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Archive for the ‘ALTsep12 ASSESSMENT’ Category

So this is where the assessed part of my journey ends – but my project is clearly in its infancy! I have spoken to students, to my colleagues and to placement settings about the usefulness of facilitating online sessions for students out on placement for long stretches of time. They are unanimous in their views that it is a great idea (in principle). I have read around the subject – both in terms of the theory around blended learning, using synchronous methods of teaching and learning and generally about digital technologies and digital communities, as well as looking for evidence of where this kind of learning has been used before, and what the challenges and benefits are. I have explored different online platforms and have concluded that I will utilise Blackboard Collaborate. I have requested training in this so hope to be able to run the first session in January. I need to plan some ‘icebreaking’ activities for the initial session. I have communicated with the student group but unsurprisingly heard nothing back – I will get in contact again after the Christmas break. I will evaluate the sessions, both as we are going along, and at the end of their placements – mostly using qualitative methods. I will attempt to pull this together into something to write up, to contribute to the research about how social work students can develop effectively on placement and whether synchronous, informal support can aid this process. And I will try the process again with our 3rd years who go out on their final 100 day placements in April 2013. All exciting stuff!

In terms of the ALT module, I have loved every minute of it. Choosing this option was a deliberate decision to push myself out of my comfort zone, and embrace an area that I had hitherto been a little afraid of. But I have learnt that there is nothing to be afraid of, and that the right technology, used in the right way can enhance the student (and teaching) experience no end. I have begun tweeting, and although very much still a novice, I intend to explore how we could use this with our students. I have developed my ‘toolbox’ of ideas and skills along the way, and had the opportunity to learn from and alongside some fabulous tutors (thank you Cristina and Pete) and a wonderful cohort of colleagues. This is very much the start of my digital journey and as Doug Belshaw says ‘the ability of people to be creative… requires a new dynamic between teacher and learner. Aspects of randomness and discovery should flow through learning experiences, finishing with opportunities to synthesise these experiences. This sense making is often where the ‘creativity’ occurs. The learner joins the dots in new, in interesting and contextually-relevant ways’ (no date, cannot find the original source for this, but see http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2012/03/23/my-tedx-talk-on-the-essential-elements-of-digital-literacies-video/ for plenty of info of Doug writing/talking about his eight essential elements of digital literacies) I feel fortunate to have had the chance to be the learner that Belshaw writes about, as I feel this module has been a massive process of me firstly having the dots revealed to me, and now I am starting to join them up.

Finally (for now!) I want to end with a quote by Diana Laurillard:
‘Teachers need to know more than their subject – they need to know the ways it can come to be understood, the ways it can be misunderstood, what counts as understanding: they need to know how individuals experience the subject. However they are neither required nor enabled to learn these things’ (Laurillard 2002 p3) Thankfully the opportunity to do the PGCAP at Salford University has given me the opportunity to start learning these types of things. I believe that for all who hold the powerful role of ‘teacher’ this type of learning should be essential. The UKPSF supports this view, and I look forward to a future in higher education where those responsible for facilitating learning have the skills and abilities to do this effectively and to a high quality, so that learners can have the very best experience possible.

The end…. (Although it feels like ‘Return of the Jedi’ when you know that there is now a 3 part prequel to Star Wars. I am really very much at the beginning!)

Laurillard D (2002) Rethinking University Teaching: a conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies 2nd Edition. RoutledegeFalmer; New York.

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More Reading…

Macdonald (2006) has written a very accessible and readable book about blended learning and online tutoring that I found very insightful. During my reading of the text I was able to recognise a lot of what she discussed. She identifies a list of models of synchronous tutor support, noting that the purpose and role of the support will influence the decision to use a particular tool (certainly my experience to date, as you will have read). The roles/models are as follows, with a comment next to each one, providing my thoughts about the extent to which they relate to the online sessions I am planning. I have also given a score out of 10 for relevance in this context:

Assessment-framed activity Macdonald suggests that ‘however exciting the tool it is simply not realistic to imagine that all your students will participate in a synchronous session unless that activity is framed within the assessment strategy’ (2006 p 87). Hhhhmmm, good point. Will peer support alone be enough of a motivator?! 0/10
Practising skills This may be relevant – students may wish to share work/thoughts/practice experiences with each other and support each other using this process – skill development. 3/10
Explaining difficult concepts The online sessions could potentially be very useful for this – they can help each other and request help from me if needed (I want to be cautious not to take over once the group are confident at participating. I want it to be led by them not me) 7/10
Induction, informal learning and socialising This will be a key purpose of the sessions (other than induction). I need to consider some online ‘games’ to help them socialise into the online environment and to help build their confidence in participation (as per Cristina’s suggestion) (nb Macdonald has some suggestions on p78) 10/10
Short queries I think there will definitely be a lot of this within the sessions 8/10
Timely reminders And the sessions will also be useful for these. Especially as I will be teaching them how to submit their portfolios online 9/10
Opinion polls I’m not sure that these would be relevant 0/10
Motivation and milestones This is highly relevant. Hopefully the sessions will help keep the students motivated within their placement settings, and support them as they move through the placement milestones 10/10
(Macdonald 2006)

