Tag Archives: symposium

No sudden moves…

JISC Experts Meeting, Bristol, March 2008

Four years ago, March 2008, I was at a JISC Experts Group meeting at The Watershed Media Centre in Bristol. There was a range of interesting sessions, one I remember well was a report from Bob Rotheram, National Teaching Fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University on the Sounds Good project.

This session will give members the experience of receiving audio feedback on assessed work, learn about the Sounds Good project funded under the JISC Users and Innovations Programme, and consider the potential of this approach.

This was a really interesting project that was looking at the use of audio feedback for student assessment. With the new technolgies that had become available, it was a lot easier to record feedback and importantly distribute it to the learners. Recording audio was something that happened a lot in Universities for interviews and research, but it was usually to tape (as in cassette tape, I am sure there are a few people out there reading this, thinking to themselves, what is this “tape” you are writing about, is it “sticky tape”?) The downside of recording cassette tape was that they weren’t free, and was a logistical hassle in not just recording, but also getting the tape to the learner. In the last ten years, we have seen portable audio recording move away from cassette tapes to mp3 recorders. It is very easy to make an audio recording, save as mp3 and send it by e-mail A lot of smartphones now have that capability built in, though I am sure a lot of people will use specialised mp3 audio recorder. This change in technology made the concept of providing learners with audio feedback, not just practical, but also easily achievable. Bob and the team at Leeds Metropolitan were as a result able to undertake a detailed study of the issues and implications of providing audio feedback.

I do remember been quite taken by the idea and when I was back in the office went over the idea with a few members of staff who went off and had a go themselves.

Bob published a final report in 2009. The students feedback said

Students were overwhelmingly positive about receiving audio feedback on their coursework. They frequently remarked approvingly about its personal nature and the detail provided, evidence that the lecturer had carefully considered their work. On the other hand, a small minority of students said they preferred written feedback; a few asked for both audio and written comments on their work.

The final report is well worth reading.

On Friday the 6th July, there was a Teaching and Learning conference at Plymouth University. I wasn’t there but quite a few people I follow on Twitter were.

Steve Wheeler asked the question.

Pete Yeomans responded


Remembering the Sounds Good project and a paper by JISC Digital Media I replied and posted the two links

That JISC Digital Media paper not only referenced the Sounds Good project, but also other similar work.

Chaing, Dr. I-Chant Andrea (2009). Which Audio Feedback is best?: Optimising audio feedback to maximise student and staff experience. Aberystwyth University

Bunyan, N, King, D & McGugan, S (2008). Does it make a difference? Replacing text with audio feedback. Practice and Evidence of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Vol. 3, No.2, pp. 125 – 163

Merry, S & Orsmond, P (2007) Students’ Attitudes to and Usage of Academic Feedback Provided Via Audio Files. Bioscience Education ejournal, Vol. 11.

I did then ask in the same tweet if we should…

…ignore all previous research?

What followed was a discussion on the value of that previous research. The question that was never answered, partly as I didn’t ask it, was having seen the outcomes of those audio feedback projects, were staff at Plymouth going to start using audio feedback, or were they going to do some more research on the effectiveness of audio feedback? I did feel from the responses I was getting that some people didn’t value the research and therefore were going to ignore it.

This happens all the time with regard to research in learning technologies and I am sure is pretty much the main reason change takes to long to happen and for various technologies to be adopted.

I would go further that mainstream adoption of learning technologies is rarely the result of what has been learnt through projects and research, but just “happens” slowly as teaching teams pick up technology from others who just so happen to use it, or they see others using it and decide to give it a go.

I would add that most decisions about learning technologies are probably made without any regard to the research about it, and is taken by IT directors or management teams based on what their competitors are doing or some article in a national newspaper. Okay that newspaper article may be based on a piece of research, but more likely was a PR piece from a technology company.

Think about all those technologies that are currently embedded into the institution, ignoring those that are used for administration, why were those technologies adopted and for what reason? Was the use of Powerpoint by teaching staff as a result of a range of research projects? On the contrary I would suspect very few staff have even looked at research into the use of Powerpoint, or presentation techniques, because if they had, we would never talk about “death by Powerpoint” and we would never complain about horrible slides at learning technology conferences.

So why don’t we trust what others have said and written about the use of learning technologies? Why do we think that our own institutions and learners are so different to others? Why don’t we learn from the research of others?

The end result, more often than not, is that there are no sudden moves to adopting new ways of working or embedding new technologies. Think about audio feedback, four years after the Sounds Good project, we are no closer to making use of the research, avoiding the lessons learnt from the project and wasting time and resources recreating or duplicating the work in our own pilots.

Are pilots just a way of playing with toys or are they an useful tool to support the embedding of new practices and technologies to enhance learning? If you are interested in discussing this further then I am running a symposium at ALT-C 2012 called Pilot Mentality. I have also written a previous post about running pilots.

