As Digital Education Facilitator/Senior Teaching Associate, I take into account an understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies by:
- Sourcing, recommending and selecting appropriate technologies to design and build online learning experiences for specific academic programmes;
- Advising and collaborating with lectures to help them identify different and new ways of learning and teaching by working with digital learning technologies appropriate to their needs and demands
- Fostering an understanding of technology-enhanced learning and teaching tools that the institution supports and uses, and those that can work alongside officially supported tools.
- repurposing Moodle from being a repository to being an effective learning and teaching tool with structured and interactive content
- using a shareable/open sandpit to showcase the possibilities of Moodle
- using a personal response system to scale up learning, while enhancing learning and teaching through providing opportunities for personal input and group interaction
- using collaborative tools (e.g. G Suite & Google Apps for Education; Office 365; Box and so on) to get people to work together within a shared space, and to foster collaborative learning and teaching opportunities among others)
Virtual learning environments: Moodle
From my understanding, although virtual learning environments (VLEs) were not originally designed to become mere repositories of content, in many cases, even in 2018, this is still the case: a course or module on Moodle can still consist of a static list of files that offer little engagement and that require users to first download the file(s) in question before any further actions can be taken. In each teaching post I have held, I have seen Moodle courses that solely acted as repositories and as a place to submit assignments, and little else.
However, I understand that a Moodle course acting as a repository is neither attractive nor effective in terms of learning and teaching. In addition, I also understand that ‘Moodle as repository’ does not allow users to achieve the benefit of using Moodle and in fact largely constrains users to quite a myopic view of what Moodle is for, and thus, it becomes an undesirable learning and teaching space. To this end, when I prepare to deliver a blended and/or online course or module OR help others to achieve these goals, I believe it is important to look over how and what content will be delivered and what content is currently present within a Moodle course. I have found that this analysis can help administrators, learning technologies and teaching staff to better understand how to repurpose and (re)use content within a virtual learning environment (VLE), such as Moodle, and how this repurposing can transform a course within Moodle into a more effective learning and teaching tool that can impart significant benefits to administrators, learners and teachers alike. In addition, by using Qualtrics, I designed an online learning survey for users (in this case students) in order to help fine-tune modules on a course. So, after each EMBA module has run, the EMBA admin staff send out the survey that I have designed in order to obtain feedback from students. Through this feedback, my team and I make adjustments to Moodle courses as appropriate. Lecturers and admin staff also give feedback through less formal channels such as conversations, chats and e-mail exchanges.
To this end, within the last few years, I have developed and worked on Moodle courses both independently and collaboratively with teaching staff that have covered large pre-sessional English language programmes (2014-15), and more recently, Executive MBA programmes (2017 to present) and undergraduate-level Management programmes (2017 to present). Within each of my roles, the overall effect of raising staff awareness of how Moodle can be used effectively within its constraints has allowed users to both see, understand and reap the benefits of using Moodle as an online learning space that offers structure and engaging, interactive content. In addition, I have fostered and furthered awareness and understanding of how a platform such as Moodle can be used to engage learners and to scale up learning by providing relevant training to both administrators, learners and teachers alike.
Response systems: Mentimeter
Another example comes from using student response systems. From my own teaching practice of delivering teaching to large groups of up to 70 students, I realized that I needed to source a way to engage learners at a more individual level than a lecture-style session would normally afford.
In this case, I turned to the personal response system called Mentimeter. Although I had previously used Socrative, I was aware of certain limitations at the time (50 users) that prevented me from considering this as a viable option for scaling up learning and teaching. In addition, at that time, I understood that, as there was no intuitionally-supported system such as Poll Everywhere, I decided to trial Mentimeter.
Through trialling and using this particular solution, I realized that the app had the potential to increase learner engagement and give nearly all students a ‘voice’ in an otherwise large lecture theatre. Students did not need to download any software and only had to use either their mobile phone or their laptop to respond; all students had one or the other during all teaching sessions, and so I decided to harness the technology they brought with them for learning and teaching purposes.
I found that the variety of questions that Mentimeter offers allowed the group to engage with their peers on a slightly deeper level once they were all able to see the responses to questions either set by the tutor (myself) or questions set by their peers to the entire group. I then shared my teaching experiences with colleagues and staff through a staff development program that I was in charge of organizing and running.
One final example relates to the use of a range of collaborative tools for both fostering learning and teaching collaboratively and getting people to work together within a shared space. Although I currently regularly use Office 365 – especially OneNote and Sway for creating collaborative spaces, and Box for creating a shared project space, I will focus this reflection upon the basis for my usage and advocacy of collaborative tools.
My initial and perhaps most successful experiences with collaborative tools are from using Google Docs for the purposes of learning and teaching. One day in the autumn of 2013 while I was working at the University of St Andrews, I decided to change a very tedious, boring approach to teaching within a class that worked primarily from a book on vocabulary. I had no control over the course at the time, and the book that was chosen was primarily meant for self-study. The text in question was far better suited for homework more than any kind of classroom-bases activity.
To solve this problem, I had a few ideas. In essence, I had flipped the classroom. I had the students study the materials outside the classroom so that they could come into the classroom and use the language they were learning in a more meaningful way by actually using it within groups in a shared Google Doc. I was present in the classroom but observing and dipping in remotely from a laptop; I watched as students manipulated the language and I would comment upon their language and use the chat feature to quickly answer questions they had; I was able to observe and assist with multiple students’ development at once during this process while getting the students to work in groups, support each other while I observed their interactions.
As a result of my experience outline above, and at the encouragement of a member of the sadly now defunct RSC Jisc Scotland, I submitted a case study of my account to Jisc Scotland and later won an award that beat out a much larger team’s effort at the University of Strathclyde, much to my delight and surprise.
The fact that my case study had won caught me by surprise as I had found on Twitter. I later went on to share and present the benefits of using Google Docs as a collaborative tool for learning and teaching at various events. The experiences surrounding this particular collaborative tool deepened my desire to (re)create collaborative learning and teaching experiences at each subsequent post that I have held since working at St Andrews.
The ‘win’ that I experienced also helped me to become an advocate and a digital champion for teachers/lecturers who wish to experiment and might fear the risks involved. Personally, I have learned that the risks we take in the classroom are worth the potential pay-offs. I firmly believe it is far better to attempt experimentation and innovation in the classroom as a positive, constructive and at times proactive response to the content that is to be delivered to learners as this experimentation can allow educators to reach out and engage students more effectively in areas where the content alone might ‘fall flat’ and/or not inspire engagement from within the learners.