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What I learned about ‘The Power of Digital’

In a #TBT moment I realised it’s been a month since I volunteered to go to Digifest 2016, so in the style of reflective practice I thought I’d revisit my notes and do a retrospective write up about the day. Digifest is a 2 day technology in teaching and learning showcase run by JISC held in the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, it was called ‘The Power of Digitial’ and lived up to it’s name.

There was a lot of workshops, stalls and sessions going on throughout both days. So it may be worth noting that I only attended the second day (Thursday 3rd March) and this was my Agenda:

09:00 – 10:00 –  The power of digital for teaching and learning

10:00 – 10:30 – Break

10:30 – 11:15 – #HullDtn: a collaborative approach to digital pedagogies

11:45 – 12:30 – Designing and developing great courses together (sponsor session from Pearson)

12:30 – 13:30 – Lunch

13:30 – 14:30 – Having a nosey around at the stalls, meeting new professionals (and some I already knew)

14:45 – 15:45 – Leveraging the digital: capability, capacity and change in HE and FE

My teaching colleague went on the Wednesday and got a few different key ideas from the sessions they attended. For more information on what was on offer on both days, you can find out here.

So in a quick summary style, the key points I took away from Digifest were:

  • The need and use for analytics as a teacher and an educational e-learning professional
  • The importance of Play
  • Networking and open sharing is important
  • Virtual Reality is the way forward in education

Now I know a lot of these seem almost common sense, but believe me, when it’s a relatively new area where previously research has been scarce it’s refreshing to go to a conference with like-minded people. In this case there was research all around you to support the theories it’s easier to safely, and reliably, share and build on the ideas. Like all good research in education it’s always stressed that reputable, valid and reliable sources are key so being somewhere enriched with multiple case studies, research groups and living ongoing cases made information flow freely throughout the day.

09:00 – 10:00: ‘The power of digital for teaching and learning’

This session had a few varied speakers and brought up multiple issues such as learning analytics and play in education.

Now I will admit I only came into the back half of the talk about learning analytics, but the conclusions and atmosphere from the crowd seemed to be positive. The lead on this talk was Ian Dolphin, who is about open source and academia. He suggested that learning analytics are a digital key to students success and the way in which they’re analysed and used is massively important to help advance and develop learning. But there needs to be smart ways in which to do this otherwise we’re simply overwhelming ourselves with data.

The main part I got from the morning session was about the importance of play throughout education, specifically H.E. This mainly may be because I was there for the full talk, the ‘Wondering While Wandering’ session by Chrissi Nerantzi. The research suggested that using play, as a hands-on method of teaching, in H.E encouraged independent learners and engaged them with their subject more than those who were taught via the ‘traditional static’ method, supporting the blended learning pedagogy. There were a few significant points about how to implement play in H.E effectively and the issues that can be faced with introducing play into an academic environment. The main issues were cultural and how there might be negative perceptions of using play in F.E & H.E. This is because it is not a static view of learning and instead can be seen as childish or less academic both by educational peers (other teachers/researchers) and students.  However to combat this notion clear learning objectives must be given, with an evidence based approached used for reflective practice. Chrissi also suggested giving teachers a safe space to try out new innovative teaching ideas, such as a ‘learning laboratory’ without the fear of judgement, assessment and peer observation, but where they can reflect on themselves through recording the lessons to see what worked and what didn’t.

This method of hands-on play teaching lead to a discussion about how it would be viable to use this for educational technology, to help create digitally competent individuals who are ready for the digital working world due to a safe environment to initially learn and/or teach in. The idea of a safe space for the teachers to play, lead to students having more opportunities to use technology and become digitally literate through guided learning in lessons, as the idea of the digital native is not necessarily true. The assumption that people of certain generations take to technology more than others may be true but the fact is that there are still people out there who come from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and so may not have the opportunity to play with tech outside of education. Not only that but without context of application on technology the full use outside of simply tech for leisure may be lost. There needs to be understanding as to the reasons why tutors use specific tech for certain things, for example Twitter being used as a medium for CPD. Though this idea of ‘the death of the digital native’ was looked into in depth by Donna Lanclos in a different session, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend.

Moving on to the next part….

10:00 – 11:15: #HullDtn: a collaborative approach to digital pedagogies

It was all about networks, everywhere you looked and everyone I talked to outside of the sessions were all about collaborative working with other e-learning professionals at other institutes.

