Guest Post – Lis Parcell, JISC RSC Wales: Highlights from the SUSALT conference 2014

Highlights from the SUSALT conference 2014 – Lis Parcell, Jisc RSC Wales, Information Systems and Services

I was delighted to get a proposal accepted by Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching for its 2014 conference, and I really enjoyed taking part. Here are some personal reflections from the workshops I ran with Esther Barrett, my colleague in the Jisc Regional Support Centre for Wales, as well as a few other things that inspired me during the day.

Social media for student engagement

Esther and I ran three workshops called Listen, understand, act looking at how social media can play a part in student engagement.  The sessions attracted 35 staff from a range of academic and professional roles, some of them already using social media with students and others who were wondering about doing so.

There is a lot of talk about “engagement” in education but it can mean many different things. At the heart of the workshop was a discussion in which participants compared stories about times when they were fully engaged, whether in study, work, social life or in a business relationship. How did it feel at that moment when you were fully engaged? Participants were asked to describe their experience in one word (not always easy!) and we captured these with the digital camera here.

We then shared some top tips on social media for student engagement and provided takeaway examples where social media is being used to listen to students, rather than simply push out information. Here are some resources we shared in the workshops which you may like to explore:

Conference handout – on Google Drive, can be viewed by anyone with the link.

Listen, understand, act: social media for engagement – the workshop was based on this article, drawing on work carried out in association with Wise Wales, the Wales Initiative for Student Engagement.

Social media for student engagement: 20 good practice suggestions for higher education in Wales.

Building student engagement and belonging at a time of change – a very useful HEA report.

Signs you shouldn’t be doing social media (a guide by Robin Smail at Penn State University; it’s the presentation I wish I’d written).

Advertising-customer break up – a video clip illustrating how not to use social media, aimed at advertising but worth viewing by anyone wanting to use social media to engage others.

We also asked participants to share ideas on where they would like further support with social media and their suggestions included:

more examples of good practice; case studies of how disciplines are using social media successfully, linking to learning outcomes;

Working through staff development to run a session on engaging through social media with students;

Specifics on use of social media e.g. steps involved, examples;

More recognition of ‘web officer’ role: promotion (should be a key admin post); resources (needs a budget); authority (so that colleagues participate).

Tim Bilham: place matters

I enjoyed Tim Bilham’s keynote and stayed with him for his workshop session which gave me some new insights. One of the things I enjoy about working in the learning technology world is that many people in it have had ‘unusual’ journeys through education. Tim was a great example of this, entertaining us with a whistle-stop tour of his career including work with the Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning. His commitment to widening access shone out, along with an interest in using technology to improve educational opportunities.

Something that struck me in Tim’s talk was an almost throwaway aside as we viewed places from his career history: “place matters”. When I entered the world of e-learning fourteen years ago, a phrase often bandied about was ‘anytime anyplace anywhere’. I always felt that this “Martini principle”, with its whiff of fake glamour, was unhelpful for e-learning. I’ve come to the conclusion that place does matter: it’s important for our sense of belonging and for the educational opportunities it creates (or denies).  Places can inspire new ways of thinking, be they virtual or digital.

Innovation in teaching: striving for that ‘aha moment’

Tim’s workshop was an informal conversation around innovation in teaching, and it focussed on the challenges staff were encountering. This gave us a chance to explore further some of the themes from the morning workshops such as student engagement and the place of technology tools. Some of the discussion points included:

what is the role for students in teaching innovation?

how do we move from innovation to embedding into practice?

how do we manage diversity?

the need for clear assessment criteria

When discussing what staff wanted to do to innovate in their teaching, several talked about making opportunities for things like games, simulation, role-play, authentic experiences and storytelling.  A number were attracted by the notion of the flipped classroom.

We talked about the challenge of getting students to think and read critically, especially in a literature-heavy discipline. One colleague explained how she liked to explore new topics through conversation, and described this as a way of achieving those ‘aha moments’ when new understanding breaks through and the learner is inspired to progress further. As one colleague put it, we need to figure out what the academic wants to achieve and what the student wants to achieve, then use innovation to bring it about.

The library as a conversation space

Compared to many other learning and teaching events I attend, the SUSALT14 conference was unusual in that much of it took place in the main Library Study Hall. For me it was good to see the library being ‘reclaimed’ as a welcoming space for academics, librarians and others to network face to face, enjoy refreshments and share conversations.

Thanks to all the SALT team for an excellent event and for the opportunity to guest o

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