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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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I have been thinking about and working on my project a fair bit, but have recorded very little – I need to work out how to install a WordPress app on my phone then I can be more spontaneous with my reflection. I continue to explore which online group meeting tool is going to be best to use with the second years. I have tried setting up a Google Hangout, but am struggling to get it on my Laptop as it does not seem to have the software necessary to install the required ‘plugins’. I have been able to set it up from my work PC but there is no camera or microphone attached, so I would be unable to use it from my Salford computer. I need to investigate this further, but so far I have established that to use it, students need to:

1. Set up a Google+ account

2. Go to Google Hangout

3. Ensure that their laptops are compatible to accommodate Google Hangout.

I have tested using Google Hangout in principle, and as a platform I prefer it to Collaborate as I think it is more accessible. Students need to find technologies accessible in order to participate in them for effective learning – I like the way Beetham and Currant (2008, slide 13) use the term effective learning as characteristic of ‘skilled, digitally aware learners with the capacity to participate on learning using technologies of their own choosing’. If the technology is accessible then students are more likely to choose to use it. Wenger et al (2009) address ‘Community Orientations’, and specifically online meetings. They note that the choice of technology needs to reflect the style of the community so one needs to consider formal or informal, presentation or discussion and so on. These are essential elements that I need to consider for my project – I want the group session to be informal, but its value recognised by the students. Therefore it must not be so informal that people don’t bother to participate or engage. I want the sessions to be mainly discussion, and peer led – but I also want a tool that is going to allow me to present information if necessary. In  addition another benefit of Google Hangout is that it can be recorded on YouTube so anybody unable to participate could always have access to it later (this in itself requires thought around permissions, consent, privacy settings and so on, but it is an important feature that I believe increases the accessibility to students)

Beetham H & Currant B (2008) presentation on Learning Literacies for a Digital Age from the ELESIG symposium, Longridge Technology Park, 20/11/08 online resource accessed from ELESIG website, members area:  http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloud/view/3434   on 19/11/12

Wenger E., White N., Smith J.D (2009) Community Orientations: activities and tools. In Stewarding Technology for Communities. CPsquare; Portland, oregan.

So the day has come… tomorrow myself and my 5 wonderful colleagues in Action Learning Set 3 will be delivering the whole session on ‘Digital literacies’. The session has been planned (well in advance, it has to be said!)  and it feels like it might go well. It’s been a pleasure working with a bunch of people with such a ‘can do’ and proactive attitude, rather than looking at the obstacles! We have what appears to be one of the top writers/speakers about the field of DL at the moment doing a half hour online Q&A with us, which is really exciting. Watch this brill short film explaining what DL is all about:

The whole aspect of DL has hge implications for teaching and learning, and for engagement/inclusion and quality assurance within higher education. When considering the UK PSF in relation to DL, they can be applied to all the standards, but particularly A4 in Areas of Activity; K2, K3 and K4 in Core Knowledge; and V2 and V4 in Professional Values.

I have been spending quite a bit of time researching various tools for the online group sessions that I plan to facilitate with the Joint Programme students once they are out on placement. I don’t think that Skype is an option, as there will possibly be too many people in the group to enable us to use it for free – this is a better tool for a one-to-one get together. I have used Blackboard Collaborate as a participant, and although I think it would suit our needs, I have to admit to being terrified around how to go about setting a Collaborate session up. I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that Google Hangout might be the tool to use. I have spent time watching tutorials on Google Hangout – both in terms of setting it up, and seeing what it looks like when a Hangout goes live. I think that Hangout is the most appropriate tool, as the Hangouts can be recorded and saved on YouTube – therefore subject to checking privacy preferences and participant consent, other members of the cohort that can’t attend the session can watch the Hangout. As the reason behind my project is to help potentially isolated students feel connected, this has the added bonus of making it easy for even those who can’t join live, to feel connected. I know that it is possible to save Collaborate sessions, but the Google Hangout/YouTube platform looks easier to access, and I believe that there is an argument for using media that students will already be familiar with – I suspect that this will increase motivation to participate (need to do some reading around this). Now I need to have a go at a Google Hangout, and experiment. Then I will be ready to make contact with the group and explore where to go next with them, now that they are no longer in University.

(ps listened to my first Podcast today – from Radio 4 ‘The Digital Human’, brilliant and very relevant to the ALT module: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/dh/rss.xml looking forward to listening to the whole series! I also ‘retweeted’ for the first time today – so pleased that Obama has won a second term in the White House!)

