Thursday, 26 February 2009

Innovations week at the University of Bath

I have been invited to a few universities to present at their one or two day annual T&l conferences - and I am always impressed at the enthusiasm for the event and also the effort required to plan and manage such an event. The University of Bath seem a little discontent with one / two days events. They are now in the middle of an Innovations Week – wow. A really ambitious plan to put on a week of activities related to teaching and learning – or more specifically Feedback to Students and Engagement with Students . One of the days was dedicated to showcasing / brokering relations with the HEA Subject Centres and the CETL’s. We were invited as the Blended Learning Unit (BLU) – my day job is the BLU Deputy Director.

I have a few contacts in Bath and so took the opportunity to take BLU to the event and also catch up with some of my Bath contacts.

I had mixed views about how many people might turn up and how many Subject Centres and CETL’s the University would get. The event far exceeded my expectations.

I addition to showing some BLU activity I took the opportunity to plan a workshop - Clearly I remained in eye contact with the BLU space / poster. Hence managed to support Bath and also get some work done.

Really great job Bath and the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Office for coordinating the week - I took the idea of a week long event back to Hertfordshire and it will be just great if we could mimic some of the energy created at Bath.

Full Programme

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

First Meeting of the Steering Group

Last Thursday we had our first meeting of the steering group, we had an excellent turnout. It was good to see Malcolm Ryan again - our critical friend from JISC and fellow VW owner and to meet Prof. Margaret Price - from Oxford Brookes University. In addition Prof. David Nicol from the University of Strathclyde joined us via elluminate along with Prof. Peter Bullen head of BLU at UH.

We used a very large plasma screen to display the elluminate interface and Mark managed to solve some technical hitches prior to the start of the meeting so the sound was excellent.

The steering group were very supportive of what we had achieved so far and were in agreement with our approach as detailed in the draft project plan - which was approved. They were able to offer advice on areas where they felt their experience was relevant. It is good to know that we are backed up in our endeavours by such a depth and breadth of experience. The steering group’s guidance and advice will be invaluable to helping make the project a success.

Some things that I got from the meeting:

  • look at the student perspective of assessment & compare with the lecturer view
  • think about how teaching & learning staff development for new (and existing) staff can support the sustainability of the project
  • create hard data for analysis
  • what are the staff and student drivers here
  • students will always want more feedback - we need to encourage and facilitate self regulated learners
  • look at the national survey of student engagement
  • think about the context of the change we are trying to achieve - make sure that senior champions are on side
  • the challenge of using general principles of good assessment practice - of which there are a number of schools of thought - and turning them into actual an assessment regime for a particular subject module.

One of the main themes that I picked up on is how much work is being done in similar areas to our own and how we need to be aware of it. One of the discussions that Mark and I have had is his feeling that we need to have a good idea of what is out there - perhaps by carrying out a survey exercise.

              Thursday, 12 February 2009

              From alpha to omega

              We had a very valuable meeting with Lisa Gray and her colleagues from JISC. It was a chance for the JISC team to find out what we had been doing over the last month or so and for us to get some feedback on our draft project plan. They also had a chance to meet our stakeholders in the Business School and Life Sciences. The first part of the meeting was with Mark and myself and concentrated on the work we had done to date and looking at some of the issues that the plan had raised.

              The round table that followed teased out some really interesting issues within the schools about the need for this kind of project and the kinds of solutions that were being developed - both bu early adopters and having to us technology as the only way to cope with a situation - for example the impracticalities of 650 students all handing in hard copies of coursework at 3.00 on a Friday afternoon. There was a rich conversation on how schools at UH are using of the electronic voting systems and the hidden benefits that emerge once you start to use this kind of technology. Studynet was also discussed in detail and some of us spoke with passion about what we and our have been able to achieve with it.

              There was a valuable discussion on the level of detail needed in the work packages - which we took on board. The work packages will need to be more comprehensive when detailing our baseline audit of what is happening in the schools at present - a fair comment. This detail will come in the next couple of weeks as we start to work much more closely with the module teams to dissect the modules and the staff and student experience.

              We also discussed the resources and support that will be made available to us over the course of the project. The meeting was held in the Learning Resources Centre where the JISC team were able to see a cross section of the way our students work from informal small study groups that form due to almost chance meetings to more formal student led sessions in dedicated seminars rooms. As I looked around it was clear that technology in the form of laptops, wireless Internet and the web 2.0 technologies was very central to the students learning - the place was a hive of student activity.

