International Blended Learning Conference 2012

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For the second year in a row I attended the University of Hertfordshire’s International Blended Learning Conference. Last years conference saw me missing one or two sessions as I negotiated the purchase of our house – hopefully this year would be as interesting – if slightly less eventful!

The conference really is truly excellent, offering so many benefits that are often lost as I focus on day-to-day tasks, and often forget about the bigger picture. So at a very simple level just being able to see some of the excellent working taking place at our institution and further afield really is a source of inspiration. The role our team plays in building the foundations for some of these activities to take place really helps keep focus on continuing to deliver functionality for others to utilise.

I attended a number of the sessions throughout the 2 days, and all had their merits. Three though particularly stood out for me for different reasons:

  • Jessie Paterson from Edinburgh University demonstrated the effective use of blogs to promote critical reading of recommended reading. An excellent presentation and the benefits reportedly being better writing standards across the course as well as the module, along with better engagement and discussions around the texts on the module. (With my student hat on for a moment, this is something I intend to do off my own back for next years recommended readings!)
  • James McDowell from the University of Huddersfield demonstrated the use of video feedback to his students and how quickly the feedback could be turned around. I particularly liked the play on words of feed-forward rather than feedback. As a team we’re currently exploring ways to integrate video/audio feedback with the assignments system, so the findings from his research were invaluable.
  • Guy Saward from the University of Hertfordshire has built upon the publicly available RSS Feeds from each module within our VLE to publish notifications out to Facebook and Twitter using some RSS Aggregators. With it working well, 2 questions now need to be answered of (a) do students want it, and (b) how to automate it across an institution. Interesting times ahead I think.

The ability to network with colleagues is also worth its weight in gold at these conferences, and this conference appeared to have the right balance between ‘social’ and ‘presentation’ time. Listening to the experiences of our colleagues with the VLE and being able to remove a number of minor hurdles with simple conversations. Also at the end of one particular presentation, one colleague turned round and said they’d love to be able to do that. After a 10 minute initial conversation and then some follow-up emails it looks like they might be a position to do it next semester, and I look forward to providing them support in this activity.

Another outstanding outcome of the conference was the ‘Thinking Space’ initiative, which resulted in this magnificent image being created by Joel Cooper from the ideas put forth by the conference attendees:

If there is a downside to such a thought provoking and inspiring conference it would have to be the size of the To Do List sitting in front of me now. But then again, is that such a bad thing?

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