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Summary of Recent Work / Practice

Since the submission of my first portfolio in 2012 my career and working life has seen significant change and development. In 2013 Northumbria University underwent a major restructure which saw the LTech team disbanded and I was transferred to the central IT helpline as a Senior Service Desk Analyst where I was responsible for providing general IT support and cascading support of the learning technology systems to the other senior analysts.

This change meant that much of the broader work I was doing in LTech as a learning technologist, including training and development, community engagement and support of supplementary external tools, had to cease. I wasn’t entirely happy with this change and what it meant for my career development, and so I began looking for a new position further afield. In June 2014 I was appointed to the role of Senior Learning Technologist at the University of Sunderland.

In my new role I am responsible for the operational management of the university’s central learning technology team which is comprised of a core of two learning technologists and two learning technology developers, supplemented by interns and contract workers as required. I am also responsible for making sure the team works in close collaboration with the two additional learning technologists employed directly by faculties, and with our Academic Development Unit.

The change of institution has also meant a change of the core supported learning technology systems for me. Gone are Blackboard and PebblePad, in are Pearson’s LearningStudio and Mahara. While switching to Mahara was a fairly seamless transition, learning and supporting LearningStudio has been a challenge as Sunderland has the dubious honour of being the only UK HEI to have chosen to deploy LearningStudio as its primary VLE, and there are good reasons why this is the case. Thankfully this won’t be for much longer as we are currently in the midst of a VLE replacement project, more of which is discussed below.

Another change since 2012 has been the establishment of this blog which I began in March 2014. This was partly to build a portfolio of my work at a time when I was looking for a new position, and more widely to give me a platform where I could communicate with and contribute to the whole learning technology community.

I’m pleased to be able to record that my future plans from 2012 have all largely come to fruition. I did indeed more onwards and upwards, though not in the direction I expected. My CMALT portfolio passed and I did get my degree in Humanities with Philosophy, an upper second. Also, because four years is a long time, I’ve been able to complete my Master’s as well, though there was a fairly last minute change of disciple from Philosophy to English.


Overview of CPD Activity

One of the purposes of my blog is to give me a space where I can record and reflect upon all of my CPD activity. This complete list, backdated to the start of my work with Blackpool Council, can be found on the CPD page, and since joining the University of Sunderland each activity has been accompanied by a blog post.

The three activities I have chosen for further reflection as part of this portfolio are: ‘Preparing to Teach’, ‘Learn Moodle MOOC 2016’ and ‘Interface Symposium’.


Example 1: Preparing to Teach

There are many routes to becoming a learning technologist. For me it was through IT support and development, and as such the teaching aspect of my work is something that I have had to develop. I first became particularly conscious of this while writing my first CMALT portfolio in 2012, as I struggled to cover the teaching related criteria. One of the most productive things I have done to resolve this knowledge and experience gap was to attend the University of Sunderland’s Preparing to Teach course in April 2015. This course is the baseline that all academic and related support staff without a teaching qualification are expected to attend before they can teach at the university.

The broad two day course covered theories of pedagogy, tools and techniques for practical application (many of which were demonstrated in the course itself), techniques for reflective practice, planning of programmes, sessions and activities, and assessment and feedback strategies.

Something that I’ve changed about my own practice since attending this course is that I now spend more time prior to sessions planning them and using a session plan template to give my sessions more structure. Document 1 (PDF, 51 KB) is the template that was shared with us during the course, and Document 2 (PDF, 144 KB) is the modified version I created in Word based on the template for my own use, primarily, but which I also cascaded to the team and have encouraged them to use. Finally, Document 3 (PDF, 60 KB) is the actual plan I wrote for a session I delivered to students on the TESOL programme on how to create digital posters. Informal feedback from the session from students and the module leader was positive and I felt more confident during the session as I was more prepared.

Another thing that I have incorporated into my teaching is greater use of formative assessment to reinforce learning. An example of this can be seen on the Introduction to SunSpace online module for students that I created in Storyline and which features a surprise quiz at the end.

If I had any criticism of this course it would be only that it was too dense, trying to cover too much in too little time. For myself, this is something I am rectifying now by attending the university’s Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice which I began in October.


Example 2: Learn Moodle MOOC 2016

The 2016 summer presentation of the Learn Moodle MOOC was my first experience with using Moodle as a teacher, though I have had a great deal of experience using it as a student of the Open University. The MOOC was delivered over a four week period using a predominantly xMOOC model, but supplemented with lively, moderated discussion boards for each week. The course was well-structured and paced, and provided an introduction to all of the major teaching tools available in Moodle with links out to more extensive documentation. One outcome of the course is that it has given me hands-on experience of building a course site, adding content, managing enrolments, and creating exams and assignments in Moodle.

A particular highlight was that it gave me experience of using peer marking. One of the tasks on the course was to use Moodle’s peer assessment tool to submit an assignment using a student account you had created, and then grade a number of submissions made by others. The assignment was pretty basic as this was a technical demonstration rather than a formal, academic piece of work, but it was still good to see how it worked in a live course with a large number of students, having only previously used Turnitin’s PeerMark tool with a limited number of test accounts. Peer assessment as a concept is something that has come up again recently on the Academic Practice PG Cert. One of my tutors has been successfully using peer assessment for some time and they presented research which showed the effectiveness of the approach and the added value gained by students. Luo, Robinson and Park’s research, for example, demonstrates that an averaged score from a sufficient number of students, they recommend 3-5, is broadly in accordance with scores given by course instructors. One outcome of my experience with peer assessment is that I will be recommending that the technique is considered for inclusion in the ArtWorks-U MOOC (discussed below) as a measure to manage the workload of academics teaching on the course.

