Last week we held the first meeting of this year of the Networked Learning Study. This study was started two years ago, to look at how students in different departments use technology for inquiry based learning. This year the study will include six departments. Our initial meeting flagged up not only strong differences in opinion amongst the participants, but interesting differences in practice between students in different departments.
We started by talking about how technology was used by students in our respective departments. I found it particularly interesting how some departments used MOLE simply as a content delivery system, whereas in others it was a place for students to discuss modules and to get help from each other on topics they’re studying (MOLE stands for “My Online Learning Environment”, the online course management software used by Sheffield Univeristy). On communications, we talked about the pros and cons of email communication versus Facebook. This lead on to discussion of the separation between uni work and social life in the use of networked technology.
A recurring point that came out of the discussion was a distinction of two varieties of IBL: a) individual research and b) collaboration and discussion. These are clearly very different activities and involve different patterns of use of technology.
Towards the end of the meeting we talked a little about the upcoming conference on Learners In the Co-Creation of Knowledge in Edinburgh (which I’ll be blogging about next week!). The NwL Study will hopefully turn into a good example of how students can participate in “serious” research in cooperation with academic staff. However, this concept itself instigated a lot of discussion, on the relationships and authority between staff and students, accreditation and evaluation, etc. This was great prep for me for the LICK conference, and no doubt will come up in future NwL meetings too!
As a Psychology undergraduate at the University of Sheffield, inquiry based learning is an absolutely essential part of the course. The most important job for the Psychology lecturers and tutors is to ensure that during the three-year course programme, students develop the ability to confidently research and challenge ideas in the field. From the start of level one when we are used to being spoon-fed information, to level three when we are expected to formulate our own idea for an extended essay and without the prompt of lecture notes, write extensively about our chosen topic, there is a long way for us students to come. It doesnâ€™t end there. By the end of level two we are expected to know which statistical tests should be used for certain experiments and how to implement this. This is a tall order. At level three, we must conduct an experiment as part of our dissertation and in my experience at least, the skills of inquiry that I learned in the previous two years have prepared me well for this task. Learning through inquiry is an integral part of University but at least in my experience, not so much at school or college. The idea is daunting when you are used to being spoon-fed information and expect to be told what the right answers are. In Psychology, there are very few indisputably â€˜rightâ€™ answers â€“ the way to proceed is to inquire and form some kind of logical conclusion that others may not agree with.
Inquiry-based modules and activities in my department really helped me to engage with the material and develop my research skills. The statistics module provided practical opportunities to learn how to use the different tests. The tutorials in the first year raised awareness of the problems with how psychology is portrayed in the media. In the first year, we held a conference of scientific papers and were expected to not only know the studies inside out, but to also be able to answer questions about it, posed to us by other students. This was an excellent opportunity for us to not only experience what it is like to be at a conference (which many of us who go on to do research, will attend) but realize that University isnâ€™t like college â€“ what you do here bears closer resemblance to the kinds of things you will be doing when you start work in the real world. It is not enough to read through your lecture notes; one of the skills I will need as a Psychologist is the ability to go beyond the basic information in front of me â€“ to inquire and to think critically. I am happy to say that I feel I have reached that target with confidence.
It is now October and the SAN is fully underway again, with everyone seeming to be very busy. The various working groups have all commenced meetings and welcomed new members and I think this year is going to be great.
I myself have been very busy working with Student AmbassadorsÂ Claire (Management) and Michaella (Geography) as we have been planning. organising and designing material for the Great Balloon Debate. We have posed the question to students ‘Who made you an inquiring learner?’ which is an interesting question and gives everyone something to really think about. I have heard whispers of people discussing this question, with examples ranging from teachers, to parents, to children to famous people! I am really excited to be part of this competition and I am really looking forward to judging all the entries with Claire and Michaella and hopefully some of the CILASS Academic Fellows in a few weeks time.
If you want to enter look at the Great Balloon Debate website
Entries must be submitted between the 22nd and 24th October to the CILASS office with an entry form and the winner will be annoucned on HALLOWEEN!!! Spooky….
Planning for the 3rd Staff Student Conference is also well underway and I am very excited for our next meeting. I don’t want to give too much away becuase I think the title and theme this year is going to be very very interesting, which I am sure will attract some even more interesting presentations, workshops and discussions around IBL.
We have had our first SAN meeting where we have an almost full network or 25 Student Ambassadors & myself, but since our last meeting, we now have another 2 Student Ambassadors and only a gap in two Student Ambassador positions – for school of Education and Landscape I believe – which is FANTASTIC! I hope we manage to get a full network going. Our next SAN meeting is next week and I can’t believe how time has flown since the last meeting, I am sure there will be plenty more to discuss and update various people with so hope to see all of you Student Ambassadors there.