration time along with costs has significantly reduced. See above slideshare which illustrates improvements to UCA’s NSS figures.

Campus Pack may not be the most sophisticated piece of technology, but it is certainly cost effective and adequate for courses wishing to adapt and flex learning activities/spaces and deliver a far richer model of teaching, learning and assessment.

Higgins, R., Hartley, P. and Skelton, A. (2001) Getting the message across: the problem of communicating assessment feedback. Teaching in Higher Education 6(2): 269–274

Murtagh, L. and Baker, N. (2009) Feedback to Feed Forward: student response to tutors’ written comments on assignments. Practitioner Research in Higher Education Vol 3 (1): page 20-28

Bandura, A. (1986) Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


Sharing Practice at JISC’s SETS 2014

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending and participating as a finalist in SETS (Southeast Technology Showcase), JISC’s annual awards scheme, designed to identify, promote, reward and disseminate the best e-learning practice taking place across the Southeast of England (SETS was formally known as the HiFi Awards). Each presentation was awarded points (1-10) by everyone else in the room according to 1) benefits to learning and teaching and 2) benefits to the university. Along with UCA colleagues, we witnessed some truly amazing work, which I’ll attempt to highlight below. I’ll also have a stab at what UCA can learn and apply from this innovative practice.

Starting with my own contribution for the University for the Creative Arts and assisted by Librarian Ian Badger, we presented practice on ‘Moulding and integrating the VLE to meet institutional needs’ with the following context in mind:

  • The course portfolio
  • The changing structure to the university, departments & staff
  • Emerging technologies
  • Working smarter with less

Notably highlighted are some of the methodologies and mechanisms employed by UCA’s Learning Technologists to enable Library and Faculty staff to ‘centrally manage’ content residing in over 1000 courses and units. The submission also looks at how the learning technologists audit e-learning activity across the university, which in turn informs UCA’s seven Schools of their course’s strengths/weaknesses and gives each the ability to share and learn best practice collectively.

This slideshare is UCA’s presentation.

Read what the JISC judging panel said about this entry

Swim UK the SETS winner presented a very effective use of the iPad. The swimming instructor would simply video the learner swimming underwater which then allowed playback at the poolside to look at areas of improvement for stroke and technique…

…Personally, I was surprised this submission won compared to some of the very clever and innovative entries I saw. It really does demonstrate the importance of applying the appropriate use technology to the right context – and I guess this was spot-on – simple but extremely effective.

Reading College came runner up with 4 students talking very enthusiastically about their experience of using a Google+ Community as their virtual learning environment and how it served as a vital mechanism for honest peer-to-peer feedback. Studying Object Orientated Programming (OOP) the students consisted of 3 separate groups who are never in college at the same time. In place of the college’s Moodle LMS,  a Google + Community was chosen as a virtual classroom to encourage collaborative working. Set up as a private community with only the students and staff as members, this online space enabled a secure and supportive environment. The G+ community contained the assignment material, noticeboard and links to resources, students were asked to share their work at different stages throughout project and peer-to-peer feedback was encouraged. With the G+ app being available on range of devices it meant that students could gain access to the community anytime and anywhere….

…For me the most striking comment came from a student who said that learning on a tool they used everyday (their phone) and building applications such as game design, the use of Google + was second nature as this was the technology of their generation. Social media platforms do indeed provide a very strong aspect to peer review and feedback in a less formal manner. This informality might even prove to be more effective to student learning than traditional forms of peer review – be it blind or formally arranged by their teachers.

Student from Reading College presenting their ideas at SETS

Students from Reading College presenting their ideas at SETS

Eastleigh College showcased their use of iPads and help videos students used inside workshop from benches and some seriously big machinery.  Designed and produced by students, these iPads were encased in metal covers and perspex fronts that stood on workbenches or could be secured to lathes….

…Having these iPads to hand in a workshop situation in-situ proved beneficial to both students and staff as you can imagine. Technicians can easily locate demonstration videos to show learners – freeing up time to attend to all the other duties that videos cannot replace.

