The SEDA conference “Creativity in Educational Development” is now over and I still feel the buzz… in my ears, my eyes, my sole and my heart. I have really started feeling part of a supportive Ed Dev community where we can openly share, debate, support each other and grow – together. I had the pleasure to meet new and old friend and engage in fruitful conversations that made me think deeply about my practice but also educational development more widely.
It was wonderful that I could also be there for Prof. Norman Jackson‘s keynote around Creativity in Educational Development. Norman had contacted me a while back and asked me to contribute to his research project. How could I refuse? I really valued the opportunity to share my thoughts, ideas and experiences regarding creativity and I was looking forward to finding out what he had discovered about creativity in Ed Dev more widely. It was truly fascinating to hear. All related resources can be accessed here. Norman said that he discovered among others the following: “The greater the challenge, the greater the motivation to be creative” and perhaps this is why I have become who I am today. Reflecting on my journey through life I have to admit that I experienced a number of extreme difficulties that must have required great strength. I am sure we all have! For example, I had to learn to read and write Greek while attending secondary school and operating at that level academically when I was 12 and we moved with my family to Greece. Until then I was brought up in a German speaking environment and was attending a German school. From the top of the class in Germany, I touched rock bottom when I started the Greek school… I could only speak broken Greek we used at home for the 12 first years of my life… Suddenly another world became my new home and I felt a foreigner in my own country. I remember some classmates laughing about my pronunciation and I felt alone, excluded. I still feel alone today, sometimes, but for other reasons. I am sure we all feel and perhaps this is a good thing as it helps us collect our thoughts and discover who we really are. I wrote about this in my previous post. The challenge I faced when arriving in Greece was enormous. The rejection I felt was massive. Did this make me a more creative person? I don’t know. I guess I was resourceful and developed resilience. I wanted to succeed. Soon I was back on track.
Norman’s research, confirmed to me that ed developers thrive when they enjoy autonomy and can make connections, synthesise and implement creative ideas, when they innovate and are supported by colleagues, leaders, the institution and the wider community. We need to stop doing things that don’t work! Conservatism and resistance are blockers of creative practice and usually comes from people who don’t fully understand Ed Dev, according to Norman. Norman’s resources linked to his keynote are available here. I would highly recommend to access these if you are an Educational Developer. The resources and research findings are also extremely valuable for University Leaders as they provide an insight into the nature of Ed Dev, their people, aspirations and working practices but also the difficulties they are facing. Reading in between the lines we discover how we can truly support Ed Development in our institutions so that they flourish and help individuals, teams and whole institutions to trigger culture change and transform their teaching practices and the student experience. They provide rich food for thought, opportunities to re-think practices and find ways to empower Developers! If we learn to value what unites us instead of focusing on what separates us, we will be able to collaborate and achieve great things. My friend Carol Yeager says: On our own we go fast, with other we go further! This is so true!
It was wonderful to met Dr Alison James, from the London College of Fashion. I participated in Alison’s LSP workshop and Alison in mine and we started talking about possibilities to collaborate in the future. I am so pleased that delegates found both LSP workshops useful. Photographs from both workshops can be accessed here.
After some difficulties with the technology!!! my workshop started, thanks to plan B and the help of Andrew (thank you Andrew). During my workshop around developing reflection and engaging in reflective conversations using LEGO(R) I had a eureka moment. My ex-colleague Sian Etherington was brought into the session via Skype. I was holding Sian in my arms (this was pointed out by one of the workshop participants afterwards) via the iPad. A question from one of the delegates made me think and re-think deeply about the approach I used up until then related to the preparation for the Professional Discussion and what the students knew about the LEGO activity in advance. Something that Sian said as a response to a question by a delegate, helped me to identify that there was room for further improvement. I started talking out loud within the session and shared my modified ideas as they were developing. I came to the conclusion that in the future, I would avoid providing details about the LSP activity. If students knew details about the task in advance, they could prepare this and be strategic and less reflective. The model should also emerge during the process of making. So what could I do? I definitely needed to change the approach! Students could be told that there would be a task but not exactly what it would be. When they arrive for the Professional Discussion, a sealed envelope would be given to them which would contain the LSP task. Each task would be different and fully tailored to the specific student based on tutor’s observations about this particular students from classroom participation and portfolio work. This way, the tutor and the external panel member, but also the student could focus in on specific aspects of the learning journey and provide more insight where needed. I am pleased that the question was asked during the workshop and that the response by the student made me think about how to refine the approach for future use. Always learning something new if we are open to new ideas and willing to challenge and be challenged.
During the conference I had the opportunity also to discuss plans to join up CPD initiatives between MMU and Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). I really look forward working with colleagues from MMU and SHU on this initiative. Exciting times ahead. Other project ideas were also discussed with Sue, Kathrine and Ola (who doesn’t know it yet) and Alex. Overall a truly fruitful SEDA conference. Thank you everybody for making it such a rich experience.
This was a fully online week with an online asynchronous discussion, an online prep tutorial for the Professional Discussions and a webinar with Prof. Huw Morris on Tuesday evening. Our weekly theme was evaluating teaching in HE and we had a rich conversation during the webinar. But what about the online asynchronous discussion of this week? Not a single response there! I also noticed that while this week was online, on Tuesday morning, I noticed that most of my students started collecting out of my office. You will find out below why 😉
1. How did I feel?
First of all proud! Really proud of my students when I found out that they met on Tuesday morning to discuss the Professional Discussions and prepare together after Monday evening’s webinar. I wanted to give them all a big hug when I saw them. They stayed together approx. 3 hours and were deeply involved in conversations when I visited the classroom just briefly. I didn’t want to interfere and could see that they were happy with the progress they were making and the support they were giving to and receiving from peers.
