Reflections on new technical inductions for Academic Practice courses

Today was the first day’s teaching in the new academic year and, although I had small groups in both the morning and afternoon sessions, it felt pretty intense. I felt a little bit underprepared, but at the same time resigned to feeling that way; this was the first time I’d tried doing generic technical inductions for the main learning technologies we use on the Academic Practice courses, and the first time I’d done anything with Workflow, our Mahara-based e-portfolio tool, apart from playing around with it on my own.

The tools I introduced them to were:

Mahara e-portfolio (‘Workflow’)
WordPress/buddypress blogs (‘myblog.arts.’)
Blackboard (only a little bit)
Process Arts (demo only) – this is our funky video resource database. It’s ace.

I tried to keep things as active as possible, with a worksheet for each tool that participants worked through in sequence. The Workflow and blogs activities were focused on getting them setting up their accounts, profiles, adding and arranging content and making connections with groups and individuals. The Blackboard activities were more like a treasure hunt, as this year we’re mainly using it as a filing cabinet. I’ll post up a link to the worksheet here when I get back to the office.

In the meantime, here are my reflections on how it went:

As colleague John pointed out when we went for lunch, one of the really valuable things about doing these sessions is to remind ourselves how many barriers there are for some people in getting started with these technologies. While some teachers – particularly those who work in digital media – found them intuitive, there are so many little things we do without even thinking – e.g. opening a web browser, using cut/paste shortcuts – that we need to remember are not common knowledge and need to be made explicit. Another interesting phenomenon I noticed today is the ‘trigger-happy’ approach to using a new tool – the total opposite to not touching anything in case you break it; clicking on anything that looks like a hyperlink, magpie-style, and ending up somewhere a bit random. I wonder if this happens more often when I’m looking over someone’s shoulder and they feel under pressure to appear ‘up to speed’…

A couple of participants in the morning group got bogged down with finding a nice profile picture for their Workflow and blog accounts. I’d suggested if they didn’t have a pic of themselves they could access online they could pick something off flickrCC. I think online identity is important, and stamping your picture on something is a great way of feeling like you own it, but this took time away from other things. I also think having a picture of your real self has practical benefits for networking, especially on taught courses, so I’m going to suggest to the next group that they bring a profile pic with them on a data stick if they don’t have one they can pluck off the web during the session. Lots of the participants will have already encountered the wonders of Dropbox when preparing for their pre-course reading task, so they might want to stick one in there.

One important piece of feedback I got from today was that the participants weren’t actually aware of what kind of thing they’d be doing in the induction session! My bad… I think I was feeling that they’d been bombarded with so many long and complex instructions last week (about enrolment, pre-course tasks, tutor groups, workshop dates & locations, etc), I thought I’d just let them turn up in blissful ignorance. Point taken; it would have been useful for them to know roughly what they’d be doing!
The rest of the feedback I got was really positive – as I’d expect at this stage, as the few people who signed up for the first induction sessions would have been more likely to be keen and eager bunnies ;)

Also as I’d expected, we uncovered a couple of bugs and/or oddities in the systems during the sessions. There was, of course, the obligatory participant whose account wasn’t working – through no fault of their own – which always throws an almighty spanner in the works.

Something very lovely that happened during the sessions was that I got to meet a chap from the Digital Media office at Central St Martins (where we were running the sessions), who asked me what we were doing and told me about the work his team are doing with the production of moving image learning resources. They’re on twitter (@csm4d). It’s great to know about these pockets of activity and expertise as a lot of my students choose to create resource videos as part of their teaching development projects, or identify it as an area they want to explore.

Notes to self: Stuff I need to check with Resident CLTAD Superhero No.1 Mike Kelly:

  • Is there a way students can embed or link to content from Dropbox into their e-portfolio pages? There are about 1000 applications covered by the function, but not Dropbox.
  • When you bring the full text of a Journal into a 3-column Workflow page, it extends beyond the width of the column so the adjoining column overlaps it.
  • If the student can’t put anything in the Student ID field in their Workflow profile, why is it there?

And in Blackboard – when you try to send an e-mail to a particular student, there is a strange field below the selection box that names a student with an ‘Invalid Email’. What’s this all about? Also, the funky but rather outdated alt text in my interactive reading list doesn’t seem to be displaying.

On the worksheet – I need to make it clearer where to find ‘advanced options’ in the page access settings.

And that’s about it for now…


5 Comments on “Reflections on new technical inductions for Academic Practice courses”

  1. Lindsay
    What a valuable reflection. Valuable (it seems to me) because observant, truthful, immediate, and drawing immediate implications for action.
    Enough to give reflection a good name!
    Valuable also on how odd the digital world can seem to incomers.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Thanks for this Lindsay. I think that having the opportunity to explore these tools – with support as needed – in a relaxed atmosphere is invaluable. In this way people have the opportunity to start to make them their own before they use them ‘for real’. It’s not dissimilar to exploring and practising with a new instrument before venturing forth to meet your public.

  3. Hi Lindsay,
    I wasnt at the one you mentioned, but the workflow and myblogs induction I went to was really helpful and exactly that – an induction, the worksheets and talking to neighbours helped as did the length – perhaps the one thing that might have helped me was a few examples of past workflow users pages – but I think this may be the first year using workflow? Also a video of a cat really helps. thanks

    • Pretty sure they used it last year too Ed – I had a couple of colleagues on the PG Cert who had pages and we support a lot of students using it, Lindsay’s got the definitive answer I’m sure.

      I agree though, examples of built pages could have helped people less familiar with modular layout tools. (Equally maybe a virgin user shouldn’t have their individual response to an essentially non linear web page builder pre defined by other previous users?)

      I wonder if that’s why there also were no ‘template’ pages that a new user could begin with to get an idea of inputting feed, blog, video etc URL’s just to get a feel for that without needing to also place the page holders too (which I thought seemed like it could have been the more complicated part of the process for a non techy / non visual person to get their head around.

  4. In regards to your original post more generally Lindsay, I thought you did a good job overall (under the difficult circumstances of a mixed IT ability class with an agenda to demonstrate such a bewildering array of tools!) and the post has a lot of interesting reflections on the induction and your aims and issues with the process.

    I’ll be honest, (and this is a more general comment on UAL’s approach to digital resources) I feel there are too many different digital resources students are expected to engage with and particularly during inductions it can seem very overwhelming.

    Streamlining lots of different information resources, blogs, online portfolios and such is an unwelcome task even for the most seasoned web user… I think it has had (or has the danger of having) the effect of scaring some people away from the actual content… I am hopeful the university will dedicate resources to finding better solutions to this in future… also hopefully Moodle will be far removed from the chaos of Blackboard.

    I’d be interested to know what you think about the direction our (or us) as students are being pushed in terms of our commitment to online content management and portfolio systems….?

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