ALT-C 2019 Session Bites #1

Session title: Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: a multi-year action research study, Richard Walker (E-Learning Development Team University of York)

Conference Theme: Creativity across the curriculum

Synopsis: This compelling session presented findings from a study using ‘peer-led group learning’ to support research tasks and the development of problem-solving skills in a 3rd-year undergraduate Biology module at York University. ‘Peer-led’ teaching is nothing new; it’s using an expert peer, in this case a postgraduate researcher, as a learning facilitator and resource. However, what was novel was how they used a collaborative technology platform as a virtual meeting and workspace to overcome challenges in more traditional approaches to project supervision such as:

  • tend to be one-to-one
  • problematic timetabling of meetings/supervision
  • little/no benefit to/from peers
  • propagation of solutions is slow
  • issues coordinating multidisciplinary projects

The app they used for the collaborative hub was Slack (a commercial product, similar to our O365 Teams). Using a channel for each student, for planning, and for questions, the ‘always-on’ collaborative hub fostered greater interactions in asking questions, sharing solutions and displaying data.

Their findings indicated this approach supported effective student collaborations, which promoted peer-to-peer learning – with a focus on interaction and creative problem-solving, thus reducing dependency on the instructor for guidance and control of learning processes. Students enjoyed the quick responses to queries and the ease in keeping a record of what’s been said through the conversation feed structure: “We were working as a team; although we have different projects, we have the same problems and were solving them as a team.” See this link for a case study of the initial pilot.

Comment: The app of choice here, Slack, by the University of York was down to the institutional license held for it at the time of the pilot. IT Services have just rolled out the analogous app in Office 365, Microsoft Teams, to the student cohort here at St Andrews, which could be a platform for similar types of collaborations. Given the prevalence of project-based coursework across disciplines, this is an approach worth trying for increasing engagement, not to mention the possible collateral benefits of improved efficiency and productivity.

Session presentation slides available here (thanks to Richard). A short paper of recent findings is in production.

ALT-C Session Bites

In September this year, the TEL Team joined nearly 450 delegates in attending ALT-C (the annual multi-national conference of the Association for Learning Technology) in Edinburgh. Over the next few weeks, team members will present their highlights in a series of ‘session bite’ posts. The full three-day programme can be viewed here.

 

The McEwan Hall – a stunning venue

Your 'session bites' bloggers

Your ‘session bites’ bloggers (L-R): Sonny Evans (IT Skills Developer); Margaret Adamson (Head of TEL); Daryl Haynes (Lecture Capture Co-ordinator). Photo by David Jarratt, Media Services.

Can you spot us in the conference photo by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology?
ALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.
Day two – Wednesday 4th September.
www.chrisbullphotographer.com

SMUG October Meetup at St Andrews

Two dozen Moodle enthusiasts from across HE and FE gathered in St Andrews last Friday. First up was Mark Glynn, Head of Teaching Enhancement at Dublin City University, who talked about a custom report they have created within Moodle to give lecturers a programmatic view of assessment, giving them the opportunity to improve collaboration and scheduling. Mark was followed by Chris Sumner from South Lanarkshire College who gave an overview of their Moodle/Microsoft Teams integration. Jasmin Hodge from Forth Valley College showcased two new Moodle course formats: Flexible Course and Structure Label. Ken Currie then talked about using interactive content libraries, in particular, the H5P plugin which adds interactive features to Moodle activities like Book, Page and Lesson. Lee Coomber from IT Services in St Andrews was up next, talking about the current integration work we’re doing with MySaint, Moodle and MMS. The last talk of the day was from Stephen Bruce from Edinburgh Napier who outlined a their fully online CPD approach using Moodle.

We recorded most of these sessions, and will make them available here once they’re out of post-production. Anyone who’s interested in learning more about any of the Moodle features mentioned, please get in touch via learningtechnology@st-andrews.ac.uk.

You can follow some of the speakers on Twitter too:

Mark Glynn: @glynnmark
Jasmin Hodge: @jmdh22
StephenBruce:@Stephen1Bruce

 

SMUG comes to St Andrews

TELStA welcomes SMUG to St Andrews on Friday 4 October. Five speakers from across HE and FE will present on Moodle innovations taking place in their institutions (see programme here). Lee Coomber of IT Services at St Andrews will talk about the current integration work happening as part of the TEL Project. Although this is a professional network event, we hope to record it so that we can share the event more widely.

Learning Analytics Workshop, 2nd May

St Andrews colleagues! Do we have a shared understanding of Learning Analytics?  We are running an interactive workshop on 2nd May (1400-16:00) which gives staff an opportunity  to explore potential definitions and uses from the perspective of various user groups. The event is also the launch of our TELStA Gateway space, and afternoon tea is provided! Book on PDMS.

