Archive

Posts Tagged ‘conferences’

Personal Response Systems: Review of the Turning Technologies User Conference 2012, Aarhus University, Denmark

August 17, 2012 4 comments

Two months ago I attended the Turning Technologies User Conference 2012 at Aarhus University, Denmark, the first of its kind in Continental Europe (following the success of last year’s UK conference, reviewed here). Turning Technologies manufactures the electronic Personal Response Systems (PRS) or ‘classroom clickers’ that we use at City University London to poll students’ responses to specific questions posed during lectures, so I was keen to learn more about how other users internationally deploy this technology in their teaching.

A brief outline of each of the sessions is given below. The conference agenda, including abstracts for each of the presentations, is available here and the full conference programme (which was combined with Aarhus University’s ‘Frontiers in Science Teaching’ conference to create a two-day event) may be downloaded here.

Keynote – ‘Turning Lectures into Learning’ (Eric Mazur, Harvard University)

Following a welcome from Michael Broderik, CEO of Turning Technologies, the day opened with a keynote presentation by Professor Eric Mazur, whose ground-breaking teaching method of ‘peer instruction’ has brought him international recognition. He discussed how he developed peer instruction during the early 1990s as a response to the problem of the transmissive nature of traditional lectures, making lectures more interactive by placing students at the centre of their learning and thereby fostering a deeper level of understanding. In brief, the process is that a key conceptual question is posed; without conferring, the students vote for the answer they believe to be correct; they are then invited to discuss their answer amongst themselves in small groups; finally, the poll is taken again to see if more students have been persuaded towards the correct answer by their peers’ explanations. Professor Mazur illustrated his method with several worked examples, including, towards the end of his presentation, one from his teaching in ethics to demonstrate that peer instruction was not applicable exclusively within pedagogical contexts in which there is a definitive answer.

‘Writing good great Exceptional Clicker Questions’ (Siara Isaac, EPFL, Lausanne)

‘Museum Studies Using TurningPoint’ (Mikel Asensio, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Elena Pol, Interpretart)

Then followed the first of three parallel breakout sessions. In an interactive presentation, Siara Isaac invited the audience to write and revise PRS questions to turn them progressively from good, to great, to exceptional questions that nurtured deep-level understanding. Her discussion was informed by common mistakes in the authorship of multiple choice questions, but she also argued that to write exceptional (rather than merely good or great) PRS questions, a more creative approach may be necessary. Meanwhile, in the room next door, Professor Mikel Asensio and Dr Elena Pol discussed their use of personal response systems within museum studies. They noted that the information traditionally provided in museums was often quite weighty (for example, large amounts of printed text mounted on walls) and that this is not particularly engaging or interactive for visitors. As a solution, their institution has taken to using personal response systems to stimulate their guests’ interest in their collections as well as to gather important demographic information about them.

Interaction in Lectures with Mobile Devices (Will Moindrot, University of Manchester)

Using Electronic Voting Systems in the Arts and Humanities (Christopher Wiley, City University London)

After lunch, Will Moindrot discussed the logistical challenges presented by the use of personal response systems in lectures involving large numbers of students (it was particularly interesting to have considered this perspective given that personal response systems are often cited as being a means of dealing effectively with large-group teaching). He reported back on the students’ experiences of the solution implemented at the University of Manchester, namely the use of ResponseWare technology (a good explanation for which is to be found here) to enable students to vote using their own mobile devices without the need to be supplied with a bespoke handset. The concurrent session was my own presentation on using personal response systems in the arts and humanities. I (Dr Christopher Wiley) argued for the potential of PRS to enhance teaching in areas other than the traditional sciences, for instance, by soliciting audience opinion on a contentious point (with the aim of nurturing debate and generating arguments for and against prior to a repoll), or asking ‘subjective’ questions that stimulate discussion among students in that there may be more than one valid or correct answer. My presentation was illustrated by examples drawn from my teaching as a music lecturer who has used PRS for the past four years, as well as feedback received from my students.

