5 May 2017

Learning, Teaching and Student Experience (LTSE) conference - Review



Guest post by Sarah-Anne Kennedy, Dublin Institute of Technology. Sarah-Anne holds a BA (Hons) from the National University of Ireland Maynooth (MU) in English and History and a Masters of Library and Information Science from University College Dublin (UCD). She has been with the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) since 2006 and is currently supporting the College of Business, the School of Media and the School of Law. Sarah is interested in engaging and supporting students through blended learning and looking at new ways of bringing the Library to the student.



The 6th annual Learning, Teaching and Student Experience (LTSE) conference took place in Bristol, the UK on the 25-26th April. The conference is organised by the Chartered Association of Business Schools who are also based and operate across the UK acting as the “voice of the UK’s business and management education sector”. This conference offered a great opportunity to learn how our academic peers in the UK are engaging with students. It also offered an opportunity for me to learn what the similarities and differences are between the Irish and UK higher education landscape.


      

I had an opportunity to present a poster on ‘Bringing the Library to the Student using an Online Marketing Tool’. (see images attached) So, with my poster in hand, I travelled to Bristol for the day to attend day two of the conference.





The opening session, by keynote speaker Phil Race, set the tone for the day and was one of the most interactive, engaging and funniest keynotes I have ever attended. Phil’s biography is distinguished and long but he introduced himself as an author, scientist and educational developer.

Phil’s keynote focused on Making Learning Happen. He advised on not focusing on old or traditional methods of teaching but encouraging new ways to teach in the classroom or lecture hall. He advised us not to exclude mobile phones and laptops from the classroom. However, he reminded us that in the exam hall students are on their own, with no internet access (for the time being anyway) so we have to teach them to stand on their own and be confident in their learning. Phil does not support the idea of learning styles, however he agrees that one size of assessment does not fit all. So how do we tackle this? How do we get students to engage?

Phil argued that teaching and learning don't really work on paper alone or online alone. Students also want to see evidence. “What does a good assignment look like? What does a bad assignment look like?” Students also learn by doing so learners need to have room to make mistakes. We need to create a constructive environment for them to do this. Feelings are important so students need praise to gain confidence. Feedback needs to be timely and they need to see what’s in it for them. If they can see the benefit they will invest.
Phil presented us with five of the seven factors that underpin learning:
  • Learn by doing
  • Learn from feedback
  • Learn from wanting to learn
  • Learn from needing to learn.
  • Making sense –‘getting one’s head round it’

What are the remaining two factors? We ran out of time so you can visit Phil’s slides from the keynote to find out. Thus, Phil provided an opportunity for our own learning after the conference.

The conference offered a large range of themes which can be viewed in more detail here. Over the two days 80 plus sessions were delivered, each of which reflected one of the 13 conference themes. As you can imagine from that long list, it was difficult to choose which breakout sessions or workshops I wanted to attend. In the end, I decided to focus on the following themes: Employability, Employer Engagement and the Practice based Curriculum and Student Engagement.

Employability is well established in the UK and this was evident from the range of breakout sessions offered on this theme as well as the number of posters that included this topic in their content. The first breakout session (‘Supporting business schools to drive learning gain & employability’) outlined how in partnering with academic institutions, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) are tackling the notion of a student becoming an accidental manager for example. Engaging with future employers allows the institutions to enrich the curriculum. Master classes are offered to students online from leaders of industry. Mentoring programmes allow students to build relationships with professionals. CMI offers free employability support to students upon graduation and they are aligning their partnership to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The second breakout session (‘User experience (UX) design and employer involvement that improves student engagement’) also looked at employability. The University of East London (UEL) have partnered with Pearson to develop an online platform called ‘Your Way’. This partnership allows UEL to offer a sophisticated online platform that provides students with an opportunity for self-directed learning. Competencies are developed with employers. Students choose their competencies based on their needs, which in turn allows for a personalised journey.

It was evident from the sessions that partnering with employers had allowed the institutions to provide sophisticated and student-centred online spaces to support employability and teaching and learning. Employability, in its current UK state is new to Ireland. DIT Library Services recently collaborated with our Career Development Centre in developing Job Space. The Library’s contribution is showing students how they can transfer their existing IL skills to research companies and potential employers. In turn giving them the edge over other candidates who may not have these skills or resources. Is there scope for growth in this area in Ireland? I left the sessions wondering would partnering with industry leaders encourage our own students to engage with IL? Would master classes delivered by industry leaders and professionals allow students to see the importance of IL in their learning journey?

The third breakout session (‘‘Student engagement: active learners through the co-creation of content’) looked at how the teacher can become the facilitator of student learning. Students are provided with the freedom to explore materials independently. While it was agreed that not all students like this degree of freedom or lack of defined structure, in the end students could see the value of the process. Their learning wasn’t just about the end result but the learning process. The benefits included job satisfaction for teachers, making students more responsible for their own learning and seeing students learning and not just attending. This type of learning environment was offered to postgraduate students with an average age of 30. I struggled to see how it could work with our undergraduate students or indeed international students where rote or directed learning is the norm in their home country.

The fourth breakout session (‘How can we integrate students’ use of mobile phones and interactive technology within the lecture lesson plan in order to improve engagement?’) tackled the frustrating issue of the ‘distracted generation’. Phones are in the classroom so instead of asking for them to be put away we should harness mobile technology. Some of the technology mentioned was nothing new to me, Socrative, Office 365, Pole Everywhere, Twitter. However, it was interesting to learn how students were enthusiastic about the use of phones in the classroom. They did not see it as an encroachment on their personal space and it allowed for the opportunity to mix things up and provide an interactive learning environment. One takeaway that I felt was important was that by embracing technologies that are used in industry and using them in the classroom, students’ digital skills were developed and they could see the benefit in getting to grips with this technology in a safe environment.

The last session of the day was a panel discussion on Getting Published in Teaching and Learning. The panellists were experienced editors and authors with lots of practical advice to offer. Their tips included:

  • Never write anything without a publication aim in mind, be it slides, a presentation, a report etc.
  • Any publication is better than no publication so don’t be snobby or choosy
  • Collaboration can help
  • Getting published is hard so critique and support can be a motivator
  • Time can help improve your writing and knowledge
  • Don’t let inexperience deter you
  • Small scale evaluative case-studies are more likely to be published in Teaching and Learning journals
  • Hot topics are sometimes helpful in getting you published but is this the right way to approach it? Look at the trajectory on previous conversations on a topic. The top themes can lead but ultimately you should go for what interests you.
  • Writing allows you to connect with your students -you can identify with their struggle to write their assignments.

My ultimate takeaway from the day was how employability is well established in the UK. While it does have its detractors, e.g. are we simply creating workers instead of learners? Is education simply to provide a workforce? It was impossible not to see how partnering with industry had allowed academic institutions to enhance their own curricula and teaching and learning resources. Is there scope for partnering with industry to demonstrate to students the importance of engaging with IL? Overall, I was pleased to see that our some of our teaching and learning practices and experiences weren’t too different from what was happening in the UK. My other take-away was that, to the best of my knowledge, I was the only Librarian with a poster presentation or even in attendance on the day. What does this say about our role in teaching and learning and how we, as a profession, see ourselves in the higher education landscape? Hopefully the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s funded project L2L: Librarians Learning to Support Learners Learning will work towards addressing this issue and show us that, as Librarians, we have a place at the teaching and learning table.

The full 2017 LTSE programme is available here


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