Skype for Business

Attended a one hour training session as the university is currently rolling out Skype for Business across the campus. It’s good, it’s fine; it looks like a combination of Skype, which I like, and the old Microsoft Communicator, which I liked. Possibly the most useful things about it are under the hood, the ability to support up to 250 simultaneous participants which is a significant improvement on regular Skype, and Outlook integration, though Communicator had that. I like that people don’t need Skype or Skype for Business to participate in a call thanks to a web based version.

I was there largely to see if it could replace our VLE’s collaboration tool, ClassLive Pro, which is a rebranded old version of Blackboard Collaborate, reliant on Java and a complete pain to get working because Pearson won’t update to newer versions, and I think it probably can. The core functionality is all there, it just needs testing in a real world situation which a tame academic is going to do for us and feedback.

Turnitin UK User Summit

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Attended the afternoon sessions of Turnitin’s UK user summit which focused on customer experience, with talks from colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, the University of East London, Newcastle University and the University of Huddersfield. It’s always cathartic to hear your colleagues sharing their tales of woe and horror which are so familiar in your own work, like the academics who insist on treating the originality score as sacrosanct when making a plagiarism decision, but more productively there were some really good ideas and pieces of best practice shared. One colleague was using Blackboard’s adaptive release function to hide the Turnitin assignment submission link until students had completed a ‘quiz’ which was simply making them acknowledge in writing that they work they were about to submit was all their own. A couple of people presented their research findings on what students wanted from feedback, such as in the attached photo which shows a clear preference for electronic feedback. Someone made a product development suggestion, splitting the release of the grade and feedback in Turnitin so that students have to engage with their feedback before they get their grade. But I think my personal highlight from the day was the very diplomatic description of difficult customers as those who have ‘higher than average expectations’.

Though I missed out on the morning session due to another commitment, I was able to get the gist from networking with colleagues in-between sessions. Improvements to the Feedback Studio including the ability to embed links, multiple file upload, a new user portal which will show the most recent cases raised by people at your institution, and the development I found most interesting, the ability to identify ghost written assignments. This is still quite away from being ready, but it’s an increasing problem and one Turnitin has in their sights. They couldn’t reveal too much about how this will work for obvious reasons, but the gist is that they will attempt to build up a profile of the writing style of individuals so that they can flag up papers which seem to be written differently.

The Twitter conversation from the summit is available from the TurnitinUKSummit hashtag, where you will see I won the Top Tweet! Yay me, but alas there were no prizes.

Never Split the Difference

Attended a webinar given by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, delivered in partnership with Mind Gym. Based on experience, psychology and evidence of what works, Chris argues that it is a mistake to try and get people to say ‘yes’ in a negotiation, that people fear saying ‘yes’ or become defensive in fear that they will be trapped into committing to something they don’t really want – a bigger ‘yes’ somewhere down the line.

Instead, the goal should be to get people to say ‘that’s right’, having correctly summarised how they feel about the situation or facts in question. In so doing you are forming an emotional bond which demonstrates empathy and incites a small epiphany in the person you are negotiating with. This is different from a ‘you’re right’ response which is often counterfeit like ‘yes’, or which indicates that the person just wants to end the conversation or get out of the negotiation without really agreeing.

In the question and answer session that followed Chris said that the most important skill in getting a ‘that’s right’ response is summarising, combining the skills of identifying and labelling what the other person is saying, and paraphrasing the key points and facts.

When asked about what to do when someone gives a ‘no’ answer Chris said that this wasn’t necessarily bad, that it just means that you have mis-labelled something and that the person will typically follow a ‘no’ by correcting you or giving you more information.

Finally Chris gave some general negotiating advice from his experience. Always let the other person start the discussion if you can, don’t be afraid to use silence as it entices the other person into giving more information and, as most people feel out of control when not talking, tactical use of such pauses can give you an advantage, and finally if negotiating via email try to keep each email to a single point and end emails with something positive as that is what will stay with people.

A recording of the webinar and the slides are available on Mind Gym’s website here.

Interface Symposium: Arts, Participation and Higher Education

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Attended a symposium for people working in participatory arts, organised by the university with attendees from ArtWorks-U, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, ArtWorks Alliance and many independent artists. It was an enlightening day and I met lots of interesting people, with discussions around challenges facing the arts and how participatory practice can interface with university research, and presentations on current good practice and reflections on the Asunder Project.

However, the main reason for my attendance was that I was facilitating one of the afternoon sessions: ‘New approaches to teaching resources’, a live demonstration of some of the content which is being developed in collaboration between the department and WaLTS for the ArtWorks MOOC. The MOOC platform will not be ready for some time yet, so what was demonstrated was a sample unit which I build out on SunSpace. This included a number of videos produced ourselves, some video and written case studies for discussion, a main presentation which I converted to Storyline, a couple of Google forms to get gather participant’s experience and reflections on the mini MOOC and a short sample assignment asking people to give their definition of participatory arts.

After some issues getting people logged on with the guest accounts, it went pretty smoothly. I deliberately kept the structure simple and the use of tools to a minimum to eliminate the need to give any kind of training on how to use SunSpace, and feedback was generally positive and useful.

Learn Moodle MOOC 2016

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So I completed the Learn Moodle MOOC, got my badges and certificate, and learned a lot more about Moodle from an instructors point of view, having previously only used it as a student. It’s big. It’s monolithic. Reminded me very much of Blackboard in that it tries to do everything, be all things to all people, and in so doing it is perhaps over complicated and not as easy to use as I would have liked. I fear the staff development that may be required if we chose Moodle as our next VLE. On the other hand, it’s used by over 50% of HEIs in the UK so there’s a very good chance that many of our staff will have used it before, and the rest have probably used Blackboard so should find it easy enough to transition.

