No wobble - no learning!
The 8th annual University of Glasgow Learning and Teaching Conference broke records for attendance with nearly 300 in the audience. It was also a day of almost bewildering variety of thought and opinion with engaging debate on topics as varied as 'digital natives', innovation in the field of MOOCS, how the developing brain copes with learning and the importance of wobbling when learning how to ride a bike.
Opening the conference, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anton Muscatelli, said campus redevelopment made it an exciting time for learning and teaching at the University of Glasgow.
The fact that the first major project already in progress was the creation of a new Learning and Teaching Hub made abundantly clear the University's priorities.
He summed up: "It is about the three 'e's - Empowering, Enabling and Enhancing. As far as learning and teaching is concerned, to me, it is about the impact on people's lives: learning and teaching can be absolutely transformative and I hope we reflect on that today."
The Vice Principal for Learning and Teaching, Professor Frank Coton, also welcomed delegates. He said the exciting times at the University were not confined to the major building projects. "There are so many other things going on; in the next few days we'll be announcing which MOOCS we will be funding centrally and I think there may be as many as six or seven that get support. We are learning from the MOOC process and we are doing more and more interesting things with the technology.
"We certainly didn't believe it would be the end of education as we knew it! But we wanted to use it as a learning process and we are only now beginning to realise what some of the possibilities might be. Some MOOCS are being used as crowd-sourcing methods to support research; some people are using them as public engagement for research contracts and we've got some colleagues using them as a very different type of learning environment...we have a whole range of things happening."
Professor Coton told the conference: "What we hope to do is to translate some of that into practice here on campus. We are also advancing online Masters programmes and expect to launch a raft of those this summer, increasing our expertise all the time." He said the University was nearing the end of the consultation process on the learning and teaching strategy. "For me it has been a great pleasure to meet many colleagues in the consultation sessions and to read the materials that have been submitted as part of the process," he said.
"What I want is a strategy that we all recognise as one that will help the University move forward. We want to make sure that the recognition structures for staff are right and we want to make sure that innovation that is evidence based is fully supported; we want to make sure that we create space for development and scholarship and that our facilities are absolutely cutting edge and they enable you to teach in the way that you want to teach."
Professor Coton concluded: "Strategies can do two things: they can sit on a shelf gathering dust or they can enable us to invest in the right places. And I think we can use the Learning and Teaching Strategy to help us shape future investment in our environment."
The morning keynote address was delivered by Robert Duke, the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor and Head of Music and Human Learning at The University of Texas at Austin, where he is University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Elizabeth Shatto Massey Distinguished Fellow in Teacher Education, and Director of the Center for Music Learning. His topic: "If we learn like that, why do we teach like this?" was a fast-moving tour through current understanding of the learning process.
Professor Duke's presentation challenged many learning and teaching orthodoxies and judging by the Twitter traffic on #GU2015LTC it provoked amusement and engagement among his audience.
Professor Duke's lecture looked at the process of incorporating knowledge into our existing knowledge and contained many, refreshing challenges to perceptions of learning. He told delegates students sat in lecture theatres thinking they were understanding...but in reality they were watching the teacher understanding. Any learning often came later as information was processed and tested. An analogy he used referred to the training wheels on children's bicycles: set incorrectly, with all three wheels on the ground, the child could not learn. Wobbling was an integral part of learning to ride a bike. Uncertainty revealed the pathway to greater understanding.
The afternoon keynote address came from Professor Hugh Davis of Southampton University who considered how the web was changing the way we learned.
Video content and presentation slides will be available shortly on the Learning and Teaching web pages.
First published: 20 April 2015