learning technology

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/

PebbleBash 2016

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I recently attended the above Conference at the Technology Innovation Park, University of Wolverhampton. This Conference was a ‘global gathering’ and brought together established users of PebblePad from Australia and the UK with new users of the system, Canada and America for the first time. PebblePad conferences happen in the UK every 2 years and are renowned for their friendliness, collegiality and the obligatory ceilidh. The two days were brimmed full with the sharing of good practice, inspirational speakers and plenty of ideas to take away. As with any conference, it is good to get totally immersed with like-minded people and hear fresh ideas and approaches to current PebblePad usage from all over the world, by universities and professional bodies alike.

The University of Cumbria has been a user of PebblePad since its inception in 2005, and thus, we were one of the more established users at the event (along with Bradford, Edinburgh and Wolverhampton). We have seen it through its various stages from early ‘Classic’ (remember those plopping pebbles?) to Version 3 (our current version) and to looking ahead at Version 5 which most universities transferred over to this summer. (By way of explanation, we didn’t feel that the product was ‘ready enough’ for our students and staff at this moment in time, as major functions such as ‘Collaborate’ aren’t in the new version yet. They will be by the time we transfer across in the summer of 2017.)

Newer users of PebblePad have solely begun to use Version 5; so-called as it is written in HTML5 which means it will work on any PC, laptop or mobile device and will behave in exactly the same way on whichever device is used. Flash has now been written out of the operating system entirely, which proved so troublesome for Apple-based products for many years. These new users were brimming with ideas of how they currently use the system and are discovering more about it as time progresses. One clear theme that came through is, once students get to grips with using the system, the standard of creative work which emerges out of given tasks is far superior to standard written formats. Version 5 is heralded as the easiest yet to use, with items added via drag and drop.

Some of the ideas being showcased were not new to us, for example, using PebblePad for annual review processes, but others were quite unique, for example, using PebblePad to track dissertation proposals through from initial idea and meetings, through to allocation of supervisors, recording of meetings and collecting all the paperwork surrounding this complex process into one place. What did emerge is that where PebblePad has been enthusiastically adopted, students and staff were reaping good rewards out of the system.

Throughout the course of the two days, I saw demonstrations of how some institutions use PebblePad to map their NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) Professional Standards; others use it to track their TTA (Teacher Training Agency) Professional Standards, and many more use it for a variety of ‘soft’ employability skills – equivalent to our Career Ahead offer. Students in many institutions are ‘gifted’ (yes they speak of it as a gift they give to their students) with PebblePad and are expected to use it to chart their development through their studies. Inspiring talks demonstrated how PebblePad were used for health OSCEs (practical assessments); paramedic training, history artefact creation and website design, dentistry to name but a very few subjects.  All inspiring stuff.

I particularly liked the use Plymouth make of PebblePad. All students compile a portfolio – called their Compass. There are 4 elements to their portfolio and students are tasked with collecting evidence and reflect on the following areas:

  • The Critical and Creative Learner
  • The Sustainable and Global Citizen
  • The Confident and Competent Professional
  • The Resilient and Thinking Individual

If students compile their Compass, overseen by the Employability Skills service they get acknowledgement for the work and recognition for it is added onto their final transcript upon graduation.

A clear pattern emerged, success stories come from institutions who have senior management or service buy-in to PebblePad; where managers model good behaviour; where student support in the use of the system is available and where it is just ‘the norm’. It does make me realise that, in attending an event like this, we are not using PebblePad to its full potential and that it can be used for so much more than it currently is. We will be moving onto a new version of PebblePad next summer and it would be great to get some revitalisation into its use. Showcasing, show-stopping, show-offing  – that’s what it’s all about. Let’s make ourselves future ready in our use of this creative and innovative system. If you’d like to talk PebblePad to me anytime, my email is sarah.ruston@cumbria.ac.uk

All the presentations and videos can be found here: http://www.pebblebash.co.uk/2016/presentations.aspx

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