Near Future Teaching Vox Pop

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On Tuesday 21st November, I was a participant in a fifteen minute interview for the Near Future Teaching Vox Pop event. During my session, the ‘Vox Pop’ interview (Google tells me this is a fancy way of saying “voice of the people”) was conducted by Michael Gallagher (@MSeanGallagher) and filmed by Lucy Kendra. The interview formed part of a University of Edinburgh consultation process designed to gather views on how digital education may shift in the near future.

The opening question positioned my responses in terms of academic background and professional activities in relation to the University (BA Hons Community Education, MSc Education, various degree placements with Third Sector organisations, and my professional practice). Within this, I suggested the Activist Social Research (ASR) course (run by Callum McGregor [@CallumKMcGregor] and Debi Fry [@DFry_CPresearch]), which I am auditing, as my most significant experience of online / digital education at the University of Edinburgh. I noted the use of MOODLE (a ‘free and open-source learning management system’ – again, thanks Google..) for the ASR course, adding that within the Education Policy and Politics of Education (EPPE) course run by Jingyi Li (@JliRobertson) – a core course on the MSc Education – we had completed online assignments through TopHat (define)

I noted that ASR had sought digital engagement with course materials through student blog assignments, a wealth of uploaded audio file interviews, streamed videos of Debi and Callum discussing the course materials alongside the weekly slideshow presentations, and regular Skype discussion forums which were offered at two different time slots (the lecturers chairing one each) in order to fit with the students’ wider lives – enabling them to structure their studies around their work and care commitments. Based on my experience within the course, I cited ASR as an example of ‘best practice’ within digital engagement. The thumbnail-sized videos of the lecturers, in my experience, humanised the content and avoided an online experience void of social interaction. Small things such the video being recorded in a single take (or on occasion interrupted for home life reasons) meant that stuttering or brief pauses were kept in, offering a realistic lecture rather than a pitch perfect version with spliced audio content.

Jingyi’s EPPE course offered me experience with TopHat for the first time. Short homework tasks encouraging students to respond to one or perhaps two questions were posted prior to the weekly on-campus lectures. Respondents were often asked to consider their experience and understanding of a particular term such as ‘social justice’ or to comment on how they understood the impact of educational policy on their own professional practice (constraints, room for creativity, etc). TopHat has offered a straightforward interface, however student comments were anonymised . Discussions with my classmates suggested that some students found this liberating as they were free to answer honestly (on occasion disclosing quite private examples), whilst others experienced the anonymization as dismissive and impersonal, adding that they felt little motivation to engage with classmates or to consider answers other than their own.

On developments I’d personally like to see within Edinburgh University, I noted my daily use of podcasts during my bus commutes to campus from my home in Pilton. Amidst the Scottish football analysis, and the Star Trek or X-Files discussions, my podcast streams sees a plethora of lectures, book reviews, and interviews with academics downloaded each day. If the ASR lectures were adapted into podcasts and uploaded alongside the additional materials to an appropriate mobile app (password protected if necessary), I know that I would have listened repeatedly to the weekly content. This could also be implemented on other courses, which could be easier to access than the Media Hopper interface through which some university courses have uploaded recorded lecture content. Other options which were already discussed during a recent Student Staff Liaison Meeting included short TV or film series screenings that offered visual accessible examples of issues such a social justice, or producing regular content streams or weekly emails containing real-world examples of social issues – e.g. links to new articles of the Grenfell Tower Fire.

In concluding the interview, Michael asked me what values I hoped that the University of Edinburgh would embody ten, fifteen, or perhaps twenty years from now. I answered only with ‘accessibility’ – whether through increased provision of student grants and scholarships; drastically reduced tuition fees for postgraduate study; or through increased use of part-time courses, I emphasised my concern that so few of my classmates came from similar backgrounds to my own. Including myself, the four Scots I know on the MSc Education programme have all already had to access the Discretionary Fund in order to afford rent or mortgage payments, foot their energy bills, insulate their homes, afford books and other educational materials, or to meet the childcare costs incurred whilst attending class. Another, somewhat radical development would be establishing relationships between the University of Edinburgh and professional organisations. I cited the Turin-Genoa-Milan Law (1973-1975) which saw architecture firms link up with universities to provide 150 hours annually of university or college level education to workers (a form of Continuous Professional Development [CPD]) as an example of how this could be achieved. Check the law out at:

Near Future Teaching logo nicked from:

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