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Tag: Teaching

UoS Learning and Teaching Conference 2023

Learning and Teaching Conference, 2023
The big boss up on stage, doing the introductions

Another out of this world conference this year, but alas nobody who was one degree of separation from walking on the moon this time, as our attention instead turned to… yes, you guessed it, generative artificial intelligence.

The morning keynote was given by Thomas Lancaster of Imperial College London who has done a lot of research over the years on contract cheating, and who has now turned his attention to the new AI tools which have appeared over the past year. Interestingly, he commented that essay mill sites are being pushed to students as much as they ever have, but I suspect that these agencies are now themselves using generative AI tools to displace already low paid workers in the developing world who were previously responsible for writing assignments on demand for Western students.

The first breakout session I attended was ‘Ontogeny: Mentoring students to succeed in a world of AI’ by Dr Thomas Butts and Alice Roberts who discussed how medical students are using GAI and the issues this is causing in terms of accuracy, as these models are often presenting wrong information as truth, which has particularly serious consequence in medicine. There was an interesting observation on culture and social skills, that students now seem to prefer accessing the internet for help and information rather than simply asking their teachers and peers.

The second session was ‘Enhancing the TNE student experience through international collaborative discussions and networking opportunities’ by Dr Jane Carr-Wilkinson and Dr Helen Driscoll who discussed the Office for Students’ plans to regulate TNE (trans-national education), though no-one quite seems to know how they are going to do this. Including the OfS. This was an interesting discussion which explored the extent of our TNE provision (I don’t think I had appreciated the scale before, over 7,000 students across 20 partners), and the issues involved in ensuring quality across the board.

There was also a student panel discussion who were asked about their use of GAI and understanding of the various issues surrounding plagiarism. They demonstrated quite a robust level of knowledge, with many of them saying that they are using ChatGPT as a study assistant to generate ideas, but I did groan to hear one person talk about the "plagiarism score" in Turnitin and how "20% plagiarism is a normal amount", and they don’t worry until it gets higher. The myths penetrate deep.

The final afternoon keynote was given by Dr Irene Glendinning of Coventry University who talked about her research on the factors which lead to plagiarism and cheating. This included a dense slide on various factors such as having the opportunity, thinking they won’t be detected, etc., but nowhere on there were cultural factors identified, and the way that higher education in the UK has been marketized over the recent past. I’ve certainly came across comments along the nature of, if students are paying £9,000 a year on tuition, why not just pay a few hundred more to make assessment easier or guarantee better results? But I’m noticing more and more that people don’t seem to be willing or able to challenge the underlying political decisions anymore.

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Block Teaching Experience at UoSiL

Scoreboard showing team scores from gamification session
“What’s on the board, Miss Ford?”

Last week I was down at our London Campus for block teaching of my module, Designing Learning and Assessment in Higher Education. Last year our students at London were part of the main cohort, but this year due to numbers we arranged to deliver the PG Cert as a ‘block’ over a couple of weeks. To share the workload, teaching was split between myself and my counterpart of the other module who travelled down for a few days, and teaching staff at London with relevant experience. It was interesting for me to see different perspectives as a result of London staff picking up some of these sessions. On one of the sessions, ‘Academic Identity and Everyday Writing in the Workplace, I learned about the concept of teaching journals, a reflective exercise to capture “observations, reflections, and other thoughts about teaching” (Richards and Farrell, 2010). Interestingly, I find that on reflection I have been doing this all along without realising it – for every occurrence of every module I have taught, I have kept a running list of things which I have learned, reflections about things which worked particularly well (or didn’t), and ideas about things to change to improve the module for future cohorts. However, in the spirit of the concept I am attempting to put this into more formal practice with this post.

In additional to discovering this concept and getting to see some of my London colleagues in action, I also learned about Class VR which is a virtual reality system they have bought. The headsets are a little basic, but the key concept here is that you have a managed service which can push content to all of the headsets in the class. It’s a great idea, I really liked it. Unfortunately their experience with it has been more miss than hit, with headsets often failing to connect to the server and requiring a reset. Indeed, for our demo all three of the headsets they brought along failed to connect.

