Monthly Archives: July 2015

Engaging educators using open resources and using social media to promote the library

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Victoria Wilkie
IT Support Specialist
University of York

CILIP 2015: connect, debate and innovate

vicky-wilkieMy first post focused on how I was going to record the conference and what the overall themes were. For this post I have chosen to focus on the two key breakout sessions that I felt really ran with those themes and showed what information professionals could achieve when they worked together and engaged with their users.

Not just for Christmas: using online courses to engage educators with open resources Regent’s University London

In December 2014, Regent’s University London offered an open online course, The Twelve Apps of Christmas. The aim of the course was to introduce a diverse range of free applications, over a twelve day period, that would allow staff to use resources that would have potential for use in teaching.

The first thing that struck me about this presentation was the enthusiasm that both presenters, Andy Horton and Chris Rowell had, and continue to have, for this project. They both really wanted to design something that would benefit their staff and in turn their users. They also both came from different teams, Chris as Deputy Learning Technology Manager and Andy as Deputy Library Manager. By working together they were able to utilize each other’s skills and create a course that was tailored to their users and became a huge success.

Chris and Andy looked at the people the course was aimed at, and saw that they were mainly academic staff. These were people with: i) a limited amount of time and ii) would not be able to attend group sessions. They took these two points and looked at how they could develop a course that would suit these requirements. What they came up with only required ten minutes a day and was geared towards staff using their own devices. There would be no point in teaching them how to use an app on a device they may not use. I believe this was the real success behind the course. You need to get to know your users and tailor things to their needs. There is no point in designing an amazing course if people don’t have the time to do it.

Social media was also an important tool that they implemented as part of the course. It provided a space for the participants to discuss the apps on the course, how they used them and suggest other apps that people could use. It also gave Chris and Andy instant access to feedback about the course. This feedback could then be used to improve future courses.

Using social media wasn’t a requirement of the course but it was a key part of helping users feel a sense of community. They had somewhere to go where they could ask questions and share ideas. Even if they did not want to actively participate in discussions users could still view them and take away ideas.

When they initially developed the project they did not think the uptake for the course would be high. However they were wrong and through the combination of factors making the course accessible they actually had over 400 participants from around the world. Each of these participants brought their own views and idea to the course adding to the wealth of knowledge already available. The success also meant that they had to dedicate a lot of time to the project however the long term benefits definitely outweighed any negatives.

I believe the real key to the success of this course was the fact that they made sure they tailored it to their users’ needs. By doing this they maximised the amount of users that were able to take part in the course. The use of social media meant that the positivity surrounding the course could be passed on to others.

By looking at the amount of time tutors had and designing the course so that they could use their own devices they maximised the amount of people wanting to do it. It is all well and good creating an amazing course but if your users don’t have the time or the devices to do it then the work will have been wasted.

The main points I took away from this presentation were:

  • Through collaboration we can achieve great things
  • Work with colleagues in different areas and utilize their skills sets
  • Get to know your users and respond to their needs and circumstances
  • Use social media to get feedback from your users
  • Celebrate successes and share them with the community.

vicky_wilkie2With power comes great responsibility – how librarians can harness the power of social media for the benefit of its users

As I said in my previous post this would be the first conference where I had actively tweeted however it was not the first time I had used social media to engage with users. As a graduate trainee at the University of Northampton one of my duties was to update the Facebook page for the library. If I’m honest I wasn’t really sure what I was doing (it was five years ago) and I didn’t really make a success out of it.

An important point to think about when using social media is who your target audience is and how many people can actually see what you have posted. One of the points from the presentation, given by Leo Appleton and Andy Tattersall, was that it takes skill to run a good Twitter feed. You need to make sure that what you are posting is relevant to the people reading it and that you can actually keep your users engaged.

It is also very important to think about response times. Users can upload feedback instantly but they also want an instant reply. If you can’t do this you need to explain why and show that you are listening to their feedback. Not doing so risks a negative message being passed on to a much larger audience before you have had time to deal with it.

A key question that came up throughout the conference was ‘how do we get feedback from our students without constantly sending them surveys?’ If you over survey users they will not send feedback. Social media is a solution to this as the users come to you with the feedback. You can get instant feedback on new projects you are trying as well as monitoring it for longer term feedback.

