Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM Project Partner Meeting in “virtual Belgium”

Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM Project Partner Meeting in “virtual Belgium”

In a parallel universe, the Assessment of Transversal Skills in STEM project team would have been in beautiful Belgium this morning. Sadly however, in the ‘new normal’ international educational research and development project teams no longer converge on some European city for a few intense days of meetings and workshops. Instead we continued the work of the ATS STEM project yesterday online and will meet again over the next two weeks as part of a series of all partner meetings in “virtual Antwerp”. Although there is much to miss about the physical meetings, there are a lot of positives about the current format — such as, less travel time, reduced carbon footprint and negative impact on the climate, space for valuable reflection between meetings and, of course, most critically keeping each other safe.

Mark Brown of Dublin City University and John Hurley of H2 Learning kicked us off by outlining how we have responded to the feedback on the first year report of the project to the European Commission. The feedback to date has highlighted how we have responded to the Covid-19 crisis but also points ways forward for us to continue to help teachers use digital tools in STEM education.

Nilay Aral and Sonja Bracht from Danube Krems University, who lead the Quality Assurance project work package, presented on the critical aspect of risk assessment via a SWOT Analysis. Given the uncertain, changeable nature of the current educational environment this is a key concern of the project. Currently a traffic light system is being used to help indicate how we can work in schools according to the levels of openness in the countries involved. The Strengths of the project were highlighted – in particular the skills of the partners and conceptual framework that has been developed. The importance was re-emphasised of continuing to make our conceptual and practical tools developed visible, compressible and usable for teachers. Stand by for more on this topic.

Finally, Ida Maria Peltoma of Tampere University presented on the ongoing work of teacher professional development from the Tampere team in co-operation with Dublin City University. If you are a teacher interested in using digital tools for assessment of key STEM skills and you would like to get involved, we are currently recruiting participant schools across several countries, so please get in touch with us. For more information, please contact Eamon Costello, Project Lead, or see the ATS STEM project website www.atsstem.eu

A Digital Edge: Week 2 Reflections – Learners Better Prepared to Thrive Learning Online

We wrapped up Week 2 of A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner at the end of last week. By the end of the week almost 5,000 learners from across the globe had registered to enhance their online skills set against a wider context of life skills and the LifeComp Framework as colleges and universities explore the potential of online, hybrid and blended models of teaching and learning.

A Digital Edge: Life Skills Framework

After a strong start in the first week, in which learners reflected on their experience and noted a shift in their feelings towards online learning from “anxious” to “confident”, the second week continued the steady growth in the level of interest and engagement. As a socially-focused course, it was rewarding to see comment sections brimming with observations, experiences and advice from people as they progressed through the week’s “Ways of Thinking” and “Ways of Working” sections.

While the first week focused on starting with the right mindset and laying down foundational principles for learning online, Week 2 shifted the focus to some more practical aspects with “Tools for Working” and “Tools for Thriving”. Kicking off with a quiz on “What are you concerned about?” to help our team of facilitators to better understand the needs and concerns of learners, Week 2 then moved ahead to address some of those challenges in “Tools for Working”. This included handling issues around getting connected, avoiding the “shiny new toy” syndrome to get organised, creating plans and to-do lists, accessing appropriate tools for different activities, and getting into the habit of backing up data.

“Tools for Thriving”, the last section of the course, had a mix of articles, videos, polls and student advice that all stressed the importance of digital well-being and social interaction. The step “Think, Reflect, Think!” introduced the idea of becoming a ‘thriving’ citizen by honing one’s critical thinking skills and civic engagement with an open mind. Spotting fake news and avoiding its spread was highlighted in the ‘Beware!’ section, which sparked a lively discussion in the comments section.

As the course comes to an end, a poll under the step ‘A Worry Shared’ was conducted to determine which aspects of online learning people were most concerned about. Here are the results of this poll so far…

Which of the following aspects of online learning are you most concerned about?

Almost half of the learners (43%) said they were most concerned about staying focused and self-motivated. The next highest group, a little over one in four learners (27%) said they were concerned about the lack of social interaction. Organising group work/study sessions and limited access to lecturers/tutors were the next highest concerns, followed by lecturers’ experience in online teaching.

Notably, 6% of course participants said they were concerned about internet speed/availability and 2% about access to computers/technology, reflecting the need for institutions and governments across the world to upgrade their internet infrastructure for the benefit of higher education in the ‘new normal’.

It was good to see that learners embraced the message of the need to collaborate with others and support fellow learners. Here’s a good example of learners participating in the course already starting to help out each other in their online learning journey…

After an Orientation Week webinar with students at Dublin City University (DCU) taking the course, it is pleasing to see that over 700 have already completed the course and uploaded their FutureLearn Certificate onto their MyDCU portal. The level of uptake at DCU demonstrates the value of this type of course when it is fully embedded like this as part of the student welcome and orientation experience. We were also pleased that DCU’s President, Professor Daire Keogh has a final video at the end of the course to wish everyone all the best for their online study over the remainder of the year, and beyond.

Overall, the general feedback on the course in the final section was overwhelmingly positive. Most learners appreciated the social nature of the course, the reflections at the end of each step, and the ability to learn from other learners’ advice. This was a key aspect of the course design. Most of all, they found comfort in finding a community of learners who felt like they were in this together: journeying from ‘anxious’ to ‘confident’, ‘concerned’ to ‘excited’.

As Christiaan said…

This course really brought it home to me that we’re all in the same boat! That really helps with any anxieties I may have as I approach the start of term. There was an article earlier in the course about the humanity of the student, I really liked that. Be vulnerable, there’s great capacity for development when you move to that space which lies outside your comfort zone.

In a similar vein, Grainne P wrote…

I’ve definitely learned a lot from this course and I really enjoyed it too. I’ve learned about different tools that I will use to thrive in my new online learning environment. I’ve discovered areas that I need to work on and I’ve gotten a clearer insight into how I learn. I’ve learned about the importance of being organized, having a good balance in life and of taking time off. I learned about how active citizenship interlinks with becoming a student. The digital tools and skills that I have learned about have prepared me for online learning and the year ahead now seems less daunting. Thank you.

And Deidre C shared her course reflections including several valuable takeaways…

This course really helped me. It was interesting, interactive, and informative. It helped me to reflect and learn. I really liked the discussion forums at the end of each article as they made me realise that I share many of my feelings with others who are in the same position as me so I am not alone. The forums also allowed me to learn from others. My top 3 takeaways are:

1. Don’t be shy and engage with others on Zoom and other online learning platforms

2. Develop a good routine and stick to it – manage my time effectively, don’t leave things until the last minute

3. Keep up with my study but take regular breaks and know when to switch off as this is so important for my well being

What’s next?

The course is still open for learners to complete. However, this week any late comers and those people still finishing the course won’t receive as many personal replies and comments from our team of facilitators. At this stage, we would like to thank our team of DCU Student Ambassadors, in particular, for their comments and valuable contributions to the course over the past few weeks. And keep in mind that the comments already posted under each step from both learners and our facilitators remain a valuable resource and serve to illustrate how online learning can be a socially interactive and critically reflective experience when you choose to engage. We also encourage participants to provide feedback on the course in the end survey, and elsewhere, as this feedback will be used by the team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at DCU to help enhance the next course offering. We anticipate a revised version of the course will be available again in January 2021.