Friday, 29 June 2012

e-Factor 2012: "It's all about the learner"

On Wednesday I attended JISC RSC London's e-Factor 2012. The day brings together practitioners from a variety of organisations to share approaches and examples of best practice in e-learning and e-technologies. Last year I attended as a delegate but this year I answered the call and offered to present a showcase. Although I've delivered inductions to large groups of students before I've never presented at an event so was looking forward to the challenge.

To begin with I had to write a proposal of 200 words describing my showcase which would fit under one of the following categories:
  • Enhanced teaching and learning through the use of innovative and creative technology
  • CDP/staff development models that make effective use of technology
  • Learner Voice - learners are involved in shaping delivery/staff development/quality systems/contribute to how technology is used
  • Organisational efficiency - through the use of technology
I chose the first category and developed my proposal with the title Embedding creative e-learning technologies to enhance learning resources delivery, both in and out of the classroom. I sent in my proposal at the end of March and, a month later, received an email saying it had been accepted! Now I had to deliver! I began planning my showcase properly about a month ago, working out what I wanted to say and choosing examples of our work and, by the middle of June, felt that it was ready to go. I took the opportunity to run through it whenever I could.

The day finally arrived and, wanting to look eager, I arrived soon after 9.00am when registration opened. When I arrived though everyone had been evacuated outside whilst the fire alarm was going off - exactly the same thing happened last year, maybe it's jinxed! After we were allowed back in I met up with a couple of colleagues and we took our seats for the Welcome given by Graciano Soares, Regional Manager for RSC London. He outlined the plan for the day linking the theme It's all about the learner with the current climate and changes in OFSTED's inspection approach. My category was next....

The first showcase was presented by West Thames College who shared how they enhance teaching and learning through the use of video casts and social media. I particularly liked how their tutors had really thought about what their students actually do and came up with using Facebook to develop a web page and Twitter to provide study support. Their use of video casting in plumbing is a great way of enhancing learning in a very practical subject. As a librarian, I really liked the section in the video where the tutor explains how to use their textbook to help them study! He was quite right in saying that often, students on courses like these, either think they don't need a textbook or are frightened of using one. I was next up and for the next 15 minutes it was just me on stage, behind a lectern, with a microphone and my presentation facing 60-70 people! (My script is available here.) I began with a Prezi (available here) as a visual aid whilst I explained why I feel this area of e-learning is important. I then showcased four e-learning technologies. First was XtraNormal - a cartoon creation tool - which we have used to create a short, humorous (hopefully!) cartoon on why students should renew. Second I showed two examples of enhanced podcasts we have created using Windows MovieMaker to combine images/Powerpoint slides with audio and music. Next I briefly spoke about Jing - a screen capture tool which will capture a video of what you do on screen along with audio. The fourth technology was Xerte and I showed how we have used it to create a suite of interactive revision and study skills guides. To finish off I played a video that had been created by the College as part of the KUBE project (Kingston Uplift for Business Education). The project looked at ways of combining face to face and online modes of curriculum delivery and included Xerte units and podcasts. The video had students and staff highlighting the impact and benefits of using these technologies. My showcase went really well and I was congratulated afterwards by my colleagues, delegates and our Principal who was there to give the Plenary at the end of the day. Questions were invited after each showcase. I wasn't look forward to this as, whilst I'm confident speaking about something I'm well prepared for, I'm not very good at coming up with answers on the spot. However, I was pleased that I could answer the four questions directed at me well! Finishing our section were VITAL who demonstrated how they had been involved in projects which successfully used Kindles in class. I thought Kindles were a great idea for encouraging reading for pleasure - the anonymity of what you're reading can be a big draw - but felt that it was difficult to extend this into academic work as many textbooks aren't available on Kindle.

In the second section of the day I chose to watch the Organisational efficiency category. St Dominics Sixth Form College were first up showcasing their use of Google Docs to manage and hold the dissertation style EPQ project for A level students. All the work was uploaded and stored in Google Docs with the College's IT team having very limited involvement. I thought it was a very effective example of when cloud computing works well. Second were Stanmore College who explained their 'Plan-Do-Review' cycle of technology with regards to Moodle whereby they are currently developing their new ILP2 area in Moodle. One of the features I liked was their use of ePace tests to highlight strengths and weaknesses in skill sets to aid teachers in planning class activities. Third were Redbridge Institute who have been investigating free software to provide a timetabling programme, accessibility solutions for students with learning or physical differences and video tools. In the latter they highlighted Freemake which can edit and convert a range of different video file types -something I want to look into. Last were Newham FE College who have used Adobe Captivate to develop interactive learning packages in a similar way that we use Xerte. I thought the look of the final product was more professional than Xerte but it would be interesting to see if it had the same range of functionality.

After lunch I went to the 'Creative Lab 2' category. In this Westminster Kingsway College showed how they use screencasts to record lessons in 3D modelling for students to refer to later; Ealing Hammersmith and West London College showed how they use comic strips to liven up classes; Coulsdon College showed how they have used iPads and Apps in their art and French classes; and Newham Sixth Form College showed how their tutors are using Moodle to create an effective and interactive learning experience.

I really enjoyed the day and the chance to see what other organisations have been doing. I found that presenting helped network as several people came and spoke to me during the day and I felt that I 'was' someone rather than just a body in the crowd which gave me more confidence to go up and speak to people. I did find it was very frustrating not having a business card or something similar to hand out with my contact details! I'm really glad I took the opportunity to present at this event. Not only will it look good on my CV but it's a new experience and on a personal level I can say - yes I can do that!