Lessons from DigiFest18

In 2002, my friends staged an intervention. A technology intervention. “It was time”, they said, time for me to give up my cherished VHS and embrace DVD–it was here to stay, they said. And it was.

In 2013, my friend, colleague and fellow theme leader, Dr. Shelley Thompson staged an intervention. A technology intervention. “It was time”, she said, time for me to give up my old school Nokia and join the world of Apple and embrace the smartphone–it was here to stay, she said.  And it was.

When I look back, I don’t recognise the luddite I used to be because my passion for technology has grown so much in the last few years. I initially tested the waters, first in my teaching, using a Facebook group here, integrating Twitter there. I trialled audio feedback for marking because I was just so bloody exhausted all the time and in the process discovered that it was the single best decision I ever made when it came to engaging with my students on feedback.

I started becoming more adventurous when it came to the VLE, first MyBU, and more recently Brightspace. I started using Panopto, then editing it, then jumped ship and started to make more engaging video, editing it, and throwing a bit of music behind it for good measure! I ran an international online conference last October, the first of its kind in the journalism field, started working with colleagues across BU in my position as theme leader for CEL… but none of that could have prepared me for today.

My first day attending JISC’s flagship annual conference, DigiFest.

I wasn’t at the ICC in Birmingham 10 mins before I sent out one of my first tweets of the day (see storify) to Head of CEL, Prof. Debbie Holley asking if we could buy a pair of Snapchat Spectacles (of course there’s money in the budget for that… right?!) I was inspired!

I could see myself (and others) providing live lectures on Snapchat, building on from the Snapchat assessment I set my students last year. How about a 360 degree video lecture in a large circular room? An immersive experience to be sure.  (Is it too late to request this for the new Poole Gateway Building??) How about turning your smartphone into a microscope for £20? I’m sure I can think of a few science students who might appreciate being able to study in their bedrooms, rather than having to come to campus to be in a lab! How about providing support to struggling students, those suffering with mental health challenges, with a robotic dog named Milo who made me felt quite loved and attended to during the 40 minutes I ‘played’ with him this afternoon (see video below!). Tomorrow I’m going to learn how to drive a tractor (simulated of course!), but why couldn’t we use such simulations to teach journalism students about war zones; put our law students in the courtroom, our psychology students in rooms with suicidal patients, our archaeology students on digs in Egypt? Technology does this now! It’s possible!

We do some great stuff here at BU around technology. If you were one of the 200+ people that attended CEL’s Technology Showcase at the end of January, you will have seen the amazing work that our colleagues in SciTech are doing with 3D printers; our colleagues in FMC with Microsoft’s HoloLens; CEL’s own Prof. Liz Falconer and her Virtual Avebury project on the Occulus Rift; our Learning Technologists with augmented reality and so much more. Yet, there is so much more we COULD be doing and we SHOULD be doing!!!

We need to really start thinking more critically about what role we want technology to play on BU’s campus over the next 10 years. I think we should be a fused digital campus, feeding into and out of BU2025. We have the building facilities now (and more to come!)–Fusion, Student’s Union Building, both spaces with collaborative learning environments.

As Prof. Debbie Holley stated in her inaugural lecture, ‘We are 20th century lecturers teaching 21st century students’. Our students don’t necessarily need to be on campus to learn from us anymore. The question was posed today at DigiFest, ‘Do we even need lecture theatres anymore?’ In fact, there is evidence that some universities are getting rid of lectures altogether. How would YOU feel about that? It might cause you some unease. But let me tell you a little secret… I haven’t given a lecture to my students in over three years. I don’t think we need them anymore (happy to debate this!), and I think there are better ways that we can engage our students than standing and talking at them for 2 hours.

With Brightspace we have an opportunity to think about learning in different ways–it doesn’t and shouldn’t become a repository for readings and lecture slides–it needs to be dynamic, and it CAN be dynamic–join me at our “Best of Brightspace” session on April 18th, 1-3pm, S102 to see how. Brightspace affords us the opportunity to engage with blended learning, flipped learning, all methods of teaching and learning that have an evidence base behind them that students DO learn and engage more with the material presented to them.

Are we going to have some challenges? Yes. Of course. We can probably name a half dozen things without even thinking. But that doesn’t mean that we get to give up. We need to be flexible, agile, and inspired.

When you’re inspired, anything is possible. And I’m inspired. My creative juices are flowing and I just keep thinking… what else is possible? What else could we do to prepare our students for the technological age that lies ahead? Recent stats by JISC show that by 2037, 90% of all jobs in the UK will require digital skills. We have a duty to our students to prepare them for those jobs. But we can also have a bit of fun in the process.

More tomorrow (and maybe a picture of me on a tractor!!)

 

 

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