Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

News from members: Mirabelle and Judith

Monday, November 26th, 2012

The next few postings contain news about TERG members’ activities and achievements over the past few months. We’ll start with news from Mirabelle Walker and Judith Williams.

A paper resulting from the collaborative research into feedback that Mirabelle carried out with Maria Fernandez-Toro and Mike Truman, in the Department of Languages, will appear in print in Assesssment and Evaluation in Higher Education in 2013. At present it is available online via their ‘Latest articles’ facility:

Fernandez-Toro, M., Truman, M. & Walker, M. (2012) ‘Are the principles of effective feedback transferable across disciplines? A comparative study of written assignment feedback in Languages and Technology’ Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

Mirabelle is currently analysing the peer feedback given in an assignment in T215 Communication and Information Technologies. Together with Karen, Mirabelle will be giving a talk about her findings to date at the next OU e-Learning Community meeting on December 11th 2012 Peer Collaboration and Group Work.

In August Mirabelle and Judith submitted a paper titled ‘Critical evaluation as an aid to improved report writing: A case study’ to the European Journal of Engineering Education.

Soraya and Judith presented their paper ‘Harnessing the creativity of digital multimedia tools in distance learning’ at the Solstice conference in June of this year. The talk was well-attended and resulted in a useful contact relevant to future work regarding the framework used.

Judith, supported by Karen and Jon, is leading a short Knowledge Transfer Partnership (sKTP) with the Cooperative College in Manchester, to implement and evaluate eLearning at the College. The sKTP Associate, Chris Miller, has been in post for just over nine weeks. Chris has been investigating candidate platforms for the College’s VLE pilot.

Over the last month, Karen, Helen and Judith have been holding short weekly meetings to develop a journal paper. The paper is based on applying the Technology Acceptance Model to an initiative where wikis were used for group projects.

Visit to Lithuania

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Last week Karen visited Kaunas in Lithuania as part of the E-xcellence Next project. The visit was one of a series of ‘local seminars’ at universities in different countries. These local seminars, which are a key part of the project,  are to facilitate  evaluation of the quality of the elearning offering.

The seminar was hosted by Kaunas University of Technology (KUT). Kaunas is the second city in Lithuania. The seminar also involved a visit to the capital Vilnius in order to meet representative from the Lithuanian national body for quality in higher education (equivalent to the QAA in the UK).

KUT was also hosting a conference on elearning at the same time: ALTA 2011. Karen and Allan wrote and presented a paper ‘Case studies of social networking for online learning’ for the conference. All the papers were webcast using KUT’s impressive in-house webcasting technologies, and the recordings are available via the conference website.

TERG September meeting

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Trees in Autumn

We held our first meeting for the Autumn on Thursday September 15th. Members present were:
Karen, Mirabelle, Judith, Jon and Roger.

The main focus of the meeting was a discussion of two articles on the concept of ‘transactional distance’:

  • Michael Moore (1993) ‘Theory of transactional distance’. in Keegan, D., ed. Theoretical Principles of Distance Education, Routledge, pp. 22-38.
  • Paul Gorsky and Avner Caspi (2005) ‘A critical analysis of transactional distance theory’, The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 6(1), pp. 1-11

The first of these is a chapter by the originator of the concept, explaining the elements it includes, and discussing the relationships between them. The second is a paper disputing the validity of these ideas.

Group members were of different opinions regarding these two articles. Some of us felt that the ideas included in the concept of transactional distance were useful, even though the reationships between them did not seem to be clearly specified. Others felt that Gorsky and Caspi were right in their claim that the theory did not hold up to close examination. We agreed that further background on transactional distance, and the associated debates, would be of interest.

We then went on to share our items of news from the summer period.

Mirabelle is in discussions regarding possible publication of a book on developing students’ writing and self-evaluation skills. She and Judith are planning a co-authored paper on this aspect of the OU course T215 Communication and Information Technologies.

Judith is awaiting feedback on a co-authored journal paper submitted earlier this year. She, Karen, Helen and Frances are working on post-review revisions to a further paper. Judith has also made a good start on her two eSTEeM projects.

Karen has been working on a paper about social presence and user profiles in social networking.  This will link into her eSTEeM project with Frances and Helen Jefferis (OU tutor and consultant). Karen and Jon have been working further with Keith on the E-xcellence Next project to further develop benchmarks and a manual on quality in elearning.

Karen and Judith have heard from Giselle, who is on study leave in Brazil until Christmas. Giselle is also working on the E-xcellence project.

Jon has been working on his iSPOT project, including dissemination. He has also presented a poster at a conference on computer-assisted assessment. This links with his eSTEeM project on confidence-based assessment. His second eSTEeM project related to a change in assessment methods is going well, with an increase in retention on the associated course.

