Nick Botfield, Learning Technologist for the Sciences, attended the Academic Practice and Technology (APT) Conference at the University of Greenwich, which focused on how teaching and learning can become more connected.
Waves of change
The conference was organised to ‘provide an opportunity to debate and explore the significant challenges for higher and post-compulsory education and training arising from these waves of rapid change’ (APT). The event promised to ‘be a forum where policy, practice and strategic developments can be explored, discussed and shared by practitioners and researchers in a vibrant and lively atmosphere on the university’s World Heritage Campus’ (APT)(and it did not disappoint).
After an introductory speech from an enthusiastic Professor David Maguire (University of Greenwich Vice-Chancellor), Stephen Downes took to the stage to deliver a presentation titled Beyond Free: Open Learning in a Networked World. An impassioned and thought-provoking talk encouraged the audience to consider what MOOCs were originally designed to achieve, and how the very idea of openness and what we consider to be open could have become lost in an increasingly digital world.
Downes supported his argument with research that highlighted issues with the cost of going to university and the effect of publishers raising the price of their products, stating his belief that online learning and new technologies are just being seen as a way of making money. This led him to conclude that there needed to be a greater acceptance of MOOCs as something different from traditional courses, and more encouragement for learning networks that support the sharing of the process of thought and discovery with others around you.
Moving away from the massive
An alternative type of open online course was suggested by Chrissi Nerantzi in one of the afternoon breakout sessions. Stating her objections to the ‘massive’ element to MOOCs, and giving reasons for a move away from the MOOC blueprint, Nerantzi detailed an open course she had co-created called Flexible Distance and Online Learning (FDOL). The FDOL course focussed on student interaction and collaboration rather than being content-driven and, although there were issues with group work at the start of the course, it was the collaborative element to the course that assisted in building student relationships that may have contributed to higher course completion rates.
A further key theme running through the event was that of digital literacies. Three groups representing three universities, (London School of Economics [LSE], University College London [UCL] and University of Southampton) all described how they delivered their digital literacy programme and the results they achieved.
Interestingly, they all followed the same recruitment, encouragement and follow-up structure but all delivered this in a slightly different way.
- LSE used a series of workshops to engage their digital ambassadors.
- UCL used a single course to promote research-based learning and develop digital literacies.
- Southampton took a slightly different approach by using their Digital Champions (or Digichamps) to deliver digital literacy workshops, seminars and lectures that could be embedded within courses.
The results from all three universities were very positive, no surprise given the drive and enthusiasm the presenters all clearly had for the subject they were discussing.
Image with thanks to creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Marc Wathieu: http://flickr.com/photos/marcwathieu/2412755417