‘Diagnostic Processes In General Practice’ (Lars Bjerrum, Copenhagen University)

‘Improving Practice and Addressing Practicalities: Embedding Audience Response Systems at the University of Kent’ (Daniel Clark, University of Kent)

In the final breakout session of the day, Professor Lars Bjerrum explained how personal response systems may be used to illustrate different approaches to the diagnostic process in general practice (as distinct from the diagnostic process within the context of a hospital). Such approaches include pattern recognition and deductive reasoning, and his presentation referred specifically to patients in primary care. Next door, Daniel Clark discussed e-learning strategy at the University of Kent in relation to the use of personal response system technology, which was piloted there five years ago. He spoke about positive feedback received from staff about the pedagogical value of PRS, current practices at the university (for instance, using PRS to facilitate revision sessions), the challenges posed by the embedment of this new technology in teaching and the solutions that were implemented, and the means by which PRS is promoted to staff on a continuing basis through training sessions (see here for further information). His presentation yielded an insight into the strategy of a single higher education institution as well as offering helpful guidance to others seeking to implement similar initiatives within their own contexts.

‘Turning to Your Neighbour’ (Julie Schnell, Harvard University)

The day concluded with a follow-up session exploring peer instruction, led by Dr Julie Schnell, who amplified the specific concept of ‘turning to your neighbour’ which is at the heart of the method. Through worked examples, she discussed the benefits and drawbacks of two fundamental questions relating to its implementation: whether or not to take an initial vote before inviting the students to discuss a given question with their neighbour; and at what stage in the peer instruction process to display the poll results to the audience. Professor Mazur’s opening keynote had already given us experience of some of these different approaches, for instance, revealing the results of the initial poll to us immediately for one question but withholding them for another.

The conference also benefitted from a number of poster presentations, including ‘Adding Value To Your Handsets – Making Video Interactive’ (Sue Palmer, Empowering Confidence) and ‘Clicking Your Way to Research Data’ (Sue McMillen, Buffalo State College). All in all, it was a highly informative event and a valuable opportunity to network with people implementing personal response systems in a variety of technology-enabled teaching settings, and to share thoughts, practices, and solutions.

Turning Technologies User Conference 2012, Aarhus University, Denmark

Review: SACWG seminar, ‘The efficiency and effectiveness of assessment in challenging times’

On Thursday 24 November 2011, the Student Assessment and Classification Working Group (SACWG) hosted a one-day seminar, ‘The efficiency and effectiveness of assessment in challenging times’ at Woburn House, Tavistock Square, London. 

To open the seminar, Dr Marie Stowell (University of Worcester) set out the context for the day in her presentation ‘Efficiency and effectiveness in assessment’. She identified that one of the aims of SACWG is to explore variations in practice across the sector and how they impact differently on students, retention, and learning success, and she observed the importance of placing students at the centre of the process given the fee structure proposed for 2012 entry coupled to the implications of assessment and feedback to student satisfaction. In light of the new funding model, one particularly pertinent observation she made concerned the cost of teaching in relation to the cost of assessment: the latter is resource-heavy, particularly once one factors in elements such as formative assessment (for which quality is less assured than its summative counterpart), moderation, external examining, reassessment of failed components, and the possibility that students may be over-assessed in the first instance. She also suggested that assessment criteria may not warrant the detailed attention they are typically accorded, as students tend to take the more direct approach towards assessment of endeavouring by less formal means to uncover exactly what it is that the lecturer is expecting them to produce. These arguments may indicate that both the efficiency and effectiveness of assessment could usefully be enhanced.

