It’s Alive!


Sunderland’s first MOOC that is, the one that I’ve been helping to develop – Introduction to Participatory Arts and Media. It’s been open for enrolment for a few weeks now, but today is the day the first presentation begins and we have just over 150 students enrolled so far. Exciting times! As well as continuing to provide technical and pedagogic advice and support throughout the duration, I’ll also be doing some TA duties as required.

Canvas UK User Group

Attended the Canvas UK User Group in Birmingham representing the University of Sunderland for the first time. I’m told that when this group started a few years ago it was half a dozen people around a table, now it’s a room of 30 from institutions all of the country. Very useful for networking and getting tips and tricks from established users – little things like the fact that you can open up content pages to allow anyone to edit them, effectively turning them into wikis, and learning about the kinds of problems other users have had, for example that notifications can’t be customised on a per course basis. An institution that migrated to Canvas a couple of years ago had a lot of complaints about that from staff, but I don’t think it will be an issue for us as we’re moving from a VLE that had no notifications system at all, so it’s an enhancement request for us rather than a loss of functionality.

By far the most useful part of the day was the access we had to technical people from Instructure and the roadmap and plans they shared with us. I knew that Crocodoc was due for replacement for example, but I didn’t realise it was happening quite so soon (next week!) and I saw the replacement tool for the first time. Looking forward to Quizzes 2, Blueprint courses and the changing functionality around muting assignments. A little disappointed to learn that the quick marks functionality from Turnitin’s Grademark isn’t going to be implemented in Speedgrader, as we’ve already had academics raising that with us. Also noted an interesting looking screenshot in the roadmap which showed Mahara loading within Canvas, similar to how the Turnitin LTI displays. We would love to have that kind of deep integration, but there were mixed messages about Mahara, with some people reporting that the latest version of the integration was still broken. The slide was in the roadmap though, so hopefully something that we can look forward.

Canvas Network Training Course

In preparation for the Participatory Arts MOOC which I am helping to develop, and which is being hosted on Canvas Network, Instructure asked us to complete this training and preparatory MOOC which, as always happens with MOOCs, I started enthusiastically in early March but was quickly lost amongst the sea of deadlines and urgent jobs.

As the university has chosen Canvas for our new VLE also, this should have given me a head start, but as things panned out I’ve ended up completing all of my onsite Canvas training first. Nevertheless, completing the MOOC was still a valuable exercise as there are some differences with Canvas Network and it did cover pedagogic issues which are specific to MOOCs, such as the types of assessment used and how to stimulate student engagement week on week.

I also earned a couple of badges, Canvas Network Groupie and Canvas Network Rock Star. These were issued through Badgr, another open badge platform which doesn’t link or share my badges to my Mozilla Backpack. I really want to like open badges, I love the concept, but the different platforms need to work with each other; I want to be able to display and collate all of my badges in one place, but the only way I am able to do that is by posting them all on my own website, here, under the Badge tag. The situation screams of the XKCD cartoon Standards.

Medial Version 5 Demonstration

Following on from the webinar preview of Medial version 5 we had back in January, this morning we had a visit from our new account manager who came to introduce themselves and give us some more information about version 5, and Medial’s plans for the future.

Following our recent decision to adopt Canvas, we were pleased to get a demonstration of the Canvas integration which is functionally identical to the Moodle and Blackboard integrations. This works in a similar manner to the YouTube integration for Canvas which adds an icon to the textbox editor toolbar, but instead of embedding the video it returns a link to the selected file in Medial. There is an update for the integration due to improve this behaviour, inserting a thumbnail icon instead.

In addition to all of the work we have to do on the rollout of Canvas, we do have one eye open towards updating our version of Medial too. With this in mind our account manager discussed the available options which are to update our hosted instance, switch to a SAAS model, or utilise a middle way option which is SAAS for Medial itself, but then links into our own cloud platform, e.g. Azure or AWS, for content storage. Either of the SAAS models bring the benefit of scaling to meet demand, whereas our current hosted version of Medial can only transcode one video at a time.

I wrote about their live streaming tool, MEDIALive, before, but today we got a demonstration of it in action using the iOS app. MEDIALive can cast the stream out to YouTube and Facebook Live as well as Medial itself, and makes it easy to add in pre and post roll event videos.

Finally we were privy to some plans for version 6, which includes the ability to push videos added to Medial out to a YouTube channel also, and a new closed captioning solution which will give you the option for automated speech to text captioning, or human transcription which offers better results but is more expensive.



I meant to write some posts relating to my CMALT and the LftM assignment as they came around earlier in the year, but work and life have been ridiculously hectic with the record breaking pace with which we are implementing the new VLE. The headline is that I aced both.

In 2012 I struggled with CMALT and had to submit twice, as my first submission didn’t contain enough reflection or detail relating to teaching. My revised submission scored ‘Adequates’ all round if memory serves. No such problems this time with my portfolio review – ‘Strong’ on every measure bar one ‘Adequate’. Furthermore, within a fortnight of receiving my feedback the lovely folks at ALT were asking me to become an assessor, to which I agreed, and have my first one due by the end of the week.

One piece of feedback I’ve noted was a comment that the page is very text heavy and it could have been improved with some relevant images to break it up. That is something I was conscious of, and not just in relation to the CMALT page, but to much of the content on the blog. I do try and insert images wherever possible, but it can be hard to source relevant images for much of what I write about. One can’t just go around inserting random images of bunny boos of dubious and uncertain copyright after all.

