I was invited along to this event today to contribute to the continuing development of our medical programmes, specifically with regards to the integrations between various systems. Representatives were there from VEO and SMOTS, who provide systems for video based observation. They gave us updates on their services – VEO have been developing integrations for ePortfolio systems and a bespoke VLE used by one of their clients, and SMOTS can now take any video input as a feed. We will shortly be acquiring an ambulance outfitted with cameras and SMOTS integration to add to our range of training environments.
To provide students with the best possible experience we want to be able to give them a single point of access for all of our systems, including something new, possible just a web form, for booking the various rooms and equipment which are available to them for practice. That place will be the VLE, Canvas. The representative from VEO couldn’t say how the integrations they have been working on have been developed, but knowing the company and having met someone from their development team previously, I would be surprised if this wasn’t an LTI. And if it is an LTI, then integrating into Canvas should be pretty straightforward. It’s another case of having the right tool for the job, choosing Canvas the best decision the University could have made. This wouldn’t even have been a possibility with LearningStudio.
Following ExamSoft last week, today it was Respondus who gave us a demonstration of their software.
Their quiz tool is Respondus 4, which was described as a legacy product, and it did look old. It was demonstrated running on a Windows 7 machine which is sufficiently old now that when I see Windows 7 I wonder why, does it not work on 10? Despite that, Respondus integrates with a number of VLEs and mirrors the available quiz questions types and settings which are available there. Importing and exporting from text files and Word documents was demonstrated and it seemed to work pretty well, though questions and answers have to be in exactly the right format to be recognised. I’m not sure why we would use this over using the quiz tool directly in Canvas though, and it doesn’t give us something that can replace the EDPAC system.
That comes instead from their LockDown Browser product, the one we were interested in. This allows you to set quizzes that can only be taken through LockDown Browser, a stripped down web browser which only allows access to the VLE and once the quiz begins blocks students from opening any other applications or webpages. I was a little concerned about accessibility as it relies on user’s own screen reading software and blocks certain keyboard shortcuts. Nevertheless, it seems to be popular in UK HE so it can’t be too bad.
And then there was the weird one, Monitor, which they tried to sell alongside LockDown Browser. Monitor is designed to be used for remote invigilation, and does so by recording from students’ webcams. On starting up Monitor students have to take a photo and show their university ID for verification purposes, and then Monitor will record them through the duration of the quiz and flag up any ‘unusual’ practices if detected, e.g. going away from the computer or someone else coming into the picture, which then have to be reviewed by a tutor. Recordings are stored online for up to five years on Amazon’s web services. I didn’t quite get a clear answer on whether or not they have access to a data centre in the UK / EU. Is it just me or does this all sound a bit creepy? I also didn’t get a clear answer on whether or not any UK / EU customers were using Monitor. They bundle 200 free licenses of Monitor with LockDown Browser, so there was a fudged ‘yes’, leaving open the possibility that although institutions have Monitor they aren’t using it. Bizarrely they have a completely different pricing model for LockDown Browser and Monitor, and then there are the technical problems. All of the webcam recording and playback functionality uses Flash which Adobe are finally killing in 2020. I asked about their plans on migrating to another solution and they couldn’t answer that either, saying it was all down to Amazon.
We’ll never get Monitor. I can’t imagine any UK university using it. We may get LockDown Browser. The third system demonstration we’ve had as part of this project is Speedwell, but I missed that one as I had another meeting. Other solutions are also under investigation.
We’re looking at options for a secure eAssessment system that would be able to replace our archaic EDPAC forms, and ExamSoft were the first company to provide a demonstration and discussion for us this morning. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, EDPAC forms are the old pink sheets that you complete by penciling in a cross in the correct answer box (and it does have to be a pencil of the correct weight too!) Those forms are then scanned by a machine we dub the bacon slicer and then we spend hours correcting all the mistakes and typing the comments manually. Everything about it is awful, and we’ve wanted to get rid for years, but there are pockets of use where people are wedded to this system and won’t switch to using MCQs in the VLE. So it is for them that we are looking for a new solution.
