In this section I’m exploring the various ways I’ve both engaged with learning and teaching over my career, but also encouraged greater engagement amongst others. I’ve broken it down into five categories:
- as a learning adviser
- providing guidance and leadership for institutions
- as a researcher
- as a writer and editor
- through my own professional development
7. Work as a learning development adviser A1, A2, A3, K1, K2, K6, V1)
Since 1999 I have been involved in delivering professional development programmes at Wolverhampton, Warwick, Coventry, Worcester and Oxford Brookes Universities, both running and supporting sessions in accredited courses and in non-accredited workshops and seminars. All of these workshops and seminars are based directly on my own research and result from analysis of effective support of the learner experience when using technology.
From 2003 to 2008 my work on the accredited and non-accredited courses involved being an adviser on the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic and Professional Practice, the University of Warwick’s initial entry programme for academic staff, and the Warwick Elearning Award, conducting teaching observations, assessing submitted work and contributing to the work of the teaching development team. From 2008 to 2011 I did similar work at Coventry University, and also taught on two workshops at the Middle East College of Information Technology, teaching about the use of technology in supporting learning.
The accredited programmes I have worked on have also included a large amount of mentoring. Lecturers are expected to conduct their own research into an innovation within their teaching, and when this has included a technological innovation, it has been my responsibility to support the lecturer through the process of developing their teaching innovation.
From 2014 to 2016 I supported the MA in Higher Education at the University of Worcester as a Sessional Lecturer. This continues my work as a creator of sessions to support TSL. Throughout my current and previous teaching I have used a variety of techniques. I particularly favour activities that encourage communication between learners. I frequently use video, images and sounds into my presentations, always making sure these are also distributed through the organisation’s VLE or SlideShare and give feedback and assess learners through reading their portfolios and upload comments to the institutions’ VLE. Co-teaching the sessions at Worcester has also provided me with an opportunity to innovate more practice, in that it allows me to identify issues that students raise during sessions, create or discover learning materials that can address those issues, and upload those materials to the VLE and so begin the process of informing and discussing those interests, enabling them to be immediately picked up and continued as soon as the face-to-face session ends.
Throughout all of my teaching I aim to create an atmosphere in which my learners can challenge, provide counter-viewpoints, provide their own experiences and knowledge as a basis for learning of others, and have a secure environment in which learners (and I) are permitted to make mistakes. Although this may appear easier to achieve as my learners are themselves teachers, technology is often an area in which many people experience anxiety, and so this can be sometimes be difficult.
8. Guidance and leadership within institutions (V4)
As an academic development adviser within institutions with a specific remit for TEL, this has frequently also meant that I have been asked to contribute to the university’s broader technological support for education. At Warwick University my expertise in virtual worlds led me to work with the university’s marketing department to consider the impact they may have on the university’s opportunities for reaching potential students. I also jointly led the analysis of the students’ experiences of the Learning Grid at the University of Warwick.
As a teaching development fellow at Coventry (2008-11) I also helped introduce learning innovations using technology, for example, using the creation of videos as a means to motivate students, implementing the use of audience response systems and running sessions for staff on virtual worlds. In another project (Digital Feedback, Coventry, 2008-09) I helped lecturers introduce audio podcasts as a feedback medium. The evaluation of this informed future use of these tools at Coventry.
I also helped structure the evaluation of these in order for the lecturing staff to identify the principles of best practice that could be derived from these activities and helped them to publish these results. Also at Coventry I piloted the use of online “module boxes”, collections of all of the lecture notes, module guides, assessments and marks within Moodle, and tested this with a small group of external examiners. From the evaluation of the experience from the lecturers’ and external examiners’ perspectives I created guidelines for the development of online module boxes for the Faculty of Engineering and Computing and this is now standard practice at the Faculty.
I have contributed to the e-learning strategies at Warwick, Coventry and Worcester Universities, with a particular focus on the need for staff to be trained in order to meet the enhanced requirements such strategies impose, and also to broaden the definition of TSL beyond that of simply uploading text to a VLE.
