Innovative and Educational: A postcard from Valencia
My first impression after arriving at the venue of INTED2014 (10th-12th of March, Valencia, Spain) was the conference’s size. I was immediately reminded of the organisers’ original promise of a truly international event with 650 delegates from 75 countries. The promise had been kept, and as a result here we all were in a massive hotel lobby – chatting, mingling and creating lots of inspiring cosmopolitan buzz (the conference world map – photo below). Obviously, most of the conversations revolved around the conference’s main topics: teaching and learning methodologies, educational projects and innovations, and new technologies applied to education and research.
The main mission behind my presence at the conference was to present a paper about my current project: “Unfold – supporting the dialogue between students and their personal tutors using reflective online papers”. Obviously, I was also keen to listen to others’ presentations which always offers a good chance of catching up on some of the freshest projects and ideas. On top of all that, I had been asked by the organisers to chair the “Collaborative and Virtual Learning Environments” session. It seems to me that chairing sessions and moderating questions from large audiences is something which is best learnt in practice – so I was particularly looking forward to that experience.
The conference kicked off with two key note speeches. The first speaker, Pape Samb (CEO of Exeleadmen) – whilst deploying his quite convincing style of presenting – discussed how to link education with entrepreneurship by transforming schools into experiential learning labs to promote dynamic interchange of ideas, shared learning, teamwork, innovation, and greater personal accountability for achieving success. He suggested using a three-step experiential approach including self-assessment activities, practical group learning, and use of success stories to develop innovative self-sustainable youth enterprises. His approach has been supported and sustained by the Global Youth Innovation Network (GYIN) throughout Africa.
The second speaker, Stephen Downes (researcher for the National Research Council of Canada) presented his fresh thoughts (with even fresher slides – some of which he put together the night before) under the title “The MOOC of One: Personal Learning Technologies”. In a very engaging talk, Stephen examined how open online learning puts the control of learning into the hands of learners, how educators will adapt with new learner-driven pedagogies, curriculum design, and the technical infrastructure supporting personal learning in a community and cooperative environment. His “MOOC of One” is providing the capacity for individual learners to use open online learning to shape and design their own curriculum and pedagogy.
After the keynote speeches, the conference exploded with an abundance of parallel sessions and presentations. Whilst watching and listening to some of these talks, I decided to multitask and took a few summary notes to give my readers a little taste of the conference’s proceedings.
“The Network Society And Higher Education” (Nathalie Wesseling, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) discussed the positioning of higher education in the information or so-called network society. Her paper was part of a broader PhD research into media literacy and the success of students in higher education. Whilst exploring why and how students use social media, Nathalie highlighted the necessity of looking at their interpersonal skills. Although not all educators encourage the use of social media (in class), tutors cannot hide from it. Especially, if students are able to connect with each other and (critically) share information to study, expand the weak and strong links and integrate within the environment of higher education.
“Cheating And E-Cheating: A Qualitative Investigation Of Expanding An Academic Dishonesty Framework Into Digital Learning Settings” (I. Blau, Y. Eshet-Alkalai, I. Rotem, The Open University of Israel) looked at the recent sharp rise in plagiarising of different content: texts, images and music. According to the research, the use of digital technologies increases the pervasiveness of plagiarism, while cheating and fabrication are more common in non-digital settings. Moreover, plagiarism and helping others in executing academic dishonesty are perceived as more legitimate when using digital tools.
“We Built It, They Came, And Now… Culture Change In A University” (Linda S. Marion, Allen C. Grant, Marlin Killen, Ray Lum, Frances H. Cornelius, Karyn E. Holt, Drexel University, USA) reported on the Drexel University’s continuing process of culture change designed to enhance online teaching and learning. The presentation outlined research initiatives designed to validate the university’s recent successes, e.g. the Online Learning Council and the OLC Fellows have seen their work become increasingly visible in the Drexel University community.
“Systemizing Formative And Summative MBA Program Achievement Data Capture In E-Portfolios” (L. Williamson, City University of Seattle) focused on gathering qualitative data to help enhance the decision making process. City University of Seattle has created a program assessment process that utilises Folio180 e-portfolio to gather and track both formative feedback and summative analysis of student learning directly related to achievement of program learning outcomes. This process has enabled CityU to ensure quality control over its programs located on 3 continents, 11 countries, and 30 locations by instituting a process that establishes a pathway to gather feedback on program improvement from its tutors worldwide.
“Technology Acceptance And E-portfolios: An Intervention In A College Of Education” (A. Egan, A. FitzGibbon, E. Oldham, Trinity College Dublin) provided an analysis of the introduction of ePortfolios in a College of Education college. They chose the Mahara system listing its ease of use, widespread adoption by other educational institutions, and price considerations. The students were surveyed in order to gain a clearer picture of the benefits and obstacles they had encountered whilst using the system. The majority of respondents did not perceive ePortfolios as useful, owing principally to lack of future vision and the fact that there was no academic requirement for completion of one. Certain assessment requirements might have to be changed to develop motivation for students to use the tool.
The next two sets of notes were taken during the session which was chaired by me (photo). “Virtual Internships Provided In Collaboration Among Companies And Universities – The Future Of Practical Development Of Students” (M. Stanojevic, I. Sanchez Martinez, N. Mazur, Board of European Students of Technology – Serbia, Spain, Norway) introduced the audience to the Virtual Internships organised by the Board of European Students of Technology. BEST is a growing non-profit and non-political organisation that strives to develop students. It involves 96 technical universities reaching 1.3 million students. Their recent research suggests a set of recommendations and documents students’ preferences towards the implementation of the VIs in Europe. According to their research, VIs should last from 6 to 12 months with workload and deadlines which will suit students’ obligations. Interns should have an opportunity to choose a task which will preferably be part of a bigger project, so that the intern gets a chance to contribute to the company’s development. Additionally, the structure of tasks and their descriptions should be clearly defined.
“Mixed Methods Evaluation Of An Online Undergraduate Systemic Human Anatomy Course With Laboratory” (K.A. Rogers, S. Choi, J. Barnett, S.M. Attardi, Western University, Canada) presented a chance to look at an online section of their Systemic Human Anatomy course which was offered for the first time in 2012/13. As part of this course, lectures for face-to-face students were broadcast in both the live and archived formats to online students using virtual classroom software (Blackboard Collaborate). Labs sessions were delivered online by a teaching assistant who manipulated 3D computer models in the virtual classroom. A mixed methods approach is being used to determine the effectiveness of the online format. Student performance measures (4 tests, 24 lab quizzes) were statistically identical between sections. Survey results indicate that while students preferred online lectures (52%), face-to-face lab sessions were preferred (85%). Online lectures gave students the benefit of reviewing archived sessions, while F2F labs allowed for better student-teacher communication.
My last set of notebook scribbles featured a short account of my own performance as a speaker (photo below).
The presentation on the Unfold project was scheduled for the second day’s morning session. The concept of developing reflective templates to enhance the reflective dialogue between personal tutors and students is not too abstract to present, and seemed to have resonated well with the audience. During my presentation I decided not to speak from a podium – they can sometimes act as cure for insomnia. Being able to move and point freely at the screen seemed to have kept the audience engaged. In my slides, apart from displaying words and numbers, I tried to provide visual evidence of the project’s activities, e.g. group photos of students, or my meetings with personal tutors (all taken during the project’s sessions). Most importantly, after the presentation I remembered to circulate small leaflets about the project (for those who wish to get in touch with me in the future but somehow failed to memorise my name). Later that day, to my satisfaction, I was approached by a few delegates who were interested in experimenting with something similar at their institutions.
Summing up, it was a very well organised and productive conference. Apart from immersing myself into the vast array of small and big educational debates, I was also reminded just how much is currently happening around the world in the area of innovation for education. It is not only the amount of things, but also their sheer diversity and differing depths of exploration. From research projects such as “Using Harry Potter movies for practising medical English” to “Media technologies for heritage language literacy in Hungarian-American families”. From “Continuous education against money laundering in the Czech Republic” to “A tool to improve primary care for men in Brazil”.
As expected, most of the conference’s delegates seemed to have been very enthusiastic in applying latest technologies to many aspects of our students’ educational journeys. On reflection, the atmosphere of this technology-fed innovation frenzy can sometimes pollute a more objective long-term judgement. I am thinking here of one of the presenters, who was openly displeased with their students preferring books despite being offered e-book equivalents: “It was a very disappointing result for our innovation strategy”. But was it really?