E-learning advocates – Dr Lesley Coote

E-Learning

University of Hull

Brief description

This project centred upon the technology and utility of the Interactive Whiteboard.  At present,  Smart- or Activ-boards are widely used in schools and in Sixth-form and Further Education, whilst their deployment in Higher Education learning situations as a whole, and English in particular, is very limited.  Given that the IWB provides a forum whereby the interactive, networked computer screen (including access to a VLE) may be linked with digitised material and text in an interactive situation leading to the possible creation of new materials, this represents a ‘lost opportunity’ of very large proportions.  IWBs exist currently in a situation where HEIs will not invest in the hard- and software unless a convincing case can be made for their use, and lack of availability and expertise prevents significant further development.  The project aimed to embed IWB skills in the English department at the University of Hull, in order to develop  materials, explore and create new possibilities opened up by this potentially ground-breaking equipment.  The IWB is a medium in which many different ICT resources and methodologies can come together, so this project involved the researching and development of other forms of ICT in association with the IWB technology.  This potential can now be offered for the use of other practitioners.

Background

Our department was a very ‘traditional’ one.  A departmental staff of twenty-three included the areas of English literature and creative writing. Our 1960s building contains lecture theatres with networked computer linkage to overhead projectors, and a screen facing rows of tiered seats (around 150).  There are also smaller teaching rooms (maximum 16/17 students) in rooms with central desks, an overhead projector and a ‘normal’ whiteboard along one, or two, walls.  Some lecturers have television sets with dvd-playing facilities.  Blackboard has been available for around 8/9 years, but only half a dozen lecturers have been using it.  Some lecturers also use recorded music, bringing their own cassette players with them.  A few bookable teaching rooms in the library have Promethean whiteboards.

Project design

Initially, I planned to take the work through distinct stages:

  • Try working with both SMART and Promethean interactive whiteboards, in order to ascertain which is the most useful for novice and  ‘nervous’ users.
  • Find out the location of such boards already installed in the university.
  • Persuade my faculty managers to have a ‘practice board’ installed in the ‘English’ departmental corridor.
  • Familiarise myself with the board, work out principles for setting up and using it, trial it with small numbers of students
  • Use the above step to create a series of templates which can be used to enhance learning situations, then demonstrate these.
  • At the same time, demonstrate the ‘background’ technologies and provide lower-tech alternatives for using them if a board is not available.
  • Find new technologies for use with the board in learning and teaching.

I found that I was ultimately able to follow this plan, but it turned out to be more difficult, and took longer, than I expected.  One of the greatest problems was ‘red tape’, and another was the lack of understanding of those involved in setting up the infrastructure.  This lack of understanding also led to a certain amount of apathy, which proved more frustrating and time-consuming than insurmountable.

Key findings and outcomes – general

After an intercactive whiteboard was installed a number of issues arose:

  • Those responsible for installing and supporting interactive whiteboards in HEIs do not usually understand them.  This means that issues such as connecting the projector, where to connect what leads (and what leads are required), and what software and peripherals are also necessary and/or desirable, cannot be taken for granted.
  • Consequently, rooms take a long time to set up.  There may be a time gap between demonstrating to people and getting teaching rooms which they can use.  This may also be a blessing, giving them time to use the equipment in practice sessions before the teaching facilities proper are made available.
  • Students can benefit from learning to use whiteboards themselves – a student space is also a good idea – in addition, support technologies can become valuable transferable skills.

Key findings and outcomes

  • I undertook instruction sessions for postgraduate lecturers and for inexperienced lecturers first, as these proved more receptive to new ideas. My position as a tutor on the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and on the Graduate Training Scheme enabled me to instruct lecturers and postgraduates from English and from other departments around the university.
  • I showed colleagues from English, American Studies, Film Studies and Creative Writing the software, and talked about their needs.  There was considerable interest, and interest was awakened in other technologies, such as moving and still image production, and virtual learning environments. I obtained a camcorder for staff use, and opened discussions about TV production
  • I obtained a portable data projector, in order to use materials with my own students and to demonstrate possibilities in rooms with no facilities. I explored the possibilities of the software without the board.
  • Using experience from my own classes, I created some templates – these work with interactive whiteboards, but can be adapted for use without them.
  • More time was given to exploring how students might use these technologies, in presentation but also as pedagogical tools in their learning experience.  This involved digital authoring carried out by students on several modules, including a module featuring film production using a variety of technologies, including a television studio, with related equipment and facilities.

Report

Project Leader

Dr Lesley Coote
English Department
University of Hull

Research Period

September 2006 – September 2007

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