Social media can help you communicate with a vast number of people including, future students, employees and investors. It is important to make sure that you know the kinds of messages that you want to send to these people and that you keep this message focused.

The main points I took away from this presentation were:

  • Be prepared to fail but use this failure to educate others
  • Make sure you have open communication with your users and listen to what they are saying
  • Respond in a timely fashion and if you can’t explain why
  • Use social media as a way to get and act on user feedback
  • Celebrate your successes with your users

Summary

The second day of this conference was as brilliant as the first. I got to see how many of the themes could actually be put into practice in the workplace. We can get feedback from our users through social media but we also have to be prepared to fail sometimes. Rather than letting this put us off using these technologies we need to use these failures to our advantage.

Communicate with other sectors and users to get feedback and work this in to future projects. Make sure you take the time to really get to know your users and what they actually have the time and resources to do. We need to embrace the diversity in our sector and use it to our and our users’ advantage.

 

 

Using Twitter at conferences and a motivational presentation

Vicky Wilkie DSC_0007

 

Victoria Wilkie
IT Support Specialist
University of York

 

CILIP 2015: connect, debate and innovate – day one

I’m lucky enough to have experience in two roles which are all about interacting with users on a daily basis, helping them connect to the information they need, and working within a close knit team to support the wider university’s needs. These two roles are as a Library Supervisor at the University of York, and my current secondment position as an IT Support Specialist. On the face of it these jobs might seem to not have much in common, however, in my experience, there are a lot of similarities between the working practices and tasks involved. After all, what librarian these days doesn’t use technology for almost every task they do?

Temple When, six months into my IT role, I was given the opportunity to attend the CILIP conference in Liverpool, I was eager to attend and particularly keen to focus on sessions on collaboration between library and IT services and how they could work to support the wider university community. Having never attended before I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but I was amazed by the variety of backgrounds of the people I met there, the sessions on offer and the broad range of specialisms all making up the information sector. My fears that as an IT Support Specialist I would be in a minority were quickly dispelled.

 

 

Using Twitter to record conference highlights and take part in discussions
As a regular user of Twitter I have been impressed by how easily it allows me to follow topics and discussion points and engage with the information community. While I have used it at previous conferences to follow tweets rather than participate, for this conference I decided to embrace it completely and see if it could be an effective method of capturing the information and my thoughts at the sessions I attended. I decided that instead of taking notes or using a voice recorder to capture events I would instead tweet my own views and actively engage with other people tweeting about similar subjects.

This did mean quite a dramatic change in my note-taking form. I was definitely of the pen and paper camp before this conference and I would take pages of notes most of which would make little sense at a later date. Twitter allowed me to cut out most of the irrelevant parts as the restrictions on characters meant I had to make my points concise. Sometimes because I was busy writing my comments I did miss a few of the speaker’s points, but I quickly picked up on these because I was following others at the conference in the same session and seeing what they tweeted. Twitter also helped to remember these points after the conference ended, as in addition to my own thoughts I also ‘favourited’ other people’s tweets and retweeted any I thought were particularly good.

Being able to instantly see what other people’s thoughts were of the sessions I was in was extremely useful, as it made me feel more involved in the whole conference and allowed me to express my thoughts and feelings on the topics, and get instantly stuck into some lively debates. I really like that Twitter allows me to get an insight into other attendees’ views. There was so much information and so many ideas being bandied around in all the sessions that at times it was easy to miss a really interesting point, but by reading other tweets and seeing what other people were retweeting I was able to examine these points in more detail. I even got an insight into what was happening in the breakout sessions I didn’t get a chance to attend. While Twitter was no replacement for being in the session itself it did give me an interesting insight into the points that others found interesting and relevant, and provided yet more people and topics to engage with and discuss.

Overall, using Twitter to capture my thoughts on the conference felt like a completely different experience to more traditional note taking, and one I found enjoyable. It helped to keep me on point and really allowed me to focus on what I found relevant and interesting. Although there may have been times when I missed some points I feel overall I gained more than I lost. It meant continued and better interactions with others in the community; I was starting conversations and debates that would continue long after the sessions had finished.

Conference themes: connect, debate and innovate
ConferenceThe conference theme was “connect, debate and innovate” and I really felt it delivered on these three aspects. I went away feeling inspired and eager to put the ideas I’d heard about into practice. Several of the speakers focused on topics about collaboration and the power of the community as well as celebrating success and a central message from many of the presentations I attended was that if we work with others we can achieve great things.

