Media and Learning Conference, Brussels, December 2013

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Great Market Square in Brussels. Photo by Paul Ijsendoorn CC-BY 2.0

 

In early December I attended the Media and Learning Conference 2013, held in Brussels at the Vlaams Ministerie van Onderwijs en Vorming or Flemish Ministry for Education.

On reflection, this was an enjoyable but predictable conference which left me with the impression that there is in Europe the same enthusiasm for developing multimedia in education as there is here in the UK – but that more work is needed to embed cultures of innovation and experimentation where it matters. That is, not within educational technology communities but within academic faculties.

This blog post is not intended as a summary report of the entire conference but as my reflections on some of the themes of the event. For me, Renee Hobbs’ keynote on the opening day set the tone well. Renee’s presentation, “How teacher motivation influences learning”, argued that teachers’ and academics’ approaches to digital media determine their readiness to use such technologies in the classroom, and she made use of a digital horoscope which she has developed to illustrate twelve typical approaches to teaching with digital media. However, she went on to argue that the importance of this horoscope, and the variation of approaches it summarises, is in the fact that such variation is borne out of teachers’ autonomy and freedom to make their own choices. Educators need creative freedom to experiment with digital media since the potential of these technologies is itself uncertain. Renee cited the PISA test scores which have recently received media coverage in the UK, showing that scores are higher in countries which promote greater teacher autonomy.

This discussion of educator autonomy was apposite because such issues are important in the context of the various educational technology suites we have been busy implementing here at City this year, which is the main reason I attended the conference. I was interested to attend the presentations themed on lecture capture which featured a truly international range of talks from Singapore, Finland and the Netherlands. Daniel Tan, from Nanyang Technological University Singapore, talked about his institution’s rationale for implementing lecture capture and made a convincing case for the benefits of the technology in helping students to concentrate and engage in lectures from start to finish. However, he also described a situation in which the recorded lecture can begin to take precedence over the lecture itself – at Nanyang the camera has literally taken the best seat in the house and students are expected to make notes from the recordings rather than during the lecture itself. Daniel’s description of the measures put in place to monitor the quality not only of the lecture recordings, but of the lectures themselves, seemed a far cry from the teacher autonomy that Renee had advocated in the previous session. It is not an approach that would be very familiar to many UK institutions with developed lecture capture systems. Yet, perhaps it reflects the culture in universities such as Nanyang, where the widespread use of the technology may have become completely accepted.

In the other presentations in this session, Pierre Gorissen (Fontys University of Applied Sciences) and Ilkka Kukkonen (University of Eastern Finland) presented their research into students’ use of lecture capture recordings at their separate universities. Pierre’s doctoral research concentrates on students’ declared and actual use of lecture capture, and shows that there are some discrepancies between how students claim to use recordings, and what usage statistics show they actually do. While students mostly claim to re-watch complete lectures, data shows they typically watch 10-25% of a recording. They also generally prefer live lectures to recordings. Pierre concluded by looking at viewing statistics for his university and asking whether a “view” has any meaning, and whether “more” views is “better”. Would it be better for academics to pay more attention to improving lectures themselves, he asked, rather than aim for ever-increasing viewing statistics?

For those of us interested in finding ways to augment, rather than replace, live lectures with recorded media, these findings are encouraging. The next presentation continued in the same vein. Ilkka Kukkonen presented his ever-entertaining research into how students use lecture capture recordings by using eye-tracking software to measure which parts of the screen students look at most when watching recordings. The work of Ilkka and his Aducate team focuses on how students integrate use lecture capture recordings into their personal study strategies. So far, findings have shown that lecture capture is more effective for lower achieving students, who, it is suggested, benefit from the recordings because they help them to fill in the gaps in their lecture notes. There is also some evidence from their research that students benefit more from lecture capture when they watch recordings in pairs or small groups – an interesting idea which focuses attention on how effectively students are actually using such resources. This is definitely an area of research that needs to be developed further and one I am currently working on for the research publication module of City’s MA Academic Practice.

On day two of the conference the most interesting sessions I attended addressed the recent rise of MOOCs in Europe. Since these sessions dealt with not entirely unrelated, but distinct, ideas, I’ll reserve them for a future blog post.

 

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