Thursday, 15 January 2009

E-Learning Forum (LJMU January 12th, 2009)

The day kicked off with brief presentations from me, Will Reid and Leo Appleton. Firstly me and Will gave a brief overview of the mobile learning project before Will and Leo revealed the new training programme that began this week for all LIS staff – Learning2.0 @ LJMU.

The first full E-Learning presentation was from Phil Denton from the Faculty of Science demonstrating the WoWIE (World of Work Internet Explorer) project. Phil gave an enthusiastic presentation about how communication between SSOs, Tutors and students is facilitated contributing to students’ successful acquisition of WoW skills during their time studying at LJMU.

The second presentation was delivered by Katie Barnes from the Faculty of Health (with a bit of technical help from Jim Turner!). Katie gave a very energetic and animated presentation about her use of Wimba Classroom with students both on campus and at a distance. She explored the pros and cons of a ‘virtual classroom’ using video examples to illustrate her points. Through her time using Wimba Classroom, Katie has found that delivery, access and revision have all prevailed enabling her students to study in the best way that suits their needs. However, be forewarned, as Katie admits herself – “it is not for the faint hearted…!!”

Next, David Sorfa from the Faculty of Media, Arts and Social Science, gave a presentation about his experiences of the online marking tool Turnitin GradeMark. David showed us how the software works and how it can be personalised, for example David likes to use the word ‘clumsy’ which he could then store, with a definition, to be used as and when he needed. The main advantage for students being that they no longer need to battle to be able to read their tutor’s handwriting!! But also, printing problems are overcome, tutors can add comments to student assignments at the click of a button and the students can keep all their work, marked and annotated in their e-portfolio. David spoke eloquently about Turnitin GradeMark and I felt he really ‘sold’ the idea, one point that was highlighted though was the danger of only making comments relating to things that the students have done wrong, grammatical errors etc. and not giving praise when they have expressed something well. Electronic submission on the students’ behalf fits in with the ever-growing emphasis on technology-enhanced learning and for students that are not based near to the campus centres will be a godsend!

Alasdair Gordon-Finlayson from the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Psychology presented next demonstrating Wimba Pronto – a Blackboard based chat environment – similar to MSN but with the ability to manage student/module groups through its integration with Blackboard. It creates an online community, especially important for distance students and can be used both formally and informally. With a bit of help from Bethan Hughes, Alasdair gave an engaging ‘live’ example of how Wimba Pronto works and revealed some of the pitfalls (forgetting to change your status to ‘appear offline’ and getting half a dozen students messaging you on a Saturday night…!). Wimba Pronto seems like a good tool for creating online communities in a university setting, putting students into contact with other students on their course and breaking down barriers. The main problem I see is encouraging students, especially those that live on-campus to embrace this chat tool, rather than just using MSN or another similar program…

The afternoon was rounded off by Alice Bird from the LDU showing a glimpse of the next developments for Blackboard…Blackboard NG. The main benefit appearing to be the ‘opening up’ of Blackboard allowing tutors and lecturers to create mash-ups of external sites that are of help to their student groups. Another interesting prospect is that of Blackboard Sync – the ability to sync Blackboard with applications such as Facebook enabling us to speak to the students in their language. Excitingly for the mobile learning project is the potential of a mobile platform – something that several students that participated in the face-to-face surveys before Christmas enquired about.

The E-Learning Forum provided a great opportunity for different departments and faculties to share their experiences with e-learning and technology-enhanced learning and really helped in giving me an overview of some of the innovative practices currently operating within LJMU.

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