I didn’t agree with every point every speaker made, and I do wish that some libraries embraced the similarities they have with IT staff and the brilliant impact that technology can have if they work together more. However, I’m not going to pick flaws in presentations or focus on the negatives as I felt a key message from the conference was the need to focus on the positives within the profession, and that instead of focusing on our own narrow specialisms or points of view, we need to encourage each other and be positive in focusing on the many similarities between information professionals and our shared goal of helping the end user.

From the very first presentation I attended I felt filled with confidence that this was a conference that would focus on collaboration and celebration. R. David Lankes’ keynote ‘An action plan for world domination through librarianship’ was funny, moving and full of optimism. It is hard to express the feelings of the people in the room when he was speaking but he captivated the audience and made everyone look at their roles in different ways.

A strong theme throughout his presentation was collaboration, with other information professionals, with our users and people in other sectors. Rather than looking inwards information professionals should share and celebrate their diversity. Together we are strong and we can and should do great things for our community. This was a theme that would be picked up many of the breakout sessions and I will explore this theme in more depth in my second blog post.

He continued with this upbeat theme by emphasising that what we do matters, we are a power for change and we need to seize that power and use it. The information sector is changing at such a fast pace and sometimes we need to take a step back and celebrate our successes. The services we offer can spark knowledge but they are not knowledge, it is the information professional that helps turn that spark into something more.

At the end of the presentation I left the hall feeling ready to conquer the world. I later tweeted @rdlankes to ask if he would Skype me and give me a motivational speech each day before work. I still haven’t had a tweet back but his inspirational presentation can be heard here.

Summary
This was a brilliant conference with great key messages that I feel are really relevant to the profession today. We are all having to do more with less and by working with colleagues in other areas we can show how important our services are. We also need to be able to embrace new technologies and find ways to get feedback from our users without constantly sending them surveys.  In my next blog post I’ll focus in more detail on two of the sessions that really show how collaboration and gathering our users views can be done simply, but effectively and in a way that embraces the diverse range of talents available in the sector.

CILIP 2016 is on 12-13 July in Brighton.

The European TEL landscape and general conference thoughts

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Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London

EUNIS 2015: Musings and reflections

This is my fourth and final post on the EUNIS Congress 2015 and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment and assessment analytics. The first blog post was on the theme of assessment and feedback, the second blog post covered learning technologies and tools and the third post was around the theme of technology-facilitated pedagogy. In this post I will be sharing my reflections on different aspects of the conference.

The European TEL landscape
I’ll begin by sharing my observations and insights, gathered mainly from discussions with conference colleagues from other countries, on how the UK TEL landscape compares with that in mainland Europe. I’ll start with Germany where stringent data protection laws make it difficult for educational institutions to subscribe to services of international commercial e-learning solution providers. Therefore it was no wonder that a number of presentations from Germany were about development of in-house e-learning tools and solutions or government-funded initiatives for supporting e-learning services. Hence one come across names that rarely appear in TEL-related conversations in the UK: ILIAS and Stud.IP are popular open source VLEs in Germany. In the UK, on the contrary, educational institutions can subscribe to services by international e-learning service providers as long as they comply with EU data protection laws and their data servers are located within the EU. In addition, a number of TEL innovations in UK HE have involved the use of free tools which are based across the pond. Institutions can use these tools as long as students are not obliged to use them and are informed of potential data protection consequences of using the tools (Disclaimer: This is my interpretation of the rules and NOT legal advice). The German HE may be missing out on some great tools for education but at least there is a reduction in risk of data breaches. It also provides them with an opportunity to develop and implement tools and e-learning solutions that meet the specific needs of institutions; international suppliers usually design their solutions keeping in view the needs and requirements in their countries of origin (usually the USA) and may not be flexible enough to be adapted to local needs in other countries.

Whilst plagiarism detection tools are widely used in UK HE, an attendee from a Swiss university told me that there are no proactive checks for plagiarism on student coursework at his institution. As a technical university, he explained, the focus was more on originality and authenticity of data collected than the written text and hence there was limited need for plagiarism checks. This is quite an interesting approach to assessment and feeds into the age-old debate on the purpose of assessments and how to effectively assess learning.

