Mind the Gap: Exploring Institutional Practices in the Post-Digital Age.


Photo by @emmaprocterlegg

The 15th Annual Academic Practice and Technology (APT) conference was held at the beautiful Greenwich University Maritime Campus on Tuesday 5th July. Head of Educational Development Simon Walker welcomed presenters and delegates and set out the theme of the day’s discussions – the gaps that exist within digital learning practices.

Eric Stoller opened the conference with a keynote on Social Media and engagement throughout the student lifecycle. Eric cited the popularity of student services departments in US HE institutions, showing that students connect with people and that digital should not be seen as removing this human element. Engagement needs to be maintained throughout the student lifecycle and this can only be enhanced by social media. Showing students our human side we can enhance their education experience and reduce the gap between student and institution.

This theme of a feeling of connection between a student and their University was continued in the presentation on “The Flipped Induction”, delivered by Chris Rowell and myself in the first Parallel Session of the day. Our talk focussed on the design and production of an online Pre-Induction module that was created to ensure prospective students had access to key information before their arrival at University.  

The specific needs of students and the focus of the digital support they are offered can be difficult to pinpoint. In a later session Helen Beetham and Sarah Knight showcased tools being developed by JISC to benchmark the digital experience. Students are arriving at University digitally aware and confident in numerous social and technological tools and education now has to compete for the student’s digital attention. To this end this session focussed on various strategies and tools including the JISC NUS Benchmarking Tool, an editable rubric that showcases different aspects of the student digital experience and encourages institutions to undertake steps for outstanding practice in each area.

HB JISC image

Photos by @sialker and @jsecker

Students being supported to develop these transferrable skills was explored further by Kevin McManus of University of Greenwich. The case-study focussed on the pilot of a module that was designed to solve the disparity between students from different access routes arriving at University with differing levels of ability in key academic skills. The module demonstrated the benefits of helping students develop their own identities by learning the “how” rather than the “about”.

The conference concluded with a second keynote by William A. Callahan of LSE about his implementation of documentary filmmaking as a teaching practice. The presentation was framed by William’s own educational move from Chemical Engineering to Chinese Philosophy Major. As a practitioner William impressed on the audience the need to cherish the gap between “normative” and practical learning, both should be seen as relevant and important and students should be taught to appreciate emotion and reason. William demonstrated how he used documentary filmmaking to blend practical and technical elements with theoretical subject matter, in turn teaching students how to manipulate meaning. Echoing sentiments seen throughout the sessions I attended, Williams focus is on the individual student.

Beard Goggles from LTI @ LSE on Vimeo.

The conference raised a number of interesting discussions around student engagement and digital provision, and provided the opportunity to expand on ideas that can improve the link between students and educational institutions. Whilst talk of Learning Analytics and Big Data are prevalent within education and technology I found it encouraging that the sessions I attended showed that there is still a continued drive to use technology to help the individual student in both their educational progress and  their emotional development. Both views, the individual and the group, can be used together to help students gain the best educational experience possible.

Steve Dawes (@malkatraz), Learning Technology Content Developer
Learning Technology Team, Regent’s University 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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