learning and teaching conference at University of Brighton

Strong attendance at today’s L and T conference, an annual event at Brighton. A chance to renew conversations about learning, or as one colleague said – at this time of year we need a shot in the arm to remind us why we love teaching.

First keynote: Professor David Boud from Sydney University of Technology proposed that we reconceptualise assessment for longer term learning. Meaning we consider reducing feedback with final assessment as, at that stage, students need summary assessment based on grades and no amount of feedback will help their learning after graduation. Feedback at this stage is more about communicating our thinking and academic health to other staff – internal and external. This could have a real impact on how we feed back at this stage. This year on final assessments of project reports and dissertations we have made greater efforts to make explicit the rationale behind blind marking negotiation and resolution – good for academic health and checking consistency. But many of us are still putting a lot of effort into detailed feedback which is rarely seen or cared about by the student at this stage.

On the other hand, Boud was keen to increase and improve formative feedback ie that which students get when they are more responsive and can take it on board before summative marking. This is where audio feedback and detailed in text feedback really score – both valued for richness and specific guidance by students in our current small research study.

Boud was focussing on building students capacity for judgement as a skill ( or attitude?) relevant to lifetime choices and careers. More interested in process of learning than outcomes of learning ( content). Which fits of course with our work on new vocationalism which stresses willingness and ability to learn as key graduate markers rated highly by employers.

The other key point raised here for me was a focus on course level learning outcomes over module level LOs. Seems to me obvious that our current overly tight focus on detailed module learning outcomes allows the student little if any freedom to learn unexpected things – things which may ultimately prove more valuable than the content we impose. Unplanned learning needs a higher profile – this is what makes the difference between a competent learner and a transformational learner. Someone who is able to reflect on and evaluate unplanned learning as well as planned learning is going to do better once they have left the guidelines of the university.

The second keynote at the end of conference was Professor Bryson from Newcastle Uni. He introduced a comprehensive discussion of perspectives of student engagement. Basing the antecedents on my favourite Chickering and Gamson 1987, he proceeded through the NSSE used in States and its various versions in Australia and China etc, measuring how often students did certain things associated with active learning ( such as questioning etc) to propose that student engagement had more to do with student expectations and perceptions – a point which needs to involve relating student learning to their personal project or experience and interest in the subject – appropriate balance between challenge and workload, trust, degree of autonomy and opportunities for growth and enjoyment, dialogue and a sense of belonging or being part of a learning community.

The idea of bringing student experience into learning still contrasts sharply with my recent validation experience in which there was very clear evidence that some colleagues still believe in the empty vessel theory of student learning. I cannot believe that we still have teachers who cannot recognise the life experience of our students and who fail to see that dismissing that experience ( however “wrong” it may be according to the textbooks) wastes an opportunity for connection with the student, bridging the sometimes huge gap between our expertise and theirs and encouraging them to share and take risks with learning.

But let me dismount a favourite hobbyhorse and conclude with a comment that the sheer fun of using twitter and Evernote today through a recently acquired iPad was brilliant! I even got a twitter badge ( thanks to Katie Piatt) for tweeting through the day with the conference hashtag #uoblt12 . But the technology allowed me to chair three sessions, tweet constantly thus connecting with comments and ideas from sessions I did not attend, make notes of phrases and ideas I found useful on my own twitterstream, have conversations across the globe with research conference friends who picked up tweets today, check programme timings without always fishing for the document, import abstracts into my Evernote record of the conference avoiding extra typing, include photos of key slides in that account, and know that even if my device was mislaid, it was all safely recorded in the cloud. This did not at any point stop me making new friends and renewing older friendships, thinking about what I was hearing and contributing wherever I could.

I think I call that blended learning….