Our next TERG meeting will be on Thursday November 17th at 2.30pm.

Conference paper: Building a simulated Internet

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Before getting into the swing of his PhD research, Andrew Smith has been working with Cisco Systems over the last three years on the pedagogical (and semi-technical) development of their Packet Tracer network simulator, which is used as a key teaching tool on T216: Cisco Networking.

One of the key outcomes of this work, which has been driving Andrew’s current PhD research, has been the development of a simulated internet. Packet Tracer, unlike any other simulated networking resource allows groups to work together, either in class or remotely on a diverse range of simulated networking activities.

In exploring the question of how a simulated internet could be developed, Andrew has been working with Dennis Frezzo (known affectionately by the Cisco community as the Godfather of Packet Tracer).  An aim of this work is to present the educational world with a powerful simulated environment, with many of the experiences of the real system, without any of the risks or issues.

The intention is to develop a mesh of ‘relay-servers’ hosting the Packet Tracer application, each interlinked and supporting a virtual internet where Open University students, amongst many others, will be able to engage in a range of learning experiences.

With work already underway, and papers presented at two previous conferences, Andrew has worked with remote and in-class groups to build small ‘Internets’ and explore the pedagogy. The work has been accepted as a paper at ALT-C in Leeds this September, where Andrew will present a full research paper.

Solstice Conference – Edge Hill University

Thursday, June 9th, 2011
Edge Hill Campus

Yesterday I attended the Sostice Conference at Edge Hill University near Ormskirk. It’s a small,  friendly conference, in its sixth year, and was born out of CETL funding. It runs over two days, with a different focus for each day. Yesterday’s focus was Technology Enhanced Learning. The focus for today (which I am not attending) is Learning and Teaching Practice.

Keynote speakers

The first keynote Enhancing Learning, Teaching and Student Success in Virtual Worlds was by Dr. Mark Childs of Coventry University. For the past few years, Mark has been conducting a range of different learning activities in virtual worlds (Second Life), and in this talk he discussed his findings and presented some strategies for supporting students in virtual worlds. I found all this rather too evangelical but it led to an interesting discussion about the relationship between feelings of presence and perceptions of the effectiveness of the student’s learning experience.
There was a view from the audience that Second Life is somewhat dated now – that it’s ‘clunky’ and regarded by students as being ‘for old people’. The feeling is that Second Life is probably in decline and likely to be replaced by other technologies (though this was largely peripheral to the points Mark was making).
Look out for Mark’s book, co-edited by Anna Peachey, Reinventing ourselves: Contemprary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds, due for publication in a couple of months.

The second keynote, Engaging and Supporting Students: is technology an answer?, was by Becka Colley, Dean of Students at the University of Bradford and a committed technophile.  Becka talked about the challenges ahead for universities to attract, retain and satisfy students in the post £9,000 per annum fees era, and how ‘technology focused solutions could help enhance the experience for all’. This was a fast and vibtrant ‘no holds barred’ presentation that Nick Clegg would not have enjoyed.


There were five groups of six or seven parallel sessions throughout the day. I tended to focus on those that were looking at some element of assessment.

Most interesting (pedagogically) presentations

Demanding Feedback: Supporting the few not supplying the many, Ollie Jones and Dr. Andrea Gorra, Leeds Metropolitan University.

This talk described an experiement in providing assessment feedback to 260 L2 students on an Operations Management module. The background to the research was the well known problem of students not accessing and reading the feedback given. In this experment, all students were given some generic feedback two weeks after the assessment deadline followed a week later by some individual feedback (about a sentence) and their marks on each criteria . Students then had the option of requesting additional feedback, given as recorded audio, written comments or f2f. 23% of students accessed the generic feedback; 45% accesed their individual feedback with marks; 22% requested the additional feedback, but only half of these subsequently accessed it. Those engaging most actively with the feedback were the high achievers and those at the fail or near-fail end. The majority of students in the middle appeared to be uninterested. Conclusions: focus feedback where required, reallocating time saved to formative feedback.

Using Electronic Voting and Feedback: Developing HOT Skills in Learners given by Trevor Barker of the University of Hertfordshire.
This talk described the development of HOT (higher order thinking) skills in some Masters students studying web design, through the requirement to critically analyse (as a group and in public) the work of their peers and then vote to agree a grade.  This grade contributed 20% to the final grade, with the tutors’ grades (on the same work) making up the remaining 80%. Students were also marked on how close they were to the tutors’ marks, and there was a surprisingly close correlation between them. The whole experience of (a) examining and publicly discussing their peers’ work (with tutor input), (b) grading the work (and therefore having to internalise the grading criteria) and (c) comparing their awarded grades with those of the tutors appeared to lead to a much higher engagement with the assessment task than in previous years. A watered down version of the exercise was tried with Year 1 students, with similar evidence of improved engagement (evidenced by higher module scores).