In the UK nearly all universities now have TEL support provision in some shape or form. It was, therefore, rather astonishing to learn from a Croat presenter that e-learning centres at three universities in her country have been closed down due to funding shortages. Although I am not clear about the exact circumstances in which these departments were closed, it perhaps indicates that those at the helm of affairs did not find TEL integral to teaching and learning and hence easy to dispense with. The only e-learning centre at the University of Zagreb is, however, doing a sterling job in not only advancing TEL at their institution but is also providing advice and support to other universities. The centre also won awards for some of their initiatives at past EUNIS conferences.

The current university entrants in many European countries are more likely to be using digital devices for writing and producing text than the traditional pen and paper. In view of this, the Ministry of Education in Norway has initiated a project aiming to digitalise examinations so that students are not required to use pen and paper for their assessments and that the assessment process benefits from affordances offered by technology. The project focus is on establishing an IT architecture description and standards and technology interface for digital assessment. To my knowledge, this is the first project of its kind at this scale in Europe and it will be interesting to look at the project outputs and outcomes. In the UK on the other hand, assessment technologies have been used mainly for formative assessment or for providing feedback on student coursework and there have been very few implementations of digital examinations. In addition, unlike Norway the UK national initiatives on e-assessments, e.g. the JISC EMA project, have focused mainly on the pedagogical and not technological aspects of e-assessments.

Finally, a presentation from Finland cited a rather amusing reason why e-learning systems in Finland are inherently secure from external cyber attacks: the Finnish language. According to the Finnish presenter, the language is so unique with long-lettered, multi-syllable words that it is hard for hackers from other countries, not familiar with the language, to break into systems. As an example, the term used for administrator in the Finnish language is järjestelmänvalvoja!

Conference papers: approaches to research
Without citing specific examples, I would like to offer a general observation regarding approaches to research and methodologies that were adopted in papers presented at the learning and teaching strand of the conference. Research in education has inherently been skewed towards employing qualitative or mixed research methods. However there is an increasing number of research output in education that uses quantitative, rather than qualitative or mixed, data collection methods and many papers presented at this conference were no different. The prevalent approach is to seek students’ views on various aspects of a TEL intervention or tool through a survey and/or analyse its impact on student grades. So although one learns about what students perceive of TEL, one doesn’t get many answers on why students perceive an intervention in the way they do. For instance, if a student has not found a learning object “useful”, “helpful towards understanding of subject” etc., there is limited attempt at ascertaining why they haven’t benefitted from it. I think that educational research would help from employing a broader range of data collection methods to give data some explanatory power. Furthermore, it will be useful if research papers are more explicit about the way data is collected and analysed and any assumptions that have been made in the process.

On travelling to conferences and taking notes
Sometimes travelling for conferences and related events within the UK can take up your entire working day as did my train journey from Surrey to Dundee. Although, with tables and power supply one can work on a laptop/tablet on a train, day-to-day job responsibilities do not consist solely of working on the computer. At the pre-conference workshop I came across a delegate who had travelled from London on a sleeper train service and returned the same day on a similar service to go back to work early next day. I think that this is an excellent idea; you can save on time and accommodation costs and this is something I will keep in mind when making travel plans for far-away UK conferences in the future.

Something else I learnt at this conference was a useful tip on taking notes. Now we all take out our mobile phones to take pictures of slides during presentations. It is often after the presentation that one combines the camera pictures with associated notes. Jessica Gramp from UCL shared a useful way to combine the pictures with notes on the fly. All the phone pictures are automatically uploaded to DropBox which are readily available from the DropBox website on the laptop. You can then copy images from Dropbox and paste them in Word near the relevant notes.

Whilst on the subject of taking notes, most of us have at one point or the other needed to charge batteries of our phones and laptops during marathon conference presentations and sessions. With power access points not readily available in most lecture theatres built before the digital age (though being incorporated in newer buildings), one has to wait for the tea or lunch breaks to get the devices charged. This happened to me at the conference as well and I had to switch from my laptop to my phone to take notes. A search on the internet and recommendations from colleagues have revealed that there are portable mobile and laptop chargers that can be handy in such situations.

