Learning Innovation Group – a place for learning and innovation?

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Being part of the SALT (Swansea Academy for Learning and Teaching) team at Swansea University has its perks, some more obvious than others.

Having attended a meeting of the Learning Innovation Group (LIG) yesterday, I was reminded of some of the reasons I love the job that I do.  I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of meetings – the thought of sitting down trying to concentrate (both from an engagement and an accessibility point of view) for hours on end is certainly not fun.  But every so often, little nuggets crop up and make them worthwhile.

The topic of the meeting yesterday was “Learning Innovation” and the purpose of the meeting was to find out what was going on within the colleges, to facilitate discussions and try to encourage, nurture and foster collaboration both between the colleges and between SALT and the colleges.

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It was heartening to see that innovation wasn’t necessarily perceived as being “techy”, particularly as within SALT we try to promote the ethos of “Pedagogy first, technology last”.  Perhaps it was unfortunate that numbers were low for this meeting (or maybe a blessing in disguise as it enhanced those conversations?) but it was good that the colleges who weren’t able to have representation at the meeting were able to supply valuable insights from within their colleges.

The biggest talking point came from “Flashback Friday” which is a method of encouraging reflection within the School of Management.  It employed a simple technique whereby students are given one question on a Friday and are expected to reflect on that question for the following week.  The concept was simple yet effective.  So simple in fact that it wasn’t regarded as innovative by the lecturer concerned and only identified due to a chance conversation between the lecturer and a member of the SALT team.

Flashback Friday also generated attention in the meeting because of the materials used to deliver it – students were given what can only be described as heavy duty cling film (I’m not sure what the material was called – sorry!) that acted as a whiteboard.

mcqI was also enthused by the amount of innovation in assessment that was on display, from giving students advance notice of a potential exam question (Gen Bio & Geography), the increasing use of in-class polling (Engineering) and the use of multiple choice questions as both formative and summative assessment, using both technical and non-technical solutions (Medicine, Science and Engineering).  Furthermore, I continued to be impressed by the “Authentic Assessment” that was being used throughout the university – the College of Arts and Humanities offered some excellent examples of how role play by way of running a fictitious company to aid translation, or a news studio to aid media students.

As the discussions progressed, it became apparent (in a nice way) that while there is a tremendous amount of good practice and innovation going on throughout the university, because staff are “doing it”, they don’t see it as innovative.  This was all very positive though, more of a “Wow, we do that in our college and I didn’t think of including that on our list”.

Having worked in SALT for 8 years, I have been party to several different discussions, projects and events that covered similar things and it’s not the innovation itself that impresses me, it’s that fact that there is so much of it, and that people are so humble with it, and so willing to share with others.  What I took away from yesterday’s meeting was the “so and so in my department does that too, why don’t you speak to them” – we don’t foster this type of conversation enough!!

In SALT we pride ourselves on being good teachers, but we are unique in that we come from all sorts of backgrounds and we continually look for new tools and technologies.  The best nugget of all for me from this meeting came from one of my SALT Colleagues – “This type of discussion is really good, but have you seen how they curate this in Manchester Metropolitan University” #101creativeideas

THAT is what makes me tick.  The sharing of knowledge, resources and tools as well as the sharing of the way things work.  My role, and that of the majority of the SALT team is to foster the wealth of talent that is teaching at Swansea University, and to nurture it.  In order for us to help others, we must help ourselves, and to do this we must start from within.  The subject of my reflections from yesterday’s meeting is therefore, how can SALT curate the knowledge, skills and resources within the team, how can SALT collaborate with each other and with the wider community to enhance the knowledge, skills and resources, and (most importantly for me), what part can I play in this process?

If we want teaching to be excellent at Swansea, we need to strive for excellence as a team and lead by example.

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