CMALT Portfolio – 1. Operational Issues

a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology

To offer a truism – the range of technologies by which and through which one can potentially teach and learn is immense and is in a state of continual expansion and evolution. On the one hand this affords excellent opportunities for enhancing teaching and learning through technology. However unless one is continually mindful of the constraints and benefits of utilising technology in a pedagogic context, the result can be a situation where teaching and learning are simply bolted on to a technology and as such there is no enhancement of the teaching or learning.

When approaching my work I am mindful of the guiding vision of the CELT:

working with staff and students to transform their learning and teaching experiences through the situated use of technologies

The notion of situated use is key in ensuring that one has a clear understanding of how a particular technological intervention can be situated within a curriculum or a specific learning need, to ensure that the technology serves the pedagogy.

I have spoken to some of these issues in a couple of blogs that I have written.

So on the one hand there are fundamental constraints with technology that apply to the broader aspects of pedagogy. On the other hand there are also more pragmatic reasons to have a situated understanding of the constraints and benefits of technology. The following is an example of a project on which I worked in which weighing the practical benefits and constraints of technology was a critical aspect of the developmental strategy, and from which I learned some key lessons about the strategic value of being mindful of the constraint/benefit dichotomy, and just how critical the notion of situated technology can be.

High Street is a virtual, fictional community that I developed in collaboration with academic staff to support and enhance teaching and learning on the BSc Nursing programme at DMU. Built in a Blackboard (VLE) community shell it provides a space in which teaching staff can create, develop and explore the use of real-world scenarios as teaching and learning enhancement tools.

My work on the development of High Street has been a key factor in informing my understanding of how the potential benefits of enhancing learning through technology must be strategically weighed against certain constraints that can be inherent in certain approaches. In particular, in this case concerning the ongoing sustainability, governance and potential scalability of ELT resources.

Critical in the development of High Street was the requirement that once launched it could be owned, governed and administered by the teaching staff. This approach relates directly to the development of staff digital literacies across DMU, which forms part of CELT’s professional development strategy – to facilitate staff ownership of core skills that apply to enhancing teaching and learning in practice.

So it was important that my project plan included the mechanisms by which the High Street could be owned by the stakeholders themselves, and that there was a sustainable model of governance going forward. To this end I intentionally built High Street in our institutional VLE (Blackboard). Academic staff at DMU are required to be versed in the basic use of Blackboard for the online delivery of materials to support and enhance teaching and learning. As the High Street utilises many of the basic Blackboard content creation tools to add, update, and edit content, interaction with the resource was within the technical comfort zone of most teaching staff. Albeit carrying with it a manageable amount of new skills that could have a positive impact on staff digital literacy in terms of mechanisms by which online, scenario-based teaching and learning content could be further integrated into teaching and learning materials.

Building High Street in a recognised teaching and learning system allowed the Nursing programme team to take ownership of the resource. With High Street, academic staff are empowered to create their own resident profiles and add them to the High Street, and to create scenarios around residents that are specific to their teaching and their students’ learning needs. Rather than having an external person or persons (that is persons without any knowledge of Nursing and its pedagogy) manage, administer, edit, update and generally maintain the site, it allows the programme team to take on these roles without having to undergo any specific new training – utilising the High Street is exactly the same process as when utilising their usual Blackboard module spaces. Also, any technical support that is required for High Street can draw on the existing procedures that are in place to support the use of Blackboard. In terms of scalability – having the resource located within the VLE minimised potential storage capacity issues.

From the student perspective, Blackboard is a recognised space in which students engage with their online learning materials. Situating High Street in the VLE did not therefore require students to learn how to use a different online space to access and interact with learning materials.

Another key factor was in ensuring that academic staff (where necessary) would engage with the resource as part of their teaching. If the resource was difficult to use, requiring an investment of time above and beyond that assigned to teaching there would be a risk that no academic staff would engage with the resource. Therefore my strategy was to develop a resource that functioned as an integral part of the existing teaching resources – that was seen as a normalised component of teaching preparation and delivery. Were the resource to have been built in a bespoke system – sustainability, administration, governance, scalability would have been far more difficult to implement. Significantly more staff and student training in the use of the resource would have been needed, all of which would have resulted in staff and students being less likely to engage with the resource.

Given some of the anecdotal feedback I received from academic staff shortly following the launch of High Street, on reflection my support for staff in the use of High Street during its development was mostly focused on how they could use the technology to add scenario-based materials in to High Street and access these from their online teaching spaces. What they would have liked to have seen were more examples of how scenario-based materials similar to those which were populating High Street, and how other virtual real-world resources were being used to support and enhance teaching and learning. For some staff this was an entirely new and unknown approach to teaching and learning, and as such it required more support and information in terms of contextualizing the resource from a situated teaching and learning perspective. I responded to this by subsequently working with individual staff to identify how the High Street resource might be effectively situated within their particular teaching and learning needs.

