“The original idea for the Skype Booth came from the Digital Campus Scoping Project, part of the University Digital Campus Initiative, which looked at how our students make use of technology in their day-to-day lives on campus. One finding that really stood out for me was the basic need for students to connect with friends and family at home – especially our international students.
The idea stayed with me; could we use our IT skills and services to offer students the ultimate ‘Skype’ experience: a private booth, large screen, comfy seats and great sound so they really felt the person was in the same room?
After further discussions with colleagues, the idea started to grow. I’d heard about the Newcastle University MOOC: The Enterprise Shed: Making Ideas Happen and the free online course seemed like the perfect place to share my thoughts and discover how to turn ideas into action.
After sharing the idea in a blog post, I was overwhelmed by the support from the Shed community and mentors. My post was picked up by colleagues in LTDS, who passed it to colleagues in the University Library; they loved the idea, saw its potential and decided the new Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms would provide the ideal opportunity to give it a go. NUIT Audio Visual Services and the Estate Support Service came onboard too and the ‘Chatterbox’ was born.
I couldn’t have done this on my own. The Enterprise Shed helped me to make the connections I needed to turn an idea into reality and I’m thrilled with the results.”
Sign ups are open for The Enterprise Shed: Making Ideas Happen which starts on 15 February 2016 and lasts 4 weeks.
I was delighted to be asked to represent one of three UK FutureLearnpartner institutions at the first FutureLearn Asia Pacific Partner Forum, held in Shanghai, 24 & 25 November 2015.
Partner Forums are one of the things that make working with the FutureLearn partnership so useful. A chance to meet others a few times a year who are facing the same challenges, providing regular opportunities to share experiences and learn from each other, as well as influence the development of the platform. And we do really influence the development of the platform. Previously Partner Forums have happened in London, but with recent expansions in the Asia Pacific partnership, an inaugural Forum was planned in Shanghai, aiming to replicate meetings in the UK, but for Asia Pacific partners.
I set off to meet up in Shanghai with Kate Dickens, Project Lead for FutureLearn from University of Southampton, Joanna Stroud, Project Lead for FutureLearn from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, and 4 of his staff. We took part in a very well organised and intensive two day forum with around 70 representatives from HEIs and specialist organisations based in the Asia Pacific region, from countries including Australia, Malaysia, Japan, and Korea, as well as several Chinese institutions and representatives from the British Council and Consulate.
In a packed two days, as well as getting to know each other, we got to know a bit about how the approaches developed within UK and European FutureLearn partners were being received by more recent Asia Pacific partners, and had the opportunity to share with each other some of the things we have learned in our time developing and delivering free online courses with FutureLearn.
FutureLearn’s mantra for free online courses, which appears at the beginning of nearly every presentation, is to ‘Tell stories, provoke conversation and celebrate success’.
As Newcastle University courses have consistently succeeded in achieving higher than average engagement with our courses, I was asked to present a session on Effective Storytelling in Newcastle’s free online courses, and to sit on a panel discussing approaches to course development and sharing top tips.
For the panel session, which took place on the morning of day 2, I was on the stage with Kate Dickens from University of Southampton, David Major, Learning Technologist from FutureLearn, and Professor Hongling Zhang from Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), Lead Educator on the Intercultural Communication free online course. The session was facilitated by Kate Sandars, Partnership Manager from FutureLearn and was based on questions from the floor, which were many, and discussion around them, which was lively. The session was very much about the practical aspects of developing and delivering free online courses, and about how this aligns with institutional strategy. The panel session overran and there was much continued discussion in the following tea break.
Just before lunch on day 2 I presented a half hour slot on ‘Effective Storytelling’ in our free online courses at Newcastle University. I was pleased to be asked to do this session, as our courses consistently achieve higher than the FutureLearn average for social learning (engagement of learners with discussion and comments), and we also achieve higher than the average FutureLearn full participation rate (the nearest metric we have to ‘course completion’) – with our Ageing Well: Falls course having the highest full participation rate of any FutureLearn course to date, at 57% of those who started the course.
This indicates to us that there is something about our approach to working with teams of educators on developing our courses which works. Our focus on learning design is crucial to course success and we do focus on it a lot, right from course conception to delivery.
