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Development workshop at SHU 6 May 2011

Page history last edited by Anna Gruszczynska 9 years, 5 months ago

Below you will find notes from the one-off development workshop for project partners at Sheffield Hallam University. Feel free to add your comments/reflections, whether you attended or not!


Backgrounds and approaches towards OERs

We started the day by John and Phil talking about their backgrounds and approaches towards OERs.


John’s background

John joined the project in January and had his initial discussions with Darren when they talked about the 30 credits of material he was planning to repurpose for the project. The body of material was produced at Huddersfield for a foundation degree on community governance (see also a related publication on practitioner-focused politics degrees) where half was distance learning modules. For a couple of years those materials were dormant but feedback from external examiners was that this is a pity nobody is using them and so the C-SAP OER project was a good opportunity to repackage those materials. They could be useful for the third sector but also for more traditional students; John would like to add some elements to the materials such as advice to tutors on how to use them, explanation of underlying pedagogy, underlying principles ("the story") as well as show people how they could represent the course on Blackboard. Interestingly, Dafydd has a similar idea when it comes to developing his OER materials and would like to export from Blackboard – as John and Dafydd are partnered on the OER reflexive review task, this might be something they could explore together.


Connections with the pilot project

At the same time, John is mostly interested in sharing the underlying pedagogical principles and so in his case, the project output will mostly be related to reflections on the process of the design of his resource. Richard added that it would be useful to look at methodologies established in phase 1 and possibly explore using the toolkit as an option, yet to be decided at which point exactly. Furthermore, the emphasis on the reflexive element is connected with the process of cascading since it is very closely related to what we did in the pilot with case studies (the most relevant case study is probably one by Angels which explores issues around repurposing a visual anthropology module). 


Issues around exporting third-party tools

John talked about tools that are used at Teesside within Blackboard environment, such as SoftChalk and the impact that those tools might have on learning design (for instance, in the context of John’s teaching resources, the use of SoftChalk meant that the reflexive aspect was significantly lost). Richard commented on potential issues with exporting those added elements from third party tools, this might be an issue for Phil as well since he plans to use tools such as VoiceThread and WallWisher for the “creativity for edupunks” resource.


Phil’s background

Phil mostly works with Moodle and WebCT before that. His plan is to create an OER designed first for members of staff at Blackburn and then beyond; the idea is to create a 33-hour online course where in the end you produce your own OER. The sessions within the course will look at using web2.0 tools such as VoiceThread, prezi - normally people don't have the time to engage with those tools. Phil also talked about some of the challenges he is likely to encounter in the process of developing the resource and ways in which those challenges are related to institutional culture that suffers from a lack of creativity, cautiousness, defensiveness and is not that keen on engaging with outsiders (might be an issue when it comes to dealing with openness).


Digital literacies

We talked about issues related to digital literacies – Phil mentioned that his students are not very digitally advanced and he wondered what relationship this had to his students’ class/socioeconomic status. At the same time, Richard mentioned that the situation at SHU is similar and for instance general level of Blackboard use is very low-level; there are also issues around accessibility/readability when it comes to the postgraduate students he works with. Similarly, John mentioned issues that he discovered in the context of the foundation degree, in particular social access to IT. The people on the foundation degree might have had access to a computer at home or work but at home the computer might be taken over by the kids and at work they might have insufficient access to the Internet etc. Richard suggested that Phil might want to describe the benefits of the edupunk course in terms of people’s ability to develop their digital literacy skills


Phil wonders whether there is a gap between Blackburn students and other students – how relevant is it that the percentage of students with A-levels at Blackburn is only thirty odd per cent if we know very little what A-levels give to students? Phil mentioned that there is no “romance” when it comes to Blackburn, it is a very vocational institution, used to do City and Guilds; now does degrees. There are issues with retention at Blackburn, particularly with criminology. At the same time, John suggested that you could view the HE in FE experience as “traditional university experience” – with small groups, the tutors knowing the students’ names etc. On the edupunk course, Phil plans to devote one of the first three hour sessions to exploring "the nature of university"; maybe there would also be space to address "what is FE experience?"


