“From a professional perspective the conference has helped me to understand the types of learning and support, both current and for the future, available to students. The speakers and sessions were very informative.” (RIDE 2019 participant)
Places for the 2019 University of London Research into Distance Education Conference (RIDE) filled up within 4 days and attracted a record 130 delegates, including, for the second consecutive year, educators and senior university administrators from Nigeria.
Maren Deepwell’s keynote, entitled ‘People-Powered Innovation: Overcoming Challenges Together’ drew on a recent survey of learning technologists by ALT to highlight priorities for current and future practice. Near future priorities include software for detecting plagiarism, assistive technologies and ePortfolios. She devoted the last part of her presentation to passionate advocacy for gender equality in a learning technology world that was still ‘designed for men’. Women in the sector seem to place more value on professional development opportunities, so improving these should encourage more women to enter and stay in the sector.
PhDs by Distance Learning
Don Passey from the University of Lancaster described a PhD programme at Lancaster that uses blended learning; students mainly work remotely but attend one-week residentials in the first two of four years’ study. The taught aspects of the course include many different pedagogies and learning activities, but they are all designed to enable these advanced students to take more control of their own learning, with the teaching staff working more as facilitators or guides.
Digital skills for online students
Sarah Sherman from the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) presented a new online course designed to give new students the digital skills they need to be successful in online learning. On Your Marks – Get Set – Study! was developed in and is being piloted by the Bloomsbury Learning Environment. It has five modules, from ‘Introduction to Digital Skills’ to ‘Getting Organised’ (the latter including referencing and time management); it can be ‘localised’ to fit each participating institution and will be rolled out throughout the Bloomsbury Colleges Group before the end of the 2018-19 academic year.
Award for special support for online learning
Nicholas Maple and Georgina Hannam, who run an MA in Refugee Protection at the University of London - the only Masters programme on forced migration in the world to be offered by distance learning - won the Roger Mills award for innovation in teaching and learning.
Their winning project was ‘Students with Diverse Educational Backgrounds: Special Support for Online Learning’. The CDE launched this prize in 2018 in honour of a long-standing and well-loved Fellow, Roger Mills, who had sadly died two years earlier. Linda Amrane-Cooper, Head of the CDE and Ayona Silva-Fletcher (Royal Veterinary College), who chairs the Fellows group, presented the award.
Advancing the student and staff experience in online learning
Nichola Gretton from the University of Leicester, David Lefevre, director of the Edtech Lab at Imperial College, London, and Jonathan Marshall, head of learning at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, led a discussion panel in which each gave a short presentation followed by an extensive question and answer session.
Gretton described her university’s experience of running MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform and enumerated some of the ‘unexpected consequences’ of adopting this form of learning. She took a popular MOOC on museum studies, which incorporates collaborative learning and virtual study visits, as a case study.
Lefevre then explained how online pedagogy could and should move on from simply replicating the features of traditional face-to-face courses using new media. Finally, Marshall presented the challenges and opportunities involved in providing online learning to the UK’s diverse diplomatic workforce, based in over 250 locations worldwide.
Detecting and Preventing Plagiarism
I joined with Ayona Silva-Fletcher to describe a survey of University of London Worldwide educators’ recent experiences in detecting plagiarism and trying to prevent its occurrence. Plagiarism is on the rise, but training can reduce it as long as this is both compulsory and engaging. We ended with an example of this training: a free online quiz which the CDE has developed for the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This is Creative Commons licensed and can be readily adapted for different disciplines.
Blended Learning is the new normal
Leo Havemann from University College London gave an engaging talk that surveyed the development of learning technologies within both distance and face-to-face courses at Birkbeck, where he had worked until 2018. He drew on a recent survey of staff there to conclude that education there is now seen as ‘inherently blended’ and to stress the importance of a strategy and a structure for digital education. For me, this was a fitting end to a fascinating day.