Technology Bytes, Semester 2

Our second series of Technology Bytes has just completed. This time, with the benefit of more time to plan and a longer semester, we ran twelve sessions from February to July at roughly fortnightly intervals. The programme of sessions were as follows:

  1. Student Engagement in SunSpace
  2. Engaging Distance Learning Students
  3. Collaborative Learning Material Development and Deployment
  4. Online Assignment Submission, Marking and Feedback
  5. Using Self-Reflection to Improve Student Engagement and Outcomes
  6. Increase Student Collaboration Using Discussion Tools
  7. Improve Feedback for Students by Using Audio and Video
  8. Use Video to Enrich Your Learning Materials
  9. Smart Use of SMART Boards in Your Lectures
  10. Death by PowerPoint? How to Keep Your Students Awake in Lectures
  11. Teaching and Learning on the Move
  12. Preparing Your SunSpace Sites for 2015/16

The big difference from last time round was a change in focus from ‘the tool’ to some problem we could help resolve. This worked better and is more apparent for some than others. I found writing succinct titles with this goal in mind difficult, but it was better achieved in the accompanying descriptions and in our advertisements. Another change was the explicit focus on one thing only per session, though again I tried to theme this around pedagogy or some problem we could help with rather than a specific system.

In spite of these changes attendance remained poorer than I would like and around half way through I modified our advertisements to make people aware that they could also use these sessions to ask us about any related matters. A barrier we face, and one that is difficult to resolve, is that our academics are quite tightly time constrained through the use of a workload planning system that doesn’t allow a lot of free time to attend extraneous activities. Nevertheless there were particularly popular sessions – ‘Death by PowerPoint’ had to be run twice. (One of the sessions I taught, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it!) Finally, on the back of Technology Bytes, we delivered a number of sessions down at London Campus which were very well received.

Feedback has been very positive overall and outweighs, I think, the relatively poor attendance. As I keep having to remind the team, even sessions that run with only one person can have a huge impact as they propagate what they have learned to their students and colleagues. Informally, I have had many people tell me that the team is now more visible and they are more aware of the work we do thanks in part to these sessions. For all of these reasons I would very much like to keep them going next year, though with changes. One idea I am working on with Academic Development is joint drop-in surgeries, not just the two of us but also including other services such as the Library.

Learning and Teaching Conference 2015

Inspired by the HEA’s ‘Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education’ published in 2014, the theme and title of the University’s Learning and Teaching conference this year was ‘Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching: The pedagogical case for learning and working as partners’.

The conference began with an Opening Address delivered by Professor Julie Mennell, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), and was followed by the Keynote ‘Learning as a Team: Education that connects students, lecturers and professionals’ which was given by a guest speaker, Dr Marjolein Wildwater, Scientific Manager at HAN University of Applied Sciences, Netherlands, who presented a case study on her experience with involving students directly in the ongoing development of a programme. Next was the Internal Plenary ‘Crossing Pedagogic Borders: Adventures with sketchbooks and stories’ led by Dr Diane Westwood, Principal Lecturer Learning and Teaching, with assistance from two of her students who shared their experience in changing the assessment model in a Psychology programme to one which was based on artefacts and portfolios, an approach which required them to cross the border into the unfamiliar world of the arts. The final session of the first part of the conference was a Question and Answer Panel ‘Talking About Working in Partnership’ where three chairs, Dr Colin Bryson, Director of Combined Honours Partnership, Newcastle University, Andi Albrecht, one of Colin’s students on the Combined Honours Partnership and Gareth Hughes from the University of Sunderland Students’ Union, each gave a short talk on their experience of working with students as partners before being joined by the other speakers from the morning to take questions from the audience.

