Thursday, 19 December 2013



Education today is embracing technology. This makes teaching and learning hugely exciting for us all. With so many portable devices available such as smart phones, I-pads, tablets, laptops, the anywhere anytime online learning concept makes it easier to share information with a large number of students. Grainne Conole’s presentation Navigating Digital Landscapes, made the point that the internet is actually only 20 years old. As I have said in my previous posts.....I am sure many of us find it hard to imagine life without the internet. E-learning can encourage creative learning and allow more people to access higher education, thus improving employment opportunities for many.

The Horizon Report (2013) suggests that over the next five years we can expect even more innovating pedagogy, from more extensive use of mobile apps right through to wearable technology, with quite a few exciting educational improvements between. One area that particularly interested me was the Learning Analytics. To be able to quickly and effectively identify students that are struggling would encourage us to model our flexible style of teaching to student’s individual learning styles. The School of Veterinary Nursing is currently doing this fairly successfully, however there are still a number of students that fall through the cracks. By identifying the students earlier in the course, lecturers can deliver a more personalized instruction tailored to the learner’s individual needs.

While all these changes are going to be challenging to remain ahead of, it is important to remain focused on what counts. Noam Chomskey "the purpose of education is to help people learn for themselves"...."do you train for passing tests or do you train for creative inquiry?" made me question the way some students currently use the internet. Recently while marking a paper on Animal Behaviour, US 5222, the students were asked to research and describe the social organization and relationships between group members of a number of species. While some students researched and discussed the topic in depth, a large number did not utilize their resources or technology to research the subject properly. As discussed recently in our flexible learning forum, "the internet can open doors, but the ease of getting the answer can also shut doors".

As teachers we suggest readings, supply extensive course notes, recommend a text book and offer numerous websites for our veterinary nursing students to search. However some students choose to just ask the question on Google and go with the first thing that pops up. The tendency to take this first answer rather than research the subject in detail can have an impact on the students underpinning knowledge as the answer may not always be the best or even the correct one. The desire to explore topics further and promote creative inquiry will provide deeper interest in the subjects. Rather than ask for one source of reference we should ask for more. I realise that some of our students do not have the skills or knowledge of how to best research subjects. Part of our role is to encourage students on a lifelong learning journey of discovery. We need to give them the tools to build the scaffolding that will enable them to become expert learners so that they can take pride in their achievements.

Currently our students are asked to submit video evidence of caring for animals. They are set a number of tasks which they must complete jointly with a written open book assessment. I would like to see this improved further and get the students to reflect on what they have learnt during the process. It is easy to correctly remove a dog from a kennel with detailed instructions....but I would like the students to think about why they are performing these tasks. Teaching them to assess the dog’s demeanor before they open the kennel door is vital but they also need to reflect on why this should be done. Why is important to assess the dog from a distance first? Who do they need to protect? By encouraging reflection the students will increase their underpinning knowledge and in this instance have a deeper appreciation of dog behaviour.

At the end of each Care for Diary, there is a space where the student is asked to critique his or her videos. Many students will answer with "I think I did well because ......." but not actually fully reflect how or why they performed each task a particular way. I would like to see the students submit a learning portfolio with guidance and in collaboration with the lecturers. It could be in the form of a blog, since they are not nearly as scary as I first thought, videos, or a discussion forum where the nursing students chat together on-line and reflect on various issues that may have arisen. Topics could be added throughout the students learning journey. There could be flexibility around the topics and delivery. Students may wish to work together throughout the year or individually. If it was to be included as part of their assessments, there may need to be guidelines and finishing dates. By gradually building the learning portfolio throughout the year the student can look back at how far they have progressed and reflect with pride at their achievements.

I would like to see our veterinary nursing students engage in more critical thinking and research subjects more fully rather than just answer questions on an assessment. By encouraging them to participate in a reflective learning portfolio I believe this will encourage deeper learning and could also advance to become a showcase of the students work, attached with videos, for future employers.

The learning portfolio would cover a number of flexible areas within the Flexibility Continuum. Time and place: this could be flexible to suit individual needs, however if the work was to be assessed as part of the course, there may have to be a completion date. Sequence: the student could choose the area they wish to reflect on. Duration: the learner could set their own pace, but as with time and place there may have to be a completion date. Assessment: the learning journey the student undertakes throughout the portfolio is assessed at completion of the course. Delivery mode: definite flexibility here as embracing technology may work for some but not others. Technology: the student can choose the technology they wish to use to complete the learning portfolio.


Chomsky, N. (2012) Retrieved from

Conole, G. (2013). Navigating Digital Landscapes. Otago Polytechnic. Retrieved from

Hegarty, B. (2012) e Portfolios-getting to the nuts and bolts. Prepared for flexible learning2012. Retrieved from

The NMC Horizon Report
(2013) Higher Education Edition.
Retrieved from http://

1 comment:

  1. Great ideas and it is really interesting to read about some possible approaches you might use with students and learning portfolios. Having ownership of a portfolio can provide the stimulus students need to engage in the learning process. And you are so right about the need to get students thinking about why something needs to be done in a certain way or why something did not work so well.

    Reflective learning as you say is key to take the learning deeper and to help students remember what they are learning for longer. It is also an essential component of practicing sustainable approaches to education.

    Rote learning and practicing over and over again is great for the skills that need to be automatic but the students are more likely to develop and extend their skills faster if they fully understand why something is done a particular way. Would you agree?

    You may be interested, currently a debate is occurring about who owns the data collected in institutions about students' learning. Is it the institution or the student? Also, questions are being asked about whether teachers should have access to the data so they can support and guide their students better or that only students have access, and have more autonomy in choosing whether to seek help. What are your thoughts about this?