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.

SLS Appraiser Training Workshop

HR and SLS, which uses a slightly modified approach, have recently revised the university’s appraisal scheme and documentation to try and make it more guided and to encourage reflection in the appraisee. This workshop was to discuss those changes and share best practice across the service.

Also covered in detail were your own responsibilities as a manager for ensuring that the process was a success, from logistics such as room booking and setting aside adequate time for both yourself and the people you are appraising, to how to guide the discussion by asking effective questions and how to identify suitable objectives for the coming year which map into departmental and service level objectives. The discussion we had around effective questioning was particularly useful, as it neatly ties in with the work I have been doing on the Leading from the Middle course, particularly the sessions on coaching.

Leading from the Middle

At my appraisal last year it was suggested that I attend the University’s second line manager’s development course. This was delayed by a year because the course was under redevelopment by HR in conjunction with our Business School’s Corporate and Professional Education (CaPE) team. The new course, now branded as ‘Leading from the Middle’, is a fully accredited post-graduate module resulting in a Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Change upon successful completion. I don’t have a lot of information at the moment but I suspect that assessment will involve a portfolio of evidence, and in any case I’ll want to blog about the course as it develops, so I have created a new page specifically to collect these posts together using the ‘LFTM’ tag. The taught sessions on the course are as follows:

  • Induction and Academic Skills
  • Knowing Yourself, To Lead Others
  • Strategic Leadership and Culture and Context (2 parts)
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Coaching at Work (3 parts)
  • Understanding Finance
  • Collaborative Conversations
  • Creativity and Entrepreneurial Learning
  • Leading Change and Transition
  • Leading High Performing Teams
  • Leading Equality and Diversity

New CMALT Page

Keen-eyed observers will note the new CMALT page on my blog. My portfolio is now three years old and due for review as per ALT’s new guidelines which have come into effect this year. I had assumed that my portfolio would need to be reviewed first before my membership could, or would be renewed, but I’ve just found out today that the review process is actually still in pilot.

In any case, in preparation for this, and as a first step, I have converted my original portfolio from 2012 from a Word document to a webpage hosted here. In doing so I have changed no content whatsoever as it is a historical document, but I have removed the guidance notes and instructions which formed a part of the Word proforma and removed the need for the appendix of evidence by creating inline links to the evidence, all of which is also now hosted on this site.

I did consider using Google Sites or creating the portfolio in Mahara, but I don’t like the results of content produced using Google Sites and both of these options restrict my freedom in different ways. Part of the benefit of having this website is that I have complete control and freedom to do what I want and have no concerns about access in the future. Interestingly, in 2012 I hosted all of my evidence in my personal Content Collection area in Northumbria’s Blackboard and I have found that everything still works, even though presumably my IT account has long since been deleted. Nevertheless, it will all disappear at some point. A further reason for hosting my CMALT portfolio here is because I have known about the need for this review for some time and built my blog with this in mind, and I anticipate that I will be citing many of the posts as evidence. I have presented the portfolio as a flat page rather than creating sub-pages for each section as it matches the design of my other pages and because I am a fan of flat, minimalistic design and navigation. My concession to the fact that it is a large piece of work has been to create an internal navigation menu at the top of the page and included links back to this after each section.

The next step will be to complete the new review sections but I will wait for guidance from ALT on when this is going to be due rather than ploughing ahead. I have however created the required headings and placeholder text based on the guidance documents that have been published on ALT’s website as I think they are unlikely to change much now.

Experience Better Tutoring Webinar

Or, to give it it’s proper title, “Creating an Effective Environment for Personal Tutoring and Research Supervision”. This was part of PebblePad’s 2015 webinar series ‘Experience Better’ and was delivered by Ian Palmer of the University of Sheffield who presented their experience with using PebblePad in their Doctoral Development Programme.

PebblePad was adopted around five years ago in order to inculcate reflective practice in students, encourage personal and professional development, and to reduce paperwork. Feedback has been very positive, with Ian reporting very few technical queries from either students or staff, but did note that for maximum effectiveness PebblePad was not just taught to students in a one-off session, but was fully embedded in the programme. PebblePad is now being deployed more widely throughout the university following this success.

A particular benefit which Ian reported was the submission of regular updates from students, their training needs analysis and supervisory meeting reports, to ATLAS, where staff on the team where able to monitor progress and provide early intervention if any students were identified as potentially struggling. This has helped to break down the old ‘secret garden’ model of student / supervisor relationships.

