Artificial Intelligence, effective assessment methods and keeping up with students in an increasingly hyper-connected world were among hot topics of debate at Regent’s University London's 2019 Learning and Teaching Conference, which returned for its third instalment this month.
Academic staff from across the University turned out in force to discuss their teaching practices with one another, while exploring critical topics together in groups, during a jam-packed day of presentations and workshops.
The conference delved into a diverse array of topics, including: the growing popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education, cross-departmental teaching collaborations, empowering student communication, the impact of assessment on feedback methods, among various others, while examining the benefits and challenges of each.
Leading on the theme of AI, Dr Stephen Ellis’ (Associate Dean, Business & Management (BaM)) talk, ‘engaging with tomorrow’s education – the learning bots are coming’, highlighted the increasing influence of AI technologies within higher education, and how teaching staff could harness learning bots – i.e. software programmed to perform automated tasks – to enhance Regent’s learning and teaching environment.
Dr Ellis said: ‘Those who move in the sphere of higher education must understand the technologies that are changing the world and start using them to engage with students’ learning.’
An integrated network platform – cloud-based software that allows users to remotely connect with one another, and the outside world – will be key to achieving this, explained Dr Ellis, as it would give students the opportunity to engage with 'real-world' learning experiences, such as live video-interviewing business CEOs.
Other key benefits of learning bots include their 'consistent and 24/7' nature, and their ability to perform repetitive tasks, such as answering students’ commonly asked questions, thus ‘freeing up loads of time and effort for the lecturer’, explained Dr Ellis.
Continuing the theme of the student experience, Oliver Sterland’s (Senior Lecturer, BaM) workshop, ‘how students are experiencing our assignments’, highlighted some of the key concerns raised by students on Regent’s’ assessment methods, including group work, marking criteria, reflection and presentation of assignments – based on feedback from semi-structured interviews with six students.
On the subject of group work, Dr Ellis advocated the use of peer-review assessments to ensure that students are marked as fairly as possible for their contributions to group tasks.
This followed with a discussion on the importance of reflection in assessment strategies, with one attendee recommending a method that awarded a component grade to the whole group, and an individual grade for individual assignments. She added that this would enable 'individual reflection' among students on how they engaged with the group task and what they learned from it.
The discussion also focused on the importance of make reflections 'authentic' for students, through the use of reflexive assignments and experiential activities. This would allow students to critically evaluate the course material and ‘encourage them to reflect on the whole learning experience,’ believed one attendee.
One of the day’s closing sessions – ‘engaging the head, heart and hands in learning and teaching’– explored how lecturers could better harness technology in the classroom to engage with students in an increasingly 'hyper-connected' world.
Led by Dr Vincent Ong (Head of Programmes, BaM) and Dr Bhavini Desai (Principal Lecturer, BaM), the session emphasised the importance of a holistic approach to learning that combined the ‘head (cognitive), heart (affective) and hands’ (psychomotor) in both teaching and assessment.
Dr Ong added that there was a risk of students becoming 'disconnected' in class after their first few weeks at university, asking lecturers to share their ideas on how Regent’s could further enhance student engagement through its teaching methods.
Among the key ideas raised was making explicitly clear to students the skills they are developing through their assigned tasks. It was highlighted that this approach would help students visualise how their current learning will aid them in the future.
Dr Ong also emphasised the importance of using dynamic, action-focused language that is relevant to students’ experience of the real world. ‘If we deliver something close to their heart, they are going to be engaged.’
Following the event, participants gave highly positive feedback on the diversity of topics and practices shared, with one stating: ‘the day was a great opportunity to find out about innovative practices at the University’.
While another added: ‘I think it was a great opportunity for the academics to come together. I found the keynote speaker [Rose Luckin] extremely interesting and it was good to hear something new and inspiring.’