Most engaging presentation

Augmented Reality – Unblocking a hidden curriculum by Stephen Rose, University of Exeter.
(In fact, I meant to go to the presentation in the next room, but walked in through the wrong door – then didn’t have the heart to walk out again. I’m so glad I stayed!) Stephen was describing a JISC project he was involved in on the use and deployment of Augmented Reality on a new generation of SmartPhones and tablet PCs, and how this can create opportunities to reveal hitherto hidden layers of information about the world around us. Amazing! I’d no idea all this was going on/possible. (Another reason to put an iPad on my wish list.) If you don’t really know what Augmented Reality is (I had only a vague idea) then look at Wikipedia, this BBC news item and  Exeter University’s site.

ISSoTL2010 – Closing Plenary Professor (Eric) Jan Meyer and Professor Ray Land

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Friday saw the close of ISSoTL 2010 and a brilliant closing plenary ‘Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge’ Meyer, JHF (Durham University, UK) and Land, R. (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK).  The Meyer and Land Threshold Concept is fast becoming a global theory, that is really exciting people, with over a 150 scholarly papers written in different disciplinary contexts.  The best way of thinking about threshold concepts, is that there are some concepts or learning experiences that are like passing through a ‘portal, from which a new perspective opens up, allowing things formerly not perceived to come into view. This permits a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, of viewing something, without which the learner cannot progress, and results is a reformulation of the leaners’ frame of meaning’  ……. ‘ as a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a trasformed  internal view of subject matter, subject landscapes, or even world view. The transformation, which involves a letting go of a prevailing view, is frequently troublesome ..(ISSoTL2010) .    Researchers working in different disciplines report that the threshold concept allows a deeper understanding of what the difficulties are in a particluar subject, and that this informs curriculum design. When it comes to assessment, Land posed the question, what does it mean to be an engineer, what does it mean to be an economist,  how can this be assessed. Land ended the final plenary with how threshold concepts are leading to transactional curriculum inquiry between subject specialists, students and educational developers and educational researchers. Congratulations to Frances Chetwynd and Chris Dobbyn on the acceptance of their paper for publication in Open learning, great news to hear while we attended ISSoTL2010.

More on ISSOTL 2010!

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Just adding a bit about ISSOTL to Wendy’s earlier post. I can only agree with her comments about Graham Gibbs’ opening keynote and how it set the scene for much comment about context in later presentations. On the Thursday morning I listened (and participated in) an excellently presented long paper called “The ASSET Project: does the use of video enhance the feedback experience for students and staff?” This was a JISC funded project that encouraged staff to produce short video feedback (whole group not individual) on assignments using Flip cameras (and other methods). There is a comprehensive University of Reading website on the Project and with various resources. I wondered whether I could produce a similar short whole group feedback recording in Elluminate for my T175 students. It might be useful to cover the most prevalent mistakes from each assignment. One of the findings was that students can be motivated and enthused through expression and tone of voice. For distance learners might this be particularly true?

The conference dinner was fun especially the Beatles tribute band. There was a slight air of trepidation thrughout the conference what with the Spending Review announcements and also the organiser told us that in the 3 weeks prior to conference start 40 papers had been withdrawn due to lack of funding for presenters from their institutions.
Overall though a really good few days but sadly my very last COLMSCT funded event. On the plus side news came through mid conference that Chris and I have had our paper “Assessment, Feedback and Marking Guides in Distance Education” accepted (with minor revisions) for publication in Open Learning.

ISSoTL10 – Arena and Convention Centre, Liverpool, UK

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Currently (19-22 October 2010) attending the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) conference,  Global Theories and local practices: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations. It also incorporates  the 18th Improving Student Learning Symposium.  Professor Graham Gibbs, led with a excellent opening keynote that has resonated with the presenters of every presentation,  I have attended today.  Every presenter empahasied the context of their SoTL research, with great care taken with respect to generalisability.  In his keynote,  ’He urged ISSoTL to pay great attention to contextual variables in its research, to provide more contextual information when describing studies, so that readers can be aware of the potentially limited range of applicability of the findings, and to be more cautious about claiming generalisability of theory or evidence from one context to another, when potentially crucial differences in context are unknown.’ (Keynote address in ISSoTL conference proceedings, 2010). He ended his keynote, with saying there is a  need to be more eclectic, read more  on sociology and humanistic psychology and become more familiar with contexts and report those contexts in Journal papers. I have had a very full day listening to speakers from America, Canada and Australia, talk about the tensions between teaching and research, gaining many insights into the challenges of supporting  professional development in teaching.  Really enjoyed the last two long papers; The assessment design inventory: a tool for research and faculty development Lin Norton, Bill Norton and Lee Shannon (Liverpool Hope University) and  Joining the dots: an institutional approach to changing assessment culture and practice Graham Holden and Helen Parkin (Sheffield Hallam University).