My assessment for the Leading from the Middle PG Cert was submitted on the 21st of April, and being the good responsible student that I am it was submitted well before the deadline. 7 minutes before to be exact. Those of you who follow my Twitter may have enjoyed the minor meltdown I had that evening as I hurried to get in finished off. In the end I wrote almost 7,000 words for the assignment which had a word limit of 5,000, so my Friday evening was spent editing and adding my references. All worth is though, as I got my provisional mark back last week and I nailed it – 75% – which on Sunderland’s grading scheme puts it well into the First territory had it been an undergraduate assessment.

Two down, two to go. Before the end of September I need to complete my second PG Cert, in Academic Practice. No big assessment for that one, just lots of little ones and a portfolio of evidence for the associated HEA Fellowship.

NERAC Training Day

NERAC, the North East Regional Assessment Centre, is based within the University’s Disability Support Service and provides study needs assessments for students at the University and from other universities and colleges in the North East. This training day was to provide an overview of the latest versions of software and hardware which can be made available to assist students with specific needs, and was very helpful in raising my awareness of what is available and which I will cascade to my team.

For literacy support two software packages were discussed, Read&Write and ClaroRead Pro. Both have functionality for converting text to speech, highlighting, conversation to other formats including MP3, and scanning tools. Read&Write tends to be the preferred software with students, partly for its better spell checker which can check as you type and pick up on phonetical spelling errors, e.g. suggesting ‘enough’ for ‘anuf’.

There was an excellent presentation on hearing impairment which discussed the different types of hearing aids which are available and how these can be complimented by technology such as induction loops and the Roger Pen. Two software packages for audio note taking were introduced, Sonocent Audio Notetaker and Notetalker. Both packages allow students to annotate presentations, e.g. PowerPoint files, with audio recorded notes, and have text to speech functionality for the conversation of recorded presentations, though it was noted that these rarely work as well as intended in real world scenarios due to background noise.

Next, two tools for mind mapping were discussed, MindView and Inspiration. MindView was noted as being the generally preferred package at this time, as it has a familiar Office style ribbon toolbar and some nice features such as being able to add multiple notes and attachments to each branch, collaborative working, a citation tool, and a Gantt chart tool. Inspiration offers a word guide which can suggest synonyms and definitions, a presentation tool, and mobile apps, though it was noted that these were fairly basic.

Finally, software for screen reading and magnification were presented – Supernova and ZoomText. Both tools can do screen magnification, and ZoomText is able to apply different colour schemes to open windows and applications, as well as to the mouse cursor and pointer. It also has a feature called AppReader which can convert text to speech and can reflow the text in a magnified window as it is reading it out. Also demonstrated was Readit which can scan images and convert to text using optical character recognition. This also works with PDF files in which the pages are image files rather than text, useful for older journals which have only had simple scans. Readit can export to various formats, including Word and MP3.

Canvas On-Site Training

Following on from the on-boarding webinars, this was the big one – four days of intense on-site training on every aspect of Canvas. Everything. Notable items from day 1 included rubrics, discussion boards, quizzes, Big Blue Button, and the Redirect app which can be used to add items into the navigation menu. Day 2 focused on mobile, both the apps which are available and advice on how to design content with mobile consumption in mind. Day 3 was all about admin, Canvas Commons, and the LTI apps which are available from within Canvas and through Edu App Centre. Finally, on day 4 we went through many of the settings together and discussed which to enable and disable based on our needs and the advice of our trainer.

Canvas On-Boarding Webinars

Participated in a series of webinars delivered over three days which covered everything we needed to know to get started with our shiny new Canvas VLE.

The webinars were divided into three topics, admin, support and fundamentals. The admin session was an introduction to the administration of Canvas, something we haven’t really seen before, while the fundamentals sessions, the bulk of the training, covered pretty much every other aspect of the system. Together these sessions have given us a good grounding to get started with the deployment of Canvas, and will be followed up with more comprehensive onsite training in a few weeks.

Our contract with Instructure includes their Tier 1 support package which means that they will be taking all of the customer support queries from our staff and students. The support webinar was an introduction to this, covering how their systems and processes work, and how we will access their call logging system to pick up anything that can’t be resolved directly. Happily they are using JIRA, a system I know well.

PG Cert AP: Day 15

The final taught day on the PG Cert was for the assessment module, EDPM06, and was about how assessment reflects and can influence pedagogy. We were advised to set assessments which are inclusive of all rather than targeting perceived needs of particular groups, but be ready and flexible enough to meet any specific needs which may emerge. This led to a discussion about equality, especially of access to HE, and social justice. Burke’s book, The Right to Higher Education, was recommended for follow up reading in this area.

Finally, there was some discussion and clarification on the assessments for this module itself. These are to write a reflective report showing how your practice has been influenced by what has been taught on this module, and to write two critiques of assessments which you have set or been given, again based on what you have been taught here.

Canvas and VLE Market Share

I’m finally allowed to say that Sunderland have recently chosen Canvas as our new VLE to replace the terminally ill LearningStudio. I’ve known for a while of course, but have been gagged until formalities were met and contracts signed. It’s a good decision, very forward looking; really exiting times ahead for us here.

I was having a look for their market share and I came across the latest report from EduTechnica that shows that Canvas have now overtaken Moodle to become the second most widely used LMS / VLE in the US market place, behind Blackboard which is holding on. When you look at the trends and that graph though, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before those lines pass each other.