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The UCL Teaching Administrator Conference 2014

7 May 2014

Dr Mira Vogel, E-Learning Environments, reports on the fifth annual conference - and the first to be opened by the UCL President & Provost

UCL Teaching Administrators Conference 2014

A conference dedicated to supporting learning and teaching (in the professional services sense) is a rare thing in higher education, but UCL’s fifth Teaching Administrator Conference, which took place on 24 April, is precisely that.

As the first Provost to speak at this annual event, Professor Michael Arthur’s opening was evidence of the growing importance of teaching administration at UCL. 

He compared UCL with his former institution Leeds, discussing relationships between senior management and the student union, and the effect that organisation of student services can have on opportunities for staff career progression. 

Emphasising that UCL should be a gracious partner in its global initiatives, he talked about UCL’s influential role within the sector and - noting the surprisingly few contributions to date - particularly encouraged conference participants to share ideas for UCL’s strategic direction as part of the UCL 2034 consultation. He also celebtrated the recruitment of women to a number of senior positions.

Stefanie Anyadi, a 2013 Provost’s Teaching Award winner, gave an update on the Teaching Administrator Network and introduced other members of the conference organising committee. They were Lori Coletti, Rachel Hall, Judith Hillmore, Andrea Ledwig, Michelle Tinsley, Carole Trent and Charlotte Verney. 

Those taking notice will spot what they all have in common, and Stefanie tactfully commented that more diversity on the committee would be welcome.

Technology in teaching administration

The schedule had a variety of parallel sessions. We in E-Learning Environments (ELE) were involved in three e-learning sessions. 

In a computer room I led a hands-on workshop entitled ‘Students’ Use of Online Resources – What Moodle Can Tell You‘ (Prezi). Learning analytics is big news at the moment, and the session was conceived as a sort of proto-analytics foray to generate questions and familiarise colleagues with Moodle logs and reports – the trail staff and students leave on Moodle.

There were some revelations about the extent to which certain key materials had been accessed. There are several points to emphasise here. One is that if something isn’t working, change it, another is to triangulate Moodle data with other sources of information, and a third is to be open and explicit not only about what Moodle editors can find out, but also about what practices and principles they bring to this data (and these things need to be negotiated).

Making the most of Moodle

I also attended a session led by my ELE colleague Jessica Gramp entitled ‘Collecting Information From Students – How Moodle Can Help‘. Jess discussed the relative merits of Opinio and Moodle Questionnaire for course evaluation questionnaires, and demonstrated how Moodle Database allowed students to submit a project proposal and register first and second choices of supervisor at the same time. 

Another colleague from ELE, Domi Sinclair, led a session titled ‘Designing Moodle for Your Future Self and Future Colleagues‘ in which participants took the opportunity to discuss and plan for (or even resolve) some of the pains at roll-over time. 

There were plenty of sessions related to matters other than e-learning, including Monitoring Student attendance and Engagement, Managing Student Expectations for Academic and Administrative Support, and Supporting Students With Disabilities.

Professional development with Astrea, CMALT and Arena

During the afternoon plenary session we heard about three initiatives. Continuing the theme of the place of women in UCL, Alice Chilver and Emma Todd introduced Astrea, a network for women in professional services roles at UCL which aims to connect women with role models, mentors and career progression opportunities. 

Astrea responds to the fact that while women are the majority of professional services staff, they are half as likely as men to earn more than £50,000. 

Next, Dr Clive Young of ELE introduced a mentorship programme at UCL to support applications for CMALT - Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology. This is a respected, externally-accredited professional qualification based on a reflective portfolio of evidence.

Finally, CALT’s Dr Ros Duhs introduced the new UCL Arena programme of seminars and workshops through which all staff involved in teaching are supported to apply for one of the levels of Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. Again, this is based on a reflective portfolio. 

There was some discussion about whether Arena or CMALT was preferable – we would strongly recommend both, beginning with the one for which your role provides the strongest evidence. Both are widely recognised, and while CMALT is specialised for learning and teaching with technologies, whichever you complete first is likely to help considerably with the other.

CALT’s Student Engagement Officer Abbie Willett introduced UCL ChangeMakers, a pilot scheme inviting students to propose for student-led action research projects which investigate an aspect of education or develop a new idea.

The Vice-Provost (Education)'s closing words

Finally, Vice-Provost Education Anthony Smith closed by thanking the TAs for a high National Student Survey turnout and outlining some ongoing initiatives. 

One was a project to perfect Portico, UCL’s student record system, which evolved into almost quantum complexity. 

Not only were 1,000 new modules approved last year (and none withdrawn) but timetabling is complicated by space constraints and the need to keep some times of the week where all students are free from fixed commitments and able to join in with other aspects of student life.

The Teaching Administrator Conference sets high standards and I look forward to next year.

Further information

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