In praise of … the conference city and the organisers
EUNIS 2015 was one of the most well-planned and organised conferences I have attended so far. The credit goes to the staff and students of Abertay University who had put two years of careful planning into it. Communication prior to and during the conference was clear and there was an army of friendly and diligent “conference support” team members at the conference making sure presenters and other delegates were well looked after. I also liked the fact that the conference was held in Dundee; I believe that conferences are one small way UK academia can contribute to the local economy of smaller, more economically deprived towns and cities.

The organisers promoted the city and regional culture and heritage very well; civic receptions and networking events were held at Dundee’s flagship McManus gallery and museum and at the RRS Discovery and the conference goodies included a special edition of the city’s famous export, the Beano. As a first time visitor to the city, I was touched by the warm hospitality of its people and charmed by its scenic backdrops. The Guardian has a timely article on Dundee that sings her virtues far better than I could ever have. In essence, Dundee was a city of “Discovery” for me in more than one ways.

 Sights of Dundee (clockwise from top) 1. Tay Road Bridge, one of the longest road bridges in Europe 2. One of the buildings of Abertay University, the conference hosts 3. Statue of British comic character Desperate Dan in the Dundee town centre with the Beano character Minnie the Minx in the background 4. RSS Discovery, the ship built from wood in Dundee in 1901 for scientific expeditions in the Antarctic 5. A typewriter kept in the RSS Discovery 6. A camera kept in the RSS Discovery 7. The McManus Galleries and Museum building, displaying Dundee’s history and a collection of fine and decorative art 8. Cover of the special conference edition of The Beano.


Sights of Dundee (clockwise from top) 1. Tay Road Bridge, one of the longest road bridges in Europe 2. One of the buildings of Abertay University, the conference hosts 3. Statue of British comic character Desperate Dan in the Dundee town centre with the Beano character Minnie the Minx in the background 4. RSS Discovery, the ship built from wood in Dundee in 1901 for scientific expeditions in the Antarctic 5. A typewriter kept in the RSS Discovery 6. A camera kept in the RSS Discovery 7. The McManus Galleries and Museum building, displaying Dundee’s history and a collection of fine and decorative art 8. Cover of the special conference edition of The Beano.

If you have got any questions or require further information on anything mentioned in the blogs then please get in touch through e-mail at s dot usman at kingston dot ac dot uk

Conference programme and abstracts are available here. The EUNIS Congress 2016 will be held at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece from 6-10 June 2016.

MOOCs, flipped classrooms and game-based learning

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Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London

EUNIS 2015: Technology-facilitated pedagogy

This is the third in a series of blog posts on the EUNIS Congress 2015 and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment and assessment analytics. The first blog post was on the theme of assessment and feedback and second blog post covered learning technologies and tools. This post covers technology-facilitated pedagogy.

MOOCs
MOOCs have become a permanent fixture in education-related conferences and Eunis 2015 was no different with two presentations and several mentions in keynotes and discussions on the subject.

Yves Epelboin from Pierre and Marie Curie University in France argued in his presentation that MOOCs are transforming the pedagogical landscape. Salient points and arguments made in his presentation are as follows:

  • Whereas the growth of MOOCs has receded in the US, there is a surge in development of new MOOCs in Europe, mainly motivated by the desire to enhance institutional reputation and to contribute to change in pedagogy.
  • MOOCs are not a technology but a means to acquire knowledge.
  • A key challenge is how to design MOOCs that could cater to the needs of students from diverse backgrounds. This is also termed a reason for low MOOC completion rates.
  • All current VLEs have been designed to favour a certain pedagogy. There is currently no VLE that can cater to the divergent pedagogies and needs including those for MOOCs. Therefore there is a need for standardised interfaces (e.g. LTI compatible) that allow course designers to build a “bouquet” by assembling services offered by different platforms in order to deliver desired pedagogy. The Spanish MOOC platform MiriadaX is already working on this approach.
  • Designing future online courses, which are student-centred and adapt to individual needs of students, will not be an individual effort by an academic but will require teamwork involving software engineers, instructional designers and subject matter experts.
  • MOOCs have speeded the interest in and development of learning analytics solutions. Automatic alerts by data analytics systems on disengaged students will play a key factor in increasing the success rates in future MOOCs and online courses.