Kent Community Learning and Skills, a learning provider for Kent County Council presented their Virtual Classrooms using Blackboard Collaborate to deliver ESOL to social workers recruited from other EU countries. These learners required support with understanding English grammar and British slang. Being spread across Kent the virtual classrooms provided an excellent and cost effective learning/teaching tool. Indeed, this was one of our favourite showcases…

…For UCA, this practice would certainly be useful for group tutorials or one-to-one tutorials especially with International students. The spanner in the works is JAVA, a technology Collaborate uses. JAVA updates frequently, but without updating the plugin, Collaborate will not work. The computers at UCA are managed by IT Services and students/staff cannot update the JAVA plugin, as they do not have the admin rights. Therefore practically speaking, if we wanted to use this technology, our IT processes would need to change. Students with their own devices would of course not be affected. I remember at the OU, we also used Collaborate (with Moodle) and part of the orientation process was to get set-up, explore and check everything works before an actual live session so all the potential hiccups were dealt with.

MidKent College presented an extremely smart, user friendly Virtual Coach for use in Medway and Maidstone staff rooms to provide cross-site teacher learning resources, videos, communication and information. Built in HTML and Metro UI CSS, the tiled web resource also included a Skype video calling feature, which allows communicate between both sites by touching the relevant tile. This resource was obviously built around a need and demand premise. It allows virtual communication between 2 campuses and provides a learning platform to boot…

MidKent College presenting their Virtual Tutor at SETS

MidKent College presenting their Virtual Tutor at SETS

…For UCA, I don’t think this model would work so well as very little use is made of staff rooms and a good of majority of academic staff are sessional. Therefore a 24/7 anywhere, anytime web-based resource would work better. However, there are a few lessons to be learnt from the very slick user interface and ease of use MidKent

Hadlow College project focused on the support they given to help learners turn their newly acquired skills into opportunity for self-employment. It is more common for Florists to be self-employed rather than find employment working for others. The Facebook business page is seen as a good and cost effective method of presenting Floristry that helps to attract and retain clients. With a view to helping learners finding or improving self-employment on completing the course, the Floristry teachers decided to make effective Facebook presentation part of the curriculum starting in August last year. Consequently, recognition of this end point of study for many learners required the development of self-promoting technologies to help learners understand, design and prepare for developing a client based of their own…

…For UCA, the approach to use social media for self-promotion is not new. However I was interested in the Facebook business pages Hadlow students were encouraged to create under the guidance of their teachers. The many hurdles of using social media can be addressed at course level so the entrepreneurial efforts of these emerging Florists can bloom and grow into professional and successful businesses…. WELL DONE!

Havant Sixth Form College presented a Web-based system to enhance differentiation in teaching and learning. Used by the Learning Support Department, the system allows academic staff to be informed about each student’s learning needs. Very detailed information is held about the learning ability of each student such as the learning style, working memory, sequencing/processing skills, reading/writing speeds, etc. as well as information about the type of aids/techniques that would help improve learning. The system also contains various reports for the Learning Support Manager so that she can track the administration processes and ensure deadlines are met. The system integrates with the college MIS database and Moodle LMS to provide a subset of data relevant to academic staff…

This screen shows details of the student's Nature of learning difficulty / need along other notes and strategies

This screen shows details of the student’s Nature of learning difficulty / need along other notes and strategies

…This system works rather like Caseworker but is relevant to every student. Built very much around the needs of the College, it certainly impressed the people sitting on our table. Having such a system at UCA would bring great benefits to learning and teaching, meaning we would all be on the same page and no doubt retention figures would improve.

