Senate House, University of London
Senate House, University of London (Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA)


Last month, a handful of City staff joined other delegates in the auspicious surroundings of Senate House, for the University of London’s Centre for Distance Education flagship event. The 13th Research and Innovation in Distance Education annual conference (RIDE) was themed this year around addressing the challenges of digital education, looking at both professional development and the student experience. This post includes some of my own reflections of the event – my first time attending RIDE – as well as contributions from three other Educational Technology colleagues that attended.

Maren Deepwell, CEO of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), gave the opening keynote. Anchoring her talk in ALT’s strategic values of openness, independence and participation, Deepwell made the case for ethical and critical approaches to emerging technologies, highlighted how ALT’s annual survey reflects changes in key themes and trends across the Educational Technology sector, and provided a critical reflection on her own experiences of attempting to foster a culture of equality at ALT from having developed her own Senior CMALT portfolio. The overview of rising and falling trends in ed tech was certainly interesting to note, but I was most taken by her use of a keynote address as an opportunity for a critical reflection on her own work – very much leading by example there.

LEaD’s Thomas Hanley visited a session on Goldsmith’s design of an online BSc in Computer Science. Read his review below:

Dr Matthew Yee-King and Dr Marco Gillies gave a presentation on Goldsmith’s new distance BSc in Computer Science which is a collaboration with the University of London and will be the first undergraduate degree delivered through the online Coursera platform. Building on Goldsmith’s artistic heritage the programme aims to provide a highly creative learning experience using interactive simulations and ideas from game development in subject areas which range from Data Science to Web and Mobile Development to Games Development and Virtual Reality.

One example they gave was the progressively releasing clues to a puzzle as students completed programming tasks which led to a big increase in the number of completed programming tasks. Matthew and Marco plan to carry out educational research looking at the effect these kinds of learning designs have. In this case, the research question would be “Does repeated coding practice affect self-efficacy?” They also talked about the pedagogic approaches which inform how students are taught and how this is based on cognitive psychology and the emerging science of learning. The learning design is based on Robert and Elisabeth Bjork’s idea of desirable difficulties, active learning, the testing effect and deliberate practice. You can find a great summary of this research in Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel (2014).

Colleague Matt Goral joined me in Prof Don Passey’s session on PhDs by distance learning. He said:

During his session, “PhDs by distance learning: integrating ‘new ways’ of teaching and learning”, Professor Don Passey from Lancaster University talked about an approach to designing online learning. He opened the session by suggesting that latest trends in education tend to shift away from transmissive modes of teaching and teaching theories towards learning theories, and as a result put more learning responsibilities on students and more pastoral responsibilities on teachers. The method he outlined for designing online learning was to start with identifying which parts must be done in person or on site, such as administration requirements or experiments on specific machinery, and planning for that. Then selecting the learning theories (PBL, Active Learning, etc.) which most suits our priorities, i.e. is our focus on the cognitive, motivational or social aspects of learning, or a combination. Finally, deciding what kind of teaching approach suits the learning theory best: teaching, tutoring, facilitating or guiding. Each of the teaching approach focuses on a different mixture of activities, such as exposition, clarifying, encouraging, etc. Finally we can ask which technologies best support these teaching and learning activities. This kind of thinking grounds our pedagogical decisions and decides on the direction of our design.

Sarah Sherman followed Don Passey. Sherman, who manages the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE), gave a talk that took me back in that it chimed with my own teaching experience. Some time ago, prior to my joining City, I taught Foundation IT skills for international students looking to enter British universities. Teaching this course was my introduction to Moodle too, as my college had introduced it shortly beforehand. Sherman described an online course that she’d developed to get students digitally-ready for learning prior to joining a BLE college. Learner-driven, the students had asked for general skills in core Microsoft tools, specific VLE-readiness and help with being better prepared for using TurnItIn. The course had been developed in Moodle, and was also being offered out to the wider community for those that wanted to repurpose the course for use with their students. Educational technology certainly has a generous community of practitioners. It was also good to be taken back to my own teaching, and see variants of that skills-based approach still going strong.

A post-lunch panel session brought a breadth of experiences to the afternoon. Dr David Lefevre of Imperial College’s Edtech Lab spoke about the challenges of converting a face-to-face course to an online one. He described how they had developed a learning design approach (titled OSCAR) which was used as a pedagogical framework for transforming on-campus masters’ degree programmes into equivalent online or blended provision, and which led to the launching of a spin-off online learning platform called INSENDI. Dr Nicola Gretton, Head of Digital Education at the University of Leicester, reflected on her institution’s adoption of MOOCs and the wider impact on Distance Learning and Blended courses. She was determined to add some interactivity to the session, which was deftly done through using a rapid development activity that deployed online dice for generating as many ideas as possible for using different teaching and learning approaches and different technologies. Lastly, Dr Jonathon Marshall, Head of Learning at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, brought a very different perspective to a traditionally higher education-focused event. Marshall described the challenges of bringing online learning to a major government department. It was enlightening to hear that the duality of personal technologies and institutional technologies (here depicted via iPhones vs BlackBerries) even bring challenges to government that would be familiar to many of us.

LEaD’s Julie Voce, also attending as a CDE Fellow, joined Anna Foss’s session on peer mentorship:

Anna Foss (LSHTM) described an alumni-peer mentorship scheme for the MSc Public Health which was a CDE funded project. She was joined in the presentation by three of the peer mentors who talked about their experiences of the programme. The aim of their peer mentor role was to add value by sharing authentic first-hand experiences of the course to current students. A group mentoring approach was used, facilitated via Moodle discussion forums and Collaborate web conferencing. One of the key points was about managing both student and mentor expectations. It was important to highlight that mentors are volunteers providing support when they are available, their role is to provide their experiences, not advice, and interactions must be within the agreed communication tools, rather than direct email or Skype. The mentor benefits included being able to keep in touch with the academic community and to strengthen their experience as mentors, something valued by one of the peer mentors who worked at a Belgian university mentoring his own students.

I ended my first RIDE with some ‘tales from the screenface’ from Leo Havemann. Havemann, now at UCL, spoke of his time at Birkbeck, and particularly in considering the mode of ‘blended learning’. Exploring definitions of the term, he highlighted the commonly-understood continuum model, where ‘face-to-face’ teaching appears on one end, ‘fully online’ on the other, and ‘blended learning’ typically considered as sitting in the middle. However, given how enmeshed connected digital technologies are in our lives these days, Havemann asked whether solely face-to-face learning even exists any more. Isn’t everything blended these days? Good question.

All in all, RIDE 2019 was a great conference, with plenty of food for thought and a warmth to it that permeated despite the auspiciousness of the surroundings. Roll on RIDE 2020.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *