Piktochart and Academic Posters


Adding to my many niche specialisms, I seem to have become infographic and poster girl. It’s a rubbish super hero name tbh, but not a bad niche. I’ve done a couple of sessions recently that were very mixed experiences. The first, if I’m honest, wasn’t good at all, but the one I did on Tuesday went down a treat. The difference? The venue. The first time around I was teaching in a funny semi-open access area we have in one of our buildings which has banks of computers in long rows. It’s loud, it’s hot, and even with me shouting at the top of my voice the people at the back couldn’t hear me. That meant I was having to walk up and down, repeating things to different groups of students which meant getting them all at the same place was nearly impossible. It was so bad that the academic and I decided to do a re-run which was on Tuesday, this time ensuring that we booked a proper computer room. What a difference it made. You could see, and hear, things clicking into place for the students. It was incredibly satisfying, and goes to show the power of providing the right environment which is conducive to learning.

What I was teaching was how to use Piktochart to create infographics which could then be used as part of an academic poster. The students’ brief was to create something similar to the country profiles used by the New Internationalist magazine, but with an emphasis on health. My example used Wakanda for topical, pop-culture fun. It’s a little rough, terribly plagiarised, and I made up all the stats, but it served it’s purpose well. The poster template itself is a PowerPoint template from Poster Presentations, a cracking little resource I wish I had known about a few years ago instead of creating my own.

This was to level 6 sociology students and more than one commented on how useful the tool was and how they wish they had been taught it in their first year as they could have used it in other work. It was great feedback, and I strongly suspect that the programme leader is indeed going to build this into the programme at an earlier stage in future. At which point, to my mind, instead of providing ad-hoc sessions directly to students, what I’ll do is teach the programme team who can then build it into their teaching.

To Do: Take Over the World

Some very interesting and productive conversations this afternoon about my future. Last year, as part of the PG Cert AP, I taught on some sessions of the technology module, EDPM08, for experience. This year, responsibility for teaching of this module will come under full responsibility of the CELT, my team, so I’m going to be doing a lot more with it – teaching all of the sessions and acting as the de facto module leader. I won’t officially be the module leader as I don’t have experience of this, and there is a certain amount of paperwork and process which I’m not familiar with. So for this year the official module leader will be the programme leader, but they will be teaching me everything I need to know so that I can take over full responsibility next year. Exciting!

I also had a discussion about what I’m going to do next for my own professional development. Since confirmation that I passed the PG Cert AP a few weeks ago I actually stopped being a student for the first time in a decade. It’s a tad disconcerting. (Shh! Don’t tell the NUS, I still have 18 months left on my card!) The next logical step for me, in my mind, is Senior Fellow of the HEA, and based on the conversation I’m now happy and confident that I would be able to get this.

PG Cert AP – It’s a Pass!

Came home late last night after a lovely day out to find my certificate in the post. I am now the happy holder of a Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, having passed the core module ‘Introduction to Academic Practice’ and the optional module ‘Assessment and Feedback for Learning’. I’ve known for a little while, but now it’s official. The programme was just pass or fail, but there were indicative marks given out for the core module so I know it was a good pass, in the ‘upper second’ region. Not quite as good as my other PG Cert, Leading from the Middle, where my final assignment got a clear first, but I enjoyed this programme a great deal and got a lot out of it. Definitely more where I want my career to go.

Festival of Learning and Teaching


Last year we had a conference, this year it was a three day festival, run by our colleagues in Academic Development with support from ourselves in Web and Learning Technology Services. We are too cool to be involved in the main festival itself, so we had a fringe which included a Twitter treasure hunt, a stall where we enticed people in with fun stuff on the Oculus Rift and then hawked our services to them when they were captive, as well as providing live streaming of the keynotes from each day and the closing ceremony.

I was proud of the treasure hunt we put on, I thought it was very well thought out with some fun tasks for people which made them engage with our service, Tweet a selfie with a member of Academic Development for example (which we kept secret from them!), but there was little uptake unfortunately, which I think can be put down to the relatively low numbers and insularity of an internal conference. Our stall which was strategically positioned outside key sessions was more successful, attracting a decent number of people and even allowing me to connect with someone who has a project ripe for further development in virtual reality.

In spite of running various things in the background, I was still able to attend a number of sessions over the three days:

Lego Serious Play
Serious Play is an innovative and creative way to facilitate discussion about a typically difficult or abstract topic. In keeping with the theme of the conference, our discussion was focused around what it means to be a student. The foreground model shown in the photo above is a reflection on my experience as a student, thinking back to where I started from. I’m the skeleton, symbolising my lack of knowledge, and I’m leaning back slightly from an overwhelming fear of the daunting barriers in front of me – including a Stormtrooper boss level (my dissertation!) – before I can reach my goal of enlightenment and joining the educated and the successful.

Cultural Diversity and Effective Teaching
A discussion and workshop on the many meanings behind the word ‘internationalisation’, led by external guest Dr. Marita Grimwood, an educational developer. This was the keynote from day 2, and not a session I was originally attending, but due to a last minute room change we were unable to live stream this session, so I improvised a recording solution using my iMac instead of running the WaLTS stall. After the event I edited the recordings, inserted her slides as an overlay at appropriate points and then posted the resulting video to our streaming media server.

Showcasing Learning and Teaching in Arts and Design
A series of short ten minute sessions from various members of departmental staff who discussed approaches to learning and teaching in their area. This was a really interesting talk as it made me realise how many great art events are happening in and around the city of Sunderland, and how deeply involved the university is in almost all of it. A particular highlight was the session from the National Glass Centre who talked about the experience of an off campus event where students had to work with very limited resources and no access to their usual tools.

Spectral Visions Press: Engaging Students Through a ‘Real Work’ Environment
Spectral Visions is product of the university’s English and Creative Writing programmes which aims to give students real hands-on experience with all aspects of writing and publishing. In additional to the blog and a number of student-led projects, Spectral Visions Press has also now published two volumes of work which are available from Amazon – Grim Fairy Tales and The Collection: Volume 1.

Student-Generated Induction
The keynote session from day 3 was delivered by Nick Bowskill who has developed the Shared Thinking Consultancy, an off-shoot of his doctoral research at the University of Glasgow which was designed to improve student induction processes based on social psychology theory and practice.

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.

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.

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.