This is the first of two blog posts based on a poster I presented at the SEDA conference in November 2012. This poster in turn originated from a request on the SEDA JISCmail list for colleagues to share what they were doing in terms of ‘e-routes to disseminating and sharing good practice among teaching staff’. I replied with a summary of what I was doing in the Teaching and Learning Development Unit (TLDU) at Sussex, and agreed to meet up to talk it through. Trying to explain the interconnected elements of our resources and communications began to make it a bit clearer to me how the different parts worked together (or not). But it still felt a bit like spaghetti. The conference poster and these blog posts are attempts to unravel it further.
When developing the poster, I began to think about which models / concepts might best explain this aspect of my practice. Obvious candidates were connectivism and communities of practice. But as I began to sketch out the network that I felt should represent my efforts in ‘curating and connecting’, it looked more like a series of connected zones. This in turn raised questions about the traffic moving between these zones. There are many ways in which notions of connectivism and communities of practice relate to and explain the e-routes to enhancing teaching practice that I am involved with. But I also need to think about challenges and evaluation – this is where images of zones and traffic can be helpful.
The imagery of ‘zones’ and ‘traffic’ is often one of restriction, barriers and gridlock (traffic lights, stop signs, bollards and traffic jams) as well as (hopefully) some organised movement. This made me question the openness of the resources that my activities aim to make available to colleagues. The internet has led to the production of a great wealth of resources. Social media have opened up many opportunities for sharing and developing those resources. However, the great variety of platforms, the number of resources, and more broadly the sheer scale of the www, all discourage many from engaging. It is important not to assume that, just because the materials and tools are available, they will be widely used. Monitoring and understanding the traffic across the zones is very difficult, but very important if we are to understand and prioritise what works.
I identified 4 zones. Each is dominated by a particular group or type of activity.
1. My Personal / Professional Learning Network (PLN). This includes academics, education developers, education technologists, institutions, organisations and educators of all sorts, My PLN is characterised by a dynamic exchange of ideas and resources using Twitter, Googleplus and blogs.
2. The online resources which I curate, create and contribute to. Theseinclude the TLDU website, the RUSTLE (Really Useful Stuff on Teaching, Learning Etc.) blog, a tag-cloud of bookmarks and a VLE course site for the PGCertHE as well as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts. The traffic in this zone is rather one-way, with the emphasis on publication of material but little in the way of networked activity. Few internal colleagues follow TLDU on Twitter, subscribe to or comment on the blog. It seems that this is part of a more general reluctance to engage with social media. It has become clear in conversation with colleagues that few use Twitter, follow blogs or engage with other social media as part of their teaching or research practice. Nonetheless we have been able to establish a good local readership for RUSTLE by sending out manual email alerts when blog posts are published and producing a termly paper round-up.
3. Face-to-face encounters with teaching staff. These happen at Teaching and Learning Development Events, in one-to-one advising relationships on the PGCertHE and when interviewing people for RUSTLE. This zone can be networked back to the resources by means including:
- referring to online material during workshops;
- drawing on the interests and concerns of PGCertHE participants to develop the collection of bookmarks;
- using the web pages and bookmarks as starting points for PGCertHE projects; and
- generally getting to know individuals and their challenges and interests so that specific resources can be developed and news can be forwarded on to them.
Materials produced for workshops also form the basis of Ideas and guidance web pages and some RUSTLE posts.
4. Students come at the end of this chain of interactions and resources, as well of course as providing its ultimate purpose. Faculty teaching and student learning may be largely invisible to education developers. However we do have opportunities to observe the teaching of PGCertHE participants across a wide range of disciplines and levels of experience as the course attracts large numbers of volunteers from amongst more experienced faculty. Also, we hear reports of teaching activity from RUSTLE interviewees and in teaching award nominations. However, the extent to which the networked resources contribute to, or influence teaching practice or student learning is very difficult to establish.
In the second post I will give an example of the ‘network’ in action; consider how the ‘traffic’ is moving between the zones in practice; and discuss issues of engagement and evaluation.
Anne Hole, Education Developer, Teaching and Learning Development Unit, University of Sussex