ALT-C 2012 – Pilot Mentality

I am currently putting together an abstract for a debate at ALT-C on the value of pilots and projects. This is something I blogged about before.

The essence of the debate is spread across two viewpoints.

Pilots and projects represent value for money and are a valuable tool in evaluating, experimenting and reflecting on the use of new pedagogies and learning technologies. They are a key part of embedding organisational change.


Pilots and projects are an inefficient method for the mainstream adoption and embedding of new pedagogies and learning technologies. They are of little value to organisations and are often used as part of a cycle of funding rather than organisational change.

After posting my initial idea on the Twitter I think that this would be an interesting debate and builds on discussions in this area at previous conferences.

So where next?

Well we need a chair and a panel. I am hoping to speak about the inefficiencies of every organisation undertaking pilots and projects and the need to learn from the research and pilots undertaken elsewhere. I would like a varied panel, so if you are interested in taking part (and will be attending ALT-C 2012) let me know, either in the comments or learningstuff@me.com Please note that you either need to be working in an FE or HE institution, or for one of the sector agencies such as JISC, CETIS, HEA, LSIS, etc…

So are you interested?

It’s about the conversation…

So it was day three of Ascilite 2009 and this was a big day for me as I was delivering the final Keynote.

As I was still doing some final preparation I missed out on the first morning session. After that I attended the Thinking about a new LMS: Comparing different institutional models and approaches symposium

Selecting a new Learning Management System (LMS) is a strategic decision. The LMS is a key part of your institutional culture and shapes not only the student experience but also the future direction of your institution. This symposium describes the experience from the initial selection phase to early implementation of Moodle in four case studies: University of Waikato, University of Canberra, University of Canterbury and Massey University. The central question explored is: how do you successfully implement a new LMS within a large institution? In answering this question, the symposium compares and contrasts different models and approaches to successfully implementing such an important educational innovation and large-scale institutional change. The symposium shares lessons learnt from each university and offers participants an excellent opportunity to hear first hand about the benefits and challenges of adopting an open source LMS in the university sector.

This was an interesting presentation with some useful experiences that were passed on.The experiences by the four institutions had valuable lessons to pass onto any other institution contemplating changing their LMS or VLE.

However I do feel that it shouldn’t have been labelled as a symposium. Now though a symposium originally referred to a Greek drinking party, it is now used to describe an openly discursive format, rather than a lecture and question–answer format.

The LMS symposium was a series of four presentations with a few questions at the end. That is not a symposium, that is a series of four presentations with a few questions at the end…

It would appear that I am not alone in thinking that the symposium format needs to be rethought for academic conferences.

Sebastian Fiedler on his symposium said in his blog:

Altogether, our slightly eclectic individual statements/presentations apparently worked as a conversation opener. There was clearly interest in the over-arching theme and present ASCILITErs were eager to chime in an voice their opinions. However, when things just started to get somewhat interesting we already had to wrap up the session and disperse the convention. I found this extremely unfortunate.

He goes onto suggest:

I can easily imagine to simply start with a conversation among a group of informed peers on stage… that gradually draws in more and more participants. It would provide a hyperlink-cloud around the individual contributors to get an idea of where they are coming from, and possible end with recommendations on further readings… plus some form of mediated conversation and exchange beyond the event. No presentations, no lecture halls, no 60 min time-slots.

When I was planning the original VLE is Dead symposium at ALT-C 2009 one of the key issues for me was to ensure that the delegates attending the debate had ample time and opportunity for discussion.

So how did we do this?

Well the first thing we did was get the discussion going well before the conference. The speakers were posting to their blogs with their views. One result of this was that lots of people responded to those blog posts, which continued the debate.

At the symposium itself, we restricted the amount of time to each presenter to just five minutes; Josie in the chair was under strict instructions to stop us after five minutes. I also wanted the presenters not to use PowerPoint, though in the end some presenters did use them.

As a result we had a wonderful debate looking at a range of issues, allowing delegates an opportunity to ask questions, voice their opinions and join in.

Well our symposium worked very well, with a room for 80, we had 150 delegates in the room, and about 200 online. I recorded the debate and that video has now been seen (at the time of writing) by over 1500 people!

So what can we learn from this, especially those that are thinking of putting in symposium submissions and conference organisers.

Lesson 1: Less is more

If you can’t get your viewpoint across in five minutes then you just need to try harder. Likewise I wouldn’t have more than four presenters for an hour debate and no more than six for a ninety minute session. Don’t try and cover “everything” try to keep to a single or simple viewpoint.

Lesson 2: Early start

Start the debate early well before the conference. Get the presenters to blog their viewpoints. Encourage others to debate the issue using their blogs. Use Twitter to get the debate going.

Lesson 3: Amplify

If you can stream your symposium over the internet, use a service such as Ustream. Use Twitter to cover the debate and if possible have a Twitterfall type service showing during the debate.

So ask yourself the next time you consider running a symposium, are you interested in the debate or are you only interested in presenting your point of view.