1c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies

In previous roles, I have been responsible for the specification, configuration and deployment of a variety of technologies including servers, clients and applications. I have trained in Mac OSX Server and Redhat Enterprise Linux and continually update my skillset by learning current tools used with DevOps such as Git, Docker and Vagrant.

Currently I support the deployment and development of our Moodle VLE including installing plugins, training staff in the use of the tools and documenting new features. My experience in IT infrastructure enables me to make recommendations to our IT service provider on the most appropriate way to host Moodle and ensure continuous integration through tools such as GitHub.

Cloud Infrastructure offers a range of possibilities that can ease the load on central IT teams and I am currently in the process of helping falmouth move it's portfolio of business systems to the cloud.

Through using development and test environments that mirror our live Moodle, I can install and update plugins from Moodle's plugin repository and check and resolve any conflicts or issues before they are deployed to live. The test environment also allows staff and students to try out new features before they are made generally available. A core team of staff and students help us test new plugins and features in place using real life scenarios.

Our training is now available on line as well as face to face and I have recently implemented Elevio to provide contextual help to users in the VLE. This means that users do not have to navigate out of the VLE to seek help and they can work through support information on the same screen.

In addition to supporting the VLE, I also help staff implement modern web technologies to support learning. Since 2014, I have worked with our BA Photography course to support use of Slack as a communication tool. A second year module requires students to undertake a client brief/placement and the member of staff concerned was looking for a way to maintain communication and collaboration whilst students are away from campus. Slack enables staff and students to make use of digital tools familiar to them and learn about a tool that specifically supports team communication for remote workers and small teams/projects and something they will likely be required to be familiar with in the future workplace.

Evidence

Reflection

I feel it is as important for those involved in Learning Technology to present an accessible and friendly face when deploying new technologies as it is to have a technical understanding of them. This can expedite adoption and mitigate anxiety around use. The TPACK model (Koehler & Mishra) suggests a complex relationship between pedagogy, technology and content that educators need to understand in order to enhance learning. The Learning Technologist exists at the centre of TPACK, but here the content knowledge is paradoxically the understanding of pedagogy and technology. I feel that this role will be increasingly valuable in future as University's look to establish more online/flexible learning opportunities.

With all new learning technology projects I like to have an open dialogue with staff and students and iterate and reflect upon them. As such, I use the blog to promote the project, talk about progress and how someone else might be able to repeat it. With Elevio we have the added benefit of in built analytics, which show that articles are being access from within the tool in addition to staff and students emailing and phoning for support. Where I have demonstrated the tool, it has been received well and I am looking at combing it with a tool such as Shepherd or the inbuilt Moodle tour, to introduce people to the various technologies and applications.

The Slack project has run for 3 years now and the tutor in particular enjoys the immediate contact with the students. Uptake from the students though has depended on how it is introduced to them. I found that if I talked about the technology, it was not situated within their practice, but by showing them examples of photographic communities that use the tool and (after the first trial) being able to show them how other groups used it.

Slack provides a useful visual means of identifying activity through the admin pages:

Most of the communication (63%) took place in private spaces. The majority of public communication came from the project team and where students were active was in response to open questions about use of technologies to support learning. Students occasionally posted updates regarding their work, but this wasn’t common. The storage space (0.2Gb) was used by the course team uploading presentations and client briefs; typically information that you might deliver via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The integrations were added by the course team and were not infact used, as files were uploaded directly to Slack.

Conversation in Slack was sporadic. Students identified in the beginning that much of their communication took place in other online spaces such as Facebook and Twitter, so it may have been that these spaces were used instead of the Slack community. Interestingly, open conversations are happening in other social media environments, but not in Slack where private messaging is dominant.

Anonymous feedback was solicited at the end of the module in the form of a Google Form in order to assess the usefulness of the trial. Noting that response rates toweb surveys are relatively low and a trust relationship needs to be developed to gain responseswe requested feedback to a simple 2 question form via the slack group. The form solicited a yes/no response and included a free text field for qualitative feedback.

Has the PHO260 Slack community been useful in supporting your learning throughout this module?*YesNoWhat worked well and what could be improved?*Was it introduced/faciltated well? What online tools would support your module/course community in the best way in the future?

The response rate was low, as expected and response to the tool was negative overall, with comments like:

“Not everybody signed up to it so we communicated by email instead which seemed to work fine.

“Our introduction presentation to Slack was very brief and rushed, this was probably the main reason that not everyone signed up to the service”

“I wouldn't really recommend the use of this again unless it was actually thoroughly thought out beforehand and both staff and students had adequate training and inductions.”

This feedback suggests that students still require “training and inductions” from course teams to support development of digital literacies, but that email is still a preferred method for communicating with tutors and each other within the learning environment.

Whilst this project was being undertaken, a cross-institutional research group also trialled the tool and anecdotally, feedback was generally positive. Over a the same timescale the conversational output is similar, but most takes place in public spaces:

There are many factors which may have had an influence on the success of this group over the other; A smaller number of students, 100% sign up, workshop rather than lecture to introduce the tool, but this group are continuing to use the tool for another cohort and as such this presents an opportunity for further research.

I have planned some next steps for the slack project:

  • Further research into additional Slack communities in place at the Institution.
  • Re-visit this project with findings and iterate a next stage with involvement from undergraduate students.
  • Distribute findings through ET workshops.

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