Falmouth in Focus – Professional Practice

In this series of articles we’ll be casting our gaze over some examples of practice currently being undertaken at Falmouth University. We work extensively with a variety of subjects and often find that the learning experiences are as diverse as those teaching on the courses.

This month we’re focusing on Professional Practice sessions, that run alongside or as part of undergraduate modules.


Mark Williams, Learning Technologist within Educational Technology discusses his involvement:

For the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity as the team’s Point Of Contact for the Falmouth School of Art and Academy of Music and Theatre Arts to work with students on our Fine Art, Theatre and Acting degrees on the theme of digital capabilities and building up an ecosystem of tools that support our professional practice.

The workshops cover aspects of digital identity, social media practice, horizon scanning and the intersection of art and technology and are aimed at students are who are considering their professional digital identities and creative outputs online.

For the Online Ecosystem workshop with Stage 3 students, I use a default session plan and presentation format which is updated for each session, and as part of open educational practice, everything is licensed through Creative Commons. I’ve recently added some contextual notes, so people can reuse/remix if they like. The sessions take direction from the students, so discussions relate to the subject area; especially those around target audiences and examples of current practice utilising technology.

Topical resources like the internet in real time help contextualise the session and provides an insight into the mass of creativity, content and data that we are sharing. Prior to the sessions students provide examples of social media and technology practice in their areas; such as Amanda Palmer’s work rethinking the relationship between artist and performer.

Depending on how long the session has been timetabled for, an optional task takes the form of planning and delivering a two minute Elevator Pitch on a new product that may or may not relate to the discipline. The focus here is on the ways in which technology can support promotion, communication and collaboration and the skills we might require in order to use it.

Feedback has been wholly positive. There exists a broad range of digital practice amongst students, particularly in the area of social media and these workshops have enabled those that are more experienced to support those that wish to know more. It is also an incredibly useful way to understand how we occupy the digital landscape; in the time since set up the workshops, mobile device ownership has increased from roughly 50-100% and technologies such as SnapChat stories and YikYak have emerged, facilitating new ways to broadcast and communicate information.

Falmouth in Focus: Creative Advertising

In this series of articles we’ll be casting our gaze over some examples of practice currently being undertaken at Falmouth University. We work extensively with a variety of subjects and often find that the learning experiences are as diverse as those teaching on the courses.

This month we’re focusing on Creative Advertising within the School of Communication Design and one of the first pure Creative Advertising undergraduate degrees in Europe.

Jono Wardle, Senior Lecturer in Creative Advertising, discusses his use of tools and technologies to support the student experience below, based on building a response to the Jisc Digital Benchmarking principle ‘use digital systems to build a sense of belonging’.

I am focusing on the ‘use digital systems to build a sense of belonging’ benchmark because I’ve seen how digital systems can sometimes isolate some students, for whatever reasons, and I believe we have managed to go someway to enhance our students’ sense of belonging (and overall student experience) by using the most appropriate digital platform for all students today – Facebook.

Five years ago I was frustrated that some students failed to pick up their emails regularly or that their email boxes were so so full they couldn’t access them. I knew that they used texts all the time so I tried SMS messaging but there were technical difficulties on site (lack of signal!) and I couldn’t send links very easily etc. Then I tried Facebook (FB). I have never used Facebook before but my colleague and I set up a course page and asked all the students to sign up to it. At first there were suspicions, as some institutions were actually using FB to spy on their absent students,  so we showed the students how to manage their privacy settings and vowed never to try to look at their own pages. Next we made FB student groups within the course and got our past graduates to join an alumni group as well.

Students and staff could post anything they wanted as long as it was course/subject related either on our wall or to their group. General questions from students ranging from “when’s the hand-in?” to “does anyone know who created the original Volkswagen campaign?” appeared on a daily basis. Students started to support each other, rather than going directly to tutors. The dissertation students started their own discussion group and  a social sub-group formed for organising ‘extra-curricular activities’. Staff could post links and important information, room changes could be shared instantaneously with targeted groups and individuals and the course began to run a lot, lot smoother. A real sense of community began to emerge, especially with alumni chipping in too.

I have learnt a lot from student postings when they find new innovative work online and share it with the cohort and we post work placement opportunities and competitions. Also, FB has been very useful on study trips for keeping in touch with each other real time via smart phones. In short, the course couldn’t run as well as it does without it. (100% student satisfaction last year.)

There has been a mixed response from members of academic staff on other courses but as far as I’m concerned if it works, it works. I think the institution feels uncomfortable about using FB, but to me it’s like feeling uncomfortable about using Youtube as a learning tool because of it’s association with the evils of big business or frivolous kitten videos.

