Developing digital literacies through an online student conference

Edinburgh Napier University established a new PGDE programme within the School of Applied Sciences in August 2019.  In designing a new PGDE programme from scratch, we decided to build in digital literacy at a very basic structural level.  Initially, we were interested in Digital Skills Development (Strand 1) and Pedagogy in the Digital Domain (Strand 2).  We knew we would have to use the University’s own VLE for the backbone of our modules –  the submission, marking and feeding back on assignments – but we also wanted to model emerging good practice in digital learning and teaching using the technology that our students would actually meet in schools.

We chose to build our programme using the tools available in the Google Suite for Education as its widely accessible through Glow, fairly simple, requires only limited hardware capability and is thus fairly accessible.  Integrating the use of Google Sheets, Docs, Slides and Classroom into our programme’s seminars, workshops and practical labs was a conscious attempt to normalise digital learning intoeveryday practice and to model its use.  We prepared lectures using Slides, shared Docs, used Sheets in analysing data with our students and built Classrooms to distribute resources.  We encouraged our students to reflect online using Classroom journals, to film themselves teaching and share the videos for peer feedback, to share lesson plans and to create teaching resources digitally.

When COVID-19 cut short placements and face-to-face teaching, we were forced to move our Professional Enquiry conference online.  Rather than host a day-long conference with invited partners and associate tutors present on campus, we elected to use an online approach to allow students to speak about their projects and display their conference posters.

Our colleague, Dr. Fiona Savage designed and built a virtual conference using the Google Suite to host the conference website and allocated tutors, associate tutors and students to a series of virtual conference “rooms”.  Students submitted videoed presentations of their conference papers and their online poster presentation to these “rooms” in advance of the conference date.  On the day of the conference, students, staff and partners attended the conference, the rooms were opened and all could watch the presentations. 

As conferences are as much about the interactions as the presentations so we needed to build in opportunities for questions and discussion.  This was done by using an online forum approach where questions were submitted and answered in almost real time.

Initially, this had seemed like a daunting prospect: we had never attended an online conference far less designed one.  However, we found that our students responded very well to this as we had  already built sufficient capacity through out integration of digital literacy into our programme and our students had the skills and the imagination to effectively present their professional enquiries and respond to academic discussion from home. 

Though necessitated by events, we have found from student feedback that this project has built competence and confidence in digital learning and teaching and has gone some way in building sufficient digital literacy to operate effectively in a COVID-19 context.