Category Archives: Academic Development

Curating and Communicating (part 2) The network in action


In the first of these 2 blog posts I outlined my practice in in terms of ‘e-routes to disseminating and sharing good practice among teaching staff’. I also mapped out 4 ‘zones’, each dominated by a particular group or type of activity (as shown on the poster I presented at the SEDA conference in November 2012). In this second post I will give an example of the ‘network’ in action, and consider how the ‘traffic’ is moving between the zones in practice. I will also discuss issues of engagement and evaluation.

Disseminating information and resources …

Imagine that I attend a workshop at a SEDA conference that refers to some online resources. During the session I useHootsuite to post toTwitter and ourFacebook page, including a link to the resources I have just learned about. Later I blog about the workshop forRUSTLE and add the link to the collection on Pinboard.

Who will see any of this? The initial tweet will have used the conference hashtag, so it will probably be seen by other Twitter users at the conference, as well as by those following the hashtag, and by my Twitter followers. The post on the Facebook page will reach the few faculty and student reps who have ‘liked’ the page.RSS feeds bring Twitter messages and the latest bookmarks into the VLE for PGCertHE participants. When a new link is added to Pinboard it automatically produces a Facebook post. It does this using the IFTTT service. The post joins the collection which can be accessed via thetag cloud on the website. The RUSTLE blog post will go to everyone who has signed up for an email alert or subscribed by RSS. The post will also be promoted via Twitter, Facebook,Googleplus andPinterest. Once a term, the blog posts are edited into a paper version that is distributed around campus.

… but who is listening?

So far so good. I have pushed a message, and links to resources, out there, through a variety of means. But how do I know if anyone read it, was interested, found it useful or used it? And how can I start to evaluate any impact on the teaching of those who read it, or more importantly on their students’ learning? Twitter followers, who are mostly external colleagues, might retweet the link, but I will not see any response from people reading the RSS feed. Members of my circles in Googleplus might +1, reshare and/or comment on the link to the blog post, but local colleagues rarely comment on the blog. The Pinboard bookmarks are a valuable ongoing resource, but don’t facilitate dynamic engagement.

Generally, traffic / information is moving smoothly between my Personal / Professional Learning Network (PLN) of academics, education developers, education technologists, institutions, organisations etc. (zone 1) and the online spaces that I curate, create and contribute to (zone 2). This much is under my direct control. But there are more blocks between the resulting online resources and face-to-face encounters with teaching staff (zone 3). Little social networking is being undertaken by teaching colleagues, so the impetus to move information falls on members of the TLDU. What of all this is translating into impact on student learning (zone 4) remains something of a mystery.

Is more engagement the answer?

Our aim is to improve student learning within the institution, through developing teaching practice, so it is important to engage faculty and staff locally. But what is meaningful engagement in this context? Are more website hits, blog or Twitter followers evidence of greater engagement with ideas or resources that could improve student learning? Should we be trying to move colleagues from reliance on interactions in the ‘face-to-face’ zone towards a network model that encourages them to use social media to develop their own PLN?

The current network of resources offers a continuum of engagement options, from the fully networked Twitter/Facebook follower and blog subscriber, via the reader of the online or paper version of RUSTLE, through to the ad-hoc user of the website or personal contact asking for advice on a particular topic. That seems to me to be a reasonable, even desirable situation. Almost anyone can make use of the material available at the point that they need it. Those who do may well be drawn into deeper engagement with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and development of digital literacy skills over time. But all of these require that they hear or read about the the material, and are moved to use it. This in turn requires that the material is in a form which they can, and want to, use.

How can we begin to evaluate the effectiveness of this approach?

The same challenges that present themselves when trying to evaluate the effectiveness of teacher development programmes (seeJulie Hall’s recent SEDA co-chair blog post) make it very difficult to postulate a clear causal link between online networks and resources aimed at teaching staff and enhancement of student learning. I continue to look for ways to uncover the impacts that these interventions might be having. Conversations in zone 3, face-to-face, may be the best that is currently possible. In the meantime I believe that some clear benefits are coming out of my practice in this area:

  •  Personal / professional learning from others in my field.
  • Development of digital skills which I can pass on.
  • Creation of opportunities for colleagues to engage in social media networks.
  • Creation and collection of accessible online resources.
  • Sharing good practice within the institution and across the sector.
  • Modelling use of a PLN for professional development.

Anne Hole, Education Developer, Teaching and Learning Development Unit, University of Sussex


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Curating and Communicating (part 1)

Mapping practice

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.

The zones

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 toTheseinclude 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


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