Thursday, 19 May 2011

Discover-e 2011

This week I took part in a two-day event organised by JISC Regional Support Centre (West Mids) entitled Discover-e 2011. It was a free, online event consisting of numerous webinars, based on the theme of ‘Supporting learning providers’ priorities’.

Approximately 135 delegates signed up to the event and we were able to individually select which sessions we’d prefer to attend.  This was my first time participating in a webinar / online conference so I was a little apprehensive, but I was genuinely surprised how simple and straight-forward it was. The sessions were delivered using Elluminate software which allows delegates in the room to view a PowerPoint presentation, whilst listening to the presentation being delivered live through headphones. There is also a chatbox visible, so delegates can raise questions or start a parallel discussion. In addition to this, there are function buttons allowing delegates to applaud, laugh or raise their hands.

The first session I attended was delivered by Steve Taylor of Mercia Management. It was entitled ‘Tablet PCs in remote / mobile learning’. There were 38 delegates in the room for this presentation, although the number was fluid as people were able to enter / leave the room as they wished. Steve told of his organisation’s experience of loaning out netbooks to engineering apprentice students. Overall, Steve said the initiative had been smooth-flowing with no acts of hardware / software misuse. Mercia Management found that loaning netbooks generated an excitement amongst the students who were keen to accept the responsibility of the equipment. There was an increase in IT literacy, faster assignment completions and increased achievements. I’m glad this was the first sessions I attended; I have experience of a similar initiative from my previous post in a school and therefore felt able to contribute to the session by discussing this in the chatbox.

I also attended ‘E-Safety, a learning provider’s story’, presented by Jayne Hall (Director of Technologies at Walsall College). There were 34 delegates in this room, but again the number was fluid. I found this session the most interesting of the three I attended – it was bursting with information, tips and resources. Jayne outlined the risks to both staff and students of being online and how Walsall College tackled this through a balanced approach, rather than a blanket ban on social networking sites etc. She discussed the Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) and ThinkUKnow programmes, and informed delegates that Walsall College’s student e-safety training focuses on the 4 Cs: content, commerce, contact and conduct. This session was very interactive with polls and YouTube video links.

For my final session, I was one of 38 delegates in the room for ‘Moving centre stage: putting your library at the heart of teaching and learning’. This consisted of three mini-presentations from library staff in three separate FE establishments: Worcester College of Technology, Northampton College and Bournville College. Each told of their journeys in restructuring the library environment, whether it be leaving a central library in favour of subject specific centres, or reverting from such centres back to a central library. Again, I felt able to contribute to this discussion having worked at Halesowen College (many moons ago) during a time when it was decided to move from one large space to ten smaller satellite libraries.  

I found Discover-e 2011 to be a wonderful event to attend. There was a wide selection of webinars and all resources were made available via Moodle. Each session also had a corresponding forum, allowing the discussion to continue after the conference itself had ended. I’d even be so bold as to say I got more out of attending a webinar than I would a traditional conference in person. In addition to the presentation and the speaker’s knowledge, there is the chatbox allowing delegates to conduct parallel discussions. I found this additional facility very useful and a way of sharing experience that doesn’t happen at traditional talks. I also like the way there's no travelling time / costs involved with online conferences. Although Elluminate software looked a little intimidating at first with so much on the screen, once I’d found my way around it I found it easy and fun to use. Well done JISC on such a great event - I can’t wait for next year’s conference!

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