Technology enhanced learning in HW MACS

At the beginning of the summer I was handed an internal project convening a group to put into action the strategic plan for the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning at the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences (MACS) at Heriot-Watt. Yesterday the first phase of that came to fruition in a show and tell seminar.

Our initial approach has been to identify and share what is already happening within the School, to try to make those open up those pockets of innovation where one or two people are doing something that many others could also try. We started with a survey, asking people to tell us about interesting uses of technology that they had tried. We left the individual respondents to define what they felt as “interesting” but did our best to encourage anyone who was going beyond basic PowerPoint and VLE use to let us know. We also asked what ideas for use of technology staff wanted to try in their teaching, and what (if anything) was stopping them from doing so. We had a decent number of replies, and from these identified some common themes from the two questions (i.e. there was overlap between what some people had tried and what other people were interested in trying, a bit of a win that deserves more than a parenthesis at the end of a sentence). Those themes were:

  1. managing course work in the VLE, e.g. setting up rubrics, delegated marking.
  2. online assessment
  3. promoting interaction in class
  4. use of video for short explanations, demonstrations etc.

We used this to decide what we had to include in the first event yesterday, which we billed as a show and tell seminar. We had three speakers on each of the first three theme listed (it seemed that explanations and demos of how to use video for explanations and demos could be done as videos 🙂 ). The speakers had 10 minutes each to show what they had done, so really just enough time to provide a taster so that others could decide whether they wanted to know more. So that’s 9 speakers in 90 minutes, it was a real challenge to come up with a format which didn’t last too long (because academics are always busy, we couldn’t expect to get much more than an hour or two of their time) but did cover a wide range of topics.  We had an audience of 40, which is pretty good–I’ve been to plenty of similar events covering a whole institution which have had lower turnouts. The feedback has been that not everything interested everyone, there was something for everyone that made the time committed as a whole worthwhile. So on the whole I think the format worked, even though it was hectic.

Of course by packing so much into a compressed schedule few people will have been able to get all the information they wanted and so follow-up will be crucial to the success of this work as a whole. The show and tell was a kick-off event, we want to encourage people to continue to share the ideas that are of interest to them and for there to be other, smaller, events with a tighter focus to facilitate this.