I liked the default text box editor initially, Atto, I loved it for the ‘Accessibility Checker’ feature, but as I used it more I found that it had similar problems to other VTBE’s – doing weird random things like inserting line breaks or additional space when they’re nothing there, in either visual or HTML edit modes. I also ran into a lot of niggly browser issues using a fairly default instance of Safari. The Learn Moodle mobile app was a little dated, but functioned very well, except for Big Blue Button integration which was lacking and which many of us on the course gripped about.

Other things I liked: the prompt / ability to assign a license when you upload a file; checkboxes to show metadata like size and filetype; the repositories look like they could do the job of replacing EQUELLA for us; ability to add files to a repository by emailing them to yourself; progress tick boxes for students; the ability to allow people to rate content items; the Glossary tool with highlighting function; and the very comprehensive reporting tools will be well received.

All in all, a good course, well worth doing, and there is no question that Moodle is a vast improvement over LearningStudio and would be welcomed by our academic community if it’s chosen in our VLE review.

The next presentation of Learn Moodle will begin on the 2nd of January 2017 if you missed out this time: https://learn.moodle.net

VEO Demonstration and Training

Over the past couple of years our Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing has been very busy redeveloping their buildings and kitting them out with all the latest and greatest facilities and technologies, things like an almost exact replica of a hospital ward, complete with Sim People, and high definition cameras and screens in every room. Remember the Immersive Interactive room I wrote about? They’re getting one of those put in as we speak.

Something else they’ve purchased is VEO, a video annotation tool that lets you tag videos either live, using their iPad app, or in a browser for videos recorded on other devices and uploaded to their system. There are two scenarios the Faculty has in mind for this tool, having students use it themselves for their own learning by, for example, analysing each other’s performance at a given task, looking for strengths and areas that need improving, and to assist academics doing OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations), or even replace the paper forms altogether, if it works well.

VEO is a fairly new tool, a spin-off from a development at Newcastle University, but it is now being used by a number of universities. Being local we benefited from having one of the people who developed the tool on site with us to explain the background, why it was developed, how it can be used and how we can administer it and help academics to make full use of it. It has a lot of potential, and also with it being a local start-up we have a great opportunity to work closely with VEO and contribute to their product development.

Rogō eAssessment Tool Demonstration

A webinar demonstration of The University of Nottingham’s eAssessment solution, Rogō, created in-house and published under the GPL open source license. Rogō was developed in response to their dissatisfaction with commercial quiz tools and has evolved into a mature and comprehensive solution with support for over a dozen question types and different kinds of presentation, including self-assessment, summative and survey.

We were all pretty impressed with Rogō and, pending the outcome of our VLE review, it is something that we will look at again if we find ourselves in need of a separate quiz tool.

Being open source software, anyone who is interested can download Rogō from Nottingham’s dedicated website and install it onto their own LAMP server.

D2L Conference Call

Participated in a conference call with the learning technologies team at one of the few UK institutions using D2L’s Brightspace as their VLE. The video on our call wasn’t working so we didn’t get to see the system in action which was a disappointment, but we did run through a list of pre-prepared questions to assess their experience and gauge their thoughts about the system.

This included their VLE review process which led to the adoption of Brightspace, and subsequent migration from the in-house system they were using previously. Overall, their experience with the platform and it’s evolution has been largely positive, with the biggest criticism being reserved for the somewhat dated user interface. This, however, is due for a major upgrade this coming summer and the new version, Daylight, will bring in a fully responsive design. They were happy to endorse the product and the company to us and are of the opinion that they would stay with D2L if they were facing a review themselves.

SLS Innovation Event 2016

It’s that time of year again, the legendary SLS Innovation Event! And possibly the last one, as a pending University-wide restructure will soon mean the end of SLS in its current form.

This year’s carnival theme led to many bright, fun and exciting stalls and games. On our stall we had the Oculus Rift again, but this time we primarily ran a fairground ride called Cyberspace which features something you can only do in VR, jump off the ride while in motion. We made a game of this, getting people to see who could fly the furthest and winning a sweetie if you beat the current high score. The Rift was complemented by a demonstration of a fun new augmented reality app for iOS and Android called MSQRD, or Masquerade, which does funny things to your face, much like Snapchat’s new filters.

We also used Class Tool’s carnival appropriate random name picker to give away some little prizes and make people aware of the excellent resources on this site. Our balloon pop – with a star prize of a brand new car! – generated some noisy fun and a lot of mess. And finally, when we discovered that someone on the team could juggle, we couldn’t resist having a beat the juggler competition; juggle three balls for longer than Mel the Magnificent and you won a prize.

On the more serious side we were also raising awareness of Open Badges, awarding an attendance badge to anyone who came over to our stall and had a chat with us about how badges could work in their area to incentivise learners.

Obviously our stall was the best, and we were sorely cheated on the ‘Best Stall’ award (again!), but some other good stalls came form the Gateway team who managed to install a cinema, complete with popcorn, the CitySpace team with their sports related activities including a test your strength punchbag, and several teams who demonstrated their innovation by managing to have hook a duck games sans water. I won a duck on one of them, but proudest moment by far was being the only person to score the maximum 300 on an elastic band pinging thing for which I won a balloon bunny.

These events aren’t just to have a fun afternoon, they’re about all of the various scattered teams within SLS coming together to showcase the work they do for the benefit of the rest of us, so that we can work better as a department. It’s also where we celebrate excellence, with two awards given to celebrate personal and team excellence.

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.