Author: Andy White

Summer System Updates

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The system updates highlighted in February are now in place. Early August has been a time for refreshing some of our core learning technology systems.

  • PebblePad has moved to Version 5
  • Blackboard has been updated
  • The Turnitin Document Viewer has changed to Feedback Studio
  • Medial has been updated to Version 5.

The PebblePad update replaces legacy Flash technology with HTML5, which, along with a redesigned interface, makes the system more intuitive and accessible. Find out more ….

PebblePad V5

As well as security enhancements, and ensuring that we maintain full system support for the next academic year, there are some new features with the Blackboard upgrade. Find out more …

Blackboard

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio has all the same features as the previous Document Viewer, however the interface makes better use of space, and is more accessible and responsive. Find out more ….

Turnitin

Like PebblePad, Medial has moved their interface to HTML5. They have also added a useful multispeed player option. Find out more …

Medial V5

Educational Recipes!

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An online Educational Developer’s Cookbook has been published. The resource is a collection of practical ice-breakers, workshop ideas and ways to obtain feedback & evaluation.

“Recipes” have been submitted from across the educational development community, including one from our own Nicky Meer whose recipe is “making a cup of tea”!

The cookbook can be found here; http://teachingcommons.yorku.ca/educational-developers-cookbook/, where you will also find a link for submitting your own recipe.

ELESIG NW “Seek, Gather, Explore”. 15 March

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The ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group) North West group meet at Liverpool John Moores University on 15th March.

ELESIG logo

This was an afternoon event, which began with Dr Amanda Mason & Jim Turner from LJMU feeding back about a project to set-up and run a virtual Journal Club.

Dr Rod Cullen from Manchester Metropolitan University then discussed how they had used data from a student survey to gain some insight into students experience of TEL. A greater level of consistency across the student experience was a key finding – the most vocal reports were often when a student had a good experience on one course and a poor experience on another.

Other themes emerging were communications (clarity around how often & when to respond, for example), VLE content & organisation (timeliness of content, clarity of purpose, organisation, etc.), and an interactive teaching & learning experience (a desire to be involved in learning & teaching, not just passive recipients of information). Most of the issues were around learning design, rather than the technology. One idea was for better discussions with students regarding expectations with technologies, and how they can/should be used in their studies.

Daniel Roberts and Tunde Varga-Atkins from the University of Liverpool discussed a minimum standards VLE baseline. They found that the staff who were aware of the baseline, were generally positive about it, but didn’t want it to be too prescriptive, whilst 95% of students surveyed felt that a baseline was important – again, highlighting the need for consistency (students reported less provision on the VLE than staff thought they were providing).

Ashwini Datt from the University of Auckland then talked about a couple of MOOCs her university had developed and run. She discussed the idea of MOOC blending – where some of the resources for the MOOC were used in “on-campus” courses.

Professor Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University then discussed “rising to the challenge of education in the digital age”. She talked about the diverse ways that learners respond to technologically rich environments, and how it is difficult to generalise.

She felt that learner voices were important, as the student experience is a strategic priority, however internal systems can be slow to adapt to rapid technology changes.

Currently, the focus is on blended learning, digital literacy, distance learning & MOOCs. The goal is to prepare learners for the digital world; a global, networked society. Users need to be confident users of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use.

As with most of the speakers, consistency was again seen as vital. Curriculum redesign was happening with multi-disciplinary teams to help ensure consistency and embedding of digital skills. A mapping exercise using the Jisc NUS Benchmarking Tool was also mentioned.

A very useful session, highlighting again a number of key areas that can help support the student experience and develop vital digital skills.

Jisc Digital Student Project (Jisc, March 17)

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Jisc has recently circulated the following update regarding their Digital Student Project –

“As part of the Jisc Digital student project, we have recently carried out interviews with 12 students from across further education and skills, higher education and with learners who are studying online.

The Digital learner stories are inspirational stories from learners sharing their experiences of how technology has supported their educational journeys.

It is hoped that these learner stories will:

  • inspire and encourage learners to try new things
  • showcase the rich diversity of digital practices available to learners
  • demonstrate the importance of supporting digital learning practices in all their diversity
  • argue for investment in digital access, on the basis that this make a real difference to learning outcomes
  • encourage teaching staff to develop a range of approaches, and to work with students to fully exploit the technologies available for learning
  • offer evidence to decision makers about how technology is supporting learners and enhancing their educational journey

A report compiling all the themes arising from these interviews and building on the work of the Digital student project as a whole will be published shortly.”

