Wednesday, 29 June 2011

RSC The e-factor London Showcase

Well it started off well...I arrived with my colleague at Senate House where the event was taking place, sat down, got myself a nice cup of green tea - and then the fire alarm went off!

After the firemen had declared it safe, we all went back inside and carried on with the rest of the day which was very well organised and had no more unwelcome surprises. Below is a brief synopsis of some of the events.
Firstly, Graciano Soares, the manager of RSC London, welcomed us all to the event and then introduced us to our keynote speaker of the day, Paul Wakeling, the Principal of Havering Sixth Form College. He started by saying that at Havering there had previously been central control of ILT but he had been working towards a model of more participation by both students and staff. Paul claimed that IT is needed to enhance education and that if the structure is cut back as an austerity measure students will suffer as a consequence.

Then Paul said something surprising - he doesn't have an office. Havering College has reduced its office space and staff use the whole College, as students are expected to too. The idea behind this is that the whole College should be suitable for learning as spaces are designed with everyone in mind, however, this does put pressure on the IT department. This reduces unused space and encourages people to use their own technologies.  I found his example of students using the canteen to study and as a social space surprising, as my institution had tried something similar and failed. I think we had been too strict with students and tried to prescribe the type of use we expected, rather than letting students use it how they wish. To maximise space, Paul also mentioned that Havering loans netbooks which reduces the amount of banks of computers needed.

Paul asked us a few questions and we answered them using a voting system - it was very effective at seeing results in form of bar charts immediately on screen. One of the questions which stuck with me was whether institutions allowed access to media such as facebook and other social networking technologies - we don't but the result was fairly even between yes and no. Perhaps this is something we should review again in light of this.

After the keynote speech, we all split up and attended our various showcases. My first one was delivered by David from Rose Bruford. This is a small institution with only 1000 students.  He told us about the challenges he had faced at Rose Bruford in teaching Performing Arts using Moodle. Staff there were already using various types of technology but were using them across a range of platforms and it was quite messy; introducing Moodle would tidy this up making it more efficient for staff and students. Dave made the point that students expect college to be even better than how they were taught at school so colleges have to embrace this and stay ahead. A way of encouraging staff to be involved was to highlight that it was going to save them time and not add any more work to their already heavy workload. Implementing Moodle has been good for student and staff collaboration and it really helps distance learners as they can access materials at their convenience. It also speeds up the feedback period so continues to keep students motivated. I liked David's arguments for teaching staff using Moodle and as I am going to be more involved in training staff in this area I will be using them.

The next session I went to was with Graham Francis from Havering College. I liked their mission statement as it included the partnership of both students and staff within it, ensuring that everyone was responsible in the success of the College.  He mentioned how staff have Twitter feeds in their classrooms and can stop the lesson whenever a story looks important. I  can see how this would be interesting and useful in some subjects but I think it may become distracting. Feedback is given in a verbal memo to students which speeds up the process and is liked by many students. They are increasing their loans of netbooks to utilise space better but I found it interesting that they are recognising their EMA students in their approach to technology. I think I may mention this to the leader of the Socio-Economic Committee I am on at work and see what he thinks.

The University of Arts showcased their approach to blogs - they were being used for reflection, community building, archiving, overseas collaboration and to assess essays. I was surprised that they used the blogging tool, the VLE and Mahara - it seemed to me like a lot of passwords and platforms to remember. It would be nice if they can work together in some way, for example, the blog becomes a block on the vle. It seems like it has been successful though in many different ways and it will be interesting to see how they carry on in the future.

For me, the most useful talk of the day was from Rod at Newham 6th form. He took us through the timeline of Moodle and  implementation. Initially they had 'ILT Champions' - we have just set up something similar called Learning Coaches. He said it didn't work because people developed material inconsistently and sporadically, it will interesting to see if the same occurs at my institution. They have an e-learning committee but it isn't recognised as the 'vision' only exists in certain individuals (this seems to be a perennial problem), however, due to this committee there are now standards set for the vle and there are Moodle inductions for new staff. He said the LRC staff run the VLE and they get two hours training a week for a year - we are hoping to also run it out of the LRC but I'm not sure how much training we will get yet. Members of their LRC are linked to a member of each eteam, attending their meetings and showcasing good practice - I think this is a fantastic idea and one that hopefully we can replicate to some extent. Mahara linked into all this by being a collaborative page between the students on each course, staff can also use it for the appraisal process as each member has a separate view or they can use it to enhance topics mentioned in Moodle. There were numerous possibilities. I will be taking his advice to train staff to use them together and to ensure they know how to manage groups and views.

Lastly, John Mclaughlin from BIS closed the session by emphasising the need for constant change and movement. Boundaries are blurring across HE and FE and the HE White Paper, due out on the 27th, may reflect this further. He also stressed that IT  improves people's abilities as it is much easier to use now and doesn't require one to be a techie to use it.

Overall, I thought this was a fantastic day. I had never been to an RSC event before and I found it useful, interesting and well-organised. I would recommend anyone else go if they get the opportunity.

Bye for now.

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