Durbbu 2016: Creating failure opportunities

By Matt Cornock

The Durham Blackboard User Conference (#durbbu) this year encouraged learning from failure and through this theme enabled a more critical discussion of what works and what doesn’t when using learning technologies in higher education. From the sessions I attended, skills development and the role of learning technologies for this stood out the most. My tweeting activity from the two days is also captured via Storify giving a broader flavour of noteworthy points. See also outputs from the web conferencing for blended learning workshop I ran, which presents different models for synchronous online activity in blended environments: Blended learning with webinars and web conferencing software.

Digital literacy

It’s a phrase we are all conscious of, though in some circles it’s hard to pin down what digital literacy means in practice. For me it’s about the fluency to adapt to new technology as an integral part of professional practice. Yet this does require a certain element of prioritisation, as keynote speaker Eric Stoller highlighted, lack of time is often cited as a reason not to engage with technology.

“When people say that they don’t have time to learn social media, what they’re really saying is that it isn’t a priority for them.” – @EricStoller

With new technology there is also the risk of failure, and if anything came out of this conference it was an affirmation that experimentation, risk-taking, trying something new, was part of what it means to be a learner and someone who supports learning. Stoller used social media as a prime example of where experimentation offers learning opportunities and challenges ideas about personal/professional boundaries. There is no one right way to use social media (though arguably many wrong ways).

“Myth: to be good at social media you have to be saying something at all times – you can listen and learn.” – @sharonlflynn quoting Eric Stoller

Whether you embellish your professional profile with pictures of your cat or never post anything and simply follow peers/experts in your field, one of the concepts that I felt could do with more emphasis is that we have as much to learn about the use of social media from students as they do from us. Developing digital literacy I feel should be a collaborative journey, particularly as Stoller noted the landscape of tools and spaces is always changing. Allocating time to be an expert in all new tools is not practical, or appropriate, but understanding what’s relevant to your discipline, your professional/personal goals and the educational environment you wish to be part of/create will help that prioritisation of skills development.

Transition to HE

Pre-arrival (or welcome) sites are particularly strong at the University of York. I’ve been involved in the development of a number of sites, including drawing upon students to help inform the site content. From our initial site development which replicated many induction materials and general University guidance, through to a more integrated approach that uses the recent centrally-provided You@York applicant portal, the sites now provide a discipline-specific entry point for new students prior to their arrival on campus. Durham showcased their approach to creating such sites (YouTube video with detail) with active involvement of students as both content developers and in an advisory capacity. This involvement helped prioritise effort and focus on not just what would be valuable to students, but how to convey it.

“Students don’t want to hear ‘good students do this’ but hear from academics passionate about their subject to inspire them.” – S Nolan

What I found particularly interesting from their use of pre-arrival sites was the inclusion of learning approach surveys and availability of site statistics that showed where students were spending most of their time. This data showed differences between disciplines, further emphasising the importance of subject-based transition to higher education rather than generic packages. As yet, the full potential of both these forms of analytic data hasn’t been explored, but in theory, could be used to inform induction and fundamental skills components within the early part of the degree programme. The activities and contributions from students pre-arrival therefore has a more direct link on support when they arrive, furthering the aims of a transitional project.

Presentation skills

Finally, I was particularly impressed with an idea from Durham presented by Elaine Tan on behalf of Jacquie Robson, that I think could offer a lot of potential to support students developing presentation skills. Instead of attending a traditional ‘presentation about presentations’, students had to deliver a short, two-minute presentation on a topic of their choice to a small group. These workshops provided a space for students to get used to the physical side of presenting, rather than just worrying about the content, with an opportunity to get peer-feedback against criteria that would support them in their summative presentation assessments. To complement this process, the presentations were video recorded and made available to students individually to review alongside their feedback.

“Replacing taught sessions with presentation workshops – more opps to develop presentation skills & encourage peer assessment!” – @Chang_Ge_UoL

As these were formative tasks, students could make mistakes and learn from them, building confidence rather than worrying about grades. Various technical approaches could be used, from simply asking students to use camera apps on mobile devices, through to lecture capture systems. Centrally-supported systems may offer opportunities such as annotation on the video for feedback or personal notes to log where performance could develop or has improved.

Acknowledgement

Adapted from an original post on the ELDT blog: Creating failure opportunities – initial reflections from Durham Blackboard conference 2016. Conference attendance as part of my E-Learning Adviser role at the University of York.

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