Learning Technology: Coming Soon …

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There are a number of learning technology system changes expected to happen prior to the start of 2017/18;

  • PebblePad moving to version 5
  • Turnitin GradeMark moving to Turnitin Feedback Studio
  • Blackboard upgrade and theme change
  • Medial moving to version 5

Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.

PebblePad

  • Our current version of PebblePad is being moved to the latest version (V5) over the summer
  • The underlying technology moves from Flash to HTML5 – more accessible, and in-line with browsers that are phasing-out/removing Flash support
  • Accessible on all devices, such as smartphones and tablets
  • Redesigned, and simpler interface
  • ATLAS remains unchanged
  • All Assets move across
  • Our current version is no longer being developed, and will be phased-out shortly
PebblePad V5 Screenshot
PebblePad V5 home page

Support & communication
Workshops for staff will be delivered over the coming months. Some have already taken place.  Those who attend will have access to V5 via a temporary account that will remain available to them until the upgrade.

There are many “how-to” guides directly on the new home page. We will produce a transition guide, which will be applicable to staff and students.

Timing
Most users will move across on Monday 7th August, however, any reassessment students will be left on V3 (current system) until they have resubmitted, and will be moved at the end of August.

Turnitin

  • GradeMark interface is being updated to Feedback Studio
  • Same features, but improved use of space
  • Easier to add comments & Quick Marks
  • Can now add clickable URLs to feedback – support pages, documents etc.
Turnitin Feedback Studio Screenshot
Turnitin Feedback Studio

Support & communication
A transition guide will be produced to help staff move to marking via the updated interface.

Some of the features can be seen on Turnitin’s demonstration site.

Timing
We are able to switch-on this feature at any time, with a forced change to all users initially planned from Turnitin by July 2017. We are checking current timings for this forced switch; however, the current proposal is to make the move at around the same time as the Blackboard upgrade (i.e. late July / early August).

Blackboard

We will be looking to perform our annual upgrade of Blackboard over the summer. There is no licence-cost impact to upgrading to a newer version of the system. All upgrades bring security improvements, as well as support for newer versions of client software and systems (browsers etc.). However, an essential reason for needing to regularly upgrade is to ensure full support for the system for the up-coming academic year.

The upgrade will bring some new features and an updated colour scheme and theme change.

Regarding the theme, we are proposing to move incrementally towards the – desired – responsive web design theme as it develops. The proposal is a move towards the look-and-feel, but maintaining the course design options for a period of time (these themes need to be turned-off when we move totally onto the responsive design).

Blackboard potential theme change screenshot
One Blackboard potential theme change

Timing
The last two upgrades have happened towards the end of July / early August, and the proposal would be to do the same again (these upgrades didn’t appear to cause any major disruption issues). Blackboard should be on Managed Hosting by the time of the upgrade; this should offer more flexibility and options for upgrade timings.

Medial

  • System update to version 5
  • Updated and fully responsive interface redesign
  • HTML5 player by default (Flash fallback still an option)
  • Multispeed playback (i.e. 2x)
  • Multi-bitrate playback
  • Version 5 is required for MediaLecture (if we were to consider this option)
  • More customisation & branding options
  • Live-stream workflow improvements
Screenshot from Medial V5 demo server
Screenshot from Medial V5 demo server

Support & communication
Much of the current interaction with Medial is via the Blackboard building block, rather than directly through the interface. The main changes via this route will be the new options on the player, and the switch to HTML5. All the web interface features will still be there, just with an enhanced interface.

Timing
Support and upgrades of Medial is included in our annual licence. The upgrade is carried out remotely and is expected to take less than an hour (updates in the past have been around 15 minutes, with actual video playback disruption less than that). We just need to book an update “slot” with the vendors. As there isn’t a test system for Medial, updates always carry a slight risk, and we only see the changes at the same time as all system users (we rely on their demo server to view some of the potential feature changes ahead of the move).

“Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education?” (HEPI. 2 Feb 2017)

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The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has recently published a new report entitled “Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education?”.

HEPI report cover

The report makes seven recommendations that HEIs should consider to make the most of the advantages and opportunities that digital technology can offer; even stating that technology can help support TEF’s three main components, namely teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes.

The report recommends that technology-enhanced learning (TEL) should be built into the curriculum design process to ensure effectiveness, and that best-practice should be evidenced and shared to help support TEL use and continued adoption. A focus on digital capabilities is also recommended, as this is a key component of graduate employability; increased digital skills across the institution also helps drive TEL and the digital environment.

