The journal article was called ‘Role of technology in the design of learning environments’. The paper considered a different way of designing learning environments using sandpits which are small interactive workshops designed to enable creative thinking with key stakeholders. 13 sandpits were held considering large (the Cube) and small (the Poppy flower) learning environments with 32 teachers and 25 students. Participants were from a medium to large teaching focussed University in SE England and were representative across a range of disciplines, gender, and year of study.
The general consensus from those present was that the Cube was not an ideal learning environment, and this prompted much discussion. The use of technology in learning environments and whether students encouraged or resisted this varied across the programmes represented. Some students still wanted paper handouts whilst others would be frustrated if they weren’t able to use their own laptop and connect to others in the room. Some students were provided with an iPad on starting their programme whilst others were encouraged to ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD). All those present wished to use technology to enhance teaching and learning as well as student engagement.
The paper highlighted the preference from teachers and students for smaller learning environments, but this was difficult to reconcile with increased numbers of places on programmes as well as increased media attention on students wishing to be back in lecture theatres following the pandemic. The group discussed the deeply embedded culture associated with going to University as attending lectures. They also noted the importance of explaining to students at the start of a course unit the pedagogical approach and ethos behind how the unit is taught. Helping students to understand the teaching design or approach at the start of a unit can help them engage and learn more effectively.
The group moved on to discuss how to co-create a teaching session including starting with a blank piece of paper (to give complete freedom), using a more structured approach (to enable the re-designed unit to work within resource constraints), and use of external facilitators (to enable students to talk freely). The group emphasised the importance of the student voice, particularly for any inclusion requirements.
The take home messages from the participants of the journal club at the end of the session were as follows:
- Not assuming you know what the students want, for example, the BYOD split in student requirements.
- How as an academic we reconcile our views about what we want or what we think we want.
- Reflecting on scenarios where there is a good tool but poor engagement versus good engagement but a poor tool.
- Use of sandpits for unit design and how to incorporate the student voice.
- Using existing learning environments (like the MECD) to experience new ways of teaching before deciding on preferences.
- Not letting the technology get in the way of teaching and learning.
- Considering all aspects of inclusion, particularly disabilities that are often forgotten such as colour blindness.
- Explaining to students why you’ve made the decision to teach a unit in a certain way.
- How to co-create a unit without alienating certain groups.
- The fluctuating views of students (preference for small learning environments in this paper versus current media preference for the traditional lecture) need to be reconciled with the best pedagogy i.e. students remember 10% of what they hear (Masters, 2013).
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Ken Masters (2013) Edgar Dale’s Pyramid of Learning in medical education: A literature review, Medical Teacher, 35:11, e1584-e1593, DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2013.800636