ExamSoft’s big selling point is that it can be used on student’s own devices, computers or iPads, which their software can completely lock down for the duration of the exam. This means that we could still get hundreds of students in one secure location all taking the same exam at the same time, one of the arguments in favour of EDPAC. Otherwise, ExamSoft is a fairly standard MCQ system. Questions can be tagged according to the subject or taxonomy of your choice, it can export and import from most other similar systems, integrates with Canvas, etc. I was a little concerned about what seemed to be the limited number of question types – I didn’t see drop-down or calculated questions for example – and I have doubts about how successful it could be as a bring-your-own-device solution for us.
It’s one thing for students to willingly have and use their personal devices to complement their studies, but if we as an institution require them to provide their own kit in order to take exams we’re opening up issues of responsibility as well as imposing an additional financial burden. If someone is bringing in their laptop and it is broken or stolen on the way for example, is that on us? Our insurance? Then there is the issue of technical support, both with the ExamSoft software itself, and logistical considerations such as ensuring that we have sufficient power sockets for the inevitable dead batteries (we don’t) and that our wireless network is robust enough to handle hundreds of simultaneous connections in a small area (it isn’t). Providing our own equipment via something like a laptop safe could offer a solution to some of these problems.
Attended a webinar for a demonstration of the new version of Analytics currently being developed for Canvas. The new version will bring a new look and make it easier for staff to get an overview of student performance in their modules and how it compares with other students. This is still in the early stages of development and the webinar was also to gain my feedback. What I think is missing from the demonstrated design is the ability to view and compare a student’s performance across different assignments in the same module, which was noted and should be fairly easy to implement, and across different modules in the same programme, much more difficult due to the way different institutions manage the relationship between programme and module spaces. With that in mind I have a follow up call next week to discuss how we would like to see this work, which is part of a broader consultation Instructure is having with the UK HE sector to better meet our needs in this area.
Watched a webinar recording explaining how the new(ish) Blueprint Courses tool works in Canvas. This is the tool that allows a kind of parent – child relationship between courses which gives you the ability to add and update content in the parent course and push it into any children. Potentially very useful to us here as Sunderland has multiple instances of courses for our various campuses and partner institutes.
Blueprint Courses was released just before we went live with Canvas in June, but not in time for us to test and integrate into our deployment plans. Instead, we created a ‘Master’ occurrence of every module with no student enrolments which gave staff a space to create the generic content which can then be copied into each live occurrence, but it’s a manual process. Blueprint Courses could give us a more elegant solution, or it could be used by us to control and deploy the university module template. Can it be used for both though, a Blueprint course deployed into another Blueprint course? That would allow us to use the tool for both purposes. Something to experiment with.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have experienced the pleasure of my little rant as technology utterly failed me for this webinar, but I was at least able to get the recording working a little while later. (I will not be defeated by Java!) It was a very enlightening session on the process and practicalities of assessing the portfolios of CMALT candidates. I’ve actually already done my first one for a portfolio review a few weeks ago, so this was timely, and I have as a result of this webinar now signed up to become an assessor of regular portfolios too.
Unrelated, but ALT have also recently released digital badges for use in portfolios, email signatures, etc. Not actual accredited digital badges with metadata, just nice image files.
Ah, compulsory health and safety training, delivered online! Prompted by our move to new offices on our campus north of the river. Yes, my chair and computer are at the right height; yes, I do solemnly swear to take breaks from the computer for 10 minutes in every hour; no, I am not going to take a laptop riser, external keyboard, and mouse into meetings with me or when I have to work away from my usual desk.
Training on IT’s new call logging system, Samanage, a very distinct improvement over the old system which did not set a high bar. We’re getting access to this to allow my team to log calls on behalf of students who have issues on Canvas, as it was IT who developed the integration between our student records system and Canvas and thus they are the only ones who can resolve certain problems.
The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, and nothing at all to do with the former German Democratic Republic, is the new regulations coming in to replace the Data Protection Act of 1998, bringing with it much firmer requirements for organisations to store data safely and appropriately, and harsher penalties for breaches. The GDPR will apply to all organisations holding data on EU citizens so it will apply to the university regardless of Brexit. It was actually a very useful session that has made me think about the types of thing I and my team store, and how most of it isn’t really necessary. I feel purge may be coming.
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.