Earlier this week I attended the annual conference of ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) which I previewed last week on my personal blog and I have already written one post there on the first keynote and the digital continuum.

Staff development
The conference session on the latest survey (PDF) from UCISA /JISC: 2008 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK highlighted the following conclusion:

Staff skills were overwhelmingly noted as the greatest challenge that these new demands [in particular streaming media, mobile computing, podcasting and Web 2.0] would create, with staff development and strategies being seen as the primary remedies

At a symposium on staff development by Sue Westerman from Canterbury Christ Church reported on the DEBUT Project.  This has focused on improving digital literacies amongst staff, something that’s also done here as part of the e-literacy programme.  However the format of the Canterbury programme is quite different and appealing.

Staff attend a short introductory session and then are given a choice of 25 tools from which they have to choose the 6 most relevant to them.  Training is then provided in different formats depending on the tool: tools & formats (PDF).  Sue reported that in addition to significant increases in understanding the programme has also resulted in greater integration of these technologies into teaching.

Typing Exam Essays
At Edinburgh University Nora Mogey has been investigating the use of computers as an alternative to hand-written exams (for essays).  Students spend all year word-processing (including coursework) but then for their final exams they have to pick up a pen.  Edinburgh carried out a pilot last year on some mock exams and this year they will be extending this to some final exams.  Students on the pilot were offered a choice of hand-written or word-processed (with the computer option using special software – exam4 – installed on students’ own laptops to lock them down).

The research from the pilot concludes:

…variation in marks between handwritten and typed scripts is negligible compared to variation between markers and therefore offering students the choice to write or type should be feasible. This means that variation in typing ability need not be a major concern…

The practical problem of having a suitable location was also raised: multiple power sockets!  The use of the students’ own laptops is recommended so that students are familiar with the keyboard (which also tend to be quieter on laptops).

Other bits and pieces
The above UCISA / JISC survey also reiterated that we are not alone in our switch to Moodle:

Blackboard continues as the most used enterprise or institutional VLE. However, when also including VLEs that are used more locally, e.g. within departments, then Moodle is most used with a rapid rise since 2005

In Formative Audio Feedback: is FAF a faff?, Robin Johnson from Manchester Met reported on his use of audio recordings for providing students with feedback on dissertations and other (draft) assessments.  He was using a voice recorder & email but it’s something we could do here with the Wimba Voice Tools in Moodle.  He found that the audio recordings either saved him time or allowed him to give more detail.  The feedback from students has been positive and he plans to continue and encourage other colleaguers to join him.  He highlighted the need:

  1. For a clear introduction
  2. To control emotions
  3. For a method for naming the parts of the document
  4. To think about the structure of feedback

One delegate suggested that although it might be less work for the teacher it was potentially more work for the student, as audio feedback would be more difficult to navigate in conjunction with the written text then comments written/typed in-line.