The annual Centre for Distance Education conference on Friday 16 March 2018 at Senate House attracted over 100 delegates, including a large group of Nigerian educators who had been attending a week-long workshop in London, organised by the University of London Worldwide team.
Opening the conference, Mary Stiasny, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) and Chief Executive of University of London Worldwide pointed out that the University is involved in the latest developments in online education, and it has 1.4 million learners actively engaged with its MOOCs.
Mark Brown Mark Brown, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning at Dublin City University in the Republic of Ireland. gave examples of workload calculators and planners for helping students manage their time, and ‘My First Assignment’, a tool to guide new distance learners over what is always a difficult hurdle.
Sarah Sherman Stylianos Hatzipanagos and Alan Tait discussed concerns that have been raised about course quality and high drop-out rates, but a key advancement has been MOOCs aspiration to deliver ‘self-regulated’ learning. Over 78 million students have studied MOOCs from 800 universities so far.. Hatzipanagos and Tait are investigating the impact of this phenomenon on campus-based teaching. Sarah Sherman highlighted innovative aspects of the ‘Get interactive: practical teaching with technology’ MOOC, which provides new ways for teachers to engage students with technology-enhanced learning including‘ screencast tutorials’ as opposed to the ‘talking heads’ videos that prevail elsewhere on Coursera and use of a wide-range of other online resources to engage with students outside the MOOC ecosystem.
Open Educational Resources
Josie Gallo described the plans and decision processes that led to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine setting up a repository of open educational resources (OERs) for healthcare worldwide. Delegates from Nigeria shared their experience of setting up the National University System Open Education repository, emphasising its potential to break down silos.
Helen Xanthaki and Anastasia Gouseti described formal and informal practices through which new distance learners are oriented into postgraduate legal studies. These practices, now collectively known as ‘student on-boarding’, can help build a sense of community even within this diverse student body and, in the long term, improve student retention and progression.
Alejandro Armellini described a model known as ‘active blended learning’ (ABL) that employs student-centred activities; both face-to-face teaching and activities outside the classroom; and with a focus on autonomy and employability skills.
The Roger Mills Prize
The Roger Mills Prize for innovation in learning and teaching commemorates a long-standing and well-loved CDE fellow and former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Open University who, sadly, died in 2016.Two winners were chosen:
Patricia McKellar on behalf of Undergraduate Laws, University of London for a project entitled ‘Formative Assessment in the UG Laws provision' and Sarah Sherman on behalf of the Bloomsbury Learning Environment for the MOOC ‘Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology’. Roger Mill’s widow and daughter were in the audience to see the awards presented.
Learning analytics ethics
Sharon Slade focused on the ethics of collecting and managing personal data and outlined eight principles which put the student at the centre and aim to set boundaries to what she described as the ‘datafication’ of education.
Assessment and plagiarism
Graham Luff described a research study on lecturers’ ideas about the problem at Portsmouth, concluding that there was a wide variation in both perception and practice across this one post-1992 institution. James Berrynoted the increase in reported plagiarism cases may reflect an improvement in detection rather than an increase in cases, but there is a serious problem with contract cheating. Phil Newton also highlighted the growing problem of students paying ‘essay mills’ for assignments and described potential ways of countering the problem legally, through educating students and through changes to assessment design. Finally, Jane Hughes of HE Development, Evaluation & Research Associates (HEDERA) in London introduced delegates to the Assessment Toolkit and its tools for reducing academic misconduct through educating students and lecturers. The session ended with a lively discussion.
Mary Bishop and Sarah Sherman, introduced the concept of a course analytics dashboard for evaluating engagement, performance or success. Groups were asked to suggest metrics for the roles of student, programme leader and employer, and came up with the following suggestions:
- Students – ability to record and map feelings of wellbeing, levels of interactivity within the course and grades.
- Programme leaders – mapping of grades against course objectives, attendance/interactivity and final grade at different levels.
- Employers – student progression, grades, commitment, attendance and work ethic.
This showed that a one-size-fits-all approach will not meet the needs of all stakeholders: the suggestion of student wellbeing as a metric was encouraging.
Digital technology in learning design
Jonathan San Diego reviewed the impact of digital technology in learning design from the 1940s to present day and introduced the Digital Learning Design Approach Model Specification to identify appropriate technologies and approaches.
Petros Lameras and Ian Dunwell got delegates using and exploring serious games. One, on game design, helped players to explore the motivations, victory conditions and social mechanics to use in designing a game (e.g. training teachers in enquiry-based learning, or for teaching entrepreneurship). The other card game provided basic information about the selection of materials for sustainable building design, enabling choices using a similar mechanism to the popular Top Trumps™. At the high-tech end of the spectrum, delegates were shown a multimedia simulation for teaching sportspeople entrepreneurship, which can be valuable when playing careers are short.
This report was produced with the help of ‘guest bloggers’ Mohamad Qutub, Jon Gregson, Daksha Patel, Julie Voce and David Baume; my thanks are owed to them, to my fellow members of the RIDE committee, and to all speakers and chairs.