What can we learn from Natalie & Reap and Bond & Goodchild?

The discussion around UCS about our teaching and learning spaces continues. Both in terms of thinking about the design to afford more interactive and effective face to face learning opportunities and the staff development progamme which is needed to enable teaching staff to take advantage of these learning spaces.

To help organise my thoughts in this area I have been mulling over two pieces of work:

  • Bond, E., & Goodchild, T., (2013) Paradigms, paradoxes and professionalism: An exploration of lecturers’ perspectives on technology enhanced learning, Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol 5, No 1, pp 72-83
  • Mechanical Enigineering, University of Strathclyde, R.E.A.P & N.A.T.A.L.I.E (http://cms.mecheng.strath.ac.uk/tandl.asp)

From my perspective UCS could learn much from N.A.T.A.L.I.E (and R.E.A.P) in terms of exploring the design of large teaching areas to afford more interaction and the implementation strategy for lecturers. For instance, an outcome of NATALIE was a purpose built room which enables more collaborative learning. The REAP project explored how lecturers could use teaching spaces and audience response systems to enable for inclusive and effective large group teaching designs.

Given we have smaller groups at UCS (compared to Mech Engineering at Uni of Strathcylde) it would be really interesting to explore how we could tweak our existing rooms to facilitate more technology rich collaboration. This could be achieved very simply through the use of write on walls, furniture to afford group work, multi projection points, audience response systems and easy ways for students / groups to share their work.

Interestingly, the work of Bond & Goodchild (2013) acts as a good sanity check for my natural enthusiasm for all things classroom tech. The study drew upon lecturer stories and identified some inhibiting factors for lecturers as they strive to meet the challenges technology bring. They suggest the need for a paradigm shift towards technology-enhanced learning being central to lecturers’ teaching practice (Bond & Goodchild, pg 81).

On reflection, given initial and ongoing teaching practice in HE is the responsibility of the individual institution, I’d suggest UCS need to take a hard look at what we provide for staff. I’d suggest at the moment our technology enhanced learning development programme is heavily focussed on the online learning environment, and we provide little around opportunities within classroom environments. The current strategic initiative around open and distance learning with no increase in resources is likely to continue the shift in focus and priorities away from classroom learning and technologies.

In addition to the need to re-align the focus of teams who are primarily concerned with enhancing effectiveness of face to face teaching, there also needs to be broader institutional change. Two things spring to mind:
create a focal point for the discussion around teaching spaces with the creation of a standing working group to discuss the provision of high quality, appropriate learning and teaching space at UCS. These are for both formal (teaching rooms) and informal (social learning) spaces. The group will act to canvas views on requirements for rooms, and make recommendations to appropriate groups and committees on room improvements, and staff development issues.
promote classroom teaching as a priority and implement a more joined up approach, under the auspices of the Office of Academic Development to providing focussed CPD for staff and course teams at UCS. These will need to include other UCS teams, in particular the PGCHEP (PGCERT) team.

Overall, UCS can learn much from NATALIE, and REAP. However, REAP was initial a development within one programme team in one School. I’d wonder about the scaleability, and sustainability of this type of initiative. Especially, given the findings from Bond & Goodchild (2013). On reflection, if UCS is keen to continue to enhance the Student Learning Experience we’d need to make significant changes in the way we help course teams develop appropriate learning models to connect their learning environment (physical and online). If this is not prioritised any investment in physical space is unlikely to become an agent of change for teaching and learning at UCS.

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