19 December 2011

Reflections on ASCILITE 2011 Hobart

Hobart from Mt Wellington

This year’s ASCILITE conference in Hobart was very well attended, with nearly 500 participants from 90+ institutions. I certainly took away at least two new ideas and several other things to think about.

The keynote speakers were:

• Gilly Salmon, who reprised her books on “e-moderating”

• Simon Buckingham Shum, who delivered an extremely important presentation on learning analytics by videoconference from the UK, suggesting that we need to move on from counting clicks to looking at data that will actually inform – evidence of critical curiosity, meaning making, changing and learning, learning relationships, strategic awareness amongst the students, resilience, and creativity

Mt Wellington viewing shelter doors

• Sharon Kerr, who spoke on the way new technologies and easy-to-use devices like the iPad are reshaping our view of assistive technologies for students with disabilities, and may actually be re-defining our concept of “disability” in the learning context
Tasmanian wildflowers

The paper co-authored by our colleagues from CECS – Lauren Thompson, Kim Blackmore and Malcolm Pettigrove – was one of two papers selected as Best of Conference. The paper – Leading change: applying change management approaches to engage students in blended learning – reports on one aspect of the ANU-UniSA Hubs and Spokes Project. The other Best of Conference paper was Linda Corrin’s paper entitled Exploring medical students’ use of technology. The refereed conference proceedings are available online. In the pre-conference workshop I attended, there was considerable discussion about TEQSA, assessment strategies and practices, and issues of curriculum alignment.

Among the other presentations of interest (to me, at least) were these:

1. Kennedy, Jones, Chambers & Peacock’s study examining the reasons academics use – or don’t use – university-endorsed (and unendorsed) learning technologies

2. Ryan, Hinton & Lamont Mills’ presentation of the finding of their investigation into the impact of learning technologies on academic workload, where they found

Yoni Ryan, Leone Hinton and Andrea Lamont-Mills

a. that a distance education model of curriculum design brings with it an increase in academic workload before the beginning of the study session, but often a reduced workload during the semester,

b. that there isn't a clear workload model in the universities they visited that takes account of changing practice in the light of increased use across the sector of learning technologies, and

c. that while academic staff understand that teaching online has become a requirement, they are often unwilling to reduce face-to-face contact because they believe that to reduce face-to-face contact, even when they have increased online contact, they would adversely affect the quality of teaching and learning
3. Karanicolas, Green, Willis & Snelling’s reflections on the relative value added by their own curriculum innovations, including those supported by learning technologies

4. Allen & Coleman’s paper on the ways they are cultivating and assessing creativity with the help of an e-portfolio tool

5. Palmer’s confronting findings that demonstrate that without thoughtful curriculum re-design, when courses are taught online, student satisfaction scores drop significantly; that is, it’s not enough merely to add some online aspect to a traditionally-designed course, the lecturer has to re-think and re-design

6. Lever, Gluga & Kay’s presentation about a University of Sydney curriculum documentation database that will provide reports on curriculum alignment, and the issues that arose during the building of the database

7. Dolan’s moving presentation about the impact of the earthquake on the use of online learning technologies in the short-term and in the long-term at the University of Canterbury, where higher usage – driven by necessity in the early days – has persisted even as the buildings and face-to-face systems have been rebuilt

There were many other valuable papers, I am sure, but of the sessions I attended, these were the speakers who caught my attention.
Shane Evans and Kathy Savige from UNSW@ADFA

This annual conference is increasingly providing a forum for those who are interested in more than online tools. Those who attend are examining changing practice in among university teachers, looking at the ways institutions are dealing with these changes through policies, institutional policies and procedures, and the implications of these changes for the kinds of teacher education preparation, professional development programs, and professional support that universities need to be putting in place to ensure that their teaching staff have not only the discipline knowledge required of a university teacher, but also a thoughtful, informed, reflective approach to their teaching practice.

Alex Knight, Marina Lobastov and Yvonne Wisby
nearly at the top of the University of Tasmania

After the conference, Marina Lobastov from the University of Tasmania gave a small group of us a private tour of some of their new teaching facilities, where some of the more recent ideas about learning spaces are being put into practice.

Then I explored the Huon Valley - what an amazing place that is ...

The backyard for my Huon Valley forest dwelling friends

Dale the Dog decides that swimming isn't for him

15 December 2011

Teaching the language of the disciplines

Earlier this week, I attended the launch of a book. The people around me are constantly publishing monographs and scholarly articles. Some of them are good, some of them are mind-boggling boring (to me ... not to everyone). Some of them deal with narrow academic studies, some are the result of years of focused attention on a PhD topic, and some of them emerge from wide, cross-disciplinary thinking. Many are predictable, if worthy. Few are unexpected, if you know the people involved.

This one took me by surprise, perhaps because I didn't really think about what would be likely to emerge from a meeting between an energetic teacher of Chinese and a thoughtful, quiet scientist with research interests in virology, innate immunity and bio-statistics over a cup of coffee in a seminar about university teaching.

This pair are both committed teachers. Their book came about because of a discussion about how the scientist might best teach the language of his discipline to his students, and because there was a very practical problem to solve. Brett knows the language of his discipline, but was having trouble teaching it to his students. Felicia knows how to teach languages, but didn't know the language of Brett's discipline. They set about learning about each other's areas of expertise. Felicia attended every class Brett taught for a whole semester. Brett spent hours learning about the language teaching techniques that Felicia uses.

Dr Felicia Zhang, the teacher of Chinese, suggested to Dr Brett Lidbury, the scientist, that he incorporate language teaching techniques and practices in his biology classes. Then they brought in Dr Alice Richardson, a statistician, to check the results. They invited a whole raft of other people to think about the issues and to contribute their tips and tricks ... and came up with the script for the book.

It seems like a pretty good idea to me. After all, one of the first things that discipline novices have to conquer is the language of their new discipline.  If you don't sound like a physicist or a biologist when you talk about physics or biology, you probably aren't one, right?

from left to right: Dr Brett Lidbury, Dr Felicia Zhang, and Dr Alice Richardson

Take a look. The book is full of concrete suggestions about how to teach the language of science. I'm pretty sure most of the ideas could be adapted to other other disciplines as well.

Zhang, F., Lidbury, B., Richardson, A., Yates, B., Gardiner, M., Bridgeman A., Schutte, J., Rodger, C., and Mate, K. (2011). Sustainable Language Support Practices in Science Education: technologies and solutions. US: Business Science Reference. See http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sustainable-Language-Support-Practices-Education/dp/1613500629

Isn't it great when the people you know teach you something unexpected, unexpectedly?