As can be seen, the purpose of my sessions could potentially utilise a number of these models.
The sessions I am facilitating are not formal supervision of students on placement as they receive this in a very structured way from onsite supervisors and practice educators. This formal supervision is recorded, and there will be clear agendas. However, I still view it as a type of supervision, as it will be another tool for them to access support – but in a group learning environment. Beverley and Worsley (2007) note that the sort of discussion that is possible in a group supervision scenario ‘can pursue reflective processes and can benefit from a more impromptu and improvisational nature’ (p93) This is what I am aiming for – although the limitations on people speaking at once may hinder the spontaneity somewhat. Beverly and Worsley go on to claim that (interestingly) little research has been conducted into this type of learning but what there is suggests that learners and ‘enablers’ both feel very positive about its use within social work settings (they cite Lindsey 2005 – I would like to look at Lindsey’s original article as there may be some relevant content).

Beverly A and Worsley A (2007) Learning and Teaching in Social Work Practice Palgrave Macmillan; Hampshire

Lindsey T (2005) Group learning on social work placements Groupwork 15 (1) p61-89 in Beverly A and Worsley A (2007) Learning and Teaching in Social Work Practice Palgrave Macmillan; Hampshire

Macdonald J (2006) Blended learning and online Tutoring: a good practice guide Gower Publishing; Hampshire.

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I have tried to support my ideas with references and reports as I have been going along, but I have done a lot of reading that I have not necessarily been able to include within my posts. I don’t want the important learning I have gained to be lost into the ether, hence using this post to consolidate some of it.

Now that I have been working on my project for a while, I have had time to further consider the point made by Wenger et al (2009 p75) where they note that the choice of technology used for online meetings needs to ‘reflect the style of the community’. They write extensively about communities (in its broadest definition) and how to support the activity and cohesiveness of dispersed communities. My decision to use Blackboard Collaborate is able to be adapted to the style that is required on the day, as it has multiple functions. Therefore if a session has a more didactic element (such as the session I need to lead where I instruct students on electronic portfolio submission) then I can show slides and talk to the group. However if the group want to just ‘hangout’ more informally in other sessions, this too is possible, plus they can doodle on a shared screen, write text to each other and so on (as I have stated before, it is my intention that these sessions are primarily led by the participants, the students themselves, creating their own community of practice). The only challenge might be the fact that only one person can speak at once – this may hinder the flow of spontaneous conversation.

It mildly concerns me that I have had no communication from students about the online meetings, but it also does not surprise me, as they are busy orienting themselves in challenging workplace environments with people who have mental health needs, or services for children and families. Once I have had the chance to learn how to set up a Blackboard Collaborate session (sadly, not within the timeframe that the assessment of this project requires as the next available training is after Christmas) I will be able to contact the student group with a definitive time and place to try out the first session – at this stage it will be the students themselves who will decide if they are going to access these, for as Laurillard notes ‘it is the teacher’s responsibility to create the conditions in which understanding is possible, and the student’s responsibility to take advantage of this’ (2002 p1).

Laurillard D (2002) Rethinking University Teaching: a conversational framework for the efferctive use of learning technologies 2nd Edition. RoutledegeFalmer; NewYork.

Wenger E, White N and Smith JD (2009) Digital Habitats – stewarding technology for communities CPsquare; Portland, OR.