The next talk, by Professor Alison Halstead (Aston University), explored how institutions have responded to the challenges of recent years, specifically, the White Paper and its implications to students and to Higher Education. She noted that the potential increase in the students’ financial burden will inevitably lead to heightened expectations concerning teaching quality, learning, and employability, in which respect assessment and feedback are currently among the most important issues. She warned that student challenges to the regulatory framework for assessment may be on the rise in the future and identified that it was imperative, in these changing times, to nurture outstanding, innovative teachers and for staff to support student learning and e-learning (including assessment). Calling for the abandonment of the rigid distinction often drawn between ‘teachers’ and ‘researchers’, she suggested that promotions should award teaching excellence on a par with research. Later sections of her presentation outlined recent initiatives at Aston, for instance, standardizing the use of Virtual Learning Environment across the institution, and introducing learning technologies such as lecture capture and electronic voting systems. Her view was that teaching-enabled practice, while it took more time upfront to implement, was worth the investment in terms of teaching quality and learning success.

A structured group discussion and question-and-answer session with the morning’s speakers ensued. One point that emerged strongly was the importance of maintaining a variety of assessments, organized in a carefully considered schedule that takes a holistic overview at programme level. The latter becomes much more difficult in degree courses that incorporate elective modules, though there are both pedagogical and satisfaction-related reasons for offering choice to students and giving them ownership of their programme pathway. Another preoccupation amongst delegates was that assessments do not become too atomized, but relate to one another even beyond the confines of the module with which they are associated; one of the more innovative solutions proposed was the possibility of assessments straddling two or more modules. The need to develop sustainable structures was also discussed (for instance, moving towards group assessment to cope with rising student numbers), as was the importance of considering (as part of change management) what the benefits of effecting the change might be; if these cannot be persuasively articulated to staff and students, the change may not be worth implementing. A final warning concerned being too driven by regulations in designing efficient and effective curricula: it may be more useful in the long term to refer obstacles presented by the regulatory framework upwards so that they can be addressed.

The seminar resumed in the afternoon with a talk from Professor Chris Rust (Oxford Brookes University) on ‘Tensions in assessment practice’, which opened by reiterating the themes of the seminar in noting that current practices are neither efficient nor effective. He discussed that students have a tendency to focus on the mark they will obtain from the assessment rather than on the educational content of their studies, and that their approach often becomes increasingly surface-level as they progress through their programme. He defended modes such as formative, self-, and peer assessment as potentially yielding more ‘authentic’ assessment, arguing that graduates should be able to evaluate themselves and their peers as an outcome of their programme, and that making greater use of these options might also free up staff resources for summative assessment. Noting that students do not warm to the notion of being assessed, he suggested that perhaps the word ‘assessment’ should not be used for formative tasks. He further observed that feedback practices might be made more efficient by strengthening the relationship between modules, such that students are encouraged to learn from feedback received in one module and to carry what they have learnt over to others. Lessening the sense of compartmentalization of individual modules would, in his view, lead to more inclusive structures albeit less flexible ones, in that standardization (for instance, in terms of the same word limit for all assessments) does not always result in appropriate assessments.

Then followed a second group workshop session, on the theme of ‘What can institutions do to mitigate tensions?’. After a structured discussion of the issues, each group reported back to the seminar as to the problems that they had identified and the possibilities for efficient or effective solutions. It would be impossible to do justice here to the vast amount of ground covered between the several contributing groups. To cite just a few examples, key tensions that were raised included giving formative assessment a greater purpose (a proposed solution being to tie formative and summative assessments together in more meaningful ways), the problem of ensuring parity when using several examiners for the same assessment task (which may be solved by grading the assessment as pass/fail only), and the evergreen question of quality of feedback versus timeliness of feedback (for which there was some discussion about feedback becoming ‘quick and dirty’). On the question of standardization of process, I took the microphone to report back on the standardized feedback proforma that had been created in liaison with the students and implemented across one programme at City University London (see this post for details), and suggested, with much support from the floor, that students should be more involved in consultation regarding matters of assessment and feedback.

