Last week, we invited our colleagues here at Reading for a lunchtime Show & TEL on ‘Progress with Digitally Ready’ – a chance to find out more about some of our digital initiatives on the ground, as well as the developments that are gathering momentum on a more strategic, institutional level.
As a university, we are considering where we want to be digitally, and how internal and external developments, and institutional and personal development complement and drive each other forward.
Vicki Holmes, Acting Director of the Centre for the Development of Teaching & Learning, gave a brief overview of the newly-established TEL Strategy Group led by Pro-Vice Chancellor Gavin Brooks. Consolidation of existing technologies and parallel investment in infrastructure development and staff training have been identified as immediate priorities to provide a solid basis for our ambitious plans to further develop technology-enhanced learning at Reading.
‘There is a huge amount of TEL activity happening across the institution but it has never been a top-level institutional priority’, Vicki explained. ‘The idea that this group has been created is recognition of all the good work that people have been doing with TEL. Now is the time to make this more strategic. We need to look at the bigger picture for where the institution is going.’
A quick show of hands revealed most delegates had not heard of the TEL Strategy Group before, although last month’s announcement of our MOOCs agreement with Futurelearn was very much on everyone’s lips.
The first of our project partners to present was undergraduate student Sam Holton who has been working with academic staff in the School of Biological Sciences to develop the Existing and Emerging Biotechnologies (EEB) Framework – initially as a placement student and now funded by Digitally Ready. ‘My project involves breaking down complex lectures and finding a way to deliver the module online’, Sam explained. Sam has been using technologies such as Adobe Premiere Elements, Camtasia and Articulate to produce and deliver material. He has been publicising his project on the Bioscience Skills blog (as well as here at Digitally Ready) and is preparing to publish his work in an academic journal for the first time. As a result of his work, Sam has secured a placement as a web assistant later in the year.
Next up were Kate Allen (Department of Art) and Nic Hollinworth (School of Systems Engineering) who have been introducing art students at Reading to the potential of digitally-enhanced sculptures and installation through a series of workshops funded by Digitally Ready. Technology plays a major role in contemporary installation, but art students may not have easy access to the kinds of technologies that can add a sensory dimension to their work (such as light, sound, and smell) and learning curves can be steep. ‘We show them a little taste of it and we give them the ideas and the kit’. Take a look at Introduction to Interactive Sculpture, the project blog where students are sharing their weird and wonderful ideas and inventions – such as a glove for cyclists which flashes when you put your arm out to turn, responding to the wearer’s movements.
My close colleague Guy Pursey provided an overview of the extensive online resources that have recently been made available to staff and students on our Blackboard VLE. Staff at Reading can access these resources via the E-Learning Support tab on Blackboard. ‘Deep linking’, an extension to the standard tools available in Blackboard developed by Guy allows us to provide links to specific help pages, to be able to direct staff more effectively. There is a student orientation course too, which students can access from a Help tab visible at all times while logged in to Blackboard.
Clare McCullagh from the Centre for Staff Training and Development gave some insight into the thinking behind the redesign of our Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP), the development programme here at Reading which helps prepare new lecturers and support staff for their roles within the university. Funding from Digitally Ready is allowing the developers to buy in support in content building, and, more importantly, is paying for consultancy from a professional instructional designer. ‘It’s given us the luxury to carve out that really important planning and design time’.
Finally, we heard from Clare Furneaux (English Language and Applied Linguistics), a last-minute substitute for Gerry Leonidas (Typography & Graphic Communication). Clare has been researching our students’ attitudes to and uses of technology – vital research which will help us build up a better pictures of students’ needs and expectations and put us in a better position to support and anticipate those needs and expectations in the future. But survey fatigue, language and cultural barriers have proven an issue – surveys and interviews may not be the most effective way to engage our students in discussions about their use of technology. An early finding is that technology can be a huge distraction to students. Clare will have further results to share later in the year.
After the presentations, I had planned to split delegates into small groups, each led by one of our project partners, but was staggered by a fantastic turnout – there was a last-minute flurry of bookings on the day which completely exceeded our expectations, and quite possibly, Health & Safety regulations for maximum room capacity.
We had a plenary discussion instead, which, to me, highlighted two issues: firstly, the need for help staff develop skills for communication in a digital age, across different channels; and secondly, the need to actively engage students in strategic discussions and policy-making relating to digital learning.
The session ended with a reminder of our upcoming events:
- ‘Inclusive practices in teaching, learning and assessment’, 12 March 2013
- ‘Digital literacies and skills for 21st-century learning’. Presentation by Steve Wheeler (Plymouth University), 30 April 2013
- ‘The Digital Department’. Presentation by Clive Young and Stefanie Anyadi (University College of London), 13 May 2013