For the second part of the conference attendees were broken up into strands to attend two workshops and one ‘ignite’ session. The ignite sessions were short, dynamic presentations lasting twenty minutes each with a five minute PowerPoint presentation with slides set to automatically advance every fifteen seconds. Unfortunately I was unable to attend any of the ignite sessions as I had to prepare for the first workshop where I was assisting a colleague, David Archer, with his workshop, ‘Using Mobile Polling to Develop Partnerships’, in which he talked about how he has used Poll Everywhere for real-time interaction with students during lectures. David borrowed a number of tablets and mobile devices that we keep in stock and I was also there for any technical assistance if required. The second workshop I attended was ‘Beyond Feedback: Rethinking the role of students in enhancing teaching practice’ delivered by Dan Derricott and Emily Parkin from the University of Lincoln who presented on their experience with involving students which contained some really interesting ideas such as having everyone on their Executive Board shadowed by a student.

Web and Learning Technology Services were there too. Instead of delivering a session we had a ‘pod’ to ourselves for the entire day where people could come for a break and chat to us about the latest developments with SunSpace and other learning technologies.

The conference was organised and delivered by Academic Development with whom I have a close working relationship and I was able to contribute some ideas for the day. For example, we were initially asked if we could record the morning sessions but instead I recommended the use of our new live streaming service which gave the conference another 50 or so virtual attendees and we received some very positive feedback from viewers. Recordings were subsequently added to the Sunderland Media Library. Also, with a little encouragement from me, Academic Development created a Twitter account and hashtag for the event to encourage audience engagement.

WaLTS Highlights 2014/15


For the University Library’s SMT meeting this morning I was asked to deliver a short 30 minute talk about the work and accomplishments of the team over the past year, and to look forward to what is coming for us next year. Notes and thoughts which I started putting together yesterday morning morphed into the presentation below which was very well received. Indeed, I ended up talking for around an hour thanks to a really good Q&A session. Many people at the meeting have asked to either disseminate this presentation to their colleagues or for me to attend other meetings to deliver this again. That’s a very satisfying feeling, a job well done. Following this reception I have gone on to publish the presentation on our website and on a ‘Show and Tell’ module on SunSpace that we use for this kind of thing.

EQUELLA 6.4 Pre-Release Webinar

Attended a webinar which demonstrated new and improved features of EQUELLA 6.4 and provisional plans for the next major release, version 7. It was useful as we are a few versions behind. Some notable new things include the gallery view for items tagged as images or videos, additional options for administrators to control number of attachments allowed per item and, in the case of images, the ability to restrict the size of images (dimensions, not file size), new MIME type restrictions, and myriad improvements to the way search, sorting and filtering works.

Also demonstrated was the new ‘Push to LMS’ feature and improvements to LTI integrations making it easier to configure EQUELLA integration into Blackboard and Moodle. When we asked if these features were going to be developed for LearningStudio we were told that there were no plans for this due to lack of demand. I find it more than a touch worrying that one part of Pearson is providing better support for Pearson’s competitors than their own LMS platform. What are we to conclude about Pearson’s commitment to LearningStudio from this?

Introduction to SunSpace Storyline


Created a video-based presentation for new students which runs through all of the key features of SunSpace and includes a short surprise MCQ at the end to try and help reinforce their learning. Initially this was at the request of an academic who wanted something like this for some non-standard modules he has starting now, but it has wider potential so I made it generic to all SunSpace modules and then integrated it into the new module template we’ve been building for academic year 2015/16. It’s probably not complete yet, a voiceover on each slide would be nice for example, but it’s now in a state that’s good to go!

Learning Analytics Quick Start Guide

Adding to our range of Quick Start guides I have written a new one on Learning Analytics and the tools we have available. I will be following this up shortly with one which goes into more detail on Enterprise Reporting, covering the standard reports which are available and how people can get viewer accounts from the team.

White Rose Learning Technologists Forum – Learning Analytics


Attended a special meeting of the White Rose Learning Technologists Forum at the University of Sheffield which was opened up beyond Yorkshire for a themed event on learning analytics.

