There has been more and more emphasis on working with students as partners within higher education. Macquarie University has already gone down this path with its Learning for the Future Strategy as well as through the various student programs such as Student Representatives and Rethinking assessments. Continuing in the same vein was the Inspired Learning Summit at UNSW, which I attended a few weeks back. It was an interesting day with a lot of focus on student partnerships. UNSW’s PVC (Education) has initiated several projects working with students and getting their input in a variety of ways. From setting the curriculum to the actual design of learning.

The day kicked off with a keynote speech that was ground breaking in a lot of ways. It was delivered by a student. By a visually impaired student. On accessibility issues.

Abby is a student who has grown up with retinitis pigmentosa (symptoms include tunnel vision and night blindness.) She spoke about her experience in the education system and how, while it is not designed for students like her, she pointed out the opportunities available. She has done an amazing job at taking control of her life and making digital work for her. Abby has been working with the UNSW PVC (E) office to re-look at the tools used for teaching, and how accessible (or not!) they are. In an incredible demo, she showed what the OCR (Optical character reader) reads when presented with one of the generic powerpoint slides we all see. (Hint: It’s mostly “Text box 28” “Square shape fading..” etc. with no content). Her project has been to work with the team to make these digital resources friendlier for the vision impaired.

Breakout Sessions:

Flower in vase drawing

My drawings of the ‘Flower in a Vase’ exercise. I wanted an idyllic home, with friends, in the sunshine.

The keynote was followed by breakout sessions led by students who worked on different projects. I chose the one on Design Thinking. It was led by two students who are studying art and design and their presentation was on human-centred design (HCD). It was an interesting presentation on how UNSW is looking at assessments from a human (i.e. student-centred) design philosophy. The students leading the presentation worked on a project where they ran an online, invigilated exam. Their experience, based on interviews with the students, was that most students still want an on-campus exam. They think the technology might give others an unfair advantage. My favourite part of their presentation though was an exercise. Now, I hate ice breakers and interactive activities as much as the next person, but hear me out! Everyone was asked to draw a flower in a vase (all of us did the same drawing). They then asked us to imagine *we* were the flower and had to draw how we would like to be presented. It gave wildly differing results! Some drew themselves in a natural habitat, a river flowing nearby. While others wanted their friends around them and to be in a beautiful vase. The key was this – we change experiences as soon as we think with empathy and with a human-centred design approach. I thought it was very powerful and something I will be doing more of!

Multimedia Showcase:

After lunch, we again went our separate ways to specific stations. There were 4 stations you could visit over the next 75 mins. I went to those on Smart Sparrow, H5P, Animations and Video. These tools are being used at Macquarie University too, so feel free to reach out to your faculty learning designer if you need more details.

SmartSparrow: A couple of lecturers from UNSW Human Sciences spoke about how they use adaptive technology in their courses. Adaptive technology recognises that not all students learn in the same way and offers ways to deliver customised learning experiences, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. My experience has been that Smart Sparrow is quite tedious to work with and on being asked, they agreed with that. While adaptive technology has a lot of opportunities, the workload can be restrictive.

H5P: H5P is another new tool that makes interactivity easy through its quizzes, interactive videos, flash cards etc. It makes learning fun and engaging. This is another technology we use often and is available as a plugin with Moodle. The presentations were interesting, but something that MQU already does.

Animations: The team talked about using customised animations for both 2D and 3D models. Some of these animations took 3-4 months to build for a 15 min course. (I am still unable to justify that, looking at the content). The 3D animations might work for something like Biology or Medicine (think DNA etc) and this amount of time might be justifiable for this content. They also talked about GoAnimate, again something we use here in FBE and personally, I think it’s good for engagement.

Videos: The video team talked about green screens, screencasts, and lightboard animations. I found lightboard animations quite interesting and I hadn’t seen them before. This might be a good one to trial!

The last session of the day was a panel discussion on how we could ethically use student data for personalisation of learning while keeping issues of privacy in mind. As expected this was hotly debated, with Facebook making an appearance (of course). This session was recorded and will be available soon, so reach out if you’d like to hear the entire session.

Overall, I thought it was a good day. UNSW was a great host and the variety of sessions made the commute to UNSW worth the while! The focus on “Students as partners” across institutions of Higher Ed is definitely a good trend!

Posted by Shaheen Hajira

Shaheen is a learning designer passionate about the role of universities in creating socially responsible, engaged thinkers.

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