PG Cert AP: Day 6

The final day of the first semester was a little unusual. The morning was given over to a review of the assignments for this module which are to complete the UKPSF form, critique a learning session, analyse a learning theory, and write a report on the experience of peer observation, comparing the experience of being the observer and the observee. Drafts are due at the end of semester 2, with final versions by September. All well and good, and all covered in the module guide. This session didn’t add anything, and yet we did literally spend the entire morning debating it. Strange things happen when you have academics as students.

The afternoon session was more useful. First there was a short presentation on evaluation in general, why and how to do it, followed by an introduction to nominal group technique. A definition of evaluation was given as ‘assessing the process and practice of a prior learning strategy or event by feedback and trying to make objective summaries of an often subjective interpretation.’ This was followed by a discussion on the different types of evaluation – student, staff, data, and self – and the difference between quality assurance, which is backwards looking and tends to be about accountability, and quality enhancement, which is about how to improve and develop your programme or module.

With quality enhancement in mind, nominal group technique was then introduced followed by actually using it to evaluate this first semester. As a group, and with the programme leader absent, we drew up two lists of ten to twelve points of things that are going well, and things which we think need to be improved. These were written on a board in no particular order, then individually we had ten votes, or points, with which to rank what we thought were the most important points. So for example, if you thought that ‘over-assessment’ and ‘use of VLE’ were the two most important things that needed to be improved upon, then you could give each one five votes. The programme leader was then invited back in and the votes were added up to show what we collectively ranked as the most important things for improvement, and what we felt was going well. The outcome of this evaluation will be actively used in the development of the programme for the second semester.

Turnitin UK User Summit


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.

Preparing to Teach


This was an extremely dense two day course which “introduced key concepts, tools and issues which are important to teachers in higher education” (from the welcome document). The primary target audience for the course, which is delivered by our Academic Development Unit regularly, was PGR students who are starting to do some teaching as part of their work, but who may not have had any formal teacher training yet.

One of the course objectives was for itself to deploy some of the techniques under discussion, and the first such example of this was a ‘signature search’ icebreaker exercise, something which was completely new to me and most of the others there. This was followed by a reflection on the purposes on HE which employed the snowballing technique (more than learning, we concluded, also to develop students, at least potentially, into researchers and citizens who contribute to the advancement of society), how students learn in HE, techniques for reflective practice (including models of reflective practice from Schön, Gibbs and Rolfe, of which most of us preferred Rolfe’s model), key pedagogies (including scaffolding, repetition, cognitive load and chunking), planning your teaching (which included advice on how to plan, the difference between planning for a programme, session or individual learning activity, and a broadly applicable session template), and finally assessment and feedback strategies, e.g. how to select the appropriate assessment strategy for a given activity. The photograph is of the results of an exercise to complete a guidance and feedback loop based on Hounsell’s model. A joint exercise, my partner kept the original, hence my photo, which also explains why you can read the handwriting!

This was an extremely useful course for me which will help inform my development and, I hope, the quality of the sessions I deliver as I transition from a trainer, as I have previously characterised myself, to a teacher. An immediate impact will be on the fact that I will, from now, create proper sessions plans which go into a lot more detail than the notes I have previously prepared and which will include more thought on contingency measures and alternative activities which can be deployed depending on the nature of the group on the day. Some other things which will have an impact are that I now have an increased awareness of attention spans and the need to change activities at appropriate intervals to keep people awake, and the benefit of embedding informal assessment throughout a session to reinforce learning.

There were also some parts of the course which were not immediately applicable to my work and exercises which were harder for me to complete as they had in mind people delivering entire modules and programmes, not something I do at the moment, but I’m sure it will come in useful in the future as I look forwards to doing a PGCert in learning and teaching. That’s not going to be this year due to prior commitments, but possibly the presentation starting in September 2016.

I would have liked to have seen TEL being used to greater effect on the course. From a technological standpoint the course was a very tradition ‘PowerPoint plus handouts’ model which left plenty of room for improvement. I believe a small forest in South America must have been destroyed to furnish us with the enormous amounts of paperwork we were given; many of us, myself included, requested digital copies of the materials but there hasn’t been any follow-up on this yet, perhaps it is too soon. A lot of the paperwork was forms which we had to complete, the templates for the reflective feedback models for example, how much better to have delivered these via Mahara? Ideally in advance and that way we would also have had time to consider questions and points for discussion in order to get more out of the course (the flipped classroom approach). I work with Academic Development quite closely on a number of areas so I will have plenty of opportunity to feed this back to them.

How to Mark an Assignment – Storyline Presentation


The presentation I put together for student submission was well received and it has led to others. This one is for markers where there is only a single marker. The tool that the team is developing has the ability to accommodate multiple independent markers. The player is looking a little better now and I added the video in a different way with better results, more like an actual video than a series of screenshots.

Making these has been a little difficult as Storyline kept crashing on me when I was using the precision timing editor. Upon investigation I found that this was because I was running Storyline on a Windows 7 virtual machine in Parallels and had all my files on the desktop of my computer. Parallels has a nice little feature whereby it links the desktop on the host Mac with that on the Windows client, but it does so by making the drives on the Mac a pseudo-network drive in Windows. I discovered on Articulate’s forums that working on, and saving files to a network drive can cause various performance problems, and when I moved my files to the actual C drive it solved all of my problems.

How to Submit an Assignment – Storyline Presentation


We have been developing a new online submission, feedback and marking tool for one of our faculties and I was asked for advice on creating an interactive guide for students on how to submit to the system. I recommended Storyline for which we had just purchased a few licenses on my recommendation, and this is the result. I actually recommended Storyline for another project which is further down the line so I ended up having to put this together at very short notice, it is consequently a little rough around the edges. I will develop a proper template in due course.

Positive PebblePad Feedback

From a student:

“Excellent, it’s there! thank you so so much for this! I’m so grateful honestly! Thank you so much for helping me :)”

She had lost some work from PebblePad which I was able to recover from the server, with some difficulty. Feedback like this reminds why I love my work; it’s wonderful to be able to help people.

After receiving confirmation that what I had done worked I did a little more experimentation and worked out exactly how and where the backups were being created and then wrote a short procedure on how to recover documents for future reference.