In my last post, I reflected on the centrality of the lecture in Higher Education. In this post, I want to give some practical examples of how to use educational technology to foster more active, collaborative learning using less traditional teaching and learning practices. The underpinning pedagogic principles running through this piece are of learner-centred, tutor-supported activities, either in the classroom or during private study time. As we interact with an increasingly diverse, tech-savvy student population, requiring flexible, inclusive and interactive learning opportunities, we as teachers must adapt our practices, whilst maintaining academic rigour.
As we increase the amount of multimedia that we use to support students’ learning, we will also want to provide opportunities for them to create multimedia. This could be as part of the learning process, or as an assessment activity. In a learner-centred curriculum, where learners are contributing learning materials and activities as much as teachers and trainers, multimedia production and sharing will be essential. For multimedia assessments, you will need to be able to provide learners with a range of freely available tools to create their assessments. There are a number of important considerations when selecting multimedia tools to suggest to learners, including availability and accessibility.
In terms of multimedia production, many learners will have access to a mobile device (e.g. smartphone or tablet) with a built-in camera, or they may own a digital camera. These can often be good enough for creating HD video and with the use of free apps, video editing is now much easier. The challenge comes when trying to make the finished video available to other learners or to teachers. In this case, a video sharing platform such as YouTube or Vimeo can be useful, particularly if learners use the privacy settings appropriately to only give access to particular users. You may be able to arrange for learners to upload videos to your VLE or a multimedia management system. For creating audio resources, Audacity is a powerful audio editing tool.
Screencasts (recording what is happening on a computer screen) can be a really powerful learning tool, both for teachers and learners. You could ask learners to record a screencast of them completing an activity on their computer, and this could form the basis of an assessment to assess their competency with a particular tool (e.g. using a software tool to complete an activity). There are a large number of ‘screen capture’ tools available, including Camstudio.
Whilst many people are familiar with Microsoft PowerPoint, there are also a number of other tools available for educators and learners to create engaging and interactive presentations, on the web. For example, Prezi is an easy to use and freely available web-based tool that allows users (and groups of learners) to create multimedia-based stories for presentation and collaboration. Google also includes a presentation tool in its Google docs suite of tools, which can be used for simple presentations produced by an individual or a group. These are both ideal tools to suggest to learners when they are asked to produce a presentation as part of an assessment.
Collaborative writing tools
There are two main kinds of collaborative writing tools available on the web: tools for a group to use to privately write documents together (e.g. Google docs) and tools that allow any individual to contribute and edit documents (e.g. Wikipedia or Mediawiki). You will need to think carefully about which tool is most suitable for your learners, based on the learning outcome. As is often the way with these flexible tools, they can both be used for the public and private writing, by changing privacy settings, or by using them within a VLE (e.g. a VLE wiki tool). Collaborative writing tools are ideal for group projects, as you can monitor each individual’s contribution, and you only have to read and assess a single finished assignment, which leads to efficiency.
Often, you will want to encourage your learners to keep a record of their personal and professional development, which they can share with tutors, peers or even employers. There are a range of tools to support this, from similar blog tools (such as Wordpress, or a VLE based blog tool) through to sophisticated eportfolio tools (E.g. Pebblepad). Blogs are ideal tools for reflective exercises, as they can be as simple (e.g. just text) or complex (e.g. a website with multimedia, text, links, comments etc) as required.
Increasingly, technology allows us to replicate a small group teaching scenario through use of video conferencing tools. For example, Google Hangouts and Skype allow up to 10 people to join a synchronous video call, with use of screen sharing and comments. These technologies are incredibly powerful for small group tutorials, including presentation (through use of screen sharing) and discussion (through video and comments). This tool can allow learners who need flexibility to join learning activities when they might not otherwise be able to. Other collaborative tools e.g. Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate have similar features but require a licence.
Many learners are very familiar with social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for social purposes, but they can also be very useful to support learning. Many educators use Facebook pages and groups to develop online learning communities (with or without teacher presence), for learners to share questions and have discussions about learning. Twitter is also used extensively within education for sharing information (using hashtags), research and discussion. Social tools can easily be incorporated into your VLE (e.g. a course Twitter feed).
An increasing focus within the HE sector is the configuration of our learning spaces. The vast majority of spaces are designed for large-class didactic teaching, laid out in lecture format. These spaces are highly efficient, often allowing many hundreds of students to receive information from a single individual (the lecturer), but they are much less effective for any form or communication or collaboration between learners and teacher or learners and learners. Many of us will have tried to foster active, collaborative learning in tiered lecture theatres full of students, and will have experienced the frustrations of students sat in rows, students craning their necks to speak to people in front, or behind, and our inability to interact with anyone apart from those sat at the front or the ends of the rows.
So, how do we overcome these physical constraints to stimulate active learning through discussion, problem solving and collaboration? Here follows three possible solutions, some more achievable by individuals than others:
- Harness students’ mobile devices during class time to foster active learning. There are many app based tools that learners constantly use for social interaction, so why not use them for learning? You may not be comfortable with your learners using Facebook for discussion during class, but how about Yammer, Padlet, Twitter or even your VLE based discussion tools? Comments can be broadcast on the teaching screen to serve as a stimulus for whole-group discussion or feedback. Many tools are available to allow users to answer questions, provide comments and share content from mobile devices, laptops and PCs. Many educators have successfully used tools such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Nearpod to engage students in interactive activities (e.g. quizzes) during teaching sessions. These tools all offer real-time results to share with learners for instant feedback, and can be very powerful for assessing learning.
- Flip your students’ learning and use alternative spaces. Move the transmissive learning online through recorded lectures, and book flat-floored learning spaces for your class time to engage students in active, collaborative learning.
- Modify your tiered learning spaces and make better use of social spaces for learning. This requires institutional commitment to reconfigure spaces, and is increasingly popular in the HE sector. A number of universities (e.g. QUB, Loughborough) have re-designed some of their tiered lecture theatres to allow group-based learning as well as transmissive lectures, in pod-style seating configurations. These spaces are flexible both in terms of teaching practices and in time of study – students use the spaces outside class time for group-based learning.