The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) holds an annual conference each year. This year was the 22nd annual conference that took place on 8-10 September 2015 at the University of Manchester. This year’s theme was “Shaping the Future of Learning Together” which focused upon the following areas:
- Harnessing the power of the crowd – collaboration and connectivist learning;
- Social media in learning and teaching;
- Open educational practice;
- Learners as agents of change;
- Participatory approaches to the development of learning technologies.
The conference was host to almost 500 delegates from around the world and ran 185 sessions over three days (ALT, 2015). Simon Starr and I attended the conference and presented a session called “The Chamber of Fear: A Role Playing Approach to the Recruitment and Selection of Learning Technologists”, you can read my reflections on how our session went on my personal blog.
Rather than report verbatim on the 33 sessions that I had attended, what I would like to do is to offer some of my reflections on some of those sessions that resonated with me.
#1: A new model to describe e-portfolios
In John Couperthwaite’s session, “Nailing jelly to the wall: defining and describing eportfolio”, he discusses the thorny issue that surrounds the “conversational confusion about e-portfolios”, much of it stems from how an e-portfolio is perceived. Strivens (2015) suggests that there are three types of e-portfolio:
- Type A (Represent One’s Self)
- Type B (Presentation of Evidence), and
- Type C (Demonstrate Achievement)
This largely draws upon the early work of Barrett (2004). John’s colleague, Shane Sutherland of PebblePad, offers a different solution, the “e-Portfolio Format Model”, which “suggests that an e-portfolio is the product of the interplay between the audience, the message being conveyed, and the content it presents” (Sutherland, 2015). In this model, the e-portfolio can be conceived as either “Me-Portfolios” or “Task-Portfolios”, of which there are a number of related purposes:
- Me-Portfolios (tends to focus on the author)
- Task-Portfolios (tends to focus on an activity)
Whilst this might be a useful step in helping people to conceptualise what an e-portfolio is, there is still, I think, a lot of work need to be done in demonstrating the “value” of an e-portfolio.
#2: An approach to developing digital capabilities for staff
Liz Bennett & Sue Folley, from the University of Huddersfield, reported in their session, “A positive and participatory approach to developing digital capabilities”, about a one year strategic project to investigate and develop the digital literacies of academic staff at their university. A particular focus of the project was to try and achieve high levels of confidence and skill for those academics who might be classified as the ‘late adopters’, those who are not usually the innovators or early adopters of technology (Rogers, 1983). Much has been made of the notion of “digital capabilities” by JISC, the HEA and the QAA. The University of Huddersfield had embedded digital literacy for staff in their current Learning & Teaching strategy.
The team used a “Trojan horse” approach to staff digital literacy by embedding it within a 2.5 hour Curriculum Design workshop in a bid to change academics belief systems around the value of learning technology. Adopting an appreciative enquiry approach and using the JISC ViewPoints cards developed by the University of Ulster, the team got the academic staff to think about their curriculum; how it fitted within institutional agendas; look at issues identified by the academic team; involve cross-functional teams (Learning Technologists and Librarians); look at how technology could be meaningfully incorporated within their redesign; and identify support for it.
This is a very interesting and powerful way to develop staff digital literacy skills through the intervention of a curriculum design workshop. As was noted by the presenters, a 2.5 hour workshop is not sufficient. Somewhere down the line, institutions need to create some valuable space and time so that academic staff are able to engage with far-reaching agendas in a friendly, but critical, environment.
#3: The Student Dashboard
Ann Liggett and Ed Foster, from Nottingham Trent University, ran a short 15 minute presentation called “The Student Dashboard: An Innovative Collaboration in Learning Analytics” (a variation of their presentation can be found here). Their presentation related to a pilot project, involving 500 students and over 40 tutors, whereby the institution wanted to use an assortment of student support systems more effectively to support the student journey. This ‘dashboard’ provided views for both students and staff and drew data from a variety of sources such as:
- Student biographical information (e.g. enrolment status)
- Evidence of student engagement, which include:
- door swipes (where appropriate)
- Library book loans
- VLE usage
- dropbox submissions
Future enhancements to the ‘dashboard’ will feature student attendance and e-resource usage. Furthermore, the ‘dashboard’ provides a mechanism that compares individual student profiles with that of their cohort and generates a simple ranking, from high to low. This has, apparently, prompted 27% (135) of the students to become more engaged with their studies.
In addition, tutor alerts are automatically generated for attention of personal tutors, if a student has no engagement at all for a fortnight or fails an assignment. However, the presenters were not entirely sure if the tutors were using the ‘dashboard’ in a consistent way. Unsurprisingly, it was noted that there were ethical issues that needed to be addressed in dealing with such ‘big data’.
Learning Analytics, as it is called, has been quite prevalent in the US for some time and is beginning to make inroads into the HE sector from the likes of JISC and the HEA. Potentially, this can give tutors an almost 360o perspective of their students, drawing upon a vast array of data that could help tutors to better support their students, thus helping towards dealing with student retention and attrition.
ALT. (2015). Press release: Annual Conference 2015. We have the power to shape the future of learning – together. Oxford, England: Association for Learning Technology (ALT). Available at: https://www.alt.ac.uk/news/media_releases/press-release-annual-conference-2015-we-have-power-shape-future-learning [Accessed 22.9.2015].
Barrett, H. (2004). “Selecting ePortfolio Software”. ePortfolios for Learning blog, 01.06.2004. Available from: http://electronicportfolios.org/blog/2004/06/selecting-eportfolio-software.html [Assessed 22.9.2015].
Rogers, E.M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovation. 3rd Edition. London, England: Free Press.
Strivens, J. (2015). “A Typology of ePortfolios”. RAPPORT: The International Journal for Recording Achievement, Planning and Portfolios, 1(1), pp. 3-5. Available at: http://joom.ag/I58p [Accessed 22.9.2015].
Sutherland, S. (2015). “Reflections of the Typology”. RAPPORT: The International Journal for Recording Achievement, Planning and Portfolios, 1(1), pp. 6-10. Available at: http://joom.ag/I58p [Accessed 22.9.2015].