Of the sessions I taught myself, ‘Gamification and Game Based Learning’ went well. I’ve ran this for a number of years now as part of different modules, and I feel like it’s well polished and we always get good feedback about this one. The screenshot above is the final scoreboard from Keep the Score, one of the supplementary tools I recommend. The session around assessment and modern forms of academic misconduct (inc. generative AI) also ran well and provoked some interesting and lively discussion. Finally, ‘The Biscuit One’. Adapted from the work of Sambell, Brown and Race (2012), this was a highly impactful activity for me when I was a student on the PG Cert in 2017 and one I pushed to include when this module was revamped and I took over as module leader. The central idea is to teach people about creating rubrics and exploring some of the difficulties in marking, such as grade boundaries, using the metaphor of ‘what is a biscuit?’ The academic who used to run this at Sunderland left us last year, so for the past two iterations of the PG Cert I’ve ran this session myself. It’s been okay, but I don’t think I do it as well as they used to. In both occasions I feel I’ve been rather unlucky in having two groups come up with a definition for a biscuit that was so broad and encompassing that virtually all of the biscuits provided were included. I haven’t worked out how to deal with that yet, but I’ll need to think of something for February.

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Teaching with ChatGPT: Examples of Practice

Some examples of what ChatGPT is, and isn't; it is a large language model, it is not sentient!
Screenshot from one of the presentations outlining what ChatGPT is and is not: it is not human, not sentient, and not reliable!

This session on the robot uprising was facilitated by the University of Kent, and in a welcome contrast to some of the other sessions I have been to on AI recently, this was much more positive, focusing on early examples of using ChatGPT to enhance and support teaching and the student experience.

Some highlights were Maha Bali from the American University in Cairo who argued that we need cultural transparency around this technology as people are going to use it regardless of whatever regulations are put in place. This was echoed by some of the other presenters who noted that after graduation, when students enter industry, they will use, and be expected to use, any and all available relevant technologies. Someone else in the chat also noted that if you ban AI writing at university, then one outcome is going to be that students will only use it for cheating. So good luck, Cambridge. On transparent, ethic use, Laura Dumin from the University of Central Oklahoma talked about a new process they have implemented which asks students to declare if they have used AI tools to help with writing, and highlight which text has been AI generated so academics can clearly see this.

Some presenters had suggestions around re-focusing assessments along the lines of what ChatGPT can’t do, but which humans can. Some of these I feel are short term solutions. One person, for example, talked about how ChatGPT is generally better at shorter pieces of writing, so they have changed their assessments from 3x 800 word assessments throughout the year to 1x 2,000. Debbie Kemp at Kent suggested asking students to include infographics. I think these suggestions are going to work for now, but not in the long term. And the long term here isn’t even very long, given the pace of technological developments. By the time you could get changes to assessment through a programme board and in place for students, the technology may well have rendered your changes moot.

I think a better idea is around including more critical reflection from students. Margaret Bearman from Deacon University in Australia made the point that AI is not good at providing complex, context sensitive value judgements, and that I think is going to be a harder barrier for AI to overcome. Neil McGregor at the University of Manchester talked about this in a slightly different form. Instead of having students write critical reflections, they are now generating those with ChatGPT and asking the students to analyse and critique them – identifying what parts of the AI text they agree with, and where are the weaknesses in the arguments presented.

All of these sessions were recorded and are available on YouTube.

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UoS Learning and Teaching Conference 2022

Photo of Andy Aldrin with a map showing space fairing nations - it's a lot!
Slide showing every nation with a space programme of some kind – it’s a lot!

“Why I got out of bed for class today?” Because if I hadn’t, my boss and my boss’s boss would have taken turns to kill me if I had missed our first annual learning and teaching conference.

Back in those heady days of 2019, when we were all young, innocent and care-free, a couple of good friends of mine bought me a ticket to see Nightwish at the Wembley Arena in December 2020 as a Christmas present. Well, there was some sort of global event or emergency or something which means it didn’t happen. It was rescheduled for the following year, and that didn’t happen either. We never did find out why it was cancelled with less than a week’s notice the second time, but our suspicion is that someone in the band got Covid. So it was rescheduled again, for November 2022, and this time it went ahead, and it was wonderful!

Such was this case with our conference too – planned since 2019, and finally taking place two years later. It was every bit as good as Nightwish I swear. We had some 220 people sign-up from all across the University, and my team were out in force, running sessions on CleverTouch boards and working as marshals, making sure everything went without a hitch, and I did my Studiosity impact presentation in one of the breakout sessions.

