CanvasCon Europe 2018

Second day of Canvas fun, my first CanvasCon. Alas not the global one they had in Colorado this year. It was still huge. 650 attendees from 300 institutions across Europe, up from only 35 institutions four years ago.

The day began with a corporate keynote where they talked about the success of Canvas and what new things are coming – a Canvas Commons preview tool, yay! There was an overriding theme of small, incremental changes from the ground up, mirroring the agile development method behind the Canvas product itself.

The afternoon keynote by Alex Beard focused on pedagogy rather than technology, as he talked about innovate ways in which students learn across the globe such as the MIT Media Lab where students are given a huge amount of freedom to construct their own learning. One of the freebies that Instructure were giving away was a copy of his new book, Natural Born Learners, which I’ve already skimmed.

In between the keynotes were a diverse range of breakout sessions and the ones I attended were a mixed bag, some interesting insights about how Canvas is being deployed and lessons learned from some institutions, but some of the other sessions I didn’t get a lot from.

And of course then there was the networking, with time available in between sessions, at lunch and a cocktail reception at the end of the day to meet people and chat about their experiences.

Now how do I get the boss to agree to send me to the next one in Long Beach in July?

Canvas UK HE User Group

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Isn’t it nice that the University are letting me get out and about again? In London for two days for the UK HE User Group today and CanvasCon Europe tomorrow.

Today was really useful. Around 40 of us from all over the country at St George’s Medical School in Tooting sharing our experience as Canvas users. In the morning we had a demonstration of anonymous and moderating marking from colleagues who are currently piloting it with positive results, though they noted that they have found a limited number of ways to circumvent the anonymisation. However, as they are all quite obscure and difficult they remain confident in the tool and are rolling it our further. It will be interesting to see how Instructure’s offering here compares with Turnitin’s pending anonymous and moderated marking tool.

Also in the morning we had some group discussions on different ways of using Canvas for assessment and feedback to stimulate discussion and share ideas and best practice.

In the afternoon we were joined by representatives from Instructure who gave us updates on their developments and allowed us to grill them quite freely. This is always an excellent opportunity to use our collective influence to nudge Canvas in a direction which helps to address the needs of the UK sector. The anonymous and moderated marking tool for example, is something that was proposed by, and has been driven by this group.

Instructure provided us with a progress report on our Top 10 priority development list from last year, as shown in the photo above, which shows ‘Non-Scoring Rubrics’ and ‘Analytics to include Mobile App Usage’ as complete, and most of the others in the design or development stages. Finally, we voted on the new Top 10 list for 2018-19. From a long list of suggestions collated prior to the User Group, each person at the group was allowed to vote for three issues, and I voted for QuickMark style functionality in SpeedGrader, improved Group functionality, and the ability to set Notifications by course. All things which I’m being pressed for by our academic community at Sunderland.

Turnitin Academic Integrity Summit

Attended Turnitin’s annual conference which this year was largely devoted to the issue of contract cheating, students paying other people to write essays on their behalf. A problem which has been growing for some time, but which came to the fore in 2014 with the MyMaster scandal in Australia. They also had demonstrations of an imminent anonymous and moderated marking tool which looked great, and a new Code Similarity project which is a development of MOSS for checking computer code for similarity.

The new product they have to help with contract cheating is called Authorship Investigation and aims to try and detect cheating by comparing work submitted by a given student over a period of time, analysing such things as word and punctuation usage, richness of vocabulary, and document metadata – looking for obvious things such as an unusual author or editing time. The hands-on demonstration was quite good, especially for software still in beta and not due for release until next year. A number of us at the demonstration raised the same type of concerns though. For example, when I’m writing work I create a new document for every draft, and therefore the final file that I actually submit would show a same day creation date and very little editing time, both things that would be flagged up by Authorship Investigation as suspicious.

Also demonstrated was just how easy it is to get assignments from essay mills, and how predatory they are. A funny anecdote was about someone who was researching contract cheating. They started an online chat with someone from an essay mill site, who then proceeded to offer their services to write the paper for them!

This is a hard problem Turnitin are trying to solve, much harder than identifying blocks of text which have been copied and pasted from elsewhere, and most of us at the demonstration were a little skeptical about their approach. Of course, Turnitin is a technology company and they have devised a technological solution (to sell), when a better solution is arguably a pedagogic one, designing out the ability for students to outsource assessment work by moving away from essays and using approaches such as face-to-face presentations. Knowing your students and their work personally is also likely to be better than relying on algorithms, but of course this is much easier with smaller cohorts.

There was also very little discussion about the context of this, and what has caused the issue to arise. In most of the West we have commodified tertiary education, turning it into just another product that’s available for anyone who can afford it, so is it any wonder that those with the means take the next step? Nevertheless, this is the world we find ourselves in and essay mills aren’t going to go away. Calls to legislate against them, as worthy as that may be, will have the same problems as trying to prohibit any online content in that it can only apply to UK based companies, and while technological solutions may help in the short term, they are no panacea as methods to circumvent them will soon appear in what is an ever escalating arms race.