              All in all a very useful morning, it is good to know that we are heading in the right direction and that we have the support and resources to deliver the next part of the project. I am pleased the way things have gone so far and liken the project to picture of my daughter trapezing - its a delicate balancing act that we are attempting and it will not be easy to get the embedding that we are after - but it is possible and when you get it right it is exhilarating!

              Wednesday, 11 February 2009

              Sustaining ESCAPE - Learning from other projects

              At the heart of the ESCAPE project is the need to sustain and embed our practice. We are after all about developing sustainable change. Using the standard JISC template for our Project and Evaluation Plans we were required to present some thoughts on Sustainability and Exit. I really like the idea of asking the project to think about these issues at the outset and not at its end. Thumbs up from me!

              The University of Bradford are running another JISC funded project - Audio Supported Enhanced Learning (ASEL) - to which we (UH) are partners. The project is nearing completion and today (11 Feb 2009) they ran a UH / Bradford meeting to review how the institutions would sustain the ASEL activity and continue to reap the benefits suggested of audio supported learning.

              I am really keen to see legacy activity from these type of projects and not just see all the good work fizzle out and dwindle just because the project and funding has formally closed. I was invited as part of the UH team to attend the day to which I seized the opportunity. I want our project, ESCAPE, to learn from ASEL activities and see how we might sustain ourselves long after we have finished. In particular I am interested in what things we might do now to help our project sustain itself and what questions might we ask at the start of the project that would help us at the project close.

              Whilst I was happy to support ASEL, want to see UH benefit from a real legacy of the ASEL project, I also wanted, (more selfishly), to see what lessons I could take away from the meeting to benefit ESCAPE.

              We had an interesting start to the day where as a group we explored how the project had met its objectives. I think this will be a useful exercise for ESCAPE too i.e. to keep reminding ourselves what we set out to achieve and constantly relate our activity to that.

              Bob Rotheram
              from the Leeds Metropolitan University followed that session with a great presentation about the JISC funded Sounds Good Project - Sounds Good is about giving better feedback and using audio to support the feedback activity.

              After Bob outlined his project and the benefits, I was keen to find out how we going to sustain the Sounds Good activity (i.e. in line with the purpose of the meeting and for my selfish needs!)

              Bob spoke about the importance of enthusiasm and then I asked, in addition to enthusiasm what three things do you think are important to sustain Sounds Good.?

              Bob spoke about the time savings it could bring staff and qualified this with some great examples.
              It is quicker (audio feedback) than written feedback if …
              • You give a lot of feedback
              • You speak faster than you can write

              Be a really useful exercise to quantify this and show staff some break information
              Bob also said that technology needs to be simple and useable and not be a barrier to uptake. Some great thoughts.

              Naturally Bob also\mentioned the positive benefits to students in terms of receiving audio feedback. I really liked the pragmatism about being both student and staff focused. Staff are very busy and they need convincing of a need to change practice and see the benefits for them and their students

              Peter Chatterton asked a follow-up question …

              If you had a pot of gold what would you use it for to sustain Sounds Good ?
              Fortunately Bob said not much was needed, sounded like a ripple effect was kickimg in, but he did say …
              • Give staff decent devices
              • Run workshops
              • Give a chance for staff to come together to share and discuss activity

              It struck me also that just as e-learning was a Trojan Horse to pedagogy so too was the use of Audio. The morning session gave a few examples which suggested, for me, it was not developing pedagogy but giving what we already know about learning to be surfaced.

              In the afternoon we broke into our Uni teams and discussed how we might sustain ASEL. Asking ourselves …
              why bother?
              How do we convince an academic not connected with the project to engage?

              We collected many ideas - which will `be posted here when they are summarised, but some things for now …

              Provide some training packages
              Utilising existing support - not develop new systems
              Resources might include how do you do it
              What do you need to avoid
              i.e. a collection of resources related to ‘how to’
              as well as a collection of resources relating to ‘why to’

              We also mentioned strengthening the student mentor scheme run at UH - and if new / different skills are needed for audio activity then we need to describe what these are and up-skill the mentors accordingly

              * Linking it to podcasting campaign
              * Tagging resources so that we don’t reinvent stuff
              * Networking
              * Sustaining communities
              * Inter-faculty meetings/
              * Cross University inter-faculty meetings
              * Link with the Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes group?
              * Not invent what is already out there

              A couple of things ASEL might do now
              • Develop crisp selling messages
              • Use the right language for different groups
              • Tap the why do it into responding to challenges
              • Sell to Heads of School
              • Share an Executive summary

              I was interested in asking the team to map out the audio landscape post ASEL and then establish what is needed to support a vision

              i.e. where we will be in
              1 week
              4 weeks
              2 months
              6 months
              1 year

              I would like to do this for ESCAPE - map out what we want UH to look like after ESCAPE and establish what we need to make that vision-landscape a reality.

