Between 2 – 4 July 2018 I attended the Theoretical Orientated Practical Education in Agrarian Studies (TOPAS) meeting at the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences in Poland.
This ERASMUS+ funded project is intended to improve the education of agriculture students in Armenia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan in partnership with several universities from within the EU including Writtle University College. One of the important parts of the project is that it has to result in change, so at the meeting although discussion was important it had to transform into definitive actions which would be completed by the universities in the non-EU partner countries.
The focus of the meeting was to develop policies and processes for placements and internships in both undergraduate and postgraduate agriculture-related courses. It got me thinking about the purpose of placements in higher education. Without thinking too deeply I came up with the following:
developing practical skills,
applying theory to practice,
developing employability skills including,
assessing data work related data,
other aspects of management
and finally collecting data for use in academic work including dissertations.
It raises some interesting questions, the main one being can a placement meet all these objectives? Probably not, so any planning of placements needs to be very clear on what the objectives of the activity are. Once it has been decided what the placement is trying to achieve it is possible to start to think about the criteria that will determine if a provider is suitable or not. One of the challenges that we discussed at length is that even within agriculture there are many different possibilities for placement providers. It was fairly easy to decide on criteria for evaluating the quality of farm based providers, it was much harder when we started to talk about other providers for placements, such as comparing abattoirs, to seed producers, to agricultural engineers or other agri-businesses. Whilst trying to ensure quality we need to ensure that we are not too prescriptive to restrict the opportunities of students. Some of the other issues we discussed were what work the student has to produce from the placement, such as a diary of professional practice and final report and what should the placement provider provide in way of evidence?
What I got from the TOPAS meeting
I took a number of things away from the meeting myself. It was really useful to discuss what was happening at other EU universities as well as offering assistance to the non-EU partners as it provided an opportunity to critically reflect on what we do back at Writtle and compare that to other institutions. I made links with a number of universities regarding animal welfare and I hope these collaborations will help improve animal welfare in a number of countries.
Personally, attending the meeting also made me regret not spending more time learning languages. I studied French, German and Russian at school, dabbled in Welsh at university in Aberystwyth and learnt Spanish in South America but where I have not practiced I am not fluent and those I studied for shorter times (German, Russian and Welsh) I can only remember a few words. I feel frustrated I don’t understand more and embarrassed when everyone else speaks such good English. The outcome is the plan to make use of time in the car and travelling to practice my languages!
And come to university full of expectations about technology in education from their time at school.
I would just add to that being able to use the tools required for screen capture may also help them in their future employability too. In fact one of the reasons we have used screen casting as an assessment method is to help prepare students for future self-employment where they may want to use these skills on their business websites. Two out of the three methods described in the webinar I have already seen in my own institution with screen casts being produced about what is expected from assignments and secondly screen casts being used as an assessment method. We haven’t quite moved on to video feedback although we have used audio feedback via Turnitin in some cases.
As always it was useful to pick up some ideas about new apps and websites to work with and I am just about to have a look at http://www.videoscribe.co. One of the other things that was discussed was the process of making the screen cast. It was suggested not to over edit and maybe it helps for students to know that we are only humans so don’t cut out all those ums and pauses. It was interesting timing for me as I had started a screen cast the week before on how to access feedback in the new Turnitin Feedback Studio. Taking part in the webinar encouraged me to get it finished and I emailed the link out to students. The interesting thing was that my email prompted two responses from students wanting help with doing peer reviews in PeerMark. So what did I do, I made a rough and ready screen cast, I set up an example PeerMark, captured the process using Camtasia with audio instructions, minimal editing and sent the link out to the students. Yes I could have spent longer on my story boarding in preparation and yes, I could have done more editing and there was more that could have been included but it met the students’ needs and was produced in a timely fashion. So if there was one way in which the webinar changed my behaviour, it was giving me the confidence to just get on with it!
This weeks #LTHEchat was all about visuals. To be precise the title was: What do you see? Using visual media to communicate our teaching and research. As some of you may know I like taking photos and I like to use those photos in my teaching and research. In my PhD I made all my own diagrams so they could look exactly as I wanted with all the same typeface and font size. Anyway this meant I went into the tweetchat feeling fairly confident I could contribute.
