Just completed a presentation about the project at the institution’s annual Learning and Teaching conference. (The slides from this are available on slideshare.)
Turnout was great (a full room) and feedback was very positive – several comments about how interesting the project was, and how important it was to take a position that assumes and builds upon the diversity of student practice. I thought it was particularly interesting how the project’s work was seen as an important part of so many different peoples’ areas of practice. Discussion of PGCE and distance students was particularly lively.
At the end of the session I asked people to think about the students they work with, and how these issues might relate to work there – this sparked off some lively discussion in small groups. I tried to get some of this fed back in plenary, and managed to note the following before everyone rushed off to get lunch:
- That it was good to see the project’s purpose was not to classify whether people are competent or not, but to understand and support people in the alternative ways of negotiating what you have to deal with day-to-day.
- That this contributes in to ongoing dialogue with students about their academic literacies – it was described as intensifying such discussions “in quite a good way”.
- It is important to help teachers find ways to work that recognise this diversity of practice are so are more inclusive than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. (For example, how should tutors work with groups in classes where some people have connected digital devices and others don’t?)
- There was discussion about how hard it is to get students to collaborate online – they only do what’s compulsory, not what’s offered, but were able to engage when it was made compulsory. It was suggested that what teachers may need to do differently is not just expect use, but to do more to support this and raise expectations about digital participation.
- Students may face important issues decisions balancing having to pay for printing against how they might want to read.
- There were repeated requests to undertake similar work with staff – to understand the diversity of their practices and the challenges they face.
- Memoranda of Agreement and Memoranda of Understanding ask about resources in other institutions – as we use more digital resources, local institutions’ lack of resources may matter less. (Note: we did discuss the differences there may be between offering resources to students and them being able to use them successfully.)
Repeatedly, I was also asked whether we could explore whether these constraints and expectations identified amongst students were replicated for teaching and support staff. This was seen as a really important issue, for several reasons. Firstly, these issues have ramifications for students (e.g. the resources available in classrooms can limit what we are able to model to students during classes). Secondly, there was concern that decisions about infrastructure and IT provision are being made on the assumption that staff are homogeneous, with similar needs and patterns of work; it would be helpful to have evidence that demonstrates this isn’t the case. Thirdly, there are training and support issues that would be identified by doing this: if we have a better understanding of how staff work, we can work with them in more appropriate ways.
It may be worth discussing with the JISC whether any aspects of this could be taken up under the ‘institutional readiness for change’ work.