9. Development and support conducted as part of research projects (A4, K4, V3)
Throughout my career in HE I have been involved in 46 funded education projects, 37 of which are connected with TEL. My work consists primarily of managing the evaluation aspect of education research projects. In the projects I usually collaborate with a teacher or teachers in making a change to the learning activities that take place through incorporating new practice based on a technology. I then evaluate the impact on the learner experience identifying which practices are effective in improving the learner experience and which are not. This evaluation then informs the content of the teacher education sessions I then facilitate. Both research and teaching are therefore equally important; my research informs my teaching; my teaching gives purpose to the research. In parallel to this, I have always taken an action research approach to my professional practice and research, seeing every activity I undertake as an opportunity for personal development and learning about my own practice.
Technology can be used both to broaden the range of students who can access education, and to create new learning opportunities for those already in higher education. An example of the latter is the Streaming Theatres in a Virtual Classroom (Warwick, 2006-07) in which Warwick students worked with students from Amsterdam a project I co-wrote and for which I conducted the evaluation of the student experience. As a result of this project, online collaborative working is now embedded within the theatre and performance studies curriculum.
I have also co-ordinated the creation of educational materials for Gondar and Jimma Universities in Ethiopia, so that teachers there can have the materials they need for teaching their students, accompanied by teachers’ guides which contain examples of activities so that a more student-centred approach would be adopted (OU, 2014-15). As a follow-up to this work I travelled through Ethiopia interviewing personnel working in the health and education sectors to create a case study of Ethiopia’s progress towards reducing child and maternal and neonatal mortality. This case study complemented the activities in these modules. I also taught on one of the masters courses at Gondar University, bringing in some of the learner-centred approaches.
As part of a recently completed project (BIM-Hub, Loughborough, 2014-15) funded by the HEA, I evaluated the learners’ experiences of online collaboration. This also involved observation of recordings of the students’ behaviours in videoconferences, which elicited several new insights into how students learn to interact. I also used students’ personal reflections as data, and found that an effective evaluation strategy can also be a learning experience for the students. In this project, as in all others, I aim to help students feel a part of the research process, and that evaluation is also an opportunity for them to see the research process in action and to contribute to it. As part of the dissemination activities for this project I have held seminars and webinars passing on good practice in creating online collaborative design activities. Many delegates at those meetings have said that the work presented has informed their practice when developing similar programmes at their institutions .
10. Peer support through publication (A3)
Publishing is important to me too; the books I edit and write enable me to both reach a wider audience, but also to provide a platform to support colleagues to publish. I equally welcome contributions from authors who are not experienced as at publishing as those that are and then help them produce their chapters and to date have done so in four edited books (with three more scheduled for 2015) and two conference proceedings. When I was a chair of the DIVERSE conferences (2004 – 2008) I successfully aimed to draw in practitioners who had not presented previously, in order to broaden and democratise the academic process.
As a frequent journal reviewer for Interactive Learning Environments, Research in Learning Technology and Learning, Media and Technology my main aim is to encourage and support colleagues to publication, while maintaining a standard of research. Until its demise I was on the editorial board of Innovate: Journal of Online Education, a publication of Northeastern University. I have been on the conference review panels for DIVERSE, ReLIVE and VS-Games conferences and was an abstracts theme editor for ALT-C for two years. My work as a reviewer has been commented on as particularly helpful and informative by journal editors.
11. Role of my own education in supporting others (A5, K3, K6)
Teaching and research are intrinsically linked; if I’m to provide guidance in staff development, this has to be based on my own research. Conversely, if my research has no value in improving practice, then it has no clear and concrete purpose. The aim of the projects I work on is therefore to identify good practice in supporting the learner experience and from these develop guidance materials and literature to support professional development for teachers. This was also true for my PhD, which for its contribution, identified the ways in which a development of presence in a virtual world is an essential element of a successful learning experience. This formed the basis of many sessions held throughout the UK and other countries in Europe (detailed in the second case study), including keynotes at the SOLSTICE conference in 2011, and another at the Elearning conference organised by Brunel University in 2015.
