Monday, 22 May 2017

Adventures in Learning and Teaching

Last week I attended the University of East Anglia Learning and Teaching day. As I no longer work for UEA it was both strange and wonderful to be with my former colleagues talking about subjects I'm so passionate about, and interesting to see from an outside perspective the work UEA is currently doing in this area. Rather neat then that the theme of the day was 'Outside in: how external factors influence our teaching'.

In fact, the main external factor driving the discussion of the day seemed to be 'students as customers' - a debate that's been preoccupying Higher Education for a long time now, but resurfacing now in the light of the Teaching Excellence Framework and generating an explicit link between 'teaching excellence' and charging students more money. Professor Andy Wood's keynote was arguably provocative, outlining how the university could (and probably is) seen as a business by government, and where in that arena we are falling short. For example, if research is our 'product', then it is too slow to the market for adequate return on investment. How can we improve this?

I find this way of looking at HE uncomfortable to say the least, and in an environment where we change our focus to be driven by consumer demand, I worry that the value in great learning and teaching becomes lost. Great teaching does provoke students to have ideas and provide the messy, mistake-led learning space in which students can explore them. But it doesn't then have to turn those ideas into money making enterprises. Not everything of worth is a product to be sold. 

Much of my day riffed on this theme: discussions of embedding employ ability into the curriculum; linking student assessment to industry; being explicit about the skills students learn which will lead them into employment; evidencing 'learning gain' while student are studying. However there were also some fabulous ideas explored with regard to working in partnership with students to shape their learning experience, using triggers such as photographs to explore student-led ideas and fostering independent learning through MOOCs and supported online learning. 

I can't tell you the future of HE or how the role of teaching and learning is going to be forced to change to fit restrictive and metrics-driven funding structures, but at least I can tell you that there are some very talented, enthusiastic and dedicated educators out there providing a fantastic experience for students. 

Resources from the day will appear here: and I've saved my highlights from the day on Twitter below:

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

PicCollage - the twelfth app of Christmas

What a great app to finish with! PicCollage is really easy to use and does what it says on the tin - it makes collages.

Merry Christmas from UEA Library!

Flipboard - the eleventh app of Christmas

Well the penultimate app is Flipboard, which I am predisposed to dislike as it is one of the apps that came pre-loaded on my phone and which I cannot delete. This annoys me. 

Flipboard is yet another curation tool, and one I don't like very much. As far as curation goes, I think I prefer the idea of Pocket, where you collect as you go. Flipboard pulls everything into one place, which I can see the benefit of, but I quite like going into individual apps like Twitter and Facebook, both for a sense of orientation - being in a particular app for a particular purpose - but also because if I then want to do something more all the functionality of that app is available to me. Maybe I'm a dinosaur in this respect. I don't know! 

#12appsDIT consider Flipboard to be useful for it's sharing and collaborative functions. You can share articles with people in your network, and you can create public 'magazines', so you can see what other people have curated. I can see how this might work, although setting up Flipboard takes a little while, and it has a very personal feel about it. It also seems very similar to Pinterest...and indeed there are plenty of articles like this one comparing the two. Ultimately, getting people to follow each other and set up magazines might be great fun, but will it be a learning experience? 

I'm also conscious that I now have app fatigue after going through the 12 apps of Christmas, and am tired of setting up new accounts, linking together services that want access to all my data, finding that they don't quite work in the way I would like to use them, and falling back into my old ways because I preferred them. How much of this is because the new tools don't beat the old ones, or because I'm stuck in my ways I don't know. Maybe I will give Flipboard another go someday, but for now, it's back to ignoring it's continual presence on my phone. 

Monday, 14 December 2015

Photomath - the tenth app of Christmas

Oh maths...I'm not useless at maths, but I really don't have any need of complex equations in my job. As long as I know which equations are in which excel boxes I'm pretty much ok, which means I am not in need of any of today's apps, either for teaching or my own learning.