              Per ardua ad alta

              We are welcoming Lisa Gray of the JISC e-Learning Programme team, Marianne Sheppard from the Support and Synthesis team, and Sheila MacNeill, a representative from JISC CETIS to the university tomorrow . They are coming to meet the ESCAPE team and to have a round table meeting with us and our key stakeholders in the schools. It prom ices be a really useful day - we are keen to show JISC what we have achieved to date and to get feedback on our draft project plan. It will also be a chance to talk about the arrangements for the management of the project - both strategic with the steering group and advisory group and from an operational perspective. We will also be talking about the communication strategy and reporting mechanisms along with the Project evaluation plan and baseline data gathering exercises that we are nearly ready to start. I will be interested to see what support the meeting feels the project needs.
              We are on the launch pad, we have done the preparation with our partner schools and we are ready (almost) to light the blue touch paper and launch the baseline assessment of the current assessment practice.

              Winter's discontent made glorious

              I have now been working on the ESCAPE project full time for nearly two weeks. And what a two weeks! Hertfordshire has seen the worst snow in many years with the result that the univesrsity effectively closed for three days last week. In spite of this we have managed to have extremely fruitful meetings with senior colleagues and stakeholders in the School of Life Sciences and the Business School. In the School of Life Sciences We have had meetings with Peter Stanbury, Associate Head of Department and Areles Molleman one of the LTI teachers who has a unique cross school perspective - they are both extremely supportive of the project and we are really looking forward to working with them. There are some changes to the mix of modules we are going to be looking at with one module being swapped as it is not running again for a similar one that has exhibited that has some novel and interesting assessment practices. Excitingly such is the enthusiasm for the project within the school - we have been approached to see if we can also include fifth module in from a master degree programme run by a keen supporter of the project, who has been involved in some novel work on assessment. This is I hope an indication of the building momentum that the project is generating.The ground work has been laid for the next stage of the project which is engaging with the module leaders in the school to look at a baseline audit of the assessment practice in their modules.

              We have also been busy with colleges from the Business School - we have had meetings with Professor Mick Broadbent Head of Department, Karen Robins Associate Head of Department and Jan Filosof the programme manager of the programme we are looking at. We are in the process of narrowing down the choice of modules that we will be looking at through speaking to the module leaders, looking at the historical statistical data, AMERs and programmereview documentation etc.. We want suitable modules which would lend any developments to portability and sustainability within the school. There are a number of possibilities at the moment.

              We submitted our draft project plan to JISC on Monday, with a deadline of the end of the month for the final version. The work package timelines have changed from the original bid document in that we have moved the time that we engage with the Business School forward so that we are working with the schools in tandem. This will mean that synergies can be encouraged and developed between the module teams and managers in the two schools schools. In addition the workpackages have been deconstructed slightly to enable more transparency in the plan.

              Thursday, 5 February 2009

              15 (shh 45 !) minutes with the School of Life Sciences

              We , (the ESCAPE team), managed to get an invite to talk more widely with one of our Partner Schools - The School of Life Sciences. We were invited to give a project background to the School’s Academic Quality and Enhancement Committee. Clearly we are not working with the entire School nor all their modules and so it was a good chance to alert others as to what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve.

              My 15 minute slot ran into 45 minutes. Not convinced it was all my fault – I took many questions and the meeting ‘seemed’ happy for the discussion to spill over. Many questions were upbeat and some, perhaps rightly, felt a little more challenging. Why should they engage with us? What were we bringing to the table to a team that is already looking at its assessment diet? (and hopefully alignment with the Module Learning Outcomes) Why also the focus on the National Student Survey?

