Google Cardboard and Playstation VR

Finally got my hands on a Google Cardboard VR headset today. Ironically the cheapest and most common VR system is the one that has eluded me until today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve came at this backwards and tried the least advanced system last, the one that’s supposed to be a cheap, quick and easy demonstration of the technology to get people’s interest, that I was unimpressed. It simply isn’t immersive. Having to hold the headset to your head with one hand and all the ambient light that seeps in through the sides spoils the desired illusion. I tried a few apps and games, including what I thought the Cardboard would be good for, 360 degree videos, but they all disappointed. When having to move your head around to follow things there was noticeable lag which comes in part from the need to hold the headset on and the low processing power of mobile phones. I tried different apps with both an iPhone 6S and a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.

I also got to play with a Playstation VR a few weeks ago thanks to a colleague. That was a different story. It’s big, it’s heavy, but also comfortable once it’s on. On dark screens light does seep in from the bright lights used for motion tracking, but once you’re in a game it’s completely immersive and the relatively low resolution compared to the Rift and the Vive is nullified. Set-up is a breeze which is exactly what you would want from a console driven system and everything just works.

This is the one. Undoubtedly if I were going to buy a VR system for personal use it would be the PlayStation VR. For non-gaming uses, quality and an even more completely immersive experience it would be the HTC Vive, but that’s over twice the price of the PlayStation VR and needs a gaming PC costing around £1,000, rather than a PlayStation 4 costing around £250, and which I already have.

Interface Symposium: Arts, Participation and Higher Education


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.

Zapier Demonstration

Had a demonstration of Zapier today from a Pearson rep from their developers network. Zapier is a service that allows web services from different platforms to talk to each other, but in a very simple visual manner – no programming skills required. So, for example, you could set a new direct message alert from Twitter (the trigger) to send you an email to your Gmail account (the action). Triggers and actions can be chained together to create complex sets of actions. You could add a second part to my example which adds an entry to a Google Sheets spreadsheet from the Twitter DM as well for example. The possibilities are huge, and every modern web service you can probably think of is available on Zapier.

If this sounds like If This Then That that’s because it is pretty much the same, though Zapier claims to have more integrations available. Why Zapier then? Because Pearson have chosen Zapier to experiment with by linking up the web services which are available from LearningStudio to Zapier. You won’t find that advertised on Zapier though, as they are set to private at the moment, but we will be able to use them and can send them on to others. We could, for example, create a ‘Zap’ that sends an email whenever a new announcement is posted in a course site. We’re still waiting for full details of what the 17 triggers are, and there are no actions, so unfortunately this is going to be a one way thing; no possibility of setting a Facebook post to be pushed into a discussion board thread for example.

New Team Activity Reports


The old customer support and Google Analytics reports that I have been doing for the past year, and in some form for many years now, were good as far as they went but didn’t encompass all of the other work that we do, the services that we provide and the systems we support. In an effort to provide something that goes a little wider I have created this new style of report which picks out the highlights of the two old reports and adds in what measures are available from our other systems. I actually did most of this work a few months ago, but it took time to be approved. With agreement from the big boss I am also now publishing this report publicly on our website.

Part of what prompted this was my new found liking of Piktochart and the desire to turn my reports into more of an infographic, but in the end I stuck with Excel as there were a number of charts with data that I found I was just going to end up having to screenshot and import into Piktochart, which kind of defeated the point.

OERs: Using Free, Shared, Information Literacy Resources


“The what and how of using, re-writing and sharing Open Educational Resources in HE and FE library contexts”. A one day conference run by the Yorkshire and Humberside Branch of the Academic and Research Libraries Group and hosted at Leeds Beckett University (in the Rose Bowl building, above).

Who Needs a Repository When You’ve Got Google?
Nick Sheppard – Repository Developer, Leeds Beckett University

Nick started his presentation by exploring the differences between the Green and Gold models of open access publication of research papers and the current recommendations of the Finch Report and HEFCE, and the implications on library departments, particularly the potential for additional costs. He then moved on to demonstrate an OER resource he has created in Xerte, an interactive exploration of the SCONUL Seven Pillars model of information literacy, itself based on Creative Commons licensed OERs he found in Jorum. (And an hour later the news broke that Jorum would soon be no more!)

CoPILOT: What Can We Do For You?
Nancy Graham – Research Support and Academic Liaison Manager, London School of Economics

Nancy led a discussion on how to convince academics to use OERs and contribute their own materials to repositories. Challenges and barriers we identified included where to find suitable materials, concerns about quality, and relevance to their subject areas. Nancy then shared some of her research into reasons why people choose to use OERs which included personal recommendations from colleagues, reputation of the repository and relevance to their subject area, and clear Creative Commons license indicating allowed re-use. Finally Nancy told us about the Lilac Credo Award for Digital Literacy and recommended we put any good uses of OERs forward for consideration.

