Attended the ALT North East User Group today at Newcastle University. This meeting was themed around accessibility which was suggested after Jisc’s talk at our last meeting and the dawning realisation about how much work this could have on learning technology departments.
All attending institutions gave an update on what we are doing to ensure that we meet our obligations, ranging from panicked nothing to creating fully custom eLearning packages for delivering maths learning resources digitally and online – that from Newcastle University who have developed a solution using a combination of open source packages including MathJax and Pandoc. East Durham College’s virtual reality sensory rooms to support students on the autistic spectrum with overstimulation was really impressive. One of the things they’re using is SafeSpace Easy Access, a freemium Cardboard compatible virtual reality app.
Another highlight of the day came from an external guest from Blackboard who demonstrated Ally working in Canvas. Ally is a tool that can not only check course content for accessibility issues – not just web content, but materials including Word, PDF and PowerPoint files – but automatically convert that content into a range of different formats to meet different access needs. For example, it can perform optical character recognition (OCR) on PDF files which are scanned images, turning them into text, and convert text to speech.
I had a meeting this morning with our paramedic programme team about how to integrate various distinct systems they have into a new digital Practice Assessment Document to replace the multiple binders full of paper which trainee paramedics have to assemble at the moment. I have some thoughts on this which I’m sure I’ll write about in future as this comes together, but for today I just wanted to share the Resuscitation Quality Improvement system I saw, which is another one of those quite fabulous, albeit niche, technologies we have scattered around the university.
RQI is a mannequin made by Laerdal Medical that is used for training people to perform CPR, but this one has over 40 sensors inside it hooked up to a computer that gives you realtime feedback on things like how regular and deep your chest compressions are. It’s great! Watch the attached video to see it in action.
Had another demonstration of Turnitin’s new Authorship Investigate tool today. This time they came to visit us for the benefit of our head of service.
Further to what I’ve written about this before, new features or things I’ve learned today includes the fact that this isn’t integrated into either the VLE or Turnitin’s Feedback Studio which we currently use, but rather is a standalone application that only nominated individuals would have access to. This would typically be people working in academic misconduct departments who could use Authorship Investigate as a tool to help their investigations. Turnitin are, however, working on a kind of early warning system that could be used to identify papers which have potentially been procured through contract cheating / essay mill services, similar to the existing similarity report. Academics could then ask for those papers to be investigated further. This is, however, some way off at this time.
Some new things Authorship Investigate can use in checking papers includes citation styles, font and text styles, and the language of the document, e.g. UK / US English, and whether or not this has been changed or doesn’t match previously submitted papers by the student in question.
This morning we had a visit from our account managers at Medial to give us a demonstration of the new version of Medial which we will be upgrading to imminently, and to discuss future developments. Version 6 provides new video editing options, the ability to batch import and apply metadata to videos, improvements to the live streaming part of the system, and the various options which are now available for adding closed captions to videos – either machine transcription or more accurate, but much more expensive, human services. The player has also been updated to add variable playback rate, from 0.5x to 2x speed.
We also discussed the practicalities of integrating Medial into Canvas, especially now that we also have reVIEW (Panopto) which has overlapping functionality, and some further changes planned for their next release.
Well, that took a while, but we are finally ditching our antiquated EDPAC forms for high stakes MCQ style exams, and we didn’t go for either Examsoft or Respondus, but Speedwell.
This was our main training session on the system where we had a trainer from Speedwell onsite for the day to run through all aspects of the system with us, from initial configuration to creating questions and exams. We will also be deploying the Safe Exam Browser as part of this project.
I made a thing. And it feels like a long time since I made a thing, and I like showing off the things I make, so I hereby present to you a thing.
This specific thing is an online Multiple Mini Interviewer training module. The University’s new Medical School is in partnership with Keele University who have supplied us with the initial range of teaching materials, including their MMI training module for staff who will be interviewing applicants.
Last year we used their training as provided due to very short timescales, but for this year I was asked to re-create it with Sunderland branding, style and contextualising. It was a fun one, as I had to work out how to create reveal style effects when people click on buttons in Storyline. Still patiently waiting on Storyline 3 here… this will likely be the first thing I convert to the new version.
