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Using Audio more

Teaching has always had an oral tradition, teachers have spoken, learners have listened, conversations take place and learning happens.

I suspect in most classrooms, lecture theatres and seminar rooms across the UK (and the world) there are people speaking and people listening.

Though at this time I don’t want to get into a huge debate about the merits of lectures, that is something for a different time. The ability for learners to be able to access a recording of a lecture and listen to it again is something that can support learning.

Students generally used podcasts to review lecture content, especially when they had difficulty with understanding lectures or new terminology.

Scutter et al (2010)

Yes there is another school of thought that says about lecture capture, as Mark Smithers notes:

..the large scale implementation of lecture capture is probably one of the costliest and strategically misguided educational technologies that an institution can adopt.

Smithers (2011)

One of the issues that I have with lecture capture though is that in isolation an audio recording of a lecture is insufficent in meeting the needs of the learners, as Scutter et al (2010) found.

Students generally listened to the recordings whilst viewing the lecture PowerPoint presentations on a home computer.

And as Smithers (2011) recognises

The technology does nothing to engage the student who instead of sitting passively in a lecture theatre checking their text messages will now sit passively in front of a screen at home checking their text messages.

Students will be “forced” to listen to the lecture recordings through a computer as the recording would not be enough to be of benefit without access to other resources such as Powerpoint presentations or handouts. Though is making available an audio recording of a lecture better than not giving the recording? There was an unconvincing study that said podcast lectures were “better” than real lectures. So though there are issues with lecture recordings, we shouldn’t as a result dismiss the usefulness of audio though for enhancing teaching and learning.

Podcasts needn’t be just a recording of a lecture, they can be in a variety of formats. Podcasts are an effective mechanism to support learning. Due to the audio format, learners can download and listen to them on an mp3 player (such as the iPod) as they walk to college, or catch the bus. Likewise mp3 files can be burnt to CD and a learner could listen to them in their car, or on their home music system. Though portable, learners can also access podcasts direct through a computer and listen to them via the computer speakers (or headphones).

Podcasts can be listened to more than once, enabling a learning objective to be reinforced or for revision purposes. Podcasts do not need to be length affairs, ten to fifteen minutes is more than ample for more educationally orientated podcasts.

One way of creating podcasts easily is using a tool such as Audioboo that to put it simply it is an App on your iPhone that allows you to record an audio recording, add your location, a picture, tags and upload the lot to a website.

Of course a podcast implies a regular series of broadcasts, you don’t have to do this to use audio for learning. One off audio recordings are also a good idea and can be used for a range of topics or activities.

In terms of format, the simple monologue is quite difficult to carry off well, where it can work is in describing what is required for an assignment brief. The learner would listen to the recording as they go through a web or paper based assessment for example. I know one lecturer who uses audio recordings of himself asking questions that he plays back both via the VLE and in the classroom.

Conversations, either one on one or small group are one way of making audio recordings more interesting. Panel discussions on topics by staff (or by learners) can be useful for learners and more engaging then a monologue on the subject. Discussions can be formal, informal, light-hearted or confrontational.

Radio type shows with a combination of different formats certainly will work with learners, but require a lot more planning, editing and production. These could include external interviews, outside broadcasts or field recordings.

“Professional” or external audio recordings can be more complex due to rights issues and copyright. However with the right licences (ERA for BBC radio broadcasts) or using statuory rights, it is possible to play back recorded radio programmes and and other commercial recordings in the classroom or lecture theatre for the purpose of instruction.

Audio has possibilities with assessment in terms of giving feedback to learners, the JISC Sounds Good project found that:

Using audio for assessment feedback has proved popular with students and staff. It is probably fair to say most UK higher education lecturers would find it worth giving audio feedback an extended trial with at least with some of their assessment work.

Most of the focus in this blog post has been on practitioners using audio, of course learners using audio is another way to enhance learning.

Learners could use tools such as Audioboo to create a reflective audio learning journal, or create a podcast for their course that demonstrates their understanding of the subject for their peers.

Audio assessment is often used in languages, but why has the tradition died out in other subjects? Yes there are issues with assessing audio recordings, but if we are really interested in personalisation and inclusion, audio assessment can be one way of ticking that box. Also technology can be used to speed the process up, it is possible now to digitally speed up recordings in a way that doesn’t distort voices so that they sound like chipmunks! This can speed up the marking process.

