Following on from my post about the final synthesis report of the Transforming Curriculum Delivery Through Technology programme I thought it may be useful to focus of a few of the key themes to emerge from the programme in more detail.

One of the aspects that I found most interesting was the number of projects who were using technologies to support authentic, situated learning experiences. In the past I worked at the University of Strathclyde on a JISC funded Digital Libraries in the Classroom programme on the DIDET project, which used a wiki and a variety of technologies to support design engineering students during the design process. What we aimed to do was provide the technologies to replicate a global product design experience (with our partner Stanford University in the US) where students created, managed and shared design artifacts. I think this project was very forward thinking as it started in 2003 when wiki’s were not widely used in higher education contexts – so definately worth a plug here; )

I was particularly interested then that two of the Transforming Curriculum Delivery projects were focussed on design students. A common need for design students across a range of disciplines is to experience the reality of working collaboratively in teams to tight deadlines and to a fairly well established design process. The Atelier-D project, based at the Open University was aiming to replicate a traditional atelier style environment for distance learning students to learn in a collaborative way with their tutors and other students. They used a range of technologies including flickr, facebook, video conferencing, concept mapping, second life and social networking sites. This project faced significant challenges in implementing, sometimes complex, technologies with distance learners who faced problems both with access and usability of  services where the base technical requirements and learning curve for new users can be high.

Also focussed on design students was the Information Spaces for Creative Converstations project led by Middlesex University Interaction Design Centre and partnered by City University London, Centre for HCI Design. This team wanted to make sure that technologies supported creative conversations between design students rather than distract from them. They also used technologies to help students record and conserve these conversations for later reflection and like the DIDET project utilised technologies to manage the range of artifacts that emerge during this part of the design process – such as sketches, photographs, recorded conversations, and later reflections that inform the next stages of design work.

Other projects offering authentic professional or work-based experiences included Generation 4 at St George’s University of London which developed interactive Online Virtual Patient cases with options and consequences.  Students work in groups on a virtual patient problem where they could see the impact of their decisions, without damaging a real person. The Duckling project at the University of Leicester was also focussed on distance learning students and they utilised and adapted an existing oil rig in Second Life for occupational psychology students to use.

The MoRSE project led by Kingston University and De Montfort University worked with two different groups of learners using mobile technologies to provide a practice based curricula.

‘The delivery of a situated curriculum for students working beyond the institution in practice based environments is critical along with the ability to be active contributors in real world problem solving. The ability of both institutional and personal technologies to effectively and appropriately enhance this situated curriculum and experience is crucial. For example fieldwork experience in real problem environments for students has been crucial to student understanding to all aspects of real world scenarios from the collection of primary data through its processing, interpretation and analysis to the completion of an output. This experience can be lessened through the student having to split work on a project between the field and institutional laboratories because of time and access to technologies and resources. In addition basic data processing tasks can take a significant period of limited fieldtrip time that could otherwise be spent on analysis and interpretation, and increases the time between data collection and its analysis.’ (MoRSE final report)

This type of approach required quite a lot of learner support and MoRSE used student mentors, which provided useful experience for mentor’s CVs or portfolios, and provided low cost field and placement support.

The Springboard TV project at  West Anglia College focused on providing an experience that offered an opportunity to state of the art technologies to develop their own internet tv station.

“Creating an identity and branding has been a very powerful agent in developing a ‘learner centred approach’, where learners now respond as professionals, working in a ‘real life’ production company ”  Jayne Walpole Head of Faculty Creative Arts’ Springboard TV

Wikis were used by the INTEGRATE project at the University of Exeter to provide an authentic international group experience for a very large cohort (465 students from 40 countries) to stimulate international co-operation and international management skills. As well as providing an opportunity to practice a professional role it also provided a small group setting where students with a wide range of language and cultural differences could support each other, creating a collegiate environment and culture.

These brief descriptions are just snippets that are more fully explained in the Design Studio and project websites and reports. I think several of these approaches and activities should be of interest to others trying to create authentic learning experiences.

‘We hypothesised that Facebook plays a role in supporting two kinds of learners in design – „Content-focused learners‟, who discuss concrete examples, artefacts or methods for designing, and „Context-oriented socialisers‟, who post updates about their progress in relation to the design course without mentioning explicit activities or results.’ Atelier-D