Friday, 28 March 2014

Manchester Distance Learning Network (MaDLeN) Event: Teaching at a distance in the digital age

I attended the MaDLeN event this Wednesday. MaDLeN is an internal group at Manchester University, but they run webinars and events for everyone. It was quite a diverse conference, with people from FE and HE, and about half the 150 attendees from outside Manchester University.

The first talk was by Gary Motteram who talked about his experience of using social media in teaching. All the tools he mentioned are things that most Learning Technologists will be aware of, but he said a few things that might be of interest. He recommended Megan Poore’s book for those new to using social media in education, he talked about how when they used Facebook pages with the students the students had found everything going on in that environment distracting, and he talked about how they still found VLE discussion boards useful – social media tools weren't replacing the use of these. His slides are available.

The next talk was by Learning Technologists, and so is more directly relevant to me. The speakers were Ian Miller (eLearning Manager for the Faculty of Life Sciences) with Ian Hutt (Senior Learning Technologist and Distance Learning Lead for the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and The University of Manchester MOOC Lead). They talked about three tools that are being used widely at Manchester. Firstly Nearpod is being used in the classroom. This is a tool that you can add PowerPoint presentation slides to so that you can add interactions to  it – video, quizzes, diagrams that student can annotate – and students access the presentations on their own devices. The session leader can then share things the students have done with the rest of the class. Quite a lot of work had been done there to check the wireless networks in the classrooms could cope with the loads associated with using NearPod, and they had decided one wireless access point was generally enough for 25 students, although it depends on whether you are using much video and the architecture of the wireless network. Apparently they are also using iSpring a lot, and Softchalk which allows you to add a .ppt file in it too. They created their own presentation slides using HaikuDeck which looked great.

The final session was broadcast from Stony Brook University, USA where Joanne Souza (Lecturer and Director of Biology online) and Paul Bingham (Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology) talked about transforming a F2F course into a blended/hybrid course. They had 570 students on a course and it was difficult to know if their aims were being met in such as large class. They developed online activities on discussion boards with groups of 50 students and asked them to complete activities and take part in discussions to share and develop their understanding of the topics. Graduate teaching assistants would keep an eye on the conversations, and if towards the end of a conversation it wasn’t resolved, or misunderstandings remained, the lecturer would approach the topic in the lecture. They found an improvement in results. Paul says he sees it as a way to teach more students, and that through the social effects of larger groups it is better pedagogy, although they said it didn’t work well with groups smaller than 20 students (which got a laugh as many people are dealing with small numbers of students). They said a team approach worked well for them, with the academics as content specialists and Learning Technologists, and Teaching Assistants involved too.

If you want to follow MaDLeN’s future activity, they are on Twitter, Facebook, and they said to visit Manchester University’s distance learning pages. There are a couple of webinars coming up on Nearpod and iSpring, and their next face to face meet up is in October, on the subject of off-campus student experience. You can book on to these events using Eventbrite.

Update 2/4/14: The organisers have put together a Softchalk based resource with videos and information from the sessions.

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