As a result of my experience in virtual worlds, I was able to design introductory sessions for students and staff which has helped them learn the skills required to teach and learn in virtual worlds. Colleagues in Coventry (teaching engineering management, disaster management and modern languages), in York St John and in Warwick University have all gone on to use virtual worlds as a platform for education as a result of me introducing them to the platform and to its potential as a medium for experiential learning. Outside of the UK, colleagues in the University of Southern Maine, and Lillehammer College in Norway, have all gone on to use virtual worlds in their teaching, after being introduced to the platform by me. Other colleagues, in Bryn Mawr and in Iowa have developed their practice in virtual worlds, creating more effective learning activities, through collaboration with me, developing a better understanding of the role of presence and identity in supporting their learners. My thesis, and papers arising from my PhD are regularly accessed, and cited, and other researchers, have informed me that my model for analysis of virtual worlds has been used in their own research and publications.
In my work in virtual worlds I met strong resistance from some students to participation, which presented ethical difficult. I also identified a sizeable minority in most classes, approximately 1 in 4, who do not experience a feeling of embodiment online. The nature of this resistance became one of the foci of my thesis, and has gone on to inform others’ published work.
Although my PhD was the only occasion on which a university has provided me with the opportunity for continuous professional development, I have taken up several freely available CPD opportunities when they have arisen. I was a member of the first MOOC, Connectivism ’08 and attended an online course on Narrative Learning Environments run by the Universities of Twente and Genoa. I have drawn on both of these experiences in order to help others design online learning approaches.
12. Reflections on engagement (V2, V4)
The following are the agendas which I see as directly affecting the quality of teaching within HE and with which I have had an impact through my work.
I am active in the various networks in promoting a pragmatic and evidence-based approach to learning design and learner engagement. There is a tendency within education to look to technology to provide high volume and therefore cheap (and profitable) education. Recently I have developed in collaboration with a colleague an analysis of accreditation of Open Learning, which is informing institutions across Europe on what challenges are faced by education via MOOCs and Open Educational Resources and how these challenges can be met (Leicester, 2014). There is also a tendency within education to pick quick fixes to understanding learning and learners. Within discussions with peers I aim to provide a drive towards empiricism and clarity, believing it is better to have no answers to how people learn than the wrong ones.
I also try and provide a balance to the technological determinist view of technology that, if a technology is introduced, it will provide a solution. The essential aspect of any technology is how people make use of it. Alone it cannot change things, but it can provide an opportunity for learners and teachers to do things differently. It is the skills that need to be focused on, not the technology itself.
Thirdly I have been active in exploring the new ethics that web 2.0 technologies require of educators and learners. I have attended panels in the UK and Germany talking on this subject and have run workshops on what I see is an area overlooked by institutions but of great concern to educators, who feel exposed by a lack of guidance. A recent workshop for the HEA drew together many practitioners’ concerns regarding social media, a write-up of which was published in the ALT Newsletter, thereby giving these practitioners a platform to express their anxieties. A strong ethical approach underpins my work (stated on my professional webpage at https://markchilds.org/about/) which states my aim to create a safe and equitable learning and research environment in all my undertakings. Visual impairment is a particular issue with the majority of the technologies I use, and this continues to an area that is problematic to provide full and equal access to for these learners. However, disadvantages due to mobility and hearing impairments are frequently eliminated by the platforms chosen, if they are used correctly. Ensuring these disabilities are catered for is at the foreground of my teaching, for example insisting that voice communications are switched to text if hearing impaired people are present.
The above activities, sustained for nearly two decades, indicate the degree to which I am embedded within the TSL community and have contributed to it. There are many occasions in which I have influenced the practice of others, both formally in accredited courses, and through presentations and publications, and will continue to do so as Senior Fellow of the HEA.