One of the first conversations that got me thinking was a discussion about images in the VLE. Are they really helping teaching or do they just make the page look pretty? I have added more and more images to my Moodle page. They are all relevant to the topic but do they really teach students anything? No, probably not but they do appear to hook the students, make them delve deeper into the page probably partly just by breaking up all the text! In this case does it matter if they are not teaching per se, if they are engaging students with learning?
Well today has been busy. I started off visiting a local school promoting studying veterinary science and all the associated animal related courses at university to year 11 and 12 students. I love sharing my own experiences of studying at university and providing advice I never got when I was their age. Having just read the editorial in this weeks Times Higher it got me thinking about how important universities are, not just to society but to our own personal development, making lifelong friends and connections, building relationships. It made me think how my own university experience had shaped me. In this rapid and unknown period of change as the Higher Education and Research Bill marches on and universities have to change to meet societies needs I do hope those opportunities aren’t lost. Meeting all those enthusiastic 16 and 17 year olds has provided me with some new determination to ensure that I am doing everything I can to ensure my students are getting all the possible benefits they can out of being at university…
Then this evening has been spent taking part in not one but two tweetchats. The first was part of the Sheffield Hallam Online Open Course or SHOOC on Mentoring (#MentorSHOOC1). Tonight the focus was on the differences between mentoring and coaching. Some great food for thought on my journey as I mentor a number of colleagues through their PG Cert in HE Practice. Starting to think how will I ensure that there is mutual trust between my mentees and me? How will I ensure that I am providing guidance and support whilst letting them work things out for themselves, ensuring they stay motivated and aspire to improve their practice? The plan is to help them become more reflective, the details of which I am still pondering but I will let you know how I get on.
The second tweetchat was actually the fourth of five tweetchats of the BYOD for Learning open course (#BYOD4Lchat). Tonight’s theme is one of my favourites: Collaboration. One of the things I find most satisfying as a teacher is seeing students learn from each other. There were some great discussions about the differences between collaboration, cooperation and cocreation. For me collaboration is something that you feel positive about, that you are motivated to do and that it usually involves learning via bouncing ideas of each other. Maybe, just like mentoring ,for it to be really successful there also needs to trust and respect. There was also the point that collaboration is closely linked to the other Cs of the 5Cs framework that the BYOD4L course is based upon. Effective collaboration needs connections, communication and curating to enable creation, whether of knowledge or something more tangible. We also got onto discussing tools that we can use both with colleagues and students to help promote collaboration. Some were old favourites such as via Google Drive whereas there were some new ones in too, ready for more investigation (watch this space once I have tried them out)…
The first day of the University of Essex’s Teaching and Learning Conference focused on inclusive practice. I found the case study presented by Dave Lomas and Paddy Turner from Sheffield Hallam University raised many important points and also some interesting questions. They attempted to make a level 5 module more inclusive by using initiatives like writing learning outcomes and other module material in plain English, allowing all students to have extra time in the exam, by allowing all students to record lectures, making sure resources were accessible with appropriate background colours and fonts and being more flexible around time keeping. Some great ideas many of which I am already using in practice and some new ideas for me to try out. With the new semester about to start it is a great time to be reflecting on whether my module guide is really in plain English and what new resources will I provide to ensure that the content I am delivering this semester will be truly accessible.
Not everybody in the audience seemed convinced about all the changes suggested. Some of the questions that were raised and I think need further investigation included: If you give all students extra time what do you do with those entitled to extra time? If you plan an assessment that should take an hour then give all student 1 hour and 15 minutes do those with specific learning difficulties need extra time on top of this? If you make all resources accessible in a range of formats and available before sessions is that not fairer to all students and prevents those with learning plans due to disabilities being made to feel different to the rest of their cohort? Lots of food for thought and for the modules I am responsible for I will continue to try and make them as inclusive as possible for all students irrespective of disability, background or personal circumstances.
