Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Quick feedback from Inclusive Learning and Teaching events as part of Good Practice Week

I went to a session on Inclusive Learning and Teaching today that was a front for a number of different workshops on various aspects of the project. The over-riding message of the day was that practices for inclusivity were also practices for high quality teaching and learning, and that small adjustments made to benefit one group of students would usually also benefit others. Elena described pitching ILT to departments as a way of helping them meet the aims of the University's LTAS and Sheffield Graduate characteristics, and this seems to have worked, helping raise awareness of issues and engaging with a wide range of departments. It could be worth adopting a similar strategy when discussing TASH.

Elena also fed back on an event in April where students had outlined what they saw as do's and don'ts of inclusive teaching (on a handout in the pack - suspect you've seen it already); the detail of these was as interesting as the more creative work they'd done, suggesting metaphors for the ILT project. They talked of "isolated islands" of students wanting to cross the sea (with support) and come together under the sun of ILT; and of there being certain ILT-based keys to unlocking the box of their award and learning. This last in particular deserves some unpacking, as while it has strongly teleological undertones, it does strike a nice balance between supporting students and allowing them to develop their own ideas.

The other prevalent theme of the sessions was lecturer assumptions , especially in the guise of cultural or linguistic references not everyone could follow. There was one student who had felt excluded from a module by being on a joint honours programme and not understanding the references to previous modules that single honours students had done. Again, this could be one way in with TASH, and certainly provides another aspect to the continuing problematisation of student and tutor expectations. Ali Hayward said nice things about TILL and the support she'd received, and emphasised the importance of a holistic understanding of the student, not seeing them as disabled, foreign, etc. but as a whole person, with a whole person's needs. Again, potential material for use here.

On another note, as a passing remark at the end, Margaret Freeman mentioned that HCS were considering offering tandem learning sessions for English pronunciation, which could be of great benefit to some of our learners. It would be really interesting if this took off, and might help integrate some of our students with other departments and the general life of the university.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Nadine and Louise

Two very helpful conversations, one face-to-face with Nadine, one by telephone with Louise. Both gave us great tips for developing and embedding the resource, and we're very well-positioned to move on with the project. One thing that both emphasised was the embedding of the resource in the new Faculty structure, where there will be five semi-autonomous units that will need to engage with the resource. It would further this end to have on our "envelope team" (which I was calling the "core team" in other documents today) representatives from each Faculty - these can be gathered from (1) personal invitations onto the project, and (2) the general trawl for interested parties in advance of June 24th. It would also be good, says Louise, to talk to the Faculty PVCs this autumn, advertising the resource, saying how their Faculty would benefit, and how (hopefully) someone from their end has already been involved.

Nadine was very persuasive about the need to respect disciplinary thinking, and to design a resource that anyone can use. Her point was that people like us were lateral thinkers, happy to make connections between different academic spheres and disciplines; but users of the resource might be much more discipline-focused, and wanting the relevance to them highlighted and double-underscored. We might in time want to develop tutor-facing guides tailored to different disciplines, even if the differences between them are largely cosmetic. Along with this subtlety in emphasis, we should also offer a variety of navigational structures around the resource, providing different ways in to the same things. Finally, Nadine suggested factoring in some re-design time, or at least an extended design process from January 09 onwards. LeTS projects need to have plenty of time set aside because they're complex and professional products, and it's worth thinking that through when you talk about responding to how users are engaging with a resource, and ways in which it could be made better. All very good advice, and that, coupled with a productive writing session this morning and a helpful green light from Louise on certain key issues, has made it an extremely positive day.

What we've agreed to do next

  • WK to continue working through the participant-facing summary and making changes. This will be completed by Thursday 29th, at which meeting we will go through it together and produce a more finalised version. He will also review the project meeting outline, to be confirmed at the same meeting.
  • TH will work on a rough costings outline for the DLTDs / Steve / Louise, based on the number of meetings we've arranged and the catering etc. attached to those.
After the next meeting, we need to start getting in touch with the possible third and fourth members of the core core team; this list will be transfered to Backpack in due course, and doubtless we'll stumble across some of them during Best Practice Week.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Feedback from Student Support Forum

I've just come from a Student Support Forum meeting, which is essentially a talking-shop for partners in Student Services and academic departments to discuss big ideas and plans. TASH, you won't be surprised to learn, counts as one of these, so we had a very brief presentation and discussion of the project right at the end of the meeting.