Festival of Learning and Teaching

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Last year we had a conference, this year it was a three day festival, run by our colleagues in Academic Development with support from ourselves in Web and Learning Technology Services. We are too cool to be involved in the main festival itself, so we had a fringe which included a Twitter treasure hunt, a stall where we enticed people in with fun stuff on the Oculus Rift and then hawked our services to them when they were captive, as well as providing live streaming of the keynotes from each day and the closing ceremony.

I was proud of the treasure hunt we put on, I thought it was very well thought out with some fun tasks for people which made them engage with our service, Tweet a selfie with a member of Academic Development for example (which we kept secret from them!), but there was little uptake unfortunately, which I think can be put down to the relatively low numbers and insularity of an internal conference. Our stall which was strategically positioned outside key sessions was more successful, attracting a decent number of people and even allowing me to connect with someone who has a project ripe for further development in virtual reality.

In spite of running various things in the background, I was still able to attend a number of sessions over the three days:

Lego Serious Play
Serious Play is an innovative and creative way to facilitate discussion about a typically difficult or abstract topic. In keeping with the theme of the conference, our discussion was focused around what it means to be a student. The foreground model shown in the photo above is a reflection on my experience as a student, thinking back to where I started from. I’m the skeleton, symbolising my lack of knowledge, and I’m leaning back slightly from an overwhelming fear of the daunting barriers in front of me – including a Stormtrooper boss level (my dissertation!) – before I can reach my goal of enlightenment and joining the educated and the successful.

Cultural Diversity and Effective Teaching
A discussion and workshop on the many meanings behind the word ‘internationalisation’, led by external guest Dr. Marita Grimwood, an educational developer. This was the keynote from day 2, and not a session I was originally attending, but due to a last minute room change we were unable to live stream this session, so I improvised a recording solution using my iMac instead of running the WaLTS stall. After the event I edited the recordings, inserted her slides as an overlay at appropriate points and then posted the resulting video to our streaming media server.

Showcasing Learning and Teaching in Arts and Design
A series of short ten minute sessions from various members of departmental staff who discussed approaches to learning and teaching in their area. This was a really interesting talk as it made me realise how many great art events are happening in and around the city of Sunderland, and how deeply involved the university is in almost all of it. A particular highlight was the session from the National Glass Centre who talked about the experience of an off campus event where students had to work with very limited resources and no access to their usual tools.

Spectral Visions Press: Engaging Students Through a ‘Real Work’ Environment
Spectral Visions is product of the university’s English and Creative Writing programmes which aims to give students real hands-on experience with all aspects of writing and publishing. In additional to the blog and a number of student-led projects, Spectral Visions Press has also now published two volumes of work which are available from Amazon – Grim Fairy Tales and The Collection: Volume 1.

Student-Generated Induction
The keynote session from day 3 was delivered by Nick Bowskill who has developed the Shared Thinking Consultancy, an off-shoot of his doctoral research at the University of Glasgow which was designed to improve student induction processes based on social psychology theory and practice.

Learning and Teaching Conference 2015

Inspired by the HEA’s ‘Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education’ published in 2014, the theme and title of the University’s Learning and Teaching conference this year was ‘Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: The pedagogical case for learning and working as partners’.

The conference began with an Opening Address delivered by Professor Julie Mennell, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), and was followed by the Keynote ‘Learning as a Team: Education that connects students, lecturers and professionals’ which was given by a guest speaker, Dr Marjolein Wildwater, Scientific Manager at HAN University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands, who presented a case study on her experience with involving students directly in the ongoing development of a programme. Next was the Internal Plenary ‘Crossing Pedagogic Borders: Adventures with sketchbooks and stories’ led by Dr Diane Westwood, Principal Lecturer Learning and Teaching, with assistance from two of her students who shared their experience in changing the assessment model in a Psychology programme to one which was based on artefacts and portfolios, an approach which required them to cross the border into the unfamiliar world of the arts. The final session of the first part of the conference was a Question and Answer Panel ‘Talking About Working in Partnership’ where three chairs, Dr Colin Bryson, Director of Combined Honours Partnership, Newcastle University, Andi Albrecht, one of Colin’s students on the Combined Honours Partnership and Gareth Hughes from the University of Sunderland Students’ Union, each gave a short talk on their experience of working with students as partners before being joined by the other speakers from the morning to take questions from the audience.

For the second part of the conference attendees were broken up into strands to attend two workshops and one ‘ignite’ session. The ignite sessions were short, dynamic presentations lasting twenty minutes each with a five minute PowerPoint presentation with slides set to automatically advance every fifteen seconds. Unfortunately I was unable to attend any of the ignite sessions as I had to prepare for the first workshop where I was assisting a colleague, David Archer, with his workshop, ‘Using Mobile Polling to Develop Partnerships’, in which he talked about how he has used Poll Everywhere for real-time interaction with students during lectures. David borrowed a number of tablets and mobile devices that we keep in stock and I was also there for any technical assistance if required. The second workshop I attended was ‘Beyond Feedback: Rethinking the role of students in enhancing teaching practice’ delivered by Dan Derricott and Emily Parkin from the University of Lincoln who presented on their experience with involving students which contained some really interesting ideas such as having everyone on their Executive Board shadowed by a student.