I am ashamed to say that this is the first reflection in my e-portfolio! (And I have just written loads but lost it all, so now losing the will to live – will try to remember best I can!) Despite it being week 5, the lack of reflection right here does not mean that I haven’t been engaging with the module. I am loving it so far and trying to do as much as I can. I have signed up to Twitter and have spent the last few weeks trying to establish a) how it works; b) what, if any benefit it can offer to teaching and learning; and c) how I (personally and professionally) want to engage with it as a medium. In a short time I have concluded that it has tremendous benefit for disseminating information and therefore to the activity of teaching and learning – but there is also a lot of guff, so I need to spend time thinking about what kind of presence I want to have on Twitter. This morning I asked one of my first year tutees whether she uses any kind of social media – she told me she uses Facebook for staying in touch with her family and Twitter for staying abreast of local and national political and community issues. I was struck by her mature approach to the technology, and her awareness of digital literacy – but the fact that this surprised me exposed my own prejudice and naivety in thinking that the ‘youth’ have no idea how to appropriately use social media (she is one of the youngest students in the class). Anyway, I definitely want to explore how I can use Twitter as a force for good with my students. I have started on my project (more can be read about this in the subpage of the ALT module page). I have an Australian visiting lecturer coming to stay later this week, and I know he has to do a session with a class in California using Skype whilst he is with me, so I am hoping that he lets me observe part of it, as I am still exploring the best platform to use to facilitate remote sessions for students who are out on placement.

Here we are at the very end of the LTHE module of the PGCAP. It has been a really great experience – hard work but good fun though I wish I was able to have done more reading and research. But, as my Lego diagram attempted to demonstrate, I see this as just the beginning of my journey to become an effective educator. I have spent plenty of time reading text books about teaching and learning: from the books, from classmates and from Chrissi and I now have so many ideas to put into practice in the classroom.

In relation to the UK PSF, I believe that I have shown throughout this portfolio that I am engaging with the areas of activity, core knowledge and professsional values stated within the framework. I have demonstrated engagement explicitly with all but  2 of the components of the framework – the two outstanding components are V3 and V4. I have no doubt that I am able to demonstrate engagement with these two components within my wider job, but it has been a challenge to show it within the portfolio.

To finish off, I wanted to cite six key principles of effective teaching in higher education:

  1. Interest and explanation
  2. Concern and respect for students and student learning
  3. Appropriate assessment and feedback
  4. Clear goals and intellectual challenge
  5. Independence, control and engagement
  6. Learning from students

(Ramsden 2005)

I would personally like to focus on numbers 3 and 5 as these are the aspects I’d like to improve. With regards to the action points I developed as part of my educational autobiography, I now appreciate that they weren’t quite specific enough, and were not really pinpointed at specific teaching and learning activity. I have achieved all of them to varying degrees, but now appreciate how much more detailed my action plan should have been. All part of the great learning experience!

Ramsden P (2005) 2nd edition Learning to teach in higher education RoutledgeFalmer; Oxon.

Further to my post of April 19th, I put my idea’s of formative feedback into action. Yesterday the group of 2nd years whom I am teaching in a module on ‘Group care’ participated in some formative/peer feedback. The module is intense, and runs over 2 weeks, so there is little room to go away and reflect. Yesterday (day 6 out of 9) the group came in with some work they had already prepared. I had asked them to consider the essay title and spend some time planning (using bullet points at the very least) what were the important aspects to include in their assignments. The intention was that this would give me a chance to see how they are consolidating their learning, and whether they were engaging in deep level learning or surface learning (Biggs 1999). I mixed up the group and separated them into 6 groups of 3, and instructed them to engage in a kind of ‘timed talk’ where they each had a 20 minute slot to share their ideas with their 2 colleagues and recieve feedback and engage in idea sharing. The only rules were that feedback had to be respectful and constructive.  Myself and a colleague floated round the room, joining in groups as required (I put Chrissi’s ‘flag’ idea into action and it worked well!) we were able to answer questions, provide clarification and listen to some of the discussion that was taking place.

The intention was to ‘probe students’ knowledge as it is being constructed, so that any misunderstandings can be set right… to do this requires a climate where students feel free to admit error’ (Biggs 1999 p75). I felt as though the session was incredibly productive. The groups worked well together; they asked for help when needed; individuals went away with a clearer idea of how to approach their essays; and we gained some insight into what they are grasping and what they are struggling with. At the end of the session I asked the students verbally to give feedback on how well they thought it worked, and they were all very positive. I am conscious that they are completing the module evaluation tomorrow so didn’t want to overevaluate with them. I’m not sure how well they each took it in turns to discuss their work – I got the feeling that mostly the group had a general discussion. If I repeat the exercise I think I might get the person who’s turn it is to be interviewed by the other two about their thoughts, then it means each individual gets the same proportion of time to discuss their work/thoughts. (A1; A3; A4; K2; K5; V2)

Biggs J (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. OU Press; Buckingham.

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In memory of an inspiring young doctor who mused about life & death through her terminal cancer illness. Her husband, Chris now keeps the page updated.

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