My work on the High Street resource has been formally recognised. Such as in the following testimonial:

Dr Abigail Moriarty – DMU Nursing and Midwifery

I am completing this accolade for Rob in relation to his amazing work behind the virtual learning tool ‘High Street’. High Street was merely an idea on something that would be ‘nice’ to see in a nursing curriculum. Rob made it real. Rob made it happen. It was all down to Rob.

I worked alongside Rob when originally planning the High Street concept, Rob was new to the Faculty but this did not dissuade him from being enthusiastic and motivational in getting this learning tool off the ground under a short timeframe with limited resources. His strategic approach in developing this initiative shaped the successful outcome of High Street, as it has been commended in several curriculum validations as good practice. It was not just his technical expertise that was invaluable but his intellectual acumen in understanding the underpinning pedagogic rationale for its progression. His clear understanding on the developing student learning landscape has resulted in Rob being able to support staff (with this new High Street technology) as well as appreciating how students can benefit from this learning enhancement tool, a unique and individual perspective.

b) Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology

As exemplified throughout this portfolio, I have a broad range of knowledge and ability in the use of technology in general, as well as in the use of specific learning technologies. I am actively engaged in using technology to develop teaching and learning materials and in supporting the use of technology for teaching and learning.

A significant component of my role involves working directly with academic staff in their use of our institutional VLE (Blackboard). As the eLearning coordinator for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences (HLS) at DMU I actively support academic staff in their use of over 650 module sites in the VLE. This means that I am required to engage with the use of technology across all aspects of the HLS curriculum for both attending and distance students, undergraduate and postgraduate, in programmes such as, Psychology, Nursing and Midwifery, Speech and Language Therapy, Pharmacy, Biomedical Science, Education Studies, Social Work, Criminology, and Forensics. The implementation of technology across these varied curricula encompasses:

    • Classroom-based technologies
    • eAssessment and feedback
    • Digital Multimedia for Teaching and Learning
    • Lecture and Presentation Capture
    • Asynchronous and synchronous classroom technology

I have independently conceptualised and lead on a number of ELT projects and have supported, developed and collaborated on projects conceived by others.

Some examples of my major project work are (these are explored in more detail in this portfolio):

Other examples of my use of technology to support teaching and learning can be found throughout this portfolio.

Given my particular expertise in the use of digital media and the development of web-based content, a significant part of my role concerns the development of media-based teaching and learning content, and supporting staff in the use of this type of content.

I have produced video tutorials, such as:

I have developed learning objects in close collaboration with academic staff. For example this interactive, online scenario-based learning object: http://aural-initiative.com/scenarios/EmergencyRoom/EmergencyRoom.html

I have authored and deliver staff development sessions about the use of digital media for teaching and learning. An example of which can be found in the Wider Context section.

My technological ability and knowledge has afforded me the opportunity to utilise a range of technologies that may not be defined as learning technologies, but that can be utilised as effective learning technologies or to develop effective teaching and learning resources. The experience that I have gained in applying the range of skills that I have in the use of technology – beyond those that are defined as learning technologies – towards enhancing teaching and learning has instilled in me an awareness that the very term ‘learning technologies’ should not necessarily apply to a finite and narrow set of technologies. The key is in understanding and/or discovering through ongoing experimentation the pedagogic potential of a range of technologies in the context of both general and localised/specialised teaching and learning needs; how a technology might be effectively applied to serve teaching and learning even when its core function may not, on the surface appear to be directly related to enhancing teaching and learning.

Having worked with academic staff on the development of resources for which they were required to use technology that was unknown to them (but one that I myself was proficient in) and that they would be required to learn how to use in order to develop content in an on going process, has revealed some important considerations that I did not fully appreciate when I first began my role as a learning technologist.

Becoming proficient in the use of a technology and subsequently using this new technology to create teaching and learning resources, carries with it what can be a significant time overhead. If one is not upfront with staff in terms of what the time overheads might potentially be, it can result in the situation where once you move back from actively supporting the member of staff in their use of a new technology to develop content, the time overhead required to become proficient in the use of the technology and the time required to create the resources, is above and beyond their reasonable capacity – and they subsequently decide not to pursue it. Given my experience of this I now take care in giving as accurate as possible information about what the time overheads might be in terms of learning how to use the technology to a point at which they are proficient in its use, and how long it takes to develop content once this level of proficiency is reached.

 

c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies

Having been involved in several large-scale projects concerned with the deployment of and upgrading of learning technologies I have come to appreciate the extent to which a strategic approach that takes into account aspects of change management and project management is key to effectively working in this space.

When I began my post as a learning technologist, it was within the newly established Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology (CELT) at DMU. The establishing of CELT coincided with ELT being included as a key strategic component in what was at the time a new iteration of the University Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy. This emerging institutional focus on ELT may well result in what could be some seismic shifts in teaching, learning and assessment culture and practice – such shifts would therefore require careful strategic management.

Given that a core aim of the CELT is to support academic staff in their use of technology to enhance learning. I looked to my existing abilities, those that I had brought with me to the role, in terms of how I might effectively apply these strategically towards establishing the Centre on the basis of its core aims. Given my background in web design and development I suggested that I might evaluate the status of our institutional online staff support provision related to ELT. I was given the task of undertaking this evaluation. I found that although there were significant institutional online support materials for ELT, these materials were dispersed across various web spaces and online repositories across the institution.