Skills@Library: Using and Creating OERs
Helen Howard – Learning Services Team Leader, University of Leeds

Helen gave us an overview of the Skills for Learning provision at the University of Leeds and shared their experience in developing their resources. Considerations included identifying core skills which all students should have and how best to present the Skills for Learning material to those students. From their experience Helen recommended working with academics to embed the Skills for Learning materials in student’s core curriculum, ideally linked to learning outcomes and including an element of assessment. All of their materials were published as OERs accompanied by lesson plans and notes on how to use them.

OERs for People With no Technical Skills and No Money
Sarah George – Subject Librarian, University of Bradford

Sarah presented an extended case study of their experience developed OERs in very short timescales and with no budget. One thing they tried was re-purposing OERs from other institutions and Sarah discussed some of the problems they experienced, including the difficulty in removing the branding from certain types of document, such as PDFs, and the inability to do any kind of editing of others, such as those created with Storyline. One tool they used successfully was SlideGo, an online tool that converts PowerPoint files into HTML5 web presentations, to good effect according to Sarah. Something else which she demonstrated was a home-made method of doing simple quizzes in PowerPoint by utilising internal links applied to objects and shapes.

Google Analytics on SunSpace


One of my little areas of expertise at Northumbria was providing analytics data and reports on Blackboard usage and it’s something which was missing here at Sunderland, for the VLE at least. Unfortunately the way Learning Studio works it has not been possible to implement Google Analytics tracking code system wide, but I’m not easily deterred! I found a way to embed the code into an announcement on the landing page so that we can at least get client side data: numbers, technology, location and mobile use which is all useful in informing development.

If the report looks a little familiar, well, that’s just because great cooks bake nice cakes no matter what kitchen they’re in!

SoDash Demonstration

Now that WaLTS are on Twitter, we found out on the grapevine that the University’s Marketing department had a tool called SoDash for collating all of our various accounts across different departments and social media outlets. We asked for a demonstration to see how it could be of use to us and this session was the result.

SoDash collates both incoming and outgoing social media activity on Twitter, FaceBook, Linkedin, YouTube and Instagram. The ability to include Google+ was mentioned too, but I didn’t see it in any of the dashboard and it’s dying anyway. SoDash has some really useful functionality such as the ability to tag and add notes to posts and people, create live activity dashboards, and most useful for us it can do wide-ranging searches for keywords to help catch posts which are for our attention but which don’t mention our handles directly. Many students won’t necessarily know ‘Web and Learning Technology Services’, or ‘UoS_WaLTS’, but they will tweet about SunSpace and My Sunderland problems which we may miss.


Have discovered Flubaroo today. Well, I can’t really lay claim to the ‘discovery’, I’m sure other people knew about it, but it was new to me. Flubaroo is a plugin for Google Docs Spreadsheets that can automatically grade the submissions from the corresponding Form and email the students their grade, turning Forms into a very useful quiz tool.

The background to this was an academic who wanted to transition from paper based assignments, for a cohort of around 300, to online submission. The easy option, use the Exam tool in the VLE, was not suitable as it does not have a calculated numeric question type. There are many, many quiz tools out there with similar functionality, but I suggested adapting Google Forms because the results would go straight into a spreadsheet and he was already having to use an Excel spreadsheet because of the complex formulas in question (entering the student’s work manually, time consuming and introducing a source of error).

Looking for a way to automatically send students their marks led me to Flubaroo that can not only do this, but can also automatically grade responses based on a specified answer row. Usage is straightforward: set up the form as normal, complete the form yourself entering all the correct answers (this is an important step, you’ll see why in a moment…) and then in the responses Spreadsheet find and install Flubaroo from the Add-ons menu. You run the tool from the same menu, so Add-ons > Flubaroo > Grade Assignment and then you will be asked to first assign points, or not, to each column, and secondly to specify a row to use as the ‘correct answers’ row, which is why it is important to take the quiz yourself first.

There are a few points to note. First, it will not allow you to grade an assignment until there have been at least two submissions, which is logical when you think about it, one to be assigned as the answer row, and at least one to actually grade. If you want to re-grade an assignment you have to go through the set-up process of assigning points and correct answers again, and similarly there is no option to simply grade new submissions to catch the stragglers or anyone with dispensation to submit late. Finally, the ‘Grade’ sheet which is produced is not live-updating, so if you want to manually grade some questions or award extra points you need to update the column in question and then the Total Points and Percent columns manually as well, it’s a shame those two columns are not formulas instead, but these minor quibbles do not mar an excellent little tool.

Analytics Report Procedure

As part of my handover arrangements I have had to write a set of instructions on how to compile the learning analytics report I have been responsible for. This document alone was such an extensive piece of work that it warranted a separate project in my handover to do list and took me pretty much an entire day. The resulting seven page, 3,000 word document covers how to update and complete the master spreadsheet, where to find all of the various measures in Google Analytics and Blackboard, and how to create the report on PebblePad usage, the most complex one as it involves database queries and I was handing over to someone with little experience of databases, so the instructions needed to be detailed and precise.