The afternoon was looking at student engagement and was led by the SU. One of the nice things that was highlighted was the SU collaborating with the University to improve student learning. Having talked to the three SU reps I am taking a few ideas back to my own institution. My colleague Nieky is going to trial replacing the term ‘Office Hours’ with ‘Academic Support Hours’. And I also like the idea of a ‘Question of the Week’ with three possible answers that the students vote on using counters when they buy something in the shop. These questions can relate to academic matters as well as other aspects of university life. Another topic that came up is the advantage of paying student reps. The SU employs a ‘convener’ in each of the four faculties at the University. As I understood it these work as super reps but in addition are also paid to sit on working groups, committees and so on. I am not sure that paying students to do this sits well with me, I would much rather it be like when I was a student, where you engaged with these things because you felt had a stake in the university and its future. Times have changed though and maybe this is the now the way forward….
I have a found a common theme coming out of work I have been doing over the last few weeks and that is networks. I think it started at the SEDA conference in Brighton. I attended the excellent workshop called ‘From Conundrum to Collaboration, Conversation to Connection: Using Networks to Innovate’. It was run by Andrew Middleton and Sue Moron-Garcia and Andrew has produced a Storify of the #SEDA_NETS tweetchat that was embedded into the workshop. I thought I was good at multi-tasking until I tried to participate in a tweetchat and face to face workshop simultaneously… This session naturally brought to mind two of the networks I value – the informal #LTHEchat and the more formal membership of a professional association such as SEDA, the latter going hand in hand with the SEDA JISCmail list. If I have time to follow some of the debates on the mail-list they can be quite thought provoking but I have also found it a fountain of information when I have been researching strategies, procedures and policies. And sometimes it is just nice to know others are having some of the same problems as me and sharing our different approaches to the current issues facing HE.
These are examples of external networks to my institution but I had also recently been asked to reflect on a Leadership and Management course that institution had put on. I was part of the first cohort that undertook the course that included managing yourself, managing teams and managing institutional strategy. We took part in 4 days of workshops as well as project work. When I thought about it one of the most useful aspects of the course was working with other managers from both academic and professional departments and the way a network had developed between us. I had a much better idea of who I needed to go and see to solve problems within the institution and we have actively sort each other out to share ideas. Of course there are also networks within departments and for many of us the important one is the network between staff and students.
I thought the title of Sue and Andrew’s workshop was great. To me developing networks is about connecting with people, once you have connected you have opportunity to collaborate and to form a community. I realised that where I have a well developed network it makes me feel part of a community. It got me to thinking about how the two are inter-related – so I looked it up in the dictionary.
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (1995)
Network: ‘A group of people who exchange information, contacts and experience for professional or social purposes‘
Community: ‘A body of people having a religion, a profession etc. in common‘ or ‘afellowship of interest‘
It raises some interesting questions, can you have one without the other, is a community a more established or bonded group than a network? How do we encourage students to form networks and communities that will help them learn content, skills and gain employment. I think that is important from the prospective of promoting learning but for those of us expected to pay attention to student satisfaction it is also going to be topical with the community question within the NSS. All I know is that I will continue to work towards expanding my network and hopefully I will continue to feel part of a community, form some exciting collaborations and develop my practice along the way.
I have just finished teaching theory and practice of the horse’s senses and how they regulate behaviour. I wanted to check how much my students had learnt so I set them a task. Make a video suitable for horse owners explaining about the function of the horse’s senses in relation to behaviour. We had just finished the practical session at the yard and so they could make use of the horses and I provided iPads for them to make their videos. Once the videos were complete they were uploaded to ClickView and then they could be shared with the whole cohort. This meant they could provide peer feedback to each other as well as me providing some tutor feedback.
So how did it go?
The students enjoyed doing it. The shortest one was 28 seconds long whilst the longest one was 4 minutes. The students embraced it and worked independently. The videos would have easily been accessible to horse owners although the content was lacking in the depth that I would have liked to have seen – so some work for the students and I to do there. I was disappointed at the lack of peer feedback that was provided by the students to the videos on Moodle but with this particularly cohort I am having trouble getting any engagement with Moodle….
Would I use it again?
Yes, definitely. Making the videos really engaged the students and made it easy for me to assess how well they were doing with the module content. Uploading it to ClickView and sharing to Moodle was also really easy to do and there is not the same pressure as putting onto Vimeo or YouTube where you feel it is that much more public. Just need to work on the engagement with peer feedback now!