Thursday, 3 July 2014

JISC E-Factor 2014: It's all about learning and teaching

Last week I went to the JISC E-Factor conference. This year was my fourth in a row (as well as presenting 2 years ago) and as usual it didn't disappoint. The E-Factor is an opportunity for organisations across the country to come and showcase their examples of best practice using e-learning. It doesn't matter how big or small the project - you can always learn something new. The official site for this year's E-Factor is here (I will also be linking to sections of the site below.)

The day is divided so that there are twenty 20-25 minute showcases in total across two rooms. This does mean that you have to choose which showcases you want to watch but ten still leaves plenty of variety! There is also an exhibition from a number of e-learning and technology suppliers.

The first showcase I saw was delivered by Martin Compton from Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College. I was impressed that 150 tutors had completed his e-teaching course! I'm also interested at having a look at Blendspace - an online tool that allows you to neatly collate a range of resources on one 'canvas'.

Next I quickly swapped rooms and went to hear Angela Rideau from Barnet and Southgate College talk about how they have developed their quality standards for Moodle course pages and, along side it, an online CPD course for tutors to enable them to have the confidence to develop their course to bronze, silver and gold standards. The lack of consistency across the quality of Moodle courses is something I have noticed in my role supporting its use and I'll be interested to see how our College deals with the issue.

The last showcase before the tea break was delivered by Sue Withers and Andrew Moller from Havering College of Further and Higher Education. I liked the vision they displayed through their imaginative use of Wikis as a) a place to store links to students' digital portfolios and details of HE interviews b) a central place to collate feedback for each student for every module of the course and c) a central place for each student to store their formal writing (such as personal statements). Particularly with the last use it removes the difficulties of keeping up to date with versions of documents and means that work can't be lost or forgotten!

Some of Andrew Checkley's tips from Croydon College about enhancing teaching and learning included having a starter activity right at the beginning of the session; using Bloom's taxonomy to help structure content; using Moodle's forum; using Moodle's auto-linking function from the glossary tool; and including self-assessments. I'll be looking into the glossary and auto-linking tools.

Tanu Varma from Westminster Adult Education Service gave some really positive messages about how you shouldn't feel limited by the absence or limited availability of technology when looking at e-learning. She gave some great examples of how this has been developed in her service.

The last session I saw before lunch was delivered by Danielle Watts and Bilal Bobat from Barking & Dagenham College. I particularly liked how, using two of their students, they practically demonstrated the benefits of Google hangouts and Google Docs.

After lunch Adam Blackwood from JISC RSC South East gave a very entertaining presentation demonstrating the extent to which mobile technology (in literal terms, as opposed to just mobile phones) has developed and is around us. I loved the fact that he had a QR tie! The main theme of his session was gamification and I liked some of the ideas he demonstrated to make learning more engaging.

Next I swapped rooms quickly again and went to see Simon Gale from Orchard Hill College. I particularly liked how they had used such as tools, blogs and discussion groups which not only made information more accessible to their students but in helping to create them develops their communication skills.

I've recently been working with a member of staff to develop a Functional Skills page in Moodle for the College. The next showcase I saw was delivered by Daniel Blaszczyk from West Thames College. It was interesting to see the approach they had taken in creating and delivering content for this area.

The final showcase of the day was a very inspiring one. It was delivered by Angela Rideau and a number of students from Barnet and Southgate College. Here, they have created a dedicated 'Digidesk', staffed voluntarily by students, where both students and staff can go for help with e-learning tools and technologies. I think this is a brilliant service. Not only do the students running the service benefit by developing a range of skills, it means support is always available and raises the profile of e-learning across the College.

A few years ago we made some significant developments with e-learning technologies in the LRC using Xerte (which we still regularly use for creating interactive learning packages), XtraNormal (cartoon-making service), Windows MovieMake (to create enhanced podcasts) and Jing (screen capture tools). I delivered my own showcase demonstrating how they could be used in an LRC setting. Since then, however, and due to a number of factors, we haven't really pushed this further. I'm keen now to see how we can expand our knowledge and support in this area and develop our services and the role of e-learning within the College.

Monday, 17 March 2014

My second HUG

On Thursday 6th March I attended my second HUG (Heritage User Group) meeting. The Heritage User Group is a community of users of the Library Management System Heritage who work closely with, but independently from, Heritage's developers, IS Oxford. You can find out more about the group here.

The morning's presentation was delivered by Neville Jones from IS Oxford who demonstrated the new developments within their Cirqa system. We still haven't yet upgraded to Heritage Cirqa (although should be soon) but I was glad to see that some of the previously frustrating aspects had been improved (such as the past inability to renew all items in one go). I was also impressed by the improved clarity of reader messages when managing their account online.

The afternoon began with a brief AGM and were followed by two presentations by members of the committee. Emily Armstrong and Julian Dawson demonstrated their use of Heritage's 'favourites' listing feature to create reading lists. We have been using this feature for a number of years so I didnt' really learn anything new. The second presentation on tidying up your data I found much more useful. Whilst I look after a lot of Heritage's 'housekeeping' tasks there are areas of our system which I haven't really looked at. Following the meeting I am keen to start looking at our authority files for keywords, for example, and tidying them up as well as checking for duplicate names and titles.

The only negative aspect I found was that Neville was around for the entire day in order to field a Q & A session. Whilst the Group is independent from IS Oxford I felt that the structure of this meeting left little room for questions and good practice sharing amongst colleagues.

I wrote the following to conclude my blog about my first HUG meeting and I stand by it still:

         "Overall I found the day extremely useful and would recommend that anyone who uses Heritage become a member of the Group. You have access to a range of helpful resources and advice and the opportunity to discuss with others their experience of Heritage. Of course, this isn't the only Heritage forum environment - there is the Marvin mailing list and the HUG sub-groups. However, for very little membership cost there are big benefits."