TEL can have a positive impact on learning outcomes when it is “designed-in” as part of the overall pedagogic approach. The report also discusses and recommends learning analytics to help measure engagement, increase retention and potentially predict outcomes.

There are many examples from across the sector within the report that help substantiate the arguments and recommendations being made.

Overall a very interesting read, with strong recommendations for making the most of TEL within Higher Education.

You can find out more on the HEPI website, which also includes a link to the report in PDF format – http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2017/02/02/rebooting-learning-digital-age-next-technology-enhanced-higher-education/

Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference, 5 – 6 January

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The title of this year’s conference – the 17th Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference – was “Ticked Off – Towards Better Assessment & Feedback”. The event was held at the Durham University Business School.

There was an interesting mix of presentations throughout the two days, as well as opportunities to discuss ideas and issues with colleagues during breaks.

The opening keynote was Susie Schofield from the University of Dundee. Susie felt that students could avoid bad teaching, but not bad assessment; emphasising the need for clearly defined assessment criteria.

Susie said that feedback can be harmful – too much, too complicated, too late etc., and that feedback shouldn’t be too positive or too negative. There is also a difficulty in getting students to engage in feedback – they tend to be interested only in marks.

Good feedback should be dialogic she argued, but acknowledged that moving to this approach could cause friction within organisations as it could be seen as a redistribution of power.

She went on to describe a case study where a cover paper was produced for each assignment. Each student was expected to complete the cover sheet, self-evaluating on various criteria and stating what aspect of the assignment they would specifically like feedback on, as well as whether previous feedback had helped inform this assignment. This cover sheet was formatively marked.

On receipt of the marked assessment, there were some additional questions for the students, asking them to comment on the feedback.

Susie stated that the results were better engagement with students & tutors, improved feedback and improved assessment literacy.

There are some more details of the case study here;

Other presenters at the conference discussed different tools and strategies that they had used to support assessment and feedback within Blackboard.

One talk was on gamification, which was described as the use of game-thinking to help promote learning and problem-solve. Some examples of how behaviour can be influenced by taking a game-based approach were shown, and these can be found here; http://www.thefuntheory.com/, with one example below

I also went to presentations around system reporting and the use of design to help promote consistency.

Overall, a very informative and enjoyable conference with plenty of ideas.

ALT conference. 6 – 8 September 2016, University of Warwick

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The theme of this year’s Association for Learning Technology Conference (known as ALT-C for short) was “Connect, Collaborate, Create” (press release)

The conference was three full days of keynote speakers and presentations from individuals and groups from a host of UK and international institutions; including Dan Meer and myself from Cumbria. Our presentation was on the “12 Seasonal Tips” initiative that ran at the end of semester-one 2015. Our “slot” was right at the end of the programme on day three, so we had that at the back of our minds during the conference (best till last?!)!

altbadges
ALT badges. Image from ALT site

I attended a wide variety of presentations, and have come away with a number of ideas and topics to follow-up.

Below is Ian Livingstone’s keynote recording. All the keynote presentations can be seen here.

Digital capabilities and digital wellbeing were amongst the areas being discussed, with presenters talking about how they were approaching designing and running their CPD offer, acknowledging that “creativity takes courage” when it comes to updating or challenging practice.

The question of Open Badges was raised in a couple of sessions, including one run by City & Guilds who highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities of badges.

The use of analytics was a key theme of the conference, and I saw a number of presentations where speakers were talking about their proposed and actual use of data to help support learning, saying that institutions tend to be “data rich, intelligence poor”. One argument was that students are already used to sharing data outside of the institution, and therefore an electronic footprint of student use of institutional systems would be useful to help monitor engagement and support the student. However, it was acknowledged that data ownership and use was something that should be transparent through clear policies / codes of practice.

The shear amount of online activity (as highlighted by the internet minute), was the inspiration to presentations about the use of media to support learning. This included the use of lecture capture and of systems to help “create / publish / share / discover” media within the institution; one institution even providing a “’DIY film school” workshop for simple tips & tricks to capture video content using the user’s own smartphone or tablet. Copyright, together with OER policies and open licences were also under discussion.

Flipped classrooms, webinars and the blend between physical and virtual spaces were also discussed, with the challenge of providing active learning spaces regardless of the environment being a key theme.

There are some other conference blog posts here.

Overall, a very enjoyable, tiring, challenging and informative conference – and the food and accommodation was good too!

Andy White, AQD