Tag Archives: Brookes

Blog conversation on FSLT12

Lakhovsky, Conversation (public domain)

The feeds are starting to come in to the FSLT12 blog aggregator. And it is already a rich source of information and potential conversation. Questions are being asked about what makes a good teacher, and what makes a bad one! Jenny Mackness addresses the issue of blog aggregation generally in a MOOC. We are struggling with this and will be making changes to the template so that syndicated feeds only show the first 100 words or so.

But my question is more about the nature of conversation in this context. I will need to locate references, or ask if anyone has any to support my assertion, here. I wonder if this new epistolary form may be going a bit Baroque or even Rococo.

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First thoughts on the final (?) draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience

Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:

  • [implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
  • [maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.

The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.

From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:

  • All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
  • All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
  • The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
  • Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
  • Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)

From a wider educational development perspective:

  • [With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (

Learning technology messages

  • [People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
  • [The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
  • The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
  • The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)

The first day of the PCTHE

We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.

But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.

Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.

The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!

I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar  sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.

Social Media and the Harrisburg Experiment

Last week the social media networks and the printed press, too, were buzzing with news that Harrisburg University of Science and Technology was blocking access to all social media sites for the week. There were predictable reactions from all sides. But ultimately interesting questions could be asked and there is probably something worth studying about learning behaviour among the many different groups of people who participate in higher education these days.

For me, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t bring their laptop to class and use it for note-taking. I have been doing this for more than 10 years. Over the time I have used a range of tools for this purpose. (Currently my favourite is Xmind for mindmapping.) Since the Internet has become widely available through services like Brookes wireless (eduroam) I might indulge in a little fact checking if the lecturer refers to something interesting that I want to pursue. Yes, sometimes I might use Twitter to make a back-channel comments. And, frankly, if the session has lost my attention, I might as well make other notes off the topic.

Demanding attendance and attention as virtues in their own right can only go so far. But, in the classroom such demands can be appropriate at times. If it is an intended outcome that learners learn to pay attention for a stretch of time beyond the usual (contemporary) bite-sized time-slice, then make that explicit, and assess it, and maybe even show that such attention is valued with a (small) mark premium (or penalty). Rhona Sharpe speaks about this in her lecture on lecturing. It is easy enough to do by signalling the intention and designing a quick post-session recall exercise. This was the subject of a PCTHE participant’s sustained inquiry two years ago.

Many teachers assume that if learners have their laptops (or smart phones) open that they are necessarily not paying attention. But, people have doodled for a long time on paper while tuned out of the lecture. That said, there is a lot that students and teachers have to learn. Passing notes in the back of the class is rude, whatever medium the notes may be in. There are genuine questions about attention spans and new bricolic epistemologies. There is a question about Facebook “addiction”.

So, class time is class time. We all have some responsibilities to it. Taking away the internet during a lecture, for me, would impoverish the learning experience. Asking me to close my laptop and “pay attention” would be like telling me, 25 years ago not to take notes in class. But at the same time, it would be rude of me to be somewhere else altogether, and laugh out loud at a private joke just when the lecturer was making a salient point.

So, I guess the question, for me, is how do you build teaching sessions that take account of the increasing social media use by learners in the classroom? And, how do you include everyone, laptop users and non-users alike?

Related to this are questions about what student class-room social media practice really is. Do we know? Or, do we just assume? We should not assume that just because a student has their laptop open that they are not engaged with the topic.

Harrisburg’s Social-ucation site