E-learning advocates – Dr Matthew Day

E-Learning

Bishop Grosseteste College

Brief description

The advocate acted as the leader on IT issues to all staff involved in the teaching of English at the College (c.10 WTEs). This includes staff on single subject and combined undergraduate degree programmes, Primary PGCE, Secondary PGCE, MA in Education Studies and the Primary Education undergraduate programme. The scope of influence in terms of the teaching of English was therefore considerable. Not only did the advocate provide information, support and training to these staff for their own practice, but he also facilitated the education of the next generation of school teachers and higher education lecturers.  The second part of the advocate’s role was the development of subject specific resources as examples of best practice for dissemination both within the College and outside it. The advocate oversaw the development of resource libraries and networks to support the dissemination and sharing of ideas and teaching materials.

Background

In its Mission Statement the College aims to excel in teaching and learning and to be at the cutting edge of research. Integral to this is a commitment to IT, and the College has invested heavily in equipment, staff and resources to facilitate the effective use of learning through IT. These centrally managed resources can be accessed by departmental staff, and the advocate’s role will be to put in place the information, training and development packages which enable staff to make effective use of the resources in their teaching and learning of English. Staff within the department have made a commitment to this training and development. The proposed advocate is the programme leader on the single-subject and combined undergraduate degree programmes, and is the subject leader for English across the College. There is therefore a strong managerial commitment to this development. College will support the bid by making available an additional £2,000 to support the project if the bid is successful. Space has been made within the timetable for next academic year to achieve the necessary training and dissemination of best practice, and time will be made available both on additional training days and College Staff Development days

The importance of the project to College and the English Department lies not only in its commitment to developing and training staff but also its strong belief in preparing students for the work environment with a broad based set of transferable skills, as well as specific subject knowledge. This is evident in its role both as a trainer of teachers but also in its commitment to ensure that graduates from other programmes have the relevant skills and expertise to enter the market-place as valuable and skilled contributors to employers.  Students coming to the College fall broadly into two categories and have different needs in terms of IT. Mature students constitute as much as 33% of cohorts in English programmes and are sometimes anxious about the use of IT; younger students, who may be more confident in the use of IT, are keen to further develop their skills and knowledge, and therefore require more advanced in-put and development. The English Department is revalidating its English Literature Degree for 2007 and will build into its new programme the use and knowledge of IT as part of the student learning experience.

Across the programmes on which English is taught the use of IT is assessed. All assignments on the single-subject and the English element of combined courses assess students’ ability to use IT resources. Training is given to students in these areas. The training of staff in new technologies will extend the range and abilities of students as they will also be trained in the use of these skills. For example, students are assessed by presentations and by their ability to lead and contribute to discussions. These innovative methods of assessment which have been praised by the external examiner would be considerably enhanced by the ability to use more effectively some of the new technologies which the College has recently purchased. More generally, students’ learning will be enhanced in a number of other ways, through the development of resources which will enhance their subject knowledge and understanding of, and ability, to evaluate English related materials on both language and literature.

Activities / Methodology

The methodology as originally set out was diverse and ambitious. Many of the activities took place as planned particularly training of staff within the department, training of students on IT resources and development of future strategic plans. However, it became evident that training sessions were not enough in themselves to facilitate extensive usage of packages. For example, training took place on the use of powerpoint, wikis on the VLE, the VLE for tests, on Smartboards, interactive whiteboards and Netrecorder but take up of these was variable. Online tests and tasks were developed and some use was made of Netrecorder while extensive use was made of powerpoint. However, there was almost no use of wikis on the VLE, interactive whiteboards and Smartboards although in these areas awareness was raised. It is likely that in the future more will be made of these, particularly as use of other e-resources becomes more familiar and comfortable. In some areas, more progress was made than expected, particularly in the use of VLE and student take up of e-resources. These are evidenced through output visible on the VLE and student engagement in such things as online tasks and through statistical data on usage of e-resources. Module evaluations provided qualitative information about the use of powerpoint in particular and the use of on-line lectures as well as tasks on the VLE.

Integration

This bid is taking place on the back of considerable investment in ICT and learning technologies within the College and Department. This has seen the installation of a Promethean board in the principle teaching space and the provision of computing and projection facilities in the seminar areas and IT resource room.  Personal development in ICT and in e-learning is also an appraisal objective for many staff.  The college has recently purchased the Blackboard VLE and the netrecorder facility. It has also bought the tablet pcs with stylus input and the link to the dataprojector. The English Department itself has bought a digital camera and scanners. The English Department has taken a strategic approach to its incorporation into module teaching of these new technologies and now wishes to increase that. For example, on the VLE at the end of this first academic year of its implementation, there is a basic level of take up.  However there is a determination to increase this in the coming year, particularly in terms of the level of online discussion and in improving the volume and quantity of online resources.  Similarly, the Department is acknowledged as a leader in assessing student discussions, but now wants students to be able to incorporate IT in these in a way that enables every member of the seminar to see the same material at a pc and discuss this, as well as then marking up their own on-line text to support their particular needs. Staff want to teach seminars in this way too, so that students can move away from book-based learning to discussing texts which are freely available on line, juxtaposing texts and resources in exciting and innovative ways.

Outcomes

Less measurable benefits include:

  1. a general increase in confidence amongst staff within the English Department in the use of technology. Staff are more willing to try new software and be alive to its possibilities;
  2. an increased level of the use of e-technologies and e-resources such that one colleague returning from maternity leave notices the expectation of, for example, the use of the VLE and the use of powerpoint in lectures. Overall then we can observe an increased skill level amongst staff in terms of e-resources and e-technology;
  3. a willingness to move on to the use of other software packages having gained some confidence in more straight forward ones. Thus, having gained confidence in the use of Powerpoint, staff are now ready to explore the possibilities of Smart boards, video-editing and podcasting in a way that they were previously simply not ready for;
  4. an increased awareness of the work of others within our institution in e-learning. Although we have not made us much progress in working with other colleagues who have shared interests as we would have liked, we are at least now aware that there are colleagues who share these interests and are developing plans to maximise these;
  5. in the light of iv) we are developing plans to maximise these shared interests and develop a Centre for Learning in Electronic an Material Textuality. (CLIEMT) The e-learning advocate has been charged with bringing a proposal to Directorate for the development of such a centre.

Project leader

Dr Matthew Day

Report

Research period

September 2006 – September 2007