Meet the M25 Learning Technology Group

This article provides an introduction to the M25 Learning Technology group which has recently become an ALT Regional Interest Group. It looks at how the group formed and the work of the group and then provides an overview of the July face-to-face meeting.

About the group
The M25 Learning Technology group is a regional forum for Learning Technology staff in London Higher Education (HE) institutions. It was established in 2001 as a follow on from the EFFECTS project which had committed to ‘try and develop local networks’ as part of its continuation work. The group has been  active over the years as can be seen from this timeline developed by Matt Lingard, City University. The London area is unique in that we have over 30 HE institutions within the region and we have found it beneficial to develop a community where we can share “good practice” as well as develop networks with similar institutions.

The remit of the group is to respond to the needs of the London HE Learning Technology community. The group currently has over 240 members with the vast majority being Learning Technologists or others in similar roles. We typically run three meetings a year, with an average attendance of 40 participants, where members of the group have the opportunity to present their work, share good practice as well as to discuss key issues affecting the community. As an informal community, it is a good place to sound out ideas which may result in conference papers, collaborative projects and other activities. We also facilitate an online community, currently run via Ning and JISCmail.

The group is overseen by the steering committee:

  • Julie Voce, Imperial College London
  • Eoin McDonnell, Queen Mary, University of London
  • Rose Heaney, University of East London
  • Colin Loughlin, Kingston University
  • Sonja Grussendorf, London School of Economics

If you are based in an HE institution in the London area, then please sign up to our Ning site and JISCmail list for information about future events.

July 2012 meeting
Our last meeting was held at Kingston University on 11th July with 33 participants in the room and a couple of online participants via Blackboard Collaborate. Unusually for this session we had a couple of presentations from institutions outside of the M25.

Keith Smyth from Edinburgh Napier provided an overview of the Write-TEL course – an online short course for educators, learning technologists and developers interested in writing papers in TEL. The course initially ran as a pilot resulting in every participant producing a publication. The course is now in its second iteration running with 40 participants from around the world including two participants from the M25-LT group. The course is free for participants and is structured around four online workshops. Due to high levels of demand for Write-TEL 2, a third iteration is expected to take place later this year/early next year.  Rose Heaney, University of East London, then offered a brief perspective on being a participant on Write-TEL, providing a personal insight – and further incentive to join the scheme.

Miles Berry from Roehampton University presented his work using blogs in Teacher Education. Having reviewed a number of systems for blogging, Drupal was chosen as the solution. The main goal was to inspire the students to reflect and share.  In the first year there were 615 users who posted over  one million words within 7289 posts within both individual and group blogs. The blogs were private within student groups, but they are now considering opening then up to the rest of a student cohort/public.

Allan Carrington and Ian Green from the University of Adelaide talked about the institution’s move to reinvigorate science teaching by providing a free iPad to each new full time enrolling Science student. Initially the iPads were incorporated to attract new students to the science department, however after their introduction lecturers began to find ways to incorporate them into teaching and learning.  The initiative began in 2010 and they now have two years of students using iPads and have eradicated hardcopy textbooks from their science programmes. They highlighted their concerns with rolling this out such as could the wireless network cope (it did), issues with Flash and connecting to VLE. In addition there was concern that teaching could not rely on 100% distribution of iPads as some courses had students from other disciplines. There was also a need to manage expectations of students who expected that the provision of iPads would mean there would be a new style of teaching, yet the lecturers were unsure about what to do with them

Phil George introduced us to Xerte toolkit as part of raising awareness. The tool is popular with a small group of people and pushed forward by enthusiasm. Phil explained that the purpose of Xerte was to allow users to create learning objects that could be integrated in a VLE or other platforms.  He felt that Xerte added interactive functionality that could never be created with software such as PowerPoint.  He mentioned that the next version of Xerte will output in HTML5, as currently it only exports in Flash.

Antony Coombs and Juliet Hinrichsen from the University of Greenwich presented their iPad Team working projects with discipline teams including Psychology, Environmental Science and PE teachers. These were 18 month projects with 3-5 people in each team. The goal of this project was to find new ways to facilitate collaborative group work and they felt that the iPads helped them to achieve this.

To finish, Sarah Sherman from Bloomsbury Colleges chaired a discussion on engaging reluctant academics, especially in encouraging them to attend training and awareness-raising sessions for the new VLE. Some members reported success from school- and department-led training , where sessions were tailored to subject area and only contained members from the school or department being trained.  In addition it was felt that having local Learning Technologists and/or engaging local champions has worked well for some institutions as well as embedding e-learning within school and department structures. There was general agreement that  staff will demand training and support in September when they return from the Summer vacation and realise they have to use a new VLE for their courses.

The day ended with a well-deserved visit to a lovely pub on the banks of the Thames where further networking took place.

We expect copies of the presentations to be made available via the M25-LT Ning site.

Julie Voce, E-learning Services Manager Imperial College London
Mimi Weiss Johnson, Senior E-learning Support Officer Imperial College London

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

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