Friday, 21 June 2013

"It's all about ... Motivation" - JISC RSC London's e-Factor 2013

Yesterday I attended JISC RSC London's conference e-Factor 2013. Held annually e-Factor is based around a different them each year and brings together educational institutions to showcase their work in learning and teaching with technology. This year's theme was: "It's all about ... Motivation". This was my third time attending and I found it an inspiring as ever. Twenty showcases ran throughout the day - two showcases ran in unison in separate rooms - and there were exhibitions from a number of suppliers who were on hand during the breaks to give demonstrations of their products. (For full details and the report visit the e-Factor 2013 site here.) The day also offered plenty of opportunity for networking. Therefore, I do recommend planning in advance what you want to see so that you get the most out of the day. Last year I presented by own showcase (click here for my blog post of the experience) - this meant I wasn't really playing attention to the showcases before mine! This year though I was attending entirely as an observer so, with my itinerary in hand and iPod charged (search for #efactor2013 on Twitter), I went prepared to be fully inspired and motivated.

Following the initial registration, refreshments and welcome from Graciano de Santana Soares (JISC RSC London Regional Manager) it was straight into the first showcase with Newham FE College. Newham spoke about how they use Adobe Captivate to create podcasts and assessment-based learning packages on employability skills for engineering students. I thought these were a really good way of enhancing learning outside the classroom and securing assessment whilst keeping the content engaging.

Next, Barry Spencer from Bromley College demonstrated his use of augmented reality. I didn't even know what augmented reality was so, if you're in the same boat as me, it basically means taking a physical object and enhancing it with online materials. Barry gave an example of how, using the Aurasma app, students can scan 'trigger images' using the smartphone or tablet and open additional content. I thought this was a really clever use of technology and, unlike a written web link or QR code you can make the trigger interactive and visually appealing.

The following showcase really interested me. West Thames College spoke about how they have developed two awards to support student progression. The Employability Award and the Research Skills Award are delivered online as learning packages. I think it is brilliant to offer a dedicated programme in which students (and even staff!) can actively develop their skills and provide evidence on their CVs. My interest was in the Research Skills Award so, in the break that followed, I tracked down one of the delegates from the LRC to learn more. During the break I also visited the stand run by Xtensis who were exhibiting their product Xtlearn allows you to combine a range of resources in a very visually appealing way along with the ability to link to the collection from Moodle. I thought this might be a good way of resolving the scrolling issue when uploading lots of resources to Moodle.

After the break the next showcase I saw was from JGA Group. They explained how they have started to use Moodle and other e-learning tools, such as videos, podcasts and e-portfolios, to support their work-based learners. It was good to see that the use of e-learning has expanded beyond the FE/HE sector into private sector training too.

Next, Saqib Safdar from Woodhouse College delivered a great presentation demonstrating how the use of one iPad has revolutionised the way he delivers maths lessons. He wirelessly links the iPad to the projector and uses the app Doceri to turn the screen into an enhanced, interactive whiteboard. This leaves him free to move around the class. It has also given his students more confidence as they can put their work on screen using DocSan and explain and amend it without having to stand in front of the group. Often when we think of iPad projects it involves giving iPads to the students, but this showcase demonstrated how much of an effect giving just one iPad to the teacher can have.

The last showcase I saw before lunch was from Barking & Dagenham College who have revived the use of netbooks, and Chromebooks, with students. Loading only a simple operating system and promoting GoogleDocs (for access to word processing, etc) keeps running speeds high and allows students to be flexible with their learning. Their LDD department also highlighted how their students struggle with their VLE's built-in ILP and have solved the problem by creating and sharing their own on GoogleDocs.

During the lunch break I visited the stand run by PlanetPC who were demonstrating their product PlaneteStream. Their product enables you to create your own video archive, including programmes broadcast on Freeview channels, and I was interested in how they are then able to add details of the content into your library management system.

I began the afternoon listening to a great presentation by Bernadette John from King's College London. She spoke about digital professionalism and how important it is for students to be aware of their digital presence and the impact it can have on their employability, particularly within her field of healthcare. Bernadette and King's College have taken a proactive lead and developed their own social networking site for students in which they can discuss real-world examples of digital profiles along with an annual e-learning course embedded into Moodle. Similarly with West Thames College I like the fact that King's College are not only providing the information but are helping to ensure that students fully take it in.

Next City Lit spoke about how they have implemented blended learning and flipped learning with their PTTLS and PGCE courses. I was interested in flipped learning as I wasn't really aware of what it involved. I found out that in a flipped learning environment the students use a variety of resources to learn about the main concepts at home, prior to the lesson. Then, in class, the teacher can focus on anything the students wish to clarify and also extension activities and learning that would have typically been set as homework. Khorshed, who presented, also brought with her one of the students from the PGCE course and it was good to hear about it directly from a student perspective. City of Westminster College followed on the same theme of flipped learning. This time it had been applied to motor vehicle groups. John Doherty, a motor vehicle tutor, explained how he had seen nothing but a positive impact on his students resulting in them being more engaged and confident within the class.

The final showcase of my day was delivered jointly by Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College and Waltham Forest College. The presented their 'eTeaching' course. This is an online course aimed at teachers which looks at "developing free resources using easy web based tools to enhance teaching and learning". Along with using a range of tools such as presentation tools, video tools, blogs and animations staff also have the chance to discuss the pedagogy of e-learning and e-safety. I thought this was a brilliant CPD opportunity for teachers as not only are they expanding their knowledge but they're creating engaging and exciting materials and resources they can use in their lessons.

The conference ended with reflections by Cathy Walsh, CEO/Principal at Barking & Dagenham College who raised a point that I agree with - the day was really well attended with over 200 names on the delegate list covering a range of posts. However, in order to ensure that these examples of best practice are spread across institutions, and not just residing in small pockets, more individuals from senior management need to attend and see what is going on.

As always I had a great day and have taken away lots of inspiration which I will pass on to my own team.

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