The Final Frontier

Don't you just love it at the start of a movie, when that quirky little Pixar lamp is twisting about and the smell of popcorn is wafting up, and you hear the line "From the team that brought you Shrek, here comes Shrek 2". It evokes memories of characters you loved and hated, recalls twists in the plot, and allows you to hope for the story to spin on for longer, bringing you a deeper engagement with the characters and the narrative. Sequels promise both continuity and change, as you pick up from where you left off, yet knowing that there will be new tensions, different conflicts and surprising resolutions. The movie-going public love sequels – it is no surprise that six out the top ten highest earning movies ever, worldwide, are sequels. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is third, grossing $1326 million dollars, and Toy Story 3 comes in seventh at a mere $1063 million US dollars. It goes without saying that some sequels do disappoint, which is why I return to the little Pixar lamp which symbolises for me, a high chance that the sequel won't be a damp-squib. The reason – because it's the same team bringing you the movie, with a particular way of doing things that works for movie- goers.

To boldly go where no man has gone before...

Now, I know it's a bit of a stretch from the flicks to funded research projects. But in the tradition of StarTrekkies and anti-grammarians who love to split their infinitives, I'm choosing "to boldly go where no person has gone before" and do just that. "From the team that brought you TESTA, here comes FASTECH", a Joint Information Systems Project, funded to allow us to explore the use of technology on programmes to improve assessment and feedback. FASTECH will use baseline data from TESTA to help teams identify areas that they want to try out some new whizz bang technology, which already exists, is free (open source), fast (easy to use, quick to apply), efficient (saves lecturers time) and effective (helps students to learn deeper and better). Don't forget the last one – it's probably the most important. The twist in the plot is technology, the new characters are Learning- with-Technology specialists from Bath Spa and Winchester, and the resolutions – we have no doubt – will be surprising! The continuities will be an evidence-based approach to enhancing students' learning, research with a capital 'R', working with programme teams, and applying technology to assessment and feedback in pedagogically principled ways. Watch this space! And look out for the new www.fastech.ac.uk website when it is launched in the new year.

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Sunday, 19 November 2017