Using technology to support students’ collaborative working, knowledge development and sharing
The project identified web-based technologies to allow students to interact in virtual mobility, which allowed the project to expand and increase the number of partners to 6 to expose the students to greater diversity, intercultural aspects and international occupationally focussed solutions.
In order to achieve this we sourced a technology platform with capacity to support students and staff from 6 universities in working together across countries. This technology allowed the students to interact, build, present, share, discuss and develop their intercultural skills and learning.
The technology chosen to support this activity was Kubify’s Learning Toolbox for ePosters platform. Kubify is an event and learning technology company set-up by learning technology researchers. The platform was developed to address the problems associated with traditional paper posters or common ePoster solutions at conferences. Specifically Learning Toolbox allows users to create rich collections of multimedia and interactive material (an ePoster) that can be presented (using standard A/V equipment), discussed (discussions are attached to the ePoster), shared (using links or QR codes) and updated following discussions. The educational aims of Learning Toolbox are to improve engagement with the content, ideas and people by seeing the ePoster as a dynamic learning object that has a life beyond the conference (Treasure-Jones et. al. 2018). As well as being used as the ePoster platform at an increasing number of international conferences, Learning Toolbox is also being used to teach students how to design ePosters (Masters et. al. 2018).
As the platform was web-based and supported discussions and updates it met the key requirements for the MIROTS project. Students were able to build their ePosters within the online tool, could review each other’s ePosters and attach their comments to the ePoster, present the ePosters during an online conference, make updates required following the discussions and also use the ePoster as a resource that could continue to be shared with others. Kubify supplied a variety of useful learning tools for staff and students.
Each group involved students from two Universities with each pair comprising one original partner and one new partner. All students in the groups contributed to creating the content of the poster, but in each group one student was appointed to the editing role with responsibility for uploading the content into final ePoster in Learning Toolbox. All students were able to view and comment on the ePoster as it developed. The students acting as editors were from either Lund, Southampton or Galway and one project partner at each of those institutions was given the role of providing local support to the student editor. This local support was in addition to the online support (videos and frequently asked questions) provided within the platform itself.
For the virtual events the most challenging aspects were identifying platforms that could support student communication and a virtual conference. Essential to such activities was access to and advice from technical support IT-personnel. Earlier virtual events were impacted by poor sustained communication and this resulted in changing the platform used which enhanced sound and picture quality resulting in better participation. The chosen platform offered opportunities to share slides and presenting opportunities. Central to the success of virtual events was the time for test opportunities between partner institutions to ensure excellent sound quality and processes to ensure the smooth execution of the sessions.
The use of Learning Toolbox expanded on what had been previously done with this tool. Our work has demonstrated how technology such as this can be used to support interdisciplinary and international student project work at a distance.
The use of a Technical expert is advisable to support student communications and Virtual Conferences to ensure audio and visual outputs
It is essential to timetable test-sessions into the planning and preparation of the exchange for them to run as smoothly as possible.
The use of an innovative and intuitive web-based programme to support student development and output was invaluable. In 2019 this was provided by a web-based e-poster platform. This allowed all partners to work collegiately and collaboratively in the design of a virtual poster, generating debate and an enquiring mind from fellow students.
Even though independent, self-directed learning is encouraged, students need ongoing support to manage technical difficulties, differences in understanding between the three student groups, and guidance towards their presentations.
Consideration should be given to the placement of the web-exchange in the semester. As it involves 5-6 weeks work for students, interaction with busy times of the semester and/or exam periods is not advised.
Where students are using a second language more time should be included in the schedule to allow rest periods and processing time during discussions.