Web and Learning Technology Services were there too. Instead of delivering a session we had a ‘pod’ to ourselves for the entire day where people could come for a break and chat to us about the latest developments with SunSpace and other learning technologies.

The conference was organised and delivered by Academic Development with whom I have a close working relationship and I was able to contribute some ideas for the day. For example, we were initially asked if we could record the morning sessions but instead I recommended the use of our new live streaming service which gave the conference another 50 or so virtual attendees and we received some very positive feedback from viewers. Recordings were subsequently added to the Sunderland Media Library. Also, with a little encouragement from me, Academic Development created a Twitter account and hashtag for the event to encourage audience engagement.

SLS Innovation Event 2015

Some highlights from my second SLS Innovation Day where we celebrated the success of the department and all of the teams and services had the opportunity to showcase the best of their work to each other. Much more enjoyable and relaxing for me this time around as last year the event happened only a couple of weeks after I started work here and I was dropped into arranging the stand for the Learning Technologies Team in very short order.

Also this year, in the run-up to the event I was on the panel to chose the winners of the individual and team awards for innovation and I really enjoyed reading all of the applications and learning more about the fantastic work we do. All of the applications were of an incredibly high standard and it could have been really difficult to pick the winners, but I wrote a rubric for the panel to use in which we scored each nominee against the criteria the department was looking for in the applications. Once we had all done this individually, to try and eliminate any bias, we met to add up the scores and, though the results were really close, there was a winner by a single point in each category.

A tinge of disappointment that we didn’t win the award for best stand with our Oculus Rift, despite being a huge hit and generating some screams which could be heard clear across the room. I think we went too high-tech, as the winners this year and last were both bright, fun stands with games and prizes. Not from the best stand winner, but I did win the pink snake and a small orange teddy from the Careers stand who had a hoop toss game which I owned.

Kudos also for the range of vegan food on offer this year.

White Rose Learning Technologists Forum – Learning Analytics

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Attended a special meeting of the White Rose Learning Technologists Forum at the University of Sheffield which was opened up beyond Yorkshire for a themed event on learning analytics.

The principal speaker was Martin Hawksey who gave a dense and extremely informative presentation which explored the history of learning analytics, methodology, available tools, threats and opportunities. He then introduced us to two tools for social network analysis, TAGS which archives and analyses Twitter hashtag searches, and NodeXL which has similar functionality but which requires less technical knowledge to set up and can import data from other social networks including YouTube and FaceBook. Martin has written a blog post about his presentation which is available here and the presentation itself can be found here.

Martin was followed by Patrick Lynch from the University of Hull who gave a talk about his work and experience with learning analytics using Excel and Tableau, a more powerful tool for analytics analysis. Patrick also talked about his experience with issues of privacy and ethics which he found varied wildly among students, with some fearing Big Brother while others found the analytics extremely helpful in informing their own learning, and shared other lessons learned such as the fact that you cannot necessarily infer meaning from action. The example he gave was of a report which identified students who had not accessed certain content items at the expected times, but investigation found that in some cases this was because they had downloaded the entire course content at the start of the course.

Finally, Jamie Lepiorz from the English department at the University of Sheffield talked about his experience of using analytics and student feedback to inform the development of the Animals in Film Archive and related module.

Photo is courtesy of Danny Monaghan. More photos and Tweets are available from the #WRLTF hashtag on Twitter.

SLS Mini Conference

A short update from the Director and Assistant Directors of SLS on how we are progressing towards meeting our targets as a service which, as we are nearing the end of the three year service plan, has largely become a statement of fact. This was followed by group workshops where we discussed some examples of how we are meeting our shared behaviours: Teamwork, Customer Satisfaction, Continuous Improvement, Customer Focus and Information Sharing.

SLS Innovation Event 2014

The Student and Learning Support Innovation Event is an annual showcase of the work done by each team within SLS. It is an opportunity to both meet and network with other teams and find out what they do, and to demonstrate work which we have been doing. At two and a half weeks in the event was perfectly timed for me and was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the other teams and how we collectively contribute to the enhancement of the student experience. As to our own stand, we ran two live demonstrations, the first was an interactive quiz – with prizes! – using a student response system running on a portable SMART Board and the second was ClassLive (Blackboard Collaborate).

While I feel that my contribution on this occasion was rather minimal for obvious reasons, I was at least able to obtain a small budget for giveaways and small prizes for our quiz in order to attract people to our stall, and I hope that I was a positive influence on the team and encouraged us to showcase some really nice tools we can help people with.