NORTHUMBRIA/EARLI Assessment Conference September

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The ‘European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction’ (EARLI) SIG Assessment Conference was held at Slaley Hall Hotel, 1-3 September 2010, Northumberland UK .  The conference was attended by Wendy Fisher, Carol Morris, Daphne Chang, Alison Beetley, Wendy Berndt and Maria Kantirou who co-presented the Symposium – ‘Towards an Assessment Strategy for a New Faculty’ . (Morris, C) led the symposium with an overview of the reasons for the assessment review and the aims and objectives of the review in the Mathematics, Computing and Technology (MCT) Faculty at the Open University (OU). A further four papers were presented on A Methodological Framework  for reviewing Assessment Across Different Awards and Disciplines ‘ (Fisher, W & Kantirou. M);  Understanding the Significance of Sharing Pratice’ (Beetley, A);  Learning Outcomes and Assessment Strategies: A Review of Two Pathways in an Undergraduate Engineering Award (Berndt, W) and ‘A Ethnographic Study of Assessment Cultures in a Postgraduate Award on Global Development “A Practitioner Approach” (Chang, D). Feedback from the attendess led to personal reflections on the management of change and will lead to further publications on the work achieved by each of the Programmes.  Special interest was shown in the review of postgraduate assessment this is an area of research that is currently being explored by several researchers such as Sally Brown at Leeds Metropolitan University.

The Keynote Speaker on the first day was Professor Royce Sadler, Griffith Institute for Higher Education, Griffith University, Brisbane. led at the start of the conference with his paper entitled ‘Close-Range assessment practices with high-yield prospects’.  In his keynote he covered assessment principles,  assessment practices and how principles are applied and students inducted into an appreciation of them.  He went on to discuss ‘what is achievement’ and ‘what is non-achievement’  and that assessment should be concerned with ‘achievement’ . So no marks for students  asked to keep reflective journals, blog posts, forum postings or activity in Web 2, he saysthat by including marks for ‘non achivement’ it leads to raising the bar on which genuine achievement is built.   He also went onto discuss the structure and timing of assessment tasks and the impact of assessment on students with different learning pathways. That we need smart ways of assessing students ‘achievement’ at the end of a module and not necessarily an exam.

Keynote on the second day was Professor Liz McDowell, Conference President and Head of Learning and Teaching Academy, Northumbria University.  Her paper was entitled ‘Assessment for learners: when practice and theory meet’ . In her keynote she gave a five year overview of  the politically driven policy to raise the status of teaching in higher education by funding 72 centres of excellence in teaching and learning (CETLs).  She went onto discuss the  Northumbria Assessment for Learning (Afl) model and explained how the six parts that make up the model work in the higher education context. She also led on a very deep discussion on how to provide feedback opportunities for students and the tensions between formative and summative assessment and what makes formative authentic and meaningful for student engagement. An issue included in the lecture was an ‘insiders view’ for students own self-direction they need to  understand criteria and be provided with exemplars. The lecturer finished with an observation that there is a lack of research on how students use feedback and a lack of research on marking.

The only other headline for this post is the symposium ‘Evaluating and Enhancing the Impact of Programme-Based and Programme Theory and Methodology’. (Hartley, P. Whitfield, R. Jessop, T. El-hakim, Y.) Two project groups reporting on interim findings that are recorded at symposium ran as workshop with participants asked to discuss ‘what is programme-based/level assessment’ major issue for the group discussion was issues to do with finding commonality between the language used between us. Programme meant different things to different academics.  This reflected their own findings and they have decided to set up a glossary. Happy to share the hand-out on ‘key questions for an ‘effective assessment strategy’.

Facilitating change – Tablet PC trials across two distance education focused universities

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Title of  paper written by Wendy Fisher (TERG) and Birgit Loch, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia for  Ascilite 2010  We have just had confirmation that the paper has been accepted for this years conference on ‘curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown future, 5 – 8 December 2010.

Briefly, the paper reports on our initial findings in comparing the different approaches to trialling tablet technology at the UK Open University and the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Australia to enhance communication between lecturers and students.  The comparison is meant to guide and inform change agents and identify good practice in the management of technology trials. Although our strategies were both different we were able to draw from our comparison and list eight recommendations meant to guide others who are considering  trialling technology in education.