Workshop > Data Visualization in the Humanities

events.fwThe Library, as part of its Digital Humanities remit, hosted a workshop on Data Visualization in the Humanities led by external presenter Mia Ridge.

Mia began by outlining the historical development of visualization – starting with examples such as John Snow’s Cholera Map (1854), Florence Nightingale’s Petal Charts (1858) and Minard’s map of Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812 (1869); and highlighting the power of the visualization in enabling the viewer to understand data easily on multiple axes at the same time. She then moved on to show more recent types of visualization – mashups, infographics, text analysis, visualizing images and video and network visualizations.

Visualization needs to be approached carefully, with proper consideration given to audience and purpose. For example, will your visualization be a product, or a process – will it be used to explain, or explore your dataset?

Some risks of visualizations were highlighted to help contextualize their use:

  • Over-emphasis of one aspect of the data may de-emphasise another, for example, Beck’s tube map of 1951 emphasises connections but de-emphasises geographical proximity.
  • Some visualization tools and softwares may have inherent bias built into them depending on what audience they were designed for. The algorithms used may not be transparent, for example with Google’s N-gram tool.
  • Visualizing “sentiment” analysis is not an exact science. Current algorithms can work with words, but take no account of tone or register (or even emojis!).  For an example of “sentiment” analysis, see the Twitter visualization of the Olympics in 2012.

As well as the time to get hands-on with and evaluate various visualization tools, it was great to see and hear about the work already being done in this area by colleagues around the University, for example Kathryn Rudy from the School of Art History – and of course the exciting digital humanities projects taking place in the Library.

For more information on digital humanities at St Andrews, contact Dr Alice Crawford in the Library – or catch up with her blog.

Event > Learning & Teaching Open Forum, University of St Andrews

events.fwWednesday afternoon saw the second of this year’s biannual Learning & Teaching Open Forums at the University of St Andrews. The theme for the afternoon was Inspiring Learning through Research-led Teaching. Opening remarks by Proctor, Professor Lorna Milne, set the scene for three interesting presentations by academics on their approaches, and two presentations by students undertaking the Laidlaw Undergraduate Internship Programme over the summer vacation. Professor Milne indicated that much of the literature around research-led teaching focuses on the separation of these and how this has become institutionalised practice. In reality, however, they were interdependent – as the good practice about to be highlighted would show.

Paula Miles from the School of Psychology & Neuroscience outlined an approach being used in Level 1 classes to try and make the link between lectures (theory) and labwork (practice) more explicit and relevant. Instead of being given datasets to work with and analyse, which resulted in quite passive learning, a “Citizen Science” method was taken whereby students were asked to design their own study (gaining insight into the challenges this presents); to collect and analyse their own data; and conclude from it. Although the effects of this on performance had been neutral, student grumbles about a disconnect between teaching and research had diminished, and, critically, students had reported enjoying the classes more.

Professor Frances Andrews from the School of History outlined three ways that research was being integrated with teaching within the School. Firstly, within discrete modules, research was integrated either based on research content, or on research methodologies. She gave two examples of this: a module run by a colleague around specific research content had led to the publication of a student textbook; and a module focusing on specific methodologies had led to a research publication. Prof. Andrews then talked about research around modules and how students should be encouraged to attend both internal PG seminars, and workshops with external, perhaps international, speakers. Field trips could also play a role in sparking enthusiasm for research, and gaining an understanding the research process. The third method was through gaining an appreciation of research through actually doing it – UG research projects leading to Masters and potentially PhDs.

Dr Shiona Chillas from the School of Management talked about how students do not understand how the work they do at University and the skills they acquire are relevant to their future careers, either in academia or in the workforce. In the School they are attempting to highlight the employability value of research activity through a core module on research proposals in Junior Honours. Students are asked to critique an existing piece of research – and then to see how easy or difficult it is to design their own research project. Both the process of doing this, and the outputs are of much more explicit value to employers.

Student contributors Sam Mills and Amy Sheader then presented enthusiastically on the work they will be doing over the summer on their Laidlaw Internships. Sam will be curating and creating a digital database of artefacts relating to pre-cinema moving image technology – and hopes to gain insight into the research process, helping to confirm his future direction of travel. Amy will be working on a Physics project on “optical tweezers” (manipulating tiny particles by exerting extremely small forces via a highly focused laser beam). She hopes to be able to make a connection between lecture material on the topic and the research she is undertaking – and to gain valuable transferable skills.

Themes which came out of discussion throughout the event were:

  • We need to move away from teaching research outcomes to teaching research processes.
  • Student choice in the process is key.
  • Students who lack confidence need to have time spent with them, be supported through small group teaching, and be scaffolded through the different stages of the research process.
  • Research is presented through teaching as a narrative of success – involvement in the research process can help students understand the power of failure.
As Amy summed it up, “you learn the most when things are going terribly wrong“.