Issues around tacitness

Curriculum development

We discussed the process of implementing changes to the curriculum. John described the process of creating a new module at Huddersfield which started with a very general brief to create "something international". While planning the course, he kept asking himself the following questions: what should somebody at the end of level 4 know about local/global politics? What level are they at now? What do they expect from the course? What would academic colleagues expect a first year student to study? The course covered some rather basic issues - what is a war, how many wars are there, what is the UN, what are the other international organisations, what is globalisation etc. In the second term, there were more case studies looking at China; Iraq war; there was also a week that was left blank in the curriculum and students voted on what they wanted to see covered. The course met for two hours every fortnight and in between students participated in an online activity. In the process of developing the course, John was influenced by the OU course planning process and doing the grids etc.


Phil’s experiences of curriculum development at his institution are quite different as at Blackburn this is a very top-down process. The initiative to develop new courses will usually stem from managers who identify potential areas of growth, such as for instance security management. The process of writing new courses is all about the procedural elements - get the keywords in, assess, apply, put together the book list, there is very little creativity involved and then people within the college have to teach what Phil has written. Phil had only one opportunity within 15 years to develop his own course which looked at forensics (part of college’s effort to cash in on student fascination with CSI…).


Those differences in academic practice will have an impact on how people are approaching OERs and on their readiness to work with open content. Issues of tacit practice are contextually bound by the institutions and relate to the following aspects of practice: what we teach, how we teach it and how we organise/manage it.


Perceptions on scholarship of learning and teaching

We also discussed perceptions related to the scholarship on teaching and learning - John has put together a collection of articles on teaching and learning in politics but the general perception that there is very little in the discipline; maybe what people are saying is that there isn’t a lot of material that is immediately relevant to their own practice? In the context of finding/reusing OERs, it is interesting to consider why people lack the motivation and accept the proposition that there isn’t any material about teaching politics.


Cascade project as an intervention?

Is our project hoping to make an intervention and if yes, what is the intervention on?

Phil hopes to invite people to think beyond learning outcomes, something that he and Craig have discussed for years; they would like to be able to change people's orientation or dispose of learning outcomes altogether - hoping to offer alternatives, for instance by telling stories about teaching and learning and offer people a set of choices. In this context, OER could be seen as a choice and the questions to ask would be as follows: what criteria do you use to make choices about OERs, do you take off the shelf OERs or do you want to tailor them?


Further reflections:


The event demonstrated one of the most powerful aspects of the OER movement, namely the benefits arising from open communication between colleagues. The illustration of various tools such as wallwisher was helpful but the sharing of teaching and learning experiences was the most beneficial part of the day. The discussion about assessment methods was particularly useful as it demonstrated support for the creative interpretation of regulations but also revealed the different approaches adopted by different institutions with regard to things such as assessment criteria.


A standardized, ‘one size fits all’ approach would not be helpful but the question persists as to why this information varies so much between institutions. Assessment is often the central part of a student’s learning experience and resistance to learning if ‘it’s not on the exam’ is common. These attitudes have been shaped by the economic policies of recent governments that restrict the ability of students to treat their education as akin to a full-time job. The point was found in the research by Peter Bradwell that was published in The Edgeless University (2009):


A lot more students now are also working. In any university area that provides 24-hour access we’ve seen high access until 2 or 3 in the morning, then it picks up again around 4.”


Given its importance it is surprising that more openness is not provided on assessment instruments and their processes. An OER repository that contained full examples of assessments would benefit lecturers of all career stages and assist in the creation of imaginative and challenging tasks. 

On a separate point the workshop also provided useful reflection on the concept of 'Digital Natives' and views were expressed to suggest it was an over stated proposition. These beliefs questioned the digital literacy of many students and not just those attending HE in FE institutions.   


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