Thursday, 20 September 2012

Learning and teaching forum

I've been at the faculty Learning and Teaching Forum this afternoon. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting to find it quite so interesting and inspiring.

I'll perhaps write more on these topics another day (you know, when I don't have a thesis to finish) but I  just wanted to mention it now while it's fresh.

We had six interesting sessions. The first dealt with new technology that's being introduced to record lectures. Nothing new there, I thought, but I was wrong. The technology that they're using is so much more advanced than anything I've seen before, and it's really exciting stuff. It can record several things simultaneously, including the speaker in audio and/or video, the powerpoint, anything that's on screen and essentially anything that you can plug into it. Students can make notes, and it's all attached to the relevant module. As some people suggested, we won't need to actually turn up to lectures soon. In fact, some people are apparently recording lectures and posting them and then using the timetabled lecture slot for something else that requires face-to-face time in a way that lecturing actually doesn't.

The second talk was about using digital tools for teaching, including social media, discussion tools and digital resources like databases and Google Ngrams. There were a lot of interesting suggestions made of how to use this stuff to enhance a course, and some advice about how to get the best of it. I felt quite inspired to go away and put it into practice, and I think I probably will do. If I do, I'll try to remember to report on how it goes.

We had a talk about how to use reading week as a force for good, rather than a sort of gap in the timetable. The speaker showed how his school are scheduling all sorts of events that are designed to get the students to re-engage, think about their learning and their university experience and what they can do to get the most out of it. A comment from an audience member was that in some music colleges, they use their equivalent of reading week as a time for the students to work on collaborative projects. That's an idea that's obviously very well-suited to music, as a week is a good length of time to produce something interesting that can be entirely student-led. In other fields, it might be a time to spend on a field trip or some other activity.

A talk I particularly enjoyed was from an architect. He showed us simultaneously some fancy hardware/software they've got and the plans for a space on the campus which is going to look pretty darn awesome when it's done. Although his talk was ostensibly less directly relevant to me, I found it fascinating stuff. Partly I was very engaged with the way he talked about making space work for the people who use it and the plans that they've got. But I spent quite a bit of the time admiring the software. He was using a big touch screen with a nice presentation tool that allowed him to bring up images, video and stuff from a bar at the bottom into a workspace, manipulate the images in the space (for example, with drawing tools) and flick it away again when he'd finished with it. It was very neat and would allow a presentation to be non-linear in nature, which is the biggest restriction that something like Powerpoint makes on the user.

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