Had a short, informal session with my line manager and programme leader about various aspects of the University’s processes around being a module leader and the new responsibilities I have. I found it really useful to get more details about things like completing reports for the external examiner and the required paperwork for our module boards which are imminent.
I received an email yesterday informing me that Mozilla Backpack will be shutting down, which has been known for some time, with ownership of the Backpack moving to Badgr. There was also an attachment in the email which it said was all of my old badges, along with instructions on how to create a new account in Badgr. There were a number of problems with this. First, not all of the badges I’ve earned over the years were in that zip file, only, I think, ones which were attached to one particular email address. There were also no instructions at all about what to do with this file. In the end I was able to work out how to import these into Badgr, but for around half of them this process failed.
Like all DRM schemes, which is essentially what underlines the validity of digital badges, the whole system is unintuitive and very user unfriendly. One of the claims about digital badges has always been that you would be able to have all of your badges in one place, which was meant to be the Backpack, but this has never been my experience and I have badges scattered all over the place. The only online location where they are all collected together in any form is on this blog, tagged Badge. I want to like digital badges, I always thought they were a good idea, but however well intentioned, it’s always felt like kind of a mess, and it’s not getting any better.
This was a bespoke session run by the academic development side of the CELT for the benefit of us on the learning technology side, in response to some issues we raised at our team away day back in April.
A problem we have is that often, when encouraging academics to change some part of their practice, to use online quizzes instead of paper based forms for example, we are met with resistance in the form of being told that changes can’t be made because something in the University’s regulations prevents it. There seems to be a lot of myths in the institution about what people are and aren’t allowed to do, so we asked for a session of this nature to give us a better overview of what the rules actually are so that we can better help academics, and what we need to do to ensure that polices are followed lest we spend hours working on something which can’t then be used.
And very useful it was. We covered the key areas of the University’s Academic Quality Handbook, particularly on what changes module and programme leaders can make unilaterally, and what needs to be approved through either the ‘Minor Modification’ process or revalidation. We also discussed the Module Catalogue and why that needs to be the single source of truth for students on what they can expect from their studies, how assessment can be reworked to reduce the number of individual assessment components in a module, and how, contrary to one common myth, you can use custom assessment marking criteria and rubrics, you just have to make sure that it maps against the University’s generic assessment criteria.
Attended, and more importantly, presented at the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference held this year at Northumbria University. Day 3 of the conference was themed around STEM and the keynote was given by Debbie McVitty, editor of Wonkhe, who talked about the impact the TEF has had on the sector and how to really measure teaching excellence.
A highlight of the day for me was the post-lunch Ignite Sessions which saw 8 presenters speaking for 5 minutes about their work or project. “Pride and Prejudice and technology (that enhances learning)” from Katie Stripe of Imperial College London will stay with me for her unique approach, as will the brave soul who used audience response in an Ignite presentation by asking people to stand or remain sitting in response to questions. Also from Imperial, Drs Tiffany Chiu and Freddie Page presented on their work around what an ideal student looks like which attempts to address the disconnect between how students see themselves and what they want out of their HE experience, and what staff want from, and want to get out of students. And Dr Helen Kaye from The Open University discussed how they are supporting final year psychology students to complete an empirical research project which possess unique challenges for distance learning students.
I also came away with ideas and additions to my reading list. For my own teaching on our PG Cert I’ve been inspired by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr Patrick Thomson to include a session around peer instruction, expanding on what we’ve done around peer assessment. I also want to expand what we have traditionally taught around rubrics and online marking, to include a discussion about the value and role of marking and the different ways it can be done. To my reading list I’ve added Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.
By far the most important thing to happen today however, was that I presented for the first time with my colleague Dr Katrin Jaedicke on the work we have done to convert her statistics for biomedical sciences students course into a full fledged massive online open course (MOOC). It was mostly Katrin’s talk, as it is of course the content that is key, but I was there to contribute to any discussion around the technological and pedagogical considerations in the conversion of the course from a flat web page into a MOOC. I also ran a live quiz at the end of the session, giving people a taste of the MOOC. Katrin had initially wanted to give people a handout of one of the self assessment quizzes, but I suggested doing it live using Poll Everywhere and awarding participants with a digital badge, just like the MOOC students receive, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it all went very well.