The conference began with a student panel discussion, talking about their experience of online study over the pandemic, and later as hybrid learners. The OfS could learn a thing of two from them – students want both. The benefits and social connections of in-person teaching, and the convenience of being able to catch-up with recorded and online sessions in their own time. One astute comment was that “engagement is not the same thing as attendance”, and disengaged students can be every bit as much of a problem in-person as online. Their thoughts on solutions were to mix up teaching methods, and to have interactive and group activities that make students want to be there.

Sessions I attended were from Dr Nicola Roberts on ‘Failing to Progress on a Programme of Study: A Statistical Analysis of Factors Related to Criminology Students’, Dr Helen Williams on ‘The awkwardness of transitioning to Higher Education and the implications for student retention’, and Dr Elizabeth Hidson on ‘SunRAE – the Sunderland Reflective Action in Education Conference, Podcast and e-journal contribution to enhancing international initial teacher training student engagement’.

The day wrapped with a keynote by – somewhat unbelievably – Dr Andrew Aldrin, son of Buzz. I was one, single degree of separation from a man who walked on the moon. Andy, as he insisted on being introduced, is the President of the Aldrin Family Foundation which has a mission to educate people, mainly K12 school aged kids in the US, about space, the moon, Mars, and to inspire people into pursuing space-related careers. As the man said, “Kids love space, and dinosaurs, but they get over dinosaurs.” (It was a good job we didn’t have any palaeontologists in the room.)

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New Year, New Challenges

Like a Boss
I would still rather have my Buffy mug. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

It’s that time of again, the start of a new academic year and change is in the wind. I’ve gone the entire academic year 2020/21 without setting foot on campus other than to clear out my office. We’ve finally had some investment in us, with myself and the team getting new laptops to enable hybrid working, and our offices are in the midst of a major refurbishment to enable hot desking and social distancing, because despite the University’s push to get us all back on campus, this pandemic is not over by a longshot. We expect that to be complete in time for the start of teaching, at which point I’ll get to be back in the office 2 or 3 days a week.

This means I’ll also get to meet my new team! At the start of the pandemic and the switch to online and hybrid teaching, we recruited a number of instructional designers and content developers to help academics with the change, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve been able to make four of them permanent and they have joined my content development team as of today. That’s six folks in my team alone, and will make our Learning Technology team the largest it has ever been, a reflection on how critical our service has become.

Our job titles have been fiddled around with again, and I’m back to being a Senior Learning Technologist – yay! A much more sensible title that is so much clearer than Learning Technology Coordinator for Learning Materials Development, though I regret that I’m no longer going to be able to joke about being so important that I needed ‘learning’ in my job title twice. Our HR system was never actually updated with this, so I’m just going to quietly retcon my profiles to omit this dark period and pretend it never happened.

I must write something about Studiosity, a new student support offering for writing feedback, and a project I’ve led over the past year. It went live today, and all seems to be well. I’ll be continuing to manage that as students start to use the service over the next couple of months, as well as coordinating a revamp of our external and internal web spaces. Then in February, for the start of semester 2, I’ll be taking over as module leader for one of our PG Cert courses and, unlike last time, this isn’t just a technology module, but is on designing learning and assessment. A challenge, to be sure, but a welcome one, and I’m looking forward to getting that module leader role back and being able to do more teaching.

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Online Learning and Teaching for Neurodiverse Students

My Brain has too Many Tabs Open
If I could only Command+Q my brain sometimes. Photo by That’s Her Business on Unsplash

‘Exploring the Experience of Online Learning and Teaching for Neurodiverse Students’ was an excellent session hosted by ALT East England shining a light on some of the issues with online learning and teaching which particularly affect neurodiverse students. I’m going to do this backwards and talk about the second part of the session first, because it was the first part which was more impactful for me, and that’s what I want to focus on.

The second part was a talk by members of Anglia Ruskin University’s Disability and Dyslexia Service, who discussed the challenges of supporting hardware and software platforms they weren’t necessarily familiar with, and the benefits of online working which offered opportunities for engaging with students at times which better suited them, freed from on-campus, 9-5 hours, and for rapport building by sharing intimacies of home environments. I have personally loved pet-bombing during meetings and nosing at people’s book shelves, though I want to insert a note of caution here that many students are living and studying in far from ideal environments; having a suitable home working / studying environment is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Returning now to the first part of the session, this was a student-led discussion on some of the issues they have faced with online learning, and their thoughts on what we can do as developers and teachers to make things better for all students.

