Innovative Teaching with Technology

This is a general category in which we recognise people who have made creative use of digital technologies other than WebLearn in their teaching. Entries this year were of such a high standard that we have awarded two honourable mentions in addition to the main prizes. Along with the four listed below, a number of other entries will find their way into Academic IT’s collection of case studies to inspire teaching staff across the University.

Winner: Peter Judge for Clickers in Biochemistry

pjudge_tIn this category the judges look for a strong pedagogic rationale behind the use of digital technology. Peter’s entry stood out because it clearly stated a particular problem – students’ difficulty turning the material learnt during lectures into strategies for solving problems – and how he used clicker technology to address it. The lectures form part of the first-year Biophysical Chemistry course and is generally perceived by students to be the most challenging of their courses, in part because of its significant mathematical component. So, Peter sets four or five questions over the course of each lecture and asks students to select one of five possible answers using the clickers. He then runs through the calculation after revealing the students’ choices and the correct answer.

The advantage of the clickers over previous strategies that Peter tried is that students are able to contribute anonymously. Even if a student has made a mistake and given a wrong answer, it’s unlikely that they are the only one to have done so. The clickers also allow Peter to gauge whether the pace of the lecture is appropriate for the students and whether he needs to go back and cover some points again.

Peter also provides tips and advice for others wishing to do something similar, to help them avoid the perils and pitfalls that he encountered along the way.

Runners-up: Damion Young & Jon Mason for ‘PULSE – Pop-Up Learning Space Experiment’

pulse-william-morris-wallpaper-slideDamion and Jon’s entry demonstrates the varied and, more importantly pedagogically effective uses to which mobile technology can be put. Two years ago the Medical Sciences Division identified compelling needs for mobile devices in four areas of students’ learning:

  • Online examinations were putting pressure on the division’s IT suites, and it was felt that tablets to enable up to 30 students to sit an exam at the same time might relieve that pressure. The portability of the tablets would also mean that students based in the hospitals in Headington would not have to go down to the MSD teaching building in the Science Area to take their exams, as the tablets could be taken to them.
  • The division’s learning technology team has developed a repository of virtual microscopy, and some academic staff wanted to have these scanned slides available in laboratory classes in histology. Tablets, with their intuitive swipe interface (and wipe-clean surface!) were ideal candidates to make this possible.
  • Attempts to introduce audience response technology in lectures had been unsatisfactory, in part because of problems with wireless connectivity. Tablets that connect automatically to the wireless network were considered a possible solution and could also be lent to students who do not have a suitable mobile device on which to respond to a poll.
  • The process of delivering and marking Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs), a crucial component of assessment in clinical medicine, was paper-heavy. Once again, tablets emerged as a potential solution.

Perhaps most importantly, a suite of tablets would give MSD an opportunity to discover, work through and solve some of the technical issues that it will face as technology for teaching, learning and assessment becomes increasingly mobile.

The purchase of 35 Asus T100 tablets with detachable keyboards has enabled MSD to address all of these issues with very positive feedback from staff and students alike. Damion adds: ‘By allowing us to get students online wherever it is needed, academic staff have been more ambitious in what they can hope to achieve with technology-enhanced learning.’

Their entry was particularly strong for its potential applicability to other disciplines – with a little rethinking, of course!

Honourable mention: The Oxford Human Rights Hub for the OxHRH Webinar Series

OxHRH webinarThe Oxford Human Rights Hub (OxHRH) was established in 2012 by Professor Sandra Fredman (Law Faculty). It strives to facilitate a better understanding of human rights, to develop new approaches to policy, and to influence the development of human rights law and practice. It is also a central pillar in the teaching of human rights, providing innovative pedagogical resources to students and teachers all over the world. The OxHRH Webinar series achieves three goals:

  • Increase global access to high-level human rights resources;
  • Allow Oxford students to gain a comparative perspective on human rights and to discuss human rights issues both with their colleagues here in Oxford and with their global colleagues via the virtual audience;
  • Encourage conversation on pressing human rights issues between participants cross-nationally.

Although the webinar series is still in its early stages, the judges felt it deserves a special mention for creating a classroom not only without walls, but also without borders.

The OxHRH blog was winner in the ‘outreach’ category at OxTALENT 2014.

Honourable mention: James Robson for ‘New Life to an Old Language’

The traditional method of teaching ancient languages is to drill grammar and vocabulary, working deductively from a text-book. In this world, audio-visual innovation is presenting the grammar using PowerPoint! Many students struggle with both motivation and retention. As a teacher of Hebrew, James Robson wanted to introduce some of the modern methods of Second Language Acquisition and to provide an interactive, dynamic and multi-sensory engagement with the language and texts of Biblical Hebrew. So he arranged the procurement and installation of a Smartboard at his college (Wycliffe Hall) and set about redesigning his teaching around the use of the board.

For introductory Hebrew, James created pages in the Smartboard software in advance of the classes. These gave an outline of the class, with hyperlinks to songs, games, texts, PowerPoint presentations and to other pre-prepared Smartboard pages where particular teaching points or tasks could be found. Students could then engage directly, sometimes coming to the board and participating in the games or in identifying features. He could easily add new pages to explain different points, and refer backwards and forwards to these pages.

RobsonFor intermediate Hebrew, James created diagrammatic analyses of set texts. In class, he and his students could read, discuss and annotate the texts in real time, with students contributing. Sometimes he invited students to come up and identify features in the text using a different-coloured pen. Another benefit of the technology is that, at the end of the class, James could make the pages available on WebLearn.

The outcome, James reports, has ensured variety in the classroom and enabled much greater student interaction and participation. Comments that he has received from students include: ‘The use of technology really lets us get on with the job of learning…so much more packed into the 50 minutes.’

The judges wished to commend James for the variety of learning activities which he has built in order to take full advantage of smartboard technology, demonstrating that it’s far more than an illuminated whiteboard!

James is a past winner of OxTALENT for his innovative use of WebLearn.

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