Technology allows us to change where and when we listen. Technology allows us to listen again. Technology allows us to be heard too. There are many ways that audio technology and recordings can be used to enhance and enrich teaching and learning.

References

Bob Rotheram. (2009). Sounds Good: Quicker, better assessment using audio feedback. Available: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/usersandinnovation/soundsgood.aspx. Last accessed 16th March 2011.

Scutter, S., Stupans, I., Sawyer, T. & King, S. (2010) How do students use podcasts to support learning? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(2), 180-191. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/scutter.pdf

Smithers, M. (2011). Is lecture capture the worst educational technology?. Available: http://www.masmithers.com/2011/03/11/is-lecture-capture-the-worst-educational-technology/. Last accessed 16th March 2011.

Using online resources more

Like most colleges we do provide access to a range of digital and online resources. There is some fantastic content out there which is either available for free or for a relatively low cost subscription.

Feedback from learners, talking to managers and practitioners, show that these resources are not as well used as they could be. There are a range of reasons given why both practitioners and learners do not use them, and in some cases do not even consider using them. These vary from the usual, not enough time, to access issues, or as often happens they didn’t know the college subscribed to them…

Didn’t they have a library induction?

Didn’t they read the e-mail?

The reality is that resources shown at induction or identified in an e-mail will be noted, but not generally remembered. Unless they are use to accessing online resources or are sign-posted to use online resources; they won’t use online resources.

This isn’t just about online resources, experience in my institutiuon and talking to others in a similar position, demonstrate that learners won’t be using books and journals in the library unless they are use to using them or sign-posted to use them.

So who sign-posts?

Well obviously the library staff (learning resources team) can do this with learners who are in the library. They can go and meet with learners in the classroom and inform them of the availability of resources. But these tactics are in many ways like inductions or e-mails, they may not be at the point of need and learners may not readily identify or link the resources to their topics or assessed work. The “clever” learners will know that they can go the library staff when they have a “need” and get signposted that way.

One thing practitioners can do is to sign-post resources to their learners during lessons, within assignments and on the VLE. If a learner wants to get the best grade possible, either in exams or assessed work, they need to use a much wider range of resources than what is made available in the classroom, the library and online resources are two prime locations for these resources. Not all learners know that and not all practitioners realise that they need to signpost to their learners about this. Some may think it so obvious that they don’t even mention it… that can be a mistake.

So how do we change things, so that learners are aware of what online resources are available or what the function of the library is?

Practitioners need to be made aware of the value of the resources available and working with the library staff enable easy access to those resources for their learners.

Some examples.

  • For every course on the VLE each team will identify at least one e-book from the e-Library (currently 3,000 e-books in the collection) and link to that book from the course. The team will promote the e-book to their learners. Usage stats will be taken at the end of the academic year.
  • All practitioners to attend a session on the online resources available to the college, all practitioners to choose at least one online resource that they will use with their learners on one of their courses.
  • Learners are recorded about how an online resource helped them understand a topic better, or complete an assignment successfully.

We are so lucky now to have such a huge range of online resources and content, to ignore it is missing a trick. But getting both learners and practitioners to take advantage of them, is not just down to wishful thinking, but requires communication and planning.

Using the Activboard more

Last week I wrote about using the VLE more. This post is about using the Activboard more. Activboard is Promethean’s brandname for their Interactive Whiteboards.

Probably better to read this post and the VLE post in conjunction with my blog post on cheese.

Using the VLE and the Activboard is one part of a wider strategy in increasing holistically the use of ILT in our college to enhance and enrich the learning process. It isn’t nor has it been about using JUST the VLE for web based learning, or ONLY using the Activboard in the classroom, it’s about using the available technology to solve problems and improve the learning experience. We have Activboards in every teaching space, this benefits the learners by providing a computer and internet access to every teaching space. They also ensure that every teaching space has a projector, speakers and a printer.

Yes there are issues and problems with IWBs however like any learning technology there are things they do well and things they do badly. Do they reinforce a particular style of teaching, well only if you let them… Bad teaching is still bad teaching regardless of the technology available and other systems and protocols should be place to improve the quality of learning. No one is forced to use the Activboard for every session, but practitioners have the choice.

At a very simple level many practitioners will use the Activboard in the same way they would use a traditional whiteboard, by using it to take notes, write responses, or provide guidance to learners on the subject and topics in that lesson. The Activboard has many advantages over whiteboards with the main ones been: it has multiple pages; it can be prepared in advance; it can be saved.