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Following my attempt to test the use of Google Hangout last week, I have continued to consider which platform to use with my student group. My friend Rachel had a number of things to do in order to get going on the Hangout – this included both setting up a Google+ account, then downloading a ‘plugin’ in order to be able to run the Hangout on her computer. She mentioned that she wanted to do this on her computer, not her partners as his is a work laptop and he doesn’t like unnecessarily downloading any applications onto it. I had also had to install the Google Chrome browser in order to access Google Hangout. This got me thinking about the fact that some students may be accessing the online meeting using placement computers, in which case they may run into similar issues and difficulties downloading applications. This coupled with the fact that the Google Hangout can only host a maximum of 10 participants has prompted me to rethink which platform I use and therefore I am going to use Blackboard Collaborate. One of the audience did ask me about the 10 participant maximum during my presentation, and I agreed it was a valid point, but that I would pilot the project using Hangout, then move to Blackboard Collaborate down the line if necessary. On reflection I now feel it makes more sense to ‘start as I mean to go on’, so that the students can develop confidence in using one particular technology. In addition, having now used Hangout, I believe that Blackboard Collaborate is not that dissimilar to Hangout. As well as setting up the online sessions for support for student support whilst out on placement, there is now another dimension in that I have been tasked by my Programme Leader to deliver a session in how to hand in their practice portfolios online as this group are going to be piloting electronic hand in. I couldn’t risk more than 10 people wanting to attend an important session like that and not being able to, giving additional weight to me choosing Blackboard Collaborate as the most appropriate online meeting platform.

I made enquiries and have contacted somebody about accessing training on setting up, facilitating and moderating Blackboard Collaborate.

Now I need to write a bit more about some of the reading I have been doing, and how it applies to my project….

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Today I tested the use of Google Hangout as a platform to use with students. I tested it with my best friend in Bristol and it generally went well, but did take a while for us both to be able to fully participate in the Hangout, plus she had some problems with an awful feedback sound. It made me appreciate that I need to ‘play’ with it a little more, to get fully confident with it – I also need to get up and running with ‘slideshare’ so that I can share presentations with students. Next stage will be testing it with a couple of students I think. Even a simple and seemingly accessible platform like Google Hangout requires a fair bit of confidence and understanding from all participants!

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I was thrilled to have received positive feedback for my project presentation. I actually really enjoyed giving the presentation and felt comfortable and confident dealing with the questions from the audience. This reinforced to me the validity of the project, as it has such a clear focus, with a defined rationale that is both evidenced based and achievable via my chosen methods. This is my presentation (though the sound quality is not too good):

This is the Powerpoint presentation I gave (as the video is quite lengthy):

One of the audience members, Francis Bell, mentioned the ESMOS Project: http://www.esmos.eu/. The University of Salford were involved in this and I have spent time looking at the website and reading the reports. ‘Esmos’ stands for ‘Enhancing Student Mobility using Online Support’ so it his highly relevant for my project. Furthermore some of my colleagues from Nursing were involved in this project, back in 2006. I intend to talk to one of those involved, Melanie Stephens, as I am currently working with her on another project. But one of the reports that came from Salford discussed specifically the use of blogs as a way of supporting peer to peer and student/teacher communication during clinical placements, both in the UK and abroad. The feedback was generally positive, but in addition students commented that they ‘ felt that even though the blog was an improvement on discussion boards it still did not have the same effect as face to face contact. Some members of the group expressed a wish to use synchronous modes of communication such as real-time chat, although others prefer asynchronous communication as it allows them to reflect before composing their posts.’ (Keegan 2006 p55) More research that supports my project rationale!

Keegan H (2006) Using blogs as a support tool for Adult Nursing Students at home and abroad in ESMOS ‘Case Studies Development’ work package 8 p43-60 accessible at http://www.esmos.eu/ accessed on 6/12/12.

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Today I have spent time reading some of the resources that I hadn’t already had a chance to look at on the ALT module BlackBoard site – of particular interest was this short video explaining what a community of practice is, by Etienne Wenger:

This is exactly what I am wanting to create for our students – working away from  the University remotely in different practice settings. My intention is that by providing them with a tool to meet as a group, shared learning will occur; that they can discuss what has worked and what hasn’t worked; as well as collectively identifying any gaps in their knowledge that I can support them with. I set up a page on BlackBoard for them, and posted the video about communities of practice for them to also watch. I then emailed the group and updated them, signposting them to the new page and video, and asking for their thoughts and suggestions on aspects such as when would be a good time to meet? Would a session in the day and a session in the evening be a good idea? I suspect that I won’t get a particularly good response as they are all in the first few weeks of starting placement, so will no doubt be preoccupied with orientating themselves in a new work environment, but at least they know they can contact me. I have also told them that I intend to pilot the online session soon, so would appreciate a few people to help me try it out.

Postscript: As at 4pm on 13th December not one student has contacted me! I did suspect that they would all be busy climatising themselves to their placements. In addition, I assume nobody has looked at the page I set up on B/B for them, as it transpired today that our second years are not even enrolled on the site I placed it on! Therefore they wouldn’t be able to access it even if they wanted to!

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