5. Specialist areas

CMALT Guidance

Specialist area

As well as the core areas, candidates are required to demonstrate evidence of independent practice in one or more specialist options. This reflects the fact that, although there are common areas of work for learning technologists, practice is extremely diverse and everyone specialises in something different.

Your specialist topic should reflect an area where you have particular expertise. This may be unique to you or common across your team, but goes beyond what would be expected of any learning

Full guidance [PDF]

Original submission

Specialist area a): Supporting distance students online

A continuing role with the Online Masters team involves monitoring a variety of student technical enquiries. The challenges faced in providing technical support are magnified by the Online Masters students studying at a distance and communicating asynchronously by text only. This could result in slow, cumbersome support requests, however my approach is to be very thorough, unassuming and reassuring from the start to ensure requests are dealt with as quickly as possible. This approach relates back to the overall Online Masters team aim of reducing the technological barriers to distance learning.

Often I deal with support requests for software problems, or internet connectivity problems, specific to a particular user and I have to draw on my knowledge of a variety of possible scenarios to make a best guess at the solution. [Evidence of a support request using Moodle‟s discussion forum included in appendix.] One important factor is being aware of current internet trends and issues which affect different countries, such as country firewalls and power outages. I frequently act as a bridge between students and campus-based staff. This is important as campus-based services do not instinctively appreciate the difficulties international distance students have, so in this role I interpret any campus-based issues and use terminology the Online Masters are familiar with.

In facilitating online skills training, I received very positive feedback from students as part of the end of module evaluation which shows further evidence of my approach to supporting distance students online [see appendix].

Specialist area b): Delivery of Department training

Referred to by the University as ‘delegated training’, as VLE coordinator in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, I have permission to deliver training to other Department staff who wish to use technology in teaching and learning.

Whilst I recognise, not only the learning experience benefits of VLE use, but also the benefits to the Department‟s reputation and ability to meet the expectations of new students, I am keen to ensure that the process of introducing technology to teaching is not driven by technology itself, but driven by pedagogical objectives.

I start by speaking to individual teaching and academic staff about the problems they have in providing teaching or teaching support. I then look at how technology may, or may not, resolve the issues and I advise appropriately. From the outset I encourage consistency in terms of file names, and logical structure to VLE module sites to assist both Department staff and students in resource management. I also stress the importance of copyright and accessibility, using training materials provided by the University and TechDis. I advise on other student-centred practices such as including resource descriptions, collecting resources together by theme or activity, being explicit about expectations of staff and student involvement on the VLE, and ensuring technical help is available to students (e.g. a how-to guide linked next to a wiki activity). Where appropriate, I draw on centrally provided training sessions, where specialist knowledge on particular technologies or approaches is more appropriate. This incremental approach has led to many members of staff becoming interested and empowered to use the VLE to support the delivery of degree programmes.

This role is particularly challenging as I deal with such a varied array of uses of the VLE, and also varied subject matter. Not being a social scientist myself, I am however, still able to focus on how best to use the technology available without going into the detail of the subject matter. I do this by training staff in basic principles and encouraging them to consider their intended use of technology in direct relationship with their intended learning outcomes. [Appendix includes a list of all staff I have trained to date.]

Portfolio update

In light of my change of role since my original portfolio submission, I no longer provide direct support to distance learning students. Whilst I am still responsible for staff training in aspects of learning technologies, the scope has changed to cover colleagues across the entire institution. This revision will hence focus on a new specialism that I have developed over the last few years, that of evaluation and dissemination of practice, along with an update on the approaches and methods used for staff development.

Specialist area: Evaluation and dissemination of practice

In both my previous role within a department and now in my institutional role, I have actively worked with teaching staff to undertake evaluations on the effectiveness of the use of technology to support learning.

I have learnt through my evaluation work how planning for evaluation early on can enable targeted assessment of student perceptions on the use of technology as it is being used, rather than depending on retrospective comments.

In participating in conferences and through my Masters studies, I now have a greater appreciation of different research methods, adopting a critical approach and questioning which methods are most suited to answering particular research questions. Of note was the Loughborough Lecture Capture conference where both quantitative and qualitative-based studies were presented, offering a contrast in how lecture capture could be seen as both supporting and hindering learning. Work by Jim Turner of Liverpool John Moores University indicated that stronger students using lecture capture less performed better than weaker students who were using it more. This was in contrast to work from the University of Bath exploring a different angle that suggested lecture capture can improve dyslexic students’ attainment. Yet, in the case of the Bath study, which was conducted as a laboratory type controlled experiment, the context of the ‘natural’ learning environment wasn’t considered and the theoretical standpoint didn’t focus on the social and external context of learning at university.

These contrasting ideas have increased my awareness in my own research on the significance of incorporating context through mixed-methods studies, utilising both quantitative and qualitative approaches to form a rich picture of student study approaches.

Further discussion, reflection and evidence in Portfolio Review: Overview of CPD activities.

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