Most importantly, it works for our students. I think the key to successfully using online ‘tools’ is following where the target market (students) goes rather than trying to impose methods/tools in an institutional way…

This is a really intriguing real world example of creating a sense of belonging through technology. Institutional technologies, don’t always support social learning and Facebook, particularly the groups functionality, seems to work really well. Involving students in the process, is important to the NUS and the HEA and is broadly a feature of ‘outstanding’ practice in the JISC/NUS Digital Benchmark tool. Engaging in relevant social web technologies in a professional manner is also an important skill for staff and students to develop.

The approach to learning technology is key here. You could just as easily be using Twitter, Slack, WordPress etc etc, but by working with students and iterating as you go along, you find the perfect middle ground.

A Lens on… Inclusivity

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.

This week is World Autism Awareness Week and in deference our lens shifts to Inclusivity and Inclusive Educational Practice. The effects of recent cuts to funding for Disabled Students (DSA) mean that institutions must re-appraise the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that the Equality Act (2010) requires to be be in place.

Inclusivity, by definition, means that everyone regardless of origin, background or ability is included in whatever activity it is that is being delivered. So, inclusive practice is about making sure that technology is used to create activities and materials that everyone can access and make use of. But it is also about using pedagogical techniques that ensure everyone can get involved and their contributions are valued equally, whilst making the most of individual strengths for the benefit of the whole group.

Inclusive practice within teaching may include providing online course content in a variety of formats and making this accessible on a variety of devices. The Open University have recently implemented a system to present VLE content in accessible formats and tools such as Gitbook facilitate publishing material in web, pdf and ebook formats. You might also find our post on re-designing learning content for online delivery useful in this regard.

Where large amounts of text are used, Educators might consider a screen capture using Snagit or an audio recording with Vocaroo. A transcript should also be provided and for video, services like Youtube and Vimeo provide automated closed captioning. For presentations, recording a Movenote to accompany the powerpoint will enable students to refer back to the lecture material and you might encourage your students to make use of tools like Cogi to record their own notes.

The JISC/NUS Digital Experience Benchmarking Tool provides examples of institutional inclusive practice that ranges from ‘developing to ‘outstanding’.

Key to an ‘outstanding’ institutional approach is to involve students with a diverse set of needs in developing the digital environment and that all technological investments consider the impact on access, inclusion and equality.

JISC have also published some helpful guides on getting started with accessibility and providing an inclusive HE experience. The inclusive HE would; ensure that lecture/seminar materials are available online prior to the lecture, provide an institutional means of lecture capture, support students in note taking and in their own lecture capture and provide policy on the creation of learning materials and accessibility standards.

Many universities have already made progress in promoting inclusion, Oxford Brooks, Plymouth University and the University of Sheffield are just some of the institutions who have provided guidance for staff to help develop better academic practice in this area.

At Falmouth, the team are working with our BA (Hons) Business Entrepreneurship staff and students to reimagine large text resources, traditionally given as core reading. Learners are co-creating video, audio and interactive images formats that make the learning more accessible and facilitate development of new skills in media production.

Accessibility is also a core consideration for Moodle, the software behind Falmouth’s Learning Space and the Moodle community publish information on how the platform meets particular global standards for access and inclusion. Birmingham City University have also added some guidelines for accessible Moodle courses.

If you are interested in developing your inclusive digital practice, please check out our good practice principles from this IDPD post and contact the team.

Further Reading

What equality law means for you as an education provider – further and higher education (2010) Equality and Human Rights Commission

Bhagat, D & O’Neill, P (2011) Inclusive Practices, Inclusive Pedagogies: Learning from Widening Participation Research in Art & Design Higher Education CHEAD/ Ukadia Croydon

Inclusive curriculum design in higher education (2011) – Higher Education Academy

Exemplars of inclusive digital practice from the JISC Digital Student Project (2015)

A Lens On… Digital Wellbeing

Digital Wellbeing
Image: CPD needs heirarchy by @simonrae

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and also at projects being undertaken within the sector.

The student experience is increasingly mediated through use of technology; timetabling systems, online learning, Student Information Systems, Customer Relationship Management software, mobile devices… all things that staff and students will need to engage with in one form or other to navigate their way through life at University. ‘Digital Wellbeing’ is concerned with exploring and improving these interactions in a personal and social context.

Social media tools are incredibly useful and popular in teaching and learning, but are often built around a Culture of Participation; the more ‘likes’ you get the more influential you are. This in turn exacerbates the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) – if you’re not connected then you’re not part of the crowd. Some technologies are designed to help us improve our wellbeing; running trackers, calorie counters, sleep timers all attempt to provide us with feedback based on quantifying our day to day activity, but do they in themselves enhance our wellbeing?

Technology proliferation and a participation culture within the HE sector, can lead to increasing anxiety amongst students and staff, so there is an increasing need for the individual and the institution to recognise and makes steps to mitigate this. JISC/NUS’s Student Experience Benchmarking Tool can be a great conversation starter in this area; note where you are on the scale of First Steps to Outstanding and plan to improve.