However, I think they all sound pretty cool and useful, so here they are in case you'd like to use them!
PhotoMath will use your phone's camera to give you the answer to any printed problem (well, they are still working on the really complex ones). It also shows you the working out, which is neat.
MyScript Calculator lets you write equations on the screen and will then solve them.
Desmos is a graphing tool which I in no way understand but I can make it create fairly pretty patterns. Desmos is available using a browser as well so you just need to go to the site to get started.

Enjoy your mathematics my friends!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Cogi (and Pinterest) - the ninth app(s) of Christmas

Yes, I have failed again and this post is a day late. Partly this is because the ninth app of Christmas is actually two apps - Cogi and Pinterest.

Cogi is a voice recorder. I can understand why being able to record audio would be extremely useful for teaching and learning, and a good app to do this would be invaluable. I'm not sure about Cogi's passive recording function though - this enables you to press record and capture up to 45 seconds of audio you just missed. My instant thoughts are - 'how would you make this work ethically? I don't really want to be passively recorded!' I then go to download the app and this is another that requires access to pretty much all my phone information, so I don't download it. If I need a voice recorder I will remember it and maybe give it a try then.

Pinterest on the other hand, that's something of a little more interest to me. You can use it to discover, 'pin' and share images from within Pinterest and around the web. I signed up to Pinterest years ago when I first discovered it, made a lovely board about librarians, and then promptly forgot about it completely. Like most social media things (mainly Facebook) I'm actually not that good at saving and sharing things of interest, so Pinterest probably isn't for me personally. On the other hand, it is a great way of sharing ideas in a 'mood board' style and I think it could be a great deal of fun in a teaching environment. It has also been used effectively
in other ways like these gorgeous boards from the British Library:

My conclusion? I should probably give it more of a go, find a few friends on there and see what other people are sharing. I expect I'll find it more useful if I actually engage with the sharing functions rather than just using it quite literally as my own personal pinboard...

Thursday, 10 December 2015

StudyBlue - the eighth app of Christmas

I don't know what to make of StudyBlue. My initial impressions are that most apps feel a lot more subtle about trying to sell you the upgraded version. StudyBlue is making me feel like I can't access anything useful without paying from the word go. This is because I am browsing around trying to figure out how this thing works.
I give up and start making some cards as I guess I was expected to do first. It wants me to suggest a term, so I pick 'database', and then StudyBlue shows me how other people have defined database on their cards. Suddenly this is fascinating! Quite a lot of answers are fairly accurate, but some aren't, which is a bit worrying.
Next I try 'academic journal' - again levels of granularity in the responses are quite varied.
So I decide to be brave and try 'librarian', who is apparently a 'person who can help you find books or another source of information'...well, that's not so bad I suppose!
Ok, my library obsession aside, this is starting to make some more sense to me. I can see some people have used these cards to note how to reference different types of information which seems like a sensible idea.
I wonder if this could be used for some library matching card games as well.
However, for my personal learning style I don't like it at all, this is not the way I study! But this in itself is useful to contemplate, as this obviously does work well for many people, so at the very least knowing the app exists to be able to signpost people to it is pretty useful. Here are my cards so far...

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

RefMe - the seventh app of Christmas

 RefMEToday's app is really easy to write about, as it's one I already know and love. RefME is simply fantastic for collecting references. It's so very easy - you can use a web clipper in your browser, you can search by title, author, or ISBN from within the service quickly and easily, or you can scan the barcode on the book! For undergraduates, this is so much easier than exporting references in RIS format from whichever database they are in (and they're not usually in a database, they're usually on Amazon...or Wikipedia...) It's even easier than having to change your settings in Google Scholar to the correct reference management software.

In short, I love it, and I use it myself.

The only issue with RefME is that is doesn't currently have a cite-while-you-write component, although you can generate a perfect reference list and the layout of your citations is shown for you as well. To my mind this makes this more of an undergraduate resource, where you might not be handling too many references per assignment. On the other hand, you can export out to Mendeley, Endnote etc. so you could then use these services for cite-while-you-write if you so wished.

One final really cool thing about RefME is that they accept individual institution referencing styles and include them in their service. So if your institution has an agreement with RefME, you may very well find the correct style is already pre-loaded and ready for you to use.