MELSIG is the Media-Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group, a UK higher education academic development network. I hope this article is useful to anyone who has ever participated in MELSIG’s work. It is intended to communicate our value to our managers, but also to help you reflect on media-enhanced learning and academic innovation in relation to your own professional practices.
Reflecting on the 30 events run by MELSIG to date, as well as its other activities and the values demonstrated in our network since 2008, it is clear that MELSIG is an exemplary advocate of the UKPSF.
Not only does MELSIG argue for a greater understanding and use of digital media to promote excellent teaching and learning, but its determined commitment to pedagogic innovation also provides insight and succour to the innovative academic mind. This review of MELSIG’s relationship to the UKPSF’s dimensions provides a lens on both MELSIG and the UKPSF and their respective value to academic practice in higher education.
Dimensions of practice
Areas of Activity
A1 – Taking a designed approach to teaching in which learning activities and programmes of study are planned From our earliest days, we have consistently run workshops structured around design activities and frameworks. For example, together we have explored and applied the concepts of Digital Audio Learning Objects, Media Interventions, and Social Media for Learning by taking a structured approach to using design principles that ensure ideas can be transposed to our diverse contexts.
A2 – Delivery of teaching and the support of learning using new and emerging media and technologies demands new and emerging pedagogies. Why else would we be interested? MELSIG has consistently explored the novel opportunities, and the implications, provided by disruptive media for teaching. Central to the design of our events is how we go about modelling innovative practice with media. In particular, we continually demonstrate how we make delivery interactive and participant-centred. A SIG allows all of us to be creative, wander ‘off-piste’, and take a few risks in a supportive community. This has led us as a network, and individually, to take many interesting directions which have often gone on to develop lives of their own. Our relationship to #BYOD4L and our connection to the @LTHEchat remain of great value. Our relationship with the #SocMedHE annual conference also remains strong.
A3 – Assessment and feedback are never far from the minds of academic colleagues who have presented their work at MELSIG events. We have, for example, with the support of the Jisc ASSET project and collaboration with the University of Reading, taken time to understand how audio, video, and screencast digital media are being used to enhance feedback. Audio feedback, in particular, has been an ongoing success story for MELSIG from that start. Many of the case studies in the Digital Voices book shared the diverse practices around audio feedback. The Audio Feedback Toolkit was our first toolkit and features the voices of practitioners. Media-enhanced assessment is re-emerging as an agenda for MELSIG. We are asking, how are the digital image, video, audio and social media being used as the basis of formative and summative assessment; not only from an instructive perspective, but as a dimension of our learner-generated context?
A4 – The role of digital and social media in developing effective learning environments appropriate to subject and disciplinary contexts is MELSIG’s ‘bread and butter’. Some people may come to MELSIG thinking that it is about the technology, but it becomes immediately apparent that the value of digital media, including social media, is spatial. This is not only explicit in our attention to the ‘digital voice’ and the personalisation of learning, but in the methods we have developed (e.g. Twalks) and the conceptual settings in which we have framed our thinking. Placemaking, for example, acknowledges learner agency and whether we have discussed user-generated podcasts, digital narratives, or digital storytelling, more often than not we have been talking about learner agency and learner autonomy as a context for learning.
A5 – CPD and scholarship This is easy, learning about media-enhanced learning through co-operative exploration and experimentation is at the heart of everything we do in MELSIG!
K1 – The subject material Whether it is podcasting for pedagogic purposes, learning technologies, the pedagogic use of digital video, the role of smart personal and mobile technologies, or social media for learning, we continue to push at the boundaries of understanding and practice, and we confidently cross and connect them. By doing so, MELSIG develops fluency within our community that ensures we are relevant to academic practice in higher education.
K2 – Appropriate methods for teaching the subject We have fun and can be playful because we look to the leading edge of academic practice. Our pioneering mentality allows us to play with possibilities. The Twalk, for example, is one such experiment – what happens if you take the idea of a loosely structured conversational learning walk and connect it globally using tweetchat principles? Can we share a walk and a conversation globally? Yes, we proved it works and we have continued to run twalks many times since our first foray, within institutions and connecting institutions. Then we co-produced a toolkit to explain what’s involved. This experiment in particular, but also its general implications, are about the connected global learning space. More parochially, a technique like the Video FAQs used in our FAB (Flipped/Flexible, Active & Blended) toolkit theme makes the technology and media the catalyst in the future classroom. MELSIG works as a CoLab or Makerspace in which we create room for trying things out.
K3 – How students learn An ongoing tension explored by MELSIG has been our focus on ‘whose voice?’ The didactic voice or the generative voice of the learners? The answer is that we do not need to see these as a dichotomy, but instead we need to appreciate how digital and social media extend the opportunities for supporting students to learn across diverse spaces.
K4 – The use of appropriate learning technologies. Perhaps ‘appropriate’ is our essential adjective in MELSIG. We know we can do new things with technology and media, but ‘how are they useful and appropriate?’ is our question.
K5 – Evaluating the effectiveness of teaching with digital and social media is validated by taking a communal approach to developing and sharing practice. We might have leading voices, but we take a communal approach to reviewing the knowledge we create, for example through our ‘pass the parcel’ plenaries in which we conclude our events by making a collective podcast of reflections on the day.
K6 – The implications of media-enhanced learning for quality assurance and quality enhancement, and its implications for teaching provides us with our essential remit. MELSIG adopts a ‘critical advocacy’ to guiding staff about the opportunities and challenges of using media.
V1 – Respect for individual learners – an early piece of research initiated by MELSIG focused on ethical podcasting. ‘Great ideas’ need to be tempered by considerations for the learner. We published an ethical framework that provides a way for the academic to safeguard students (Regan et al, 2011). The question of accessibility frequently arose in some of our early events on podcasting – “What about deaf students?”, “How can we produce subtitles for all this digital media?”, and so forth. Such questions are important of course, but by working with colleagues from disabled student support services in the sector, it became clear that digital media can actually be used to enhance access to learning and knowledge, including access for deaf, dyslexic, and international students.
V2 – Media-enhanced learning promotes participation in higher education because, in its many forms, digital and social media contributes to the development of a connected learning space in which participation is redefined by a meld of synchronous and asynchronous engagement.
V3 – Evidence-informed approaches – MELSIG has run many collaborative scholarly activities – notably producing three books. Our use of Opportunity & Challenge activities for many years as a warm up activity in events set this tone of participant-based inquiry in which we each talked about what excited or challenged us as the basis for engagement with a theme. Such a learning environment promotes an inquiry-based development ethos and leads to the co-production of knowledge in its practice, as well as its advocacy.
V4 – Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates – If there is one assumption informing MELSIG’s thinking, it is that change is constant – whatever we think today may need to change tomorrow. This has demanded a principle-based approach to innovation to develop not only media literacy, but media-fluency. This is about developing our confidence as a network to evaluate new and emerging contexts by drawing upon our experience and analysing the emerging landscape using reliable principles for enhancing learning through academic innovation.
Regan, J.-A., Middleton, A., Beattie, C. & Sextone, R. (2011). Scenario-based evaluation of an ethical framework for the use of digital media in learning and teaching. Journal of Pedagogic Development, 1(2), 39—48.