Saturday, December 14, 2019

Smart campus, but who owns the smartness?

Learning analytics allows sophisticated analysis of students' activity in the university's various platforms and tools, allowing teachers and administrators to see who is falling behind, what they are having problems with and what types of activities give the best results. At the same time the campus is becoming smarter with the use of IoT (internet of things) technology and facial recognition, allowing automatic attendance registration, smart monitoring of room occupancy, car parks, heating control and even rubbish bins. Add artificial intelligence into this mix and we have the smart campus of tomorrow.

An example of the smart campus movement is Arizona State University, described in an article in EdTech magazine, How Arizona State University Built a Smart Campus. They have developed a campus app that has become almost default for students and staff allowing them to check schedules, grades, exam times, services, cafeteria menus, parking options, room availability and so on. Buildings and other spaces are constantly monitored and data collected about occupation and movement. This enables more efficient use of energy and provides vital data for planning new facilities and changes to existing ones. Major IT companies are pitching sophisticated solutions for campus management as seen in this film.

It's all extremely impressive but I have a couple of reservations.

Firstly, although the smart campus is very convenient and gives students and staff personalised and attractive services at their fingertips, you get the feeling that your every move is registered and stored. If all the data is aggregated all my movements, activities, purchases, studies, test results, hours spent in different spaces and travel will be available for possible analysis. Examples of facial recognition and ubiquitous CCTV monitoring seen in some Chinese schools and colleges in recent months can mean that there is simply nowhere to hide on campus. Your mobile is both the key to all campus facilities and a tracking device. The university therefore has extremely detailed data on everyone on campus and it is virtually impossible to opt out or even switch off. If that data is in the hands of a third party what guarantees are there that they will not sell that data or find ways of profiting from it? There are of course enormous advantages in smart campus solutions but questions about the use of personal data and informed consent must be foremost.

My second reservation is the focus on the physical campus and what sort of smart services all the off-campus online students will be able to access. These students are seldom mentioned in the smart campus narrative and I would like to see new learning spaces that bridge the gap between traditional campus students and online students. There seem to be few limits on the level of investment in the physical campus whilst the online spaces are in comparison extremely low-budget operations.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Toolkits for active learning

There are so many choices of educational methods and tools that it's easy to feel a bit paralysed when faced with selecting the right ones for a particular lesson. That's why curated toolkits and practical guides are always so appreciated especially if they make it easier to find the right method or tool for what you want to achieve in a particular class activity.

One such useful guide is the Dynamic Toolkit developed by the Erasmus+ project eLene4Life. This is a compilation of activities that promote active and collaborative learning that can be applied in different settings: in the classroom, outdoors, online or a blended approach. The activities develop a variety of transversal soft skills: digital, methodological, social and personal.

The DT (Dynamic Toolkit) is designed to support the acquisition of transversal skills using innovative teaching methodologies. It is addressed to educators across Europe, to support them in the process of designing their classes/lectures aimed at fostering acquisition of transversal skills by their students (mainly in large classes).

You can use a variety of criteria to search for a method and there are then clear instructions and ideas for implementation as well as reference material and links to similar or related methods. Some involve digital tools but many are simply about organising classroom activities. The key to them all is promoting active learning. Also included is a guide to digital tools used in active learning.

Active learning refers to a broad range of teaching strategies which engage students or trainees as active participants in their learning. Typically, these strategies involve learners working together during class, but may also involve individual work and/or reflection, as well as group work outside the classroom. The focus is on how to learn rather than what to learn, placing the learner at the heart of the process. Active learning can be on a spectrum of learner and teacher control of the learning process and learning environment.

I also discovered a similar tookit developed by the University of Copenhagen and partners. This has a similar search function and the methods have clear descriptions, instructions and references as well as links to related resources in the toolkit.

Guides like these save so much time and frustration for many teachers who would otherwise never stumble upon these tools and methods. Knowing that other teachers have tried and tested them makes experimenting with more creative teaching methods less of a stressful leap in the dark.

Another toolkit you might want to check is a guide to digital tools for collaboration called Smarter Collaboration that I am responsible for at my university. Here you will find a wide range of collaborative tools arranged under functional categories such as collaborative writing, screencasting, mindmapping, planning, presenting and many more.