Based on my evaluation I proposed that we consolidate all of our existing online support materials into a single centralised Hub; update these materials where necessary; and author new support materials as required. To facilitate this I conceptualised, project managed and lead the development of our CELT Hub which is built in the WordPress platform and is a comprehensive online ELT support hub for staff at DMU. It has an internal enhancement focus around staff development in the use of ELT; a means of providing staff with contextualized content that helps them to understand the pedagogic benefits of technology and how they might go about implementing technology enhanced approaches into their curriculum.

Key to the deployment, resilience and scalability of the CELT Hub was to establish effective governance for the site within the CELT team. Examples of which can be seen in the following documents:

The Hub has proven to be an effective mechanism for engaging academic staff in the use of our core deployed technologies for teaching and learning. On average the CELT Hub receives between 1,500 and 4,200 visits per month. The majority of which are by academic staff at DMU. We see spikes in the number of visits around the beginning of the academic session in September, and following any significant upgrade of our VLE or deployment of new learning technologies – this indicates that the Hub is seen as a key source of support by academic staff. These statistics also help us to strategically target our staff development programme.

The Hub itself is embedded within the DMU Academic Commons (http://our.dmu.ac.uk), which is an online, internal and public facing space, for which I recently lead an institutional upgrade. This included re-design of the user interface, updating of the user support guides, and the authoring of a new service level agreement and governance procedures between our IT support service and CELT to ensure resiliency in the ongoing support of the Commons. Through my work, the CELT Team are currently supporting 954 sites and 1,049 users on the DMU Academic Commons. Sites are related to: scholarship of teaching; teaching and learning; undergraduate student portfolios/websites; Ph.D. student blogs/websites; Student Frontrunners; individual staff blogs; sites focused on institutional operations or strategy; Staff Development; on-line Journals; Research Projects.

I also run a series of three staff development sessions in the use of the DMU Commons.

In July 2013 the CELT team implemented an anonymous marking protocol across our institutional electronic marking infrastructure. This included the deployment of a new electronic marking and feedback solution via Turnitin and a distinct set of eAssessment practices. This deployment was supported by a series of workshops for staff, for which I was involved in the delivery and in the authoring of online support materials:

In July 2014 the CELT team implemented a major upgrade of our core VLE. My role as part of the team included user testing of the upgraded system to ensure that functionality operated as it should across a range of teaching, learning and assessment scenarios. My approach in working very closely with academic staff towards understanding the range of teaching and learning needs across varied curricular, presents me with a range of scenarios that I can utilise to effectively user-test systems in term of them being fit for purpose. Following the upgrade I ran several HLS Faculty staff support sessions where I gave an overview of the key changes to, and new features in Blackboard:

As the lead developer of our online support Hub I managed the process by which the CELT team updated our online help guides to reflect the changes to our VLE. It was important that legacy pages were also properly archived, to this end I authored an archiving procedure. Here a simple “how to…” video that I created about the archiving process:

I am currently co-project manager for the implementation of an institutional Synchronous Classroom solution. My role requires the execution and management of an implementation plan. This includes:

  • piloting the solution with a group of early adopters and capturing the experiences as case studies for dissemination across the institution
  • ensuring that the IT application support team are versed in the operation of the solution and that IT support procedures are in place
  • leading the development of staff training sessions in the use of the software
  • up skilling my CELT colleagues in the use of the software
  • leading the creation of online support materials and help guides
  • strategically managing the scaling of the solution across the institution

As part of the early phase of development of Synchronous Classroom project I implemented the use of Big Blue Button (an open source online conferencing solution) in our DMU Commons space. This was as a short-term solution to accommodate those academic staff who were wanting to explore the possibilities of Synchronous Classroom technology, but for whom at the time there was no solution in place.

See: http://conferenceroom.our.dmu.ac.uk/

Having developed and deployed several technologies, in particular those that have been designed to support academic staff in their use of technology for teaching and learning. I have come to realise the folly of thinking that “if you build it they will come”. You may indeed have developed a superb resource, but if no one knows that it exists then ultimately it is of no use. When our CELT hub was first launched, albeit its launch was announced institutionally, it didn’t attract as many visits as were anticipated – a few months after its launch I would still come across academic staff who, when I mentioned the hub would say – “What’s that? Never heard of it”. Given this, it was important that mechanisms were put in place to signpost the resource and to drive people to it. Signposts for the hub were strategically placed in various information resources that staff tended to interact with – such as the VLE, online library pages, staff intranet, newsletters, and staff pages on the DMU website. The hub was also marketed by the CELT team at various meetings which we attend as part of our faculty and institutional roles. Once a critical mass of visitors to the hub had been reached, thanks to our signposting efforts, word of mouth from hub site users then began to drive more visitors as staff began to talk about how useful they found the hub. Resource signposting is now a key component of my resource development strategy.

 

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