This was an excellent case study demonstrating how ePortfolios have been used to improve a programme for both students and staff, but I was also keen to attend today for a couple of other reasons. First of all, although we use Mahara at Sunderland, I was very heavily involved in supporting PebblePad at Northumbria, especially towards the end of my time there, and am keen to keep current with developments. Leading on from this, Sheffield are piloting a couple of new PebblePad features which the webinar promised to discuss a little. These are the new Home screen which replaces the current minimalist screen with a dashboard of recent activity and tasks which are due, and Flourish which offers to provide a defined pathway for students through a programme, with tasks and milestones which will help guide them, while also giving staff a better way of supervising their progress. I took a couple of screenshots of these features from the webinar, so apologies for the low quality.

http://www.pebblepad.co.uk/seminars/web062015/

SLS Request, Reflect and Record

Training on the new SLS* process for requesting and recording staff development which is built on the back of a new ‘system’, which is actually just some customised JIRA forms and dashboards. It’s nice to see a reflection element build into the system. After a staff development session you need to go back into the system and fill out a self-reflection form which goes to your line manager. If you don’t complete this within five days then you and your line manager get a prompt via email.

* SLS – Student and Learning Support, the service department to which WaLTS belongs.

Oculus Rift Development Opportunities

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I had one of those really interesting and productive meetings yesterday with an outstanding academic that was brimming with possibilities and has filled me with ideas.

The academic in question teaches multimedia and game design and for the past year or so has been experimenting with the Oculus Rift in his teaching. I’ve been wanting to catch up with him to discuss his work since we acquired a Rift for the team back in December. He demonstrated some of the software which he has created which included a virtual walkthrough of our St Peter’s Campus, where he is based, and a driving game set in the streets of Newcastle. He was able to share some of his more complete work with me there and then so that I can take a more leisurely look back at my office. The screenshot is taken from the St Peter’s simulation and shows part of the exterior of the Design Centre. And a Dalek.

Then he gave me a quick overview of what it takes to develop software for the Rift, recommending we stick to the Unity engine for best ease-of-use to quality ratio, and Autodesk or SketchUp for 3D modelling which he said would actually be the most difficult and time consuming part of the process, as the models need to be very high quality – ‘game ready’ – meaning high polygon count and FPS. He has very kindly offered to visit the team and give us all a more in-depth one day crash course on everything we need to get started in May or June after his teaching has finished. Quid quo pro, I offered our services, Rift and a computer to run it when he attends open days and recruitment events.

Finally we discussed practical applications. Marketing applications are easy, and there are many events where we can, and will have a stall with the Rift set up to attract people over to us and then to start a discussion about what we can do for them. Applications to enhance teaching and learning are more difficult, though Keele University have done some good work in their School of Nursing and Midwifery. Some ideas we discussed included interactive 3D models of molecules for our Pharmacy department, mechanical equipment for our Engineering department, and a virtual gallery of work created by the National Glass Centre, though this is more of a marketing tool again. Equipment is another problem as there needs to be an appropriate amount of hardware for people to use, two Rift’s across the University is hardly sufficient. Of course departments can’t justify such an investment without having the appropriate software and concrete learning objectives ready to go.

We have a similar chicken and egg problem in the team in that none of us really have the necessary programming or 3D skills to develop for the Rift. In order for members of the team to be up-skilled for this we need to have a clear business case and a project to develop, but how do we attract such a project without the skills? And of course we have to do all of this in pretty short order in time to capture the zeitgeist surrounding VR at the moment.

The Terrible Itch That Can’t be Scratched

It’s been a while since my last post, first of the new year actually (so Happy New Year folks!) so I thought I would post something quickly on what I’ve been up to.

The reason for the lack of blogging is simply because I haven’t actually finished anything! I’ve done plenty of work, but for various reasons nothing is in a state where I can declare it to be done. Frightfully frustrating for someone with a little OCD.

One thing I did finish was a training event which I delivered for Careers, on Prezi, which I really enjoyed and I received some really nice feedback from them. I’ve also acquired a Thunderbolt to HDMI adaptor to get the Oculus Rift hooked up to one of our Macs, but haven’t had time to get it set up yet. I have nearly completed two Storyline presentations, a very comprehensive learning unit on the Bribery Act which will be the largest and richest piece of learning material I will have produced to date, and another short video for Careers. Both of these are with their respective project owners at the moment for approval and feedback. Prep work for the second semester of Technology Bytes is well under way, but again not quite finished yet due to a room booking problem, and finally I have had a very productive meeting with an academic today about developing a progress bar widget to use in course sites, similar to what Future Learn have. It will be tricker for us to implement as it will need to be dynamic to accommodate changes to course materials as time goes on, but not an insurmountable challenge.

Oculus Rift Thoughts and Impressions

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Christmas came early to WaLTS today when we inherited an Oculus Rift from another department. The TL;DR version? It’s fantastic! Buy one!

