Tuesday, 28 April 2009

LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference

Tuesday 21st April saw the start of a two day annual conference at LJMU: the LJMU Learning and Teaching Conference. It was the 8th of its kind and most successful so far with 244 delegates attending, participating in a choice of 45 sessions that fell under one of the following umbrellas - teaching innovations, learning technologies, assessment practices, student employability, learner support or professional development.

I attended as a delegate on Tuesday 21st April and also presented in the afternoon (unfortunately I was unable to make the 2nd day as I attended the 1st Learn Higher M-posium in Manchester, check back soon for blogposting!!).

The day was a really exciting time as it was a chance for LJMU staff to showcase their success stories, research, projects and developments; it enhanced cross-department communication and encouraged the sharing of ideas and possible future ventures. Student involvement throughout the day made the event all the more special and highlighted the highly student-centred approach to teaching and learning currently experienced by those studying at the IM Marsh Campus CETL.

The opening keynote “placing students at the center of the story” really captured the essence of the on-going work at the CETL which focuses on the enhancement of student employability, leadership and enterprise. Three key areas were addressed including ‘developing the individual’ ‘creating connections’ and ‘making it happen.’ Work-related learning was high on the agenda – a vital component it seems in both student development and preparation for the workplace – an integral part to many degree courses throughout the university also.
Developing the individual was perhaps most pivotal to my current m-learning research which is a highly individual and personal learning experience, developing self-awareness and developing the individual can be readily achieved through a pro-active and supportive m-learning environment.

Throughout the rest of the day I attended 5 sessions, firstly one that concentrated on the student induction process as an integral support mechanism in ensuring students feel comfortable in the shift from sixth form/college life to university life. The session was delivered by Jack O’Farrell and Sue Darwent from the Faculty of Business and Law and was called ‘it was a great ice-breaker and introduction to university life.’ What was so special about this induction process was that it spanned a 2 week period and was supported by an extensive research and planning phase. This phase ensured that the newly designed induction process was relevant to new undergraduate students and that it was enjoyable also.
Initially staff opinion was sought concerning previous student induction experiences, the general consensus being that the induction process was neither exciting nor engaging for the students and that staff at times were not 100% comfortable within the induction domain. A resolution to this was found via a hybrid method of induction sessions that would span over a 2 week period. The main event was held at the Adelphi Hotel comprising the likes of the VC and the Student’s Union, the entire ‘fresher’ cohort of the Business School (apart from 20 out of 780) and Alumni. This was then followed up throughout the rest of the induction time with tutor led session and student led sessions that were aimed to encourage communication and teamwork amongst the new students.
The overall accord from the new students experiencing this newly designed induction process appeared to be that the induction was enjoyable, valued and relevant. It will be interesting to see if any conclusions can be drawn in the future with regards to the revised induction process helping with attendance and retention issues.
Key points for any other faculties looking to adopt a more thorough induction process include the direct need for backing from senior management and that the large cohort event was one of the major success stories of this new induction programme.

The second session I attended was that of the infamous Keith V. Trickey and Sherrington Sanders called ‘how to identify a poorly performing lecturer.’ Now for those of you that have not met Keith it will be hard for me to relay in writing the spirit of his session…but I will have a go!
Keith is a very dynamic speaker (and lecturer) capturing his audience with anecdotes and animation, so, the content of his presentation took me by great surprise. It would appear that Keith is failing his students. He is not hitting the expected targets (as stipulated in the university strategic plan) for lecturers across the university in pass rates (and fail rates). A lot of ‘number crunching’ (in the sense of moving students into different degree categories) would be needed year in year out in order that Keith reaches his targets. So is Keith a poorly performing lecturer? According to statistics yes he is. But, there is a fundamental flaw in these statistics. The numbers comprise students who attend lectures intermittently, students who attend lectures rarely, students who don’t attend lectures at all…how can Keith have failed these students…have they not failed themselves?
As we institutionally push student-centred approaches to teaching and learning, would it not be more relevant to have a student-centred approach to lecturer performance assessment? From personal experience of Keith as a lecturer I can honestly say (without it being an act of unctuousness!!) he has been one of my favourite among a very small number of lecturers and teachers throughout my education, from primary school to postgraduate level study. I am astonished that he could be connected to the realms of poorly performing lecturers and I feel it must be hard pill to swallow for Keith himself, and many other excellent lecturers and teaching staff.
Finally, Keith asked session attendees to come up with resolutions to his teaching dilemma…

Then there was lunch, absolutely lovely but who thought it’d be a good idea to present the salad table on a circular table – where did the queue start and where did it end!?!?! We will never know.

The afternoon session kicked off with a look into the world of the wiki as an assessment tool for students that study ‘Intertextual Analysis’ within the School of Media, Critical and Creative Arts. The premise behind this approach was to avoid essay-overkill, as can happen in English degree programmes. The intentions of the wiki assignment was to encourage careful and concise writing (students had a very small word count of 500 words), to expose intertextuality via imagery whilst also taking advantage of the technology, to include formal academic conventions (such as a bibliography) and to concentrate upon a single them only (unlike an essay). The students were expected to work in groups to produce a wiki page that discussed a particular theme from an identified text whilst incorporating a picture to augment the chosen theme.
The difficulties encountered during this exercise included the preparation needed on the student’s behalf, including the time taken to explain the wiki and what was expected, the size of the seminar group meant that it had to be split in order that more manageable numbers were facilitated and the inherent issues with any group-work type assessment tasks were experienced also.
The benefits of this innovative assessment style comprised the opportunity for students to re-draft, the opportunity to view other students’ work and the fact that it was something different with regards to assessment activities.

The next session I attended was delivered by Phil Vickerman and Milly Blundell from the Faculty of Education, Community and Leisure and was called ‘reflective comparative approaches to effective learning environments for students.’ This session disseminated some of the research performed both here at LJMU and at the University of Cincinatti into what the key elements of effective learning environments are for university students. Common themes from both investigations included lecturer commitment and availability, access to technology and the facility for a quiet place to study. Particularly pertinent to the m-learning research is the high requirement levels of technology within effective learning environments indicating that students want to have opportunities of technology-enhanced learning as part of their normal study patterns.
Initial suggestions from this research implies that effective learning spaces are themselves student specific and should where possible be student-centred. Here at LJMU the recently launched Social Learning Zone at Avril Roabrts LRC and planned refurbishment of Aldham Robarts LRC fulfils the student-focused element that was shown to be of value during this research project.
Further detailed analysis of the results obtained here at LJMU is planned imminently via SPSS.

Myself and Will Reid presented during the next session giving an overview of the mobile technologies in teaching and learning research we have been involved in over the last 6 months, an overview of the learning2.0@ljmu training programme followed directly afterwards. Both these sessions provoked a lively discussion amongst academics, support staff, LIS staff and CIS staff with regards to technology-enhanced learning. There was a massive indication that further research into this area needed to be performed especially from the academic perspective and it is hoped that off the back of this session that academic staff focus groups will be fulfilled as part of the m-learning research project…watch this space…

At the end of the day I felt buoyant by the new, interesting and innovative aspects of teaching and learning currently on offer at LJMU. The day made me realise that there are lots of ‘forward-thinking’ and ‘student-centred’ projects and initiatives underway across the university and cheesy as it sounds made me feel empowered as a member of LJMU staff. My only disappointment was in that I was unable to attend the full conference however I look forward to what will be offered up this time next year!

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