Supporting innovation in teaching, learning and learner development at Roehampton

Spring 2016 ALT Symposium: Learning Technology in Further and Higher Education

I attended the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) symposium at the BIS Conference Centre in Westminster on May 16. The focus was on looking at the challenges that the education sector is facing, and how those challenges can be met with the help of learning technology, supported with good policies and organisational culture.

The first part of the symposium saw four speakers offer their perspectives from across the sector. Firstly Martin Weller from the Open University spoke about open access in education. At the OU, they have a system called OpenLearn, which is free for the public to use. New courses are constantly being added in a cost-effective way, because OpenLearn has been integrated as a normal part of the production cycle of all courses. From students who take courses on OpenLearn, they have a 10% conversion rate to becoming paying students, which is far better than most other marketing methods. Martin also spoke about various other projects aimed at sharing resources openly, such as the K-12 OER project which aims to create resources for all US states. In Leicester they have given blanket permission to all schools to release resources under a CC license. Sharing is the way of the future.

Peter Kilcoyne from the Heart of Worcestershire College presented next. He began by discussing the problems with free content: it often isn’t exactly what you need, and it’s too expensive to develop internally. However using commercial content is equally expensive and too restrictive. Instead his college introduced a project where people could apply to create shareable eLearning materials on a particular topic. After a consultation, the chosen staff were trained to create storyboards for Storyline to match the curriculum, which were then edited, developed and user tested. Once complete, the resources are shared (both the completed version and the source files) across a consortium of 56 colleges which is growing every week. The membership fee is used to pay for the creation and updating of materials, and they have also been able to use the power of the consortium to negotiate discounts for eBooks and storyline software. Future plans are to continue growing in FE and sixth forms, and perhaps to expand into HE.

Bryan Mathers from City & Guilds spoke about assessment and accreditation with learning technology. He raised a topic which has been getting increasing buzz lately amongst the eLearning team here at Roehampton: open badges. Bryan discussed how they could be especially useful for students who might come to education through non-standard paths. His presentation was especially appealing with his hand drawn graphics!

Finally Neil Morris from the University of Leeds gave a talk about scaling up innovation. They have a large lecture capture system, and a central digital learning team to support delivery. The lecture capture project seems to be inspiring staff to think of more creative and collaborative ways to use the technology: breaking lectures down into smaller chunks, and using lecture time for other things. He also flagged up that interesting developments for FutureLearn are on the way!

After a short break,we heard from Bobbie McClelland, the Deputy Director of the Reforming FE Provision unit (part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills). This was mostly relevant to FE colleges but the following discussion addressed all stages of education. One interesting point raised was the complete irrelevance of most university assessment to employment: most employers would far prefer to see meaningful evidence of a student’s skills than to know that they achieved a certain grade in an essay. Fiona Harvey mentioned how this has inspired one faculty at the University of Southampton to remove a long-winded report in favour of a portfolio. Finishing university with a strong online identity was also discussed as a useful life skill that isn’t being sufficiently addressed by higher education: many are still using closed ePortfolio systems that are meaningless outside of the education context, even though technologies exist to share work in ways that can be accessed and understood by employers and the community.

The symposium closed with a discussion and each speaker’s closing remarks. The thing that most struck me was the comment that “playtime is over”. The idea that universities and academics can still pick and choose which aspects of technology to use is outdated. The digital world needs to be fully integrated across all disciplines, in ways that are meaningful outside the academic context. Doing any less is selling students short, because they need these skills not only while they are in education, but also to succeed after they have graduated.

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