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Reflections on the 2nd Active Learning Conference

On 5th June 2018, the 2nd active learning conference took place at University of Sussex, preceded by a day of masterclasses organised by Dr Simon Tweddell of University of Bradford. The aim of the day, as previously, was to bring together individuals interested in promoting a variety of active learning methods and the diversity of presentations, workshops and pecha-kuchas was testament to just how much potential there is for active learning to be utilised effectively. Thanks to our sponsors, Brian O’Dwyer, from Cognalearn Intedashboard and the Technology Enhanced Learning team at Sussex, the conference was able to run as a free event for the second year running, something which we are keen to preserve going forward.

We were fortunate to have representations from over 27 different institutions including universities, sixth form colleges and educational consultancies in attendance, including individuals in a range of roles relating to active learning development such as educational developers, instructional designers, lecturers, teaching fellows and business consultants. Such a mix of roles, institutional experiences and practices enriched the content of the day and is certainly something we aim to continue in the 3rd Active Learning Conference in June 2019.

AL-1The day began with an opening address by the Vice-Chancellor of University of Sussex, Adam Tickell. Adam’s support for active learning has been instrumental in enabling the development of the network and his message was a positive endorsement of the need to develop and ingrain active learning into the educational curriculum at all levels. Following this an enlivened programme of workshops, interactive presentations and Pecha-Kucha presentations AL-19followed.

The opportunities for workshop participation were particularly inspiring. Margarita Steinberg’s workshop on “Experiential Learning of the Embodied Kind” had participants up and moving around the room using the principles of Argentine Tango. Margarita will be writing a guest blog on her work for the Active Learning Network so I will not steal her thunder further here but do watch this space for more on this coming soon. Mark Carew illustrated the effect of allocating AL-7group roles in an active learning task – trying to beat the computer in a chess game. The sense of competition became quite intense and it was surprising how quickly we adopted our roles and worked together to achieve a winning outcome (yes, we did beat the computer but yes, we did have just a little help from Mark too!). Peter Lassey asked participants to design, construct and test out makeshift catapults, aiming paper into waste paper bins to illustrate fundamental concepts of engineering. In the true spirit of active learning, the range of experiences afforded to participants at the conference was fantastic and of course fun to take part in!

In the 30 minute sessions, you could find yourself engaging with an online interactive lecture tool, Nearpod (Jennifer Mankin), in another you might find yourself participating in a “cafe-style” session, finding resolutions to TBL issues whilst working as a team, moving around the room (Rachel Berkson, Uwe Matthias RIchter, Simon Tweddell and Rebecca McCarter). In yet another, you might find yourself engaging in a silent collaborative creative ideation activity (Roy Hanney). David Roberts illustrated (no pun intended) the use of multimedia learning approaches to large group teaching. David’s research has shown that the use of multimedia images significantly increases the production of active learning and participants were able to explore an online tool for creating visual lectures.
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The day was punctuated at various intervals with presentations, workshops and Pecha Kucha presentations on Team Based Learning (TBL). For example, Lucy Stainer described the challenges of using flipped methods and TBL with 250 nursing students, Prahba Parthasarathy shared her experiences of using TBL with Biomedical students and Brain O’Dwyer explained how TBL can be used to generate over 100,000 data points that can then be analysed to improve performance. This followed a number of highly informative masterclasses held the previous day by the European Team Based Learning Community.

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As well as looking at the positives of introducing active learning methods, there were a number of contributions which explored some of the more difficult issues to do with introducing these such as space requirements and bringing the institution as a whole on board. Simon Tweddell, Alison Hartley and Rebecca McCarter discussed the practicalities of getting staff and student buy-in to TBL practices for example and Emma Blyth and Agata Sadza shared insights from student feedback about flipped classrooms and the pedagogical and technological solutions designed in response. Victoria Hart and Daniel Phillips shared their experience of promoting and embedding active learning across a whole institution and Jane Carne and Silvia Colaiacomo presented the Digital Classroom Project, a project which focuses on the environment of the seminar room in promoting active learning.

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We did manage to squeeze in some of our own work on using video and audio feedback to increase student engagement into the programme and put the spotlight on specialism based learning, designed to encourage students to take a unique approach to their learning about a particular topic to complete the picture.

Looking ahead

So, now it is our chance to look ahead at what the future year holds in store. We have been really grateful for the feedback received so far. If you have not had a chance to complete the feedback form yet, there is still time: https://goo.gl/forms/B6qZYEhPkWTrftoH3. This was our first time of organising an international conference so we have found it to be a steep learning curve but with continuing experience we hope to fine tune it a little more! We have already been able to take some of the suggestions and ideas from the feedback forward and have some new developments on our website:

The collaborations board!

One of the particular strengths of the conference, as evidenced in the feedback received, was the ability to network and share ideas. With this in mind. Tab has now set up a collaborative board on our community pages. If you have an idea that you would like to collaborate with other network members on, why not share it with the Active Learning Network community, by posting on our padlet board? We will then help to advertise these using our social media Active Learning Network accounts.

The idea is that anyone who is interested in collaborating further, can contact you directly. When you have enough people for the project, you can then just delete the post from the padlet wall. We hope that this will enable more collaborations across the whole of our network to facilitate educational developers, businesses, academics and anyone who is interested in active learning to work together and support each other in furthering our pedagogical and technological knowledge relating to active learning.

Links to conference presentations

If you would like to access any of the presentation materials from the day, please do look at our padlet wall. All of the materials shared by presenters have been posted here.

The next conference!

Please keep Tuesday 11th June 2019 free – its the date of the next active learning conference!

As ever, we are always looking to develop our network further. One of the key aspects of the network that we are keen to preserve is that it is an informal and supportive network of participants working together on active learning projects and ideas. Please do spread the word and if you would like to contribute to anything we do, be it a guest blog post or anything else, please do not hesitate to get in touch: w.a.garnham@sussex.ac.uk or t.betts@sussex.ac.uk.

Wendy Garnham

With thanks to Stuart Robinson for the photography used in this blog

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