Southampton Solent University showcased their Reading List Project which provides students from foundation level to taught masters with reading lists that link to required readings, fully embedded in their VLE unit pages in the correct referencing style. The software enables the reading list to be linked to the Library catalogue for print materials and ebooks, and hyperlinks to online material such as ejournal articles, digitised chapters, videos and webpages. Lists are easily accessed on and off campus and via mobile devices. The system is very flexible so reading lists can be quickly amended or moved at any time once live. Multiple reading lists can be provided for each unit allowing staff to take different approaches (such as core, general, topic-based and weekly lists). The project, now in its 4th year, is a bespoke open source development integrating Moodle and RefWorks based on the Open University Telstar codebase…

…UCA has some of these elements but more work is needed to unify unit reading and embed this into myUCA. We subscribe to RefWorks but students do not employ it heavily. The work Solent has done gives us plenty to follow up on. Currently, unit reading lists are given within the unit handbook which is a print-based document uploaded to the VLE, having a referenced style hyperlinked reading list embedded within each unit is certainly an aspiration for UCA that’s not too far off from happening.

What technology are students using?

Interesting discussions are happening everywhere around how students are using technologies. It seems students no longer refer to the notion of ‘The Librarian’ but the ‘Lady in the Library’ as the video below shows. Wikipedia is again harangued by academics and students admit to using it despite not being allowed – as it is still considered by many academics to be an unacceptable source of reference.

Also in this JISC funded study – Visitors and Residents: What Motivates Engagement with the Digital Information Environment? Facebook is also mentioned and interestingly, the discussion talks about projects that are set up in FB by tutors and students not engaging as they see it as a personal territory that not even their parents should enter, let alone tutors. They see FB as their social space where they can organise their work, chat to fellow students who are online about specific project work. So for all those academics who set up FB learning spaces – watchout for a cool reception, it looks as if you’ll not be too welcome.

The level of residency in FB is another factor, whereby students like to discuss the nature of the assignment rather than do the assignment – and the night before hand-in is a popular time for them to do this.

Email was another preferred communication tool that students liked to use as they felt it provided better administration as apposed to  other forms of communication. LinkedIn was felt to be a major social and professional network that students identified with in terms ‘being out there’.

Below is another snippet of facts in terms of how students are learning using technology.

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

Reflection & learning

Some of the reflective exercises I could relate to, some not. In fact some went way over my head but that’s academic writing for you – it’s not clear or straight forward – always has a twist, take David Kolb (1984) and his cycle… with words that have different meanings, luckily I could just about relate to:

  • Concrete experiencing
  • Reflective observation
  • Abstract conceptualising
  • Active experimentation

But can far better relate to:

  • Have an experience  (Concrete experiencing)
  • Reflect on the experience – (Reflective observation)
  • Learn from Experience – (Abstract conceptualising)
  • Try out what you have learned – (Active Experimentation)

It’s just a question of using good old plain English – note the emotion here reflecting back on Moon’s PDP working paper.

But there, enough moaning – some of the things did indeed ring true with how I approach and deal with this course work and my work practices. I have to admit there’s far more reading on this course, so methods of learning is rather exhausting, whereas my work practice requires thinking through things or problem solving, finding smarter ways of doing things and not necessary writing down the ideas. This thinking happens as a reflective process – going over a problem in your mind, thinking about various solutions – and then, Bingo I find an answer, often when driving to work.

I think Moon’s point about using different disciplines being suited to different kinds of reflective activity doesn’t go far enough with the range of practices listed. I believe there are limitless ways, in which reflective practice can be applied, with new tools being developed as we speak – take iphone apps as an example.

Many of the students at my University have dyslexia and find the writing process painful, boring and frankly a waste of time and to be honest, many staff feel the same way. They maintain reflective learning is constant throughout the curriculum.

However students love making video journals, or podcasts, or picture journals with words, so perhaps what I’m trying to say is for some students it would indeed be counter productive to force them into making written reflective accounts of their learning… More creative ways are needed or indeed should be encouraged.

I believe there should be more choice so learners can decide which medium they wish to use to reflect on their learning. A picture paints a thousand words – perhaps if the learner were to paint the picture first and choose 10 words (from a bag of 200) to describe how they felt and what they learnt from the process it would be another way to get engagement. The students themselves should also be asked how they could best reflect their learning. Perhaps they could surprise us.