Aside from the nice PDF certificate of completion and a couple of Badges, what I gained from this course was, as you would expect, experience of using Moodle and learning the capabilities of the platform. I like the fact that Moodle is firmly embedded in the open source ethos, and is a live, actively developed system with all the possibilities for development, community support and integration with our open source ePortfolio, Mahara, that this entails. On the flipside, however, I found it to be overcomplicated and busy, often with multiple ways of doing the same task. It reminded me strongly of Blackboard Learn; an established, monolithic system that tries to do everything and be all things to all people.

The University of Sunderland is currently undergoing a VLE replacement project and my primary objective of taking this course was to learn about Moodle so that I would be in a position to support it should we choose some flavour of Moodle to replace LearningStudio. Even before this stage, however, I have been able to use the experience gained when writing documents for the project and to support the selection process. For example, I authored a 172 point statement of minimum technical requirements that the new system should meet. This was divided into three sections for students, staff and administrators, with each point written in the form of Agile user stories to place the emphasis on how each function would help the end user. Figure 1 (JPEG, 367 KB) is a screenshot showing part of the student requirements. (As the project is ongoing I cannot share the complete document.) The understanding of Moodle that I gained through this course was a great help in writing this document specifically, but far more broadly it will help me to ensure that the university will make the right choice to fit our needs for many years to come.


Example 3: Interface Symposium: Arts, Participation and Higher Education

I have selected this activity for reflection as a representative of a multi-faceted body of development work conducted over a period of eighteen months and which will be ongoing for some time to come. The Interface Symposium itself took place in September 2016 and was for people working in participatory arts to come together and share their practice and research. The event included an afternoon session delivered by myself to guide the attendees through a sample MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) module that I had developed. This work began in April 2015 with a request from an academic in our faculty of Arts, Design and Media for assistance with the development of the university’s first MOOC, in the field of participatory arts, provisionally called the ArtWorks-U MOOC.

The first task was for me to make a recommendation for a suitable MOOC platform. To do this I had several discussions with the academic leading the project from which I drew up a relatively simple statement of requirements, 24 fairly broad points, and then researched the available options. Document 4 (PDF, 26 KB) is a blank copy of the requirements section of the proposal I wrote. This led me to the work of Siemens (2012) which distinguished two broad categories of MOOC – xMOOCs, based on a prescriptive or didactic model, and cMOOCs, based on connectivist pedagogy which emphasises participation and peer learning. Ruling out a number of platforms because they were either based on the xMOOC model or because it would have required entering complex partnership arrangements with the consortiums behind them, left two viable platforms, Open Education from Blackboard and Canvas Network from Instructure. I evaluated both of these systems against the statement of requirements before making a formal recommendation to use Canvas Network.

While exploring the various MOOC platforms was interesting and informative for me, it was the difference in pedagogic approach and learning more about the connectivist model that proved most useful when it came to develop the sample MOOC site. With the agreement between the university and Canvas working its way through the various legal and governance channels, I had to build out the sample MOOC for the Symposium in our VLE, LearningStudio. Presentations, converted for online delivery using Storyline, were kept to a minimum in favour of case studies with associated asynchronous discussions, and there were multiple pathways built out for students to allow them to choose the cases which were of most interest to them based on their own practice and research. Two surveys were used to obtain learner feedback, particularly about the types of content we had included to see if this would corroborate the research on connectivist pedagogy before development of the full MOOC on Canvas Network. Document 5 (PDF, 38 KB) is the anonymised comments that we received.

We had anticipated that artists would be a difficult community to target with an online, distance learning course, so the broad positivity of the feedback is encouraging. Themes that stand out are the mix of available activities and the different video based case studies, demonstrating that the construction of the sample MOOC has had the desired learner impact. Much of the negative feedback focuses on the technology, something that should be mitigated by the development of the full MOOC on Canvas Network rather than the university’s aging VLE. Another theme from the feedback that I have picked up on is around the use of discussion boards, and I have suggested that teachers on the course may need to dip into these to stimulate discussion. I am also recommending the use of synchronous video discussions and chats to provide other forms of collaborative learning.


Updated Future Plans

My most immediate plans for the future are to ensure the successful completion of the two high-stakes projects with which I am currently heavily involved, the VLE replacement project and the ArtWorks-U MOOC.

Academically, I am currently studying on two work-related postgraduate certificates. Leadership and Change Management which is now drawing to a close, with a final submission due in February next year, and Academic Practice which began in October. These two certificates are representative of a crossroads which I feel my career is leading me to, with more senior management on one path, and teaching on the other, though the choice is one I don’t expect I will have to make for some time yet.

The university, having recently completed a restructure of support staff, now plans to establish a Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching which will combine my team, the former Academic Development Unit, the academic team responsible for the university’s PG Cert in Academic Practice, and the principle lecturers for teaching in learning on a shared basis. This is a very positive and welcome development, but it will mean changes to how the team operates which I will have to lead them on to make sure the CELT is the success we want it to be.

Outside of work, my success on the MA English has prompted me to seriously consider taking the next step, a doctorate degree, but that’s not a decision I’m going to make lightly or soon. After more than ten years of working full time and studying part time, I’m rather enjoying the newly rediscovered leisure time and social life.


Confirmation and Date

“I declare that, to the best of my knowledge, the statements and evidence included in this submission accurately describe my practice and are drawn from my own work, with the input and support of others duly and clearly recognised.”

Signed: Sonya McChristie
Date: 14/12/2016