On 27 April the HANDSON Toolkit was presented in Scotland, at the University of Glasgow. Sharp at 2 pm teachers and trainers from English for Academic Study Unit, School of Modern Languages and Cultures as well as Glasgow International College plus a few more colleagues from the University Learning and Teaching Unit gathered for the two-hour introduction to the learning design framework and how it can be used to help integrate technology into teaching and training practices.
How did it go?
The workshop was led by me, Ania Rolinska – a facilitator of the HO MOOC 3 and the workshop organiser – as well as Muriel Garreta (HO Project coordinator), and the support of Israel Conejero (HO Project Manager). After brief introductions and explaining the purpose of the gathering, we plunged into the fast-paced series of activities. Despite the cold weather outside, it soon became very hot in the room due to the frenetic collaboration and discussions so we had to open the door to let some air in to cool us down. The participants seemed very engaged with the activities and found it easy to exchange information with each other.
They soon created their personas and some of the taglines visualising the prototypical learner resonated with my own experience of teaching overseas students wanting to study at a British university, for example their interest in scores and grades, getting the degree, finding a job and a general focus on the end result rather than engagement with the learning processes. Working with such students comes with its own unique challenges and was well articulated in the constraints the participants have to work within on a daily basis, lack of time, immense pressure, intensive nature of courses, increased paperwork in form of reports, high marking load, to name the few.
It is really difficult to cater to students’ individual learning needs in such a context. But this makes the learning design framework with its focus on the learner and environmental factors a potentially useful model to follow when trying to embrace technology. As mentioned before, the participants did not experience many problems framing and reframing their educational challenge, identifying learners’ needs and objectives of their activities. Equally, sharing ideas with peers was easy, probably because language teachers are well versed in using communicative and collaborative teaching/training approaches.
Nevertheless, when it came to pulling all the information together during the final activity of demonstrating the prototypes to peers with the view to receiving feedback, it turned out the output of the previous discussions was often too general and the educational challenge was not sufficiently specific. Therefore selecting appropriate technological tools proved problematic and on occasion even impossible. It was clear that the participants who’d previously used technology in their practices found the process less daunting while the teachers who for various reasons were less familiar with technology encountered more problems.
The feedback was positive as shown in the post-it notes left by the participants:
Once the workshop finished, I was left with an impression that perhaps some of the energy and enthusiasm during the workshop had not been fully harnessed. While reflecting on the workshop, I thought of it from the learning design perspective. Reconceptualising it as a prototype being put to test helped me decide what could be done differently next time.
What could be done differently
It is important to know your participants so perhaps it would be useful to send out the pre-workshop survey prior to the workshop. We could learn more about who they are and what particular needs they have when it comes to learning about ICT integration. This would also help us create a more effective list of tools that the participants are likely to apply in their contexts. Getting in touch with the participants in advance could also be the right time to ask them to think of the challenge and prompt them to consider the application of technology, even if only in very loose terms.
It is important to know about the participants’ motivations and how they align with the workshop aims. I think that the name of the toolkit – Hands on ICT – may inadvertently lead prospective participants to believe that familiarization with tools is the aim of the workshop. While it is one of the subsidiary aims, the main purpose is to see the learning design framework in action. Technology tools come into this at a later stage as a response to the problems and challenges rather than agents driving the change.
Having said that, with participants with various levels of expertise in technology integration, there must be time to consider a set of potential tools and perhaps let them exchange the experiences. This could be time to informally learn from each other of different applications and tools. Only after this exchange, would the participants be able to make more informed decisions as to the selection of tools. This would lead to a better designed prototype and more constructive peer feedback. While preparing the list of tools, it may be useful to link their common uses with the particular types of objectives to give a better overview of what is useful for what activities. There are various models available online mapping out Web 2.0 tools within Bloom’s taxonomy for example. The models refer to education in general so not all of them are applicable to academic contexts, specifically academic study skills, which makes me want to design a collection of tools that caters for needs of international students studying at a British university.
Lastly, I thought of ways to ensure the participants were on track. I think models are not enough and there needs to be time for showcasing the subsequent versions of prototypes to the whole group. This would make the workshop slightly longer (unless timings of individual activities are slightly shortened) but would provide the participants and facilitators with reassurance that things were progressing according to the plan. The question also arises how technology could be integrated into the workshop to help the participants to see some tools in action. After all, adult learners often learn by experience. Could the personas for example be shared via a Padlet space? Could a Google Doc be used to draw up a list of tools used by the participants? Could online polls be used for checking out the participants motivations and expectations prior to the workshop?
Follow-up – Resources for the Participants
Since the discussion of the tools was minimal during the workshop, here are some extra resources to help the participants from Glasgow (and maybe elsewhere).
Since both institutions, University of Glasgow and Glasgow International College use Moodle, this colour-coded guide to Moodle activities is particularly useful.
It can also be accessed as an interactive tutorial which helps to make an informed decision which Moodle tool lends itself best to what you want your learners to do.
As to the Web 2.0 tools we shared a worksheet with a number of them bundled into categories like ‘searching’, ‘storing’ or ‘creating’. To help the participants to evaluate the usefulness of the tools and applicability to their own context, I turned the worksheet into an interactive one which provides more info about each tool.
Hope this provides a useful and welcome follow-up on the workshop. The participants are welcome to contact me for further information and we are also waiting for their activities – more information here.