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.

ArtWorks Scotland Forum for Practice Development

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Following on from the Interface Symposium held here at Sunderland last September, I was asked to attend the ArtWorks Scotland Forum for Practice Development at the National Theatre of Scotland to raise awareness of the pending launch of our MOOC, by networking and delivering a session on the MOOC, showing the development that has been made to date.

With the materials still being built out on the MOOC platform itself, Canvas Network, I ran my demonstration from the SunSpace development site again, after updating it with some of the latest materials, and devising an interactive activity for the attendees of the forum. Lacking time and resources to have people complete an activity within the sample MOOC itself, I embedded an automatically updating word cloud using Tagul and then, during the networking lunch before my session, I interviewed all of the participants asking them to define what participatory arts means to them in three words – this mimicked the assessment we ran at the Interface Symposium. As they gave me their answers I was inputting them into Tagul on my tablet, then during my demonstration, when I came to this page the word cloud was complete with their responses which you can see in the image above. I’m pleased to be able to note that this all went without a hitch, and there was a lot of interest in the MOOC in terms of both providing content (which was one of the aims of attending the forum), and in participating when it goes live later this year.

The rest of the forum was, for me, an opportunity to learn more about the field of participatory arts which, as someone made a point of in their presentation, is possibly the majority of art produced, in contrast to the perception of art as something produced by talented individuals for the enjoyment or consumption of others. Particularly interesting was Simon Sharkey of the National Theatre of Scotland’s presentation about their involvement with the Gulbenkian Foundation to produce Sharing the Stage and Home Away.

Medial Version 5 Preview

Caught up with the recording of Medial’s preview of version 5 of their product from November on YouTube. It will bring improvements to the quality of video playback, which now defaults to the highest your internet connection and device can handle, and the player has switched to HTML5 by default, though Flash remains available to support the live streaming function and for users stuck on older devices.

A new feature is the ability to watch videos at 2x speed, a feature Rob was skeptical about but which people do want and will find useful. Teachers and admins now get more detailed stats on what people have been watching, the ability to set chapters to private or public, improvements to the live streaming and screen recording functions, and integration with Canvas. Live streaming is also now available to all users, not just system admins anymore, and can be done via an app for iOS and Android.

Managing Redeployment

Following the university’s restructure of support staff, a number of people are now in a redeployment position and all managers were asked to attend this HR training session on how to help those staff fit into their new roles. This was principally about the procedures to be followed and paperwork required during a six week trial period beginning in January, but also covered how to set reasonable objectives and on how best to provide feedback.

When to Refer – Safeguarding and Prevent

Training on the university’s policies and procedures on how and when to refer staff and students to the various support services which are available, e.g. when people are affected by issues such as bullying, discrimination, disability, health problems, etc. Bundled into this was the university’s obligations with regards to the government’s Prevent Agenda on radicalisation which applies to all far right groups – in the North East the principle group of concern is the EDL. Included in our discussion was how the process of radicalisation typically works, how to spot the signs of potential radicalisation, and most importantly want to do about it, which for myself, and indeed most staff, is simply to refer to the relevant Safeguarding and Prevent Officer for the service.

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.