But also a bit disappointed that the online discussions in Blackboard are generally under-used and some students have actually never contributed to these! Are they lurking? Do some feel uncomfortable to add their voice? Just wondering! Are people too busy? Do I ask for too much? Reflecting in the portfolio plus participating in online discussions? Is it because these spaces are disconnected? I have trialled the use of Voicethread with a previous cohort and perhaps this is something I should give more thought for the next cohort. Also looking into other possibilities at the moment.
2. What did I learn?
Learning online can be focused and effective. The webinar organised in preparation for the Professional Discussions next week was, I think, a good example. Despite the fact that I do miss the visual communication part. Seeing my students’ faces is important to me. We managed to connect visually with some and it made a difference especially in our first webinar this week, which was a tutorial. Perhaps, we could use Google Hangout next time so that we can all see each other as this platform enables up 15 individuals to connect visually.
I think the “How do you feel” activity was really useful and perhaps it is something that we could do more in our classes to track achievement and learning? It can be easily done in online and face-to-face settings and I think if it is a shared activity it is even more valuable because we can see that we are not alone and others feel similar to us. This is especially important if we have negative and/or uncomfortable feelings about something related to the session or the theme under exploration. Sharing our feelings with others in a group will help us see that we might not be that unique and others have similar feelings or fears. Together we can overcome these through opening up and sharing, supporting each other but also the tutor gains a valuable insight into students’ thinking and feeling and help him/her to tailor the learning opportunity or session so that negativities can be overcome together. This is what happened in our case. Revisiting initial feelings was so important and closed the cycle. We did get rid of anxiety, at least most of it and students felt more able and prepared for the Professional Discussions next week.
Just minutes before our second webinar this week with Prof. Huw Morris and while Huw was having problems connecting to the internet, Carol Yeager told me about the new Blackboard Collaborate (BC) app. This is so amazing. Finally we will be able to use BC on-the-go! And my colleague from Sweden downloaded it immediately and trialled it during our webinar. It worked! Yeh, this is exciting! No excuse anymore to miss a webinar, unless you don’t have a smartphone. Increasingly we rely on students using their own devices but what if they don’t have access to any? Could or should institutions look into providing these in some way? Maybe as part of the fee package? This is not a new idea and I know that it happens at other institutions. What about ours? And what about staff? Would there be value to make this happen here as well?
3. What would I do differently?
I think the preparation for the Professional Discussion would have worked even better if we had an ex LTHE student with us. Next semester, I need to try harder to find somebody who has gone through and share his/her experience with the cohort. In a way, the video clips we have on YouTube have that purpose but at this moment in time, I am not sure how many have watched these and if they were useful. This is something else I need to improve: the use of the video resources we have linked to the Professional Discussions and other themes we have prepared and are there as self-study resources. Maybe the problem also is that there are there and not brought in enough to what we do in class? Very possible.
During the second webinar with Prof. Huw Morris, which was interactive and enabled everybody to have a conversation with Huw and with peers around Evaluating Teaching in HE, I could have given my colleague from Sweden more time to talk. And while I have become more confortable moderating webinars and started enjoying them more as I feel more relaxed, I still find it hard to follow the chat box while everything else is going on at the same time. They say women multitask better than men… but can we really pay full attention to more than one thing at the time? So something I need to do is develop a strategy for monitoring the chat box more effectively. I was thinking to nominate one or two students who would help me with this and I think I will try this next time around. It is important to keep track of questions and observations and bring them into the conversation. I guess, that is why I am using more the BC whiteboard, as all responses can be kept on one screen which makes it easier to identify links and summarise. Am I more of a visual person? I am, but what does everybody else think about the chat box and how it was used? What about the whiteboard? We could give the chatbox a specific function and the whiteboard another one? Please comment if you participated in this webinar.
The online discussions in Blackboard are not used properly. So, I am thinking to review my discussion approach and go back to using Voicethread again in the next semester. Voicethreads could then be easily integrated into the portfolios as well, keeping all conversations together in one place. Instead of copying and pasting stuff from one platform to the other. As I write about this now, it sounds like a good idea. Must think a bit further about this and consider the details and then trial it. Students could be encouraged to embed the Voicethreads to their reflective journal and form part of the assessment. Would this work perhaps? While the online discussions in Blackboard are aligned to the assessment, I guess, there is an opportunity to make the link to assessment clearer and linking online spaces to evidence engagement and learning, as well as assessment as learning might be the way forward and encourage more students to actively participate in the conversations. The other bonus would be that the conversations could be media rich which worked really well when I tried Voicethread before.
Week 9 is coming to an end. The Professional Discussions start on Monday. Looking forward to seeing everybody again and engaging in reflective conversations with peers about their learning on this module. New this time is that I will be on all panels with an academic. This is why we had to stretch them over 3 days but feedback from students and my own observations suggest that this might be a better approach as the idea is that one panel member knows the student and the other one doesn’t. I am giving this a go and we will see what happens! We are using Lego again to invite students to capture their learning journeys as this worked really well last time around and made students feel more relaxed too. A case study written with Craig Despard is in preparation about the use of Lego in our Professional Discussions and there is now an opportunity openning up to further explore and investigate the use of Lego in Teaching and Learning with colleagues from other institutions (this is all very exciting!!!). New: Lego certificates for makers 😉
We can’t wait to hear your stories 😉