So for example, some students with anxiety or ADHD reported that they had found the structural changes difficult and, in the case of the many changes we’ve had to lockdown restrictions, frustrating. One student commented that all of their activities – studying, eating, leisure – were all now being done in the same small environment, shared with another student, and that was causing a lot of stress. Another student found online lectures harder as they felt more conspicuous asking questions, though on the flip side they also noted that lectures tended to have more availability at other times.

There was an interesting discussion on the use of cameras during online lectures, whether students should have them on or off. This is something I’ve struggled with when teaching, as there is no feedback for me to gauge students’ engagement and comprehension. One student on the panel commented that they have been in online lectures with up to 500 students, and cameras being on was very distracting for them. Another student commented that they preferred cameras on to get some social interaction with their peers, while another who was hard of hearing said that they benefitted from cameras being on for lip-reading.

On assessment, there was general appreciation for the ‘no detriment’ policy they had last academic year when the pandemic began, but this has been removed in the current academic year in favour of universal extensions granted upon request, which one student said was far worse because it extended the time available for them in which to be anxious about their assessments. There was no love for online proctoring software, with some students saying they had difficulty with suitable space for these, and even having to buy their own webcams.

I got a lot out of listening to students like this, but I found myself wondering about how to draw conclusions. On webcams for example, on or off? That, I think, is a decision that needs to be made with each student cohort individually, and in consultation with them – and with their consent! Far easier with cohorts of 30 rather than 300 of course. One good suggestion from the student group was to build in social time to online teaching sessions, either at the beginning or end of sessions where cameras can be on so that students can see each other and say ‘hi’, and then turned off during the taught component to reduce distractions, unless specifically required.

There are institutional things that could change to help students. Proctoring software is a vile product category that is just needs to get the sea. The whole lot of them. In the Sea. There was maybe an argument to be made at the start of lockdown, but people have had over a year to redesign assessments now, so there’s no excuse. And policies around mitigating circumstances and reasonable adjustments need to be made actually reasonable, and not applied across the board as though they were written on stole tablets. There’s core values stuff here. Should we be looking for reasons to fail students, or doing everything possible to help them to pass? I know how I want to spend my time.

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Teaching, Learning and Assessment in a Digital World

100 years of learning theories showing the learner as the active agent
The learner must be the active agent in the learning process

This was Bob Harrison’s inaugural lecture as a Visiting Professor at the University of Wolverhampton. Bob has been in education for over 50 years, and I have known his name in Ed Tech circles for a long time.

His talk was on the dangers of over-emphasising the power of technology as a solution to the problem of online and distance education, and the need to continually relearn the lessons that successful learning, no matter whatever physical distances may be involved, needs to be driven by the learner as the active agent in the learning process, supported by well-designed content delivered by caring and competent teachers. And if I’ve mangled Bob’s thesis in this summary, you can read it more eloquently in his own words in this article, Why there is nothing remote about online learning, published last year. And for an example of how you can’t magically improve online learning just by throwing money and technology at the issue, Wired’s article on the ‘LA iPad debacle’ is a good read.

I thoroughly enjoyed Bob’s lecture, and his dismantling of technological solutionism, neoliberalism in education, and his barely checked scorn for the Department for Education and their fixation on remote teaching.

The screenshot which I grabbed to illustrate this post shows a continuation of the theme of learners as the active agents of learning in the most influential learning theories spanning the past century.

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PG Cert Changes

The Fun Stuff Slide
Oh yes, I absolutely use animated GIFs and memes in my teaching

I’ve lost a module! And I don’t mean down the back of the sofa. A few years ago the University decided to reorganise how it delivers post-graduate courses, making all modules either 60 or 30 credits. As a result, the PG Cert in Academic Development had to undergo revalidation last year and my 20 credit Introduction to Digital Learning and Assessment module (EDPM08) has been discontinued, with much of it’s content and my teaching responsibilities being integrated into the new 60 credit module, EDPM10. I completed teaching with my fourth and final cohort of students on 08 back in July, and they have all now submitted and passed, though I still have three students from other cohorts with deferred or resubmissions to help through to completion over the next couple of months.