There was an amazing positive, innovative atmosphere to the day where collaboration and talking ideas out with other professionals was the norm. This was only supported in the #HullDtn: a collaborative approach to digital pedagogies session. Colleges in the Midlands and Southern part of England, specialised and otherwise, worked in a network together to provide technology enhanced learning support across the board. This initiative has lead to shared best practices and advancement of the use of technology within the different institutions, creating a support network for each e-learning team to feed back into and gain something from. The idea of different networks, or one large network to help each other in best practices of technology enhanced learning is appealing as it allows for case studies to be shared, best practice to be shared, ideas about technology to flow and develop further than they could have done in perhaps a single institution.

 

11:45 – 12:30: Designing and developing great courses together (sponsor session from Pearson)

This was an informative workshop about the concepts between course design and how to implement go through and develop courses effectively. Obviously as it was a sponsored session there was a little bit of a sales pitch however it was only small and didn’t detract at all from the overall workshop. The session lead to some amazing points about how to design a course, pictured below:

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It made me think about how we design courses at the college and that we already adhere to most, if not all, the steps. The most interesting thing we have to consider here is that with us moving over to a new VLE the need to keep these points fresh in our mind is integral into making the new VLE a VLE rather than a traditional CMS repository where tutors dump files.

 

13:30 – 14:30: Having a nosey around at the stalls, meeting new professionals (and some I already knew)

You may have noticed that there was about an hour where I had a look around the stalls. What came from this wandering was the noticeable advancement of virtual reality, robotics, sharing platfroms and making technology mainstream. There was a robot called Neo, assistive tech such as exam readers, lots of virtual reality headsets anything from Google Cardboard to the Occulus Rift but there was also a BB8 sphero, which of course I had to have a play with!

What surprised me was the advancement of the technology for the mainstream, usually considered toys, and what this meant for cultural shifts of technology in education. It made me realise technology has previously either seen to be as either a toy or strictly for scientists….but there is a culture shift that has occurred in the change of attitude towards it. It can now be both for leisure and work, again I refer to Twitter for CPD or following your favourite celebrities or virtual reality headsets, which are being sold commercially, being used for orientation or viewing different worlds – think class trips without the long journeys, health and safety forms etc.

There was also a massive market for Virtual Reality and while unsurprising, this year seems to be about making virtual reality commercial, the idea that it’d be presented for education was interesting. As a general rule for new technology it is sold within education more towards the coding, software and hardware core IT skill sets. So mainly for tutors and  students on IT courses. However at Digifest the presentation of the VR headsets was presented more for this is what it can do, if you can find a way to apply it then go for it. This refreshing approach made it easier to look at the uses of VR at a more objective level, encouraging questions like is this applicable? How could we use it for our institution?…..surprisingly as a land-based college the answers to these questions were yes and in lots of different ways. The idea of VR is to make everything more interactive and as a provider of more practical based studies this really lends itself to our courses. We’re currently working on a project for Augmented Reality and are now looking into different ways we can make our own VR content as it seems like Virtual Reality is another way forward in education  that would suit our needs.

I also bumped into other e-learning professionals, some I knew and others who I networked with, at that point it was nice to see a familiar face and meet new people!

14:45 – 15:45: ‘Leveraging the digital: capability, capacity and change in HE and FE’

The final session I attended brought up an amazing toolkit being developed by JISC to help analyse and develop institutes digital capabilities. There isn’t enough time to go through what the whole project is but you can look for it on the JISC site.
There was emphasis on the term ‘digital capability’ and what this meant. It was not, as a few people understood, to be how capable someone was to use the technology but how open someone would be to using the technology. The overall meaning from the session was that it didn’t mean you had to know everything about technology and how to use it but you were willing to learn and there was a want to learn about the new technology. This linked in with the idea of the death of the digital native idea, where it wasn’t dependent on what generation you are as to how digitally capable you are but rather how open minded you are to learning new technology.

The overall view lead to the need for a toolkit to help measure digital capability. JISC have developed a toolkit used to analyse your institutes’ performance against other colleges, or between faculties within your institution. The whole scheme seemed positive, with the case studies already suggesting that this helped institutes to reconsider how to present and filter technology training throughout their cores to develop the overall digital capability to a higher level than previously done. It can also be done anonymously so that institutes don’t feel like they are in competition with each other but can still see the UK average for digital capability.

Overall thoughts?

Digifest turned out to be a useful conference as a college as it demonstrated ongoing case studies useful to implementation of e-learning, great ideas for design of courses, innovative ideas to how technology is advancing inside and outside of education and last but not least amazing networking opportunities which as a college we are currently undertaking to share best practices and technology use ideas.

I look forward to going to Digifest next year and the opportunities it will bring!

~ Laura

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