Yves’ point about current VLEs not being flexible enough to accommodate various pedagogies is pertinent and resonates with my own observations from VLE/learning technology reviews. However, in order to enable academics/course designers to choose desired services offered by different platforms, learning providers will not only have to conform to standards but will also need to review their business and licensing models. In addition to Yves’ suggestion of the development of effective learning analytics systems, there is also a need to develop effective assessment methods for MOOCs that go beyond objective-type questions or computer codes. Although objective type questions may be suitable for testing lower-order thinking skills in the Blooms taxonomy such as knowledge and comprehension, they may not be suitable for assessing higher-order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

Full conference paper is available here.

Juan Antonio Martínez and Joaquim Campuzano from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain presented their analysis on the costs of MOOCs and its comparison with the costs incurred in traditional teaching. The authors have identified the direct costs of creating MOOCs in Spain to be between €35k-€75k for an 8-week MOOC, depending on the complexity of online resources. They envisaged that 70% of the cost of a MOOC is incurred in preparation and 30% or even less to run the course. Compared to MOOCs, the authors’ analysis estimated lower costs for preparing traditional courses, though it was more expensive than MOOCs to teach a traditional course and to repeat it in subsequent years. Whereas repeating a traditional course the second time will not lower the costs, the cost of MOOCs would come down in subsequent years.

Cost_MOOCS

The project conclusions

In view of the above, the authors propose that MOOCs can be sustainable if they are not created from scratch but rather developed to supplement existing modules/courses where they are used to replace some of the face-to-face teaching. Therefore the cost of creating a MOOC will be accommodated in the preparation costs of a traditional course. The same materials could then be offered to the wider world as a MOOC.

To implement this, the authors revised the teaching model of a module by replacing an hour long lecture with MOOC resources. This saved an extra hour of teaching each week. However the course lecturers decided to use the extra hour to offer additional support/tutorials to students by splitting the cohort into smaller groups. Student evaluations showed that the majority of respondents indicated a preference for the ‘MOOC-version’ of the course over the traditional course. The authors claim that this model not only helps in reducing the costs of MOOCs but also improves quality of teaching e.g. by providing extra time for supporting students.

Full conference paper is available here.

Online ICT courses for Polish secondary schools
Andrzej Zylawski from Warsaw School of Computer Science (WSCS) in Poland made an award-winning presentation (best e-learning paper) about an online IT school for secondary schools in Poland. Launched in 2012 by WSCS, the aim of the programme was to develop and enhance the ICT competencies and knowledge of computer science of secondary school students in Poland and to broaden the appeal of the discipline. The IT school resembles a regional network of schools similar to a multi-campus university with each secondary school represented by its teachers (called programme coordinators) and students. The online school offers teachers and students courses on a wide range of topics within the computer science discipline. The content is delivered via recorded video lectures, e-scripts, presentations, games and tests. Visits to IT firms are also arranged for students. Lecturers can monitor student activities and progress and use this information to personalise students’ learning. Students are also able to plan their learning and choose the topics they wish to study according to their personal interests and get immediate feedback on their tests. Competitions like most engaged school and best IT school of the year have been introduced to motivate and engage students. Students are also provided certificates at the end of a course.

The programme has been a roaring success with 534 registered schools, over 65,000 registered users and 18 million page views. Feedback by teachers and students has been very positive; almost all the teachers on the programme have found the content provided by the online IT school either useful or very useful with 50% of teachers using the online resources in every lesson. 81% of the teachers and 41% of the students have reported that the online school has helped in raising students’ ICT competencies to a ‘high or very high extent’.

The key to the programme’s success has been the involvement of school teachers in all stages of the programme design and delivery. All teachers are surveyed by the IT school at the start of the course in order to elicit their and their students’ needs for supporting computer science education. The resources are prepared accordingly with teachers involved in preparation of learning resources, together with university academics and scientists. Evaluations are carried out with both staff and students with the findings used to improve the programme.

I have found this project an excellent example of a university outreach programme as well as working in partnership with the stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement is key to success of any project and this programme has ensured this by listening to the varied needs of teachers and then working together with them in developing the course resources. Another thing I have liked about the courses is the flexible curriculum leading to personalised learning; rather than a having fixed curriculum for all, students are provided with the flexibility to choose topics that meet their interests and needs.

Full conference paper is available here.