I’m going to miss my Module Leader role, but it’s been an invaluable experience that will serve me in good stead: two years, four cohorts, 41 students. And of course I do still have teaching on the new version, I just don’t get to do any of the fun admin stuff. I’ve actually just finished teaching my bit of EDPM10, which is what has prompted me to write this. I have three sessions on EDPM10, a theory-heavy contextual session about the role of digital technology in teaching, learning and assessment, and two practical workshops giving students guided hands-on experience with a range of what we hope are fun, easy to use, and useful tools.

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Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2019

advance_he_conference

Attended, and more importantly, presented at the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference held this year at Northumbria University. Day 3 of the conference was themed around STEM and the keynote was given by Debbie McVitty, editor of Wonkhe, who talked about the impact the TEF has had on the sector and how to really measure teaching excellence.

A highlight of the day for me was the post-lunch Ignite Sessions which saw 8 presenters speaking for 5 minutes about their work or project. “Pride and Prejudice and technology (that enhances learning)” from Katie Stripe of Imperial College London will stay with me for her unique approach, as will the brave soul who used audience response in an Ignite presentation by asking people to stand or remain sitting in response to questions. Also from Imperial, Drs Tiffany Chiu and Freddie Page presented on their work around what an ideal student looks like which attempts to address the disconnect between how students see themselves and what they want out of their HE experience, and what staff want from, and want to get out of students. And Dr Helen Kaye from The Open University discussed how they are supporting final year psychology students to complete an empirical research project which possess unique challenges for distance learning students.

I also came away with ideas and additions to my reading list. For my own teaching on our PG Cert I’ve been inspired by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr Patrick Thomson to include a session around peer instruction, expanding on what we’ve done around peer assessment. I also want to expand what we have traditionally taught around rubrics and online marking, to include a discussion about the value and role of marking and the different ways it can be done. To my reading list I’ve added Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.

By far the most important thing to happen today however, was that I presented for the first time with my colleague Dr Katrin Jaedicke on the work we have done to convert her statistics for biomedical sciences students course into a full fledged massive online open course (MOOC). It was mostly Katrin’s talk, as it is of course the content that is key, but I was there to contribute to any discussion around the technological and pedagogical considerations in the conversion of the course from a flat web page into a MOOC. I also ran a live quiz at the end of the session, giving people a taste of the MOOC. Katrin had initially wanted to give people a handout of one of the self assessment quizzes, but I suggested doing it live using Poll Everywhere and awarding participants with a digital badge, just like the MOOC students receive, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it all went very well.

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Piktochart and Academic Posters

health_profile_wakanda

Adding to my many niche specialisms, I seem to have become infographic and poster girl. It’s a rubbish super hero name tbh, but not a bad niche. I’ve done a couple of sessions recently that were very mixed experiences. The first, if I’m honest, wasn’t good at all, but the one I did on Tuesday went down a treat. The difference? The venue. The first time around I was teaching in a funny semi-open access area we have in one of our buildings which has banks of computers in long rows. It’s loud, it’s hot, and even with me shouting at the top of my voice the people at the back couldn’t hear me. That meant I was having to walk up and down, repeating things to different groups of students which meant getting them all at the same place was nearly impossible. It was so bad that the academic and I decided to do a re-run which was on Tuesday, this time ensuring that we booked a proper computer room. What a difference it made. You could see, and hear, things clicking into place for the students. It was incredibly satisfying, and goes to show the power of providing the right environment which is conducive to learning.

What I was teaching was how to use Piktochart to create infographics which could then be used as part of an academic poster. The students’ brief was to create something similar to the country profiles used by the New Internationalist magazine, but with an emphasis on health. My example used Wakanda for topical, pop-culture fun. It’s a little rough, terribly plagiarised, and I made up all the stats, but it served it’s purpose well. The poster template itself is a PowerPoint template from Poster Presentations, a cracking little resource I wish I had known about a few years ago instead of creating my own.

This was to level 6 sociology students and more than one commented on how useful the tool was and how they wish they had been taught it in their first year as they could have used it in other work. It was great feedback, and I strongly suspect that the programme leader is indeed going to build this into the programme at an earlier stage in future. At which point, to my mind, instead of providing ad-hoc sessions directly to students, what I’ll do is teach the programme team who can then build it into their teaching.

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