Two key points - firstly, a huge amount of nodding and support from the room, especially from Andrew West and Debora Green - they both said this sort of thing is overdue. And secondly, many of the items that preoccupied the rest of the meeting were to do with student community and belonging, and in the worst instances, failures of this sense of community. I didn't realise this was such an issue for support and academic departments, and wonder whether, alongside all the inclusive curricula, transition support, etc. etc. language we're using, there's space also for helping develop a sense of belonging? Or at least that the institution values students as individuals? Anyway, just a thought, and the main message is about the support for the scheme.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Meeting with LeTS colleagues

Another very helpful meeting with Steve Collier, Paul Wigfield, and Danny Monaghan from LeTS. We got the green light on organising a launch event on the 24th of June; and we got general approval for our plans for moving forwards, and for developing a more detailed bid and timeline. We also had more useful conversations about what the resource might look like, and what it would do. We're still working on this small, light centre model, but I think now structured around a single site, with an extensive "Comments" function, where users can post their reflections on sites, and any other useful links they find. This site will be a hub in the sense of the one place you go to access a series of resources, and as a front page (like iGoogle) that offers customisable dynamic and static content.

To pick up on points from the last meeting, Steve confirmed that this project would follow the outline of an LTDG, with similar forms and deadlines; however, it was suggested that we would have greater flexibility than the standard timescale for this, given that the DLTD panel are acting as our line managers and may be able to approve our Stage Two paperwork at a meeting other than the ones suggested. Paul and Danny also filled us in on other projects (including one on academic writing being discussed between Geography, English, and the ELTC) and fed back their experiences on developing Resources for Courses. Essentially, they saw this as a space that had grown so large it was difficult to manage, and that if we opened the floodgates to universal submission, we might encounter the same difficulty. Paul also talked about the MOLE tutorial store, which has been designed with a series of questions at the front, allowing the user to find out what they need, rather than pick their way through different tools and options. This relatively light signposting (our new word for diagnostic) model is helpful, especially if we can work something out along the lines of a personalisable hub, where the learner's preferences and history are recorded, and future choices influenced by these. In time, this could become a tab within MUSE, thereby giving users the one-stop-shop academic information that we initially proposed.

Our rough timeline was approved, with a lot of research and development work before the end of the year; then the Stage Two submission; then production, with alpha testing in April. Steve was keen to get students involved with the design of the resource as soon as possible, and suggested that finding second-year student testers in the first semester of 08/09 might be the way forward - we'd have something to show them, and they should be in a position to appreciate what skills they felt they'd lacked during the first year. The Student Officer from the Union, and perhaps someone from CILASS' SAN should be invited to the June meeting, and it would be worth talking to Debs Fowler and Chris Stokes about the pre- and post-entry concerns they've identified amongst students.

So, what to do next. Steve will continue talking to Louise, confirm the accessibility of funding for the June 24th meeting, and keep clarifying the approval and design process for the resource. WK, TH and (presumably) JM will organise the event on the 24th (WK has already enquired to CILASS about using one of their rooms), keep working on the timeline (especially focusing on the 2008 dates), and finish off the participant-facing survey. Easy enough, then; now, where's that time machine?

Friday, 9 May 2008

We will do...

Tim (if he has time to do anything) will work on task four of the list below, namely an initial rough sort of resources that we definitely want to include in the resource. This is likely to be another google doc of some kind.

Willy will work on the next version of the participant-facing summary, including specifying aims and outcomes. If he has time on top of this, he will keep adding detail to the timeline.

These various documents will then be presented to Steve, Paul, and whichever other LeTS colleagues are in attendance on Thursday. In the light of their comments, we will work on the next iteration of these in our next meeting (Monday 19th).

Monday, 5 May 2008

The Ultraversity

The project to which Phil pointed us on Friday is here. From an initial look, the programme looks just as exciting and innovative as she described it; and from more a more pragmatic point of view, I quite like the look and feel of the site. Oh, and they do exhibition preparation and reflection as part of their assessment; at level three. There are only a few ideas ever in circulation...