Interface Symposium: Arts, Participation and Higher Education

artworks_mooc_taster

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.

RIP LearningStudio

Well, it’s official. Not University of Sunderland official, but officially official none-the-less. Pearson, the supplier of our VLE, SunSpace, have publicly stated on the home page of OpenClass that they are withdrawing from the VLE / LMS market. More details and background are available on the excellent e-Literate blog.

I have, as you might expect, known for some time but have been sworn to secrecy. And I have suspected that this was coming for a long time, since not long after I started working at Sunderland to be honest, given the level and quality of support we have received from Pearson. Now that the cat is out of the bag I feel like I can be completely honest. LearningStudio will not be missed. By us, or I suspect by anyone. It is a dreadful system. Perhaps it was good at some point, but it feels like development of it stopped quite a long time ago, and it is riddled with horrible bugs, issues and ‘beta’ features that have been abandoned in a half-working state.

Needless to say, the starting pistol on a VLE replacement project has already been fired.

Where’ve You Been?

I say, it’s been a little quiet on here over the past few months, hasn’t it? It has been a frightfully busy time for me! At work the start of the new academic year brought with it the usual amount of chaos and mayhem, and outside of work I have been moving home while desperately trying to do something, anything, with my dissertation! I’ve just popped in some posts about things I’ve done recently, but there has been plenty more I could have written about.

Clearning was, alas, a bit of a bust in the end. The core team were just so good, and so efficient that they left me with very little to do, and so I ended up just spending the afternoon doing general enquiry chats. Still, it was a nice break and I’m good to go next year.

I did some good work for the newly rebranded School of Law using Storyline to record some introductory videos to smarten up some of their programme spaces, and got access to a professional recording studio to record voiceover for the Anti-Bribery Act training module I have been building, a project which is now back in the hands of our Legal and Governance department for approval. They initialled asked for this to be ready for October. 2014. It’s still ongoing.

In early September we, as a team, were able to elbow our way into a number of faculty and department conferences to provide a crash course on changes to SunSpace, i.e. the new template and the Turnitin LTI, which was extremely successful. In one session we probably hit more people than all of the Technology Bytes sessions we ran last year. Those aren’t happening again this year; instead of planned sessions we are holding generic drop-in surgeries with colleagues in Academic Development in the hope that those will be better attended. Other teaching I have delivered has included some sessions to front-line Library staff on new things in SunSpace and, just a couple of weeks ago, some sessions to students on creating posters in PowerPoint to display their research proposals at a showcase event taking place in early December.

Also at the start of the new year the University went live with a new electronic attendance monitoring system that required all students to be issued with a new ID card, a mammoth operation for which I volunteered a few shifts.

At the beginning of October we had a conference call with colleagues at Texas Christian University, something we have to do because we are the only university in the UK trying to use LearningStudio as a VLE, only to discover that they are now well along the road in migrating to a new VLE and ending their relationship with Pearson. I probably shouldn’t say any more on this topic, but I can slip in a cheeky link to this article and let you read between the lines about what it means…

End of October was appraisal season and as well as my own I was invited to sit in and contribute to the team’s appraisals as per last year. Any moment now I will start on my middle-managers training course, which was supposed to happen this year, but it has been completely re-written and is now a fully accredited PG Cert which works out really well for me. Also approved in principle is my doing the PG Cert in Education next year.

Finally, last week I attended a consultation event from our VC where she discussed the plans and the direction of travel she wants to set for the next five years and her thoughts on the recently published Green Paper. One of her big themes or ideas was on cultivating an ongoing relationship with students after graduation to keep their skills current.

New Team Activity Reports

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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.

Academic Year Rollover

We are now in the final stages of preparatory work for the academic year rollover on the VLE, SunSpace. This has been a big job this year, and a difficult and somewhat stressful one for me. For the past three years at Sunderland, since we moved to LearningStudio, as part of the rollover we have copied content from the previous version of all module spaces to the new ones en masse, a process that was, compared to Blackboard, fast and effortless. However, it did have the problem of perpetuating bad practice and design. In an effort to improve the quality of module sites this year our Academic Board decided that instead of rolling over content the new sites for 2015/16 would be created from a template. Although they issued guidance on what that template should contain, exact details of how to implement this fell to me. Putting something together that made everyone ‘happy’ was not a joy.

The end result is, I think, a considerable improvement on the template that was used in previous years for new modules, but I would have liked to have done so much more with it. There are two distinct parts to the new template. First of all there are placeholder items for all of the items that Academic Board specified should be in the template and these contain information and guidance to help academics update them. Secondly there is a hugely expanded section for staff help, and a new section for student help that is almost as large. The design is very basic, deliberately so, as I didn’t want content that academics create to not match the set items that were pre-prepared, and realistically most will only use the basic functionality. However, there are some items in there that are designed to either help academics improve the visual appearance of their modules, such as some generic icons, and others that show-off what can be done in SunSpace such as a collapsable accordion menu and embedded content items including content from our streaming media server and external sources such as ThingLink.

One final thing we did was to turn off, by default, all of the tools which don’t work as they should for one reason or another. I was able to get consensus from the team on this one. They are all still there if people really want to use them, but we hope they won’t. In the staff help section there is a page dedicated to the various SunSpace tools where I have explained why these particular ones are turned off and advising people on what to use instead to achieve the same ends in a better way.

To support staff with the changes to the rollover process I have also arranged a training and publicity programme that includes emails, announcements, an article on the University’s blog, US Online, and a series of workshops supported by roaming sessions that will run over the next couple of weeks, to be repeated again at the start of September.

WaLTS Highlights 2014/15

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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.

http://solar.sunderland.ac.uk/solar/file/901ea087-0f89-40b5-95e4-b85d2168430a/1/story.html

Turnitin LTI and Case Studies

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One of the big projects I picked up last year when I started at Sunderland was the team’s development of a new way of accessing Turnitin through SunSpace. Following the successful implementation of the LTI earlier this year I wrote a case study about our experience which has now been published to our website.

This is the first of what I hope will be many case studies sharing our experience for the benefit of others and publicising the good work we do.

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

intro_to_sunspace

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!

http://solar.sunderland.ac.uk/solar/file/29f3d246-59aa-4f60-9543-6c8577171de1/1/story.html

Pearson PAB (Product Advisory Board) Webinar

Watched a recording of Pearson’s PAB webinar which was held in lieu of the conference in Denver, where they demonstrated many new features which have either been made live recently or are due for release over the coming year. Highlights were the new look Threaded Discussions tool which is being rolled out piecemeal now, the new course dashboard which is going to replace Social Learning Module Home (here’s hoping for a catchier name this time round), the Android app, and the long overdue notifications centre – something which our students are clamouring for. Also tucked away, but of particular interest to me, is the new ‘External Tool’ menu item type which should make it easier for academics to deploy the new version of Turnitin we have been working on, which uses the standard LTI from Turnitin instead of the Dropbox integration which Pearson developed but that doesn’t work terribly well.