For about an hour it looked like we were up the proverbial creak as the Rift needs USB and HDMI input and most of us in the office are Mac users. No DisplayPort to HDMI adaptors lying around, and even the few PCs we have don’t have HDMI. Then we stumbled on a DVI to HDMI adaptor in a box full of crap and one of the newer PCs had a graphics card with a DVI port. Success! I should mention that it’s the Dev Kit 2 version we have, and it was hooked up to a mid-range HP running 64 Bit Windows 7. Hardware problems solved, it was on to the software.

It’s not the worst I’ve ever had to set up, but it’s not transparent and you need to install the SDK and the runtime before any of the demos will work. Perhaps if we had read the instructions first… but in a room full of techies that wasn’t going to happen. Everything installed, in the right order, still wouldn’t work. The config utility simply wouldn’t recognise the device, all we got was the orange LED of disappointment. Swapping the HDMI and USB connections around had no effect. Eventually, through a bit of trial and error I was able to get it working as follows:

1. In Windows I had to detect the device as a new monitor and keep the setting on ‘Extend these displays’, after doing this the device was recognised in the utility;

2. In the Oculus Config Utility I had to set Rift Display Mode to ‘Extend Desktop to the HMD’;

3. Software would then work, but only when using the ‘…DirectToRift.exe’ version.

This was the only combination of settings where I could get anything to work. I found forums with people reporting the same problem and worked through many suggestions to no effect. It could be almost anything, but I suspect the PC is just a bit crap.

What worked:

The Tuscany demo from Oculus worked perfectly, as did everything from http://riftaway.com. The best thing by far was Cyber Space and the ragdoll eject feature, which I discovered by accident because, as we’re established above, I don’t read instructions unless necessary, is hilarious. Discovering Space wouldn’t work, it loaded on the Rift but it didn’t display properly – the middle of the screen was missing so you couldn’t do anything. Don’t Let Go! looked like it would have been fun, but that simply wouldn’t display in the Rift, all I got was the stereoscopic display in the PC monitor.

Impressions:

The headset is surprising light and comfortably. One of us had used a DK1 before and said it was a big improvement. Despite being full HD, the resolution appears low and pixelated because the screens are so close to your eyes, but that is amply compensated for by the immersive experience which is truly outstanding. A little disorientating at first, and then a little more when you take if off, but in both cases it passes quickly. The cables are a bit annoying, there are a lot of them, and it would be nice if this could be simplified.

Next steps:

Well, the first thing to do is get it working properly. I think maybe getting a DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor for one the of Macs is the way to go here as most of the Macs are new(ish) and pretty high spec. Then we’ll want to develop something ourselves. I think I might struggle to come up with a business case for the boss to let us develop some cool games, but a virtual walkthrough of the campuses for prospective students is a good starting point; I could see us setting up a stall with the Rift at recruitment fairs, induction events, school visits, etc. and let people walk around the University while playing with the newest cool toy. We’re also a shoo-in for best stall at next year’s SLS Innovation Event I reckon.

Technology Bytes, Semester 1

Back in late September / early October I was asked by a colleague in our Academic Development Unit to develop a series of sessions on learning technology to plug into their CPD plan, the result was Technology Bytes! Six sessions running every week starting in late October covering:

  • SunSpace and ClassLive
  • Solar (Equella) and Articulate Storyline
  • Turnitin and Prezi
  • ePortfolio (Mahara) and Thing Link
  • Streaming Service (Helix Media Library) and PowToon
  • SMART Boards and Audio / Video Feedback and Marking

My intention had been for each session to briefly demonstrate one of the University’s core learning technology tools alongside something new, funky and maybe even just a little bit sexy, then to have a discussion on what has been demonstrated and an open Q&A. Once the sessions were going however, I quickly learned that our academic community were expecting more formal planned training which went into depth on each topic.

Now, as I am busy planning the second series to run throughout semester 2, this is a key lesson which I am taking on board and will stick to one system or tool in each session, but will be including a dedicated session on external presentation tools which will cover Storyline, Prezi, PowToon and Thing Link together, and another new one dedicated to mobile apps. Audio and video feedback and marking I want to expand out to a session on its own as there is a great deal of potential here to enhance the student experience and some of the work I have seen where this has been used has had fantastic results.

A further improvement which I will be making is to re-word the titles and descriptions to bring the pedagogy to the fore, rather than the tool itself, in an attempt to reach more people and increase participation in the sessions.

I am reliably informed that the programme as a whole has been very well received by ‘higher-ups’ and that they feature prominently in all of the new Faculty development plans, with strong encouragement for staff to attend. Very encouraging.