Why is storytelling so important? Well I think that the telling stories analogy is a great one for us to focus on. It enables us to talk about course creation in a different way, it encourages us to examine what is special about storytelling and storytellers. Why do stories work? Why are they compelling? What qualities to they have which are different to campus based courses? How can we replicate some of that in free online courses? And why is making courses online so different to making campus based programmes?
The session went down really well, and there was further lively discussion afterwards over a delicious lunch with colleagues from Monash University, the University of Malaya, RMIT, Fudan University, SISU and others.
An afternoon tea reception hosted by the British Council ended the Forum, which was an amazing privilege to be asked to attend, and which profiled the work of the University and its approach to online course development which has generated much interest from Asia Pacific HEIs. We look forward to following up with these contacts over the coming weeks. Many thanks go to Simon Nelson and his team at FutureLearn for asking us to represent established partners, for giving us the opportunity to profile our work and courses in the Asia Pacific region, and for looking after us so well in Shanghai.
With the third run of our Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier free online course in full swing on FutureLearn, we asked our Lead Educator, Professor Ian Haynes and Educator, Dr Rob Collins what fascinates them about the World Heritage site, here on our doorstep in Newcastle upon Tyne. Here are their responses:
Now I must confess that there are times when a walk along the Wall lifts my heart and moves me to poetry. I shall not offer a sample here; my spontaneous compositions would only disappoint, but there is something about the Wall in its landscape setting that is so dramatic it is hard not to be moved by it all. This poetic impulse of course wrestles with another darker perspective. The Wall witnessed many acts of brutality in its long history; in a profound sense it monumentalised division.
Yet if I were to discuss what I find most enduringly intriguing about the Wall, I would have to say that the answer lies somewhere between a love of the Border Country’s beauty and an awareness of its savage past. And it may not surprise you at all that this fascination would concern one of my particular specialities, the auxiliary units and their families, the communities that sustained Rome’s presence on the northern frontier. The place the auxilia occupy not simply on the Wall, but in the wider story of the Roman Empire is something I sought to convey in my book Blood of the Provinces. I can put my fascination with these groups no better now than I did when I wrote that book back in 2013:
‘Marginalised even in many studies of the Roman army, themselves marginal in so much of contemporary scholarship of empire, auxiliary soldiers and the formations in which they served are both classic products and vital instruments of the empire’s ongoing capacity to incorporate the diverse into the whole. They are, furthermore, the invisible made visible. Our knowledge of rural settlement has grown dramatically through major survey projects and innovative excavation in the last few decades, but all too often, students of the empire find themselves at a loss when they seek to address the fate and experience of the mass of the provincial population. In many provinces, the lives and beliefs, homes and graves of the majority have received scant scholarly attention. Yet those who enrolled in even the humblest units of Rome’s armies – the auxilia – become much more accessible to modern researchers. Partly as a result of the very nature of material culture in the provinces and partly as a result of academic fashion, there are vastly more data currently available for these men and their families than those they left behind in the empire’s villages’. Hadrian’s Wall provides some of the richest data for these people, so often treated as the poor relations to Rome’s celebrated legionaries and to my mind so much more fascinating. Working on the Wall, I am constantly encountering their legacy, and repeatedly intrigued by Rome’s capacity to build an empire out of such diverse peoples.
Try as I may, I’m not sure I can clearly explain why I love Roman frontier studies and Hadrian’s Wall in particular. For me, it is an interplay of many different aspects. At the foundation is a passion for archaeology – I like the puzzle-solving element of it, and the fact that there are new discoveries every year. Added to this is the frontier element. I know people are astounded by the huge temples and aqueducts that the Romans built, but I find the mix of Roman and native that you find in the provinces much more intriguing – the interplay of imperial culture and local tradition and understanding of this important foreign power. And the army magnifies this aspect, but all in the crucible of a military institution. And finally, I’m particularly keen on the later Roman Empire. I find it to be richer and more interesting than the early imperial period, with new forms and expressions of power and culture emerging as a pre-cursor to medieval Europe. So if you add all these separate strands together into an ‘intellectual rope’ – you get my real passion: the limitanei of Hadrian’s Wall (a frontier and its soldiers) in the late 4th and 5th centuries (late Roman Empire). From the outside, the whole scenario looks a bit like a tangled mess, but being able to wade in with research and tease out solutions to problems, or identify how we can solve a problem stimulates both the creative and the analytical. It’s great!