              All good questions and naturally we need to provide a convincing argument about why we are doing what we are doing. Academics are very busy right now and want to know why they might need to revisit their curricula. If it aint broke …

              I took a really positive email the following day from someone at the meeting. They wanted to offer their support for the project and the ways in the project was aligned with their interests some of what they had been trying to achieve. I was really grateful for the mail and for them letting me know that the project had rekindled an interest in this important area :-)

              The meeting was a useful outlet to get ESCAPE out there but also a timely reminder that we need to marshal our evidence as we seek to engage and suggest a need for change.

              Monday, 2 February 2009

              The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

              I am really starting to get a feel for what the ESCAPE project can achieve now that I have had a chance to meet people in other schools and to get their input on what the project will mean for them. I meet last week with Peter Stanbury - a senior member of the School of Life Sciences in a similar way that Mark & I met with representatives of the Business School. In each case they could see a real need for the project and anticipated its benefits. In each case we were welcomed with offers of all the help and access that we would need to help make the project a success. In many cases they were able to show how it dovetailed with work that had already being going on in their schools to address issues that they were aware of. It will be interesting to see how we can help and influence each other.

              At the moment I am involved in writing up part of the project plan. Working on the workpackages aspect of the plan made me think of how in practice we will work with the stakeholders in the schools. Whatever model of working we adopt I am confident - having met with the schools -that we will get all the support, encouragement and cooperation we need. This is one of the key foundations for successthat the project needs - we are building on these initial meetings with a further series of meetings - snow permitting- this week.

              Appreciating what works ...

              As we develop and map out our evaluation plans at the forefront of our thinking is a desire to ...

              * evaluate 'as we go' and learn lessons quickly
              * ensure the evaluation activity does not upset or interfere with our collaborative endeavors with our partner schools
              * seek out what already works
              * get as much stakeholder input into the evaluation activity as possible.

              Appreciative Inquiry (AI) seems to offer an evaluation framework that meets many of the characteristics we are looking for. We will frame our questions in the spirit of AI and go looking for what works and how we can use more of it.

              Visioning a brighter future and not taking a deficit approach is something we are looking forward to engage with.

              Will keep you informed of the progress and, because the approach to the ESCAPE team, will reflect back things that challenge and excite us

              Online marking

              Having read Mark's post about meeting with the Business School, I wanted to comment on the benefits of online marking. I am a strong advocate of online submission. As well as reducing queueing times for students and as Mark rightly mentioned, burdens in marking work submitted in plastic wallets etc. the reduction in administrative time is really beneficial and it means as a lecturer, I can start marking assignments as soon as they come in. I do not have to wait for the paper copy to be logged, sorted and passed on to me. It also saves me time, as I don't have to physically pass the copy onto the second marker/moderator and back to the administrator. I think we save atleast 3 days by having work submitted online, plus it reduces the risk of paper copies getting lost and limits the need for storage space. I appreciate that some colleagues do not like reading work on the screen, but I know colleagues who print out the work to read it, but annotate the online version. I use my Tablet PC to mark which enables me to handwrite comments on the screen in exactly the same way i would do if i was annotating a paper script, however, those without a Tablet PC can easily use 'track changes' to annotate scripts. The other benefit to online marking, is that the students are more likley to read the feedback, and hopefully use the feedback. Student marks are released through the virtual learning environment (VLE)and the mark is shown at the bottom of the page below the feedback comments. If you haven't yet tried it, give online marking a go.

              Sunday, 1 February 2009

              A challenge from the Vice Chancellor

              Our Vice Chancellor (Professor Tim Wilson) lives in a different world from me. He seems to have firmly gone metric and now has 25 hours in a day and 10 days a week! Part of his busy schedule includes him keeping a blog where regular entries communicate thoughts, successes and challenges.

              He had clearly read the Times Higher Education article on assessment, which was pleasing giving its relation to this project and UH's inclusion, and made many positive comments about the piece. At the end of his blog entry he asks the question about the format of the traditional examination. Why shouldn’t we allow computers and technology into the examination room? A great question and, for sure, there might be an appropriate reason why we don’t but for some cases I suspect there might not.

              I might stretch the challenge further and not only ask why not make greater use of technology in the examination room but why the examination room itself?

              What I really want from the ESCAPE project is to stimulate similar questioning with our partner academic schools and by the use of the project, appropriate change management techniques and visioning a future, explore why we do what we do.

              Because we do, as a response would be interesting to unpack and see what lies behind keeping the norm.

              Great to see that our VC is up for a challenge and wants us to explore current practice.