Friday, 17 May 2013

The challenge of moving to a new approach to learning and teaching

In 2014, three new buildings will be opened at UTS, each with a radically different design of its learning spaces. Instead of traditional large lecture halls, and tutorial rooms with chairs and desks in neat rows, the learning spaces in the new buildings maximise opportunities for engaging, active learning experiences for students.

One of a number of challenges however, is how to engage and support staff in making the significant changes to teaching and learning required for this move. This is the focus of the Learning2014 project.

Traditional approaches to “staff development” for higher education academics have centred around formal activities such as Graduate Certificates in Higher Education, series of workshops on topics such as “how to teach large classes”, specialised conferences such as enhancing assessment, specialised journals and so on.

My experience is that these reach a small but enthusiastic minority. So, how to engage the rest?
In thinking through an approach I have been influenced by George Siemens (2004) Principles of Connectivist learning and also generative theories of learning.

Academics can engage with Learning2014 through the website where there are videos explaining the links between learning spaces and learning design, there are case studies of academics engaged in interesting work, and a Pinterest site containing links to interesting work in areas such as flipped learning, inquiry-based learning and so on. Users are encouraged to annotate these and recommend others.

But access to information is not enough. If, as Siemens’ principle notes, “Learning is a process of connecting specialised nodes or information sources” how might these connections be facilitated?

Several initiatives are being trialed to facilitate these:
  •  four academics who have been engaged in cutting-edge learning and teaching work have been identified as “Future Learning and Teaching Fellows” to promote connections between staff in their faculties and to document their experiences via a blog;
  • a number of specialised Communities of Practice have been established including inquiry-based learning to “nuture and maintain connections”; and
  • a twitter feed to promote establishment of personal learning networks.

Academics also have access to Vice-Chancellor’s grants to develop aspects of the Learning2014 model.

So, how will this play out? Will support for building connections make a difference? 

Links and References

Learning2014 website

Future Learning and Teaching Fellows

New learning spaces at UTS

Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.

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