Using technology to find low-tech solutions by Mary Morrissey

Like a lot of people, I do not consider myself particularly savvy about technology: when I find that something is useful to me, I learn how to use it. That said, I think we can use learning technologies to come up with ‘low tech’ solutions to our teaching needs. Among the advantage is efficiency in terms of time and money: we already have the kit, and we know how to use it. I offer the following as an example.

It is often difficult to make sure that students are aware of detailed regulations that affect their work but which cannot be summarised or displayed easily. Conventions for writing and referencing are a good example in our department.  Last summer, Pat Ferguson (our Royal Literary Fund fellow whose role in the department is to help student improve their writing skills) observed that we had excellent advice on essay writing, but it was in our large Student Handbook, distributed at the start of the first year. Pat suggested that we make this information available separately.

I thought this was a great idea. I noticed there was other information in the handbook that students need through their degree too: there was information about our marking criteria; there were some very helpful examples that showed the difference between plagiarism and poor academic practice. I took these sections, and I created three separate documents with titles that I hoped would be self-explanatory: ‘Style Guide for English Literature students’; ‘Understanding Feedback – Marking Criteria’; and ‘Plagiarism’.

I uploaded all three documents to Blackboard’s ‘Fileshare’ area for the department, and I created links from the Blackboard courses for all our Part 1 and Part 2 modules. (I am working on the Part 3 modules, but there are over 50 of those!) I also posted the documents in our central ‘Information for English Literature Students’ Blackboard organisation, on which all staff, undergraduates and postgraduate students are enrolled. By keeping the documents in ‘Fileshare’ I can update them every year, to include new ‘standard paragraphs’ for example. I overwrite the old file with the newer version, and all the daughter versions linked to it update automatically.

This isn’t rocket science, but I think it has helped us make useful information more readily available. Having in posted in most of our Blackboard courses makes it more visible; having three small documents (in pdf format) makes them easier to download and print.

Where would I go from here? Students have told me that they like a website with exercises that help with grammar and writing skills that we recommended. It’s based in the University of Bristol:  http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/exercises/grammar/grammar_tutorial/index.htm

I would like to create an interactive resource like this, and I know it can be done. The University of Aberdeen took the paper-based ‘Guide to Written Work’ (on which we all relied when I worked there!) and turned it into an internet-based resource with exercises: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/writing/

If anyone knows any low-tech ways that I could do something similar, please let me know!

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