Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Conference conclusions part 2

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Following my previous post I would like to summarise some takeaways from the two conferences I attended recently, NU2022 i Stockholm and EDEN2022 in Tallinn, Estonia. I didn't make detailed notes this time so here is a list of themes that made an impact for me. There were of course many sessions about the perils of hybrid teaching but generally the focus was on improving teaching and learning rather than about using tools and platforms. I don't think that the pandemic has fundamentaly changed education but I do believe that we have finally realised that technology is now fully integrated into all pedagogical discussions. Here are a few themes I noted, in no particular order.

The changing role of the campus.

If we can deliver content, discuss, collaborate and network very well online and in some cases better than on-site the awkward question of the future role of the campus emerges. We need to offer sound reasons for being there and identify the unmissable elements of the campus experience. This is clear for the traditional target group of young students but the benefits are much less clear for the growing ranks of older online students. An interesting perspective on this came from the head of the Stockholm School of Economics who talked about the importance of appealing to all the senses - not just what your campus looks like but also trying to capture the feel, smell, sound and taste. We had an evening event at that institution and saw how they had cooperated with artists to have thought-provoking paintings, photos and sculptures in the corridors and learning spaces.They also ran very popular book circles to emphasize the importance of the humanities even in an economics degree. 

In Tallinn a presentation by a student raised the need for us to develop a coherent digital campus that allows students and teachers to interact, form groups, network and socialise. Today's digital campus consists of closed and often incompatible silos and the presentation showed that during the pandemic lockdown students at Tallinn University had to negotiate 11 different platforms as part of their everyday course work.

Students as partners

Nobel Prize winner Carl Weiman of Stanford University made an interesting online presentation at the Stockholm conference. Not about his research in physics that won him the prize but about the theme of the conference - pedagogical development. What struck me most was the fact that he presented in such down-to-earth terms and stressed the need to have students as partners in the learning process and in course design. Admittedly he was preaching to the converted but he reinforced the advantages of active learning and of peer feedback.

Discussing with a fellow student is more effective than listening to an expert instructor.

Pia Lappalainen, Aalto University in Finland, reinforced this theme by showing evidence for how regular small-scale feedback promoted learning more than detailed summative feedback.

New initiatives for promoting digital literacies

A representative from the European Commission presented news of further initiatives to promote digital literacies in education and in society in general through the updated version of the European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, version 2.2. There was also enthusiasm about the launch of the Digital education hub. The hub is an ambitious venture to offer professional development for teachers as well as a store of learning resources and lesson plans.
The open online collaborative community for digital education stakeholders in Europe and beyond.
Even if there are excellent guidelines and criteria for assessing and developing teachers' digital literacies there are unexpected issues in trying to gain an objective assessment within an institution. Linda Helene Sillat and Mart Laanpere of Tallinn University showed the dangers of self-assessment where some teachers over-estimated their competence levels whilst other did the opposite. Objective tests at the university failed since teachers simply refused to take the tests, seeing it possibly as an affront to their professional abilities and suspecting that poor test results would negatively affect their career opportunities. 

Quality perspectives

Quality in the field of online education is a complex issue. Despite a plethora of quality frameworks (over 100 different frameworks according to Mark Brown of Dublin City University, there is still a reluctance to address the issue in higher education. Maybe this is due to universities being daunted by both the bewildering variety of frameworks and the diversity of overlapping terminology in the field. The question remains of whether quality in the use of technology in education should be assessed as part of the regular educational quality framework or as a separate feature.

My final takeaway was a presentation by Lesley Gourlay of University College London, questioning the use of the word virtual in an educational perspective. This opened up a wider theme that deserves a longer post to itself. I will break new ground on this blog by creating a cliff-hanger. 

To be continued ...

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