The multiple page feature of the Activboad allows all the text and commentary from the lesson to be available throughout the lesson. With a traditional whiteboard you would rub off what had been done and start afresh. With the multiple page functionality it is possible at the end of the lesson to review every Activboard page that has been done.

The multiple page feature also means that it is possible to prepare Activboard pages in advance. Yes you can use Powerpoint or another presentation tool, but sometimes it is easier or makes more sense to use the Activboard.

The fact you can save Activboard sessions means that this takes the use of a whiteboard to a new level. Practitioners will be able to reuse sessions in different lessons (either with different groups or the following year). Sessions can be printed, they can be given to a learner or placed in a teaching file. If practitioners save, print and export their Activboard sessions, both learners and practitioners can access these sessions at a time and place to suit them. By exporting sessions as PDF, these resources can then be e-mailed or placed on the VLE for remote access.

In my mind these “basic” functions of the Activboard should be seen to be normal usage by practitioners.

So the next question is how do practitioners take their use of the Activboard to the next level?

You could use the process I outlined in my article using the VLE more. Get the practitioners from a particular curriculum area to attend a session on the different capabilities of the Activboard. This session should be not too long, a hour is certainly practical. Within the session various functions of the Activboard are demonstrated and a short explanation on a learning or administrative problem that it solves.

All the practitioners then choose at least one function that they will use with their learners on one of their courses. This could be using the Activexpression learner response systems, using audio and video within the Activboard, drag and drop, etc… There are lots of ideas on Promethean Planet.

They will then report back (say in a team meeting) on the impact and outcome of using this functionality, before choosing the next feature, and so on… They may want to involve their learners in this process too.

This is about moving the responsibility of using the Activboard to the practitioner, and their continuing personal development in the use of the Activboard to enhance and enrich the quality of the learning experience.

Using the VLE more

The problem with the VLE sometimes is that practitioners often use it merely as a glorified content repository and not much more.

So how do you get practitioners to use the VLE more?

Well you could use a model approach or grade use of of the VLE.

These can take time, and time is sometimes not always available.

One way is to get the practitioners from a particular curriculum area to attend a session on features of the VLE. This session should be not too long, a hour is certainly practical. Within the session various functions of the VLE are demonstrated and a short explanation on a learning or administrative problem that it solves.

All the practitioners then choose at least one feature that they will use with their learners on one of their courses. Features could include voting, feedback, discussion forum, photo gallery.

They will then report back (say in a team meeting) on the impact and outcome of using this functionality, before choosing the next feature, and so on… They may want to involve their learners in this process too.

This is about moving the responsibility of using the VLE to the practitioner, and their continuing personal development in the use of the VLE.

Using e-resources to improve the quality of achievement

In order to improve the quality of achievement, there are various strategies that practitioners can use. One key thing to note is that there is only so much that practitioners can do and learners need to take responsibility for doing more than is just provided to ensure that they get the best possible grade they can.

I know some learners who “believe” that all they need to pass their course is the core text book and the handouts they get in class.

Well, yes in a way that’s right, but they will only pass.

To get that grade A or a distinction they are going to have to do a little bit more. Though some learners will know this, many will not. It is therefore useful for practitioners to support learners to ensure that they have the opportunity and the access to wider range of resources.

Of course practitioners don’t always have the time for this (as they do work hard doing a lot already for the learners) however learning technologies and digital resources can often provide that extra sparkle to allow learners to improve the quality of their work and assessments.

By providing links to e-books, e-journals, relevant e-resources will be placed on the VLE. This will allow students who wish to improve the quality of their assessed work, access to a wider range of resources and links. Learners can then access these links at a time and place that suits them, whether that be at home, at work, whilst drinking coffee or even in college.

Now just providing the links isn’t enough, you also need to ensure that learners are signposted the resources in lessons.

Before any practitioners say “I would like to do that, but I don’t have the time” I have two things to say.

Firstly if quality of achievement is an issue for a particular curriculum area than using resources ie spending time on doing this should be a priority over doing other stuff. It’s not about time, it’s about priorities.

Secondly within most institutions are a bunch of information professionals who are really good at curating and collating these very resources for you. They often live in the library and from experience not only will they know what resources are available for any particular curriculum area, they may also curate and collate them for you.

There are many ways in which digital and online resources can be used to enhance and enrich learning. Using access to a wider range of resources to improve the quality of achievement can be an easy start to solving this issue.