Prior to the close of the seminar a final speaker, Professor Paul Hyland (Bath Spa University), provided some reflections upon the day’s discussion. Noting that assessment was a large topic with which to deal, he categorized the day’s discussion as having crystallized around four main areas: external scrutiny (ranging from students’ parents to formal regulatory bodies); administration and management; the tutors’ perspective on assessment; and the students’ perspective. He argued that discussions of  effectiveness and efficiency should always be mindful of the purpose of assessment. In his view, assessment should be concerned with measuring students’ performance and nurturing learning, whereas there exists a danger of (to put it crudely) simply setting assessments in order to get the students to do some work. In this context, a greater level of student involvement and engagement with assessment would therefore be beneficial. He also observed the need to use technology to improve existing practice, for instance, to supplement traditional modes of feedback with video and screen casts. Finally, he commented upon the importance of tutors having access to students’ feedback on previous assessments in order to understand where they are coming from and to be able to support them in their ongoing studies.

SACWG has kindly made available the presentation slideshows used by the speakers, and the comprehensive notes distilled from the two very productive group discussions (as reported back to the seminar by nominees from the groups), at the following link: http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/faculties/alss/sacwg.phtml.

New communities, spaces and places: inspiring futures for higher education

January 25, 2012 1 comment

Each year the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) holds an annual conference for its members, with a dedicated preceding conference for members who are newer HE researchers. Having helped co-ordinate Newer Researcher events over 2011, along with colleagues Patrick Baughan (from City) and Saranne Weller (from Kings College London), this was the first year that I was co-convenor for the Newer Researchers conference.

The theme for the conference was: New communities, spaces and places: inspiring futures for higher education – a theme which Patrick, Saranne and I spent an afternoon deciding on thanks in part to a creative thinking technique called synectics (helpfully facilitated by former City colleague Uma Patel). We wanted a theme which would convey postivity in a time of increasing uncertainty, especially in the HE sector. We further wanted to widen our net and appeal to researchers engaging in Learning Technology-based research.

We received over 80 abstracts for paper presentations by newer researchers in the UK and across the world. After spending the summer months sending out abstracts for review and making final decisions, we accepted a total number of 50. The conference was held over 2 days at the Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales from 6th – 7th December 2011. We were happy to learn that most of the accepted authors were able to secure funding to attend the conference, despite tightening departmental budgets.

Image

A view from the Celtic Manor resort

We were lucky enough to arrange not one but two keynote presentations from highly-regarded academics – Dr Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University, and Professor Grainne Conole from the University of Leicester.

Paul’s talk was fascinating and gave researchers an honest and frank account of what HE research is really all about. Basically – its messy! As a relatively new HE researcher myself, I thought Paul’s talk helped to desmystify the process of HE research and helped me to consider how to conceptualise it better. Paul’s talk was very well received by the other newer researchers, you can view his presentation’s slides here.

Grainne’s talk tackled a different subject and was equally fascinating. Grainne took us on a journey of learning technologies, exploring how they have evolved and how we can navigate our way through them in the future. I enjoyed Grainne’s take on e-pedagogies and she also sparked lots of interesting discussion around the use of open resources and in particular open publication – should we publish our research exclusively online via blogs? will doing so attract greater interest in our work? Or is traditional publication by submission to journals better? What are the implications of doing both? Hmmm… You can view Grainne’s presentation on slideshare here

So overall another really good conference by SRHE – looking forward to the next one!

Sharing your conference sessions and thoughts

May 31, 2011 Leave a comment

A great way to share your conference attendence, thoughts and information from sessions is to start you own Blog. This helps others who could not attend to still be able to join in.

  • Set up an account just for conferences using a google blog or wordpress like this site
  • Add notes from sessions and photos
  • Put in links to the programme and any presentations there might be on the conference site
  • If you are presenting add your own presentation and paper to share with colleagues 
  • Invite your colleagues to be authors so they can comment and likewise if they attend a conference they could use your blog to share their sessions

It is easy to do and here’s the link to mine I started this year http://pamconferences.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&max-results=40

 

This means you can be keeing notes on your sessions and adding photos and share the session with as many of you colleagues as you like and they can comment.

%d bloggers like this: