Changing the Learning Landscape – Exeter

Today I attended a Changing the Learning Landscape meeting at the University of Exeter in which staff there, and invited speakers, shared where they are now with digital literacies.

You sometimes go to dissemination events and wonder why you bothered as you hear the blindingly obvious or information so specific to the institution that you cannot use it,  This wasn’t one of those.  It was a very useful day with a good variety of sessions and good opportunities to share stories with other delegates.

The following is not meant to be a comprehensive report but what I took away from the day based on brief notes and my tweets (#cll1213).

If I have misrepresented anything anyone said or got the wrong end of the stick about anything, please let me know –
bob.ridge-stearn[at] and I will put things right asap.


Prof Janice Kay (Deputy VC at Exeter) provided the welcoming words and said a number of things that piqued my interest:

  1. Moocs – to create a cultural shift in how staff view teaching.
    One reason Exeter wants to explore moocs is “to create a cultural shift in how staff view teaching”,  She didn’t expand on Exeter’s plans for MOOCs but I must try and find out what approach they plan to adopt. One of things that interests me is how they will pay staff to develop and run the MOOCs and how the experience of doing so will positively affect teaching.
  2. Moocs – test beds.
    She also said that MOOCs can be used as “test beds”.  Is the thinking that the students haven’t paid so you can play about with the delivery?  I think  you have to be slightly careful with your reputation. You could argue that you should experiment with your own students before offering an open course to the world.  However, it is true that MOOCs are in their infancy and each new MOOC is, in a way, an experiment. So I guess if you’re not running regular online courses you could use your MOOC experience to inform your regular teaching.  However, if you’re running online courses these too can (and should) also be innovative.
  3. BYODs  (Bring Your Own Devices)
    The average number of internet-connected devices per student in the lecture 
    theatre is 3.
    I was talking about this statistic with other delegates later in the day and we could not agree whether ‘3’ referred to the number of devices owned or the number of devices taken into a lecture theatre.  Since no one around my table had more than two devices on them, we thought it was probably ‘owner’. However, none of us had a laptop with us and maybe students had a phone, tablet and laptop??  No, seams unlikely.
  4. When are they used?
    The busiest time on the Exeter network is 3pm.

Staff Professional Development

CLL is a HEFCE-funded partnership between the Association for Learning Technology, the Higher Education Academy, JISC, the National Union of Students and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Today’s event was organised by the HEA and SEDA (Staff & Educational Development Association and Liz Shrives of  SEDA reminded us that SEDA is integral to developing staff digital literacies.  So many agencies!

High Tech Rooms.

people using surface tables

Matt Newcombe (my opposite number at Exeter) then showed us a room with ten surface boards and ten wall screens.  This was timely for me since only yesterday I was talking with colleagues at my institution about how to promote the use of our own ‘high tech’ room.

people using surface tables

I was a little sceptical about the surface boards at first but can see that if you can afford them and have the space they can provide interesting learning opportunities that would be difficult to provide in another way.  All such opportunities would have student collaboration as the key objective since they are all about groups of students working together on a single huge interactive screen.

We did a couple of tasks to try them. One was to order five pictures of educationalists chronologically.  Working on the board did get us all (6 people to a table) talking about the educationalists and debating how to order them. However, a cynic would say that you could have printed the pics on A4 paper and had us move the pieces of paper about. But let’s not go there, I did like the boards and can see that they could enhance the learning experience and Matt provided us with a useful booklet called Using the Surface Tables, which shows how they have been used in various disciplines and has suggestions as to how others can use them.  This is available under Creative Commons licence but my very quick search did not discover a soft copy on the web (?).

Other observations from being in this room.

  1. There was a lot of refection on the wall screens.
  2. The screen directly ahead of me was too far away to read the words on PowerPoint presentations so I had to crane my neck to see the screen up high very close to me.  It seems churlish to mention this as there were ten screens in the room. However, I could only see three and only read words on one and that entailed me sitting in an uncomfortable position.  I think that if you knew you were presenting in this room you might want to design you slides to suit the size of the wall displays. It’s not the same as projecting onto a large screen at the front.  Let’s not be negative – the advantages were that people sitting around tables (and consequently not sitting facing the front) could see a screen without  moving their chairs. Also, when each table was working, we could see each other’s screens (not sure if that was beneficial really).
  3. The surface tables are the size of pool tables but unlike a pool table are approached from only one size.  OK certain activities may allow people to work on all four sides but not most of the ones we did and what happened was that everyone gathered on one side and both ends.
  4. It was difficult to use the virtual keyboard on the screens.
  5. People (we) used our own devices in conjunction with the surface board.
  6. What will I take away? I’ll make a booklet like Using the Surface Tables for our staff to use our ‘hi tech’ room.  The issue of what can be done in our room came up yesterday and this will be useful

reflection on a wall mounted screen

Digital Connectiveness – Searching – Video Conferences.

Sue Beckingham from Sheffield Hallam University talked about weak and strong connections between people and the advantages of making connections and how using social media can help us make connections.

She also talked about searching the web, issues with Google Search, Filter Bubbles and searching using social media (e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, Diigo, Delicious, etc etc).

It reminded us that these are issues we need to help our students with and again I think this has to be embedded in the curriculum  Digital Literacy is far too big to be covered in ‘extra’ sessions run by the e-learning team or the library.

Sue also mentioned that students need to practise taking part in video conferences.  I hadn’t thought of this before but do accept that it might be a skill we should help them with.  Another part of being digitally literate.

Techdis and Xerte.

Terry McAnadrew was next up talking about accessibility and Xerte. I’ve heard Terry a few times before and have used and provided training on Xerte Online Toolkits.  His session reminded me that I should actively promote it. I’ve introduced it but not pushed it. This must be the next step.

Terry also reminded me that XOT can be used by students. We tend to think of it as a tutor’s tool but students too can benefit from producing accessible interactive learning objects.  This chimes with what Jessica Poettcker (NUS) said later in the day – that students want to produce rich multimedia materials.

Students as Change Agents.

Liz Dunne  and Charlie Leyland then led a session about getting students to effect change n the digital literacy field.  The session involved some group work and brainstorming and I’ve brought away two good ideas –

  1. Student Action is better that Student Voice.  We spend a lot of time talking about and try to hear the student voice. What is more effective is creating an environment where students act.
  2. Students are over-surveyed but we can collect useful data about what devices they bring to uni at registration.  I’ll definitely organise this.

Other odds and sods…


Exeter issued 4000 audience response handsets (clickers) to Business School in 2009/10 and this has continued for all first years ever since.  I bought 80 clickers but they aren;t used much.  Should I buy more?  My neighbour in that session whispered – ‘Check out Socrative‘. Apparently it’s an alternative that uses students’ own devices.  (The reason why this was mentioned was in connection with student engagement.)

I’m afraid I missed the final session as I had a three hour journey home. and wanted to miss the rush hour out of Exeter. Hope someone else has blogged about it.

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