Mobile Technology – Changing the Learning Landscape – a HEA sponsored conference by Dr Natasha Barrett & Dr Samantha Weston

On Thursday 18th April, the HEA hosted a conference in Bristol, showcasing some innovative uses of old technologies as well as demonstrating the cutting edge of new tech used in the delivery of teaching materials to undergraduates in medicine and dentistry. We attended in the hope that some of these ideas might be adaptable for teaching the increasingly tech-savvy undergraduates of UoR’s School of Biological Sciences and School of Pharmacy. The focus of this workshop was the use of mobile devices, social media and open practice in medicine and dentistry but was applicable to many disciplines.  This was an intense day, packed full of interesting sessions including:

  • Twitter for forming networks
  • Blogs to support reflection
  • Digital curation
  • Augmented reality
  • Apps for mobile devices e.g.  Reflection app, Learning Suite app (MCQs), Clinical assessment app (tutor feedback sent straight to your eportfolio), Dr Companion app (5-6 searchable textbooks).

Natasha’s thoughts – Digital curation was new to me.  It is a bit like creating a reading list of reliable websites.  You generate an open, web-based repository of reliable websites on a topic that you think would be useful for your students and you can add comments.  One such digital curation tool is Scoop.it!  Dr Duncan Cole (Cardiff Uni) demonstrated his Scoop.it! site for Clinical Biochemistry ( http://www.scoop.it/t/clinical-biochemistry ).  Looking a bit like a Facebook timeline, each topic is introduced with some commentary followed by links to a few good free-access websites or case reports / papers with commentary.  This approach helps students to navigate the often overwhelming quantity of websites, to find the reliable good quality sites.  It also can be used to highlight both good and bad on-line sources, helping students to develop critical analysis skills.  Posts to Scoop.it! can be seen by anyone and much like Facebook posts can be liked, commented on or shared, encouraging discussion amongst students and (depending on your followers) potentially with experts in the field.  Still in its infancy for use in education, I think that digital curation has potential use in both teaching and the research lab and is worth looking into.

Sam’s thoughts – Ellayne Fowler, a Teaching Fellow from the School of Medicine, University of Bristol introduced the concept of the use of blogs to support reflection. In the same way that many healthcare professional undergrads are assessed, she outlined how medic undergrads had to produce a 4000 word reflective piece of work for summative assessment at the end of the year. Students, as is often the case, didn’t engage in the piece, found it “clunky” to write, had little insight into the use of such assessment and generally produced poor quality work, in a rush, scored low and continued to resent future reflective work.

After some time considering the way her students interacted on a number of social media websites, Ellayne came up with the idea of using a blog tool, embedded within Blackboard to allow students to produce a reflective piece of work over the whole academic year, broken down into four “bite-size” pieces, but within a “Reflective Community of Practice”. It was found that student’s opinions of reflection changed significantly, as the use of informal writing and language style removed an often insurmountable barrier – that of using academic writing styles. Students also didn’t have the opportunity to write draft after draft for the piece, the work was much more a stream of consciousness and a train of thought that was discussed amongst the peer group, and allowed students the opportunity to truly reflect on their experiences and even change their opinions, something that had never been seen in the previous format of reflective writing!

The blogs were directed to some extent by tutors, and many academics found the experience to be a useful learning opportunity for themselves too. The ability to “try something new” using technology they hadn’t previously thought of, and also to keep on top of what had previously been a very laborious piece of marking. The blogs were compulsory in nature, students had to contribute over the year, but this style allowed for students to “lurk”, “commentate” or “not participate” until they absolutely had to. I was delighted to hear that the approach particularly appealed to overseas students, who often found the process of reflection completely alien, as they had the opportunity to read and reflect on others experiences before adding their own thoughts once they had time to formulate their ideas and feelings and developed the confidence to put those thoughts down into words. It was also interesting to find that reflective groups that met in “real life” before meeting virtually outperformed “virtual-only” groups, a process often reflected on social media sites, but one of the most telling observations, was the movement from using the first person in descriptions of experiences, to the use of “we” and “us” – the development of a true on-line community of reflection.

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