Digital Wellbeing Benchmark

Some courses at Falmouth University are addressing this head on by encouraging group discussion around stress and anxiety; there are various signs up inviting people to meditation groups and the University promote both internal wellbeing services and external Talking Therapies like BE|ME.
Wellbeing Services

A recent #LTHEChat that explored Digital Wellbeing asked participants to reflect on technology that enhanced their wellbeing, many focused on social connectivity that isn’t restricted by place/time and the ability to share. In thinking about how technology detracted from this, answers centred around not being able to ‘switch off’, being ‘all over the place’ and a saturation of ‘info’ and ‘spam’ that could be considered digital noise.

So how do we manage our digital wellbeing? Suggestions from the chat were to set time boundaries for checking social media, literally switch off devices and step outside the bubble of your own technology use. It is also important to encourage discussion and development of our digital capabilities and as JISC/NUS suggest, provide space for self-reflection.

Falmouth’s Student Union have identified ‘Mental Health Support’ in their Top10 issues for 2015/16 and have also established a ’Green Living’ project and ‘Digital Detox Series’. These events focus on removing oneself from the day to day technology and engage in outdoor making and horticultural activities as a means to improve wellbeing.

Digital Detox

The series was organised by a recent graduate who I had the opportunity to ask about the concept of Digital Wellbeing. He talked about access to the internet, movies and online games as “another layer of insulation from the outside world, a further excuse to stay indoors.” and “a constant stream of stimulation, rendering anything outside of a virtual world boring.” He acknowledged the benefits of online learning and video/audio chats, but said that above all the means of technology to play music was one thing they couldn’t be without.

I also talked to a member of academic staff, who saw the benefits of technology in making you feel connected and providing avenues of accessibility, which chimes with the #LTHEchat. She also mentioned the negative impacts that mobile technology can have on our physical health, such as carrying the items, using the items incorrectly and sharing workstations adding “Right now, my laptop is on my knee and I am looking down at the screen. That can lead to a form of whiplash but in slow motion – accreting over the years.”

As working online is such a part of our daily lives, we’re often using the internet as a distraction instead of taking time away from the screen. A common theme was that access to online stuff can “suck you in”, so techniques that break tasks up such as Pomodoro can be useful. Our staff member has introduced “an early morning switch off policy – going for a walk/run instead…I feel better for it”. They suggested that less or better use of email could aid wellbeing, but although this has been discussed over a number of years, it remains hard to implement.

It’s fantastic to see this concern being raised at national and institutional level and the JISC/NUS tool leaves us with an important consideration regarding implementation:

“Most of the ‘outstanding’ practices involve staff and students working in partnership. The partnership needs to be meaningful in order to work, which means that both groups must listen, recognise each others’ skills and resources, and be willing to compromise. “

A Lens on… Digital Literacy

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and also at projects being undertaken within the wider HE sector.Our previous articles have looked at Assessment, Feedback and Open Education.

The term ‘Digital Literacy’ has origins which date back to the 1960s as Doug Belshsaw notes in What is ‘Digital Literacy’? and encompasses comprehension and understanding around use of technologies. 

Henry Jenkins describes it as the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”. One of the best definitions in my opinion comes from Josie Fraser who describes it in terms of function and socio-cultural development:

Digital Literacy = digital tool knowledge + critical thinking + social engagement

Fraser’s work with the  DigiLit Leicester project presents an excellent framework of reference for educators in understanding how we support these literacies. It has led to the local council driving forward use of OER and giving express permission to schools and colleges to make use of open materials in the physical and virtual classroom.

From 2011-2013 Jisc ran a project around digital literacies, which built on a Digital Literacy framework developed by Beetham and Sharpe (2010) to describe 7 elements that combine to form our digital literacies (Fig.1). A further ongoing project looks at the digital capabilities our institutions need to scaffold the development of these literacies.

Figure 1 – Seven elements of digital literacies from the JISC Digital Literacy project.

Online, Mozilla continues to encourage people by using an experiential approach to learning, with Teach The Web and Code Club partners volunteering with community groups to teach coding to kids.

In Finland, digital literacies are embedded in the core curriculum and the recent House of Lords Digital Skills report urges Universities to ensure the digital competency of their graduates so that they have the necessary skills to thrive in the future workplace.

At Falmouth, the ET team organises a range of drop in events aimed at sharing practice, trying out new tools and discussing the ever evolving world of Educational Technology. Last year we ran a series of 10 workshops ranging in theme and included a mobile learning speed geek/picnic, where staff got to move around the room discussing ‘mobile first’ design approaches to learning and new apps and technologies in the mobile environment.

We’re always up for doing more of this kind of stuff and talking about developing student literacies within taught courses, so get in touch if you have any thoughts/ideas around the subject.