Variety in making 'every learner count'

Back in March, I attended the JISC 2009 conference, aptly entitled Opening Digital Doors. It was one of those mega events, where you spotted people across the hall, but got caught up in the melee before you could speak to them. That said, I quite liked the informal nature of the drop in demos in the foyer, even managing to find out what QR codes really are, courtesy of Andy Ramsden.

The morning session I sat in on showcased three projects that had trialled very different approaches to using technology to improve student motivation and retention, all under the theme of "Every Learner Counts".

Nicola Whitton described how alternate reality games (ARG) had been used for supporting University student induction, one of the key stages in retaining students. The Argosi project setup urban challenges, and other "purposeful activities" for meeting people and working together, which wasn't necessarily around going to pubs! There was also mention of an ARG framework/toolkit for supporting student induction, which presumably will be released soon.

Hesan Yousif talked about the SPLASH project (student personal learning and social homepages). SPLASH is essentially a social software portal, where academic information is juxtaposed alongside local information and student generated content, with students deciding what they want on their own homepage. Like an iGoogle for students at Sussex. This is an initiative I'd looked at before, as we have done some other work on the potential of web2.0 portals for learners in the NHS. Great to see a working version, and Hesan gave us some interesting anecdotes to how students are using it. He highlighted how blogs had facilitated a sense of community on campus - topics covered experiences of life on campus, student union engagement, politics, photos, etc. He also noted that staff had picked up on the facility, suggesting they might like a similar resource.

Finally, Lucy Stone from Leicester College described the outcomes from the WoLF project (Workbased Learners in Further Education). On the JISC website this is billed as Pocket PCs to support portfolio development by work-based learners in FE, not such a good acronym but perhaps a better description. This project was focused on teaching assistants in early years settings, many with years of experience, but all subject to the strong governmental driver for minimum qualifications for education workers. As they are only in college four hours a week, every minute (as well as every learner) counts. Also key was keeping in contact with learners. Hence learners were given PDAs, and Moodle was set up as a platform for sharing (see the WoLF site, which also contains much of the project outputs, including this literature review of workbased mobile learning). As all students and tutors were new to moodle, there was an induction session. Given the time issue, it was essential that this was purposeful in relation to the course, and those tutors who really engaged with the concept saw this as well as the value of induction. Benefits could be seen in the use of a reflective journal within moodle, which meant that tutors could gauge student skills earlier than the standard model of course submission. This also enabled students to receive rapid feedback very early on in process.

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