The principal speaker was Martin Hawksey who gave a dense and extremely informative presentation which explored the history of learning analytics, methodology, available tools, threats and opportunities. He then introduced us to two tools for social network analysis, TAGS which archives and analyses Twitter hashtag searches, and NodeXL which has similar functionality but which requires less technical knowledge to set up and can import data from other social networks including YouTube and FaceBook. Martin has written a blog post about his presentation which is available here and the presentation itself can be found here.

Martin was followed by Patrick Lynch from the University of Hull who gave a talk about his work and experience with learning analytics using Excel and Tableau, a more powerful tool for analytics analysis. Patrick also talked about his experience with issues of privacy and ethics which he found varied wildly among students, with some fearing Big Brother while others found the analytics extremely helpful in informing their own learning, and shared other lessons learned such as the fact that you cannot necessarily infer meaning from action. The example he gave was of a report which identified students who had not accessed certain content items at the expected times, but investigation found that in some cases this was because they had downloaded the entire course content at the start of the course.

Finally, Jamie Lepiorz from the English department at the University of Sheffield talked about his experience of using analytics and student feedback to inform the development of the Animals in Film Archive and related module.

Photo is courtesy of Danny Monaghan. More photos and Tweets are available from the #WRLTF hashtag on Twitter.

Course Dashboard Demonstration

I watched the recording of the Pearson webinar which demonstrated the new Course Dashboard this morning, the imminent replacement of the Social Learning Module Home page. I would like to say that I was excited and impressed, but the truth is that it has filled me with trepidation. I understand that the Social Learning Module Home (SLMH from now on as that is far too long a name for anything) was problematic when it was first rolled out, but I have fortunately missed that and most courses at Sunderland are, in my anecdotal experience, using SLMH in preference to the classic course home page (which looks very dated and basic now), and it works well and looks reasonably nice.

This new version however, seems like a step back. It’s blocky, it’s not a responsive design so who knows how well it’s going to look across resolutions, the widgets seem to be using iframes which is something that the SLMH uses in places with disastrous results on mobile devices, and the person who gave the webinar could not tell us what the results of their mobile testing were. A big point they are selling the new dashboard on is the ability to customise it, but I have learned from the webinar today that this is rather disingenuous, as it can only be customised from the Admin Pages for the entire institution (or possibly node / term level, but that’s not much better), so there is no user customisation which is what I expected from their marketing and what has been available in Blackboard for many years now. The Course Checklist feature is also no where to be found. This is a really nice little tool which lets students see the whole schedule of the course at a glance, but it is only available on the classic course home. When I have queried why it was not available in SLMH I was told that it was a bug and to wait for the new dashboard, and now today I’ve found out that this is not the case, that the feature is gone and that the best I can hope for is that similar functionality might be implemented in a calendar view at some unknown time in the future. The interface of the new dashboard is not customisable either. The colour scheme (blue, white and grey), like the new Threaded Discussion tool, cannot be changed to match Sunderland’s branding, and other attributes like the font and font-weight are also fixed. Very disappointing.

Of course, being a software-as-a-service solution we will have no choice but to implement the new dashboard at some point, and probably sooner rather than later in spite of my reservations as there is no development being done on either of the older course homes which means no bug fixes. I can only hope that many of these issues are ironed out before general release, as my thoughts were echoed by participants on the chat many of whom are, or will be piloting the new dashboard.

The attached screenshots show the Classic course home, basic and dated, but it does have the oh-so-useful Module Checklist; and the much better SLMH which includes the Chat and recent activity widget and an Upcoming widget. I haven’t included a screenshot of the new version as the only place I have seen it to date is in these private webinars.

SLS Mini Conference

A short update from the Director and Assistant Directors of SLS on how we are progressing towards meeting our targets as a service which, as we are nearing the end of the three year service plan, has largely become a statement of fact. This was followed by group workshops where we discussed some examples of how we are meeting our shared behaviours: Teamwork, Customer Satisfaction, Continuous Improvement, Customer Focus and Information Sharing.