A quick webinar / conference call with a ThingLink representative in the US to explain the benefits of verified account status, a new service they are offering for educational institutions. Obtaining this status is free and results in the creation of a single institutional group which can be easily controlled and administered. Students and other tutors are added to the group by means of an invitation code which automatically gives them the additional features of an educational account, though of course anyone can get this if they have a .ac or .edu email address.
I have a small concern that it could be a bit of a double-edged sword. With centralisation of control comes a possible issue with students seeing it as a University controlled space like the VLE, whereas I think it would be better if they saw it as something for themselves and which they had ownership over.
The big benefit that I can see is in terms of driving adoption. Once we have gone down this route, and we did decide to go for it, ThingLink will move into the realms of an officially sanctioned and supported tool, one we will be actively publicising and pushing in the new year.
The second part of my clearing training covered the actual clearing process itself and included a full overview of the fees situation and all of the various scholarship schemes available from the University, which totals £10 million. Also covered was information about living costs and the loans and grants available from the Student Loans Company. The training then moved on to cover how to enter new applicants in SITS and how this links to UCAS, phone numbers and contacts in other departments who will be on hand for assistance, and what students need to do after being offered a place, most importantly to update their UCAS track with their clearing choice.
Clearing begins on Thursday but I am only down to cover one shift next Tuesday at the moment.
It’s that time of year again, clearing will be upon us soon, and this time I’ve volunteered to do some shifts covering live chats. LiveLeader was installed on our website earlier on in the year and has proven very popular and, with high demand anticipated when clearing starts, a call went out for extra bodies to help provide cover. The software itself doesn’t have a lot to it, it’s very similar to what I was using for chat support at Northumbria. The actual training on clearing procedures will be next week.
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:
- Student Engagement in SunSpace
- Engaging Distance Learning Students
- Collaborative Learning Material Development and Deployment
- Online Assignment Submission, Marking and Feedback
- Using Self-Reflection to Improve Student Engagement and Outcomes
- Increase Student Collaboration Using Discussion Tools
- Improve Feedback for Students by Using Audio and Video
- Use Video to Enrich Your Learning Materials
- Smart Use of SMART Boards in Your Lectures
- Death by PowerPoint? How to Keep Your Students Awake in Lectures
- Teaching and Learning on the Move
- 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.
After our regular conference call with Pearson the team had an informal training session from a member of their Enterprise Reporting team. This came out of a problem I had a couple of weeks ago when I ran a simple report to list all units and items within a given module space and only got four results from a course which had six units and a couple of dozen items. We discovered that the items that were returned were the gradable items, even though the option to select only gradable items was not selected. So the question was why it wasn’t working as expected and returning all results. I don’t have a detailed explanation, but I did learn that there is what I would describe as a ‘quirk’ with Enterprise Reporting that means it only likes reports that include a measurement of some kind. Adding ‘Activity Minutes’ to my problem report resolved the issue.
We got some other good things out of the training too. A greater understanding of how nodes work and how they relate to courses and students, and with that a realisation that we cannot rely on these to get reports on what we want, which is which faculty or department a student belongs to, but we do now have a plan to use one of the extended user property fields as a custom field that will serve this purpose for us. And finally we got a data dictionary which will be extremely useful.
Training on the new SLS* process for requesting and recording staff development which is built on the back of a new ‘system’, which is actually just some customised JIRA forms and dashboards. It’s nice to see a reflection element build into the system. After a staff development session you need to go back into the system and fill out a self-reflection form which goes to your line manager. If you don’t complete this within five days then you and your line manager get a prompt via email.
* SLS – Student and Learning Support, the service department to which WaLTS belongs.
A whistle-stop tour covering all aspects of information governance, including the Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act, information assurance, information security, copyright and intellectual property, records management and IT security. The training also covered how these inform the development of the University’s policies and procedures.
After the session I collared the trainers to suggest turning their training materials into a self-contained online course which could be made available for all staff to complete in their own time, an idea which went down very well.
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.
Attended a two-day Certified ScrumMaster training course delivered by David Hicks of Agil8 and the ScrumAlliance, one of the country’s leading and most highly respected trainers on Agile and Scrum.
The course was extremely informative and useful and I learned a great deal about Agile and Scrum. The two methodologies were treated almost as one, except where clarification was required on exactly what would come up on the exam. This was also true of some examples of common, but useful practice which are not ‘pure Scrum’, such as having a hardening sprint to move product backlog items from ‘done’ to ‘done, done’. It was also excellent for networking, learning from real-world examples and getting ideas on how Scrum can be applied to learning materials development rather than software development, which is obviously my area of interest.
Finally, the course either introduced or expanded my knowledge of a number of other development methodologies including Waterfall (and in particular the philosophical differences between Waterfall and Agile), Kanban and Extreme Programming (XP), and related business practices such as Kaizen and Muda.
Training on all stages of the University’s recruitment and selection process, and how the eRecruitment system Stonefish has been adopted and integrated to support stages 3-6:
- Establish the need for the vacancy
- Identify the requirement
- Executive authorisation
- Attraction strategy
The training also demonstrated the process for applicants and explained how this has been significantly improved by, for example, allowing people to store details for future applications.