Flipped classroom
Jaime Busquets and Carlos Turró from ASIC-Universitat Politécnica de València presented preliminary results from a flipped classroom experiment carried out in the faculties of Computer Science and Business. For those who aren’t familiar, flipped teaching involves a lecture being replaced by a self-study resource that students go through in their own time. The lecture time is used for interactive sessions, discussions and practice exercises based on the content of the self-study resource. The researchers managed to have a control and an experimental group; one group of students received flipped instruction whereas the other group had traditional classroom lectures (I’ll have a hard time getting a project with control and experimental groups approved through my institutional ethics committee).

Student results at the end of the term showed that those with a good academic record in the flipped teaching group had better grades than their counterparts in the control group. However students with not a good academic record in the flipped teaching group performed worse than their counterparts in the traditional lecture group. This corroborates with research on flipped teaching and educational technology where the more academically-able students have generally benefitted more from educational technology-based interventions than those less able. Another issue with flipped approach to teaching that academics at my institution have come across is that some students come to lectures without going through the self-study resources. Thus there is a need to incentivise students to access the resources. An approach I have found useful is to release the content adaptively through the VLE: students do not have access to subsequent week’s resources unless they complete a quiz associated with the previous lecture’s content.

Game-based learning
With Dundee being one of the global hubs in digital games, the conference would have seemed lacking without having educational games on the conference agenda. Dr Phebe Mann (University of East London) and Dr David Wong’s (University College London) paper and presentation fitted the bill in which they talked about development of Serious EdGames (SEdG). SEdG is a game developed for built environment professionals with the aim to develop students’ understanding of topics that include planning law, planning applications and planning controls. The learners use an avatar to explore and survey a plot of virtual land with the goal of deciding alignment of a trunk road. Developed using Construct 2, the game also presented students with a series of questions to respond to. These are presented as a basketball game with a correct answer resulting in a ball through the basket and an incorrect answer resulting in a miss.

 Screenshot of the SEdG game. Image source: Conference paper (http://bit.ly/1FYhu14)


Screenshot of the SEdG game. Image source: Conference paper (http://bit.ly/1FYhu14)

Student responses to the project evaluation were mixed; 47% of the respondents agreed that they enjoyed learning through SEdG more than they did through traditional methods, whereas 21% disagreed. Other evaluation findings included 29% learners stating that the game facilitated more focused learning compared to books as opposed to 24% who didn’t. 29% of respondents said that the game helped them retain information as opposed to 24% who didn’t. It would have been interesting to find out the reasons why some of the respondents didn’t respond in a good light.

Full conference paper is available here.

Using technology to develop students’ employability skills
Employers are increasingly turning to social media for recruitment purposes. It is therefore important that university graduates have the skills to effectively articulate their capabilities and skills and promote themselves through online media. In view of the above, Andrea Cameron, Carol Maxwell and James Cobley from Abertay University decided to embark on a pilot project which aimed to develop students’ skills of using social networking platforms for professional and employment purposes. To this end, second year Sports students were asked to prepare and submit a webfolio that showcased their skills, strengths and experiences to prospective employers. Students were also asked to reflect upon achievements and set themselves goals and an action plan for personal development. The research team asked students to write their webfolios in the style of Linkedin profiles because it is the most popular social media network used by recruiters with 7.9 million users in the UK. Students were provided feedback by lecturers on the relevance of their content, communication skills and ‘netiquette’ and the ability to self-promote in a professional context. Student feedback was “very positive” as the exercise helped them reflect on their skills, become aware of their development needs and obtain know-how of effectively promoting themselves to prospective employers.

Presentation slide showing student feedback on the project
Presentation slide showing student feedback on the project

 With marketisation of higher education students want greater ‘value-for-money’ from their courses, with the ultimate goal of getting a job related to their degree. Although employability is high on UK universities’ agenda, in my own experience I have found that the development of students’ employability-related skills is often considered the domain of the institution’s careers and employability service, which may or may not be known to or availed by students. In this context, I think that this is a great project that has employability skills embedded in the curriculum, in turn benefitting the students, and is something I will be promoting at my institution. The project used Pebblepad e-portfolio tool for students to develop their webfolios. Those not subscribing to Pebblepad can use blogging platforms like WordPress and web-page creation tools like Google Sites for this purpose.

Full conference paper is available here.

Conference programme and abstracts are available here. The EUNIS Congress 2016 will be held at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece from 6-10 June 2016.